Hi! I’m John and I’ve been a wedding photographer for the past 9 years.
At the beginning of my career, I pretty much jumped in at the deep end, transitioning from a keen hobbyist straight into shooting my own weddings without seconding for anyone else nor doing a single workshop.
It was scary and I definitely learned lots on the job in the early days but having confidence in my ability and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone turned out to be the right thing to do for me!
I’m based in the UK, shooting weddings throughout the country. Most years I shoot 2 or 3 weddings abroad around Europe too. Over the past couple of years I’ve been taking on increasing amounts of commercial work which suits me well. Gaining back a few weekends with my young family is a big plus!
This wasn’t even a move I actively pursued. I got an opportunity, made the most of it and more work followed. I think that can often be how it goes in this game. Luck plays a part for sure, but take opportunities with both hands, stay positive, and who knows where things will lead!
Canon 5D MkIII – These have been my workhorse cameras for the past 3 or 4 years. It was a logical progression from shooting Canon 5D Mark II, and with annual servicing by Canon they’re still going strong. Of their time, before the whole mirrorless revolution, they were the ultimate wedding photography camera.
Paired with the best Canon glass, the files are just so nice. I know it’s a cliché for a Canon shooter to say this but whenever I get files from second shooters shooting Nikon or Sony the colours don’t even come close.
Though I still love my Canon 5D Mark III, they are coming close to the end of their working life, so next year I anticipate moving to mirrorless. I’m not a tech geek and don’t savour the prospect of changing systems.
The overwhelming likelihood is that I’ll stay with Canon, though it’s been hugely frustrating how much they’ve dragged their heels with pro mirrorless innovations/releases.
My hope is that they’ll release a dual-slot pro mirrorless version in the R range just in time for me. But I’m not holding my breath!
Lenses are something I do geek out over. I’m primarily a prime shooter and from the Canon L range I have the: Canon 24mm f/1.4, Canon 35mm f/1.4, Canon 85mm f/1.4, and Canon 135mm f/2.
I also have a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 which is super sharp and much faster and reliable to focus than the Canon 50mm f/1.2 I used to own. That was one sexy lens with flare to die for, but just missed focus and wandered in low light too much for my liking.
I gather that the Sigmas can vary from one copy to the next so I think I probably got lucky as mine is fantastic. It’s my go-to lens for details. I shoot lots of portraits with it and it’s invaluable in dark churches.
My other most-used lenses are my Canon 35mm and Canon 85mm for all-round wedding work and I’ll often have one on each body. The Canon 35mm is great for wider contextual shots and close up documentary work. The Canon 85mm gives lovely DOF and is great for drawing focus in a shot.
I also use the Canon 135mm plenty – it’s a great portrait lens especially to deliver stand-out, professional results when the surroundings don’t offer much inspiring stuff to work with. It also gives much different results from the shorter lenses when shooting backlit portraits.
Finally in the bag is a Canon 100m f/2.8, pretty much exclusively for ring shots (!) and the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 and Canon 17-40mm f/4 zooms which come out for the dancefloor when I like to get up close into the thick of the action.
I carry as many lenses as any wedding photographer which some may see as excessive, but I use them all!
I use Pixapro Li-ion 850 ETTL (MKII) Speedlites – exactly the same kit as Godox branded differently! I used to use Yongnuo flashes and find these a step up in quality and reliability. For what they cost they represent excellent value for money and the lithium batteries the system uses give quicker recycling times and better battery life than strobes using AA rechargeables.
They’re not perfect and I get some odd glitches – speedlites randomly switching from manual to TTL for example – but for all-round wedding work it’s the best lighting system I’ve tried.
Alongside the 4 speedlites I carry two Pixapro AD200 strobes. The extra power output from these is very handy shooting speeches in high-ceilinged rooms or in marquees when it’s still daylight but I want some directional light.
I’ve always wondered about trying Profoto A1 Speedlite but can’t really justify the cost so for now I’m happy with Godox.
I’m a big fan of Magmod modifiers. I have tried the cheaper Selens… shall we say ‘look-a-like’ versions but for all-round use it’s worth paying the extra to get the real deal. I use the MagMod MagGrips and MagMod Gel loads and the other modifiers are hand.
Earlier this year I got Magmod’s new Magbox system which is a great addition for any wedding photographer shooting flash-lit portraits!
I’m a bit of a ThinkTank addict. The build quality is incredibly good and they all feature great little touches too – you can tell they’re designed by photographers.
I should say that I had a Barbershop messenger bag until recently (Medium Messenger “BOB CUT”) that I was very happy with but they are just a little on the punchy side for price so when I replaced it this year I bought a ThinkTank Signature 13 in slate grey fabric with brown leather detailing. This is a perfectly sized, functional bag that looks smart and on brand.
My ‘big bag’ is a Thinktank Airport Accelerator. This does a great job housing my extra (mostly evening) bits and pieces for weddings: flashes, video light, lenses, laptop etc. It’s also the ultimate camera carry-on cabin bag as someone who shoots abroad a fair bit.
I’ve tried all sorts of straps over the years and am well settled with my Spider belt. I think it’s a very personal choice but it’s better for me than a moneymaker-type strap as:
i) I find it better having the weight on my hips than shoulders.
ii) I find it useful to be able to quickly offload cameras without have to fiddle with clips.
iii) the cameras swing around less.
On the downside, it’s fractionally slower switching from one body to the next and you have to be careful not to knock small children flying! Overall, for me personally, a very easy choice.
For my flashes I use Manfrotto Mini Compact Stands. They’re the perfect balance of height/stability/weight for weddings and handily clip together. I also carry GorillaPod and Mini Bungees Cords.
Hardware & Software
I edit in Adobe Lightroom CC, using Photoshop 2020 for light additional touch-ups – stuff like liquifying that Lightroom CC can’t do.
I also run some portraits through Alien Skin Exposure 7 for an extra polish. The use of curves, the sharpening and grain in that plug-in are all quite excellent.
My Lightroom CC presets are my own – all originally based on VSCO presets but adapted quite a bit. I don’t like to push things too far and aim to keep colours fairly true.
Hardbar protein bars – great!
Breath freshener spray
Custom musicians earplugs by Ultimate Ear for when I’m on the dancefloor – invaluable.
Various reflective / cut glass bits and bobs for more creative shots – not really a benchmark of my style, more to give me a little extra when I need it.
To anyone on the way up as a wedding photographer: find the balance of being inspired by those you admire without beating yourself up that you can’t produce what you see from them. We all start out shooting cheaper budget weddings in uninspiring venues and that’s where you really learn your trade.
I think the ultimate aim for most wedding photographers is to shoot the sort of weddings/couples you want to whilst earning the sort of money you’re happy with.
To get to that point I’d say: make your couples happy – all of them. Put the effort into your marketing and shoot how you want to shoot.
One of the greatest moments for any wedding photographer must be the day when the amalgamation of influences and experience come together to the point that you realise that you actually have a distinct style unique to yourself.
Believe in what you do / your style, market/brand yourself properly and I promise you’ll get there!
www.johnhopephotography.com | @johnhopephotography
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