She was beautiful; like a movie star and a Disney Princess all rolled into one. Even though I’d photographed the lengthy bridal party preparation process and watched the skilled makeup artist carefully apply Vanessa’s makeup, I was taken aback by how striking she looked in her self-made white dress. If I thought that, I could only imagine what Jeremy would later think.
On Saturday 5th May, my friend married the love of her life.
As someone who has attended many weddings, whether as a guest, as part of the catering team (ask me about that some other time) or as a photographer, I realise that the degree to which I feel feelings on the day depends on my relationship to the couple tying the knot.
Typically as a caterer, the couple are strangers and I am the invisible man who brings them food and magically clears away their plates. My feels as a guest is entirely dependent on my closeness to the couple as is the case when I’m taking their pictures. I’ve never cried at a wedding but this one brought me pretty darn close.
As mentioned in their engagement shoot blog (see link below) Vanessa is a good friend who met a lovely man online and as time ticked on, their relationship blossomed into what is now conveyed in my images. Being invited to a wedding as a guest is one thing but to be asked to photograph it is something else entirely. Not only is there a particular joy in capturing intimate details that not even their closest friends and family get to see, but the responsibility in capturing said details is enormous too. There’s an acute awareness of the fact that the images I take are the ones by which the couple’s family and friends (especially those who were unable to attend) will remember the big day. Much of this is resolved by extensive preparation and numerous consultations with the couple (namely discussing the shot list) but also in making sure my images are excellent.
As I sat in my car at 1am following a fun but exhausting day, I paused to reflect on all that had happened and what I had learned.
LESSON 1: BE FLEXIBLE
I mean this both literally and metaphorically. Of the latter, I have learned that timings can very quickly go out of the window and change due to numerous factors. I was due to arrive at 11am to photograph the groom and his men getting ready and though I did, the groom’s party were delayed due to set up problems at one of the venues and the DJ was 3 hours late. This meant I had to skip the groom shots and go straight to the bride’s venue. I rolled with the changes and in all of this, always aimed to be a positive and calming force. These changes occurred throughout the whole day – venues changing last minute, the bride and groom getting lost on the way to a shooting location, angry parents and things taking far longer than planned – and the entire time, me being calm, flexible and positive.
Regarding the first mention of flexibility, going to the gym pays dividends because shooting a wedding is very physically demanding and being able to move well enables you to do much more.
LESSON 2: IMPROVE YOUR TECHNICAL ABILITY
Perhaps a seemingly obvious point but one that always hits home as I upload and go through my images. As I went through them I was aware of just how much I do not know and how much I need to learn – even the basics. Though the images were composed well, some were not as pin sharp as they could’ve been so time must be spent on getting to know my camera and dedicating time to master my flash in dimly lit conditions. Specifically, the large group shots were a source of contention as I was limited for options as to where to shoot.
The large wall behind the church was the only space large enough to accommodate everyone effectively and though it was better than the rest (everywhere else was very ugly), the shifting clouds left some people in sunlight and others in shade – something that can’t be fixed in post
Though I am happy with what I shot overall, I do not want to rob clients of the very best they deserve and what they paid for. This will not happen by accident but by intentional study, practice and experience.
LESSON 3: ADAPT TO YOUR SURROUNDINGS
As with the first lesson, adapting to one’s frequently changing surroundings is essential. At the wedding, the surroundings and circumstances changed so frequently. Vanessa and I had met two weeks previously to discuss the location of the bridal party shoot and were happy with what we’d found. This helped me plan my shots. On the day, things changed. Not only were we four hours behind schedule for the bridal party shoot but as we were all leaving the venue, one of the bridesmaids suggested a different location, which was then agreed by the party. I went with it, knowing I’d have to think on my feet.
On arrival, the bride and groom got lost and the couple’s mothers were not shy in displaying their displeasure of the chaos. Though outwardly calm and reassuring, internally I was rapidly assessing my new surroundings and looking for a new shooting spot. Finding one didn’t take long and it actually worked out better than the one Vanessa and I previously looked at.
LESSON 4: CAPTURE THE MOMENTS
Weddings are about moments – special unplanned moments that give life and a sense of spontaneity to a wedding album. As much as I used my shot list, I was careful to capture those special moments where life just happened. I wanted to capture love, laughter, play and intimacy so kept a close eye on what the children were doing. Their propensity to be silly and real and ignore social decorum makes them a joy to photograph. I also sought couples who, in an atmosphere of loving celebration, remembered each other and displayed subtle signs of intimacy and affection.
Parents with children are great too as you often get two forces at play. On one hand, you get the child always wanting to break free of ceremonial etiquette and on the other, the parents fight for control for fear of being embarrassed. What happens in between is magical – often a mix of anger, laughter and a playful resignation.
LESSON 5: DEVELOP CREATIVELY
As with the importance of developing technically, I am aware of my need to develop creatively. Though there is much to be said about developing one’s own signature creative style, I am aware that I need to push myself creatively to deliver something that makes my work stand out.
As someone who spends hours on Instagram feeding myself creatively, I am always inspired by what others can achieve. Some of the work I’ve seen defies belief and though it can be disheartening, I am always inspired by what people achieve by being bolder in their approach. It all comes with practice and a willingness to break away from the constraints of the norm. When it comes to my wedding work, I want to produce images that not merely capture the couple’s special day, but makes people go “wow!” as they get a sense of the magic, wonder and atmosphere that was enjoyed by so many.
LESSON 6: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Lastly, I realised the importance of taking care of yourself though out the day. As fun as they are, weddings are long and tiring days and require a lot of stamina. As someone who trains regularly, I am fine in this respect, but I remembered that I only ate once, and that was at 10:30pm.
I should’ve taken several short breaks to eat something small and keep hydrated because without this, I would not be able to function effectively. Yes, I may have been able to get my shots, but a lack of sustenance would affect my attitude – something that as a photographer, needs to be on point throughout the day.
Though there are many more lessons, those were the headlines – the ones which stand out and the ones which challenge me to work harder.
Overall, the day was great and it was a delightful thing to see my friend leave for her honeymoon, knowing I’d been there from the beginning. Despite the setbacks, challenges, stresses and frustrations, everything came together worked itself out. Family and friends came together, there was laughter, tears and dancing and even the sun came out to join them in celebration.
It was wonderful time and with the aforementioned lessons firmly learned, I look forward to shooting my next wedding.
Until the next time ?