These days, with auto everything cameras, it seems odd that actively choosing to shoot a one-off high-pressure social event with small manual focus cameras would be regarded as perhaps risky on one hand to downright foolhardy on the other.

Weddings are a balance between a storytelling photoshoot for the photographer and being empathetic to the couple during one of the most important days of their lives. So how can a photographer get those emotive images of the mother fussing over the bride in the morning, the exchange of vows during the service, or a quiet moment as a couple together after the family photographs are complete?

Well, one way is to have small, quiet, modest looking cameras. Cameras that have a discreet click and don’t cover the face when shooting. Cameras that don’t need some sort of leather harness because of their size and weight, and lenses that aren’t put off by a November wedding in a rural Chapel with really low light levels.

Leica Camera in Hand

Image from Unsplash

The smallest and quietest cameras are manual focus, as there’s no electronics or motors in the lens, and mirrorless. Mirrorless cameras only have a subtle shutter click which, even at a pace or two away, is barely audible.

Personally I have used Leica rangefinders for many years, both on film and now on digital. They offer very high image quality in a small form factor, and the build quality is weapons-grade. So, I believe a small rangefinder can offer the best of all worlds, for the photographer and couple alike. Here’s why…

Advantages for the Couple

A Discreet Wedding Photographer with Small Cameras and Lenses

Weddings are, before the service at least, stressful events for a couple committing to a lifetime together come thick or thin. Few people, and I include myself, like a camera pointed at them, and how many times in my commercial work have I heard ‘I hate having my photograph taken‘? It just makes the subject feel awkward and self-conscious. A wedding day is one of the most significant and memorable days in a couple’s life and this camera will be pointed at them for eight hours or more.

So, if you are able to capture the bridal preparations, ushers’ lunch or photography during the service without being an awkward distraction or obvious intrusion then it will be warmly welcomed. After the service everyone’s shoulders collectively drop and the photographer can mingle more freely, but it is often during those emotive moments when the strongest images appear in the camera’s viewfinder.

Picture of couple touching heads taken with Leica Camera

Image by Douglas Fry Photography

Anything that can mitigate the photo self-conscious couple will be welcome, and one way a photographer can contribute is to be as discreet as possible. A small, near silent camera helps a lot.

The very nature of manual focus lenses is that they are compact. There are no electronics or focusing motors, just a metal body and glass. This adds up to about a third of the size of a ‘normal’ autofocus lens. The cameras also tend to have very little to them, so again they are small yet rugged and well made.

A photographer with only a couple of small camera bodies with equally small lenses gets very little, if any, attention from anyone. This allows the wedding to proceed without any influence from the photographer. So no nervous glances from guests or weary smiles as people feel obliged to break their conversation and look towards the camera.

No Flash Photography

Another benefit is that the small but fast lenses lend themselves to shooting with available light only. Why is this important? Two reasons…

One, it preserves the ambient light of the room. A couple will often go to great lengths to create an ambience in a reception space or dining room with candles or uplighters, and they would not want to receive photographs of friends and family blasted with flash.

Picture of wedding breakfast taken with no flash by Leica Camera

Image by Douglas Fry Photography

Two, it is almost impossible to get the best shot first time — perhaps the subject blinked or glanced away — so a second or third shot is often needed. Anyone using flash will give the game away after shot number one. So, the subsequent images will be in the full knowledge of the subject, which can make for a less spontaneous image and expression.

Using a small fast lens, a photographer can approach a likely candidate, frame the image, take several photographs, and make their escape with the subject blissfully unaware of the entire episode.

Manual focus lenses can also focus in near darkness, whereas auto focus lenses can hunt for something to latch on to and miss the shot.

In summary then, a couple can benefit enormously from choosing a wedding photographer who prefers small, discrete cameras that allow fast prime lenses. No one pays him/her any attention, and the photographs perfectly reflect the atmosphere of the day and the couple’s memory.

Advantages for the Photographer

Greater Concentration = Better Images

This requires a leap of faith from any photographer reading this, but the very act of wilfully switching out their kit for manual focus lenses and cameras can only help progress their work to a higher level. I shot for many years with manual focus until switching to auto focus because, well, everyone else was. But about six years ago I realised that auto focus was a solution to a problem that never existed.

To capture a great set of wedding photographs for a couple I have to concentrate 100% all day, every day. It is necessary to consider focus, framing, and exposure for each and every shot. There can be no coasting along or ‘spraying and praying’ with manual focus. It’s this enforced concentration that makes the photographer consider every frame, resulting in a much stronger set of images. Going back over images from the auto focus years can be a lesson in humility.

Manual focus lenses are also often superbly made, and the image quality from my Leica rangefinders has been commented upon by couples and editors alike.

Less/Smaller Kit to Carry

Having two smaller cameras with small lenses and one wide angle lens in the photographer’s pocket is much easier to carry all day. I no longer get tired after an 8 — 10 hour wedding so can shoot and think creatively all day, ensuring the couple get the best images possible.

Leica Camera on Car Seat

Image from Unsplash

Also, the fast lenses mean it is possible to photograph the darkest winter wedding without flash and without any problems. Not having to lug clunky camera bags around the venue, or wear camera harnesses to offset their weight, sounds trivial, but it is appreciated at large society weddings where appearances matter.

Manual focus cameras will not suit everyone, and there are of course many superb photographers out there shooting on auto focus equipment and flash. However, I suspect there is a significant number who would be pleasantly surprised by how much their photography could improve by going back to basics.

Guest post by Douglas Fry Photography

About the Author

Douglas Fry has been a professional wedding photographer for over 25 years, based in London but photographing all over the UK and Europe. Leica M10’s are his preferred cameras, coupled with fast prime Leica lenses.