You know how it is, it's nearly Christmas, you've been shooting all year, it's the middle of a busy week doing long back to back days of commercial work, but you've arranged an engagement shoot for the evening, and you think, really? Have I got the energy? Have I got the will?
And then you: a) remember this is what you love doing more than anything; b) you have the most adorable, relaxed, awesome young couple and; c) you have London at Christmas time at your disposal.
I met Charlie and Eliot at Green Park and we hunkered down over a coffee in Pret to get to know each other. The Ritz might have been more glamourous, but who wants to eat up so much time over tea when you have a romantic shoot to get under way? We were however just outside the Ritz, on Piccadilly, so grabbed our first few shots there, and immediately it was apparent how comfortable, in love, and relaxed these two were.
This was 7pm, and many people would be fazed by the throngs of marching tourists and bustling, home-bound commuters. But not Eliot and Charlie, who are as laid back as they come. It probably helps that Eliot manages a bar and Charlie is a singer, so maybe they have magical powers that mean they're not bothered by the Great British Public in all it's crowded glory.
Or maybe we just hit it off. That's always a big aim of an engagement shoot, to build on the relationship you need to have for the big day. I always try to have as much fun as possible, to keep the shoot as relaxed as possible, and only start to pull out extra bits of kit, radio-controlled flash units, tripods and the like, when I know my couple and I are on the same wavelength.
It can take a whole shoot sometimes to get that collaborative, relaxed spirit going, though usually I'm there within the first handful of pictures, to be honest. With Eliot and Charlie it was a matter of minutes, and it made our session so much fun. Be yourself, and the world will go along with you, is clearly their motto, and one we can all embrace.
Nonetheless, after twenty minutes of City traffic and bustle, I felt it was time we injected a little intimacy and serenity into the shoot, and we ambled along Piccadilly a little further to investigate the arcades. I had high hopes for Burlington Arcade, but sadly there was a private event hosted there and it was cordoned off. I charmed the security guards enough to get permission to shoot there, but would have had to have them glowering in the background, so we crossed over to the actually equally lovely Piccadilly Arcade.
Running between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly, this arcade is a grade II listed building, built in 1909, it is home to exclusive shirt-makers and crystal glass boutiques, and, above all, at this time of year and this time of the evening, is both wonderfully Christmassy and marvellously quiet.
I popped a little radio flash on a stand behind my couple and we went to work to draw out the most of the Christmas Romance magic from this adorable Edwardian arcade.
The three different arcades off Piccadilly have similar but very individual characters, but what unites them is the authentic feel of Belle Epoque, which sums up much of the architecture of this part of London. We're in Mayfair, don't you know, and so, ever so posh.
We strolled a little further, along Jermyn Street, to the Princes Arcade, which sits between Sir Isaac Newton's house, Fortnum and Mason's and St James' Church. A stones throw from Buckingham Palace, Pall Mall and Trafalgar Square, here you can imagine yourself as a character from Downton Abbey, come up to the city to buy grouse and pate. Or, more specifically, high quality cologne at 88, designer bathroom accessories from Czech and Speake, Prestat chocolates or top hat and tails from Andy and Tuly.
You could hang around waiting for a glimpse of Bill Nighy, who we hear is a regular window-shopper here, or you could just chill and be as we were, just yourselves, amidst the Christmas trees and the Edwardian glass and lights.
When finally a very sweet security guard told us he was locking up, we took a hop and a skip down to Piccadilly Circus, to take in more of the lights and the breathless atmosphere that only Central London three weeks before Christmas can offer. Red buses, illuminated angels, and, with a little help from my radio flashgun again, a little bit of magic and sparkle.
As I contorted myself amidst the pine needles and the Christmas lights on Lower Regents Street, Charlie and Eliot remained unphased and relaxed. They have that natural, authentic chemistry that all successful couples have, and honestly they made this shoot feel like a stroll through the West End with two old friends, rather than an assignment.
I always shoot far more than I keep, and I frequently keep my shutter on six frames per second. It means throwing a lot of shots away, but every now and then you get a moment which seems to say that little something extra about your couple. Below, these two gave each other a look which speaks purely of them, is their own private language as they cuddle in front of the massive Christmas tree just above the ICA.
And then the moment I had been looking forward to all evening. As an enthusiast of landscape and urban landscape photography, I love playing with slow shutter speeds, often capturing shots as long as two or three minutes, to slow down time, blur clouds, freeze motion and light and give a very atmospheric and ethereal feel to a picture. Such very slow shutter speeds would make humans disappear or become blurry ghosts. But by slowing to just a couple of seconds, and with my most patient couple, we managed these lovely light-trail shots on Regents Street.
I love how the cars and buses blur into ghostly blurred lines, and I loved how game Charlie and Eliot were to join in, patiently holding their breath and playing lions every time I yelled "Freeze!" It should be said, that this winter has been particularly mild, so they didn't literally freeze, though you probably gathered that from the lack of coats in sight.
All in all, a lovely, laid-back evening of conversation and photography that made me forget this is something I do for a job. Thanks for a brilliant evening guys, and see you early in 2017 for what I know will be an awesome January Wedding.