An entire wedding from beginning to end

I wanted to share a wedding, pretty much in its entirety in terms of how I covered the day and what I delivered to the clients.

What I aim to provide in doing so are some insights into the ways in which I might think on a wedding day, how I approach photographing events and scenes and details and what, as a result, I might bring to any wedding that I am commissioned to photograph.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’ve selected Sarah & Jon’s Somerset wedding, which I photographed last year. The images presented here, all of which were delivered to the clients, are in the order in which I photographed them on the day. I’ll explain the logistics behind the taking of the photographs and where appropriate, my thought processes at the time of taking them. I’ll also point out where and how I might have done things differently for a wedding with a different structure to it.

You may want to look at the blog feature I published on Sarah & Jon’s wedding, eponymously known as The Pie & Mash Wedding, before continuing to read through this article. It’s published in two parts and there is a link to the second part at the end of part one. Naturally enough :~). At present I tend to blog up to a couple of hundred images for a wedding feature in order to convey a comprehensive and strongly interlinked narrative of the day’s events. I’ll deliver many more images again to the clients (there are several hundred contained in this piece).

A little scene setting first. Sarah & Jon married at Court Farm, Standerwick, in Somerset. They booked out the onsite accommodation at Court Farm and both stayed there for the duration of the wedding weekend, along with immediate family members and elements of the direct wedding party. The accommodation was split into separate wings, which allowed for the bridal party and the groom’s party to remain separate in the lead up to the ceremony. The ceremony took place in the main building complex that housed both wings of accommodation. The wedding reception and evening party made use of a stone barn on the same property, with a marquee attached to the back.

Many wedding days are split across multiple geographical locations, of course. The couple might be getting ready at respective family homes, or one at a family home and the other at a hotel or at a friend’s home, etc. The ceremony might often take place in an entirely different location to the reception and evening party. The same variation in specific locations comes about in this case though, in what might be described as a microcosmic example of a more broadly spread out wedding day.

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I’ll start with a little visual scene setting at the very start of photographic coverage for the day.

At each location associated with the wedding day, I’ll take photographs of architecture and environment to serve as scene setters and, quite logically, to serve as reminders to my clients of how it all looked on the day. Whilst I’ll often try to compartmentalise the photographing of material details (details being things such as floral decorations, table decor, signs made for the wedding, printed materials such as menus and orders of service, etc.) into self-enclosed passages of time throughout the day – my mind switches into a different mode for photographing spontaneous human action compared to photographing inanimate objects – if I spot any details as I go along I’ll also photograph those, just in case I don’t have time to make it back to where they are located later on. In this case, the hand made wooden signs also fitted in to that broader environmental contextualisation of where everything was to happen that day…

Prior to the ceremony, I have no rigidly fixed notion as to what I should be photographing but I do certainly like to document aspects of the couple’s preparations. Left to my own devices and geographical proximity allowing, I would always choose to cover aspects of both parties to the marriage getting ready. I always imagine that each would be interested in seeing something of what the other was getting up to before they joined together to make their vows. I’m happy though as long as I’m engaged in story-telling of some kind and the manner in which I allocate my time during pre-ceremony coverage is very much down to what my clients want to see in the resultant story. Sometimes I have spent my time solely detailing the preparations of one or other of my clients, sometimes they get ready together, sometimes neither will want to be photographed during this phase of the day and I’ll be assigned to photograph something else instead.

In this case, having started with a little outdoors environmental photography, I found Sarah with her hairdresser. I don’t spend the entirety of my time during preparations focusing on the key subject. In fact, it would typically be a small proportion of the total time allocated to this aspect of coverage. I like to give her or him plenty of space to breathe and there’s always something else of interest in the vicinity that I might photograph to add to the narrative mix. I spent a small number of minutes in and around Sarah’s quarters, framing enough images to deliver a story point then moved on so she could benefit from the tranquility that permeated her environment at this juncture…

Having done so, I simply went for a little walk around the grounds to see what I might come across. I spotted one of Jon’s groomsmen carrying a sign. He’d been assigned to take it down to the main road where it would be placed, to direct wedding guests up the correct lane. I took some photographs of him setting off and I contemplated following him all the way to the end of the lane to get a photograph of him sinking the sign into the ground too. Whether simple or complex strands of the day, I like to relate completely rounded sub-stories as well as overarching stories. However, having driven up that same lane myself earlier on I knew that the walk in either direction would take several minutes. It would have made for a thoroughly enjoyable walk and I’m certainly not in the slightest shy of any form of exertion when photographing a wedding day but I had to balance the time devoted to getting one photograph of a sub-event with the possibility of finding a greater number of equally meaningful images nearer the centre of events and more than that even, I was wary of straying too far away and for too long an amount of time from where Sarah’s preparations were taking place. If I’m to be honest, I do in part regret not concluding that little sub-story with the sinking of the sign, but it’s an example of the many judgment calls I have to make on a wedding day, not ones that are critical to the greater success of telling the story but ones that certainly dictate what is and what is not shown during all of those in-between moments. On my way back to the bridal quarters, I spotted Sarah’s dad setting up one of the candle holding jars that would serve as path-finding lights come the night. I’d not have seen that had I walked all the way to the end of the lane. I might not have seen it regardless; there’s a great deal in all of this which is purely serendipity in timing, being in the right place at the right time…

I popped in to see what was happening in the bridal quarters and all of Sarah’s bridesmaids were now in attendance, so I spent a while longer photographing the scene this time as it was a hive of human interaction, thus perfectly easy for me to go about my work without risk of disturbing the calm, which there was none of at this juncture :~) Some presents arrived, from Jon to Sarah, so there was much for me to photograph in terms of human interaction and object detail (it is often the case that I’ll be informed when a gift is due to be delivered, to ensure that I’m in place to capture something of the recipient’s reaction so that the sender has a chance to witness how the gift was received)…

Satisfied that I had a strong record of the gifts being received, I left Sarah and her bridesmaids again to see what else might be taking place outside. I found Jon in the barn casting an eye over the alignment of one of the wall hangings that he and Sarah had designed and produced, as his best man, Neil, lined it up along with one of Sarah’s brothers, Gareth. Whilst in the barn I spotted a bowl of badges that had been placed on the bar. This is something I would normally have photographed as part of a more concerted focus on documenting material details later on, but a badge with a camera icon caught my eye so I thought I’d photograph the configuration as it stood at this point, just in case it didn’t rest the same way later on. On my way out of the barn I spotted Sarah’s other brother (Tom, whose wedding I’d photographed a couple of years earlier) inflating balloons. The outside sunlight was cutting across him, leaving one half in strong shade and on a technical level I knew that this wouldn’t make for the best possible image but, that’s not always the important thing; quite often it’s not the important thing at all. Whilst I’m always looking to frame images that are evocatively composed and technically accomplished, I will also deliver images that are simple records of things that are happening, much as with the earlier photograph of Sarah’s dad setting up a candle light. In this case, the difficult juxtaposition of lighting was neither here nor there to me, it was Sarah’s brother contributing to the set up of her wedding day and I was sure she’d want to see that, regardless of whether the photograph was some kind of work of art or, indeed, not. As I left the barn, the flowers happened to be arriving, so I photographed something of the simple action inherent in that sub-event too and as it happened, Sarah’s mum was helping the florist carry the flowers inside…

I popped back in to the bridal quarters and not a great deal had changed so I might have popped back outside again, straight away, but Sarah’s niece was brought up for a visit so naturally, that was something I’d want to photograph. At one stage she drank water from a large plastic bottle. I’ll emphasise here the photograph I took of that happening and will make reference to it again later on. I then spotted Sarah’s shoes so decided to take some photographs of them while I was still upstairs.

I only own four pairs of shoes myself. One pair I wear to weddings, one for every-day wear, a pair of trainers for the gym and a pair of steel toe-capped boots that sit in my garage, for gardening, which I rarely have time to do these days (it’s the weddings). I wouldn’t claim to be a person with a strong natural empathy for footwear yet very early on in my career as a wedding photographer, I did quickly learn that shoes are often-times very important to at least one of the central characters on a wedding day, so I taught myself to enjoy photographing them, to engender a degree of empathy with them as photographic subjects, by placing them in idiosyncratic positions if only to stretch my mind a little. I’ve no idea what I was thinking with the ‘sat atop a wooden beam’ shot (the one of them hanging from the beam, I think works well) but I have to go with that inner voice, regardless of how confused it might be at times! :~)…

I then set off for Jon’s quarters to see if he and his groomsmen were setting about getting ready yet. On the way, I spotted Jon’s father, sitting in the sun. Whilst I was confident that I would be able to photograph him later, in the context of a wedding in full flow, there was something that I liked about the scene. If something catches my eye, I do tend to photograph it without thinking first what the photograph might mean to anyone, myself included. I assume that, naturally, anything that anyone is doing on my clients’ wedding day will be of interest to them.

The groomsmen had indeed started to congregate in their quarters so I took some photographs to show what they were up to and to capture something of their interactions. The groom’s quarters featured a spiral staircase. Sarah’s dad is an architect and earlier had expressed to me his interest in and appreciation of the manner in which the core of the staircase had been surrounded by concentric wooden rings. Knowing that he was upstairs at a certain point and was likely to come down again, eventually at least, I waited at the base of the stairs to see if I could get a shot that framed him within the architectural feature that he’d shown such interest in. I waited a good few minutes in that position (I even took a test photograph or two to ensure that the lens I had on one of my cameras would provide good framing and that my exposure settings were right; such photographs would be edited out of the final delivery set). Later I tried to capture other key protagonists within the same frame as I thought it might make for a playful image sequence when it came to editing…

I popped back across to the bridal quarters (hopefully this evidences a great advantage in both parties to the marriage getting ready for the ceremony in close proximity to each other, at least in terms of the depth of photographic record that might be achieved; otherwise I’d normally work out more prolonged parcels of time to spend in each camp, decided upon in collaboration with my clients) where nothing particularly new was occurring other than the significant fact that Sarah had a gift ready to send through to Jon. I returned to the groom’s quarters in time to catch a demonstration of Jon’s ironing skills, then documented something of the getting suited and booted phase before he received that gift…

I then took some photographs of Jon as he opened his gift from Sarah…

Next the groomsmen were due to set off for the nearest pub. I imagine I made for an odd sight, zipping on ahead, stopping, veering off into gateways bordering the metalled lane, holding back, zipping on ahead again. People get used to it though. One thing I’m always wary of when I move on in front of a group of people walking somewhere on a wedding day is that, by virtue of my having, in effect, taken the lead, members of the party that don’t know where they are going assume that I do know where they are meant to be going, and they start to follow me, even if I’m veering off somewhere to frame an alternative angle of them passing by.

As we arrived at the main road, with the pub on the opposite side I made my way across and hoped that the others wouldn’t follow me but would continue on down the narrow strip of grass so as to cross directly opposite the pub. There was every chance that at least some of the others would follow my crossing point but luck was on my side, so I pretty much managed to get the shot that I had preempted. The strip of grass would only allow for single file walking…

I spent somewhere between five and ten minutes in the pub with everyone, sufficient time to add some appropriate brush-strokes to the broader painting of the day, then set off on the walk back to the farm. On the way back I found the sign that Jon’s groomsman had planted earlier that morning, so photographed that. I also added a close-up of some daisies, because I liked how they looked…

On arriving back at the farm I came across a painting of what struck me as being a field worker drinking from an urn. The painting was tucked away in a corridor that played no part in the wedding day, per se, but I remembered Sarah’s niece drinking water from a bottle earlier that morning so photographed the painting, thinking it would make for an amusing image to juxtapose with the other that I’d taken of Sarah’s niece. Things were continuing at their own pace with bridal preparations; I took a few more photographs of the various interactions taking place…

…then set about a more concentrated session of photographing the details in the barn and the marquee. Pretty much all of these touches had been added by now, the groomsmen were safely ensconced in the pub and the bridal party would still be getting ready for some time yet, thus this made for an ideal opportunity to devote some time to making sure I captured a record of as many details as I could find. This is an activity that I might typically engage in during a cocktail reception, whilst guests are still mingling nearby and before they go in for the wedding breakfast. If, as on this occasion, I’m able to do so earlier on in the day, then I will do so at the first opportunity so that for most of the remainder of the day I can leave my mind switched to a mode of observing people in action (something that engages mental faculties that don’t come in to play when observing static objects)…

Whilst I am very much a people person, photographically speaking (I do also very much like people anyway, likeable ones especially), and ultimately my aim is to convey as much of the personalities of my human subjects as I can possibly capture, I am also very much aware that the details that couples choose to populate their wedding days with are in many ways as representative of their personalities as their facial expressions and body language are. As such, it is imperative to me that I photograph as much of that detail as I can find. I engage in photographing a wedding with an inelegantly versed adage always at the back of my mind, “If they paid for it or made it themselves, I photograph it”…

Having photographed all of the details that I could find, I proceeded to the ceremony room to see if anyone had arrived there yet. The groomsmen had returned from the pub and were applying their buttonholes. Fortunate timing. It’s something that I love to photograph, men trying to make sense of attaching floral adornments. I’m not always able to photograph this fascinating sub-rite of passage. It has to take place when I’m there to see it and it’s something that is done at varying, often unpredictable times in the lead up to the ceremony…

I then returned to see how bridal preparations were coming along (on the way, I spotted Jon with his dad, winged off a shot, it was very straightforward, a simple snap, but it means something and I delivered it). Bridal preparations were proceeding as bridal preparations proceed…

So I went back downstairs again; not that I find bridal preparations anything other than utterly fascinating but they do go on for hours, hours within which the fascination inherent in the dynamic would never wane for me but other things will also be occurring that are worthy of inclusion in the record, so downstairs I went. Some guests had started to arrive, so I photographed whoever I spotted, some details had been laid out in the ceremony room so I photographed those also (in particular, I was caught by a metaphor in the supply of white umbrellas; rain very much threatened that day but in the end, only came for ten minutes or so). An image also swept through my mind of the vista from within the barn, so I passed by there again to see what I could make of it, before returning to the bridal quarters…

Sarah’s dress was of a type that could be put on solo, thus in this instance I didn’t photograph the dressing stage. I have no pre-conceived policies in terms of how or if I photograph the dressing stage. It’s all down to what my clients wish to see in the visual record. When a huddle of bridesmaids are at work lacing up a bride in her dress though, I do imagine that is something always worthy of documenting (and I’ve had clients not at all interested in having the dressing phase documented; whatever you see on my Web site in terms of aspects of a wedding day that are photographed, you don’t have to have all of the same aspects photographed on your wedding day, there are no rules! :~). In this case Sarah’s veil was of particular significance as it was the one that her mum had worn when she married Sarah’s dad; it had been shortened for Sarah to wear, so I made sure to capture something of her applying the veil and serendipitously, was in the right place when her mum arrived to see the result. It is rare that I will request that anyone pose for a photograph until after the ceremony and we arrive at the time to do any pre-planned, posed photography (such as family groups and couple portraits) and by this juncture, I’d only taken a single posed photograph, one of Jon in the ceremony room (sometimes, I might take a posed shot of the groom with his groomsmen prior to the ceremony, if everyone is in place at the same time and there is indeed time to do so, thus precluding the need to take such a photograph post-ceremony). Once Sarah had attached her veil I did ask her to turn to the camera for a single photograph, a clear record of the result, but even this didn’t prove necessary as I was able to get plenty of shots that clearly showed the same result but that additionally saw her interacting with those she’d chosen to surround herself with, rather than with the camera…

Being a father myself, albeit with a good many years to go before I might find myself in a similar position, it was a rather profound experience for me to be in place when Sarah’s dad arrived, suited up and ready to walk her up the aisle. Sarah admired her dad’s new tie. He practiced lifting her veil, as he would be doing having delivered her up the aisle. The meaning of the moments, in such circumstances, transcend compositions and perfect lighting (though of course wherever possible I will strive to combine the two broad aspects, meaning and technique, within an image)…

Due to the proximity of the bridal quarters to the ceremony room, as everyone upstairs was ready a bit ahead of schedule I was able to pop in to the ceremony room again to see if I might capture something evocative from whatever was taking place there, before returning to spot Sarah, making her final mental preparations at the top of the stairs…

Whilst I view it as being critical to my practice that I never intercede in or interrupt the broader natural flow of a wedding day, where time affords the opportunity and the environmental circumstances are right I feel it’s no bad thing to take a quick posed photograph of a bride with whoever is in attendance with her when she arrives at the venue where the marriage ceremony is to take place. Time rarely does afford such an opportunity though :~) On this occasion, it did, so I took a quick and simple photograph of Sarah with her dad just before he led her up the aisle.

As the processional takes place, where venue rules (and those of the ceremony officiant) allow, I will place myself near the head of the aisle to capture photographs of everyone that is walking up it. It’s in my nature to be wary of being overtly visible during a ceremony, so as to not distract attention from what is taking place but most of the time, the guests eyes are fixed on the couple, the couple’s eyes on each other and during the processional, everyone is facing in the same direction that I am anyway, back up the aisle, awaiting the arrival of the bride and her entourage…

I do also endeavour to capture something of the groom’s reaction to the arrival of the bride. This does not always prove possible. Venue or ceremony officiant rules on where I may place myself, where space is available for me to stand without getting in the way, other parties to the ceremony placing themselves in certain positions or moving across my field of view, any of these factors or others might come into play during what is a real-time, dynamic event, but I do always endeavour to complete this visual connection in the story-line…

Given free reign, whilst also respecting the central focus of the ceremony, I like to photograph events from a variety of angles. If my location is to be a fixed one, I have a preference for shooting from the front of the ceremony, to one side. If I have complete mobility of movement, I also like to get some photographs from the back of the ceremony room. In a church with side aisles I’m often able to move to the back during the singing of hymns, then move forwards again, down the side; religious ceremonies also tend to be much longer in duration than civil ceremonies, for example, thus there is more time to take up a variety of positions. In this case there was no scope for me to get to the back of the room but I had sufficient opportunity to take up alternate positions during the ceremony (including stepping outside, as the ceremony faced on to a garden space with a wall to wall window system that was fully opened).

On a few occasions, during church ceremonies, I have been given strict instructions by the vicar to stay at the very back of the aisle. I will honour such conditions and can capture meaningful images from that position too. I feel that it is a good thing to be able to deliver to my clients a variety of viewpoints in the photographic results but ultimately, as long as the story is told in a meaningful fashion, I think all works well regardless (though I have just once to date been in a position where any photography whatsoever was barred; I knew that the couple had a strong desire to see something of themselves during the ceremony so I sat at the back of the church with a small but high quality back-up camera that I keep with me that has a virtually silent shutter and I rested this on one knee and took a good number of shots without looking through the viewfinder. A sufficient number were well framed enough and in focus to deliver a meaningful record of the occasion. I feel no guilt in breaking a rule when doing so brings about absolutely no disturbance to anyone, causes no offence to anyone in their right mind and allows me to deliver to my clients something that they are so deserving of).

When able to photograph from the front, as well as focusing on the couple I will also try, where layout and positioning affords the opportunity, to strongly contextualise the presence of guests (in particular, close family members that more often than not would be seated in the front row) by photographing them as they look at the couple, in turn using the couple as a frame within the frame…

I will also photograph any readings that are conducted, or anything else specifically involving the couple’s friends and families. Sometimes I’m able to do this within a more constructed composition; sometimes it will be a simple record shot. Whichever is the case, it all has great meaning…

Sometimes I might only be able to capture an interaction from an angle that doesn’t afford a maximum of clarity, such as the hugs that Jon’s sister receives from both he and Sarah, after she delivers her reading, but I’ll deliver these images regardless. They have great meaning. The delivery and the exchange of rings are, naturally, things that I look out for carefully too…

And so it is done…

Ceremony concluded, I’ll make my way to the back of the aisle to photograph the recessional then where possible, will quickly make my way outside, ahead of the couple, in the hope of capturing some of those first strong expressions of relief mixed with joy mixed with realisation. It’s a particularly fast moving aspect of the day and there are technical considerations on a photographic level in moving from a dimly lit interior to a brightly lit exterior but I do what I can…

I don’t seek to do anything in the way of posed photography in the immediate aftermath of a ceremony and will leave everything to take place in the way that it naturally will. In this case, Sarah & Jon came to a stop in the garden they exited onto while their guests were exiting into another garden space on the other side of the building. I left them to share the moment together, taking a couple of photographs from a distance as I departed. Quite often a couple would be followed out of the same doors by all of their guests and there’ll be much in the way of congratulatory hugs being delivered, which I will certainly look to build a photographic record of.

When it comes to photographs of confetti being thrown, I always find that the results look a great deal more natural when that confetti is thrown spontaneously…

I’m not averse to staged confetti throwing photographs either (in the case of Sarah & Jon’s wedding, it just happened) and for couples that do want such a staged shot, I would suggest that ushers or other members of the direct wedding party are assigned the task of getting everyone into place. If I have directed guests to form a channel, often they’ll seek to stand too far apart (fearing they will spoil the photograph by appearing in it; something I’ve been told by guests on a number of occasions) or they will continue to look to me for direction when it comes to throwing the confetti (which doesn’t engender a natural, spontaneous image) so it will work better if I disappear into the crowd whilst everything is set up then do my thing as everything then occurs in a more natural state. That way, the guests will be throwing confetti for the couple and not doing so for the camera…

I will have discussed with my clients in advance of the wedding when might be the best time to take any posed group photographs that they want, as well as portraits of the couple. In the case of Sarah & Jon’s wedding, it was decided that the group photographs would be taken in between the cocktail reception and the speeches that would lead on to the wedding breakfast. Quite often, group photographs might be taken during the cocktail reception. I have a preference for not taking people far away from where all the mingling is taking place (though am always happy to work with what my clients want to see) and often take such photographs within a handful of metres and in sight of where everyone else is located…

When I am not taking posed group photographs, I’ll focus on the scene, the interactions between the couple and their guests, and between guests not currently interacting with the couple, food and drink being served and anything that catches my eye really. As I will do throughout the day, I try to capture images of as wide a variety of people as I possibly can, though the dynamic nature of a wedding day, the movement of people around a scene as I myself move about, means there is no way for me to keep clear track of who I have photographed when and people will always slip my photographic net. I always suggest that if there is someone at the wedding whom, if not photographed clearly, it would leave my clients heart-broken, then that person should be assigned to one or other of the posed group photographs…

I’ve experienced wide variations in the amount of time allocated to taking the more staged portraits of couples on wedding days and ultimately it is entirely up to each couple how much time they wish to devote to this aspect of photography (if any at all, though I do feel it would be a pity to not have any taken). I discuss the process on a case by case basis with each of my couples and we come to a general arrangement that best suits them and their wedding day but I’ll outline here a notional approach that I feel can work really well, without taking the couple away from their guests for too long a time at any point of the day.

When I’m taking the posed family group photographs (often the first thing that I do in a staged or posed form on a wedding day, though it wasn’t in the case of Sarah & Jon’s wedding so these things are certainly easy enough to schedule to suit individual circumstances) I’ll typically place the couple first, as they serve as the best anchor point to draw other people together for a group photograph. At this point I’ll typically take a few very quickly captured portrait photographs of the two together, then start to bring people in alongside them. This would produce a simple photographic result but serves well as a starting point, to ensure that we have at least one clear photograph of the couple, together, in a more posed form.

If the couple won’t be having a receiving line prior to the wedding breakfast, I suggest taking them off for a short portrait shoot whilst their guests are making their way in and finding their seats, before food is served. This strikes me as making for a natural juncture to have them away from their guests without anyone unduly noticing their absence. Also, I find that it serves couples well to have some short periods of time during the wedding day where it can be just the two of them together, albeit with a photographer in tow but I make much of my portrait photography, when it comes to photographing a couple, about the two of them being with each other rather than the two of them being with a camera.

Towards sunset tends to offer the best light of the day (aside from around sunrise, but that time of day tends not to fit in well for a portrait shoot on a wedding day!) and I certainly like to aim to get some nice portraits around that time, best of all if there is going to be a visible sunset. Where this fits in to the broader schedule of the day I always suggest having a third, short portrait session then.

I find that splitting portraiture into three shorter sessions in this manner works very well but will reiterate that it’s a simple matter to arrange this aspect of photography in any manner that suits the couples needs and the flow of their wedding day. A single portrait session can work equally well, or a couple of sessions at different points of the day likewise.

In Sarah & Jon’s case we conducted a first, quick portrait session during the cocktail reception which in turn was taking place in a garden area surrounded on two sides by old stables. I asked if they were ready to do these once I felt that there had been plenty of time for them to spend talking with their guests. The wooden panelling of those stables spoke nicely of the country-side farm-like feel that formed part of what they were looking for in their wedding day. We were literally just a few paces away from where their guests were mingling, thus there was no undue disruption to the natural social dynamic of the day – the sense of togetherness with everyone – and we spent just a handful of minutes or so on the process…

A few steps away from the first backdrop was a wooden corridor of sorts, between the garden and a door leading to the land outside, and this area presented some nice, rounded lighting so I placed Sarah & Jon within this space. The earlier photographs having been taken in a relatively open space, I’d been able to step back a little way from the two but in this corridor space I had no choice than to be fairly close up to Sarah & Jon, with my camera. In common with the significant majority of my clients, they’re not the biggest fans of being photographed and this proximity wasn’t helping them to relax particularly (proximity with me is of course the most relaxing thing in the world but it’s the camera that doesn’t help matters, especially when it’s being pointed at you). I decided to distract them from thinking about the camera with a short, rapid exercise where I asked them to both hold their positions and not move their heads but to look at the ceiling, then at the floor, then at each other and so on until they cracked (result bottom right of the following montage). I’d kept photographing as they looked this way and that so the shutter sound would become familiar and I had no notion of using those shots when it came to finishing and delivering the images but they were amusing and engaging in their own right so I kept them in the final set…

The timing of that short portrait session, as it happens, coincided nicely with the time for everyone to move on to the barn for the next stage of the day.

Sarah & Jon had asked for a big group photograph of everyone that had attended their marriage ceremony. The first thing I would typically consider when planning such a photograph is elevation. It’s pretty much impossible to fill the image frame with a large group of people and still be able to see everyone’s faces when photographing from ground level, so often I’ll look for an upstairs window in a building that I may shoot from, with everyone assembled somewhere below the window in a large cluster. The only window I could spot at this particular venue that would allow for such a shot overlooked an expanse of stone chippings for cars to drive on. It would serve perfectly well to get a clear image of everyone in attendance but the backdrop wouldn’t have been at all evocative of where the wedding day had taken place. Thus I suggested lining everyone up along the front end of the barn (an important architectural element of the wedding day) and adopting a two-pronged attack to capturing the key elements of this requested image. ‘Attack’ is an appropriate expression :~) First I positioned myself far enough away to include the whole of the barn and the full group of assembled guests within the frame, photographed what I saw, then I ran the line, capturing blocks of guests in successive images so that their faces could be more clearly seen. A combination of terror and mirth leads to more spontaneous looking images, in doing this…

I then moved straight in to taking the posed family and friends group photographs that Sarah & Jon had requested. I always ask that a member (or members) of the wedding party be assigned to rounding the appropriate people up for such group photographs. It makes the process a great deal easier for a number of reasons.

I took photographs of Sarah & Jon with Jon’s immediate family, the two with Sarah’s immediate family, the two with the groomsmen, the two with the bridesmaids, then the two with the groomsmen and bridesmaids combined (and on this last one, I ran the line again as it was a sizeable group in its own right).

I take several shots of each group that I photograph, in order to mitigate against blinks and as far as is possible, people looking in the wrong direction and deliver those that work best. I’ll also at this juncture look to get some more tightly framed photographs of bouquets (with bride and bridesmaids holding them in hand) and was particularly pleased on this occasion to get such a photograph of Sarah’s sister-in-law, Caroline (I’d photographed her and Tom’s wedding a couple of years earlier) with her baby bump in profile and her bouquet resting against it (they now have a beautiful baby daughter and I know for myself how immensely valuable such a photograph will be to the child when she grows up)…

Subsequent to the posed group photographs I took a short break to allow my mind to recalibrate itself into a more purely observational mode then returned to photograph everyone mingling and interacting. Most of the photographs that I take will present subjects in a camera-unaware state but if anyone spots me with my camera and seems keen to flash a smile straight to the lens, I’m very happy to take such photographs also. I’ll take certain candid photographs from something of a distance in order to factor in environmental context but most often, I work fairly close to my subjects in order to present the viewpoint of a participant rather than a detached observer. I want the viewers of my images to feel as though they were there as participants themselves…

When confident that I had captured a good sense of the mingling and interaction taking place at this stage, I then set aside a little time to focus on some details photography. Whilst I’d been able to capture many of the material details earlier on, on this particular day, quite a bit more had turned up in the interim. Sarah & Jon had arranged a bake-off competition as part of their wedding day, asking guests to bake and bring along cakes for judging and prize-giving (the professionally made official wedding cake didn’t count, but I certainly photographed that too). Some other details had also appeared and there was a baby asleep in a push-chair, something that absolutely has to be photographed for posterity…

It had struck me earlier in the day that Sarah’s dress was what I would call a twirler, one with the right aerodynamic properties for being given a good spin around. Recalling this, I asked her if she could perform a twirl for me to photograph. It worked nicely, the twirling, but I found the backdrop a little cluttered so asked if she could repeat the action outside of the barn, which she did. It was windy. Still, the result was amusing so I delivered that image too :~)…

Next up came the speeches. Rather than having these delivered from a top table, they were staged in the barn with everyone gathered around the sides. I typically move through a number of different positions when photographing speeches in order to build variety into the image set with shots of the speaker and of the reactions of listeners. First up was Sarah’s dad…

Followed by Jon. The groom’s speech often incorporates distribution of gifts by the bride and groom to key wedding party members. It isn’t always possible to capture compositionally interesting images of the transaction of gifts at this stage (there was more space for me to work within on this occasion than there might normally be, if speeches are conducted around a top table for example) but I deliver what I am able to capture regardless; moments that have meaning…

Then Jon’s best man…

With the speeches completed and the guests filing through to the marquee adjoining the barn, for the start of the wedding breakfast, I popped off with Sarah & Jon for a short walk around the perimeter of the property and a second short portrait session (having taken a quick photograph of Jon with his dad – all requests happily obliged – and a couple of candid photographs of guests on my way out of the barn). They requested some levitation photographs (I don’t think those were their exact words :~) so we tried some of that. I’m very happy to work with any preconceived ideas for poses that my clients might have. Otherwise, I default to a lightly structured approach to portraiture. I positioned Sarah & Jon against some backdrops that I thought worked well, and in the main set them to interacting with each other. I spotted a neighbour mowing the verge of his property; it was mainly the tractor that caught my eye, a meme that seemed to be following me around during that particular season…

We moved around the front of the main house, taking a few photographs on the way. As we got to the back and were in sight of the barn again, Jon received a ‘phone call from one of his groomsmen (I hadn’t taken them away for too long, I promise) so I carried on photographing; why not indeed? I suggested a final set of photographs amidst two parallel lines of young trees, adjacent to the barn entrance but as we moved to that location it started to rain so the session was concluded with Sarah & Jon running for cover…

All perfect timing for the guests to have settled in, in time to applaud Sarah & Jon’s entrance…

Sarah & Jon served dinner to each and every one of their guests, before they themselves sat to eat. They even served me, which has left a profound mark on me in looking back on their wedding. I didn’t seek to capture a photograph of every single person being served as this would not have allowed me to also focus on closer details within the action, such as the more tightly framed images of a scoop of mash being raised or gravy being poured over a pie. I always have in mind the aim of relating a rich narrative which is certainly about people but is also about specific actions and nuances…

I don’t photograph adults whilst they are eating. The results are rarely flattering (I have indeed tried doing so in the past) and it’s not likely to serve well as an aid to a guest’s digestion, having a photographer floating around, in action. Children however are a totally different matter and tend to look highly endearing when they’re eating, often-times downright amusing. When my clients provide me with a meal (which is always enormously appreciated and certainly helps me maintain my levels of alertness when taking photographs across the entire span of a day) I will make sure to photograph the food, to add to the comprehensive visual record of their wedding day. When the adults have finished eating, I will seek to get a few photographs of interactions going on at tables, to add a further narrative brush-stroke to the broader picture of events…

As more cakes appeared for the bake-off, some brought along by guests that came for the evening, I photographed any that I spotted and continued to photograph any interesting interactions I came across between people…

Something that I couldn’t claim to be at all typical of my approach to wedding day coverage, one of Sarah & Jon’s guests came to find me in the barn to let me know that a rainbow had been spotted so we found the two of them to take outside for another quick round of portraits…

Further candid photography ensued, including a young voter at the bake-off ballot box…

Then it was time for the first dance. Typically I’d use an off-camera flash set-up for the first dance, with a couple of radio triggered flash units mounted on light stands placed next to the DJ or band’s speakers to cross the couple in the centre of the dance floor. On this occasion however, the first dance took place whilst there was still a good bit of daylight pouring in through the open side of the barn, thus I felt that artificial lighting would have appeared incongruous in the scene…

Still being daylight, whilst the band played a set there was still activity going on outside so I moved back and fore between the two environments and photographed whatever I saw that caught my attention…

I continued to move around to see what caught my eye. The cakes had been made practical use of so I photographed the results of that, more food had been brought out for the evening, I spotted Sarah’s brother, Tom and his wife, Caroline, lighting the candles that I’d seen Sarah’s dad setting up that morning, and I spotted another tractor (the tractor meme may well have been replaced by some other recurring phenomena by the time that you read this!)…

And yet more candid photography. Essentially, I never stop looking for scenes of human interaction, as well as environmental change…

The results of the bake-off were announced, and prizes distributed…

I had planned to conduct a third short portrait session with Sarah & Jon towards sunset (aside from the impromptu third session with the rainbow). The sun had set in the wrong place, however. I’m aware that might be a puzzling statement :~) It had set over a tree-line to a side of the barn that didn’t afford any space to frame people against its rays by the time that it had indeed dipped below the receding cloud-line. With no effective sunset to work with we conducted a replacement portrait session with some warm light of more immediate origin when a bonfire was lit in the field behind the marquee…

I obliged the guest whom had alerted us to the rainbow earlier in the evening with a moonlit couples mini-portrait session and continued to take exterior environmental photographs and interior action shots as the dancing warmed up…

And warmed up…

And warmed up some more…

Sarah & Jon requested a photograph with their big balloon. It got caught by a gust of wind and blew away into the night sky. They laughed…

And candidly I carried on into the night…

So that was one wedding day, beginning to end and hopefully some useful insights into how I might go about photographing any wedding.

I like to cover the day pretty much from beginning to end and to do so in a non-directorial manner, and with a very light touch when it comes to any posed image making. I seek to create as many images as possible that are composed in a creative, interesting and evocative manner but will also deliver any photographs that I happen to have taken that contain visual information that I feel certain will be of value to my clients.

If there’s anything more you feel I might be able to explain, do please feel free to ask :~)

Contact Dorset Wedding Photographer Phillip Allen : phill@misterphill.com : 07870 696248