Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 1

Wedding photographer for Suffolk
The all important First Kiss during a wedding at Framingham Church in Suffolk.

Part 1 in a series of blogs where I am going to write truthfully about my personal experiences on my journey from the end of my previous career to being a wedding photographer. What I have learned about the reality of being self employed for the first time in my life and the practicalities of earning a living from wedding photography.

As you can see from my “About me” page, my previous career lasted 30 years. During the latter years of that career I had become very disillusioned and wanted to try and earn my living from wedding photography. It had become my dream and hence the title, dream versus reality. Sound familiar ?

Well I mean, what can be better than earning your living by doing a job you absolutely love ?


I had intended this to be just one blog, but I have found there is so much information I would like to share with you that it will have to be a series of at least 7 (so far and if others ask me questions, that will increase).

I realise the route travelled by others and their experiences will differ from mine, but I hope those thinking about trying to earn a living from wedding photography can benefit from what I have learned.


One thing you need to know right from the start. You are entering a very mature market. There are a lot of photographers out there, both established and new start ups, and competition is tough.

To show you what I mean I’ve just looked at the list of regional finalists ( East of England )for the National Wedding Industry Awards. There are 4 wedding celebrants, 3 bands, 2 offering wedding transport, 5 videographers, 4 venue stylists, 3 for wedding stationery, 3 caterers, 2 marquee providers, 5 wedding planners, ( you can guess where I’m going with this, can’t you !) and 34, yes 34 wedding photographers. Just so you realise that’s the level of competition you will be up against.

The good news is, I am earning a living and I am doing a job I absolutely love. The “but” is, it’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be and I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way.


Now call me naive but I thought if I went on some training courses, got all the legal side sorted out (insurances, informing the tax man and so on), assembled a good portfolio and designed a good website, I would then be able to sit back and wait for the work to come in. After all, if I’m a good photographer, people will want to hire me. Wrong……………..  No, seriously, I was SO WRONG.

Being a good photographer is only a very small part of running a successful wedding photography business. I had been told this on a course but thought, yeah, whatever. You just want to sell more training courses, but it was absolutely true.

Now I don’t sell training courses so I hope you realise I have no “axe to grind” on this point. I strongly advise anyone who is seriously considering a career as a wedding photographer to pay for some good training. Not just in photography, but in how to run a photography business.

They say running a successful photography business is 20% photography skills and 80% business skills. They also say that an “average” image marketed well will earn a photographer a lot more money than an “excellent” image that isn’t marketed well. Both of these sayings are 100% true!!


Something you must take into account when considering “giving up the day job” and risking everything by switching  career is – what if I fail. If you go into something expecting to fail, you will, but just because you go into something expecting to succeed doesn’t guarantee you will be successful. I read that the simple truth is over 90% of start ups will fail within 2 years. How scary is that!

Everyone’s circumstances are different. Some are responsible only for themselves whilst others have families to consider. Some live from month to month whilst others have savings to live off. Some have big mortgages to pay whilst others don’t.

My advice is to start building your business while still have another job and, before you take the plunge into full time, make sure you have enough money put away to pay all your bills for at least 18 months.

Then prepare yourself for the steepest learning curve in your life!


Before I became a wedding photographer I had always been “employed”. If I needed to learn a new skill to help me do my job, my employer paid for me to go on a course. Here’s the first thing you learn. If you need some training, you have to pay for it yourself and it might not even be tax deductible!!

Rules change so check with Inland Revenue, but in simple terms initial training to learn a new trade can’t be claimed against your income tax, you can only claim for training needed to “update” your skills.

I didn’t need to worry about that when I was “employed”, the same as I didn’t need to worry about paying my household bills whilst away training. I was still being paid my salary. While you are on a training course and self employed, you’re not earning anything! ( Remember those “paid holidays” you had when you were employed, you can forget them as well ! ).


What sort of training do you need ? Well that’s different for everyone because we will all bring something different with us when we become self employed. If your previous job was as a “web designer” for example, I don’t think you would need any “website” or “social media” training.

When I started out, I needed practically every type of training available. The only skills I brought with me were organisational skills and interpersonal skills. Everything else I needed to learn. So where did I, or where do you, start?


Off on a bit of a tangent (I’m afraid I will do that occasionally). On the subject of training, I have found 2 groups of “trainers”. There are those who pass on their knowledge with a view to helping you improve your skills. These trainers should be sought out and attending their courses or lectures is very worthwhile. I call them the “educators”.

The other group I have found is what I call “the demonstrators” or “sellers”. They “demonstrate” a technique using the latest “gadget” that they have become “ambassadors” for and try to sell it to you. To me, that behaviour belongs on the main floor of a trade show, not in a classroom when you have paid for training. I’m inclined to avoid this type of “trainer”.

When starting out it’s not easy to tell which camp a trainer falls in to, but ask around and you’ll soon find out who they are. That’s one good thing I have found about the community. Most ( though not all ) wedding photographers are very positive and open and will share their experiences with you, providing you do the same.

So, getting back on track.


Now obviously, you need to be a competent wedding photographer, know your equipment back to front and inside out and how to use LightRoom, Photoshop and other “plug ins”.

Learn about “light”, both natural and artificial, it’s colour temperature, how to see it, how to “balance” the artificial with the natural and how to use it to best effect. How to pose individuals and couples and accentuate their good features. How to arrange groups of people and how to make the most of your surroundings. How to light that First Dance properly, now there’s a challenge! All that goes without saying I know, but I just thought I would remind you.

But most importantly, if you want to learn how to be a better photographer, learn how to be a better person. Seriously. 


Well we’re up to nearly 1400 words already ( doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun ) and I don’t want my blogs to become too long and rambling. You might get bored! ( and apparently Google doesn’t like it either 🙂 ). Notice the “tip” there. In part 2 I’ll go on to my experiences with advertising/marketing.

Wedding Photographer for Suffolk
A special “moment” between the Bride and Groom during their wedding breakfast at Hintlesham Golf Club in Suffolk

 

Part 2

Reportage wedding photography – or is it?

 

Reportage or, to give it another name, photo-journalistic wedding photography – or is it ?  In other words, is that beautiful natural looking image of that really special moment truly “reportage photography”, or has it been created ? And does it matter ?

To me, for an image to be truly “reportage”, it has to be taken without any interference, staging or direction on the part of the photographer and the best “reportage” images are the ones that are simply that. Images where the photographer has used his or her skill, intuition and experience to be in exactly the right place so that he or she can press that shutter button at exactly the right time, capturing that never to be repeated fleeting moment in time as it happens.

Most of my clients say they want a few “formal” or “traditional” wedding images together with lots of “informal”, “natural”, “reportage” or “photo-journalistic” images. ( To me, these last four words all refer to the same style of image).

Taking lots of “natural” photos during the day shouldn’t pose a problem, but what if the client says “can I have a photo like that “reportage” one on your website ?”

It’s not unreasonable for them to expect you to provide images very similar to those you have on your website or in your portfolio. In other words, if we are offering our services as a professional wedding photographer, we need to be able to provide some consistency and give our clients what they ask for.

The problem is, by it’s very nature, a “reportage” style of image hasn’t been influenced in any way by the photographer who took it. The moment has simply been allowed to “happen”. It is a fleeting moment in time that will never be repeated. How can we provide what our clients want, how can we provide that “consistency”, when these moments happen purely  by chance ?

Early in my career I went to a training session held by someone I consider one of the best wedding photographers in the world. He showed a series of fabulous “reportage” style images of beautiful “moments” then asked a question.

“How many times do you think I have managed to get each of these images at a real wedding ?” His answer was – once in twenty years!!  He had been photographing weddings for 20 years and every photo was a “one off”, a never repeated fleeting moment in time.

So budding wedding photographers out there, how can you provide every client with the “reportage” images they want ? Telling your clients that you can only get an image that’s on your website and they really like once every 20 years isn’t going to get you very far.

For the Bride and Groom, how can you feel confident the photographer can provide what you are looking for when he or she can only get a particular image once every 20 years !!

The answer? The photographer needs to know how to create the right conditions for that moment to happen in a way that looks completely natural.

Sounds easy enough in theory, but takes a bit of thought and planning to put it into practice.

I want to take you back to what I think a truly “reportage” style image is. No interference on the part of the photographer. What a photographer has to do, in order to be able to  consistently provide what their clients are looking for, is learn how to “interfere”, “stage”, “direct”, in other words create the right conditions for that moment to occur naturally without interfering excessively in the normal flow of the day and without the subjects realising he is doing it.

What I believe you get then is an image that, whilst not truly “reportage” or “photo-journalistic” in the strictest sense, looks to all the world as if it is. When done well it looks completely natural, like a reportage style image of a beautiful fleeting moment in time. Let me explain by way of example.

I am going to use 6 images all taken from the same wedding which I think is better for showing consistency than using images from different weddings. The Bride was very specific about the images she wanted (I like it when my clients know exactly what they want). These are 6 images where the right conditions were influenced or created by me in order to get the “reportage” style of images my client requested.

I will never “guarantee 100%” to get a particular image because there are times when it’s impossible to create the situation you are looking for. Some things are completely beyond the photographer’s control. But I will always try my very best and on this occasion I managed to create all 6 requested images and they all made it into the wedding album.

Wedding photographer for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Father of the Bride sees his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time. Happening naturally, or was the moment created?

The first was an image of her Dad seeing her in her wedding dress for the first time. Now you could just hope Dad will walk in at a time when you happen to be ready to take the image. It might happen once every 20 years if you’re lucky.  Alternatively you can take control and create the circumstances where Dad waits outside the door until you have his Daughter in place ready for him, with you positioned behind her. Why am I behind her? Well every photo has to tell a story. If I just photographed Dad walking through the door I might get that wonderful expression on his face, but no one will know what he’s looking at!

Wedding Photography at Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride and her party leave down the staircase and past the wedding cake on their way to the church. Happening naturally, or was it managed?

The next image the Bride requested was one of her and her Bridesmaids walking down the main staircase on her way to the church. I had literally just finished shooting the Bridal portraits ( completely different lens and camera settings ) and they were very keen to get going, so whilst the shot itself is easy enough, I had to take control otherwise I would have missed it. I made them pause for a chat and organised them all, got myself into position, then let them walk down the stairs and timed the shot perfectly.

Wedding Photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Groom watches his Bride walk down the aisle towards him. reportage, or were the Vicar and the Groom “primed”?

Next we have an image of the Groom watching her walking down the aisle. Well, what do you have to arrange here? Make sure you have spoken with the officiant. She will then prompt the Groom to look round at just the right moment. Again, you don’t want an image of just his face as you won’t know what he’s looking at. You need the bride in the image to tell the story and the co-operation of the officiant.

wedding photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride looks to camera during her first dance surrounded by her friends and family – a truly “reportage” image, or was this moment “created”?

The next 2 “reportage” style of images requested were “First Dance” images. The Bride specifically requested one of her with her Groom, surrounded by their guests partying, whilst they held their First Dance in the middle of them with just her looking at the camera. Very specific this one and I will admit to having a little bit of luck on my side. How did I “create” this one ? I prompted the DJ so that he would call all the guests onto the dance floor at the appropriate time (they also wanted some photos of their First Dance when dancing on their own so timing was important). I had a small ladder strategically placed to give me some height to see over guests and, when everything looked right, I called the Bride’s name out loud so that she would look towards me. Fortunately luck was on my side and the guests started dancing as soon as they got on the dance floor.

wedding photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
Focus on the hands during the Bride and Groom’s first dance – or is it really their first dance ?

This “reportage” style image is the most “staged” of them all. The Bride had seen an image like it on my website and loved it, so wanted it reproduced for her album. The First Dance is usually held in a room with very little light. This makes it impossible for the camera to focus on the hands alone ( Try it yourself. Your target is going to be moving as well remember ). How do you do it? Well, get in touch and let me know how you think it was done.

Wedding Photography at Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride and Groom retire at the end of a long day – or is it really the end of the day?

The final requested “reportage” image was one of them retiring for the night. Needless to say, it is a staged photo and was taken earlier in the day. I had gone home long before their party came to an end.

So I provided the images my clients wanted and I’m confident I can create those images at most weddings, rather than once every 20 years!!

Does it matter that these images were “created”, “staged” or “managed” rather than truly “reportage”. I don’t think so. All I did was create the right conditions for them to happen naturally and they all go together with the other images taken of the day to tell the story of their wedding beautifully.

 

Do I need to hire a wedding photographer ?

 

Do you really need to hire a professional wedding photographer? 

As a full time wedding photographer who earns his living photographing weddings, you know what the answer will be, right ? Well, here’s the surprise.

No, you don’t need to hire a wedding photographer. In fact, I didn’t when I got married, but more on that later.

Not hiring a wedding photographer will not lead to an “end of the world” event. It will not mean your wedding day will be a disaster. Besides, as a guest pointed out to me at wedding recently, the cameras in modern phones are wonderful and will probably lead to the “wedding photographer” becoming extinct anyway. (I’ll talk about why that ISN’T the case in another blog).

Having established that no unexpected disaster will befall your wedding day if you don’t have a professional wedding photographer, why would you bother to hire one ? Here are my reasons why you should hire a wedding photographer if you can afford it and how they can help your day run smoothly.

We will take it for granted that you have done your research and the photographer you are considering hiring for your day can take amazing pictures that you love. After all, that’s probably the most important consideration. So, other than actually taking photographs, why else should you hire one ? In what other ways could they help your day run smoothly ?

It all comes down to experience. Now I’m in no way knocking anyone starting out in their photography career. We all have to start somewhere and as long as they are truthful with you about their level of experience, there’s nothing to stop you hiring someone who is new to the profession. Chances are, this will be reflected in their pricing and you may strike it lucky and get someone who is amazingly talented for a real bargain price.

The thing is, experience cannot be bought and it’s something that is really difficult to put a price on. The type of real life experience that has been earned by years of photographing weddings, dealing with people and solving wedding day problems.

Over the years I think I must have seen almost everything that can go wrong on a wedding day. Having experience all these things, I have a pretty good idea on how to prevent a drama turning into a crisis!

I can give lots of examples but will just give a couple to illustrate what I mean.

Wedding Photographer for Colchester Essex
The Bride sets off in her new wellies.

The couple had identified an area for their “couple” photos. It was a sunken area with a pond and surrounded by beautiful walls and foliage. The day before the wedding it rained heavily all day long. Early on the day of the wedding I went to the area the couple wanted to use and, as you may have guessed, it was flooded. I hunted down the groundsman and we put in a water pump. Then I arranged to buy some wellington boots for the couple. By the time the ceremony was over the excess rainwater had been pumped out and the couple were able to get there without their feet getting soaked. We were able to get the photos they wanted where they wanted.

Wedding Photographer for Colchester Essex
The Bride takes off her wellies ready to put on her shoes for her “couple” photos.

The Bride arrived for her ceremony. Unfortunately her guests hadn’t. The guests had travelled from all over the world and were staying at a nearby hotel. A coach was due to collect them from the hotel and take them to the wedding venue. Unfortunately the coach firm got their dates wrong! (not the only time that has happened!) Result. No guests and a Bride about to go into meltdown. Whilst Dad made some phone calls I went to speak to the registrar to see how long we had got (they are often on a tight schedule). I went back to the Bride and put her mind at rest, then got all the Bridesmaids and the Bride to come for a walk with me to a quiet area out of the way. We then had a fabulous time taking photos until the guests had been ferried into the venue and everything was ready to start with a happy and relaxed Bride. The Bride and her parents made a point of thanking me for “saving the day” and preventing the Bride from having a meltdown. Their words, not mine.

Wedding Photography for Suffolk
Dad in the background on his mobile phone trying to arrange transport for the guests.

There is an old saying that goes “You can expect at least three things to go wrong on a wedding day. The trick is fixing things without the Bride finding out”. In my experience, there’s a lot of truth in that.

You can also enlist the help of your photographer at the early planning stages. If experienced, he or she will have a pretty good idea of what will work and what won’t, so you can prevent some problems just by listening to their advice. Think about it, this is probably the first time you’ve planned a wedding. They’ve been involved in hundreds!

So that’s what I mean by “experience” and it’s something you really can’t put a price on. I have met many photographers who think they are being hired just to take photos. I like to think I’m there not just to take photos, but to do all I can to help the day run smoothly and help rectify any unforeseen problems.

Remember I said I didn’t hire a photographer for my wedding? It’s true. My wife and myself decided that we would let a friend take some photos for us. After all, he is a wedding photographer. Trouble is, on the day, we felt bad about him working when he should be having fun. He was a guest after all. So we didn’t get anywhere near as many photos as we would have liked (our fault, not his) and I can honestly say it’s the one regret we have about our day. So learn from my mistake.  When I say to couples, hire a photographer or you may regret it, I’m speaking from experience.

 

 

Wedding Albums – an unnecessary expense ?

 

Queensberry wedding albums in Colchester
Queensberry wedding album covered in Graphite Contemporary Leather

Wedding Albums. Are they a “must have” momento of your day or an unnecessary expense ? Why would you want to buy one ? And why would you want to read what I have to say on the subject ?

Well I’m not going to tell you what you must have or don’t need. That’s a decision only you can make. But I think that in order to make the decision that’s right for you, you need information. So in this short blog I would like to tell you about my experiences and thoughts on the subject and provide at least some of the information you need.

I’m a wedding photographer who, amongst other things, sells wedding albums. Therefore I can make no claim the being unbiased, but I do believe what I have to say is still worth reading. Why ? Well, unlike some who “blog”, I haven’t undergone any training in the art of blogging or attended any lectures on “sales technique”. Ever. What I have to say hasn’t been carefully formulated using buzz words in order to influence you or encourage you to spend money on something you don’t need or want. What I have to say is based on my real world experience and my love for what I do, and it’s in plain english.

With the rise in popularity of the “digital only” wedding photography package, you might think there is no place for wedding albums anymore. And with so many things to pay for, why would you want to spend money on an expensive book that will sit in a drawer ?

Based on my experience I can say there is a growing demand for wedding albums and the wedding album certainly does still have a place. Perhaps they are becoming “fashionable” once again. Why is that ? Well, my theory is people are realising the shortcomings of only having digital copies of photos. Let me explain.

My family recently celebrated our parent’s 60th wedding anniversary. Everyone, yes everyone, wanted to see their wedding album and all the printed photos taken over the years showing parts of each decade. In essence, our family history in pictures. Now what if our parents had married in the time of the digital revolution, when “digital only” packages were the “in thing”. Imagine 60 years from now and all the family want to see what they looked like on their wedding day. Let’s have a look at the wedding album, shall we. Oh. Wait a minute. They haven’t got one because everything was digital and they couldn’t see the point in buying one!

Queensberry Wedding Albums in Suffolk
A beautiful Queensberry wedding album in Ivory Contemporary Leather with a cover motif.

Now I can’t foretell the future but, having put all their images on Facebook for all the world to see, are they still likely to be able to look at them ? Remember MySpace ? No, not many people do. It no longer exists. Would their photos still be “in the cloud”. Hacking into the websites of these big social media companies appears very popular at the moment so what would be the chances of their account being hacked and all their photos lost ? Who knows. And those USB drives, CDs and computer hard drives they stored copies on stopped working years ago. (read about my experiences with USBs at the end).

Then you might have “compatibility” issues. Jpegs, Tiffs and so on are all readable now. But what about in the future ? Remember VHS and Betamax ? (You do! Now you’re showing your age!).

You might say, when a new form of media comes around, we will update all our photos to it. Well, aside from the cost of doing this ( that means spending the money you saved by not buying that expensive book, remember ) how many will actually get around to doing it. I wonder how many couples who had their ceremony recorded on VHS have had it converted onto DVD discs ? How much did it cost them to do so ? And how long before DVD players are obsolete technology and they need to convert it to the “latest” technology again ?

Those that work in the digital arena say that if you make less than four copies of digital media, it might as well not exist. Data becomes corrupted, especially when making copy after copy of something. The hardware WILL fail at some point. It’s not a question of “if”, just a question of “when”. And when that happens, if you haven’t made a lots of back up copies, your photos will be gone.

I keep six copies of every wedding photograph I take, some on site and some off site. If one of my clients is unfortunate enough to lose their digital photos, I can currently provide them with copies. But I won’t be around for ever. What will happen when I’m no longer here ?

Queensberry wedding albums in Essex
A Queensberry wedding album covered in Tamarillo Contemporary Leather.

I think the reality of the “digital only” package is dawning on people. Digital copies of photos are too easily lost forever.

The thing is we are still able to look at printed photographs that were taken when photography was in it’s infancy. They haven’t become “unreadable” due to advances in technology. No matter what happens to our current technology, you and future generations will still be able to look at a wedding album for many many years to come.

I can’t remember where I saw it now, but I read a simple statement that I believe to be absolutely true. The most photographed generation in history will not have a single photo to look at when they are old.

Think about it. Almost all the current generation carry around cameras in their phones. They are constantly taking “selfies” that are stored “in the cloud”. Well, what’s going to happen to those photos? No one knows for certain but I think it highly unlikely those photos will be accessible in 20, 30, 40, 50 years time. Unless they are printed out.

You might think yes, I agree with that, but it doesn’t apply to me. I only need a digital package without an album because I can print them off myself. Yes you can. But will you? How many say “I must print those photos off tomorrow,  next week, next month, next year……” and never get around to it because “life”, being busy as it is, just gets in the way. How many photos have you got sitting on your phone, or on your computer, or “in the cloud”, waiting to be printed off?

Ok, good to your word, you have printed off a few of your favourite wedding photos. The thing is framed photographs and snapshots can only provide a glimpse of one specific moment in your day. When you browse through the pages of a wedding album you, your friends and your family can enjoy the whole story of your day from beginning to end.

Sadly memories do fade over time, but when you look through a well designed wedding album, all the little nuances of the day can come rushing back. The look on your Dad’s face when he saw you in your wedding dress for the first time. The look on your husband’s face as you walked down the aisle. The reaction to the best man’s speech when he let out those embarrassing little secrets. And I believe looking through a wedding album is always so much more special than skimming through images on a computer screen.

 

Queensberry wedding albums in Ipswich
The Queensberry “Musee” wedding album. The height of luxury.

As for sitting in a drawer, in years to come you will be glad you have it. It can come out on special occasions such as your wedding anniversary and it will become a family heirloom, passed on to future generations. When you buy a wedding album, you are contributing to your family history.

But you offer “digital only” packages, don’t you ? I hear you say. Yes, but I do it for a reason. A good analogy is to think about buying a second hand car. You’re unlikely to buy it until you have taken it for a test drive and are happy with the results. I think you can apply that reasoning to buying a wedding album. I don’t expect you to buy a wedding album until after you have seen your wedding photographs and are happy with them.

Times are definately changing again. Couples are once more realising the true value of a professionally designed and produced wedding album. Show how important your wedding photographs are to you and please, invest in a quality wedding album.

Talking of USB drives and the reliability of digital storage, I had been supplying my clients with a personalised USB in a presentation tin as I felt it looked a lot better than just handing over a USB stick on it’s own, which is small and easily lost. Unfortunately, some clients have been reporting problems with their USB saying their computers cannot “read” them after only a short period of time. These personalised USBs have no “brand” on them, so I can only think the company supplying these products to me are using the cheapest USBs they can find. I have of course been happy to correct the problem by providing a new “branded” USB with their images on and nowadays, whilst I will still source a personalised presentation box to put the USB in, I no longer use any USBs that are not made by a well known and respected manufacturer. It does go to show that you really cannot rely on USBs and other digital storage media. As I said earlier in this blog, it’s not a question of “if” the device will fail. The failure is inevitable, it’s just a question of “when”.

Gifting of wedding photography for charity.

 

As someone who has gifted their services in the past, I have been asked by a few wedding suppliers about the process and about my experiences.

The two most popular questions have been “how do you get involved?” and “what was it like?”, so I thought if I were to write a short blog entry on the subject it might be of benefit to other suppliers.

I guess the first thing you need to know is “how do you get involved?”.

There are two organisations which I have some experience of. These are “Gift of a Wedding” and “The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation”, both of which are registered charities.

They offer to help arrange service providers for couples who wish to get married or are yet to hold a wedding ceremony and one of them is terminally ill. That short sentence perhaps deserves a little more explanation.

The most obvious condition to these organisations helping out is that at least one of the couple must be terminally ill. Where that is the case, as I understand it, they will help a couple who wish to get married and want a “wedding ceremony” with all that entails. They will also help a couple who are “legally married” (for example they may have had the simplest of ceremonies in a registry office with just 2 witnesses) and they would now like to celebrate and have a full “wedding ceremony”.

Note in both instances, they have not yet held a “wedding ceremony”. This rules out couples wanting “vow renewal ceremonies” and the like. I know this to be the case because my wife and myself have helped with a vow renewal recently for someone who was terminally ill. We initially pointed them towards the charities and they were told they did not “qualify” as they had already celebrated a “wedding ceremony” in the past.

To get involved with Gift of a Wedding I simply “followed” them on FaceBook. When they are in need of services for someone, they “post” the date and location and ask for volunteers who are free on that date. They will then carry out some enquiries to verify you are genuine and able to provide the services you have offered. I’m sure they do more “behind the scenes” as it were, but the end result is I get an appointment to go and see the couple to discus their requirements for their day.

To get involved with the Wedding Wishing Well Foundation you currently (at the time of writing) make a donation of at least £10, which puts you on their list of suppliers for a year. I’m sure they run some “checks” to make sure you are genuine, then you wait for an opportunity to be of service.

The above is only based on my own experience and things may have changed so, if you would like to know more about volunteering for either of these two charities, I suggest you contact them directly. Here are details of the links to their websites:-

http://giftofawedding.org

http://www.weddingwishingwell.org.uk

It is worth pointing out at this stage that these charities require absolute discretion on your part.

You must keep all the details you are given secret and you are not allowed to use your involvement in the wedding of any particular couple for advertising purposes. So for the photographers among you, you must not use the images you take for any advertising or portfolio building purposes. That is why there are no photographs on this blog entry.

Should you choose to photograph a wedding for either of these charities, you do so purly out of kindness and a desire to help with no strings attached. Your “reward” for your efforts is “the feel good factor” of having helped a couple who are in genuine need at what for them is a very difficult time.

The next question is “what was it like?”.

I answer that question with another question. What do you mean exactly by “what was it like?”. Then we get to the real question. How do you deal with photographing a couple where you know at least one of them will be terminally ill. To be brutally honest, one of them is likely to die very soon.

Again, I can only speak from personal experience. Over the years I have found myself having to deal with people in that most unfortunate of situations, people who know their life is very limited, on more occasions than I want to remember. I believe that, if you have a heart, you cannot help but be affected emotionally by the circumstances they find themselves in.

As a wedding photographer, I know how important any wedding day is.

The photographs you take of the day will help others remember that day for many years to come and that responsibility brings it’s own pressures on you to perform. So, imagine for a moment if you will, one of the couple is unlikely to be around for much longer. I’ll repeat that. One of the couple whose wedding day you are offering to photograph, is unlikely to be alive for much longer. The photographs you take on that day are probably some of the very last photographs to be taken of that person………. ever.

These are the photographs that their spouse and the rest of their family really will treasure for a very long time afterwards. Do you think that brings with it any pressure to perform? You bet it does.

So why would you want to do it? Why put that pressure on yourself for absolutely no financial reward?

I can tell you why I do it. Because I believe in “giving something back”. Giving something to those in society who are having to deal with a situation that must be so heart breaking and so desperately sad. They use the word “devastated” far too often nowadays on tv and it’s meaning has been diminished thereby, but it’s use is appropriate in these circumstances. The family that are going to be left behind will be devastated.

There’s not much I’m any good at, but here I can make a difference. I can provide the family with photographs they really will treasure forever. That’s my reward and why I would encourage anyone who feels able, to help when asked.

As for the “practicalities”, I would advise the following based on my own experience. The couple are two people in love, just the same as any other couple. After making allowances for any physical limitations they might have, whether due to the illness or the medication, treat them just the same.

It’s their wedding day you’re helping to plan!!.

They know the situation they find themselves in. It may well be “the elephant in the room” and you don’t know whether to mention it or not. Personally, I wouldn’t mention it until they do.

Find out what photographs they would like, just the same as with any other couple. You need to know how the illness will impact on your ability to get the photographs they want to have. If they want to talk about it, fine. If they don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine too because I have found the charities to be very helpful in that regard. They can advise in general terms on any issues that will affect how you plan the photography. For example, the limitations that are likely to be imposed on the couple by the illness itself or by any medication being taken.

Make it clear to the couple that, on the day itself, you will be guided by them.

Then be exactly that, guided by them, just as you would with any other couple but with one extra factor in the mix. You should have been able to get a rough idea of the limitations being imposed on the couple by the illness and/or medication, but you won’t know exactly what effect any medication is having on them. So be patient, listen to what they say and be guided by what they tell you. It may well be that the medication makes them tired much more quickly. Believe me, they can go “downhill” very quickly. If they need to rest, STOP. Remember, the day is about them, not about you or your photography.

Photographing a wedding when someone is terminally ill is very much the same as photographing any other wedding.

There is just one more thing that you need to take into consideration, that’s all. So treat the couple with just that little bit more sensitivity, patience and understanding. It can be very rewarding.

And remember, have fun with them. It’s their wedding day, after all !!

I would just like to add a word of caution for those of us who are prepared to offer our services free of charge. Whilst the majority of people are honest, not all of them are. Unfortunately society does contain an element who seek to take advantage of the trusting and kind nature of others. For me personally, helping through these charities just makes me feel the couple I am helping are genuine. Just saying.