Documentary Wedding Photography with Fuji X-T1 – Some thoughts on creativity

I don’t want to think about the technical aspects of photography when I’m shooting weddings. I don’t want to be considering anything other than moment, light and composition. I don’t want anything to distract me from the story. I’ve shot with loads of cameras, but the camera for me personally that has allowed me to concentrate on creativity over anything else, has been the Fuji XT-1. Here’s a few reasons why…

It’s made me playful.
It’s a toy, it’s fun, and it encourages you to try things. I use the tilt-screen loads, and I don’t mean just on a tripod. I hold it up high, over the heads of people in a crowd. I hold it down low, on the ground to get a different perspective. I shoot from the hip using the back screen. I get so many shots without people knowing by using the back screen. I pretend to be reviewing photos, when I’m actually framing, watching and waiting for the moment to build. It switches seamlessly from EVF to tilt-screen without a pause for breath and I love both. I probably use the tilt-screen for about 30-40% of my shots, and this has evolved naturally without any conscious effort on my part.

It doesn’t get in the way
Literally. It’s small and light. For a while I was using battery grips and I played with the larger zooms that Fuji have produced (which are excellent by the way), but for me the system really came alive when I stripped it right back. No additional grips and only primes. I’ve settled (eventually) on a combo of two XT-1’s with the 16mm f1.4 (24mm equiv) and the 56mm f1.2 (85 equivalent). This covers me for 98% of my shooting now. I also sometimes throw in the 35mm f1.4 (50mm equiv), and sometimes the Samyang 12mm f2 (18mm equiv) for a super wide. The 2 XT1’s and 16/56 lenses sit on my hips throughout the day on black widow holsters, on a regular, leather belt (no swat team belt and straps!). I have a small bag with the other lenses, a small and neglected flash, and batteries. Lots of batteries. I average 14 hours plus at weddings, and the fact that I can dress like a guest and blend in with small, light equipment definitely helps me to both remain discreet but also to remain energetic on a long day.

No technical worries
This is a biggie for me. I have no desire to be fiddling with the technical aspects of photography. I can do it, I understand it and can control it when I need to, but I don’t want to. I want my camera to do the boring stuff for me. So my setup for 95% of what I shoot is aperture priority mode, Auto ISO, Auto-WB. The end result is that there are really only two controls that I change regularly; aperture and exposure comp. So the technical aspect for me largely boils down to this: if I want more/less DOF I twizzle the aperture ring on the lens accordingly, and, if the image looks too dark/light I twizzle the exposure comp dial. It’s ridiculously simple. A monkey could be trained to do it. Possibly. But the whole point in this ‘ dumbing down’ is that it completely frees me up to concentrate on what matters most – composition, light, moment. I can focus on storytelling; the reason we all buy these fancy cameras in the first place.

APSC – extra DOF is a blessing.
One of the biggest benefits that are often put down as a negative with Fuji cameras is, in my opinion, the sensor size. I’ve shot with full-frame, and I’ve tried M4/3 but for me the APS-C sensor hits a sweet spot of ISO range, lens size, and depth-of-field control. Some people are reluctant to step away from full-frame because of the DOF difference. I’m the opposite, when I shot on full-frame, I was regularly stopping down to between f2 and f4 to get enough DOF. One of the most common mistakes I see in images, is too thin a DOF. On the Fuji I can shoot at f1.4 and it is far more usable, but still, when used correctly, able to give that separation and ‘pop’ when wanted. Lenses, especially primes, are able to be considerably smaller/lighter and still cover the APS-C sensor. And they are bitingly sharp. Fuji make, in my opinion, some of the finest lenses I’ve ever come across.

The future
I certainly see me adding a Fuji X-Pro2 to my lineup, but I will be keeping my XT-1’s until the XT-2 comes along, I’m too attached to the tilt-screen to go without it now. But while I am waiting I will play with the X-Pro2 and try out the reported improvements they’ve made to the AF, the high-ISO, and that joystick thing looks perfect for the way that I work.

So the bottom line is that I enjoy my wedding photography more now than I ever have with any other camera system. I no longer care about the conventional approach that ‘professional photographers’ are supposed to adopt. All I care about is enjoying my photography, and pleasing my couples with the end result.

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  • Really good article from a great photographer and nice bloke. I shoot weddings in almost exactly the same way, and agree with the comments about keeping the technical stuff out mind when looking for that special moment. Well done Paul.

    • Paul Richards

      Cheers mate! Hopefully at some point we’ll meet and have a beer!

  • nextimelah

    Hi Paul, greetings from joshuakhoo.com! Thank you for sharing your experiences with the X-T1. I love your style and photos and I too have an X-T1 (with an X-M1 combo) which I use for my event photography. And like you, I found primes the best coz they are just smaller and lighter. My regular event lenses are the Samyang 8mm, Fuji 18, 35 and 56. There was one evening event when my flash stopped working and all I had were my primes and ISO6400 but my client still loved the photos! I do wish Fuji will make a small light weight 70mm or 90mm (like the Pentax 70mm f2.4 limited) as the 90mm is really big. Anyway, keep up the great work, you inspire me! 🙂

    • Paul Richards

      Thanks for your kind words. I rarely use flash actually, so at most weddings I end up at 6400 at some point. The noise is not a problem if you process it correctly and get the exposure correct in camera. All the best.

  • Gonçalo Cavaleiro

    Hi Paul! Great photos! I liked your article, and I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. And the settings you mention, I use them like that too. One thing you didn’t mention, and I would like to ask you, is the AF settings. Many modes and many settings associated… How do you use it? Thanks!

    • Paul Richards

      Hey thanks! I keep things simple with AF. I just use single-point AF and move it around where I need it. I have the camera in continuous-AF mode most of the time, but have it set to have single-AF on the back A-FL button. With this setup I have immediate access to tracking/single AF. I usually use either 3fps or 8fps drive mode as I like to shoot ‘through the moment’.

  • Rodrigo Pertoti Leoni

    Amazing, is very nice pictures

  • Monika Bauer

    Yes!! I can’t wait to use it in my Wedding photography and feel that finally I can concentrate on composition and light not technical stuff! Love your work… 🙂

  • Matthew McCord

    I so agree with everything you’ve written here. Lovely work! I stupidly sold my X-T1 when I got the Pro 2, but missed it immediately. I’m waiting on the T2 so I can have the Pro 2 on one hip and the T2 on the other. Same sensor, same processor, etc. I really miss the flip screen, and find myself shooting with my X70 a lot because of that. Not to mention the EVF in the XT series blows the Pro’s away. Anyway, lovely images.

  • I used it in a couple recent weddings and really enjoyed the experience. I think the shoot went amazingly well too!