Damp, hungry, and stiff. Part III

Romance and rotator cuff injuries.

Read Part I here.

Read Part II here.

By the time the formal photos are done, the ceremony and cocktail hour are over, and dinner is served, my back and shoulders are screaming. 

I’ve learned that if I don’t stretch at least once a day for the week leading up to the job, I pay for it. I spend most of the wedding day bearing the cumulative weight of two cameras, flashes, lenses, batteries, and sometimes a tripod or flash bracket. After the first 6 hours or so, my lower back has hardened like coal into a diamond. 

damp, hungry, and stiff - Johnny Knight Photo
I spend a lot of time on my knees in dress pants. Photo by Michelle Kaffko

In my early days of shooting weddings, I didn’t have a car, so on more than one occasion I compounded the physical challenge by lugging all of my cameras and lights on public transportation. Note to wedding novices: don’t do that. Not only will your shoulders and lower back burst into flames, but every other passenger on the train or bus will give you the stinkeye for blocking their path to the exit.

Uber and Lyft drivers don’t much care for clearing out their trunks to make room for gear, either. Rent a car.

I’ve experienced chronic muscle spasms and inflamed discs in addition to my increasingly long periods of soreness after each wedding. I’ve spent a lot of time with physical therapists and massage professionals. 

They have taught me some stretches to keep my hips, back, and neck from seizing up. I’m supposed to do these stretches every day, ideally twice a day. But come on. Free time doesn’t grow on trees.

So when I get a break, I disengage from my gear, find a quiet corner, and do five minutes of quasi-yoga. Sometimes while eating. 

This quick, clandestine stretch helps a little, but it’s no substitute for doing real yoga on a daily basis. You’d think with my history of stress injuries, I’d get a little more proactive about stretching. 

Nope.

I dance with the grace of a stick figure. This kid didn’t want to be seen with me. Photo by Michelle Kaffko.

I know a slightly older photographer whose back is so excruciatingly tight after shooting events that he has to take prescription sedatives just to get to sleep. If I don’t get a daily yoga routine in place soon, that could be me.

Wedding photography isn’t for wusses. When you hire someone to shoot your big day, take a moment to respect how tough they have to be. Those beautiful pictures only exist because the photographer is willing to sacrifice their body. 

That said, I’ve never once complained about it to a client on the wedding day. (Principle #2: Reduce stress for others.) Even when I’m experiencing multiple levels of grossness and pain, my role is to remain outwardly dignified. 

And somehow, I still love doing it. Even after 8 hours, when my back is brittle concrete, it’s a cozy feeling to see the wedding couple slow dancing to the last song of the night. You have to admit, this is not a normal job.

Damp, hungry, and stiff. Part I

The soggy truth about summer weddings.

There’s a longstanding tradition of outdoor weddings in the summer. When you see beautiful wedding photos with backgrounds of lush green leaves and flowers in full bloom, remember that a lot has been edited out of those pictures. 

Perspiration, for instance.

Humidity.

Gnats. 

In a way, I admire the optimism of people who have summer weddings. They are so in love that they think summer won’t affect them in the way it affects other humans.

This is how I feel after shooting a summer wedding.

Where I live, in North Carolina, a summer wedding may as well be Apocalypse Now. People in formal attire start to melt the moment they hit the humid air. Hair frizzes instantly and makeup dissolves. Guests must be issued paper fans to circulate the air and keep mosquitoes away. No guest feels romantic with their clothes sticking to the small of their back. 

Yet through the miracle of photographic technology, the wedding couple looks impeccable.

I, on the other hand, look like a Gatorade commercial wearing a tie. I know there are more physically demanding jobs than wedding photography – here’s a shout out to roofers, first responders, and professional wrestlers. But aside from maybe coaching college basketball, I think wedding photography is the sweatiest job you can do while wearing a suit. 

My jacket acts as a layer of thermal insulation, and the pull of the camera straps just intensifies the oppressiveness. I’ve chosen a profession that often requires me to wear layers, and my busiest season is when the earth is closest to the sun.

In short, working a summer wedding is not pretty.

damp, hungry, and stiff - Johnny Knight Photo
This is what I actually look like. Photo by Leigh Barrett

“Why don’t you take off your jacket?” you ask. Because the jacket conceals the wet suit that is my dress shirt. I once worked a July wedding in just a collared shirt with a t-shirt underneath – no jacket or tie – and by the time the ceremony was done, it looked like I’d taken a shower fully dressed. After the formal photos, the groom came up to me like someone approaching a wounded dog. His brow was furrowed as he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Are you okay? You can sit down if you need to.” 

Only later did I realize that I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen. So not only did I look like I’d just gone swimming in my suit, I was also sporting a baked-red face. Plus the humidity was making my hair kink up like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. I’m pretty sure he thought I was having a heart attack. 

The reward, of course, comes when I send the wedding couple their photos. When they see how lovely they look in the pictures, it more than makes up for my waterlogged summer day. 

Read Part II: Fuel.

Damp, Hungry, and Stiff. Part II

Framing the day around fuel.

Read part I here.

On an average wedding shoot, I go nonstop for 8 to 9 hours. To maintain my head of steam, I start the day with a cocktail of energy bars, vitamin supplements, caffeine, and Tylenol. (Principle #1: Be prepared.)

These lovely people have no idea how badly I have to use the bathroom.

Sometimes I have the cargo room to carry a water bottle, but I don’t like to drink too often because I don’t want a bathroom emergency at the wrong moment. I’ve had some close calls, believe me. It’s a very specific kind of tension you feel, trying to get a 3-year-old to stay in one spot for a group photo while your bladder is bursting.

Rather than drinking water throughout the day, I usually resign myself to getting dehydrated. Then, as soon as the bar opens at the cocktail hour, I cut the line and ask the bartender for a large glass of water with no ice. I chug it on the spot since I don’t have a free hand to carry a drink around. After the dinner and toast, I chug one more. Those two glasses of water don’t replenish all the fluids I lose, but knowing my kidneys as I do, sipping throughout the day is just too risky.

The other piece of the puzzle is eating. At every wedding, some well-meaning soul says, “You have to try the fried ravioli!” or whatever appetizer is at hand. Sometimes they offer to grab me a cocktail. 

On a few occasions, I’ve made the mistake of taking them up on it. When this happens, I’m inevitably in mid-bite or mid-sip when someone’s 90-year-old grandmother gets up to dance, and everyone starts waving at me to come take a photo of this once-in-a-lifetime moment. I pitch the rest of the stuffed mushroom I’m eating into a nearby plant, grab my camera with my greasy fingers, and hurry over to take a photo while trying not to choke. 

Me balancing two cameras and a paper plate of food. I don’t recommend doing this.

To avoid this, I usually save my appetite for my contractual dinner break. I’m a vegetarian, so if the wedding planner and caterer get their wires crossed and forget to order a meal for me, I end up having to fill up on bread and potatoes. I always carry an emergency protein bar, but it’s not ideal fuel for the marathon day.

If I’m lucky, dinner lasts an hour. More likely I get about 12 minutes. I sit down, unstrap my cameras and flash battery, and take a bite. Then a family member stands up to make a toast while I have a mouthful of broccoli. I hastily refasten my gear, shove one more bite into my mouth, and resume shooting. Break’s over.

Honestly though, there are harsher working conditions in this world than having to eat and drink at unpredictable intervals. It’s not too tough as long as I don’t let inertia set in: I keep moving, keep shooting, keep exploring. (Principle #3. Stay interested.) The time between fill-ups goes by pretty quickly. Plus, at the end of the day, when my memory cards are packed with photos, I usually head home with a piece of cake in tupperware on the passenger seat.

Read Part III: Romance and rotator cuff injuries.