Cherie and James: A Windmill Wedding

If there is a downside to securing a new wedding booking, it’s that you usually have to wait 12 months or more before the big day arrives, so I was surprised (but delighted) to get an enquiry a couple of months ago for an early August wedding this year.  Unfortunately, the photographer the couple originally booked had to pull out at short notice and Cherie & James thought they would be left with no photographer for their wedding day.  Thankfully for them, they had chosen a mid-week wedding, and thankfully for me, I secured the booking as I was able to fit it in between other bookings with John.

Cherie & James had chosen Cley Windmill as their venue as they wanted a small and intimate wedding: the ceremony room only takes round 20 people (including the bride & groom!).  It is a well-known landmark on the North Norfolk coast with private gardens and stunning views, and is the perfect venue for a small wedding.

When I arrived, James was having a walk around the village with his young Best-man Finn so I had time for a quick look around.

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Cley Windmill

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The lounge / ceremony room

When they returned, ‘the boys’ went to their small but dramatic room right at the top of the mill to get themselves spruced up (the only ‘hotel’ room I’ve known where you have to sign a waiver before booking!)

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Young Finn was enjoying some quality ‘Dad time’ but was also bouncing between excitement for what lay ahead and being a bit overwhelmed by it all.

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Mischevious Finn

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Slightly overwhelmed Finn. Wouldn’t those eye melt you?

It wasn’t long before I got the nod that the bride was on her way and a few minutes later, Cherie arrived with her parents and bridesmaids.

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Here comes the Bride!

The girls soon got themselves settled into the beautiful Dovecot Cottage on site and Mum wasted no time in getting the bubbles opened!

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There were also a couple of very pretty young ladies to push up the cute factor

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Coco with mum Tini

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Verity

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Matilda

Cherie popped into her room for a quick freshen up and emerged looking absolutely stunning!

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Soon it was time for a quick spray of Jo Malone and off to the ceremony room.

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More, more….

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That first look. Priceless

During the ceremony, Cherie and James gave me the perfect mix of joyous happy photographs and some of quiet, romantic contemplation.

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But there was no doubting the joy in the room when they heard the long-awaited words; ‘It is my pleasure to announce that you are now Husband and Wife’

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Cherie thought the ‘mock signing’ was hilarious!

It was then time to meet with their friends and family over a glass of bubbles.

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I love this shot of Cherie and her Nan

As it was such a beautiful day, Cherie and James soon headed into the garden to enjoy the sunshine.  The wedding took place at the height of what has since been confirmed as the hottest summer on record!

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When Cherie first approached me, she told me that she wanted me to focus on ‘natural’ shots of everyone just having fun as she and James hated having their photograph taken: Newsflash – everyone does!  I have no idea why though as they were a very photogenic couple and I’m delighted that they managed to overcome this concern by the time the big day arrived and wanted to go for a long walk to have photographs taken in the mill, in the countryside, in the village, and even down to the beach!

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I just love the total joy in this photo

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We’re married!

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A stroll into the village. Lots of waving and ‘tooting’ from passing cars!

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A quick stop at The Deli

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A quiet moment to themselves

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They both got very excited when we spotted his tractor!

Through my work with John Harris, I have been lucky enough to photograph many couples over this last few years but the total joy and love on this couple’s faces throughout the day was pretty exceptional – I don’t think Cherie stopped smiling all day!

People often tell couples to ‘enjoy your day’, as it passes by very quickly.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this lovely couple enjoyed their day, and I am thrilled that they chose me to record it all for them.  Thank you.

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A Photographer’s Guide To A Stress-Free Wedding: 3. The Ceremony

Hopefully we’ve now been through everything needed to ensure that the locations for your Service and Reception are just what you want, but what about the actual wedding ceremony itself?  You may think there is not much for you to organise here as surely it is just a case of ‘Repeat after me’ until you here those magical words – “I now pronounce you man and wife….”?  Well for the legal bit of getting you married that is largely true, but there are still opportunities for you to put your own stamp on your ceremony, so that’s what we will look at this time, as well the usual few things for you to ‘have a think about’ to ensure that absolutely everything flows just the way you want it to.

Vows

Just a quick word on vows as I have mentioned them briefly above.  If you are having a church / religious ceremony, the exchange of vows is fully scripted for you and your vicar (or other celebrant) will guide you through this part, however, it is worth asking about it just to make sure that you are fully comfortable with the declarations you will be making.  Brides generally don’t have to worry about promising to ‘Obey’ these days as this now seems to have disappeared from regular use, but this is THE key part of your day and you are making these declarations in public (and ‘before God’ if it is a church service) so like any other contract you enter into, it is important that you understand what you are signing up for!

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Eleanor and Antony exchange their vows at the village church in Lound, Suffolk

If you are having a Civil Ceremony, then you may have a bit more input into the vows so please make sure you discuss this with your Registrar to understand how much input is available to you.  Some may permit slight variations to their standard ‘script’, others may allow you to more or less write your own vows, subject to certain key declarations being made.

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Claire and Stephen exchange vows at their outdoor ceremony at Narborough Hall, Norfolk

The Rehearsal

If you are having a church service, you will be asked, or possibly told, to attend a rehearsal for the service, usually the night before.  Whilst you may well have 101 things you want to be checking the night before, I would strongly recommend that you have the rehearsal.  (And let’s not forget that by the time we are finished here there will be NOTHING for you to worry about the night before as it will all be planned to perfection!) This really is what your wedding day is all about and it is more than likely that your head will be all over the place when you are standing at the entrance to the church or at the altar waiting for it all to happen, so being comfortable that you understand exactly what is about to happen should ensure that you are ready to enjoy the moment rather than worrying about it.  The rehearsal is not just for you either; it is an important step in ensuring that everyone else taking part in the service (bridesmaids, best man, bride’s dad) understands what is going to happen, where they need to be and when.  This is also your chance to have a good look at where all the key people are going to be seated on the day so take that opportunity and make sure that everyone is going to be accommodated as expected and that your Ushers have clear instructions for seating to be kept clear for parents, bridesmaids, and if there are any particular areas you want reserved for grand-parents, people doing readings etc.

If you are having a Civil Ceremony, you won’t have the luxury of a formal rehearsal, so it is important that you discuss the flow of the service with your Registrar to understand the format.  As far as seating arrangements are concerned, you can have this discussion with the Wedding Co-ordinator at your chosen venue and they will help you plan this aspect of things.

Make an Entrance

So, all your guests have arrived, and the announcement is made for everyone to stand for the arrival of the bride. Everyone is waiting to see you – and that dress – so how are you going to make your entrance one to remember?

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Katherine looking radiant waiting for her big moment.  Dad taking a quiet moment!

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Dad checks out the aisle while Georgia looks excited now that the moment has arrived.

Many brides have dreamt of walking down the aisle to ‘Hear Comes the Bride’ since they were a little girl and it certainly fits the bill as ‘Traditional’ but don’t be frightened to look further afield if you want people to remember your walk down the aisle.  There are many other pieces of classical music which are equally suitable for a ‘Bridal Processional’ – some slow and regal, others more dramatic.  I have attached links to some suggestions for you below.

Suggestions for Bridal Processional Music (Classical)

Pachelbel’s Canon in D

Handel’s Largo from Xerxes

Charpentier’s Prelude to Te Deum

Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March

Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

Purcell’s Trumpet Tune

Quick note on this – In my humble, and possibly old-fashioned opinion, one of the nicest things about a church wedding is the arrival of the bride with the church organ accompanying her down the aisle.  The reality of things however is that some church organs are better than others.  I have often been moved to tears with the drama of a great entrance (more on that in a minute), but equally, I have also found myself trying hard not to cover my ears as an old and creaky organ massacres a beautiful piece of music.  Sometimes of course, it is the organist who inflicts the massacre – cruel, but true.  If you are having your music played by the organist, make sure you discuss your music choices with him/her and get them to play the pieces for you to make sure you are ok that they, and the organ itself, can handle it.  Most organists love being involved in this aspect of the wedding and are happy to suggest pieces for you – usually ones they can play of course! A classic example here is the choice of Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ as processional music.  This is a very dramatic piece and when played well certainly hits the spots in terms of a ‘grand entrance’ but it is a very complex piece and it takes an experienced organist to play it well, so always make sure you hear your organist play your music choices before finalising them.

It doesn’t have to be a classical piece of course: many Brides choose more modern music to walk into – just make sure your vicar is ok with it first, and just as important, that your organist is comfortable too.  Many will not have played modern pieces on the organ and may not be comfortable doing so (or the piece just may not sound good on the organ).  If you are using modern pieces in your service it may be more practical to organise this yourself via a playlist on a phone or other mobile device but again, if this is what you would like you will need to get permission from the vicar and make sure that there are suitable power-points and speakers available or that you are supplying everything yourself.

Suggestions for Bridal Processional music (Modern)

Christinna Perri – A thousand years

John Legend – All Of Me

Ellie Goulding – How Long Will I Love You

Tom Odell – Grow Old With Me

So, music is now organised, but what format will the bridal procession take?

Question: Bridesmaids; are they going down the aisle before you or after you?

There are no hard and fast rules here but as with the Ushers, make sure your bridesmaids are clear on what is happening, in what order they are entering, and what to do when they arrive at the altar etc.  One of the first ‘must get’ images for your photographer to capture is the bride and her father walking down the aisle together and bridesmaids can impact the success here.  If bridesmaids go down first, they can block a clear shot of the bride and her father for the principle photographer located at the front waiting for you so if this is your chosen order, try and leave a short gap after your last bridesmaid starts her processional before you start yours.  Similarly, if your photographer is banished to the back of the church (or if you have two photographers one will be at the back) bridesmaids following the bride down the aisle can block a rear view shot so again, planning a short gap to allow you to start your processional before bridesmaids start theirs means you can still get that shot.  The ‘faces’ shot from the front is the really special one of course but if your dress has a train or you have opted for a full-length veil then the ‘rear view’ shot down the aisle is often the only one that really shows the drama of your dress in an un-posed situation so try to avoid losing that due to bridesmaids following too closely.  It only takes a few seconds delay to make sure the photographer gets that shot for you.

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Chloe’s dress looks stunning with its full length veil.  Bridesmaids a few steps behind as requested!

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Amanda’s dress in full splendour during the long walk up the aisle at Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk

Please also have a think about how your music and ceremony location fit together.  Informal or modern music generally tends to work well in Civil Ceremony situations but can sometimes feel out of place in the village church.  You may be surprised however than even modern pieces can sound very different when played on a church organ. By the same token, a dramatic classical piece may sound odd in a civil ceremony in a modern setting, but it’s your ceremony so make sure your choice of music suits the mood you want to create.

An indulgent moment

I have to tell you about one of the best experiences I have had as a wedding photographer and what for me was the ultimate ‘Make an Entrance’ moment.  I am a huge fan of classical music and always like to have a look through the Order of Service when photographing it to see which pieces of music the couple have chosen.  A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to assist in covering a wedding in the amazing grandeur of Norwich Cathedral.  Being a Norwich based photographer this in itself was a dream come true moment.  Whilst photographing the bridal preparations, the bride’s mum was telling us about the challenges they had trying to secure the services of the Cathedral Choir to perform at the service (this was just getting better and better!).  As a side note, this discussion came about as we were discussing photography of the service as this was one of those occasions mentioned in the last post where there was a VERY strict no-photography policy during the service.  We were given permission to take some shots from a distance, but it was such a pity that this couple were married in the most spectacular setting and had limited photographs of the event.  But I digress…..

So, we have a wedding in Norwich Cathedral and the choir were going to be singing too.  Sounding good so far.  Not surprisingly there was great excitement as we arrived at the cathedral.  The groom and his family were American, and they were just blown away by the setting – the building is older than their modern country!  Due to the photography restrictions placed on us, my instructions were to wait by the choir stalls to photograph the bride as she arrived and waited there before starting her walk down the aisle.  I could then follow her into the stalls to photograph the start of her processional but was not permitted to go any further than that.  When the time came to photograph the Order of Service I near passed out with excitement when I saw her choice of music.  Her Bridal Processional was Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’ – music that has been played at every British coronation since George II’s in 1727 and one of my all-time favourite pieces.  This was now going to be amazing!

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A quick check to make sure the train is in order

So, the time comes, the Bride arrives at the cathedral and takes her place next to the entrance to the Choir.  The music starts from the organ right above my head; the piece starts very soft and gentle but really builds up a dramatic atmosphere of anticipation.  The music builds and builds and as it reaches its crescendo; the gates to the choir stall are thrown open; the choir burst into the choral element of the piece; and the bride starts her Procession down the cathedral aisle.  As I follow a few steps behind her I watch her continue down the long aisle while stood in the middle of Norwich Cathedral Choir Stalls with the choir in full swing of Zadok and the immense sound of the cathedral organ right above my head.

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Excitement building as the entrance to the choir stalls is opened for our bride

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The dramatic Processional March is underway!

Trust me – THAT is how you make an entrance!!  It still gives me goose-bumps every time I think of it.  It is the closest I’ll ever get to a royal wedding!

This You Tube clip will give you some idea of what it was like.

Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Mary Elizabeth Donaldson (2004)

Other Music

So, now that you’ve planned your entrance, have a think about the other music you want to feature in your day.  If you’re having a church service then this will usually involve 2 or 3 hymns.  This can be a tricky one especially if most of your guests are not regular church goers.  Please bear this in mind as it can create a very embarrassing atmosphere with the church organ blaring and only the vicar singing!  If in doubt, play safe and choose something that everyone knows from school such as ’Morning has Broken’ or ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ – everyone knows them!  Also, don’t be afraid to investigate something slightly less traditional.  This will largely depend on how traditional or modern your vicar is but one of the most unexpected, but fun moments I’ve encountered recently was when a couple chose “When I’m 64” by The Beatles as their closing ‘hymn’ – the words were very apt for a wedding so why not!

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m sixty-four?

Readings

Most services will include one or two readings, and if you are having a civil ceremony, these will effectively replace the hymns which are not suitable here.  You pretty much have free reign on your choice of readings subject to the ‘no religious content’ caveat for civil ceremonies mentioned in Post 2 of this series, but again, please discuss your choices with your vicar as they will often build their sermon around your choice of reading.

Register signing: this can be an awkward time for your guests as they are not sure what they should be doing or how much chat is acceptable so keeping them entertained with some music is always a good idea.  Your church organist will usually suggest suitable pieces or if you have a talented musician or singer among your guests this can be a great opportunity for them to play a part in your service.  If you have a church choir as part of your service they will usually perform at this point.

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Norwich Cathedral choir at the wedding of Sophie and John ( my ‘indulgent moment’ wedding from earlier)

Exit:  Or, ‘Recessional’ to give it its formal name.  You’ve made your dramatic entrance, got everyone joining in with popular hymns, and kept them entertained with music or singing during your register signing – now’s it’s time for the Grand Finale: walking back down the aisle together is your first public appearance as a married couple so do it in style.  If you have a church organist, this can be their moment to shine as Recessional music tends to be much more dramatic than Processional.  Again, find something that suits your venue (and your organist’s talents if appropriate) as well as you as a couple.  Some ideas for classical pieces are shown below but modern pieces can work really well here as they can bring a more relaxed and light-hearted feeling to this very exciting part of the service.

My bride at Norwich Cathedral who blew everyone away with Zadok as her processional, continued the drama throughout the service and chose Handel again for an extremely impressive exit to the Halleluiah Chorus!!

Ideas for Recessional Music

Handel’s Alla Hornpipe

Widor’s Toccata

Walton’s Crown Imperial

Mozart’s “Organ Fantasie in F” K. 594 (Allegro)

And don’t forget that the more dramatic suggestions for Processional pieces can also work as Recessionals too.

Or if you’re up for something a bit more quirky, I heard this at one wedding and thought it was brilliant  –  Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered

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Chloe now exists the church with her new husband Jack

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Amanda and Varuna smile at friends as they exit Wymondham Abbey as husband and wife

Confetti

In most cases, the final part of the ‘service’ element of the day is the confetti throwing.  Things can often get a bit crazy here as everyone is now very excited and your guests are longing to speak with you for the first time.  If you want to just go with the flow here that’s absolutely fine, but if you want to include the confetti throwing in your photographs (and why wouldn’t you), then you need to have a plan otherwise guests will just start throwing it whenever they see you.  This can be another role for the army of Ushers to help shape.  Your photographer will guide you as to the best place for this to happen, but the Ushers can be really useful in helping to get everyone in place ready for the shot.  And here is a plea from a photographer: when the time comes, PLEASE walk slowly, and although it can be difficult when confetti is coming at you from every angle, but try to keep your heads up too, and smile!  This shot works best when there is confetti flying everywhere and you can see big smiles and happy faces from the newlyweds – seeing the tops of your heads as you ‘run the gauntlet’ doesn’t quite have the same impact!

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Myan and Ian realising that confetti and a strong breeze is a dangerous combination!

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Mark can’t contain his excitement as he shows off his new bride, Helena

I mentioned that your photographer will guide you on the best position for the confetti shot (and they will) but this is also something that MUST be discussed and agreed with the church vicar/officer or your event co-ordinator as most places are quite strict on where confetti can and cannot be thrown.  And just to add to the confusion here, many venues now also have strict rules on what type of confetti can be thrown (no, I’m not kidding).  The ‘traditional’ tissue petal type is becoming frowned upon in this bio-diverse world we now live in and it is becoming quite common for venues to insist on dried-flower confetti only so PLEASE check this out and make sure your guests are aware of this.  Most couples tend to provide confetti these days but many of your lady guests will bring a stash of their own in their handbag, so beware.

Departure

And finally, it’s time to leave the church / ceremony venue and head to the reception.  In most cases this is no big deal but depending on your chosen method of transport, you may want to include a shot of your departure from the church or your arrival at the reception venue in your photographs – this can work well if your reception venue has a grand driveway for instance.  Please make sure you discuss this with your photographer as again, things can get pretty hectic around this time and your photographer may be stuck in a crowd of guests as you are preparing to leave, or if you want your arrival at the reception covered then your photographer will need to set off ahead of you to be ready for your arrival.

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Anna and Sam leave the church in a classic van belonging to the family firm

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Eleanor and Antony arrive at Somerleyton Hall in their horse-drawn carriage

For all of the excitment of a wedding day, the ceremony itself is the part of the day when you actually ‘get married’, so make sure you plan the style of marriage that you as a couple really want.  Oh yes, and don’t forget to enjoy it!

(All photographs featured in this post were taken by, and processed by, Cameron Macdonald on behalf of John Harris Photography and are reproduced by kind permission of John Harris)

 

 

 

 

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A Photographer’s Guide To A Stress-Free Wedding:  2. Location, Location, Location

Alright then, we’ve been through the joys and challenges that various Times of Year bring when trying to plan your big day, so assuming you’ve got that straight it’s now time to have a look at some things to consider when making up your mind on the LOCATION for your wedding.

In the last post, I talked about things to consider around the type of venue you might choose for your reception so the ‘Location’ in this post will initially focus more around the location for the actual Wedding Ceremony, which may or may not be the same as your Reception.  We will then go on to look at a couple of other reception related points not covered in the previous post.

So, the first question we need to address is which type of Ceremony do you want:  Civil or Church?

Civil

Civil ceremonies are very popular with couples who want a ‘traditional’ wedding but for whatever reason, don’t feel that a Church wedding is for them.  As there are so many places now licenced for Civil Weddings you certainly are not limited to a dull Registrar’s Office for your ceremony; there are many grand settings available for you, but you do need to do your homework here as there are pitfalls around that can trip you up if you don’t research what you’re getting in full.

The ’Stately Home’ or ‘Country House’ option is very popular as many venues see weddings as a very useful income stream to help with the upkeep of these grand houses.  The appeal of you and your guests wandering the grounds of a stately home on your wedding day is pretty obvious, but please bear in mind that the access you have may be very limited.  The ‘converted barn’ is also a popular choice in rural locations.

The Ceremony Room

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A Civil Ceremony at Elms Barn, Norfolk

The first and hopefully obvious question is where will the actual ceremony take place?  A couple of years ago, I assisted at a wedding in a beautiful Stately Home with a long sweeping driveway, a moat, and spectacular gardens but the actual wedding ceremony took place in a tiny room at the back of the house – previously a kitchen – so beware, things may not be as glamorous as they first seem!

Some questions for you to help avoid falling into this trap:

  • How many guests will the room hold?
  • Will everyone be able to see clearly?
  • Can the seating be varied to help with visibility or to personalise the experience?
  • Where will the musicians be (assuming you have something planned here)? There is often only one suitable place (back or front of the room) which may not be what you would like.
  • What is the lighting like for your photographs?
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Ceremony room at Bressingham Hall, Suffolk

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Ceremony area at Langley Abbey, Norfolk

Some of these ceremony rooms can be quite dark or are lit with chandeliers that can give a very yellow look to your photographs.  Your photographer will, of  course, help manage this for you, but it would do no harm to mention any concerns you may have or problems you think you might encounter.

The worse scenario here is when a venue decides to create ‘romantic mood-lighting’ and turns the room pink or purple – your photographer won’t thank you for that!  Again, this can usually be changed during the actual ceremony if you ask, with  the ‘romantic’ look switched on before and after the service only.

  • Are there any access issues? Older venues may not have lifts which can be a problem if you are using a room on an upper level as is often the case if the ceremony is being held in a ‘Ballroom’ or similar.
  • How will YOU get to the ceremony? Even if you are getting ready at the venue, it may still be a long walk to the ceremony location which can be a challenge in that flowing dress and designer heels. Check out your options.
  • Are you considering an outdoor ceremony? This definitely requires careful planning if you are.
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The lakeside garden setting for an outdoor ceremony at Narborough Hall, Norfolk

  • Is there a Public Address System available to make sure everyone can hear?          For the first two outdoor weddings I attended, I didn’t hear a word of what was going on due to the noise of the wind in the surrounding trees and the fact that it was carrying the sound away from the guests!  This can kill an otherwise very beautiful and romantic ceremony
  • Again, check access issues as steps down to a lawn or a long trek over grass can be an issue for wheelchair users or ladies in heels.
  • And here comes the big question – WHAT IS YOUR BACK-UP PLAN?  Despite all your wishes for a romantic outdoor ceremony on a beautiful sunny summer’s afternoon, you MUST have a Plan B.  As with all ‘Insurance  Policies’, you hope you will never need it, but you MUST have one.  If the weather goes against you, a well-organised Plan B can be kick-started easily and quickly once the decision is made to switch to it, but your day can descend into chaos if you have to make alternative plans on the spot.  If the weather is looking unpredictable but you decide to go ahead with the outdoor ceremony anyway, make sure there is a stock of brollies close at hand, just in case! Your guests won’t thank you for leaving them sitting in the rain in their glad-rags.  If you’re worried about the financial impact of needing a Plan B for your big day, you could always consider taking out a proper Wedding Insurance Policy to see if that may be a worthwhile investment for you.
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Things don’t always go to plan…

A couple of other things to bear in mind with Civil Ceremonies.

By going down this route you have chosen to have a ‘non-religious’ ceremony.  This may have been a conscious decision or maybe just a consequence of your choice of venue, but this decision becomes apparent in the content of your ceremony.

If you are planning to have friends or family do readings for you as part of the ceremony they cannot have ANY religious content.  Apart from the possibly obvious implication that passages from the Bible are out, please note that this restriction covers ANYTHING to do with religion; so poems or passages from a book that makes reference to God in any way are out, and even references to Heaven can be considered ‘unsuitable’.  I spoke to one Bride who reported being really upset that she couldn’t include a poem that was a favourite of her late grandmother as it made references to God. For most people, this isn’t an issue as many readings are romantic or fun poems, but please keep this in mind, especially if someone is writing something specifically for the wedding.  Your wedding co-ordinator should guide you around this issue but if you have a particular reading in mind for your service then please check early on to make sure it will be ok.

Alcohol restrictions.  Although your chosen venue will be licenced to conduct wedding ceremonies and (more than likely) licenced to sell alcohol, they CANNOT serve alcohol before the ceremony.  Again, this shouldn’t be too big a deal but at pretty much every Civil Ceremony I have attended I have had at least one guest ask me here the bar is while all guests are gathering for the event and they invariably look extremely puzzled when I advise them that the venue is an alcohol-free zone until after the ceremony.

 

Church 

(References to ‘vicar’ also apply to a priest, rabbi, imam, or any other celebrant, and references to ‘church’ also apply to a chapel, synagogue, mosque or any other place of worship)

So, what if you decide that you want the full works of a church service?  Things tend to be a bit easier here as church services follow a very traditional and trusted format, but as with every aspect of your wedding, there are still plenty of things to consider in the planning stages

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The beautiful ’round tower’ and thatched church of St Mary in Ashby, near Lowestoft in Suffolk

In the previous post around ‘Time of year” I covered things such as getting to the church, access issues, parking problems etc so I am not going to go over these again, but here are some other things to start thinking or enquiring about.

  • Numbers: How many guests are you planning to invite to the church, and will they fit in?  Most churches will not hold as many people as your reception venue will so please bear this in mind.  Standing room only is not really a pleasant experience for your guests and can impact your arrival and exit from the church too.
  • Flowers and decoration: Make sure you know what access you (and your florist) can have for decorating the church both before and on the day of the wedding.  When arriving at the church early in the morning for a quick look around, I have often seen frustrated florists trying to get hold of a key-holder to let them in to finish off the flowers for the service.
  • Photography: This may seem a strange one but PLEASE make sure you discuss photography with your vicar as some have very strong views on this and will lay down the law on what will and will not be permitted.  Thankfully these days most vicars are fairly relaxed about it as long as your photographer knows how to behave in church (most are very well trained!) but some will have rules they expect to be followed, for example, restrictions on where your photographer can stand.  We are very often banished to the back of the church which can limit the type of shots you will get.  In worse case scenarios some vicars will only permit photography of your arrival and exit with NO photography at all permitted of the ceremony itself.  If your vicar has this approach it is highly unlikely you will persuade them otherwise, but it is best to make sure you understand their views – you are getting married in their church after all and I’m afraid to say that on this particular point the bride won’t necessarily get what she wants!  If you are planning on having both a photographer and a videographer this becomes even more important as this can sometimes test even the more relaxed vicars, especially in small village churches.
  • Ushers: There can be little doubt that the wedding day is all about the Bride: sorry guys, but it’s best that you just accept that up front. However, it is usually the domain of the Groom to appoint the Ushers for the day (or ‘Groomsmen’ as they seem to be often referred to these days with another Americanism creeping in).  For most services, 3 or 4 Ushers is ideal, but as this is the one thing the groom tends to run it is fairly common to see 7 or 8 or more as the groom brings all of his band of buddies into play.  That’s great in terms of having close friends involved but the reality of numbers like this is that most of them end up wandering around like spare parts with no idea what they are supposed to be doing.  Whether you have 3, or 8, or 10 guys, make sure they all have a role to play and know what it is.  This can include marshalling car park arrangements; greeting guests at the church gate; greeting guests at the church door; handing out Orders of Service, and guiding people to their seats.  Allocate 2 or 3 to each role if you decide to have an army of Ushers.  And don’t forget one VERY important role (I’ve lost count how many times I have prompted Ushers for this one) – the Bride’s mother MUST be escorted down the aisle and never allowed to walk down on her own.  If the Bride has a brother, he will often perform this role (and may be one of the Ushers anyway), but if family arrangements like this have not been confirmed then one of the Ushers must perform the escort duties.
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Friends and family gather outside after the ceremony at St Mary’s Church, Gressenhall, Norfolk

At this point, I had planned to include your ‘101 Things to Think About’ for your service/ceremony, but it quickly became apparent that there was enough material here for a chapter of its own so I’m afraid you will have to wait until next time for this information.  So, we will continue here with the next phase of planning around your chosen location.

Post-ceremony

So now you are officially married, it’s time to start celebrating so on to the Reception!

Here are a few of my favourite country house venues in Norfolk

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Narborough Hall

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Sennowe Park

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Whether you are arriving at your reception venue from a church service or are staying at the same venue as your civil ceremony, you now need to understand where your guests will gather when they get to this point.  This is usually where you will have your ‘drinks reception’ to formally welcome your guests.  Wherever possible, and weather permitting, it is always good to have this outdoors as it allows everyone to enjoy the venue and is easier for you to move around to meet as many guests as possible.  Your photographer will prefer it too!  If this is being held indoors, again make sure you check that the room is big enough to hold all your guests comfortably as no-one really wants to be playing ‘Sardines’ this early in the day!

One thing to bear in mind here is that an indoor drinks reception room may well be the same room as your ‘Plan B’ if rain scuppers your outdoor ceremony plans so that can complicate matters.  There is probably not a lot you can do about it but still worth bearing in mind as it may take longer to start your drinks reception if the ceremony has just taken place in the same room.

Drinks only, or drinks and canapes? 

Again, this is a personal choice for you to make (and of course it is sometimes budget driven too), but please have a think about providing some form of canape or snack food option at this point.  Most of your guests probably haven’t eaten anything since breakfast so will be getting a bit peckish now, and if they start drinking alcohol, well……… you know what that can lead to!  This might not be too much of an issue if you are planning to have your ‘wedding breakfast’ quite quickly but as there is usually a reasonable gap between ceremony and breakfast then nibbles are always a good idea.

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Canapes are always popular with guests

Group Photos

You may have done some or all of your groups at the church but in most cases, they are done when everyone moves to the reception venue.  It is usually a good idea to get these done fairly soon after arrival – within the first hour is ideal.  As there is a lot of organisation needed here this can be quite a stressful part of the day but as with everything in these posts, a bit of forward planning can keep this hassle to a minimum.

Make sure that all family and friends who are going to be in the formal group photos know that they are included and know approximately when you plan to start this part of the day: if your venue has large gardens or parkland, guests have a habit of wandering off to explore!

This is another prime role for that army of ushers the groom has organised.  Make sure that there is someone involved who knows each side of the family and can help with the ‘round-up’.  If ushers are all friends of the groom they may not know Auntie Jeannie and Uncle Charlie and the most common delay here is finding the right people for the right group photo.  Your photographer will help guide you through this part of the day.  Depending on how many groups you are having, sometimes it is best to start with large groups then remove people to work down to the smaller groups; other times its best to start small and build up. Don’t forget that as groups get larger or smaller, you will be in ALL of the shots so there is a lot of hanging around for you at this point in your day; this is why photographers generally recommend keeping formal groups to a minimum.  Too many groups and I promise you, you WILL get bored and start to get agitated when guests can’t be found when needed. Remember that an informal shot with the appropriate people captured during the day can be just as nice a memory as a posed formal shot.

One of the big decisions for the photographer on the day is where to take these group shots.  If you have any preferences here please make sure you discuss these with your photographer beforehand and they will, of course, endeavour to accommodate you.  As mentioned in the previous ‘Time of Year’ post, the weather is a key factor here as bad weather may force you indoors, or bright sunshine may mean your photographer will suggest moving to a different location.  If the weather disrupts your plans for your preferred location, discuss with your photographer whether delaying the group shots until later in the day will make a difference – very often it will.

(All photographs featured in this post were taken by, and processed by, Cameron Macdonald on behalf of John Harris Photography and are reproduced by kind permission of John Harris)

 

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World Cup Wedding Clash?  Embrace it, don’t fight it.

No doubt, 7th July 2018 sounded like a great date for your summer wedding when you were planning it.  Now there are numerous reports of Brides (and Grooms) in crisis as their wedding day is clashing with a rather big football match: World Cup Quarter-Final between England and Sweden.

Well, the match is scheduled and going ahead whether you like it or not, so there is not really much you can do about it now.  This type of conversation usually centres around the weather: there is not much you can do about that either so there is no point in worrying about it.  My usual advice to couples who are unlucky with the weather on their big day is: don’t fight it, just go with it.  If the weather is going to be lousy on your big day then you may as well make it a feature of it.  Your photographs may include dramatic storm lighting; or heavy weather may give you a dramatic sunset; or if it rains heavily then break out the white or colourful umbrellas and go for a fun shot in the rain – splashing puddles or whatever.  You can’t defeat Mother Nature so just embrace what she throws at you and go with the flow.

For the couples:  The same advice makes sense with a World Cup clash too: don’t fight it, just go with it.  If your wedding ceremony happens to ‘kick-off’ around 2.30 – 3.00ish then you really will have to make use of some very creative thinking, but it can still be done.  In this day and age, no-one is going to ‘miss’ the match – things may be delayed a tad, but you and your guests will still be able to watch it.  Make a No Mobiles / No Social Media ban before and during the game so there are no spoilers. Make arrangements with your reception venue to have the match recorded or make sure you have access to an ‘On Demand’ service where you can watch the match later in the day.

If your ceremony is earlier in the day then the ‘main event’ will still be completed in a match free environment so you definitely are on the winning team there.  You and your guests will no doubt want to watch the match during reception time so just go with it.  Nudge your schedule a bit and enjoy the game.  Make sure there is also a ‘football free’ zone for those who are not interested – yes, there will be some. In my humble opinion, you can’t really lose here.  The game is going to add another element of excitement to your day: if England win then everyone will be hyper and well up for partying all night – you win.  If they lose, then everyone will be in need of a party to lift the mood, so you win again!  One way or another, people will talk about your wedding day and the match and how you successfully brought both elements of an exciting day together for everyone to enjoy.

For the guests: You have been invited to a wedding which now happens to clash with a big football match. Tough. You accepted the wedding invitation and you have to honour that commitment.  With a bit of planning and consideration, you will still get to see the match but whether you like it or not, it HAS to take second place to the wedding.  If you go along with the wishes of the couple, and accept whatever arrangements they have put in place, then everyone wins.  If you start getting stroppy about it or sit glued to your mobile or tablet, then you risk offending your family / friends and that is quite simply not acceptable.

I heard a report this morning of a couple who have had 9 guests call off attending their wedding becausw of the World Cup clash.  Well in my mind there is an easy way to deal with such friends:  they are now well and truly ex-friends!  Being invited to attend someone’s wedding is (in my possibly very old-fashioned opinion) a huge honour: this is the biggest day in that couple’s life and they consider you close enough family or a good enough friend that they want you to be there to share it with them.  Dumping them for a football match is unforgiveable rudeness so please don’t even think about it.  You may not get to see the match live but you WILL get to see it so don’t spoil a lovely and special day for your family / friends for the sake of 90 minutes of football.  Grow up and live with it.

To all couples and wedding guests – there is no way that the detailed schedule of World Cup matches would be known when you planned the day, but let’s face it, you did plan your wedding or accept an invitation to a wedding that is taking place during the World Cup so there is an element of “Sods Law” here that says there is a reasonable possibility of a clash with a big game.  You took that risk and, on this occasion, you lost the gamble, but don’t let it spoil the day.

Embrace it and enjoy both elements of the day!

 

 

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A Photographer’s Guide To A Stress-Free Wedding:  1. Time of Year

 

Well then, this ‘Blog Posts That Want To be A Book When They Grow Up’ lark is certainly proving to be an interesting project.   I started drafting a Contents page with possible Chapter headings (can you tell that I am determined this will be a book one day!) and then continued with some bullet points for topics likely to be covered in each chapter.  It quickly became evident that for every bullet point I scribbled down, I seemed to think of at least 3 or 4 other things that I wanted to include – not necessarily in that chapter – and soon had notes all over the place, apparently breeding like crazy!

Pause for breath, have a think, and start again.

Contents page Take 2 then appeared with slightly more coherent notes.  Chapter 1: Location.  Then again, maybe not.  Time of Year can make a big difference to plans, don’t you think?

So, the first in this series of posts will now feature 101 Things to Think About on the Time of Year for your wedding.  Don’t panic – there aren’t really 101 things; well, not yet anyway, but there’s still time!

This ‘Chapter’ (as with many of the others no doubt), may seem like it is a myriad of ‘State the Obvious’ matters, but the one thing I have come to realise in this wedding business is that there really is no such thing as ‘The Obvious’.  What may seem obvious to you or me often hasn’t even briefly passed through the head of someone else.  What I have found most often is that a couple are so focused on a particular element of the wedding that means a lot to them, that they often completely overlook something else impacted by that decision that may indeed seem pretty obvious: but not to them.

One thing to make clear here before we go any further on this journey is that what you will find in this chapter, and those that follow, is not the answer to ‘What Makes A Good Wedding’, but a list of things to consider when making your own decisions on the things that matter to you and are hopefully going to make the wedding YOU are planning a good one, whether you are planning for yourself, or someone else.

Right then, let’s get going…….

The Church

Many churches, especially those in rural locations, are often accessed from small country roads, or even very small lanes.  They can be beautiful in Spring and Summer when lined with wild flowers and newly sprung leaves on the trees etc, but in the Autumn / Winter they can get really messy if you get hit with a spell of rain in the days leading up to the wedding, and may even be completely inaccessible if you get hit with snow!

Question: How will you and your guests get to the church if the weather goes against you?

Another potential issue in a similar vein is parking.  Many churches only have a small grassy area nearby for parking, or the country road or lane itself is often the only available space.  Getting up a muddy lane is made even worse if there are already cars parked on it.

Obviously, if you are hit with bad weather at the last minute you may have to rely on some lateral thinking to overcome the problem you face, but the main reason for these articles existing in the first place is to try to avoid the need for that:  a bit of lateral thinking in advance can make your life (and that of your guests) so much easier.  It is better to have a great plan that never gets used than to suddenly find you need one when there is no time to prepare one.

Suggestions:

  • Speak to a local pub or hotel and see if you can get guests to gather there and use their car park and arrange for a mini-bus (or two) to shuttle guests up to the church. You could maybe do a deal with the landlord that you pay him to provide some drinks or snacks for guests in return for use of his car park.  The extra cash in his till from guests may of course be incentive enough!
  • If there is a suitable car park in a village nearby, direct guests there and shuttle them to the church, or get guests to arrange car-shares to reduce the number of cars attempting to get up the muddy lane.
  • Don’t forget to make sure YOUR transport can get to the church or you’ll be swapping those fabulous Jimmy Choos for Wellies!

There is of course always a positive spin here: a Bride in wellies or tractors ferrying guests up a snowly lane can make great, and very unusual, pictures for your album!

The Reception Venue

Reception venues come in all shapes and sizes (and budgets!).  Chances are you already have a reasonable idea of the sort of thing you are looking for: grand (or cosy) hotel; converted barn; country house; stately home; marquee in your own garden; lighthouse; windmill or any other variety of possible options available these days.

Very often venues are chosen for their grounds and gardens, not just the room you that will host your reception.  There is no doubt that having access to nice open spaces can make a huge difference to your day, but just a little ‘state the obvious’ thought can ensure that you are able to take full advantage of the space available and make sure that it works for you to help create your perfect day.

Assuming you have set the date for your wedding by this stage (or at least know roughly when you want it to be), try and visit your potential venues around the same time of year if you can as this is the only way you will get a true reflection of what they might look like when your big day arrives.  If this is not possible for whatever reason, then try and see them out of season e.g. if you are planning a Spring / Summer wedding, visit in the winter: if you love the venue in the winter, it is going to be even more beautiful when the sun is shining and the garden is in full bloom.  If you do this the other way around – visit in Spring for a planned Winter wedding – you could be in for a disappointment as the venue will definitely look very different on your big day, and probably not for the better.

One advantage of the digital age we are living in is that you can also search for images on the internet which show your venue at different times of the year.  Also make sure you speak to the Wedding Co-ordinator about how the venue is likely to look in your chosen month: it is part of their job to sell the venue to you so a venue with a large garden that may not look its best in Winter will more than likely have other features that will still be great and provide good locations for your photographs, or you may be given access to beautiful grand rooms inside the venue for your photographs that are not available in the summer months.

And don’t forget access here too: you may encounter the same sort of problems described in the previous section about churches when you get to (or try to get to) your reception venue on a wet or snowy day.  If your chosen venue is quite remote, make sure you also have a think about how people will get home.  Very often, it is near impossible to get taxis to a remote country venue at midnight on a Saturday!  Again, check with your Wedding Co-ordinator and make sure that information on local taxi companies is available, together with any advice on how early they should be booked; or think about providing a mini-bus service to get your guests back to the local village or town where getting taxis may be easier.

One final note on transport:  make sure your own chosen method of transport suits the time of year too.  An open top carriage may be your dream method of arrival but could be a dodgy choice for a Winter wedding if it doesn’t have a covered option (this applies to any time of year really).  Also bear in mind that vintage cars tend not to have air-conditioning and can turn into portable ovens in Summer!

Photography

And finally, things to think about for those all-important photographs that will record your fabulous big day for ever more!  It was ‘thoughts from a photographer’ that inspired these posts in the first place after all.

First things first: although I am about to give another list of potential issues for you, please bear in mind that this is one of the key reasons I urge you to commission the services of a professional photographer as opposed to those of ‘Uncle Bob’.  A pro-photographer has encountered all of these scenarios before and is well versed in avoiding / dealing with / or making the best of them. That’s our job – whatever your day throws at you, good or bad, we’ll deal with it to ensure you have a great set of photographs to remember your day by (even if they maybe aren’t quite what you planned for!).

Each season beings its own set of benefits and challenges; there is no such thing as the perfect time for a wedding (well, not in the UK anyway!).

Summer, not surprisingly, is high season for weddings and rightly so: you have a much greater chance of getting a warm and lovely day for your wedding.  But even Summer brings challenges, the key one being that very sunshine you are no doubt praying for.  Bright, full-on sunshine is the photographer’s nightmare – it brings harsh contrast, dark shadows and burn-out on your beautiful white dress.  Bright sunshine can have a big impact on your Summer wedding photographs.  If your ceremony is around the 12.00 – 1.00 slot in the afternoon, your grand exit from the church / ceremony room can lead you straight into the harshest sunlight of the day (even Harry and Meghan hit this problem!).  It can also be a problem if you have a particular background in mind for your family group shots: if this background is in full sunshine your photographs won’t be as nice as they should be, but fear not – your photographer will always guide you through this, but don’t be surprised if on your bright sunny wedding day your photographer is constantly guiding you to shady areas:  your photographs will be so much better if you follow their advice.  Soft shady light is much more flattering, trust me.

One of the main benefits of a Summer wedding is that there is considerably more daylight available to you.  This can be a life-saver on the photography front as even if that pesky bright sunshine throws a spanner at your schedule for the day, there will be more opportunities for a Plan B to revisit your chosen area later in the day when the light is softer.  Summer evenings are also great for photographs – low warm evening sunshine can make for some very romantic shots.  If you want your romantic shots to include one at sunset however, please remember that this comes much later in the day and you will have to be dragged away from your party to get that shot as it won’t happen until around 09.00 in the evening on average.

Winter brings its own, and very different, challenges but as with summer, there are good points as well as not so good.  Apart from the obvious issue of the greater chance of poor weather, you have considerably less daylight to work with, which also means fewer opportunities for a Plan B later in the day.  The whole schedule for the day requires much tighter planning in Winter.  However, a bright Winter’s day can make for a beautiful wedding as the light will be lower and softer, but don’t forget that even on a bright day the chances are it will still be chilly (bring a nice wrap or cloak for your photographs to avoid freezing!).  Although the shorter daylight hours can make scheduling your photographs more of a challenge, this does work in your favour for that romantic sunset shot as the sun goes down much earlier at this time of year.  This is also a plus if you are planning to have fireworks or sparklers, as darkness falling earlier makes this kind of shot much easier to achieve.

Just so they don’t feel left out: Spring and Autumn are just softer versions of their Summer and Winter cousins as far as timing of your wedding is concerned.

So there we go then – your first set of 101 Things to Think About when choosing the Time of Year for your big day!  Each season brings pros and cons to the day, and don’t forget that the weather is one of the very few things you have absolutely no control over on your Wedding Day so there is no point in worrying about it – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least have a think about it.  Be ready for it – good or bad – and there will be no need for any worries when the day arrives.

The next topic covered will be “Location” so if you haven’t already done so, please click on the ‘Follow’ link below to make sure you are notified when it’s available for you.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Know someone planning a wedding?

Following on from my previous post about my great plans for a best-selling book, and my more realistic approach of testing the waters via some blog posts first, I started to draft some notes to see how things might take shape.  My original thought was to write articles about the various stages and components of a wedding as seen through a photographer’s eyes, but as I started to jot down ideas, it became clear that my thoughts were actually fairly general opinions and observations.  Although I have attended my 80+ weddings with my Photographer’s Hat on so to speak, the simple truth of the matter is that my observations are just that – observations of someone who has attended a lot of weddings!

One thing to bear in mind here before you read on: there are a lot of people involved in planning and delivering ‘The Wedding Day’.  At the risk of sounding like I am pitching a biased opinion here; the photographer does have a fairly unique position from which to observe the day.  The hair & make up team will appear in the morning to make everyone look their best, and then they leave; the florist will deliver the bouquets and decorate the church and venue, and then they leave; the chauffeur will deliver you safely to your venues, then he (she) leaves; the caterers will feed you, then they leave; and the entertainment turns up in the evening and misses most of the day.  I think you have probably guessed where I am going here:  your photographer is, in most cases, the only person who follows the proceedings of the day in its entirety from Bucks Fizz for breakfast in your PJ’s through to party-time in the evening – and we miss nothing!  Even your Wedding Planner, if you have one, may make their first appearance when you arrive at the Reception venue (missing all morning activity), or they will come and go through the day – your photographer follows ALL key stages of the day: that is why you commission us to be there after all.

As well as observing all the different stages and components of ‘The Wedding Day’, I feel that photography has given me a very unique and privileged view of the events of the day, not only in isolation, but also how they link together and flow throughout the day.  Not even the couple themselves have this view:  the Groom sees nothing of the Bridal preparations (nor the Bride the Groom’s preparations); the Bride doesn’t see the arrival of her guests; the Groom doesn’t see the arrival of the Bride; and neither of them see most of the moments that make up the ‘documentary’ style photographs taken throughout the day.  So, based on this, I feel I now have a pretty good idea of ‘What Makes A Good Wedding’ and that is the working title now underway for the next couple of blogs.  I say ‘couple’ as it is already obvious from my early scribbles that there is clearly too much material for just one – I knew this had book potential!

Having made these early scribbles, it is now time to start getting into the nitty-gritty to see just how this idea will pan out, so I shall leave you now with a request please:  if you are currently planning a wedding (or are about to start soon) then please click on the ‘Follow’ button below to ensure that you are notified when these marvellous volumes of invaluable information make it to print; or if you know of a family member or friend in Wedding Planning mode, please fire a link of this article over to them and get them to Follow too.

I’m not claiming to be an expert on every detail of wedding planning, but having attended a large variety of weddings of all shapes, sizes and budgets, I have certainly gained a lot of knowledge and I hope that by sharing this knowledge I can at least give couples about to Tie the Knot some food for thought if nothing else.  Only the couple themselves know what really matters to them and how they want their Wedding Day to look, but I really hope that reading my observations will help them see things in perhaps a slightly different light and maybe help them pause a moment before making those all-important final decisions.  After that, you just have to go for it and make sure that you enjoy your ‘Big Day’ your way!

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Stick around.  I’ll see you again soon………………

 

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Thank You to New Followers

 

Well then, this is a post I never anticipated writing.  Those of you who have been around here a while will know that my attempts at becoming a regular blogger have had mixed success: somehow I never seem to be able to get into a pattern of regular posts, despite the fact that I love writing them and it is something that I really want to do more of.

Earlier this year, I posted a series of photographs on my Social Media accounts  ( feel free to join me on Facebook or Twitter ) of photographs taken in Norfolk during the winter months.  They seemed to be well received with many ‘Likes’ and complimentary comments added.  Spurred on by this positive interaction, I decided that it was time to delve back into the Blog account again and I managed to sit down long enough to complete an article giving some background information on how I approached these photographs and some of the problems I encountered, with tips on how to avoid or deal with them: Mother Nature may be wonderful but she doesn’t always play ball with us photographers!

If you haven’t read it then you’ll find it here > Winter Photography – Worth The Effort?

It was great to finally get another Blog Post out into the big bad world, and being a relative newcomer to this game, I had no real expectations of what would happen next.  As always, I hope that people enjoy reading my posts but my main concern of course is whether those not already following me on Social Media will ever come across the post in the first place.  Well somehow, many of you have managed to find it.  And more importantly, many of you also clearly enjoyed reading it.  In the first few days after posting, it was encouraging to see a mail in my Inbox advising me that someone else in the WordPress community had become a ‘Follower’ of my Blog.  That’s nice isn’t it.  Then I got a couple more – very encouraging.  Over these last few weeks I have been really surprised (and absolutely delighted) that these mails seem to keep coming, now a couple of months after the original posting.

To have anyone following my Blog is very exciting, and encouraging indeed, but to keep seeing these numbers steadily grow is really quite amazing, so the simple reason for this post today is just to say a massive Thank You to everyone who has joined my little community lately ( and to those of you who have stuck with me of course ): I have no idea how you managed to find me but rest assured I am thrilled that you did, and very humbled that you also chose to hit the ‘Follow’ button after reading – that really means a lot.

So, what next?  Well, I don’t want to be rushing in with promises of a constant stream of engaging posts for you, but I will of course do my best to improve my past productivity rate – that shouldn’t be too much if a challenge really, should it!

For the last few years I have been working with a friend of mine as an Assistant / Second Shooter on his wedding photography business.  I have now covered over 80 weddings so I hope I am getting the hang of that game!  One of the most common pieces of advice I see for aspiring writers is ‘write about what you know about”, so with that in mind, I am currently scribbling notes on potential articles on the trials and tribulations of a Wedding Photographer’s Assistant.  In my crazy fantasy world, this is going to be a wildly successful book one day, but before I get too carried away on my future as a best-selling author, I think it may be wise to dip my toe in slowly and see if I can prepare some Blog posts on the subject first, and then maybe, with some luck, a prevailing wind, and some hard work, these posts may one day grow up to be that book.

You have been warned……….. I hope you will stick around to read them!

Thank You everyone.

 

 

 

 

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Winter Photography – worth the effort?

When the temperature drops in winter, and the darkness feels like it lasts all day, it’s all too easy to go into hibernation mode and watch the camera gear slowly gather dust: and before you think I’m aboout to go all self-righteous on you, I can assure you that I do precisely that on a regular basis.  However, every so often I do successfully manage to give myself the much needed kick up the rear-end to snap out of it, and whilst there have been many occasions I wish I had simply ignored myself; there have been many other occasions to prove that sometimes making the effort really does bring special rewards.

Although the cold and dark are usually more than enough to kill incentive, there is one slight benefit to winter photography and that is that my (and most other photographers’) favourite time of day to shoot the countryside, sunrise, does at least come around at a slightly more civilised hour than it does in the summertime!

The race for the sunrise

As I’m sure many of you already know, photographers are obsessed with light, and especially that legendary ‘Golden Hour’ which occurs just after the sun comes up, and again, just before it disappears.   Although sunsets are not exactly easy targets (which I’ll come to a bit later), sunrises tend to be even trickier, primarily because they are a lot less predictable.  The key to good sunrise photography is getting into position well BEFORE the sun makes its appearance; this means planning where you want to be in advance of the shoot and stumbling around in the dark when the chosen day arrives.  And don’t forget of course that it is invariably pretty darn cold as well as dark – such fun!  However, in order to maintain the ‘glass half-full’ slant here (I am supposed to be convincing you that winter photography is worth it after all), let’s not forget that one of the usual benefits of sunrise photography – getting your chosen location to yourself – is generally multiplied in the winter precisely as a result of these factors.

So – you’ve given yourself the required kick up the rear end; you’ve planned where you need to be, and you’ve managed to get yourself there on time:  now all you need is for the sun to ‘play ball’ with you.  Unfortunately, there are no guarantees here.  When it’s pitch black as you leave the house, it is near impossible to see what the sky is doing and the level of cloud cover in place: ideally you want some cloud but not too much.  What Mother Nature is going to provide you with only starts to become apparent as the moment of truth draws closer.  Sometimes things will go against you and the sun will just creep up under heavy cloud and daylight slowly but steadily appears – that is the nature of the game here.  Go home, warm up, and try again another day.  That is also a ‘half-empty’ outlook: remember, even if you don’tget the shot you want, you will have had the opportunity to check out your ideal position for when you come back to try again another day; and you might still be able to get some nice detail shots even without the glow of a Golden Hour. However, when Mother Nature does decide to play ball, you can find yourself rewarded with a sunrise that often comes with much softer and gentler colours than at other times of the year.

Turf Fen Mill

Winter Sunrise at Turf Fen Mill, Norfolk

On the day I shot this image at Turf Fen it was bitterly cold, as can be seen in the level of frost in the foreground of the picture, but the air was incredibly crisp and clear, and the often bold red and gold of sunrise materialised as a delicate soft pink which was really quite beautiful. On a cold and crispy morning such as this one, the ‘Golden Hour’ that comes along after the sun has come up also has a wonderful crispness and clarity to it that just seems to make everything stand out from its surroundings.

Turf Fen Mill and river

Turf Fen Mill with river reflection

A good sunrise is always rewarding, no matter what time of year it appears.

Take advantage of low light

As already mentioned, photographers will regularly rave about the joys of the ‘Golden Hour’, and winter brings an added benefit here in that the sun tends to stay very low in the sky much longer at this time of year (as you will know if you are a driver) meaning that opportunities for  some nice back or soft lighting of subjects become greater.   If your winter’s morning outing is taking place on a day cold enough for some frost, you may be able to combine this benefit (it may not seem like a benefit when you think your fingers are going to fall off with frost-bite) with some low sunlight to highlight frosted details.

Frosty reeds

Frost crystals on riverband reeds

Frosty reed

Riverbed reed covered in a winter frost

Waiting for sunset

I started this post talking about the unpredictability of sunrises.  Now, I’m not going to try to convince you that sunsets ARE predictable, but they are certainly slightly more predictable in as much as you have the benefit of monitoring the weather during the day and watching how the sky is looking as you head to mid-afternoon: this can often give an indication that there is at least a reasonable chance of some sunset colour, or if the sky is covered in heavy cloud and rain, you can be pretty sure you won’t get much.  If you are a ‘storm chaser’ of course you may have a different view, but we’ll leave that for another day.

As with sunrise, the key rule for sunsets is exactly the same: you need to get yourself into position long BEFORE the sun starts to go down.  And then it is a waiting game……… but don’t get complacent, as when things start to happen, they tend to happen very quickly.  In addition to getting to the right spot at the right time, one skill that is absolutely essential here is a thorough understanding of your camera’s controls around exposure settings.  Most photographers would recommend shooting on ‘Manual’ here as it gives you the full flexibility you need to capture the scene in the way you want, but it is absolutely essential that you know your camera’s controls inside out here: ideally you should be able to change settings without looking at them.  The peak colours during sunset often only appear for a couple of minutes before they start to fade so you need to be able to move fast to adjust settings to follow the dropping light.

Sunset sky at Marston Marshes, Norwich

Dramatic winter sunset sky at Marston Marshes, Norwich

Marston Marshes sunset

Winter sunset on Marston Marshes, Norwich

And don’t be too quick to pack up your gear when the sun disappears as depending on conditions, the best colours can sometimes appear after the sun drops below the horizon, particularly if you are shooting at the coast.

Going for the double

So, are you convinced to give it a go yet?  I do hope so.

One final thought for you here: I’ve already mentioned the benefit of winter sunrises being at a more civilised time due to the sun rising later in the morning, and at the other end of the day, it sets earlier too, so if you’re really adventurous, why not go for the double and get both!

A few years ago, my wife and I spent a long weekend in the Scottish Highlands at a hotel on the shores of Loch Linnhe.   After much persuasion, I managed to convince my wife to join me for a sunrise shoot one morning (the loch side was only across the road from the hotel so not too far to walk!).  Thankfully, we were rewarded with a lovely crisp morning and she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  After a lovely day exploring the area, we were heading back to the hotel late afternoon when the weather was still being good to us, so I decided to push my luck and suggested that we head for the loch side again to watch the sunset.  I’m so glad we did as we were rewarded with what I still consider to be the most spectacular sunset I have ever witnessed.

Loch Linne at sunrise

Sunrise on Loch Linnhe

Dramatic sunset colours on Loch Linnhe

Another lesson I learned on this particular occasion was not to be complacent on picking your spot.  From our morning outing, we already had a good idea where the sun would go down so knew that we needed to head back to a similar spot on the edge of the water to that used in the morning if we were to get the best of the sunset.  When we returned to the hotel after watching every last drop of colour disappear from the sky, we met another couple staying at the hotel who had watched the event unfold from the hotel’s large panoramic windows which overlooked the loch.  “Oh, did you see that beautiful sunset?” the lady asked us. “Yes, we certainly did” I replied.  “I have some lovely pictures” the lady continued, “Can I show you some?”  She duly invited us to join her and showed us some of the shots she had taken.  She certainly did have some lovely shots taken looking onto the loch across the hotel lawn.  “Yes, they are lovely”, I commented, “We walked across the road to the water’s edge to get our shots”.  When I showed her some of the shots I had captured she was astonished at just how different they were.  Her very comfortable view from the sofa over-looking the garden still showed the spectacular colours, but by simply walking across the road in order to get a view looking down the loch to where the sun was setting behind the hills, my views were very different, and considerably more dramatic.  All achieved from a 60 second walk for a different perspective.

Enjoy winter:  yes, it can be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding.

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Do you look, or do you see?

When you are out and about, do you look at what’s around you, or do you see what’s around you?  Strange question maybe, but let me explain what I mean by it.

On a fine winter’s morning late last year, I was out doing one of my favourite “dawn patrol” photography trips, the location for this one was the beautiful Felbrigg Hall; a National Trust property in North Norfolk.  One of the benefits of shooting at dawn is that I usually get a good couple of hours to myself before setting eyes on anyone else; dog walkers are usually the first encounters.  As this morning was particularly beautiful, clear blue skies and crisp frost, and as there are miles of footpaths to explore on this estate, I stayed much longer than I usually do on these early morning outings.  By the time I decided I had had enough and starting heading back to the car, the estate was getting busy with lots of dog walkers, couples and families all enjoying a Sunday morning walk in the winter sunshine.

Crisp winter morning at Felbrigg Hall

Crisp winter morning at Felbrigg Hall

One thing I often find when out with the camera is that as soon as I decide it is time to head home, and put the camera back in the bag, that is when I see something else that just has to be captured; many, many times, my best shot of the day comes after the initial decision to put the camera away !  When the ‘time to go home’ moment arrived this time, I was on the far side of a small lake on the estate, I was in fairly dense woodland and because it was so shady, it was also a bit chilly – a fact that helped make up my mind it was time to go.  So the camera was duly put back into the bag and I started to make my way back towards the car park.  There were quite a lot of swans on the lake that morning and they had been teasing me by constantly being on the opposite side of the lake to wherever I was, and yes, you’ve guessed it, as soon as the camera went back into the bag, they all came flying over to my side of the lake.  Unfortunately, they didn’t hang around long as a highly excitable dog also found the spectacle exciting and duly scared them all away again.  Sods Law.

Anyway, in the brief couple of minutes the swans were on my side, and I was trying to find a suitable gap by the lake’s edge to get a decent shot, I noticed a lovely spot where the sun was peeking through the dense covering of trees and shining on the undergrowth near the water.  The deep green foliage seemed so rich in the sunlight, that the camera just had to come back out again.  So there I am, crawling around in the undergrowth trying to get my shot, and as I emerge again, not very gracefully, a young woman is walking on the path towards me looking somewhat puzzled.

I offer a friendly “Good Morning” as she approaches.

“Good Morning to you too” she replies, swiftly followed by, “what exactly did you find in there worth photographing?”

I explained that the sunlight coming through the trees into the undergrowth was really lovely and highlighted the deep green of the foliage.  Her eyes were saying “Yeah, whatever”, but she then asked if she could see the shot, so I showed her the image on the camera’s viewing screen.

Sunlit undergrowth

Sunlit undergrowth

“Oh that’s lovely” she says, “how on earth did you manage to see that buried in there?”

“Just knowing what to look for, I guess” I replied.

As I continued my walk back to the car, quietly contented with a lovely compliment from a stranger, I remembered a quote I had read in a magazine a few years back in an interview with a landscape photographer who had had a similar encounter:  “Most people just look at what’s around them; a good photographer sees what’s around him.”  I know that could be dangerously close to a pretentious statement but it is not meant to be.  I have always felt I had a good eye for detail, but that statement really hit a cord with me and changed my outlook when out with the camera; just taking that extra minute to look closer; maybe approaching the subject from another direction; maybe changing the angle of view by shooting higher or lower; all of these can either make a shot that others may miss, or turn an ordinary shot into a really good one.

Hence my original question; do you look, or do you see?  Try seeing next time, you never know what you may find.

On the other hand……………………..

As with all good things, there is a danger of over-doing it or getting lost in detail.  An experience I had only yesterday reminded me of how easy it is to get lost in detail.

Photographing at a wedding is often regarded as one of the most stressful jobs in photography; it is the ultimate “one shot deal”.  Last year I was lucky enough to be asked to work as a second-shooter / assistant with good friend of mine John Harris on a few of his weddings.  This year, I will be his ‘wing-man’ for the full season of weddings which is going to be an incredibly invaluable experience for me.  Our first outing of the season was earlier this month and yesterday I received the cards from John containing the images shot by myself throughout the day (John has kindly agreed to let me keep copies of the photos I take so that I can review and learn from them).  As I reviewed the photographs properly for the first time ( all 1,000 of them ) I was amazed at just how much is covered in a day.  I often comment to couples and their families that although there are lots of different people brought in to make a wedding day complete, the only one there from start to finish is the photographer.  We first see the bride in the morning for hair and make-up preparations , usually dressed in pyjamas or a dressing gown, and we follow her through the day until she takes to the dance-floor with her new husband for the first time as the evening reception gets underway.

At each stage of the day there are key things to watch our for: fun and giggles getting hair done; fitting the headdress for the first time; first sight of the flowers; dad’s first sight of the bride in her dress; nervous groom and best man at the church; arrival of the bride; exchange of vows, first kiss, etc etc – you get the picture (no pun intended).  The day passes so quickly as there is always something to be done; in any gaps when you are not scanning for the shot you want, you are thinking ahead to what is coming next and what may be required to get the best shot in that phase of the day.  Before you know it, the first dance is over and it’s time for us to go home. Before we leave, John always makes a point of not only saying goodbye to the newly married couple, but wherever possible, he always tracks down their parents too, especially the bride’s parents, as we have been with them too since morning and you start to get to know them as the day progresses.

As I was reviewing the photographs from this particular wedding I was going through each part of the day looking at the shots I managed to get and reviewing which ones I liked and which ones maybe didn’t work so well, and thinking about what I could do differently next time.  The couple’s whole day suddenly unfolds before you – from bridal prep to first dance and everything in between.  Even although most of the key stages of the day occur every time, every wedding is different, because every wedding is the biggest day in one couple’s life.  Looking through the 1,000+ shots I had taken, it dawned on me that sometimes it is easy to get so engrossed in making sure that you get the shot that best captures the part of the day in question, and will make the best memory for the couple in the years to come, it is easy to forget what is actually going on:  you may be busy doing your job, but you are also a key part in a couple’s wedding day, the biggest day of their lives, and you have seen more of the day than any of the guests have:  that, as they say, is the “big picture”, and sometimes it is easy to miss that until after the event.  We are being asked to be part of a couple’s wedding day and to record it for them to look back on for all their life together.

From the job point of view, seeing the detail will always be important, but this made me realise that sometimes you have to remember to look at the big picture too and to remember just how important that big picture can be: photographing a wedding is not just a job, it is a privilege, and I am looking forward to many more privileges throughout the summer.

As John is the principal photographer at these weddings, it is not appropriate for me to post any of my photographs on this blog as copyright belongs to John, but if you click here, you will be taken to John’s blog where he has a slideshow of some of the highlights of the day – A wedding at Voewood – John and Georgie’s Sneak Preview .  Please have a look.

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It’s not about the money

I read a story in the newspaper last week about David Beckham and his latest move to a new football club in Paris.  The article featured a photograph of him with his wife and three sons; what a handsome family they are.  Mr B will earn around £3 million from this latest venture and most of the news coverage around this event has focused on the fact that he is donating all of his salary to an as yet un-named childrens’ charity based in Paris.

I can’t claim to be a great fan of the “celebrity culture” so abundant in this country, and there is no doubt that The Beckhams are masters of manipulating this culture to suit their needs, but I have to admit that I did find this particular news article quite refreshing in a number of ways.

David Beckham and family in Paris

David Beckham and family in Paris. Photograph published in The Guardian.

Mr and Mrs B are no strangers to the press and they were, as always, well turned out for the cameras.  On this particular occasion, their three sons were with them and what well turned out young men they were too, all looking very smart in suits.  It was clear that David is very proud of his family as he gathered his boys in front of him for the photo.

During the press conference on the signing, David was asked about why he had decided not to take any salary from the football club but to donate the money to charity instead; he told reporters that “it’s not about the money“.  He knows he is in the final stages of his football playing career and expressed delight in having received so many offers from clubs around the world, despite his age.  “It’s not about the money“, he said “I just want to play football“.   He went on to explain that he is very fortunate to have had tremendous success in his chosen career, and that he has been extremely well paid for it over the years.  He has made an awful lot of money (estimated personal worth of around £140 million or so), so for this particular contract he has decided that playing football is more important than another £3 million in the kitty, hence the donation to charity.

Now I am quite sure that in the coming days and weeks there will be plenty press comment on how this is all just a big publicity stunt; press coverage for Victoria’s fashion business in one of the top fashion centres of the world; heightening of “St David’s” status in the eyes of potential new sponsors for ‘Brand Beckham’ etc etc.  No doubt also there may well be an element of truth in there somewhere; but so what.  What if it is just a grand publicity stunt ; he can afford to throw away £3 million.  Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I find very refreshing to see a footballing celebrity happily posing for photographs with his lovely family and stating that his latest move “is not about the money”, it’s about being able to continue to play football, the thing he is good at and the thing that he loves doing.  He is a very fortunate man to have gained considerable wealth dong something he loves and although he has done many things for charity over the years, he has now made s very public statement that he is just happy to still be playing football, his first true love.  Publicity seeking or not, corny or not, I personally am very pleased to see someone seen as a role model for the younger generation making a statement like this; I wish more of his over-paid and over-pampered colleagues in the game would take a leaf out of this book.

Now then, in no way, shape or form can I claim to have much in common with said Mr Beckham, however, I do (try to) share his ‘it’s not about the money’ philosophy.  When I left the corporate world a few years back, I had a variety of options to move into other organisations in a similar management role to the one I was leaving, and also had many options to move into management in a ‘contracting’ basis for which I could earn considerably more money than I had been making previously, but I was determined that my impending redundancy was not to be viewed merely as a chance to move onto another organisation, but it had to be seen as a (probably last chance) opportunity to really do something different.  I didn’t just want a new job, I wanted a new lifestyle and new opportunities.  Now I know that can be a very cliched and idealistic statement to make but somehow it just felt that it really could be true this time – if I really put my mind to it.  I used to often joke with my colleagues that I would be happier getting a job in a coffee shop than I would getting another management position, but it wasn’t really a joke.  As part of our redundancy package, we were put in touch with a consultancy company to help us work through our thoughts for moving on, and it was during one of these meetings that I made the “now or never” decision that I was going to set up my freelance photography business.  Many people pointed out the difficulties ahead, reminding me that it was not going to be an easy journey, but I was – and still am – well aware of that.  When my team and I had managed to overcome project issues in the corporate world, I often used to say to them “It would be no fun if it was easy” – and that philosophy was about to move with me into my new world too.

Turning a hobby and passion into a business is rarely easy and I can now vouch from hands-on experience that it most definitely isn’t.  Photography is a very difficult business to get into; digital photography is just so easily available these days that almost everyone has access to it in one shape or another, and decent quality kit is becoming more affordable too.  You only have to do a simple search for photographers in your area to see many hundreds, if not thousands of results appear.  So why did I make the move, and why am I still slogging on with the quest?  Well, to return to the title of this post- “It’s not about the money”.  I get a satisfaction from my photography that I find quite unique, whether it is being out there on my own with the camera and tripod watching the sunrise at the coast, or capturing a fleeting smile or tear at a wedding; when you realise that you have successfully captured a very special moment that will never be repeated, that’s a very special feeling.  Over Christmas, I was trying to get a photograph of my two nephews who are at that age where they just don’t want to be seen sitting with one another ( in a brotherly love kinda way ): to try and coax them into it, I appealed to their techie nature by telling them that they would only have to sit together and smile for 1/125th of a second for me to get what I wanted.  This did indeed appeal to them and eventually, I got my photograph.  And that’s just it – for 1/125th of a second, the boys sat together and smiled, and it was captured forever.  That’s what it is all about for me.

Interestingly enough, since I started drafting this post, two very special things have happened which really sum up how lovely and special it is when you capture a moment really well, and realise that it is not only giving you great satisfaction, but it is bringing pleasure to other people too.

The cover photo on my business Facebook page was sorely out of date – lovely autumn colour – and I finally managed to get around to updating it.  Although I was glad to see the back of the recent snowy weather, I decided to use a photograph I had taken during a recent walk in snow covered woodland near to where I live.

Winter Sunset at Marston Woods

Winter Sunset at Marston Woods

To be honest, I wasn’t too sure about my choice of image; I liked it but didn’t have the same confidence in it as I had had with previous cover shots.  The following morning I was notified that a friend and former colleague of mine, and now highly regarded photographer in the area, had commented on the photograph “WOW, that’s a stunner“.  Well that was a lovely start to the day I can tell you – getting praise for your work is always lovely, but praise from someone whose work you admire, is very special.  Less than an hour later, whilst still feeling quite pleased with myself, another comment was posted, this time from someone I do not know personally – ” Nice oil painting coming up inspired by that beautiful pic“.  Maybe it was a good choice after all !

One area of photography I am trying to develop is in the field of sports and journalism.  I regularly visit a local rugby club on a Saturday afternoon to photograph the match and try to get the club a photo in the local and regional newspapers.  I have been fairly successful with getting photographs published but the thing I always enjoy is seeing the comments left by the players and their friends and families, when I post photographs onto the club’s Facebook page.

The weather for last weekend’s match was pretty awful, and by the end of the game the players were covered in mud.  As they left the pitch at the end of the game, I noticed that some of the wives / girlfriends were excitedly cheering and applauding their partners on their hard earned victory.  Unusually at a rugby match,  I found myself switching into ‘wedding mode’ as I got that feeling that there could be an interesting picture about to unfold.  A split second later, there it was – and thankfully – it was caught.

"Love is........"

“Love is……..”

This was very much a snatched shot, but it has received some lovely comments and more “likes” than any previously published rugby shot !  David, the player, commented:  “Hahaha, this is brilliant”, and Claire, his girlfriend commented: “I love this so much. Kept me smiling all day.”  The following day, Claire sent me a message saying: “Hi, I’m the one in your “Love is..” picture, and I absolutely love it, it has had me smiling all day.  But the best thing has been the messages from friends as far away as Singapore asking who this new man is in my life !   He he, Thanks xx

I sincerely hope that I will soon make a comfortable living from my photography, and maybe one day I too will be able to donate some job fees to charity, but in the meantime I will just keep slogging on trying to get the magical shots that not only make me smile, but more importantly, make other people smile too.

It’s not about the money, it’s about moments like this.

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