Mark and Isi Wedding. Madison, Wisconsin 2017

I just heard the good news– my two very good friends: Mark and Isi (Isi played violin at me and Cindy’s wedding) just got engaged.

Because they are both graduate students and on a limited budget– I wanted to offer my services, and offered to shoot their wedding for free (with Cindy shooting video).

1. Why I bought a Pentax 645Z

Cindy eric hand. Madison, Wisconsin
Picture by Cindy Nguyen. Shot on Pentax 645Z.

I was excited. I knew that I could do a good job, and of course– you can’t beat the price (free). At first I was going to shoot the wedding on my Ricoh GR II — but I thought, why not use this time and opportunity to experiment shooting more digital medium-format? I also wanted the best possible image quality for Mark and Isi.

I talked with Cindy about it– and I bought a used Pentax 645Z and Pentax 55mm f/2.8 lens on BHPHOTO. I tested the camera for a few days at Cindy’s family’s home– familiarizing myself with the controls, menus, and the system.

2. The Pentax 645Z is a BEAST!

In short words, the Pentax 645Z is a phenomenal camera. I actually like how most of the controls are pre-programmed– meaning there aren’t that many ‘programmable’ buttons or dials. The reason I prefer this– the engineers, design team at Pentax-Ricoh have spent a LOT OF TIME thinking of the ‘best’ design and layout and user-interface for the photographer. And everything makes sense. I admire Pentax-Ricoh, because their designers and engineers are definitely also photographers.

Not only that, the Pentax 645Z is just a beautiful designed object– almost like a piece of sculpture. It has the same lines of a Porsche or a nice Mercedes. I actually prefer how the camera is shorter, yet longer. The grip is so deep– and the camera is perfectly balanced (like a Mazda Miata). Because the weight distribution of the camera is even, the camera doesn’t feel that heavy. And just on the outside– the camera looks badass. It is truly a beast, and when you hold it, it inspires power and confidence– kind of like perhaps the feeling a knight has holding Excalibur or some sort of massive sword.

3. Getting ready pictures– I only shot what I was interested in.

Anyways, I went to Isi’s apartment, and shot some ‘getting ready’ pictures. The way I shot– I only photographed what I found visually interesting, or perhaps added to the ‘story’ of Mark & Isi.

For example, notes on the fridge. Details of their apartment– the time.

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I tried to shoot the ‘getting ready’ portion like a street photographer– finding nice candid moments, and whatever I might have photographed on the streets.

I do truly think that a street photographer makes a very good wedding photographer.

4. At the wedding venue

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Once we got to the wedding venue (many of the guests are also my college friends) I put on my charm. I got people to do ridiculous poses– like the friends of Mark kissing him. I also learned another thing that is good when shooting a wedding: force people to do ridiculous and funny poses, through charismatic coercion. As a wedding photographer (with a big camera), you have the power to get people to do anything you want.

And to be honest, as an artist– my suggestion when shooting a wedding is this:

Shoot wedding pictures you like– without thinking too much about what the couple/client will think.

I know this is a controversial point– but my definition of an artist is someone who doesn’t compromise their artistic vision and gut feelings. And who am I kidding– if I don’t have a passion for the pictures I am shooting, the clients/couple will obviously not feel the same passion I feel.

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5. Being aggressive/assertive

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I also learned that when shooting a wedding– YOU ARE THE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER, AND YOU ARE IN CONTROL. Don’t feel shy or timid. Don’t feel ‘bad’ ‘getting in the way’ of all the other guests with their iPhones trying to get a good shot. YOUR JOB is to get THE BEST POSSIBLE PICTURES of the couple and the wedding.


This is my theory– especially because I got married (thanks to Neil Ta for taking the best wedding pictures of me and Cindy):

After you get married, you aren’t really going to remember what happened during the wedding. However, you will remember what happened via the pictures shot of the wedding. Therefore, in theory — the pictures of the wedding are actually more important than the actual experience of the wedding. Why? Because– if you have good wedding pictures, they will spark good memories from the wedding. If you have shitty wedding pictures, no matter how ‘good’ your memory of the experience– you will remember it in a more negative light.

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And also consider, in today’s visual world– the pictures are the most important thing of any event or memory. After shooting their wedding, Mark and Isi immediately uploaded the wedding pictures I shot for them onto their Facebook, Instagram, social media, etc. They got tons of likes, comments, and all that social media confetti.

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Remember the saying:

“Pics or it didn’t happen.”

And unfortunately in today’s world:

“Pictures are more important than your memory of the event.”

6. Non-boring, dynamic pictures

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I found that the best pictures (at least I liked) were the dynamic ones. Where I added compositional leading lines. Where I tilted the camera and got a ‘dutch angle’ (tilted horizon). These ‘off-balance’ images had more energy, more dynamism, more sex, more excitement.

We’ve all seen boring wedding pictures. I know — I get bored of seeing the same old, sterile, soul-less, generic pictures. I personally hate bokeh pictures, they give me an ulcer or a bit of stomach nausea. Why? Because the internet and the world is saturated with these pretty ‘bokeh’ pictures. I tried to make my pictures beautiful, yet edgy.

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7. Wedding photographers have a hard job // deserve to get paid more.

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Needless to say, I am not a good wedding photographer. I don’t make my living shooting weddings, therefore I am not put under the same conditions as paid wedding photographers. Because I am not getting paid, I have more creative freedom. I don’t gotta suffer the wrath of a groom-zilla. I don’t need to get EVERY SINGLE ‘pretty’ picture. And of course, I did take a lot of ‘pretty’ pictures. But when I did, I shot it sincerely, from my heart.

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I tried to get Mark and Isi to laugh, by telling them stupid jokes. I told Isi, ‘Remember the first time Mark cooked for you!’ to get her to laugh. I got them to kiss multiple times, and told them to ‘laugh while kissing.’

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Also when shooting big group pictures of the family, I held up my left hand really big, and told everyone: “Everyone! Look at the BIG CAMERA!” This was a good way to get everyone’s attention.

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Also when shooting the ceremony, I got close and aggressive when I needed the ‘money shots’ (like the couple putting on each other’s ring). Yet, when they did certain parts of the vows, I followed my gut, and didn’t take pictures (the shutter-sound of the Pentax 645Z is very loud).

And of course, I had fun at the wedding. Over dinner, I chowed down on Laotian grilled chicken, and went ‘cray cray’ when Kanye’s ALL DAY song came on (me and Cindy’s request), and got on the floor and went ‘ratchet’ when Big Sean’s DANCE A$$ song came on (two songs Cindy and I both played at our own wedding).

8. How I edited and processed the pictures

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Last thoughts — when shooting a wedding, it is fucking hard work. It is tiring, exhausting, mentally, and physically. Lots of crouching, running around, yelling, and creative assertion. I was exhausted by dinner time, and took a small nap. I have SO MUCH MORE RESPECT for wedding photographers, who make their living shooting weddings– I personally had it VERY EASY. Their job is really hard, they deserve to get PAID MORE.

Also, in terms of processing and editing pictures– this is what I did: I did a quick glance of the images shot during the wedding (all in small JPEG to speed up the process). I copied the best pictures I liked (the PENTAX 645Z has a dual-SD card slot) from Card A to Card B. From Card B, I transferred the pictures to my iPad Pro into Apple Photos, and then did another edit and culling down of images. Then I transferred my favorite pictures to the VSCO iPad app, and added +1 exposure and the A6 preset to all the images. I then finally put all 100 or so images on my Dropbox, and shared a link with Mark and Isi. I did this all pretty much in about 1 hour, while stuffing my face with chicken during the dinner of the wedding.

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Takeaway: I see the future of wedding and commercial photography to be done more ‘in-camera’ (flagging, rating, and selecting pictures on the LCD of your digital camera), and then doing quick and minor edits and selects and processing and filters on an iPad or some other device.

Conclusion: Digital Medium Format Photography is the Future

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Moving forward, I will keep shooting weddings for close friends, family, when I want to — when I feel like the wedding will be fun, when I know the couple is cool, and perhaps if they have some economic constraints. I will certainly NOT shoot weddings for a living– it is too fucking hard. I would prefer to make fun pictures for myself, and I don’t like to compromise when shooting pictures, therefore I would make a horrible wedding photographer.

As for digital medium format for weddings– yeah, I think it is the future. Digital medium format cameras keep getting cheaper (you can currently get the Pentax 645Z for $1500 off on BHPHOTO — the original price is $7,000 and now it is only $5,500).

Unfortunately, the bigger your camera, the more ‘pro’ you will look. And buying and shooting with a digital medium-format is another way you can ‘differentiate’ yourself from your competition.

I see a beautiful and ripe future for digital medium format photography– Hasselblad with their mirrorless digital medium-format, and also Fujifilm with their excellent compact GFX 50s.

More thought on digital medium format photography to come.


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