What’s it like working with a wedding celebrant?

A garden wedding in Essex.
The Groom watches as his Bride walks down the aisle, my wife beside him grinning as usual.

So what’s it like working with a wedding celebrant?

More to the point, what’s it like working with your wife when she happens to be the wedding celebrant. This is a question we both get asked on a regular basis, especially when couples are looking at booking us both, so I will attempt to answer that question by way of a real life example.


The Meeting: The Bride and Groom had noticed my details on Michelle’s website and, though they had arranged to meet with another photographer, asked if I could come along as well. They had a good look through lots of slideshows on my iPad and looked at several sample wedding albums I had brought with me.

They said they loved my work but, as they had already arranged to meet another photographer and thought it would be rude to cancel that appointment, said they would let me know in due course. About a week later and after they had met with the other photographer, they emailed me to let me know they thought I would be perfect for their day.


The Planning: As is always the case I took a great deal of interest in the planning of the whole day and gave helpful advice when necessary. When I work with Michelle, I am able to get a really detailed knowledge of what is going to happen during the ceremony.

With each ceremony being unique and designed with the couple so as to reflect their own personalities, this detailed knowledge is very valuable as it allows me to plan exactly where to be at the right time to get wonderful photos.

When working with a wedding celebrant I am able to attend the practice and really see first hand how things are going to flow on the day. I can work out where to stand to get great photos without getting too close or in the way and spoiling everyone’s enjoyment of the ceremony. When working with Michelle, I also have some input on where she should stand to get the best photos of the happy couple!

Most couples have an idea of the type of photography they would like for their day. This will often include some “formal” photos of themselves and their guests together with a lot of informal or “reportage” style photos. We will work out a plan A (for good weather) and a plan B (for wet weather) and identify locations in advance for the group and couple photos so that no time is wasted on the wedding day.

But I also want my couples to have something more than the photos “everyone has”, something different from the “norm”. To that end, I always encourage couples to also think a bit “outside the box” and perhaps have some photos that are taken “just for fun”. In fact, I have a dedicated gallery on my website called “just for fun”. These are the photos that usually raise the biggest smiles both during and after the big day.

A garden wedding in Essex.
A “Just for Fun” photo of the Bride and Groom with their friends.

The wedding day was upon us and I arrived early as usual. This meant I had time for a bacon butty and cup of tea whilst chatting with the bridal party and the Bride’s parents. I often find a good chat over a cup of tea helps put everyone at ease before I start clicking the shutter button.

Then I set about my work. The Bride & Groom will have spent a lot of time and effort, not to mention money, arranging not just the big things, but also the little details that go to make their special day exactly how they want it to be. The pictures I take now will help them remember all those little details for years to come. Everything from the seating plan to the strategically placed signs, from the Wedding Cake to the wine for the wedding breakfast, from the Bridesmaid’s dresses to the Groom’s “button hole”. All will have been carefully selected to form a small but important part of this most special of days.

Then there’s The Dress, The Shoes, The Perfume, The Jewellery, The Old, New, Borrowed and Blue. All to be recorded for posterity. The atmosphere as the Bridal party share a bedroom as hair and make-up are perfected. Then, when everything is just right, a few portrait photos of the Bride looking amazing!

The Groom and his party are not to be forgotten. It’s his day too, so some photos of him, his Best Man and friends when they are all done up to the 9s and looking their best.

The guests start to arrive. Some casual photos of them chatting, maybe catching up with old friends they haven’t seen in an age, and then making their way to their seats. Not forgetting some photos of the Groom with his Best Man as they wait patiently, and perhaps nervously, for the bride to arrive.

Then the wedding celebrant, my wife Michelle, calls all to order. She gives her introduction before leading on to the moment they have all been waiting for. All stand for the entrance of The Bride!

Photos are taken as the pretty flower girl leads the way scattering petals down the aisle. She is followed by the Bridesmaids all looking beautiful then, finally, The Bride looking amazing. I then turn to get a photo of the Groom as he sees her for the first time in her wedding dress. The look on his face says it all!

The ceremony goes brilliantly. Just the right blend of “the serious” with “the fun”. Big smiles and lots of laughter from everyone, including the celebrant. Exactly what a celebration of love should be.

As for me, I’m keeping out of the way so that I don’t distract anyone, but I’m getting lots of photos of smiling faces! Capturing those important little moments like the rings being placed on the fingers, the vows being exchanged, the first kiss and those knowing little glances the couple give each other. I can’t help but smile all the way through it all.

Wedding photography in Essex
One of those “knowing little glances” from the Bride and Groom as Michelle tells their story.

When the ceremony ends, it’s time for the confetti. I get the guests organised and tell them how confetti should be thrown. Then it’s time to get them organised for the group photos. It really comes in handy being married to the celebrant as she now sets about helping me get everyone organised.

Wedding photography for Essex
The Confetti flies!!

The big group photo with everyone in it is usually the first. The part of the wedding that the guests dread the most. We need natural smiles, not cheesy forced ones, so it’s “Three cheers for the Bride and Groom”. That usually works. Everyone comes alive, lots of cheering and lots of natural smiles. After the photo is taken, those guests that do not “appear” in any more photos can be released to make their way to the drinks and canapés.

During the planning stage the Bride and Groom had, at my request, provided a list of the group photos they wanted. At the rehearsal we had worked out the best order in which to take the photos so that guests are not standing around for ages waiting to have their photo taken. After all, who wants to stand around waiting for photos when there’s food and drink calling out to them! About 15 minutes later, we’re done.

Now it’s on to the “fun” photos with the bride, Groom and their parties. And they really had come up with some fun ideas for these photos! Michelle joins in as my “voice activated light stand”, another advantage of being married to the celebrant (though I suspect she doesn’t quite see it that way).

Wedding photography in Essex
Boys will be boys. Another “just for the fun of it” photo.

Then I took the Bride and Groom off for a little walk to take some “romantic” and some casual photos of just the two of them enjoying each other’s company, and a few “formal” ones which they had wanted for “display on the mantle piece”. The Best Man and Chief Bridesmaid comes in handy here. There’s drinks and canapés to be carried, not to mention a long dress to be looked after.

Wedding photography in Essex
The Bride and Groom on their own.

Then it’s back to the guests to “mingle” and enjoy themselves. An opportunity for me to get some casual photos of them all generally just having a good time before all the guests are called to their seats ready for the Wedding Breakfast.

Some photos as the Bride and Groom are announced (usually by my wife Michelle) and make their entrance, then, when they are seated, I disappear to let everyone enjoy their meal without fear of having a camera pointed in their direction.

Then it’s time for the speeches! I take a few photos of each of the speech makers in turn but mostly photograph the reactions of the guests and top table as they are often laughing hysterically at what is said.

Wedding photography in Essex
The Best Man making his speech.

When the speeches draw to a close it’s usually time for me to prepare for the “First Dance”. I set up any additional lighting that I think is necessary so that I am ready when they are.

The arrival of the evening guests presents me with another opportunity for some casual photos of the Bride and Groom with their guests. Then, at some point, it’s time to photograph the cutting of the Wedding Cake before moving on to that special First Dance, both of which are often announced by Michelle.

Wedding photography in Essex
The First Dance.

As soon as the First Dance is finished the guests invade the dance floor and the evening party gets underway. A few photos of them enjoying themselves on the dance floor. Maybe they have asked for a particular photo that they really want me to get.

Wedding photography in Essex
The fireworks say it all. A photo they had asked for and which was important to them.

I check with the Bride and Groom that they have finished with Michelle and I before packing my equipment away at the end of what has been a truly fantastic day.

So what’s it like working with your wife, the wedding celebrant? Absolutely brilliant. I love the ceremonies my wife conducts. Every one is different and they are always full of fun and laughter. And let’s not forget, I get a free “voice activated light stand” thrown into the bargain!!

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.