It’s not every day that you get to be the photographer for the wedding of a young lady that you have known since the age of 3 but that’s what happened to me last Autumn.
I have watched Nancy grow up into a very beautiful young woman and in 2010 I had the pleasure of photographing her engagement to the gorgeous Tim Lee who was literally the boy next door.
Nancy comes from a family where it is traditional to have short engagements and long, loving marriages, so it came as no surprise to me when they announced the date of their wedding which was to be just 14 months later. Not long afterwards I was asked to be the official photographer.
PRE WEDDING PREP
As a wedding photographer it is very important to collate as much information about the day and the individual details as possible. The wedding was to be held in a marquee on the village playing field and the theme was to be vintage.
My first meeting with Nancy and her family was scheduled a year before the wedding and we took the opportunity to visit the church to see what sort of trees and shrubs were in bloom during the month of the wedding. Getting a good look at the church beforehand is really useful as I need to know exactly what the light is going to be like and where I can stand during the ceremony. It is courtesy to request permission to photograph the ceremony from the Vicar and ascertain whether or not I can photograph the actual signing of the register or just take some posed shots at the end. Sometimes I will sort out the intricate details at the rehearsal but on this occasion there was something else that needed sorting too – I had been asked how I felt about taking a shot from the church tower.
We made another appointment to meet up with a gentleman called Michael Juniper. Michael’s job was to escort me to the top of the tower so I could take a group shot from upon high but before I agreed to do this I needed to ensure that I could make the ascent to the top with ease and without damaging any of my equipment. In addition I had to know if I would be comfortable doing this, as I’m not really that crazy about heights - unless I have a parachute strapped to my back. I also needed to ascertain where the best spot would be to position the congregation. Once at the top of the tower I hatched a little plan – if I was going to do this on the day I had better do something spectacular that would make it all worthwhile…
Other important preparations were going ahead, well in advance of the wedding, on the allotment. Nancy's parents Tory and Sam had decided to grow their own flowers in order to have enough to decorate the marquee themselves. Advice on what to grow was given by local gardening expert Anna Miller who even gave over a large part of her allotment to grow them. Every detail was being planned to perfection – as well as lots of cottage garden flowers, there was going to be a candle lit entrance and twinkling fairy lights adorning the venue during the evening. The ladies of the family were busily sewing 100s of metres of bunting to decorate the marquee and before long, with help from the Groom’s family too, there was a production line creating all sorts of wonderful things including embroidered fabric invitations, a fabric seating plan and place names.
The marquee was erected on the village playing field and the night before the wedding, various friends and relatives - including some of the Groom’s family, who had flown over from the USA - came together to assist with the last minute decorations.
On the day the private shots were to be taken in a gorgeous garden belonging to David and Catherine Graham who are family friends of both the Bride and Groom. I had visited the garden prior to the wedding and had in mind various locations that would work really well. In addition, David and Catherine had offered the inside of their house for private shots in the event of inclement weather. A contingency plan for wet weather is essential and must be agreed in advance so that we all know what we are going to do and no time is wasted on the day.
Another part of my job as the photographer for the wedding is to work with the bride and groom to create a schedule of events. Everybody involved pretty much already knew each other and so it was a dream team in the making! The Bridal party will normally collate details of the timings of the different suppliers then, together with my list of must-have photographs, it is my job to put a schedule together which will be used by myself, the best man and the ushers to ensure that wherever possible, the day runs to time. This is sent to the bride and groom about two weeks before the wedding, which allows minor amendments to be made if necessary.
The two days prior to the wedding are spent ensuring that all kit is working, all batteries are charged, lenses are cleaned, cards formatted and that I have all the equipment required to deal with wet weather including studio gear and plenty of umbrellas.
I also ensure that I wear a smart outfit in order to blend with the congregation and that my car has been valeted, inside and out, in case I need to take any of the bridal party to the church.
THE BIG DAY
9.30am: Arrival at the Bride’s house
It is a photographers dream to arrive at the Bride’s house to find a room in which the dress is sitting beautifully on a manikin, the bridesmaids dresses are neatly hung in a row, a huge mirror leans against the wall and a collection of beautiful furniture all colour coordinated to match with the invitations, order of service and bunting is beautifully placed! This kind of effort can make an immense difference to the photographs.
I use this time to quietly photograph the details – flowers, dress, shoes, jewellery etc whilst the bride and her bridesmaids are having hair and make-up done. I normally only photograph the bride once the hair and make-up is finished – I just get the make-up artist to apply a little blusher or gloss to create the shot.
Once the flowers had arrived I photographed them and then went with the buttonholes to the Groom’s house to photograph his family and the gents.
11.00am: The Groom’s house
Tim’s parents Jonathan and Buffy had been very busy. There were no less than 9 ushers and a best man who by the time I met them had been comprehensively briefed with their individual tasks for the day and were more than ready to assist.
I quietly went into the house and shot the rings then emerged into the garden to get shots of Tim with his best man Ben, his family and the team of Ushers. We then took some fun shots, including some of the younger ushers on the trampoline! I did momentarily suggest that all 9 of them get onto the trampoline then decided against it as my health and safety head kicked in!
11.30am: The Bride’s house
With the ring and Groom’s party photos in the bag I returned to Nancy’s house ready to photograph the arrival of the flower girls and Nancy’s final preparations. But before they arrived there was just time for a quick meal of Eggs Benedict all round (which was gratefully received) and a bit of calm.
The flower girls Beatrice, Josephine and Prudence were the three daughters of Nancy’s cousin Tom and his wife Anna. It’s amazing how the hour running up to leaving the house flies by so quickly. The little ones were dressed first followed by Nancy’s sisters Tilly and Izzy then finally Nancy.
I try to capture the reaction of the flower girls when they first see themselves in the mirror – it’s a priceless image and one that the parents love. Before long, all 5 bridesmaids were dressed and ready to go so it was time for me to get a shot of them leaving
This can be quite an emotional time for the bride and her parents and therefore I have to be very aware and act accordingly, i.e. give the family some space if necessary, but Nancy was as cool as a cucumber and seemed to keep everyone else calm!
I usually capture the bride putting on her jewellery rather than photographing it on it’s own – it makes for a better image and is normally quite moving. I also ensure I capture any other details such as the back of the dress being laced and fun moments between the bride and her mum or chief bridesmaid.
It is also important to give the bride and her dad a bit of space at this is a very special moment of the day for them so at that point I photographed Nancy and Sam in the car, then left for the Church with Tory in order to give father and daughter that precious time together.
1.10pm: The Church
Keeping to time is difficult especially when there are lots of little ones to organise but it is the bride’s prerogative to be late!
Tory and I were only a couple of minutes ahead of Nancy and Sam, so she quickly made her way inside the church whilst I grabbed the kit I would need for the ceremony. For this element of the day I need to travel light, but equally must ensure I have spare batteries and memory cards close to hand.
I quickly took the photograph of the bridesmaids outside the church then the arrival of Nancy and Sam. As the vicar, Reverend David Russell came out to greet the bride, I quickly ran inside the church to take up my place to the side of the Alter. I literally only have a minute and a half to get myself organised in order to capture the bride and her father coming up the isle. I must ensure that I have the correct lens fitted and the relevant settings dialled in ready to get those shots. There is no margin for error!
Nancy looked radiant as she walked up the aisle and I endeavoured - and was successful - in capturing the Groom’s reaction to his Bride.
Once the service begins I work with two cameras. One is fitted with a 24-105mm lens to capture the wider and close shots and the other with a 70-200mm zoom lens in order to get the really close up shots of the rings being exchanged and members of the congregation.
The church at Wickwar is quite large and well lit and I am able to move around quite a bit during the ceremony allowing me to get a variety of shots. However it is important that I am near to the Alter during the really important parts of the ceremony such as the vows and the exchanging of the rings. Knowing how the service will run and the approximate timings comes with experience and is vital to ensuring that you get the ‘must-have’ shots. It is of paramount importance however, that the coverage required has been agreed by all parties prior to the big day as some couples prefer to keep the ceremony private. My outfit is quite important too – as well as dressing smartly, I need to ensure that my shoes are comfortable and quiet and I do not wear any jangly jewellery that will draw attention away from the Bride and Groom as I work.
Once the signing of the register is complete I work my way to the back of the church in order to capture the Bride and Groom coming back down the aisle and hopefully out into the sunshine!
2.00pm: After the ceremony
We were running a little late but luckily we had factored in plenty of time for photographs and there were not an awful lot of group shots required. If possible I also like to include a bit of mingling time for the Bride and Groom as often this will be the first chance they will have had to say hello to friends and relations they may not have seen for years. The main photography time was set aside for the private shots so I was confident that despite the slightly late start I could complete all that was necessary at the Church within the original time specified and get the schedule back on track.
The sun was shining and therefore I had the go ahead to get the shot from the tower. The Ushers were busily rounding up the guests to ensure that none had disappeared back inside the church, and just as I was about to start the long ascent, I casually asked if they would like to attempt to get the congregation into a heart shape! I like to set a challenge and was quite impressed at the sight that greeted me as I looked out over the edge! The boys had worked hard and just a small amount of tweaking was required to achieve the perfect heart. Luckily, as a guest and previous inhabitant of the village I knew a lot of the congregation so was able to easily direct individuals into the correct spot. They may have thought I was mad but I can tell you it was worth it!
Wickwar Church in Gloucestershire has a stunning kissing gate and it is a crime to not get a shot here so once the main shots were in the bag we took a couple at the gate. I then went to the car with the couple and the congregation to get the confetti shot. Once that was in the bag one of the Ushers suggested it would be a great idea to get the congregation to form an avenue from the church for the couple to drive along. Another cracking idea!
3.00pm: Private shots
Back on schedule it was time to drive to the garden belonging to the Graham family for the private shots. The congregation was making its way to the marquee where drinks and canapés were being served. We did not miss out, as we were also greeted with Champagne at Catherine and David’s.
This is a lovely time for the bride and groom to chill and gather their thoughts.
During our previous visit to the garden we had planned where we were going to take the shots so it was just a matter of ticking them off one by one. I also like to capture candid shots when the couple is unaware and will also get them to do a few unexpected things like getting the groom to pick up the bride and carry her up the garden or get them to practice their first dance. The more I make an effort to get to know the bride and groom before the wedding, the more I know how far I can push them! Sometimes I just get them to wander off and I will take candid shots of them with my zoom lens laughing and joking. Other times I will get them to do something a bit more demanding like a dramatic dance move. What we get generally depends upon the weather conditions and the amount of time allocated.
3.30pm: Mingling time
Once back at the marquee, the bride and groom get a chance to mingle with their guests whilst I photograph the details of the wedding breakfast tables. Little details such as the seating plan, name tags, flowers, favours, china etc all need to be recorded. Then it is time for the receiving line. The Bride and Groom are announced into the room and the meal begins. This is generally the time where I get a quiet break and a bite to eat. However, on this occasion I was also a guest so was treated to the sit down meal too! As photographer I am normally in on all the scheduled surprises. I knew that one person from every table was to be chosen to carve the meat so I was ready to capture the reaction of the person on our table. Luckily for us it was Nancy’s cousin Tom so our table was in safe hands!
Very soon the conversation and the wine were flowing. Even on the odd occasion when I am also a guest, I am first and foremost the wedding photographer so it is essential that I stick to soft drinks until the last shot has been taken.
6.30pm: Speeches and Cake
I love the speeches and it is the time when only candid shots are taken. My aim is to capture the essence of the atmosphere by taking shots of the poignant elements and the resulting raucous laughter! It can be quite emotional for those giving the speeches and I must be respectful of this when shooting away.
Whilst the speeches were underway, I also noticed the flower girls and other young members of the family playing under a makeshift den of redundant spotty umbrellas. It was great to capture that little moment as everyone else was engrossed in the speeches and would otherwise have been totally unaware of the other fun going on in the background!
One of the most memorable parts of the speeches was when the Tim revealed the honeymoon destination to Nancy!
There is normally a lull between the end of the wedding breakfast and the beginning of the evening celebrations. I use this time to recap. I check the wedding schedule and the list of shots requested to ensure there is nothing outstanding. I take a look at the shots I have already taken, make sure my spent cards are in a safe place and then I will generally continue taking candid shots plus any others requested by the guests.
I also had a surprise up my sleeve for the bride and groom and used this gap in proceedings to present it to them.
A few weeks prior to the wedding I had requested permission from a member of the family to visit the Bride’s house to secretly photograph the rings. The idea was to photograph them against a very personal background, which was a piece of beautiful paper adorned with fresh flowers from my garden. I had written Nancy and Tim’s names together with the date of the wedding on the middle of the background and placed their rings in the bottom right hand corner. I had then printed and framed the shot ready to give to them as a wedding present.
The surprise almost backfired upon me a few days later when I got a phone call from Tory saying that the Groom’s father was to collect the rings from the house and Nancy had instructed her that under no circumstances was he allowed to see the rings as nobody else had seen them and therefore they were to remain a secret until the big day!
Gladly, Nancy and Tim were thrilled with the print and I didn’t get into trouble for my devious actions!! Once this was done it was time to cut the cake.
8.00pm: First dance
Getting this shot right is critical but can also be quite difficult. Balancing ambient light whilst maintaining sharpness is a challenge as the couple are moving quickly so I use a bit of flash and will normally take as many shots as I can until the floor becomes saturated with other guests.
8.30p: Time off!
As a guest I had been instructed that once the first dance shot had been taken I was to put my camera away and enjoy the night. I did as I was told for a little while but was also acutely aware that I still had a couple more shots to take later on. Nancy and Tim were due to leave at 11.30pm along an avenue of sparklers and to a display of fireworks so I needed to keep my wits about me. At 11.10 pm I went outside to set up my tripod and take some test shots.
11.30pm: Departure of the Bride and Groom
The title says it all! They left to a fantastic display of fireworks. A wonderful day had by all, made particularly special by the community involvement in the preparations. A tinge of sadness as the couple say goodbye to their families but a lot of excitement as they are whisked away to a secret destination for the night.
AFTER THE HONEYMOON
3 weeks later: Viewing the images
Fresh back from honeymoon, Nancy and Time came to view the photos. This is always a lovely time as they get to see parts of the day that they were unaware of. It is at that point that we decide what the end product is to be. On this occasion Nancy and Tim chose a 20-spread (40 page) album and parents albums. They chose the images and I designed the layout.
6 weeks later: Collecting the album
I source my albums from a company called Loxley Colour and they are always beautifully wrapped and boxed. The albums come in a variety of sizes and finishes to suit most budgets.
I never get tired of seeing the look of delight on peoples’ faces as I present them with the finished product.
I always think that it is a great honour to be a part of somebody’s wedding but this was a truly special day!
Photographing a wedding is hard work and sometimes very challenging but it is the best job I have ever done and something that I am deeply passionate about. This is what the Bride's father had to say about the whole experience ….
“I hired Helen to photograph my daughter's wedding, and the results are absolutely stunning. She worked non-stop all day, starting with some intimate "getting ready" shots where she showed great patience with 3 very excited bridesmaids - all under 6 years old! Her approach throughout the rest of the day was such that our guests hardly knew she was there, but she still managed to capture every aspect of our special day. I would recommend her to anyone I know, and when my other 2 daughters get married, I wouldn't hesitate to hire Helen again.” Sam Wells
SUPPLIERS AND WONDERFUL HELPERS
All of the wedding suppliers were hired locally wherever possible, but in addition, family members and friends from the village also pulled together to help out with the preparations.
• Hair was created by local hair stylist Selina Cox
• Make-up applied by Leesa Goodway Make-Up Artist
• The floral bouquets and buttonholes were created by Sue Etherington from ‘Country Flowers’ of Stroud
• The Church decorated by 3 local ladies - Val, Sue and Sheena.
• The wedding dress was handmade by local seamstress, Barbara Daw, from Wotton Under Edge.
• Nancy and Tim are very much part of the Hobbs House Bakery family so the cake was naturally supplied by Hobbs House.
• The main wedding catering was by Lucinda Dalton Catering of Berkeley.
• The beautiful vintage cars were supplied by two family friends, John and Ken.
• Photography was supplied by yours truly
I would like to thank Nancy and Tim and their respective families for allowing me to use my experience of their wedding to show you how I go about photographing the day. If you are thinking of booking Helen Field Photography to cover your wedding day
and have any questions regarding procedures, please do not hesitate to contact us. We can also put you in touch with some of our clients who will, I am sure, provide you with an honest and frank opinion of our services.