Can Hasselblad Make a Return To Weddings?

Way back in the year 2000, I shot my first wedding. At that point, I had been working as a music industry photographer for over 10 years but I’d had enough. I knew I wanted to get out of it but I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead. Then my agent at the time asked me to shoot her wedding. My initial reaction was, I might not know what genre I wanted to go into but I knew for a fact that it wasn’t weddings. 

Back then, wedding photography was very staged and formal. It was not considered as creative or illustrious as other streams. Photographers typically turned up at the ceremony, took posed shots of the register being signed, a cake being cut, group photos, and very stiffly posed couple shots. Also, they typically shot on Medium Format with Hasselblad being the brand of choice.

As I had turned her down, my agent asked me to help her find a wedding photographer and sent me brochures for the people in her area. This confirmed that yes, they were all shooting this very orchestrated version of wedding photography. Before I could let her be subjected to sitting on the ground with her dress fanned out around her like a puddle or being framed in a white vignette, I agreed to shoot her wedding. My only stipulation was that it had to be in my own way, shooting the narrative of her day with minimal posing and all shot on 35mm. About two hours in, I was hooked. I loved shooting her wedding and being allowed behind the scenes on the day. I found that many of my skills as a music photographer translated well. Both are high stress, one chance at THE shot type of scenarios. I’d found my new genre.

Now, much as I would like to claim that I revolutionised the industry, it turned out that quite a few other photographers came up with a more natural and unstaged version of wedding photography around the same time. It wasn’t too long before SLRs became the norm and when digital came in, the DSLR was the wedding photographers’ tool of choice. With the introduction of mirrorless systems, wedding photographers can now operate faster than ever with rapid focus, speedy file writing, and more compact camera systems. The result is more documentary and even less formality in weddings.

Exercise Your Creative Muscles

When Hasselblad recently got in touch and asked if I’d like some kit to take to weddings, yes I was excited and very flattered but also I was a little skeptical about finding a place for them at weddings. I’m all about minimal fuss and minimal kit. However, I had also recently got my film Hasselblad out of the cupboard that it had been confined to for the last 10 years. I bought some 120 film and had a little play with analogue. It’s my belief that one of the worst things you can do as a creative is just stick with what you know. Playing and experimenting exercises your creative muscles and makes you a better photographer.

Perhaps I’m also feeling a little sentimental for something that I think we just don’t get so much in photography now. The ‘Happy Accidents’. You know the shots where you were not quite in control of everything but somehow something magical happened? As the kit has become more intensely accurate and free education is readily available online, you really can become a very adept photographer with much less effort than before. Currently, the wedding photography market is supersaturated. Type Wedding Photographer UK into Google and you get over 75 million results. It does sometimes feel like that is how many people you are competing with.

Rise Above the Crowd

So how can any of us stand out, how can we rise above this huge crowd? Well, I wonder if it’s by shooting on Medium Format? Now I know what you’re thinking, that you definitely don’t want bigger cameras. But this is Mirrorless Medium Format. The sensors are huge but the unit around them has been purposefully kept minimal. I was surprised at how compact the kit was.

I trialed both the X1D II plus the 907X. The 907X is the world’s smallest medium format camera weighing in at just 206g. The lenses were also not as big as I was expecting either, I loved shooting on the 45mm for instance and it is pretty small. In fact, this particular combination was lighter than my Sony A7III with a 50mm. So if the size is now not an issue with medium format, can we bring them back to weddings?

Let’s talk about these two bodies in particular. They are both within the Hasselblad X family and are essentially the same camera built two different ways. Over the weeks that they were mine, I shot both out at weddings and in the studio. Out and about I preferred the way that the X1D II felt in my hands as it has a grip. In the studio, I preferred the 907X and shot mostly on a tripod.

Trial and Error

If you come from shooting mirrorless or on a DSLR then the first thing you will notice is they are slower to use. Slower to find focus and slower to register the files. Of course, this is because the files are much bigger. I found that the slowness enabled me to be more considerate of what I was shooting. I had more time to check my framing, think through my composition, and add intention to the shots so it actually improved my work.

Like those original medium format users that I was aware of at the beginning of my career, is shooting on Hasselblad is potentially for the more formal parts of a wedding – the groups and portraits? I didn’t want to fall into that trap and so I used the cameras over the course of a wedding day to push my own boundaries on what I thought they should do.

This did occasionally lead to errors. When I saw one bride doing something interesting, I grabbed a frame with the settings that the camera was on as I knew that moment could not be recreated. Sadly it was about 7 stops out and her white wedding dress was totally bleached out. Out of interest I still imported the file to Lightroom and could not believe that it could be recovered into a normal-looking image. There is so much information in the files, it’s quite mind-blowing. On any other camera that I have previously owned the file would have been a right off.

Take That Uncle Bob

So they could be incredible for wedding photographers, we would have that additional superpower of being able to fix mistakes in post-production, even the really bad ones. The files are next level and that is really where you see where the money goes. You can zoom in and see so much rich detail and clarity. The Straight Out Of Camera Colours are gorgeous, I loved the skin tones, and the files needed very little before delivery.

They are both extremely fun cameras to use. In the time that we spent together, I became very fond of them and proud of them. Look at me with my Hasselblads! And this is one of the reasons why we should bring them back to weddings, think about this. When every Uncle Bob you meet at a wedding now has a decent camera and lens, imagine showing up with a Hasselblad – The world’s most iconic camera brand. Cameras that have landed on the moon. Take that Uncle Bob!