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:-
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.