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TONY & KATE'S HERTFORDSHIRE WEDDING

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TONY & KATE'S HERTFORDSHIRE WEDDING

Sometimes you meet a young couple and there is something so generous about their spirit, and so serendipitous about the day, that everything just falls into place.  I won't ever forget how Tony's simple and humble recommendation "I think there's a field just up here with quite a nice view when the sun goes down"  would result in a red gold glory of poppies and the sunlight.  Possibly the most dramatic and beautiful sunset of the summer of 2016 and we were right there.  But enough about us, this is about them.  Tony and Kate, and the story of their day.

Which started off in brisk and elegant fashion at the Sun Inn in Hitchin, a beautifully, tastefully restored 16th century coaching inn located in the heart of one of Hertfordshire's many charming market towns.

While you can arrange to have your whole wedding ceremony and reception at The Sun, Tony had opted for reception only.  And a little groom prep. 

One of my favourite ring shots ever, achieved in a couple of minutes with the help of some optics behind, and a purple shot glass to balance the bands on.  Look close enough and you can make out a ring-reflection selfie.

But enough about me, meet the boys.

Tony and his best man, looking suave, dapper and handsome, as they tog up for the big day ahead

with of course, the help of a stiff drink, a good pair of cufflinks...

...and...er... a couple of goes on the roundabout in the market square!

Meanwhile, down the road at Kate's house, the mood was surprisingly calm and serene

with ample time for me to capture some of the lovely bridal details

Dad's garden had been carefully and lovingly tended, with a bit of extra attention, knowing that we might well have time to grab a few shots out there.

Beautiful Kate, elegant and modest as a true English Rose, was the perfect model, allowing me to experiment a little with the light and grab these portraits, which, because we had that little extra bit of time, I could make look a little like paintings.

It's a curious irony of wedding photography that often has to be explained - most weddings are summer weddings when the sun is bright and high, and yet us photographers take to the shade.  These shots show why a little.  See how the light reflects back onto the girls, so that even though they are shaded, their skin seems to have this lovely glow. 

A nervous moment for Tony when a car identical to the one driven by his father-in-law-to-be turned up twenty minutes early.  When he'd finally recovered from a close encounter with a near heart attack, it turned out of course to be the bridesmaids arriving just on time. 

St Mary's Church in Hitchin is the largest parish church in Hertfordshire and is remarkably large for a town of the size of Hitchin.  This has been cited as evidence of how Hitchin prospered from the wool trade. The present church stands on the site of two previous churches and dates from the 14th and 15th centuries, with its tower dating from around 1190.  As well as being generously proportioned and impeccably restored, it is also wonderfully light inside.  No gothic gloom here.

As Tony's expression testifies.  The vicar, by way of a bonus, it should be said is a lovely, warm, generous and good humoured priest, welcoming all with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

While every photographer will strive to capture the bride arriving...

... I think we all treasure those delicious candid moments of apprehension as the groom waits inside

Owner of the highly successful production company HitchinTV, Tony has a keen eye himself, and was eager to try all kinds of different portrait shots.  I think I may have gone a little over-gothic with this one, but it was the one overcast moment of the day, so I like to think at least we were being in some way true to the day.

Back at the Sun Inn, meticulous preparations had seen the reception room beautifully decorated with restrained good taste.

While the party got started, Tony was keen to see if we could grab the sunset shot we had talked about.  We jumped in his car and he showed his true Italian heritage by racing across town with all the speed and dexterity of a Formula 1 driver keen to get home for his champagne dinner.  And boy was it worth the pedal to the metal.  

When we arrived at the chosen location, we were greeted by this stunning field of poppies. Capturing a sunset is always a matter of luck - will cloud cover ruin it?  Will there be too little cloud to make it truly dramatic.?

On this occasion we were blessed with one of the loveliest and most dramatic summer sunsets.  

And as dusk quickly settled in we even had a go at a Gone With the Wind moment.

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Don and Kayan's Vintage London Engagement Shoot

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Don and Kayan's Vintage London Engagement Shoot

It's not uncommon to come away from a shoot having made friends with a couple, and after Don and Kayan's fantastic London pre-wedding session around Westminster, we found we had quite rapport.  Imagine then my delight when they asked if I would also shoot their engagement at various locations around the city.  

Although this shot of the couple hand in hand beneath the blossoms in Regent's Park is the last shot of the session, it is also one of my favourites, simply because it cries out "Spring! Love! Romance!" and also because, with Kayan's lovely vintage polka-dot dress, it has a classic timeless quality to it.

We started off our shoot in fact in London's Portobello Road in Notting Hill.  Don and Kayan had dressed for the part and threw themselves fully into the Vintage theme.  While Don is the modest, slightly camera-shy kind of guy - and let's face it, most guys are - you can hardly tell from the pictures.  Part of a photographer's job is to put a couple at ease, and a big benefit to shooting an engagement is the chance to get a couple accustomed to being the attention of a day-long shoot.  

Of course a good vintage shoot is nothing without a great vintage dress.  Kayan sourced her wonderful dress and hat from bowlers in York, while the photographer - yes, me that is - happily let Don have a play with my beautiful retro-styled fuji x100s.  More of which, later on. 

Kayan had done a little modelling which is always a treat for a photographer – you can see from the poses she pulls that she has a natural flair in front of the camera.

And although we achieved amazing results in colour, helped by gorgeous weather, and the pretty, multi-coloured Victorian terraces and Villas of Notting Hill and North Kensington, still it was hard to resist adding the odd black and white.  After all, no vintage shoot surely is complete without a little monochrome styling.

The stalls and shops on the Portobello Road are a magnet for tourists and shoppers, so inevitably on a beautiful sunny London spring day, London W11 was pretty hectic, yet we managed to clear enough space for Don and Kayan to get into their shoot, and I think this in part was simply down to us having so much fun, and them relaxing and getting into the pure spirit of fun that an engagement shoot should be. 

Here in this mews off the Portobello Road you can see the fuji x100s at work.  A lot is talked about the tones and colours that different cameras produce, and while you can achieve almost anything in Photoshop, you can see the subtle difference in tones and textures between the two shots.  Above is taken with my Canon 5D mark iii on a 70-200 f2.8 while below is taken on the Fuji using it's fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens.   Of course a telephoto zoom and a medium wide angle lens will produce different results, but what is interesting is not only how great the results are from such a little compact camera camera, but also how - even shooting raw - the pictures have very much their own visual quality and character.

Then it was off to Regent's Park, a location that just gets more beautiful, every time spring comes round. 

because no spring engagement shoot is really complete if you don't grab some blossoms.  This year, spring came late, so those were words I couldn't utter with assurance to some of my couples, but with Don and Kayan we hit gold!  Admittedly some of that is my gold reflector, which I think adds a fabulous look to skin tones, if you are going for something styled, warm and passionate. 

And of course, when in Regent's Park, to not feature the BT Tower would just be plain wrong, right?

I like to offer my couples as much choice as possible.  So when I deliver photos I always make sure there are a variety of edits.  Above was one colour grade that I really like, desaturating the tones of the blossoms, the green, the skin tones.   It has a subtle, slightly faded look that I think is quite classy.  But for full-on picture postcard vibrant romance, it is hard to resist the full glorious colours that a London spring has to offer. 

And sowe come to the last shot of the series which, ironically was one of the first of the shoot.  It is almost everyone’s favourite shot and I think I know why.  Somehow everything came together to perfectly reference Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Audrey Hepburn, and Paris and London in the 1950s.   Somehow we effortlessly nailed Vintage!  How did we do that?   Partly because despite the relentless modernisation and development of London, the chains and oyster bars and luxury apartments, Portobello Road has been able to hold onto the charm, the architecture, and the character that made it such an iconic location in the first place.  Somehow Notting Hill is still Absolute Beginners, it’s still The Lovers, it still has the charm of say Montmartre or Lisbon Old Town.   Somehow it is still picture-postcard London without being cliché. 

Thanks also go to Don and Kayan whose enthusiasm and sense of style mirrored this classic, timeless innocence.  They say the camera never lies, and these two were charm, style and good grace personified.   They were Grace Kelly and  Cary Grant, George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn.  All I had to do was point and click. 

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CATRIONA & TOBY'S KENT ENGAGEMENT SCOTNEY CASTLE

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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!

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SAMMY & CRAIG'S SPRING ENGAGEMENT, VIRGINIA WATER

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SAMMY & CRAIG'S SPRING ENGAGEMENT, VIRGINIA WATER

I met Sammy and Craig in a teeming bar in London's Paddington Basin development.  Despite the terrible January weather, or maybe because of it, the bar was jammed full of people to the rafters. Amidst the yelling and laughing and the loud music and the swell of human bodies, this beautiful young couple seemed to be able to separate themselves from the craziness and the hubbub, as if they existed in their own little world of peace and affection.  

It's important to meet a couple  before you take on shooting their wedding.  Wedding photography is a very personal and often intimate relationship.  If you don't get on, if there is no chemistry, then you can be sure that will be reflected in the day, and in the final pictures.   I have yet to meet a couple and not hit it off with them, and Sammy and Craig were no exception to this, their warmth and easy relaxed manner being something I knew would be reflected in their e-shoot. 

Part of any shoot is about posing.  You can't just say to a couple: "sit there and be yourselves, stand there and snog".  But there are times, as with Sammy and Craig, when a couple has that easy, relaxed way about them, when the natural affection just comes across, and then it is best to let them be themselves and to just gently, subtly place them in the right settings.

With, sure, just a little direction, here and there. 

We chose to shoot the engagement in Virginia Water, a lovely little town which takes it's name from the lake in Windsor Park nearby.   Nestled between Windsor, Ascot and Sunninghill in leafy Surrey, it is best known for the park, woodlands and waterfall that enfold the lake and is Crown Estate property. 

As well as the famous totem pole, which we didn't have time to get to, there are also historic Roman Ruins - originally the remains of a three-thousand-year-old Phoenician city known as Lepcis Magna which were given to George IVth as a gift.   While once, they would have made an amazing, atmospheric backdrop to any shoot, they are now fenced off, making them a nice enough background, but not quite the photographic wow factor we were looking for. 

Still, the sun was shining.  We had been gifted that rare and beautiful thing, a perfect English spring afternoon.  So we grabbed a few natural shots at the ruins, and made our way to the waterfall. 

A magnet for tourists, not just from the UK, but all over Europe, the waterfall at Virginia Water gave us that fantastic glittery light, with some gentle shady spots where Sammy and Craig could relax in each other's arms while I coped with vertigo and tourists.  

Many might think that a crowded tourist attraction is the worst place to shoot in, particularly as these shots were taken on the little bridge directly in front of the waterfall, and on a path deeply trodden by almost anyone who comes here.  In fact, it's probably the best way a couple and their photographer could warm up for the public marathon appearance that is their wedding day.  If you can relax with your photographer, and be at ease in front of the camera in public, then that bodes very well for your big day, when you may well be appearing in front of hundreds of people. 

As you can see Sammy and Craig had little trouble relaxing in front of the camera, and this may be in part down to the choice of lenses.  Unlike a lot of photographers, I carry a 70-200 portrait zoom, which means I can work at a slighter greater distance from my couples when necessary, which helps them feel the session is more discrete, more relaxed, and gives them space to laugh and love.   Also, I am a firm believer that every shoot should be fun.  Whether it's a couple shoot, a wedding shoot, or a high-end corporate or commercial shoot, there should be fun and laughter. 

So there you have it, a simple mix of two people in love, of black and white and colour, of horsing around, and just walking had in hand.   No forced poses, no awkward, constrained set-ups, no crazy complicated lighting, and absolutely no stress.  What every shoot should be - an easy mix of joy, fun, love and laughter.  Thanks Sammy and Craig for a great afternoon, can't wait for the wedding day at the Royal Berkshire Hotel.  Gonna be amazing!

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