Weddings

CHARLOTTE AND SHAUN'S FUN, ROMANTIC GREENWICH WEDDING

Now Charlotte is the kind of girl who you might describe as a bit of a Diva.  Though only, I hasten to add in a good way!  We first met on her engagement shoot and hit it off from the first.  I had just shot a marryoke for a lovely couple which Charlotte thought was fabulous - Charlotte being an absolute Karaoke Queen - and so it was we got chatting ten to the dozen, forgot that was what we had initially got nattering about and I didn't really give that fact a second thought until the day of the wedding.  Which was when things got a little unpredictable.  Again, in a GOOD way.  Read on to find out how one young couple's wedding was full of enough surprises to make even a seasoned wedding photographer stay past the cut-off time! 

First up, a little slice of Greenwich history.  Many of you will know Greenwich and will have walked past St Alfege's church, no doubt on your way to get pie and mash rather than to say you prayers, but I'll try not to judge.    An amazing choice of church for a wedding, St Alfege is full of history and character, having  stood witness to Viking pillagers, the baptism of Henry VII and the German bombs during the Blitz that destroyed half its roof.  Its current grade 1 listed building status is thanks to the impeccable design of Nicholas Hawksmoor, but there has been a church on this site since The Archbishop of Canterbury's martyrdom in 1012, over a thousand years ago.    And no, I don't remember it well, whoever said that at the back of the classroom. 

Today, just round the corner from this historic church, stands a place of even greater history... the salon that would do Charlotte's hair on the day of her wedding. 

Now I've told you a little already about Charlotte, adorable, star-of-the-show Charlotte.  Shall we first meet Shaun, the groom.  No? Can't see him?  Ah well, Shaun is the kind of guy, who.... let's just say he's modest.  And time, geography and budget were against us having a second shooter. So as he was getting ready over in Canary Wharf whipping on his tie so quickly we might have blinked and not shot it, you'll have to enjoy instead Charlotte's prep for a little while before you get a glimpse of Shaun.  In his place, a shot of the Greenwich Clipper, the awesome hairdressers where Charlotte got herself pampered and prepped the morning of her big day. 

Below, inside the clipper, to Charlotte's left,  Mother of the Bride  Beverley tries not to look too nervous as her little girl gets ready for the big day.   To her right, in the background, the two guys are, I think, debating the complexities of existential philosophy in a post-modern era of Foucaultian uncertainties.  But it might have been shampoo, I forget.

Though on reflection - see what I did there - Charlotte herself doesn't appear to be too troubled by nerves.

The young man joining the proceedings, by the way, is brother Alex.  You're going to get a little surprise from this young guy later.  Just thought I'd prepare you. 

Again, Charlotte was reflecting on the big day ahead... oh you know, I'm sorry.  There are a couple more mirror shots later in this series, I'll try and leave the Dad jokes in my camera bag from now on, okay?

Having finished up at the Clipper, we walked round to Devonport House next to the Naval College, where yet more history was being made.  Yes, the most gorgeous women ever to have worn purple on maritime soil had assembled to put on their bridesmaid dresses and makeup

bites hand to stop himself making any more reflection jokes...

While along the corridor, Charlotte and Beverley were applying the finishing touches  .

I had thought the shot below was such a smart idea, it not occurring to me in the morning's rush that, like.. duh, brides don't wear hats!   In fact, of course, the Jacques Vert was for Mum, with Charlotte's dress being Galina Signature.

Insert reflection joke here....?   No, I'm not gonna do it.  You know who the dress is by, you know where the hair was done, you know how gorgeous Charlotte looks in the soft light from the windows looking out onto the garden, it's time for the Rolls Royce, isnt it...

A classic Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, and look how proud and doting Dad is as he holds the door open for his beautiful little girl.   Oh God, I'm getting mawkish, I'm getting a tear in my eye, time to zip off and meet Shaun.  We've waited long enough now...

Here he is!!  Looking a bit apprehensive.  Or is that just expectant? He's a pretty cool customer is young Shaun, so you wouldn't expect him to be too nervous really. 

Even with this gorgeous, lily-clutching lady walking down the aisle in white. 

And before you say it, no Shaun and Charlotte are not in a family of giants;  petite this lovely lady vicar may be but she is large in personality, generosity and charm.

I love how black and white can enhance areas of light and shadow, creating contrasty tones and artistic textures.  I call this shot "view of the stalker'.

And here the stalker gets a bit of tasteful foreground blur for the blessing. 

While here below, we say a big thank you to the god of wide angle lenses for helping with the most awkward angle ever invented for the signing of the register.

Huge white lilies for a bouquet, and smiles that could light up the darkest of churches. 

Oh, and did we mention Rolls Royce Silver Cloud?

Is any London wedding complete without a classic red Routemaster bus?  Such a lovely, thoughtful thing to do, to put on a routemaster for the guests.

And macaroons.  There were macaroons for everyone.  One of Charlotte's favourite things.  Along with Karaoke, purple and polkadots.  Much more about which, later.   

We arrived at Charlton House and, oh.  Look at that sky.  This is meant to be a summer wedding.  What's going on? 

Perhaps if we do the ancient weather ritual of "pretend you're Kate Winslett in Titanic" maybe the clouds will break and the sun will show.

Hmm... no, still looking overcast and gothic.  Let's just silently pray and do some more portrait stuff...

Snogging!  That'll do it.  That'll bring the sun out! We'll do some kissing shots with the Roller - guaranteed to push the clouds away.

Now, can we try and take the group portraits seriously.  Please?  Can we?

No?  Okay, let's have a bit of a laugh and maybe flash some ankle.  Did I mention purple?  Charlotte's favourite colour.  Purple. How you were going to see a lot more of it? 

Built in 1607, Charlton House is a wonderful example of Jacobean architecture, with a wonderful library gallery upstairs and plenty of walnut wood-pannelling downstairs.

Oh oh, the stalker's still prowling around up there with the books, raise a glass and let the poor lonely camera dude  come down and join us.

Notice the purple and polka dots?  I did tell you.

And so the speeches began and I decided to make use of the purple fairy lights to create what we call bokeh, lovely blurred circles of light that can add a cinematic texture to pictures.

And then the tears started coming, as they do sometimes in speeches.  

Oh how they cried....

....and cried...

... and smiled...

... and laughed....

...and, yes, cried some more.

When it came time to toss the bouquet, that marvellous tradition where the catcher will be the next to get married, tradition was once more respected when the catcher - lying prone here on the ground - was... a boy!

Oh, clouding over.  Shall we do some more kissing see if we can get the sun back out?

I took Charlotte and Shaun for a walk in the Peace Gardens for their informal portrait session.  A serene and tranquil environment of simple and subtle colours and textures, the garden was opened in 2006 to mark Amnesty's Stop Violence Against Women campaign, and is the perfect oasis for a newlywed couple to stop, take a breather and collect themselves.

And then it was back to the reception for  cake, baked by Shaun's sister Hanna and then the fun and games began...

...and surprises.  Most couples opt for a simple slow waltz for their first dance.  Something low-key and sedate.  Not these two.  Without a word of warning to anyone, including me, they launched into an extended, choreographed routine that started with The Contours' Do You Love Me  and The Human League's Don't You Want Me Baby

....through to Disney's Sleeping Beauty  Once Upon A Dream and The Pokémon Theme tune..

...to Breaking Free from, yes, from  High School Musical and The Magnetic Fields'Nothing Matters When We're Dancing. 

Oh and Coolio's I'll See You When.  

The next surprise was when Charlotte stepped up to the microphone to kick off the Karaoke.  Now, I had some idea that Karaoke was happening, but what I hadn’t reckoned with was the sheer glorious power and talent in the voice of the Diva with the mostest.

As Charlotte delivered her incredible, note-perfect version of the classic love song I will Always Love you, she truly out-Whitneyed Whitney Houston

Followed by Shaun's brothers' version of He Ain't Heavy.  By which time there wasn't a dry eye in the house. 

As if this wasn't surprise enough, Charlotte's brother Alex gave an impromptu ballet performance.

I am tempted to say that Alex swooped through the air like a gazelle,  reminding me of the classic description of Fred Astaire “cutting an elegant swathe across the room like an exquisite paperknife”.  But that would be pretentious of me, so I won't. 

Enough to say that it was amazing to watch this talented young man, now a star lawyer in the making, flying through the air. 

As the evening party continued, this young lady's face, I think said it all. 

And there was just time for us to grab one last romantic shot, I think my favourite of this wonderful, loving, hilarious, generous special day.   Congratulations Charlotte and Shaun and all my sincerest wishes for your wonderful new life together!

CRAIG AND SAMMY'S FIREWORKS NIGHT NOVEMBER WEDDING

I first met Craig and Sammy in a crowded bar in Paddington Basin in London after a day's work, and it was one of those wonderful encounters where you know pretty much from the outset that this will be a great wedding, that the couple are truly, madly, deeply in love,  that you will hit it off immediately with them, and that it will be a big day of laughs. 

Having shot their engagement in Virginia Water, and having already during that shoot, popped in at the Royal Berkshire Hotel in Sunninghill, I was familiar with the grounds and with the venue.  What I hadn't expected was the incredible blaze of autumn colour that awaited us. 

Originally built for the family of Winston Churchill, this lavish country hotel is housed in an 18th-century mansion just a stone's throw from Ascot Racecourse.  And as you can see, you can also play a game of draughts with any nearby giants that happen to be wandering the Surrey countryside.
 

The rooms are large, generous and comfortable, and Sammy's suite had plenty of room for all the bridesmaids to relax and prep.

and that, of course, included Mum!

and the dress, of course...

Now it may surprise some of you to hear this, but girls take a little bit longer than guys to get ready.  On this Saturday, I rocked up, bright and breezy at 10 am to find Sammy and her girl crew already in curlers and prepping.  Four hours later, at 2pm, when the ceremony was due to start, they were still adding the final touches.   The boys on the other hand...

The boys took a record fifteen minutes.  No word of exaggeration.  I've never in my life seen a swifter transformation from jeans and trainers to mourning suit and cravat. 

Shooting a wedding is always an adrenaline buzz, there is always chaos and rush.  But, boys, seriously, fifteen minutes?

and that goes for you dads too!

I guess there was a bit of a rush to get to the bar, so much of a rush that one or two of the chaps appear to still be empty-handed...

And then that moment when Dad goes in to make sure his daughter is okay, and it's a kind of a farewell moment, and always so touching

While the boys, well, they don't seem too worried do they?

Nah, nope, nothing to worry about...

and everything to be thankful for, with such a beautiful bride-to-be walking down the aisle

and these next two moments I love so much.  There is nothing but love, youth and enthusiasm in Sammy and Craig's faces.  So much hope and excitement for the future they will share together.

Despite the November cold, Sammy and Craig were game to do a little walkaround and grab a few shots.  The window for couples portraits is always a nice opportunity too for a newly-married couple to gather themselves together and get away from the bustle - kind of like quiet time, except I'm there, and I'm not that quiet.

Just look at those autumn colours! And with the last rays of the sun, the light has that golden glow to it

A quick walk around the fountain and, even with Craig lending Sammy his jacket, frostbite looked to be close at hand, so we grabbed just a last few snatched portrait shots and headed indoors

For the speeches

and, inevitably, the tears...

...looks like Craig's Dad was working hard to keep those tears back as well

and last but not least, to round off the evening, what else, on November the 5th, but sparklers and fireworks.

Congratulations Sammy and Craig and wishing you both a wonderful, happy, long life together!

LEE AND CHARLEY'S AMAZING MOVIE-THEMED COSPLAY WEDDING, HOCKLEY

Or how I survived flu, helicopters, a disgruntled Batman, English rain and the Predator to shoot one of the most epic weddings of 2016.

"There's going to be movie character special guests, and we've hired a marquee,  the wedding will take place under a draped parachute, and we're both flying in in helicopters." 

Well - to say I was excited about this wedding is an understatement to say the least.   When a costume and set designer marries a helicopter pilot, you know you're in for one amazing day.   Sure, we had rain and mud, and sure there was the occasional hitch, what with this incredible duo having created and organised the whole thing themselves.  But Charley and Lee pulled it off, running the whole thing in a marquee and field in Hockley in Essex, and they did it with incredible spirit and style.  Read on to see just what a crazy adventure the day was.

The day started with a couple of fairy bridesmaids, doing their hair, as fairy bridesmaids do.

Despite Charley's house being only a literal stone's throw from Southend Airport in Essex, her bridesmaid's Atlanta and Mimi had no idea of the aerial surprise awaiting them. 

As a costume designer and art director, Charley;s yard was littered with the beginnings and endings of semi-human projects.  But I, her supposedly clued-up photographer, still didn't really have a handle on the proceedings that were to take place. 

For Charley, prep was not something she really wanted shot, but was very keen for us to capture the moment when her Dad saw her in her amazing Gainsborough dress and purple hair.  Comprising a design of ruched pink with silver bows, and designed by Ian Stuart, Charley's fabulous dress was a real crowdstopper

And so, in blustering wind and rain, we made our way to the secret location, where the first surprise awaited Dad and the bridesmaids

October may not bring the best weather for helicopters, but this Autumn Wedding had been a year in the planning and our intrepid couple were not about to let a little thing like rain stop  play.

I just love the look on Mimi's face here!  I'm pretty sure we all pull that face when we're in for an unexpected helicopter ride.  In her hand you can see she's holding a go pro.  As there wasn't room for me in the helicopter, with Dad getting the ultimate treat of riding shotgun next to the pilot, I loaned Mimi my Go pro and Atlanta my little Fuji x100T.

Dad's looking pretty thrilled too, right?  If a little apprehensive. 

And if you have never felt the rush of taking off in a helicopter, take if from me, the next best thing is the rush of being right underneath it as the rotor blades chop the air and send wild gusts of wind barrelling over you. 

So glad I had spare cameras to lend the girls so that we could still get footage for both the album and the film we were also shooting.  We'll all have to imagine for now the thrill of flying over Southend Pier, but watch this space and the film should be posted up in a few weeks' time.

Meanwhile, my crew and I were rushing across essex to try and beat the helicopters, knowing they wouldn't be up in the air all that long.  Sometimes being a wedding photographer is like being a paparazzi, all car chases and last-minute, snatched shots.   When we arrived at the venue, the surprise guest movie characters had also just got there. 

War Machine - from the Hollywood movie Iron man - looking suitably unimpressed by the English Weather.  You can almost imagine him thinking "It's not like this in Los Angeles".  Nonetheless, despite the rain, it was a warm day, which gave rise to the best quote of the day, when I was setting up the styled portraits and asked "Where's War Machine?" only to get the answer; "He's feeling a bit hot and tired so he's gone for a lie-down".   Not what you expect from War Machine now is it? Lol.

Safely landed, with classic chivalry, Charley's debonair helicopter pilot helps her down.

and the girls, wings adjusted now they are on dry land, get our glamourous bride ready for her walk to the aisle across the fields. 

And how beautiful does Charley look as her Dad walks her down the aisle, beneath a canopy of real parachute silk.

To be married by Gandalf, no less.   Well this was a fantasy movie-themed wedding, so honestly, who else?

Led by Gandalf, Charley and Lee made their way across the mud to the marquee to sign the register...

While Pyramid Head from Silent Hill and Indiana Jones, ominously, quietly watch over proceedings.  What could possibly go wrong?  Gulp. 

Then it was back to the parachute awning for the final vows.

To rapturous applause and smiles all round.  Which is what weddings should be about.

.... unless you're Batman.  Batman didn't look too happy.  Predator looked happy enough, but Batman looks like he's been waiting too long for his glass of Prosecco. 

Happily, Catwoman seemed to be having a pretty Grrrr....eat day!

and fresh from his recuperative lie-down, War Machine came to join the  proceedings.  I mean, you can't have family group photos without War Machine, right?

So our 'Everybody' group shot included those extra special surprise guests.

One of the big challenges to this wedding, was trying to combine the movie and fantasy style elements with the more traditional.  As you can see below, and with some other staged photos, I have deliberately gone for a very stylised look, desaturated and high contrast, to capture a bit of  the Marvel Comic poster look. 

And then, boom, a dramatic turnaround in style, with warm flattering colours, and soft high-exposure skin tones for the straightforward group shots.

It helped a little that the sun came out, though of course, as you'll know, we photographers become like vampires in the bright midday sun and tend to run for cover to get that lovely glowing skin tone in our group portraits. 

Loving all the purple.  You can see how Charley being such a talented art director paid off on the day.

And then things got a little strange, with Predator deciding to strangle the groom.  Lucky we had our very own rock and roll bride to come to the rescue.

For a moment it looked like he was going to chicken out and run away, stealing the helicopter

But we still needed it for some nice couple shots, so Kick-ass bride Charley saw him off.

and once more, the contrast from the day came through, from this lovely, romantic sunny walk from the helicopter... to a Comic Con, Marvel portrait set up with Charley and Lee's special guests.

Here's a still frame from the film which we were shooting at the same time - my videographer very kindly displaying my bald patch to the world, and also how I skimp on assistants and press-gang groomsmen into holding flash guns for me

Having been together four years, Charley and Lee clearly are relaxed together and were on totally the same page when it came to their photographs, easily posing with their Comic Con pals Batman, Catwoman and War Machine.  Me, I still can't decide whether I prefer the colour or the black and white.  What do you think?

And then it was onto the reception, watched over by a host of characters, not least, Charley's fantastic Alien.

and Spiderman...

and Star Wars Storm Troopers...

 ... and the Terminator and....

....and...and... oh my God!!  Is that Arnie Schwartzenegger?!   No, okay, it isn't, but a hell of a good replica Terminator, no?

And then, just as the meal was getting underway, and it looked like we could all take a little breather, along comes that rare miracle of nature, a DOUBLE RAINBOW!

Well if you care even a jot about the pictures you take, then you can't possibly let that go.  So even though I was dying on my feet from flu and in need of a rest and some paracetamol and wedding barbecue food, I grabbed my awesome couple, who were totally game, and we made it outside in the light returning rain, to get this shot.  It may be an imperfect shot, but that isnt the point is it.  A lot of photographers would have passed on this moment in order to grab a bite and take a well-earned rest.  But some of us, the hardcore ones, we go the extra mile.  And I'm so so glad we did. 

Post wedding breakfast and onto the speeches.  And pretty soon there was that classic moment when the father of the bride delivers his speech, and the bride reaches for the nearest handy machine pistol and puts it to her head... because we all keep a few guns on the table at a wedding, right?   

What I loved so much about this wedding was that it was totally bonkers and yet at the same time, was completely organised and made total sense.... also, thankful the guns were not loaded...

and to top it all, it was someone's birthday!  

For most couples, when it comes to cutting the cake, they reach for the lovely silver cake knife left out for them. 

Occasionally, some couples it seems, prefer something a little less delicate.  Like - oh I dunno - like say a HUGE TERMINATOR-STYLE MACHINE GUN!?!

... or a Star Wars Light Sabre perhaps?  Hard to know which would work best, given you have an Empire Strikes Back/Star Wars cake and a Jaws movie cake...

At weddings of course, a lot of people bring their kids, and Alien was no exception.  He managed to mingle quite well really, making a whole bunch of new friends without, for once killing anyone.

And so to the first dance, and, naturally, it was out with the light sabres, like you do. 

Although it didn't take long for love and romance to win the day over battling it out to save the Universe

As the party progressed, Superman kept a watchful eye over the guests...

Though it didn't stop one lady from stealing the limelight as she danced with an inflatable stormtrooper.... like you do....

But with all the craziness, and all the hard work, and all the amazing art direction, still the abiding memory for everyone from Lee and Charley's wedding will be the simple, warm feeling of togetherness, the abundance of love, and most of all, the sheer romanticism of the day. 

Congratulations Lee and Charley and wishing you both a fantastic (literally) future together x

PS, if that has left you hungry to see more, here's the film we shot that day too - complete with bridesmaid go pro footage, some awesome first dance music and, in case we hadnt mentioned it too much before, some Helicopter action!

CATRIONA & TOBY'S KENT ENGAGEMENT SCOTNEY CASTLE

Or... How You Should Never Say Never Work with Children and Animals.

It's been quite a year for National Trust engagement shoots, which for me, being a Londoner, is quite a treat to get out and about in the countryside.  Catriona and Toby are both avid walkers and even more avid dog-lovers, and this was my first shoot incorporating dogs AND romance.  Despite the "never work with children and animals" maxim, I thought, what fun, what could possibly go wrong.  Of course things might have gone wrong, but in fact on the day, their two spaniels were so lovely and well-behaved I only wish I'd tried some more experimental shots.  As it is, a sweet afternoon of walking and relaxing was had by all at Scotney Castle. 

As a bit of a warm up - although to be honest an engagement shoot is in itself a warm-up - Mum took the dogs for a little walk while I took Catriona and Toby down to the Folly to get used to the camera.  Not everyone likes to indulge in endless selfies and not everyone is comfortable with the idea of a photographer.  But they know they'll need to be when their wedding day comes.  So of course an engagement shoot is a great way to not only get to know each other and what works best, but also to learn to relax a bit in front of the lens. 

And so, enter the pups, and what a cute pair they were.

I know spaniels are pretty easy going, but these two, they were just so cute and laid back.

Despite the glorious sunshine that marked the start of this lovely Kentish autumn day, by the time we had actually arrived at Scotney Castle, the clouds were massing overhead.  Sometimes when this happens, it's hard to resist going a little gothic.

The house which was built to replace the Old Castle in the first half of the 19th Century is known as Scotney New Castle, and is a wonderful example of Tudor Revivalist style.  So not really gothic at all, except perhaps when the dark lowering clouds mass overhead and the photographer's imagination runs a little too far away with itself...

For those wondering if the poor dogs had been left to go feral, I probably should add here the best piece of advice I can offer anyone considering an engagement shoot with their dogs;  bring a friend or a family member along who is happy to take the dogs for a break so the two of you can also relax and pose a little for the camera.  Taking advantage of a small break, we took a quick tour of the gardens. 

We were treated to the most amazing array of autumn colours.  The gardens at Scotney Castle were designed by Capability Brown with rhododendron and azalea competing with Wisteria and old English rose.   Autumn is beautiful, but Spring is an absolute symphony of colour.

We retrieved the little retrievers and took them for a last photo tour of the gardens.  

With the sun determined not to come back out again, and with the gates soon to close on the castle, we took a last tour of the old castle, which dates back to the fourteenth century.  And to lift things a little, I brought out some handy lights, at first as a portrait key light to lift Cat and Toby out of the November gloom.

And then more dramatically - and this is one of my favourite cheats with using a flashgun with radio trigger - I created some fake sunlight behind them.  While in reality we were halfway to darkness, see how the remote flashgun light highlights them and wraps round them, as if it were the dying rays of the sun through the bushes behind and picks out the golden autumn colours in the leaves.  Much prettier than a flat near-dark grey early evening. 

Because every lover's kiss deserves a bit of sun-dappled romance, even if it is courtesy of the hard-working photographer.  Thanks for a great day Toby and Cat, looking forward to the big day next year!