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|| News Item: Posted 2011-04-08

No Clone Tool Here: On being best man—and a photographer--at my twin brother’s wedding

By Stanley Hu

The bride and groom turned to face each other, and their hands shot up in the air. Sensing they were up to something, I stopped my applause abruptly. I reached down into my jacket pocket, quickly found the button, and started firing away.

Click. Click. Click. Music to my ears.

Photo by Stanley Hu

Photo by Stanley Hu

For the remote in the balcony, Stanley Hu placed a Canon 1D Mark IIN with a 70-200/2.8mm lens on a tripod, attached a PocketWizard MultiMax and pre-release cord, and focused the lens at 70mm to capture the scene at the altar.
They slapped hands in a high-ten, turned towards the audience, and then bumped their hips in a celebration jig. Then they walked down the aisle together, as husband and wife, with the Glee version of “Don’t Stop Believing” blaring.

In a wedding filled with surprises, the jig was a Leading Off moment—a unique picture that captured the spirit of the whole day. It made scrambling all afternoon to set up two remote cameras worthwhile. But this was not just another wedding. The groom? My twin brother. The best man? Me.

My brother and his wife, Nancy, made no mention that they were going to do a celebration dance in the rehearsal. It turned out to be a last minute addition, and they wanted to surprise everyone. However, since I stood only a few feet away, their movements seemed amplified and time slowed down just enough for me to demonstrate my cat-like reflexes. My camera caught it all.

Because I have shot dozens of weddings over the last decade, many of my friends ask me to help them navigate the confusing world of wedding photography. Some have simply hired me to shoot their weddings. They almost always ask: Would I rather attend as a guest? I always tell them that it’s really up to them; I would be honored to shoot their wedding but equally honored to attend. I’m sure that non-answer makes their decision more confusing.

Sometimes, as in this case of my brother Roger, the decision is easy. Back in July, Nancy wrote to me, “So while Roger and I thought about using your photographing skills for our wedding...we have other plans in store for you!”

“Great!” I thought. “I can finally be the head of the lion in your Chinese lion dance!”

Apparently that’s not what they had in mind. Thus began my first role as best man: photography consultant. I suggested some of my favorite wedding photographers, some of whom are members of this site. I told them to look for a photographer who is good at capturing portraits and moments. It’s not easy to do both well. They sent me a number of Web links, and I scanned them for photos that combined strong emotion, color, lighting, and composition. I looked for variety: different angles, wide and tight, artificial and natural lighting.

I gave high marks to the photographer whom they ultimately chose, Stephanie Secrest ( Her photojournalism background at Ohio State University and the Eddie Adams Workshop impressed me, and her sample engagement portraits and wedding photos spoke for themselves. Most importantly, Roger and Nancy liked her.

In addition to helping them choose a photographer, Roger and Nancy tasked me with putting together a slideshow for the wedding. Working late nights with Nancy’s sister, the two of us sought to create a show that would not only be entertaining but would also tell a story about our siblings. We laughed at the priceless moments captured on 8mm tapes and edited them down to 5 to 10-second clips. We scanned photos that spanned three decades and weaved everything into a 7-minute short. Inspired by the voice of NPR’s Carl Kasell, we called the slideshow, “The Awesome (and Awkward) Moments of Nancy and Roger.”

On the night of the rehearsal dinner, my twin brother and I pulled our first stunt of the weekend. I took my nametag off and slapped it on Roger’s shirt, and someone put Roger’s nametag on me. We were surprised how many of our family members fell for the trick. For years, many of them have said that we looked nothing alike, but the subconscious does funny things when primed with visual cues. “Congratulations!” some of my aunts and cousins would say to me, thinking I was Roger. I would reply in a facetious tone, “Thank you! I’m SOOOOO excited about getting married.”

Of course, I was excited but anxious about my brother’s big day. As best man, I knew I had three main responsibilities:
1) Do whatever your brother asks.
2) Don’t lose the rings.
3) Do whatever your brother asks.

In the few spare moments that I had, I worked on editing my best man speech and contemplated whether I would actually take photos during the ceremony. I knew that I would have my hands full, but I could not resist the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of shooting my brother’s wedding, right beside him, unbeknownst to most everyone. To do it, I packed a ton of gear: four cameras, four PocketWizards, a variety of lenses, pre-release cords, tripods, strobes, a Magic Arm, and even a ladder.

On the day of the wedding, I hurried to the church after a hectic morning of decorating and checking the audio/video system at the reception hall. Since I had less than an hour before I was needed for family pictures, I decided to keep things simple: one camera in the balcony with an overhead view of the altar, and another in the rear of church. While going up and downstairs, my boutonniere broke off and had to be repinned. Nobody told me that setting up remotes was hazardous to flowers.

For the remote in the balcony, I placed a Canon 1D Mark IIN with a 70-200mm/2.8 lens on a tripod, attached a PocketWizard MultiMax and pre-release cord, and focused the lens at 70mm to capture the scene at the altar. I set the ISO to 1600 and stopped down the lens to f/4.0 to give some depth-of-field. Since I wasn’t sure how the spotlights would change during the ceremony, I set the metering mode to center-weighted aperture priority.

For the camera in the rear, I put a Canon 1D Mark II with a 16-35mm/2.8 lens on a tabletop tripod. I attached another MultiMax to the camera and set it to channel 4. With a PocketWizard Plus transmitter, I could switch between the balcony and rear camera just by sliding the channel selector from one end to the other without looking. Look, Ma, no hands!

Even with the remote cameras, I knew I wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—photograph everything that happened during the wedding. I’m sure every photographer has had to decide when to take pictures and when to be social, and I debated this in my head throughout the day. I still wanted to enjoy myself, and I could, knowing that there were two professional photographers working. But I also knew I would have a few opportunities to capture unique, behind-the-scenes moments.

Photo by Stephanie Secrest

Photo by Stephanie Secrest

Stanley Hu was the best man for his twin brother's wedding. Although the hired photographer for the day was Stephanie Seacrest, Hu set up a couple of remote camera's to capture a few moments of his own.
Indeed, there were many. While waiting for the ceremony to start, I photographed my brother getting mic’d up by the videographer. I captured him peering out the window to watch guests arrive, and I also took pictures of my brothers entertaining the ring bearer with games on an iPod. Right before we walked out into the church, I stashed my camera in the pastor’s office so that I could photograph the maid of honor signing the marriage license after the ceremony.

As the wedding party prepared to walk down the aisle, I nervously checked that I had everything. Rings in left pocket? Check. PocketWizard in right pocket? Check. I figured nobody would care about my pictures if I had lost the rings, especially if I were overly distracted by my cameras. Waiting in the entrance, I switched on the transmitter and starting taking pictures without being able to see anything in the church.

After the ceremony wrapped up, I retrieved my cameras and downloaded the card from the balcony camera to my laptop. I felt ecstatic to see that every image from their dance sequence was tack sharp. From the entire sequence, I chose the photograph that had the couple’s hands in the air and their hips touching. In the parking lot of the reception, I converted the RAW image, inserted the photo into the slideshow, and then rendered the slideshow as I walked into the building. By the time I plugged in my laptop into the projector, everything was ready to go--just like transmitting on deadline in the newspaper business.

My brother’s wedding day could not have gone any better. Roger and Nancy glowed. The slideshow, which included the photo from the ceremony, went off without a hitch, and I’m told it made a few people cry. I drew laughs from my best man speech, which I spent weeks revising and memorizing. Someone even mentioned that I should be a stand-up comedian. And I made a few special pictures that will stay with my family forever.

I thought about the quote from famed Coach Jim Valvano, “’If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.’”

My brother’s wedding was definitely something special—and definitely one heck of a day. In retrospect, it was certainly a challenge to do it all: preparing a slideshow, setting up multiple remote cameras, and delivering a speech to two hundred plus people, all while enjoying the company of friends and family. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After the wedding, my cousin Alice asked me, “So I want to know: what's going to happen at your wedding? Hu will hold the remote?”

I replied: “Alice, by the time that happens, cameras will become self-aware and take pictures on their own.”

Stanley Hu is a Sports Shooter member based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see samples of his work at his member page:

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