It’s a reckless photographer who goes to shoot a wedding without having done the requisite preparatory work before hand, and that includes checking out the venue, or venues, where the wedding ceremony and reception will be held ahead of time. I can’t imagine shooting a wedding without doing a recce, even if it’s at a venue I’ve photographed at before. Churches admittedly are generally not subject to much change, but in a hotel there might be new decor, a new chandelier in the main hall, a landscaping of the garden. New features to incorporate or avoid. In any case, it’s always a good idea to re-familiarise myself with the environment I’m going to be working in. And I want to keep surprises down to a minimum.
I’m somewhat spoilt living and working in York. It has to be one of the most historic and photogenic cities in the country. From what I’ve seen it really only has Bath and parts of London for competition, and in a poll for The Times it was recently voted the best place to live in the UK. Perhaps because of its past and romantic, scenic appeal it’s also something of a mecca for weddings. People come from all over the country to get married in York. (Which is a plus for me as long as couples don’t bring their own local wedding photographer with them.) The venues on offer are many and varied and more often than not I’m rewarded by being able to photograph weddings in very interesting and occasionally stunning surroundings. If the wedding is happening near the centre of town, the formal portrait shoot of the bride and groom can take in a walk through York’s famous and historic streets like The Shambles and Stonegate and also make use of the Minster – Europe’s largest Gothic Cathedral – as a backdrop. If the Hospitium is the venue, we can take in the Museum Gardens and the medieval ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey as well as walk along the river Ouse. So a recce doesn’t just involve the venue itself, but its immediate surroundings – whatever’s interesting that’s in striking distance.
Typically, I’ll do a recce about one week out from the wedding, because I want the light to be as close to how it will be on the day as possible. If the wedding is not in York but a more distant location that I can’t feasibly get to ahead of time, then on the day of the wedding, I’ll aim to get there a good hour and a half early to do my planning before the guests start arriving.
Whether the wedding is at a church or hotel, I’ll introduce myself to the relevant person officiating and start looking around. If it’s at a hotel I’ll ask which room, if any, the bride will be getting ready in and get access to that. Also, I’ll need to know the route from there to the ceremony room. Next I’ll start exploring the venue and its surrounding grounds, specifically with the formal portrait shoot in mind, looking for interesting and attractive spots to place the bride and groom: staircases, ornate mirrors, chandeliers, French windows, plush sofas, interesting garden features. All the time I’ll be taking test shots. If the wedding is in the winter, I’ll be using flash more often, so I’ll want to see where in which particular rooms and environments I’ll be bouncing the flash light from. I plan to do a separate blog post on using flash verses natural light, but I’ll use one example of its use in a shot for which the recce was crucial.
At a wedding, people don’t want to be standing around while the photographer does test shot after test shot to get the best angle and/or exposure. I need to be prepared and know what I’m doing so the event can flow and not get held up. At one venue in York, the Churchill hotel, they have a smoking hut outside, so to play on the venue’s theme, I always ask the bride and groom ahead of time if they fancy posing in it with cigars. This is a shot that’s tricky to get right, as I found when I did the recce, as the flash needs to be bounced above and behind me in the hut against the roof, so that a natural, soft light is created without hideous flash shadows behind the subjects. Because of the dark wood in the hut which absorbed a lot of light, it took many test shots to get the right exposure. But once I had it, as well as the optimum angle for the shot, I just noted down the camera settings which could be quickly dialled in on the day, and everything went smoothly.
I don’t just do a recce at the physical location; I also do an online recce. While I have an eye for a good photograph, I’m not going to think of everything when it comes to taking advantage of a particular venue’s assets. So I’ll do an online search to check what other photographers have done. Invariably there’ll be something I missed – an overlooked idea that’s well worth stealing.
Now with the photography prep done, I can start planning the day and how best to show off my bride and groom.
1st May 2018