Wedding photography isn’t about photography. It’s a stand-up act with a camera, keeping everyone laughing and entertained. Taking the pictures should be second nature. Anyone who fiddles with dials, stares at the back of the camera, or needs to take a shot more than once, loses the attention of the couple, and especially the bride, very quickly. She wants to have FUN! She wants to feel glamorous, with her photographer chatting away and encouraging her at every turn.
Which made it an interesting ambition for Neil, the shy, deaf hero of “Counting the Clouds”. It’s sometimes said that the role of the novelist is to chase their hero up a tree and then to throw rocks at them. And this seemed like a suitable tree.
So, based on my own experience, read on down for some of the wedding shaped stones that I hurled at him during the book.
This first one is…being carefully spontaneous: the bride was on her own, checking some detail of the wedding breakfast before everyone came in. I knew I’d only get one chance so I fired off a couple of test shots, bouncing the flash off the light coloured ceiling and then called to her. ‘Can you just walk through the balloons?’ Excellent. It’s razor sharp, perfectly exposed and with enough reflected light on the balloons to bring it to life. But it wouldn’t have worked if I’d asked her just to stand there.
Number two: still razor sharp but only where I want it to be. The confetti’s moving faster than the bride (because I’ve primed her carefully, just beforehand, to walk very slowly) so, with an appropriate shutter speed, the heart shaped flakes bring the shot to life with their soft, blurry shadows. The fact that she’s gorgeous and smiling doesn’t hurt either!
I’ve also chosen a depth of field which makes the arch of the church a bit soft but still recognisable. This puts the shot in context and provides a visual frame around her veil.
And finally, I’ve cajoled the wedding party and their confetti into the shade. It was a beautiful, sunny day, which is dreadful news for wedding photography: hard, unflattering shadows and everyone squinting at the camera. But by asking people to move down the churchyard a few yards, we ended up with lovely soft light on her face and shoulders. (If you’re really stuck with sunlight I’m going to do a page on fill flash soon).
Why do I mention this? Because Neil, my hero in the book learns it all the hard way. But he’s good at other things…
Like seeing a good shot and making the most of it. The happy couple are on the Mathematical Bridge here, part of Queens’ College, Cambridge and many people have remarked since “That’s an unusual shot. Why don’t other photographers do that?’
The reason is simple: the rail on the bridge is far too high to look over and the bride and groom are standing on a wooden bench which I made, very carefully, to fit behind the struts! I’m standing on the road bridge, with a very long lens, giving instructions to my assistant by phone. She’s just out of shot, crouched in the doorway of the college, and talking to the couple. A complex shot, but worth it in the end. Neil, in Counting the Clouds, works more simply, but does something similar to get a special shot.
Still on the River Cam (but with a different couple), I’m at one end of the punt while they wave to the wedding party from the other. But the best shot was completely unplanned. I saw the swimmers coming but didn’t let on. Instead I picked up a second camera, and set it to a huge depth of field (so that everything would be in focus). The sun was out so there was plenty of light and even the little clouds had placed themselves perfectly.
I took one test shot (mustn’t over-expose on the dress) and then the moment arrived. The swimmers knew I’d seen them, but that the bride hadn’t. And her reaction was delightful.
By the river Cam now, rather than on it (or in it), with perfect evening light, ripples on the water, and cheers from the punts going past. For the last shot I did something different. He looked good to camera, but didn’t smile often, and she was a natural actress. So I made use of it!