Fountains Abbey Wedding, Nr Ripon – Michael and Kathryn
One of the top wedding venues not just in Yorkshire, but in the country, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate offers couples the opportunity to get married within the splendour of a World Heritage site, and for not as much money as might be expected. When I met Kathryn and Michael at their consultation, they told me they’d been surprised to find it was cheaper to hire than many venues in York.
Fountains Abbey itself, located about 30 miles northeast of York, is the ruins of a medieval monastery that had been in operation for over 400 years until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, and has been augmented with the elegant Georgian Water Gardens. Over the years it’s been used numerous times for film locations, such as for The Omen 3: The Final Conflict and The History Boys, as well as an Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark music video. Wedding ceremonies are held in the Jacobean mansion house, Fountains Hall, with two possible locations for drinks receptions. Michael and Kathryn would have theirs in the Elizabethan garden, a private walled garden across from the front of the hall.
Although I’d worked prior as an assistant at a Fountains Abbey wedding, this was going to be my first as sole photographer. So as per usual, I did a recce about a week out from the date to take in the many possibilities on offer for great wedding photography. I came back with plenty of ideas!
On the day of their mid-May wedding, Michael and Kathryn were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day. With no bridal prep to attend, I started my day photographing a couple of bridesmaids dressed in turquoise, posed almost like sentries at the stone gates of the Hall and then moved on to photograph the arriving guests. The ceremony would be held in the Hall’s Great Chamber, with it’s large leaded windows, high ornate ceiling and huge 400 year old fireplace. The arriving guests would fill it out to its capacity of around 80 people. Shortly, I got news that Kathryn was arriving and hurried outside for the first really key shots of the day. A white ribboned, vintage Rolls Royce rolled up to the gates of the hall, with Kathryn looking radiant inside with her dad. After exiting the car, she made her way inside followed by her bridesmaids for a brief meeting with the registrar, while I made my way back into the Great Chamber and continued to photograph guests, while awaiting the Processional. Unlike a church wedding, or a wedding at the Merchant Adventurers Hall for example, where the bride and her father would have a fairly long, leisurely walk to meet the groom, giving me plenty of time to get shots of this crucial moment, here Kathryn and her dad were basically just walking into a room. So Processional shots would be few and had to be spot on. I focused my lens on the spot where the two would begin their short walk to the front, and as they came in, tracked them as they moved forward towards myself, Michael and the registrar. As is typical, I was positioned to the left of the registrar, so that Kathryn was always facing me throughout the ceremony. I used both my mid-range zoom and long zoom to give me all the coverage I wanted from wide angle shots of the room as a whole to close ups of the couple’s hands in the ring exchange. Speeches included, everything went without a hitch. After a few shots of the signing of the register, the limited photo-op Recessional followed and then the couple received their congratulations from guests downstairs. Shortly afterwards, outside the Halls main doors, the guests assembled into two flanks and the newlyweds walked out into the bright sun together, hand in hand to be strewn with confetti amid cheers.
With all its splendor, Fountains Abbey as a wedding venue didn’t present me with an obvious place to shoot group photos. So they got split up into different areas, with the main group of everyone being shot just outside the hall before I did any portraits of the couple and before the drinks reception. From a photography point of view, events followed in a more ad hoc manner than I was used to at most weddings. Next up, I did some portrait shots of the couple in front of the Hall as well as posed by the Rolls. The gates to the Hall made a nice framing for smaller group shots, but the very strong directional sunlight made it necessary to fill out the harsh shadows on people’s faces with flash. Direct, on camera flash is something I try to avoid, but under such circumstances it was a case of needs must.
Next, everyone made their way into the walled gardens for the drinks reception as the proceedings relaxed and family and guests enjoyed refreshments amidst the spring sunshine. I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, taking candids, looking to anticipate expressive moments as guests shared stories and reflected on the day’s proceedings. I got a lovely shot of Kathryn when she was gifted a horseshoe as a good luck charm from her grandmother.
After 20 minutes or so, I called on Michael and Kathryn to go with me for the formal portrait shots that I planned to shoot in and around the Abbey, and we made our way over along with a handful of guests. As can be be seen from the photos, the Abbey provided a wonderful scene for the portraits and my couple were really fantastic in giving me all the time I needed to try things out, walking them through the grounds and placing them in many different locations within the grounds. One shot won me a national award – a backlit shot of the couple beneath arches in portrait format. Another from within the Great Cloister I’ve used as the first picture on the website’s homepage.
The wedding breakfast was held at the Abbey’s National Trust Tourist Centre cafe, where I shot the cake cutting and the start of everyone settling down to their meal. It had been a great day and one of the best weddings I’ve shot. I still use a wedding book of Michael and Kathryn’s day to show to prospective clients as an example of a single wedding’s photography.
14th June 2018