My Very First Wedding Assignment

 

Years ago, in the good old days of film and analogue cameras, I did a few wedding photography assignments, admittedly for the money. My equipment was barebones. Two prime lenses, a beautiful Takumar 50mm and an adapted, Russian 180mm brass monster. The monster was losing its paint job (it actually had one… by the looks of it, handpainted), and the front lens element, angled against the light, looked like it had a disease. It did have a beautifully circular diaphragm, though. My camera was a battered Pentax Spotmatic F, covered in layers of electric insulation tape because it had horrendous light leaks. A Vivitar 285 (a rather amazing flashgun that continues to be sold today) completed the list. Its mount was glued on with epoxy resin. This was the time when Nikon had released the F90x. They sent me a brochure, in English, because I had sent letters asking for it; they probably believed me to be a potential customer. I thought the viewfinder looked so high-tech, like the cockpit of an aircraft. I veritably ached and lusted over it, reading and rereading the brochure like a boy poring into a dirty magazine. But I couldn’t afford better. My client was a captain on a merchant navy ship, and the father of the bride. He asked me if I could make do with three rolls of film. Not wanting to lose the job, I affirmed that I most certainly could! Well… At least he did not ask to see my camera. It was my first ever wedding assignment. Those were the days!

Things couldn’t have gone more horribly wrong. The shutterspeed dial lost all traction and started freewheeling, so I had no idea if it continued to remain set at 1/60th of a second, the flash sync speed. I literally went by the sound the shutter made. If it sounded just about right, I pushed the dial down and rotated, to make it sound longer, so I knew the flash was surely being captured. Next, the auto thyristor of my trusty flashgun stopped working too. I was quite lucky to notice that the flash was not varying its intensity. Now, for those of you who remember those days, this was a very serious combination of problems. And, of course, I had three rolls to use, at both the wedding and the reception (I did not bother buy a fourth, and I was shooting alone).

I shot as many frames as I dared to without the flash… aperture wide open, choosing subjects that were stationary and interestingly lit. When I needed to used the flash, I calculated distances and possible apertures from the tiny calculator dial on the side of the 285, and prayed. This was after all, the most important day in a couple’s life, and I was botching things up badly indeed. I prayed on the way to the lab too. Until that point, I had never thought of photography as a path to God.

To my surprise, there were 42 photographs that were correctly exposed (a number I am still quite proud about, given the circumstances). Some were just about passable. Some were just right. A few of them had some fantastic effects. A dreamy, soft, glowing bride. Light trails flowing out and around the groom. A room with blurs, except for the captain, looking as though he was out at sea, at the helm of his ship.

There was this one portrait. Of the couple at the alter, slightly overexposed and with just a hint of camera shake. A profile. I shot it standing in the priests chamber just beside the alter. The bride was looking up. The groom had his head and shoulders slumped, looking down, inward. And I knew that my prayers were heard.

Somehow, I knew I could convince the father. The mother still had me worried. She seemed the stern, implacable sort, who spoke incessantly like a school teacher giving instructions. Perhaps she was a teacher. As an added measure, all 42 prints were made into enlargements after precise instructions on cropping, toning, and colours. Some were made thrice over. The portrait was also cropped slightly, converted into black and white, bleached, enlarged to twice the size of the others, and framed in light wood. I spent almost everything I had on them.

On the day I went to deliver, I was already late by three days after the promised date. A 22-year-old, late beyond his deadline, confronting a captain. The bride and groom had left for their honeymoon. The house, which was full of guests earlier, was ominously quiet. The parents looked at my prints as I removed each from its envelope, ending with unwrapping the frame. I knew… but a part of me did not know how they would take it. Only 42? The mother said she would make us some tea and went into the kitchen. The father grinned. “You were in trouble, weren’t you?” He had just used the past tense. “I saw it on your face, and in that ridiculous contraption you were carrying. But, thank you.” I had my tea, made some small talk, collected my cheque, and left.

I did not know what made me more proud… the 42 photos that did the job, or that I managed well, or that I had just collected my biggest paycheck yet, through photography. Or the odd satisfaction in knowing that I had touched two people deeply. Over the next few years, I got three more assignments from people who happened to see that portrait.

There were many, many lessons I learnt through that one day of shooting.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Better Photography.

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