Big pictures! | 365:98 shooting prime lens

Here’s a post about the big pictures you make as a wedding photographer. It’s also a good opportunity to showcase the benefit of shooting using prime lenses. Primes make me move, rather than staying static and zooming. By being fixed focal length, your feet are your zoom mechanism, so you’re encouraged to compose by being an active part of the scene. Here’s a useful guide from Photography Talk about the benefits of prime, before I elaborate with a short story about the bigger picture. I’ve attended a few wedding showcases of late, a fresh description on the block for the traditionally titled wedding fayre. Maybe you’ve attended these events yourself if you’re a visiting bride or groom just passing on through the pages of this site. But if you haven’t, let me enlighten. Imagine if you will a wedding venue decorated for the big day itself. Tables set. Floristry practised. Tempting bite sized canapes are thrust before you as you enter. You take the mushroom polenta, but decline the prawn vol-au-vent for fear of their explosive nature. A soloist strums shortened arrangements of Coldplay evergreens and photographers position their printed wares on tables that adhere to EU regulatory laws that dictate a requirement for vintage arrangement. Don’t ever drive to one of these events, as you’ll be disappointed you couldn’t take advantage of the copious choice of free good quality wines, mixer spirits and real ales. I’ve even met ready wed couples at a wedding showcase for whom it’s a cheeky afternoon out with benefits that outweigh the fact they’ll be asked by every stall holder what date they’re getting hitched and how the proposal went? I digress. Whilst I may sound a little flippant, the showcase is a good way to get a reasonably authentic venue experience. You get to taste, feel, hear and see a place that otherwise would be emptied of folk on a nuptially devoid day. As a photographer I’m one of a handful and I’m very aware that I need to draw someone in with a signature image. Something that attracts emotional response or even recall. Something that stops folk in their tracks and gives me a chance to say; “Hello?” In this Instagramic swipe through age where I think peoples’ pictorial gratification is rarely devoured slowly enough to fully appreciate the meaning of a still image, that chosen picture that I position on a big easel or within a large display album has to make impact – fast. I thought I’d share that picture. I may not have known it at the time, but this photograph from a wedding at Rivervale Barn is without a doubt one of the most important pictures I have ever had the privilege to make. I’d go as far to say that as big pictures go, this is probably in my personal top ten.

Shot data: focal length 35mm, f1.4, 1/640, ISO 100, over-exposed by two thirds of a stop

Black and white emotional big pictures, this is of a mother and her daughter at a Rivervale Barn wedding

How to layer in your pictures | 365:97

Shoot-throughs. We spent a week on this subject a little while back. The power of the shoot-through is such that it’s a ‘trick’ I revert to often and for good reason. Photographing through objects, in this case foliage, is way of layering your pictures. Without the method, this picture could be reasonably flat. I’m happy that the couple have been captured sharing a private exchange post their ‘I wills’ but this layered nature brings a three-dimensional feel that doesn’t exist minus some timely positioned ferns.

Shot data: focal length 85mm, f2.8, 1/160, ISO 100, over-exposed by a stop

Colour picture of a wedding picture where the bride and groom are talking together during their ceremony

Pictures that ask questions | 365:96

There are those pictures in a portfolio I come back to that have me linger and ask; “What was the story here?” This is certainly one. I remember the wedding well. Notley Abbey, Kristian and Mark, eighty or so guests, June, mild day, a little over-cast, dabs of sun. I remember one of the readings inspired me to make a bespoke short Photofilm about some words I’d not previously heard used at a wedding before during a ceremony. View that film through this link. But can I remember what this prayer was being said for? I think, I think, it was about the weather. Or was it a cast wish for all the guests to have a good day? Pictures that inspire to inquire are important at a wedding.

Shot data: focal length 85mm, f1.4, 1/2500, ISO 100, under-exposed by a third of a stop

Colour photo of a groom praying for good weather before the ceremony

The Jona Lewie touch | 365:95

This 365 post is all about photographing food. Or more specifically, those behind the food. For those asking; “What? Who? Where?” It was a reasonably laconic songster called Jona Lewie who thirty eight years ago released the song, ‘You will always find me in the kitchen at parties.’ I remember the performance, just, on Top of the Pops. And with those words ringing in my ears, it’s something I’ve taken to heart when photographing weddings. I’ll always request a chance to photograph the chef/s at work. It’s part of the documentary of a day of course, a portion of the day (pun intended) that otherwise is not recorded; food just magically appearing via a two-way swing door from the venue’s kitchen. If you’re trying as a reportage wedding photographer to narrate the story of a day through a sequence of photographs, this is essential fodder.

Shot data: focal length 24mm, f1.4, 1/250, ISO 100, under-exposed by a third of a stop

Black and white picture of a chef at work at a wedding

Kissing the light | 365:94

“Why don’t you use flash?” It’s often a question posed by guests at a wedding. I usually suggest in response that you look for light to gently kiss the subject you’re photographing and you can discount the need to mount zenty-someything candela of power on the hot shoe of your camera body. Light from windows, shadow play – that kind of thing. This is an example of such a composition. The bridesmaid having her make-up applied is close to a window and the fall-off of that available light is reasonably rapid as you can see by the wall behind her. Had I flashed this scene, the resultant picture would have been reasonably flat with everything illuminated in equal measure. I like to digitally process in a contrasty style; my blacks being black and whites being, well, you get the idea – it’s certainly not a salad of grey. And letting the subject get gently kissed by the available light, with sharp fall off either side of the composition, allows me the opportunity to present my pictures in this style.

Pulling back | 365:93

Being in the thick of the action is that predisposed positioning for any photographer working within a genre where photo reportage is the aim of the game. I think many of my stronger photographs have been made when sporting a 24mm lens and getting in close. They sport a sense of urgency and intimacy, those kind of photographs. But there are times to pull away, pull out. A time to draw more of the vista, to reveal the background and paint some context. This is a reasonably wide take on the scene at 35mm focal length. I’ve ventured into a different part of the room at Stoke Place where bridal preparations are well underway, so I can reveal more of the open scene. A squared archway into the room, shooting past a roll top bath and using available light only to just kiss the bride in illumination terms creates a more intriguing photograph than a simple close up.

Shot data: focal length 35mm, f2.8, 1/125, ISO 640, under-exposed by a stop and a third

Colour photograph of a bride having her make up applied next to a window at Stoke Place

Finding your quiet place | 365:92

I’m not monastically quiet, but I’d say I’m somewhat focused when photographing a wedding. I believe I can enter a mantra-like state which is at odds with one of the more regular lines of questioning I receive from photographers entering this business, that being; “Do you get nervous photographing a wedding?” My answer to that is; “No, not at all really. A little pensive prior to the first press of a shutter on the day perhaps, but not especially so.” And that’s not because I’m complacent, arrogant or even working in some kind of auto mode, it’s purely that I find photographing weddings in a documentary style a contemplative process. You’re continually problem solving if you photograph in reportage style; looking for angles, listening, watching, planning your compositions on the fly as this is a subject matter that is transient by nature. I know I share a great deal of emotional currency within the portfolios and blog postings on this site, but you’ll find as many quiet images too – and it’s that light and shade, finding my quiet place, that makes this such a rewarding genre to work in.

Shot data: focal length 35mm, f2.8, 1/160, ISO 500, under-exposed by a stop and a third

Black and white picture of a groom preparing in the mirror for his wedding at Stoke Place

By the powers vested in me | 365:91 Vive la différence week

This photograph, the final in a themed week where I’ve travelled through various creeds, cultures and traditions of weddings ends with a visit to the eastern shores of the states; Portsmouth, New Hampshire and a Unitarian Universalist church on State Street. Unitarian Universalism, now there’s a new one on me. Not so much a single denomination, but an invite to those of a more spiritual persuasion to meet, study and worship together. What did surprise me a little was the list of those openly welcomed. Buddhists, Christians, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish worshippers I clearly get. Agnostic, Pagan and Atheists sharing the same four walls each Thursday for coffee morning, I don’t immediately comprehend. Though church on our side of the pond seems a little more straight forward in terms of what sense of belief you’d be expected to practise as you stepped across the threshold, I left feeling a sense of belonging that didn’t demand I should pin my colours to any particular mast. This is a very simple composition, nothing particularly clever maybe, but it completely encapsulates the strength of spirit this church has. I hear many ministers of all faiths declare a couple as husband and wife, but none quite so expressive as this. Maybe it’s because I was there, but his outstretched arms, beaming eyes and booming proclamation come through loud and clear in this photograph. And though the effective focal length is 84mm, I’m respectfully close enough to achieve a close up view I’m not always permitted to bring about in an English church, but one that was practically invited by the head of the congregation this day. It seems that Unitarian Universalism even welcomes a visiting Limey wedding photographer.

Shot data: effective focal length 84mm, f1.2, 1/900, ISO 400, under-exposed by a third of a stop

The strangest blog post I’ve written | 365:90 Vive la différence week

Now this is an interesting one and I’ve lingered over printing an image from this wedding for a good few years now. It is possibly, nay, it is definitely the strangest blog post I’ve published, for photographic reasons. You may be thinking; “But Neale, why have you found it necessary to mosaic their faces out? Is this a wedding that would otherwise be more suitable for the next edition of Crimewatch?” Well, no. And let me share some thoughts about weddings and love. We live in a wonderfully free country where for the most part, allowing for the occasional bigotry, you can practise what religion, faith or indeed non-belief you wish to adopt. You can choose who you wish to spend your more intimate hours and then life with, the legality of course being only drawn by family blood line or age of consent. Fortune does not have to favour the brave on these shores, for if you wish to spend eternity with someone of the same sex, so be it. During the hours I was privileged to spend time photographing this couple who had flown from a reasonably far flung country to be married in a land that recognises such freedoms as same sex partnership and marriage, I was delighted to be present as guests held hands openly for the first time publicly, no longer reticent or even scared to present their sexuality to the world. In some corners of this globe, same sex marriage is not an institution openly celebrated and so regrettably with the Internet beaming into their less enlightened locality, the pictorial defiance is required to be somewhat muted. I smiled widely though, Cheshire Cat style smiling in fact, when the wedding party crossing the road for the above group photograph was beeped by a London cabbie, loudly and warmly congratulated. “Welcome to London,” I thought. “Welcome to how it should be. Everywhere.”

Photographing Bahá’í faith weddings | 365:89 Vive la différence week

Before I ventured forth into photography as a vocation, and then deeper into the creative forest as a wedding specialist, I’ll admit that my rather blinkered view of religion was from enduring some awkwardly flat sermons delivered during yuletide school visits and memorial days attended as a boy scout. But now here I am, an increasingly travelled cultural visitor in terms of nuptials, a spectator of ceremonial diversity, though with another thousand faiths to experience I’m sure. Recently I experienced one more; the Bahá’i Faith, a global religion that began in Persia in the mid 1800s, a faith that despite some of the confines of it’s originating borders promotes such utopian values as equality between man and woman, race, religions, the abolition of prejudice and the freedom to celebrate your own beliefs. In short this religion preaches as many do arguably; understanding.

Shot data: focal length 85mm, f2, 1/160, ISO 5000, over-exposed by a stop and one third

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