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Dan & Abi’s Wedding and Lickey Hills

Back in April it was a pleasure and an honour to be with Dan and Abi for their wedding in Catshill Baptist church and their reception at the ark in Alvechurch. Abi and I share the common goal of getting kids to stop going on about minecraft and fortnite for five minutes and do something outdoors. By which I mean, she’s a scout leader. After usually only ever seeing her in a beige uniform the transformation into a beautiful bride was amazing.

It’s such a treat to see a lovely couple get married in a church they really belong to. You can tell in a second – everyone knows each other and everyone knows the words to the songs and sings good and loud. Dan is a great guy I like very much. He even led a song as drummer accompanied by his new wife on cow-bell. So. Much. Fun.

Between the wedding and the reception Mr. & Mrs. S. had the crazy wonderful idea of going to the Lickey Hills, one of their favourite spots to walk for some photos. As I like to be prepared (scout leader) and flexible I can go anywhere a bride and groom can, so I’m totally up for a little adventure like this. We took some dramatic photos on the monument, and some fun group shots in the trees with the groomsmen and bridesmaids.

And then on to the Ark, which is a stylish modern building attached to a different church in Alvechurch for a fun, personal and customised afternoon tea and celebration with a lot of folks who clearly love this sweet couple very much.

Llongyfarchiadau dyn a gwraig!

bride walks up the aislebride and groom ceremonybride and groom playing drumsjust marriedbride and groom at lickey hillswedding photos at lickey hillscouple in veilthe monument at lickey hillskissafternoon teawedding speecheslistening to the speechescutting the cakewedding fish and chip vanfirst dancedancing at wedding reception

How to choose your wedding photographer – part 4

This is part 4 of 5. If you haven’t seen it yet, start here at part 1.

Now for the good stuff! Assuming you’re not a photographer yourself you might not know what to ask. You might think you won’t understand the answers anyway and you don’t want to look stupid. Drop that thought right now! Doesn’t even matter if you don’t understand anything technical – you can still judge for yourself how confidently a photographer answers your questions.

Ask them about the kind of cameras they use. The main two options these days are digital SLRs, which are larger black cameras with more knobs and buttons, slightly superior image quality and faster. Then there are the smaller mirrorless or CSC cameras. These are quieter, more discrete and have an image quality comparable to digital SLRs except perhaps in the darkest conditions. They cost just as much as each other. It’s mostly a matter of preference for a photographer. Personally I don’t mind the extra weight of the DSLR, I find them faster to use and I appreciate the best image quality I can get.

Good lenses are just as important and can cost more than the camera itself. We’re looking for professional lenses with a fast maximum aperture like f2.8. That means it can gather more light in dark conditions, involves a lot more heavy glass and costs a fortune. Zoom lenses or primes (which are fixed and don’t zoom, so you need a few of them to swap between) is another personal preference. I have both and while I sometimes like to use prime lenses for light weight and creative reasons, whenever a wedding is fast paced or it’s raining (don’t want to change lenses often in the rain because they get wet) I go for the zooms. Catching the moment is more important than being arty.

Using flash well is an important skill. Sometimes there’s not enough light so you need to use flash but keep it natural. Sometimes the light is coming from the wrong place or is too strong so you need to balance it with something. And sometimes the light is just boring and you can make it more interesting by bringing some of your own. Sticking a flash gun on top of the camera is a quick way to solve a problem, but beware of the deer-in-the-headlights look with the flash pointed straight at someone and a tell-tale hard shadow to one side on the wall. Ask a photographer if they ever do any “off camera flash” and if they have some cool examples to show you. Don’t insist on it – give a good photographer creative freedom to take whatever gorgeous shots they can for you. But it’s great if you can see they have the ability when it’s needed to use flash to make creative night time shots, light up the dance floor naturally or take group photos indoors if it rains.

Backups are an absolute must for a professional. Ask a photographer how they keep the files safe. Most professional cameras now shoot to two memory cards at once so one can be kept separate as backup. Once the photos are back in the office you want rotating off-site backups so the original and backups are never again in the same place at once.

One decision photographers face is whether to shoot JPGs or RAW files. Here’s all you need to know. JPGs are finished images ready for you to print, put on Facebook or do anything else with. RAW files are like negatives. They’re not finished yet. A lot of software decisions about processing them have been left until the editing stage. This lets a photographer choose some settings more carefully without being under the time pressure of the wedding. But it’s an extra step that takes a lot of time and RAW files are so much bigger and slower to work with. Now there’s nothing wrong with JPGs if you get all your settings right as you shoot. And in some kinds of shoots like fashion you can do that more easily. Weddings however are fast paced and it can be very helpful to put the white balance on auto and choose it later.

I have a strong preference for RAW because you can still get your settings right as you shoot and leave yourself less work to do in editing, but you’ve got the option for safety if you need it. The files are bulkier, but I can handle that with more hard drives and a decent mac.

Whilst looking at the portfolio (particularly in print not on screen) look for sharp photos. Occasionally we’ll get a stunning candid moment that’s only 90% sharp but is so beautiful we’ll include it anyway. But in the portfolio everything you see ought to be nice and sharp. Look for straight horizons, accurate colours and not too much grainy noise (blotchy looking stuff in the shadowy parts of images taken in the dark). Image quality is a chain that’s only as strong as the weakest link. Shooting, editing and printing. I don’t want to choose between artistry and technical quality. I want both!

The final part of this series will be about personality.

Bride and groom at night under festoon lights

How to choose your wedding photographer – part 3

This is part three of my series on how to choose your wedding photographer. Here’s part one.

In so many jobs nothing beats experience for knowing that someone can do what you need them to. I don’t employ anyone but I still get CVs sent in and it’s interesting to read them. You’ve got a degree in photography? Neat – I haven’t. But why haven’t you sent a link to any photos? Maybe you haven’t shot any weddings yet, but you can still take two of your mates to the park for a portrait session for nothing. Having some good previous work to show plus being a decent person gets you most of the way there.

Experience is valuable because wedding photography is a very varied job. All kinds of unexpected things can happen while you’re trying to get the shots and still be creative. Having been there, seen it and done it proves you can handle the work and produce wonderful photographs day in, day out.

Experience gives a photographer confidence, which is really important. Photographing a wedding is a big responsibility and the first few times I was understandably nervous. But with each wedding and each year that passed I soon realised I was completely capable of doing this and was able to relax much more. This allows me to capture weddings in a very natural way without having to boss people about too much. I can let things unfold, knowing we’re getting beautiful photographs along the way.

So go ahead and ask how long a photographer’s been doing this and how many weddings they’ve photographed. It’s a diminishing returns thing – five weddings is hugely more beneficial than one, but three hundred and fifty is not all that much more than three hundred.

A photographer’s portfolio is great for getting a quick idea of their style and the best shots they can achieve. But if you’re serious about booking them you need to see real weddings from start to finish, and plenty of them. Not just lovely weather in a gorgeous venue, but also weddings where it rained, weddings in winter when it gets dark at 3pm, churches, barns, castles. As much experience as you can see. And again – whole weddings, not greatest hits. Are they good from the bridal preparations right through to the first dance?

If they have work to show from your choice of venue of course that’s nice to see. But don’t require it. Venues come and go over the years and no one’s worked at all of them. Many have a similar flavour, and it’s definitely not essential to have worked there before. If I haven’t been before I’ll always go for a recce with the couple while we talk details. But if you ask, I can certainly show you a wedding from a barn, a beach, a city centre hotel, etc.

One thing I’d warn you to look out for is portfolios that contain models, staged shoots, or photographs taken on a workshop/course under the direction of a tutor (who obviously won’t be there to help at your wedding). These are easy to spot if you know what to look for: Brides and grooms together not wearing wedding rings. Grooms who appear to have married several different brides (male models harder to come by than female), weddings that have no guests, very strong makeup (most brides want to look natural), very avante garde wedding dresses, brides who are very good at posing, and people doing really cool things that don’t normally happen at a real wedding. Like standing on an old train platform with a leather suitcase in the cloud of a steam train.

Now look, I’m not being a snob. Everyone has to start somewhere and it’s totally, totally ok to choose someone with less experience if you feel for all the other reasons that you can trust them. But you should know what you’re getting, and it will play a role in what you think of the price they are asking.

A little experience is not hard for a new photographer to get – just find some friends to pose in their own wedding clothes, or buy a dress on ebay and borrow a nice location. If you were looking to build a career but hadn’t even done that much I’d be concerned.

This was part three of five on how to choose your wedding photographer. Next up is the good stuff – technical.

brides dress hanging up

How to choose your wedding photographer – part 2

This is part two of five. Here’s part one.

One thing you certainly want to find in a wedding photographer is professionalism. To be sure they won’t let you down since there’s no chance to re-do the wedding if it goes wrong. And to have a good experience in the run up to the day. I sometimes hear from my customers that one of their other suppliers is hard to reach, doesn’t answer their questions, etc. You don’t need that!

Since we’re talking about professionalism, it’s worth asking a photographer if they actually are a professional. By which I mean – do they do this for a living? It’s not a guarantee of good service, and plenty of part time photographers will do a wonderful job for you. But generally speaking, assuming they want to, it will be easier to make this their full time job if they’re serving their customers well, getting recommendations and building regular relationships with venues. No judgement either way, but do ask the question so you know what you’re getting.

A good website is a sign (but again not a guarantee) of professionalism. It takes time to answer all the questions, put together a beautiful portfolio, publish an organised price list and make it all look good and consistent. A disorganised freebie site with no prices but just “contact me for a quote” makes me think they haven’t put the time in. And www.joebloggs.com is a lot better than www.joebloggs.freewebsites.com/whatever. It’s really not that hard to make a good website if you’re doing this for a living.

For goodness sake make contact with all the photographers you’re considering and ask questions. Don’t just read the website and put them on your shortlist. See how quickly they get back to you and whether they answer your questions properly. Obviously you want a friendly and helpful reply that feels like they’re genuinely pleased to hear from you. I mean they should be, right?! This is before they’ve even got your booking.

When you meet a photographer, try to get a sense of whether they can answer your questions easily. If they do this all the time, chances are you won’t be asking them anything new. Ask about backup equipment, insurance and paying their taxes. This is fairly uninspiring stuff, but the way they answer lets you know who you’re dealing with.

People sometimes ask me what happens on the day if I am ill. It’s a good question, but another one which no one’s ever asked me would be: “Could you tell me about any of the things you do to be prepared and reliable? Whatever comes to mind – doesn’t need to be everything.” Wow, I could answer that question all day. I print OS maps in case my two satnavs and two phones fail. I bought the UK’s most reliable car and service it twice a year. I carry cold weather gear and snow chains in winter. I’ve jump started limos and given first aid to wedding guests. I shoot to multiple memory cards and back everything up. This stuff is so easy to reel off it’s even fun so don’t be afraid to ask. Again, it’s not just the answer itself but how easily they answer that tells you a lot.

It’s like choosing a restaurant to eat in. You can’t see the kitchens, so you can only go by how clean the windows are, how nice the menus look, how friendly the staff are, etc. You can’t be sure what it’s like to work with a photographer until you’ve done it. But by doing detective work, plenty of googling and asking questions you can get a good idea.

This is part two of five on how to choose your wedding photographer. Please do ask if you’d like me to add anything to it. Part three is about experience.

Bride's bouquet

How to choose your wedding photographer – part 1

Here are my thoughts on how to choose your wedding photographer. This advice applies whatever your budget and location – even if I can’t help you myself, I want you to find a photographer you’ll love and feel confident with. Having been a professional wedding photographer for over 15 years, I know the concerns customers have and the questions they should ask but don’t.

Choosing your wedding photographer is an important decision that will have a big effect on your enjoyment of the wedding and your memories afterwards. You may find it hard to judge the portfolios you see. (As Kate and I discovered when we got married even if you’re a photographer yourself it’s still hard to choose.) You may worry that you don’t know what to look for and the right questions to ask.

First important lesson: Price is not always a good guide for quality! There are inexperienced rising stars who will be charging much more next year, and old hands who think they’re worth more than they really are. Some photographers like to charge low prices and get way too many bookings, while some hold out for a higher price and photograph far fewer weddings each year. These two photographers could be exactly as good as each other. It’s completely up to each to decide what they think they’re worth. So there really is no substitute for carefully deciding for yourself how good a photographer is, and whether you think their price is acceptable to you. I want to help you make a better decision if you don’t yet know what to look for.

I reckon you have three main goals. You want a professional who will not let you down. You want beautiful wedding photos you will love. And you want to enjoy the process of making them too. Let’s talk about five areas over this series of blog posts: artistry, professionalism, experience, technical, and personality. I’ve listed them in very roughly the order you might find yourself considering them, but they’re all important.

First let’s talk about artistry. The first thing you’ll do before you ever pick up the phone is look at a photographer’s work online and decide whether you like it. No point going any further if you don’t. Nobody agrees on art so in the end yours is the only opinion that matters. But if you want a few pointers to get you thinking and looking a little harder, read on. Anyway, you can’t see what your wedding photos will look like because they don’t exist yet. So you’re always thinking about what a particular photographer might be able to create for you based on what you’ve seen of their work.

Look at a photo in their portfolio for longer than you normally would. Ignore the faces and specific details for a second (I know you’re always looking to see what colour bridesmaid dresses people choose!) and think about how the picture is composed. Is it just taken from head height, straight forwards, faces bang in the middle of the frame? Or has the photographer gotten themselves up high or down low, have they moved around to include things that frame the subject or draw your attention in? None of these things are all good or bad on their own, but when you look through a photographer’s portfolio it’s nice to see a range included. Is there a choice of wide angle shots that show things in the context of the wedding venue, or only close ups?

Think about the lighting in the photos. This is so important in photography. Frankly, it’s the whole game. So it’s hard to give you a fast guide of what to look for. But is the light on the faces (especially pretty ladies) soft and lovely, or doing something interesting like lighting up the hair from behind or coming in sideways from a beautiful bay window? Or is it just people squinting into the sun with dark circles under their eyes? Bright summer sunlight can be really hard to handle.

Look at the expressions. Are people genuinely smiling, laughing, drying a tear or admiring the bride? Getting these real moments takes a good personal relationship with the couple and a friendly nature with the guests (more on that later) as well as equipment, speed and experience to capture the moments.

One more thing to mention is image processing and filters. It’s amazing the difference editing makes to the finished image. Compare a few photographers and you will see strong or muted colours, high or low contrast, ‘vintage’ looking tints, and all sorts of questionable creative choices. It’s a personal preference, but here’s my opinion. I don’t want to ‘dress up’ the photos too much, especially not to try and hide any quality issues. (You can make a good photo great in photoshop, but you can’t make a bad photo good.) I prefer colours that are vibrant and full of life, but true to the original. Why would you want your photos to look like they were taken a hundred years ago? Your wedding is beautiful enough already. And I like black and whites looking punchy and exciting to draw attention to the expressions, emotions and movement.

I like photos to be timeless. Fashions in photography styles come and go, but in twenty years time I want someone to look at them and feel like they were there. We’re not putting on a show here, but celebrating your marriage and relationship in true, authentic style. There’s a lot to be said for really classic, beautiful composition which simply lets the beauty of your wedding, your families and your emotions show.

This is part one of five on how to choose your wedding photographer. If you have questions I haven’t answered please do ask. I’d love to add to these posts to make them as useful as possible. The next part is about professionalism.

bride and groom in the library

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