Four years ago, young photographer Dasha Starr found herself tiring of taking fashion and commercial shots. When a friend invited her to India to photograph the bright colours of a traditional wedding, it proved to be a career-changing experience as she fell in love with the emotion of wedding photography.
"I wanted to shoot more emotion and real people," says Dasha, who began photography aged 14, when running a small fashion and music magazine. "You can look at wedding photos and see that a couple is really in love. There's a lot of emotion that comes through, which is the aspect I like."
Emotion and storytelling sit at the core of the work of seasoned wedding pros Marco Mastropietro and David Álvarez of Factoria182, who teamed up with Getty Images and Canon to push Dasha's wedding photography skills through a mentorship shoot close to their home town in Ponferrada, northwest Spain.
"Weddings are emotional photography," says David. "When the couple look at your pictures, they don't really care about the exposure or the texture of the clouds – they aren't professional photographers. They look at themselves and the people they love. Of course, you have to compose a nice picture and use your creativity, but we try to focus on what that couple would love to remember when they look at the album in 20 years."
Marco and David have been working together for the past five years, after a chance introduction through friends led them to see if combining their expertise in video and photography would work for covering weddings. After hitting it off, the following year they launched Factoria182 and have since built up a thriving wedding business in the rural region they both grew up in, with more than 30 weddings planned for this year alone and bookings running well into 2020.
For this shoot, Marco and David recreated a real wedding with models – a real couple, two witnesses (also a real couple) and a celebrant. They and Dasha photographed the preparations, ceremony, couple shots and meal. Marco and David also filmed the day, making the video above. For the wedding venue they chose the striking Factory of Light, a former power station nestled among mountains in Ponferrada. It offered grungy, industrial interiors, offset by the soft daylight pouring through the huge windows. The rusted pipes and faded décor contrasted with the soft, bohemian styling of the wedding, while the surrounding river and birch tree forest offered beautiful outdoor locations for the ceremony.
"What was nice about this [recreation of a wedding shoot] was the fact that I could practice wedding techniques, but not under quite the same time pressure," says Dasha, who is originally from Russia but now based in London. "This allowed me more time with the couple, to get more variation and really see what works for the camera."
Marco and David encouraged her to build a relationship with the couple ahead of the 'wedding' itself, emphasising the importance of clients feeling comfortable in front of the camera to create natural-looking imagery. As they set up their shots, they also showed how they make sure to scout locations ahead of time to check light and find good spots to take candid shots – minimising the time the couple has to take out of their wedding day.
"The dress, the makeup and the hair is not going to be like that ever again, so of course we want some pictures of the couple, but we don't want to separate them for long [from their wedding party]," says David. "I think maybe just 20 minutes, in an area close by. If you have to move from the ceremony to a different place, stop somewhere on the way to take the couple's pictures.
"The week before, we drive along the same route and try to find places to shoot. Sometimes you only need a small, intimate space to do something brilliant. We don't do a lot of posed photos, so movement is important for us. We say just enjoy yourself – dance, jump, whatever you want to do – it's better if people are in action because most don't know how to pose."
Throughout the day, Dasha was able to observe how Marco and David worked together. "They're never in each other's way and have worked out this unspoken way of being able to get everything done as quickly as possible," she says. While they are multi-skilled, they have fallen into a natural rhythm of Marco providing the primary stills coverage while David shoots video, both mainly using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Marco usually carries two camera bodies, slung across his chest like holsters. On one he fits a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM zoom lens while on the other is a prime, such as a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens. David shoots video on the stabilised Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens and a Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens.
"At a wedding you have to be prepared, because sometimes you have just seconds," says David. "You can't ask someone to give the ring again. We always have ideas about shots, but you never know what is going to happen, so it was good for the mentoring to show Dasha that everything goes so fast. If I had to choose just one lens to do a wedding and I want to have many different points of view, it's the 24-70mm, while I like a 35mm for moving around. When we do a wedding, we prefer to use a mix."
From shooting the couple draped across a couch, surrounded by whimsical candles, through to capturing the delicate golden hour light pouring through birch trees during the ceremony, Dasha relied on her Canon EOS 5D Mark III, while also using Marco's Canon EOS 6D Mark II, with a mix of zooms and primes.
"It was a two lens setup," she says. "A Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens lets you do a bit of everything and anything, while a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens is great for portraiture and low lighting situations. I prefer using the 50mm as I like to go in and compose by moving, but the 24-70mm is fantastic, especially in a real wedding, which is a lot more unpredictable, sometimes with things further away. You'd be using that lens a lot more in a real-life setting."
Marco advised her to try to get three different compositions from the same scene – a close-up, a slightly wider shot, and an image that shows more of the location – and they also experimented with backlit photography, something Dasha has always loved and used in her commercial work. "You have this beautiful light layer in the background at golden hour and you can get a beautiful effect with the dress detail with backlit photography," she continues. "It's fun to work with because you get a whole other dimension in the pictures compared to flat lighting."
As the light fluctuated throughout the day, from the overcast morning to a bright afternoon, exposure became an important focus. "Bright light is the most difficult light to shoot in," says Dasha. "It's easy to get your exposure wrong, especially with a white wedding dress. Marco and David said it's best to underexpose to get the detail on the dress – even if the face is underexposed, you can patch that up later. I'm not used to doing that so much, but it made complete sense, so it was a great tip."
As well as offering advice about composition and style, Marco showed Dasha how he sets his camera up to be the most efficient, including using Quick Autofocus and relying on Live View to guarantee maximum efficiency in a fast-paced environment.
"I'm used to using my camera a certain way because I come from a fashion background where things don't move as fast as weddings," says Dasha. "They both use Live View a lot to predict settings for different lighting situations. You test Live View on a shadowed area and a light area and remember what settings you used for each, so you can quickly change them later. I'm used to using the viewfinder, but they encouraged me to use Live View for most of the shoot. If the lighting changes, you can make sure your image is exposed better than you would if shooting through a viewfinder.
"I always knew the Quick AF mode was there and never really thought about using it, but that helped the photos to be in focus all the time when zooming in and out. They would shoot in manual but keep the ISO and aperture pretty much the same, so the style of the images doesn't change throughout the day. They only change the shutter speed when adjusting for different light. Stuff like this was super helpful."
David says that for pictures, they generally steer clear of using a shutter speed of less than 1/125 sec, and usually try to use two stops less than the maximum aperture available. "In terms of quality, I think it's the best," he says. "So with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens, we use it at f/1.8, or with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens, I use it at f/1.8."
Observing Marco and David's unique approach to wedding coverage has inspired Dasha as she develops her own look for covering weddings, alongside an upcoming documentary photography trip to China. "They're not the kind of wedding photographers who work to a shot list," says Dasha. "Of course they get important moments, but they don't follow a rigid, drawn-out plan. They do whatever is beautiful in the moment and have a lot more freedom in their style of work than some photographers do.
"I had a certain style with my fashion and food photography, but because this is newer to me, I'm still working on it. The goal for me is to get more into the wedding niche. Now knowing Marco and David's way, I've taken some elements of it and mixed it with elements that I had from my previous forms of photography. Over time, it will come together in my own coherent style."
1. Get to know the couple in advance
"This is not only about taking pictures, it's also about showing emotions, so you need to create a relationship with the couple. It's good to get to know each other, so we have coffee together and meet before the day. Normal couples might be shy in front of the camera. My advice is to do a short pre-wedding shoot, because when they know how to feel in front of the camera, they feel relaxed. We did this for free with our first weddings, because we believed the result on the day of the wedding was going to be way better. It's good to see them even just for an hour before the wedding, to relax them and give them some advice about how to move their bodies."
2. Focus on the dress
"Outdoor weddings can be quite difficult sometimes because people don't think about the best light and celebrate the ceremony at sunrise or sunset, so sometimes the lighting can be hard. Try to underexpose a little bit and always focus on the bride's dress because you can easily get the white very high there and burn the dress. It's easier to recover the shadows in digital cameras, so try to expose to her all the time and underexpose the whites."
3. Experiment with composition
"When you're taking pictures of the couple, try to use composition as much as you can. When you learn in college about photography, you have rules like the rule of thirds, or not putting the couple in the centre. You try to use that sort of thing all the time, but it's also about feelings. I always try to do something more creative – sometimes I'm behind the trees or structures trying to capture different angles. You can be taking pictures from places you don't usually imagine. In our experience, the pictures with a huge background, such as the couple set against mountains, are not the ones the couples like the most. They can't even see that it is them, so we like to take closer pictures."
1. Use movement to get natural shots
"Couples are not professional models and you need to make them comfortable. The best thing to do is make them move, as you can capture a lot more natural images that way. We did a lot of stuff where we would ask the couple to walk out or pick up a prop. This flow of continuous movement means you can get a lot of shots, so there's more material to work with, at the same time as having a more natural kind of image."
2. Focus on the story
"A lot of wedding photographers will put all their best images on their website, but it's not necessarily the story of the day. Make sure you're shooting the couple, but also put together quite a few photos that show the story and all the different aspects of the day. That's what people are looking for in wedding photographs, not just some good photos of themselves."
3. Build up a targeted portfolio
"For weddings, make sure you just showcase your wedding photography. Making more of a niche gives the best impression of you being a professional photographer. Even if you do other jobs and other kinds of photography, it's better to keep your website simple as it shows to a client that you're professional in the area they are looking for. Shooting friends' weddings, assisting others on weddings, or going as a second shooter are great ways to start building up your portfolio and to get you used to the pace of working with couples."