A Photographer’s Diary

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Today’s feature is a guest post from one of the photographers that we work closely with – Mark Bothwell.  Mark is a fantastic photographer, not only with his style of photography and the beautiful images that he produces, but he’s very relaxed and easy going which makes the bride and groom feel comfortable on the day, and from my point of view he’s really fun to work with.  Mark wanted to provide a photographer’s perspective into his preparation before a wedding and then how the day flows.  The images shown are all from a recent Marquee wedding that we organised, but it’s over to Mark…

“Whenever I shoot a shoot a wedding, I have one objective: I want people to remember my work, but forget my presence.  A wedding doesn’t need interruptions from a noisy photographer setting up the 50th contrived shot of the day.

Instead, I capture moments. I want my work to be a natural representation of the day. Shooting someone’s wedding is a huge responsibility; you do not get a second chance to get certain shots.

In June, I covered a terrific wedding in Somerset working with Melanie Helen,  – one of the most exciting planners around. The venue was The Manor House, a 14th century country house hotel in the picturesque village of Castle Combe. The bride and groom were Suzie and Nick, a stylish London couple.

Anyone can shoot a wedding badly. Shooting a wedding well, however, requires a lot of thought and near-perfect time management. Here’s how this shoot came together.

A month before the wedding:

I shot an engagement session with the couple near their home in Battersea. It’s not a ‘must-have’ but it can be a good way for me to get to know the couple before the day and for them to get used to being in front of a camera. Suzie and Nick were thrilled with the results.

Five days before: weather check

I do like to examine weather forecasts in the week before a wedding. Good photography requires a precise knowledge of light so it’s helpful to know whether you will be facing dull or bright conditions.

The Wedding Day:

7.30am: Even after a 20-year career in professional photography, I am almost always nervous before a wedding. But nerves are good: it ensures I am absolutely on my game. I check in with my assistant for the day to make sure he’s on his way and take a final look at the hour-by-hour weather forecast. There is nothing worse than scheduling group shots during the one hour when it’s due to rain…

10:30am: The Manor house is a short drive from my hotel. First up, it’s a quick introduction to the main contact there. Then, I catch up with Mel to check whether there are any last minute timing changes.

11:00am: This is a quiet period, perfect for capturing what I call ‘scene setters’: views of the venue and detail shots around the grounds. It’s a fabulous way to kick off a wedding day set.

12:00pm: Off to find the Bride. The clock is ticking; there are just two hours till the ceremony. This is also my chance to get detail shots of the dress, shoes, and jewellery.

Bridal prep shots demand flexibility. Nobody really knows how they’ll feel on their wedding day so it’s important to give a bride the space they need. If the atmosphere is a little stressful or perhaps the hair isn’t far enough along, you might find you have to come back in 20 minutes.

In Suzie’s case all was well and I spent about 30 minutes with her, shooting and chatting. The ability to talk and work is vital. If people relax in your company then the pictures will be brilliant.

12:30pm: I walk the short distance from Suzie’s suite to Nick’s room for some prep shots with the groom and his ushers.

The guys planned to suit-up and nip off for a pint in the local village. So, I shadowed them for a while as they prepared (chatting-shooting-chatting-shooting) and then, we were off to the pub.

It is always photographically useful when people move from location to location. The subjects forget about you and you can shoot with ease. The result: perfectly natural photography.

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1:00pm: At this point, I need to be in several places at once.

Suzie is almost ready in her suite. At the ceremony tent, guests are arriving and the groom and his ushers are waiting. All these moments need capturing. Plus, the weather is changing; the sky is threatening rain.

On these occasions it’s great to have an assistant. Oli was on hand to capture the generic shots of the guests whilst I nipped back to Suzie and her bridesmaids to shot the last few moments before the ceremony. There’s so much emotion in these moments.

1:50pm – 2pm: Suzie wanted to walk across the lawn to the congregation, probably around 100m away. She also wanted her four bridesmaids to effectively conceal her from view so she could reveal her dress as she started walking down the aisle. It meant I had to track the bridal party from the side, whilst Oli shot from the front of the ceremony.

2:20pm – Civil ceremonies are pretty swift. Once back down the aisle the guests began to mingle on the lawn for the drinks reception. But rain was close. I had planned to shoot a large group picture at the end of the drinks reception just before everyone moved into the marquee for the wedding breakfast. But the weather meant it was time to tear up the script! I’d already recced a good vantage point (gradient is the key big group shots), and once up on some steps I could politely cajole people all together for the big group picture.

3:00-4:30pm – Between now and the meal I have four tasks: shots of guests enjoying the drinks reception; a series of photos with the couple; detail shots of the dining area and the tables, and last, but not least, the family groups.

By now it is raining and some guests are huddled under a huge tree on the lawn; others have already bolted for the hotel. I always tell Brides not to panic about rain, because it never rains all day and I always look for variation within the ‘people shots’. Having some subjects inside and some outside with a few brollies makes for some lively reportage pictures.

I like to shoot the personal couple shots outside and luckily, about half an hour later the rain stopped and Suzie, Nick and I ventured off into the grounds for some relaxed shots capturing their first afternoon as newlyweds.

I like to spend five to ten minutes doing these personal pictures then we’re all back at the drinks reception. This way, the couple doesn’t feel cut-off from their guests for too long. It is vital to me to feel the clients don’t feel pressured by photography. A good wedding photographer should be quick and able to work seamlessly around their day.

3:30pm: After a quick check with Mel that the dining area set-up is complete, I nip around to the marque to cover detail shots. These are a combination of wide and very tight photographs – the fine detail to wide-angle views of the whole dining area. The marquee looks stunning and there is plenty of fine detail to shoot.

3:50pm: Things are pretty tight now because I knew Suzie and Nick wanted about 20 formal shots. I’d decided to shoot the groups near to the drinks reception to save time (politely moving people around is like trying to catch smoke!) With the help of the best man, we worked through the groups quickly and quietly. As with the shots of the couple, it’s important nobody feels pressured.

4.30pm:  I continue to shoot the guests moving from the drinks reception to the dining marquee. I’m careful to be ahead of them so I’m also well placed to capture the couple who are the final people to enter the marquee.

4:45pm: As the guests eat, I use the time to download the data so far. It’s comforting to me to leave a shoot having seen all the shots and have them backed up. In today’s photographic world, data is all you have. It’s precious. It’s worth remembering that nothing you’ve done all day can be repeated; that fact alone makes you paranoid.

7:00pm: Back into the marquee for the speeches. This is one of my favourite parts of the day. Relaxed portraits of people in the early evening as the light changes is a great way to add variety to the shoot. As well as capturing the speaker, I love to photograph the guests as they listen to the speeches  – fantastic moments that really add to a set of pictures.

8:00pm: It’s time for more shots of guests mingling and the cutting of the cake (this is always a compromised shot, think of a hundred digital cameras jostling for position) and then it’s on to the dancing. Capturing movement on camera well requires a degree of experience. I tend to set the camera manually on a proven exposure, then tweak as I shoot.

8:30pm It’s time to say goodbye to Suzie and Nick and also to Mel, who’s pulled off a fabulous wedding.  It’s three hours on the road home. The shoot might be over, but two days of editing awaits…”

Thank-you Mark, such an interesting view from ‘the other side’ on the day.

Mark Bothwell is one of the UK’s leading wedding photographers. He has shot weddings in renowned locations all over the country and is a recommended supplier at Somerset House, the ICA, Cowley Manor and The Renaissance Hotel St Pancras – www.markbothwell.com