What do Muse, Queen and Pearl Jam all have in common with the wedding photographs I’m about to share below? Answer; they’ve all shared the same space at Ridge Farm in Surrey. In the sixteenth century when the first stones were laid at this farm, I doubt those who tilled the soil would ever think, or even be able to imagine the kind of music produced by Manchester’s iconic stars of rock, Oasis, filling the four walls of a barn designed for keeping grain dry. Be Here Now, one of my favourite albums was recorded on this farm at the famous residential studio retreat in a room a stone’s throw from a cottage where brides prepare for their weddings now. The studio (two pics down on left) is used no longer, its windows shaded by the foliage that’s gradually enveloping the building sadly, though I did stand on tip toes to see if the hallowed mix desk was still there, until someone remarked it had been sold over a decade ago to Radio Denmark! The bridal preparations take place on the first floor of this neighbouring cottage. Legend has it Ozzy Osbourne’s girlfriend, Sharon also got prepared in this room, although it was a good few years before their wedding. She infamously threw a Rolex watch belonging to Oz in the pond from the balcony and it’s apparently still in there. I looked hard into the shallow waters. It’s not there. The studio closed and the farm grew other business wings as a party venue and latterly, a wedding venue too. Ridge Farm is unique indeed. I doubt there are many other wedding venues where you can play tennis on a court where Freddie Mercury fought five setters, or sit at a breakfast table that entertained Morrisey of The Smiths. I can understand why bands came here. You can breathe in creativity when you’re not fighting in the smoke or struggling to get into work in time thwarted by city traffic and executive attitude. Bands were encouraged to live here as they created their albums and I can just imagine Noel and Liam in more harmonious times, sat writing lyrics and melodies where outdoor wedding ceremonies now take place, serenaded by the sound of wild woodland.
In the past year I’ve learned, courtesy of the late documentary photographer Steve Shipman, to look up; appreciate the sky, the weather, the light. But there are times you should look down too. As photographers I believe we’re very focused upon what appears before our eyes on a plain. We’re that invested in the stories we seek in the eyes of our subjects that it’s easy to forget to devour the scene for other angles and plains that can paint a narrative. Do you remember the phrase; “It’s not big and it’s not clever?” Well, in some respects that could come to play with the image published below. At face value it’s really just a shadow. Equally it’s a hard shadow, it says; ‘This day was hot, the sun was high, it was cloudless.’ It’s also a social message; the consumption of a drink from a flute suggests celebration of sorts. It’s a picture designed to sit within a collection, it hopefully paints a climatic picture. For my photographer friends, look down. There’s a world of information there.
It may seem a strange title for the following image, but the reality is, if you photograph everything from 5ft 10 (I’d like to believe I’m 6,1) then your images can/will become creatively static. I talked this evening to a visiting couple about some advice I was given some time ago by a photojournalist more known for his work on the African plains and conflict zones than a nuptial arena and his thoughts upon the subject of composition were simple; “I always look at a photographer’s trousers before I consider his shooter merits. If his/her knees are worn, then that’s the photographer for me.” Short moral, drop down, and consider how the scene looks from say a child’s perspective.
I think as a wedding photographer you need to constantly address the question; how could I have made this an even more engaging pic? Bleat-casting only your favourites can become a rather two dimensional personal experience. Seeking the ones you like and then recognising a thought process that could have been employed to create a stronger record if for a step to the left/right or marginally more patient eye, is a cathartic opportunity to question your own so called decisive moments. In this case I’m going to share immediately that I rather like this picture. It’s a quip pic. Not a belly laugh, but a brief grin thing. It’s not ground breaking for sure, but it does share the humour of a high spirited afternoon drinks reception in the high sun at an early Summer’s wedding in London. I’m drawn back enough to embrace a little of the context, but not enough. As the song sort of goes; ‘It’s a step to the right.’ That would have invited more of the guests you currently see to the left of frame, busied up the picture, made it look like more like the event I was personally witnessing. The context is certainly creeping in, but not as prevalent as it could be. It’s a hot sun, hot indeed. Swinging right the way round to the right would have lost the over exposed tree behind them, and possibly extricated the stone wall to the left too, though it may have also lost some of the amusing aspect of the two chaps face on. They’re a little centered for me, maybe a tad too obvious in compositional terms. In my defence your honour, it’s a grab shot. A second later and this image is gone, or certainly very different. But it’s always worth sharing that as photographers, we do or at least should have a thought process whenever we go to record a moment. I’d be hoping for a seven from Len in the old days for this one. Perhaps.
Shot data: focal length 85mm, f1.8, 1/200, ISO 100, over-exposed by one third of a stop.
When I was training to gain my commercial qualification for operating drones, one mantra more than any other was consistently expressed, nee preached; ‘Thou shalt not fly one’s machine directly above un-briefed public gatherings.” I’m pretty sure the risk assessment requirement for drones weighing far shy of an evening’s supply of bagged supermarket ready meals was equally, if not more demanding than that of a full sized rotary cousin with permission to land on publicly accessible land anywhere within the four corners of our green and sceptered isle. Airport near misses and various privacy eye raiser missions have all helped to create a belief that nothing good will ever come from one of these ‘toys.’ I didn’t end up using my drone at weddings. It was too much of a distraction and the permissions required to fly would challenge all but the least faint hearted at Dublin’s finest airline. I have relinquished my sky policing and accepted these super agile reasonably stable platforms are now accessible to any guest. Trouble is, guests don’t usually read the small print of what is and is not legally acceptable. This for instant is not. But, and as an observer minus my obligations I’m there to record a unique and dynamic angle of operations.
Shot data: focal length 24mm, f2.8, 1/1600, ISO 100
I’ve adopted a house style over the last couple of years when it comes to dancing shots in that I like to drag the shutter when deploying a dab of flash. It’s usually, winter portraits allowing, the only time I connect a flash by lead to my camera body, preferring an available light approach for the rest of the wedding. For couples reading this, I should elaborate on the shutter drag concept. In essence it means to slow down the shutter to a speed where movement would be one long blur, certainly in terms of capturing dance movement. For me, that’s 1/13, or 1/15. Next up I select a flash power that doesn’t nuke the subjects before me, but works in such a way as to freeze the action at an important given moment as I depress the shutter. Finally, and this is for all anglers out there, I whip the camera right, left, down or up, just slightly as I activate the shutter – and this is what creates medium to long light trails. If you want to see an example of this, then zip through to this link here for one. But this post is about laying down the flash and engaging the scene with available light, setting the ISO as high as you can feasibly stand with regard digital noise (or grain as it’s artistically interpreted) and recording the real colours of a dance-floor. The reality of this photographic colourful approach is what your couple will remember, so as a bed partner to your flash work, this is a good way to document the evening’s entertainment. As a caveat, this does work well when the entertainment has provided reasonable stage or dance floor light to illuminate the action beyond a band. Sadly this isn’t often the case. A flood of red, green, blue, even lurid pink, it all goes to provide this mood board of movement. This is a time to seek that perfect exposure for sure, but not to expect it. Light flood isn’t exactly subtle, but the results can be super atmospheric.
Today I’m revealing two scenarios, same day mind, to showcase like minded moments. Shooting weddings as a photographer is a great people watching exercise. Photojournalism is by its very nature an opportunity to observe without interfering, to record emotion or a subject in such a way that as a viewer, you receive an understanding of what the day was like, how a moment passed or what overall feeling the event being photographing had. As the morning preparations grew in intensity, as the time to leave for church drew closer, the bride was asked how she was feeling and this was the reaction. On this occasion it was the make up artist asking the question. There’s an argument of course to suggest a true photojournalist would not ask such a question, as the very nature of my prompt would change the reality of a moment. But I’ll be honest, I have asked the very same, so that I may extract a frame that reveals emotion such as nerves, excitement or a simple smile. I try not to over communicate though, if at all, as I want to traverse quietly through the scenes of a day – it works better that way for me.
The second image in this loose diptych reveals a wonderful mirror, in terms of that release I often see as brides and grooms steady themselves for the emotion that lies beyond. This is made in the church just shy of an hour later from the first picture and of course there is no communication from anyone to trigger this response, merely the moment of realisation this is it, this is what all the planning and expectation has been for and about.
From Botleys Mansion, a wedding venue in Surrey. Not that I would ever dare or wish to compare my subject matter to the Shane Meadows C4 drama film series of the same name, but there is certainly a calling card to British wedding photography in terms of what you may capture in general record terms. You can tag someone and their location by the feel of the reportage. There’s a fashion, a habit, a look to just, being British.
Shot data: focal length 85mm, f2.5, 1/5000, ISO 100, under-exposed by one third of a stop
Today, a piece about photographing in church – seeking different angles to tell that well visited story. As Gloria Estefan sang in 1990, “Get on your feet!” Is it really 28 years since that song was a chart success? It seems like only yesterday! When I were a lad my Dad would have talked about Bing Crosby and Frankie Laine songs as being like only yesterday and I’d scoff at the thought and jokingly ask if the world was still in black and white back then; a time when television was in absolute infancy, when flying to Australia took almost a week and Spurs football players queued outside my Grandfather’s tobacco shop in North London to pick up their Players Navy Cut prior to a match. I digress completely. Get on your feet was really supposed to be a rousing call to move more during wedding photography when you can. It’s all too easy as a photographer to find your safe position in church, or the one that’s been dealt by a priest or rules bound verger. But there are times I think you can throw a little caution to the wind as long as you don’t go and spoil the view for ‘paying customers.’ The proclamation is one such moment you can move and, as with this picture, I’ve travelled the aisle and knelt on the floor. I’m no longer distracting those behind me, and the lower angle presents a sense of energy when you look at the context of the photograph.
Shot data: focal length 70mm, f2.8, 1/160, ISO 1600
Two pictures today as the 365. Yesterday’s piece was called, ‘An admission.’ And perhaps to an extent, this could have been the admission, part two. I’ve worked with and photographed a humble number of faces that are recognisable. Perhaps it says something about the maturity of my vocation that in the most, these notable aspects are fathers and mothers of the bride or groom and not the key players in this love story. But still, it’s been a lesson. For O level English, elevator to a past educational period, I studied ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ For those who have read this you’ll be familiar with act 3 scene 1; ‘If you prick us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?’ and so on. I know I know, there is a far wider context to this piece, but I do think of fathers of the bride when I think of this lesson. Whether you’re the former national squad manager with a legacy of one of England’s most loved and greatest strikers, a national broadcasting treasure or a Dad who teachers first graders their initial strides into a playground of opportunity, we’re all the same. We’re wired for emotion. You can hold it in, try to hide it. Deny it even as part of your primal impulse. But actually if you embrace your feelings, you’re a millionaire every time.
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