COMMAND AND CONTROL


COMMAND AND CONTROL

 

FIFTY PLUS YEARS, I THOUGHT I WAS DONE

I retired from the shooting sports, politics (events) and Weddings January 1, 2018.   Thinking about it after fifty years in the game.   My brain is still coherent, thought process wise, I’m 100%, but physically wise, those thirty to forty plus pound bags I carried as a shooter for years, both camera and weapon, and standing for hours has added up in my left shoulder to my neck, my legs and knees.  It was the fourth time I retired seemingly retired getting dragged in beyond my control three other times.
I was an addict for wedding punishment, The third time was a winner.

The MRI’s validated what the Dr. had said, it confirmed things.  I will listen to the Dr. now or forced to meet his golfing buddy, Dr. Aurthur Peedick.   I walk and bike ride now instead.   That lasted about a year... till I got the call, a good friend who owns a wedding mill in Tampa, needed a pinch hitter and they were good battery pack customers of mine. 

NOTE:  Fortunately, I’m not retiring from the work I do in my shop involving writing three down from seven blogs and websites, designing battery packs and automatic slide duplicators that doesn’t harm me.  But, marathon weddings and the related stresses I don’t need in my life.  I’m coaching and mentoring kids in middle school and high school, just keeping sharp.  It keeps my brain intact and active.  Kids do keep you sharp. But, you never get totally out of something and as a friend I agreed to take on the problem.

 

THE WEDDING NO ONE WANTED TO SHOOT
My friend had all his guys booked, or they were out of town, emergency’s or suddenly ill when they found out who the Bride was, and no one was available other than a newbie 2nd shooter who was as green as a lawn with St Augustine grass (which is really a weed).  And this was above her pay scale.   

A few calls confirmed my feeling the original shooter had this lustful desire to shoot the Bride not with a Nikon but with a Remington. There were several red flags, red… more like the entire Russian Army in Parade Dress.  OK, I realized this call was different… a modern day “Nightmare” complete with sibling rivalry, competition, intrigue over-budget, intervening aunts and in-laws.  I smelled a Bridezilla.

Maybe the reception would have good food, there had to be something good out of this, that was not the case.  Why did I agree to help, I was retired...but friends are friends and he would do it for me? 

Finally, I got the poop, they had plucked this one late from another studio, the Bride and her Mom fired the first crew over something, or who as in most cases with two sides to the story, the studio probably did not get along with the Bride or her party either or the caterer, or the flowers, no wedding planner... not good and they were litigating against the first studio.

Now I’m now third in line never got the whole story, I didn’t care. My name was not on the contract, not that I ever walked out on a wedding, but I had few I would have likes to have borrowed the Remington. 

It’s my mess now, again a good friend whom I have worked with before, I told him I would do what I had to do, but I would not take any “Residual crap” from the participants.   You will hear me say so many times, some weddings relate to minefields and the photographer has to cross them.  Your brand of shoe won’t matter, just don’t tap dance.  


THIS WAS A COMMAND AND CONTROL PROBLEM
When I was young I thought I knew it all in my small room, as I grew older the room got bigger, and I was in the house, now at the senior part of my life, I opened the front door and went outside.  

Nothing prepares you better than learning and experience. My work in the service, classified taught me a lot about Command and Control.   I am a believer in this business that the photographer whose task varies has to maintain a certain amount of Command and Control.  

No, we are not recruiting for the military, bringing guns to weddings or whips and chains. Its more about situational awareness than actual control.  The right situation draws the right reaction.  It draws very close to the photography business.  It is not a business for the weak sister complex, because of the TV some Brides and mothers will walk all over you.

Command and control is the means by which a commander (or a photographer) recognizes what needs to be done and sees to it that appropriate actions are taken. In several weddings when things went south and turned to chaos I had to step in. I was prepared for a few,  but I also got blindsided by the unexpected, actually took a shot from a drunk father.  Fortunately, I blocked his hook, used a leg sweep and put his ass on the ground, hard.  Never hurt the camera.  To this day I thank the training I had.

Weddings are emotional time bombs, and someone has to be the adult in the room.  But one has to exercise restraint, it’s not intended for you to become part of the fray, it’s about being a good arbitrator, negotiator, and “spot welder".

We often think of command and control from a military standpoint as distinct and specialized functions. It’s the same in photography.  Thousands of years ago a Chinese General Sun TZU summed it up about knowing your enemy, and a Prussian General Clausewitz  on The Strategy of War.


Logistics -  Knowing you have what you need in place to shoot the job.
Intelligence - Getting the shooting lists, VIP list in place,  and finding strengths, and weaknesses. 
Electronic warfare -  Batteries all fueled and ready to go. Gear checked and functioning, backups.
Administration—  Paperwork, licenses, payment and other data in place and correct.
Preconditioned Reaction— as in immediate-action drills, practiced in advance so that we can execute them reflexively in a moment of crisis.  Knowing your gear by heart, this is not a time to pull out the manual.

 

PREAMBLE - I ARRIVED AT THE CHURCH
There is no replacement for experience and I had nothing to lose, not my gig so I went in, trying to help the new 2nd shooter, when I got there who was in trouble, already almost in tears.   I really thought she would bolt.  

First, I calmed her down and said we’ll make this a training session, I’ll handle the heat, say nothing, stay glued to my left hip.  Within ten minutes after I got there, just as they were arriving to do the pre-wedding hair make-up and so forth, I had it figured out.  She calmed down, backing up...  Here is what I taught her and how handle the situation.  The clues came fast. 

LESSON ONE - SEE WHO GETS THERE FIRST 
This is not a trick, this is situational awareness. Just watching the folks arriving tells you a lot.  You’ll see who is directing others, and who is “The stick”, one of the critical points in the Wedding Game.  

*In the Carnival business, business dealings, scams, almost any meeting of the minds involves decisions made by the leaders.  The true leader or boss usually carried the stick or made the decisions.  And they used them.  At times that was a very tough business.   But the “stick” is who you want to deal with. 

 The other players need to be doing something else, elsewhere.   They are commenters pros and cons not leaders.  Here is another point, in any business, true bosses tend to get to events early, they are the passion in any situation.  


That was easy, she was bitching from the minute she got out of the car.  And she was first.  I knew my adversary. The mother soon followed by the aunt.  I called them the M and M twins.   “The Mouth and the Money”.  My number two laughed.

NEVER PRE-JUDGE - LESSON TWO
No one had interviewed the Bride, because so far, no first shooter, no interview notes, nor requests, but the feedback was, “She’s mean and used to pushing people around, the Mother must have worked in a concentration camp”.  

Was it the mother or the Bride?  Bad Intel, will screw you up bad.  Not always will you get good info, so I went in and judged for myself.  From what I gathered, her attitude was the result of pressure, her mothers, aunts and friends had been doing a lot of manipulation, confusion, petty jealousy, and throwing gasoline on the fire.  She was just taking on everybody alone.  This is a lot more common than you think and the reason I wrote Bridezilla.

I went to the ladies dressing room, and met the Bride for the first time.  I was floored by how beautiful she looked.  This was not my usual procedure.  In my Bridal world, by wedding time I usually had been with the Bride of a decent size and level of wedding that I booked and sold, at least two or three times.  Big bucks demand careful attention and don’t come in one pass. Even a casual lunch plus a couple practice shots at a park, two rehearsals makes you a friend, and puts everyone on the same page.  

LESSON THREE - BE A GOOD LISTENER
After we exchanged pleasantries on my behalf, and some not very pleasantries on her behalf, aided by her M&M confidents, I just sat down and didn’t say a word.  I listened carefully and realized the problem was her insecurity, taunted by the entourage and too many voices.  I received twenty minutes of face job from the mother and her list of things that went wrong. 

OK, I said; “Thank you, I truly understand and appreciate your concerns, and I would be just as upset had it happened to me”.   Frankly, you are making me feel very uncomfortable.  We are a team not adversaries and it is our job to make things better, I cannot bring back time nor can I save all the issues.    But now, dwelling in the past, will not accomplish what I think is more important which is the now and today.  

So, I need some cooperation, to work with the Bride alone if you will indulge me for the next ten minutes.  And I held a light meter in my hand and pretended to make settings. I was really trying to get the mother out of the picture.

Again, asked the non-essentials, those aunts and a future in-law to leave the room.  I was very polite. I wanted to scream “Get the “frack” out but didn’t.  “Politely” meant I wished to speak with the Bride alone, since this was her day.  I do not negotiate with three screamers.  I knew they were distressing the Bride and they were stunned.  

LESSON FOUR - THE TOUGH BLUFF - SOMETIMES WORKS
The Bride, agreed, then asked for privacy and for them to step out.  Just listening to her calmed her down. In my training in negotiations, if someone is acting stupid or belligerent, you give them space and have them repeat their feelings and stupidity over and over.  Sooner or later they come down from the ether and realize the mountain they were climbing was in their mind.

I sat down and chatted pleasantries with the Bride, asking what she was looking for, she calmed, and I carefully made a small issue of carefully holding onto my gear and looking for the door.  She said something like “Where are you going"?                                                         

I said, “Please understand I have done Bridal work for forty years, some in featured Bridal Magazines, I’m retired now, I teach, I mentor,  and I thought this Wedding had great potential since I had heard how pretty the Bride was”.   Obviously, I’m at the wrong function.”   

I had been told you had difficulties with prior officiants, photographers and vendors.  I can see you are not the problem.  Perhaps your gang wasn’t worth the effort to these other people. Too much interference on your day.

I am here walking into a setup cold with no prior information and within ten minutes your crew has managed to turn me off.  I said to her, “I came to make the most important day of your life a magnificent one” and I told her “I feel bad because I had been told her she was beautiful and had quite a healthy look that would really be expressed in the photos and a winner but the whole attitude by outsiders here was ruining my creativity”.  

Most of it was true, and most of this was not her fault.  "I explained we could make the photos the center of her experience that day like a model photo shoot and keep her focused, I would be doing the posing.  She should not be overwhelmed by small things and the mistakes and the regimen her supporters had tossed on her.   

This was her day and all the others do not count.  She is the Bride the most important figure in the room, not her mother, not her aunt, not her future mother-in-law”.  But she has to take control of the posse.

 

LESSON FOUR PLUS - THEN YOU SHUT UP, FIRST ONE TO SPEAK LOSES
Nothing else was said, you state your case and shut up.  In about two minutes, which is an eternity and she was shaking, turned to me and asked, you really think so?   I said yes, she was drop dead gorgeous, and if I were armed with a point and shoot, she could have gotten married in a potato sack and pulled it off.   

I explained, this time she will be the star and I was there to help her achieve that.  We’ll get through this if you get Mom to back off.   A wedding is all about the Bride, all about the day and it’s now.  Listen this is your day and the only three people that count will be you, your husband and me. I’ll guide you.  I got the husband involved and he also had enough.  He just wanted it over and off to Cabo St. Lucas.  had my team. 

I got a hug, a really nice hug and an apology, I got them all started on her hair and makeup, let my helper do the pre-dress shooting, while I set the shots up, they listened to my suggestions about under lining the eyes, and we had formed a bond.   

We let the others in, I think I heard something from the mother and then I heard  “Mother, I can handle it and let it go, bud out”,  the other two got the message. 

Amazing what an under-liner, reverse shadow, and some simple makeup tricks can do working with her friend doing the preparation work who was great.  And those shots with digital allowed me to show her what we needed to do.   Both confidence and trust.  This wedding really needed a planner from the beginning, if a planner could stand the mother.

 

THE CONCLUSION - And Lesson Learned
And it went as smooth as butter left out of the fridge on the table all day.  I set two cameras on tripods to do the formals at the church alter and I personally posed about 50 formals to be sure on two cameras, my helper pushed the buttons using a remote on one, and we confirmed every hit. I have some really big power packs, I make with range enough to handle any wedding. It's my business.

I straightened ties, adjusted dresses, pointed toes, turned people sideways. Again, command and control, I still do her kids and family shots.  No one had taken the time to show her a little human compassion for the job she was about to do.  She still is beautiful, and only a few shots missed, tons of kids got in the way, 99% worked, even the few throw outs were acceptable.  I really had no cutouts, zero, I replaced eyes in Photoshop on one blinker.

I got a lovely card from the Bride. The day was special and even the mother thanked me. When I dropped off the proofs, they wanted nothing to do with anyone else, they bought me a nice lunch, even the newbie 2nd shooter recovered and did fine.  She learned how things should be handled and she got her gumption back.  She’ll do fine.  I’ll ask for her again next century, when I do another one. I’m retired, till the phone rings.


COMMAND AND CONTROL

For those who watched the episodes from Bridezilla, I’m sure you could feel the warmth and calm demeanor exhibited by the Brides to be.   It is the only TV show where I wanted to strangle the producers and with their hearts still beating sell their flesh to the wild dogs of Africa.

The producers or handlers alone, in conjunction with great fictional staff writers, some wine, booze, weed and a fair amount of “feminosterone” are responsible for making so many brides look so unrealistic and who think this is the way people need to behave.  

The show portrayed them as "bitch-like," making trouble for Wedding Photographers, caterers, wedding designers, and others in the industry.  Feel sorry for the grooms…

Watching the Bridezilla show was good training for the Wedding shooter, as the Chinese General SUN TZU mentioned, "Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster”.  

Knowing there are Brides to be out there who watch that drive, be cautious. Some think the show was real and think that is how you act.  This is inconceivable.  

 

REPEATED GREAT WORDS AND ADVICE
Recently a bunch of blurbs have popped up on B&H and ADORAMA’S sites offering Wedding guides and suggestions for the new shooter. I found them terribly interesting because it’s basically what I have been saying and offering for the past thirty-five years ago since I started writing about the wedding game.  I’m flattered. Somebody read this guide thirty years ago. 

 •  When you’re initially breaking into the business, consider becoming an assistant or apprentice to a well-established wedding photographer. He/she often needs extra help, and you’ll have the opportunity to learn this craft first-hand.

 •  You need technique, learn how to expose a bridal gown correctly. To keep the gown white, you will probably need to overexpose just a little over the camera’s recommended exposure, but not so much that the gown becomes a mass of white with no detail. Check the exposure after the first shot and adjust it accordingly. biggest problem in the lab, thank you Photoshop.

  •  A very slight amount of underexposure can be corrected in post-production, but at the same time, you don’t want to lose detail in the groom’s dark suit. Many cameras have a highlight warning so that overexposed areas flash at you once the image is taken, allowing you to shoot it again. 

 •  When you begin booking your own gigs always get a second shooter or an assistant.   And if the couple wants to hire a videographer, it’s very important that two different people shoot still photography and video.  Agree to meet the videographer way beforehand and make sure you can work together. 

•  Meet with the couple in advance to determine a “shoot list.” It’s important to know what they want you to photograph. Generally, they will want you to capture events like bride and groom’s first kiss, the bouquet toss, the first dance, and carving of the wedding cake at the reception.   

 •  Spend some time to get to know the couple in advance of the big day.  It’s important that you learn about their wishes and what’s important to them.  Some are fairy tales and some absurd, do a bit of thinking and motivation for what they might want, usually it's something they saw online but the Graf Spee might not be available for them, and the White House could be occupied.

 •  Draw up a contract or another written agreement that both you and the couple agree upon, so that nothing is in question (such as your prices or hours of shooting). Does the couple want prints, digital images or an entire wedding album?  

 •  And do it after you have visited the church and reception venue in advance to plan camera angles and potential photos. This will also help you decide what equipment you’ll need to bring. You may find, for example, that you can get a great view of the ceremony from the choir loft, but you’ll need a long lens for a good-sized image of the subjects.

•  Don’t take on the responsibility of shooting a wedding until you feel confident about doing the job. It’s important to be realistic about your abilities and experience before committing to shooting or doing video of a wedding — especially if you’re being paid to do so.

 •  Don’t assume that you can use flash everywhere. Find out in advance what restrictions that the wedding venue may have. Very often, churches don’t allow flash during the ceremony because it’s very disruptive. Be prepared to shoot at a higher ISO setting if this is the case.  

 •  Avoid shooting only posed photos of the bride and groom and their attendants. Keep in mind that wedding photography is part photojournalism, part posed portraits. Sometimes the strongest images are the ones that weren’t pre-planned. 

 •  Look for opportunities like the emotion on a proud father’s face as he walks his daughter down the aisle, or a spontaneous kiss between bride and groom.

 •  Don’t overlook small details like the bridal bouquet, the couple’s rings, the lace details of the bridal gown, or the groom’s boutonniere. These details will help contribute to the unique quality of this wedding—and along with the more traditional photos—can be an important part of the wedding album.

 •  Don’t rely on just one camera or lens.  Wide lenses and telephotos can give you some unique photos that Uncle Fred never thought of.    You must have a backup in case your primary camera breaks down. It's at those times when you have only one camera that problems tend to occur.  

 •  Also, a second photographer and/or videographer will undoubtedly capture moments that you’ve missed, and vice versa.  

 •  A note for those who enjoy shooting special events, or wedding photography, it can be one of the most lucrative photographic specialties, because you only get one chance to capture a bride and groom’s special day, be prepared!

 

UNCLE HARRY and SKILL vs. MONEY
One thing that cracks me up are the questions I get sometimes while doing a seminar.   I get this one more than other questions.  Someone else at the wedding, a guest, Uncle Harry, has better gear than you do.  
Please do not commit Seppuku
  (切腹)  or fall on your sword by this embarrassment.

Lord, you maxed your credit card and now you have been bested. I feel your pain, Oh, the embarrassment, I have been outgunned by a guest.  I emphasize this, it’s not really a problem except in your mind. The other guy just has more money than you. You are supposed to have the skills.  And if this bothers you, he might just have more brains.   

When he comes over to show you his toy or brags about it, just reply the following with a really concerned straight face.  "We seriously looked at those but to be honest we turned down the trade-in deal we were offered from Canon, Nikon, or Sony.  We stuck with what we had that worked and that model has already had terrific recalls, they might bring a newer version out sooner.  That takes the wind out of Uncle Harry’s sails and he will go into a molt losing his tail feathers.

 

THE TAP DANCER NOOBIE
Here is another scenario, you are a great tap dancer, you just won American Tap Dancer of the year, for your exploits. You are challenged to tap dance across a minefield and the only thing crossing your mind, wondering if you wore the right shoes.  

NOTE:    Ninety percent of the new photographers I see on the wedding forums asking for advice about cameras are wondering more about the shoes and haven’t got a clue about what’s happening at a wedding.  You never hear from them after the event because they have been blown to smithereens.

If you desire to become a professional in this arena the key is experience and self- confidence. Experience is gained by reading, observing, attending, inquiring, and eventually working with an established professional.  

Self-confidence is not bravado, it is the culmination of experience.  Sort of being on a Safari, without a guide which leads us again to redundancy.   The real reason for a second shooter, the rest is BS, is a backup and saturation. That’s how it started. 

 

LION HUNTING
Never shoot a wedding without a backup.  Even if this is just a one-shot experience, I wish you the best of luck and may you never have an equipment failure.  Being “New” means nothing, it was probably made in a slave factory.  On that note, ever wonder why most big game rifles in Africa are what we call “Doubles”?  

First the doubles gun is two chambers, separate triggers, redundancy and simplicity.  It’s two guns in one.  Looks like a side by side shotgun on steroids.  Two guns rolled into one except the barrels and chambers handle Africa minimum which is .375, to .50 caliber big, very big game rounds, the bullets being cigar size.

Basically, two shoulder smashing cannons side by side and your possible dislocated shoulder is the backstop.  I speak from experience.  No clips or stack feed jams or hang-ups to shut this baby down.  A miss is backed up by a complete self-contained barrel, chamber and firing mechanism for the follow-up shot.  Sometimes called the lifesaver after a miss.

The second point for the doubles gun is that it is fast, very fast.  And two misses mean that’s when the guide steps in and stops that Cape Buffalo from planting you in a tree or worse the earth, while you are trying to reload.  

 Another rule of caution when hunting is extra ammo, when “What you shoot has bigger teeth than you” and they appear in this photo to be well taken care of.   No sweets… truthfully, I used this shot enlarged for a large picture hanging in my Dentists office endorsing him.  “Look Mom, no cavities”.

Following simple rules and procedures like backups prevents, providing the user is qualified to shoot it, from being eaten or mangled by what YOU intended to eat or mangle.

Thus, I made this site to make you think and give you some clues as to what to do so that you can pull it off.   It’s no fun being a mere burp in a Lions belly or eventually a participant in Dung Beetle Football.