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Image of the Week - A Stolen Moment

Our Image of the Week picture this week is one of my favourite two or three images from the past few years. It’s one of those golden moments that played out perfectly.

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This photograph was shot last year at Jojo & Tom’s wedding at Cripps Stone Barn in the Cotswolds. The Stone Barn is a fantastic venue but from a light point of view it presents its own unique challenges. In certain areas the light is simply majestic, and then at other times you’ve got to work hard to get the best from it. Where the wedding breakfast is served in the Dutch Barns the photons cascade in, bathing the guests in gorgeous window light, and likewise, the Stone Barn itself, which is used for ceremonies has a fantastic half-wall of windows. However, running down the centre of the venue there is a walkway that extends from one end of the building to the other. It’s fantastic looking but as it’s essentially a tunnel, it tends to create very backlit situations. An opportunity and a challenge.

This image was shot following the speeches in a little bit of downtime before I took the Bride & Groom away for portraits. Despite being mid-June (the summer solstice no less) the weather was doing that distinctly British thing and, for the most part… raining! Jojo & Tom had just heard a truly raucous, hilarious and moving set of speeches and as their guests finished coffee/dessert etc they stepped away for a quiet moment. People often ask me whether this image was posed or staged. In fact, it was 100% organic. I’d been preparing lighting for the first dance and as I walked back into the Dutch Barn I saw them stood near the door. Anyone who remembers from when I blogged their wedding will recall that Jojo & Tom are a sickeningly handsome pair and this, plus the fact that they have the rare quality of being truly comfortable in their own skins goes a fair distance to addressing questions of a staged photograph!

Prior to photographs like this there is often a strange feeling. It’s hard to describe but it’s almost like a sense of foreshadowing. A truly unique, unprompted moment might just be about to happen in front of me! This is the exact reason that clients hire me and it’s always a rush when it starts to play out. It doesn’t always eventuate, but when it does, such as here, it’s deeply satisfying. It sounds odd, but of all the photography I’ve ever done, these moments are most closely comparable to wildlife photography. You’re literally ‘stalking’ the moment. That might sound a touch creepy (trust me, there’s no hiding in bushes involved!) but it’s a similar sensation. As the picture begins to come together, I want to position myself ‘just so’ - ready with the perfect framing, accurate focus and appropriate exposure in anticipation of the decisive moment. However I want to do all this surreptitiously, without drawing attention to myself or interrupting the moment in any way. As soon as the subject becomes aware that they are indeed, the subject, the opportunity is lost.

These many small decisions were made and balanced, quietly, in the few seconds between spotting the possibility and clicking the shutter, about 20m or so from the couple. All the while trying to seem interested in something other than the Bride & Groom. Tom was leaning on the open door, chatting to his new wife, and while that in itself made a great frame, it really crystallised when Jojo closed the space between them and they kissed. That instance is reflected in this image.

There’s so much I love about this photograph. Compositionally it just works. The geometry of the arm around the neck and the arm leaning on the door, the vertical lines mirrored in both the flagstones and the door frames, the isolation of the subjects in the window. From an exposure point of view this shot depended on their proximity to the light. If they’d been set further back then they would have been far more backlit and a silhouette would have been more applicable. That would make for a nice shot, and I got something similar at Steph & Neil’s wedding earlier this year, but the romance in this image is in the closed eyes, the half visible face and the relaxed poses. All subtleties that would have been lost in a backlit image.

For the techies and photo geeks this image was shot on the 5DIII with the EF 135L at f/2.8, 1/320th and ISO 3200. There’s an interesting addendum to those details. The 135L is my favourite lens of all time - the reasons why I’ll explain in another post. This image, possibly my favourite shot of 2012, was shot on the 135L no less than 10mins before it slipped onto the very same flagstones. I’ve had lenses take a tumble before, sometimes you get lucky and other times not so much. This time I wasn’t so fortunate. While the lens was intact, having only fallen 2-3 feet, the autofocus motor was shot and it needed a visit to Canon for repairs. I’m glad to say that it’s now back to full health! I ended up shooting the portrait session that followed without the 135L. I’m not one for superstition, but over the course of a year I shoot tens of thousands of frames with the 135. I see a sort of serendipity in the fact that this lovely frame was created just moments before the same lens knocked itself out! There’s some sort of poetry hiding in there.

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Image of the Week - Flowergirls Framed

It’s been a while since we’ve had the Image of the week feature, but as the season is slowing down now, it seems like a good time to revive it. The premise is simple, I choose a photograph from a past wedding that I feel is particularly strong and discuss how and why it came to be. This week, we’re going to take a look at this image from Jess & Chris’ early August wedding.

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This one, for me, sums up what wedding photojournalism is all about. That is to say, documenting the events of the day in a way which goes beyond a simple record of who, where, when and why. This moment could have been shot very differently; with the little flower girls running, shot tight and straight on, with the bush to the left of the frame as the background. It would have made a perfectly lovely shot, but the same moment, photographed this way, becomes an infinitely richer and more arresting image.

This photograph was taken from inside Jess’ parents’ house. I’d just popped in to check on the progress of the bridesmaids and grab a couple of quick shots of the confetti being prepared. As I returned I stopped to photograph one of the bridesmaids who was doing her makeup by the light of the window. Jess was outside, seated for her own hair and makeup, under the lintel of the summer house. Initially I began to compose a photograph using the diamond shaped leading in the window to frame Jess and, as I did so, the two bridesmaids wandered into the shot. Occasionally as a photographer you find yourself in a situation where you can almost feel a really interesting shot coalescing around you. This was one of those. To begin with, the kids just stood with their backs to me, watching Jess’ makeup progress. That in itself would have made a lovely image but the bridesmaids were stood in such a way that I couldn’t frame them and Jess cleanly in different diamonds.

After a few moments of quiet contemplation they turned and dashed out of the right of the frame and in that brief moment I was lucky enough to get the shot you see above. I love the juxtaposition of seated, thoughtful, nervously excited bride alongside happy, rushing, carefree flowergirls. It’s about stillness and motion. The sense of movement came off nicely, thanks to their stride pattern, the sway in the hair and the leading girl being in midair at the point of capture. Finally, the leading in the window gives this image an extra something and helps to reinforce a sense of story-telling. It reminds me of framed vignettes, or the individual cells of a comic strip and instills it with an air of narrative that’d be devoid in a straight up portrait of the kids running. It’s one of my favourites from Jess and Chris’ wedding and even the season itself.

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Image of the Week - Wanna Play?

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The core of my wedding work is built around observation. Like most photographers I’m a total gear nut who constantly hankers after the latest and greatest cameras, but despite this my most valued piece of equipment is a keen set of eyes. Seeing a scene clearly - as a distinction from simply ‘looking’ at a scene - and constantly being on alert to the situation around you is more important than any camera, lens or accessory. Weddings are incredibly event-rich occasions. From the big obvious moments to the smallest gestures, glances and interactions, there are literally thousands of opportunities an hour. The key is in identifying the interesting ones and building an image around them.

I’ve always been a fan of the ‘sideshows’ at weddings. That is to say the small, often unnoticed events that tell their own stories. They’re simultaneously self-contained but also add detail and colour to the story of the wedding day as a whole.

The image below is from back in 2009 and was shot at a wedding party in London. The bride and groom had been married overseas and were having an evening reception to celebrate with those who couldn’t make it out to the ceremony in the Caribbean. The room was jam packed and although there weren’t many kids in attendance there were a few, and understandably they looked universally bored. Except these two. As the hubbub continued 6ft above, down below knee height this Games Master and her would-be suitor were engrossed in a spot of Nintendo.

I love moments like this. The complete ignorance of the party above and their absorption in the game is wonderful. I love the light cast from the screen onto the girl’s face, the incongruous mixture of casual and formal and the total lack of camera awareness. I got lucky frankly. In another world on another day a photographer crouching to ground level to capture the world from their point of view may well have proved distracting, making the picture less about the moment and more about their reaction to me. Thankfully the game was a good one and the concentration absolute!

This was shot with the Canon 5DII and the EF 50 f/1.4. Exposure was 1/30th, f/2.2, ISO 4000.

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Image of the Week - The Blessing


Apologies for the delay in posting an image of the week, I’ve been busy getting the wedding season started and enjoying a week away.

This week’s image is from Gabriella & Tone’s wedding back in June 2011. Gabriella’s folks live near Henley-on-Thames and have a wonderfully beautiful garden in which the marriage blessing took place. Two of the main tenets of my approach are to show the day from the perspective of those who were there and to create a body of work that gives the viewer the sense of being part of the wedding, whether they were present on the day or not. This image does both. By getting in amongst the congregation I was able to frame the photograph between two heads, giving a sense of seeing the moment as a guest might have viewed it.

The actual perspective is somewhat different. This was shot on the 135L, my all-time favourite lens, and due to the focal length, the guests in the foreground and the couple in the background have been seemingly brought closer together. This helps with the image by removing the perception of distance that existed between the congregation and the ceremony and accentuating the framing qualities of the two heads.

The weather during the ceremony was touch and go - rain was a real threat - but the cloudy skies and late afternoon timing contributed to some gorgeously soft light. The final aspect was waiting for the connections to appear in the image. It’s sometimes challenging to combine multiple significant expressions into one picture, as people react to different things and different moments; but during the reading Tone’s reflective expression and the eye contact between Gabs and the reader came together. It’s a real favourite of mine.

For the togs out there I shot this on the 5DII with the 135L @ f.4.0, 1/800th, ISO 800. Till next week!

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Image of the Week - Eye Line

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Today’s Image of the Week is from James & Jenny’s wedding at Loseley Park back in May 2011. Loseley is an absolutely stunning venue and the Great Hall is a particularly impressive room, steeped in heritage. It’s amazing to look at with the human eye, but it’s a challenging room to shoot in because it’s tremendously busy. It’s covered in paintings, ornaments, suits of armour and the walls themselves are a real mixture, featuring hard wood, stone and a variety of paint styles. In a room with these characteristics, finding a clean background isn’t possible, and so composition becomes especially important. Finding a strong composition helps focus the viewer’s eye and allows the subject to overpower distractions such as a cluttered background.

James was one of the most heartfelt Groom’s I’ve photographed and was pretty choked up as Jenny walked down the aisle. He held it together like a trooper, but the emotion was plain to see. I always try and be efficient with my movement during a wedding ceremony, limiting it to that which is absolutely necessary. As such, in some wedding venues, I stay put for most of the ceremony; selecting my spot based on a combination of factors including light, angle of view and scope for variety. As Jenny made her entrance, I’d decided that a shot I particularly wanted was her arrival at the end of the aisle and the connection that would pass between Bride and Groom as James first clapped eyes on his lovely wife to be. The anticipation was palpable, emotion running high and I wanted to show the electricity in that moment.

I shoot with my right eye to the viewfinder and this allows me to open my left eye and see the scene outside the frame. I don’t always shoot this way, preferring to switch between ‘off eye’ open and closed, but in this instance I opened my left eye just prior to Jenny reaching the end of the aisle. I’d been centrally composed on James, but seeing the entire front row craning round for a look, I locked my focus on James’ face and recomposed to include the full complement of ushers and onlookers in the front row. The 5DII is a tremendous camera, but it’s off-centre focus points are not one of it’s strengths. While I might rely on them in bright sunshine, I tend to avoid using them for critical indoor images like this as I find them hugely unreliable. Because of this, I prefer to focus recompose when possible, particularly when I’m in AI Servo mode - as I am for the majority of a wedding day.

When it came to post processing, the main thing was to crop the image down to a pano to further accentuate the linear effect of the turned heads. The black and white treatment is one of my standard b&w presets, tweaked as usual to best suit the image. The b&w helps to further simplify the scene, bringing the faces to greater prominence and stripping away the distraction of an extremely colour diverse frame.

For the photographers amongst you, the image was shot on the 5DII with the 35L @ f/2.8 1/1000th ISO3200. I could have got down to ISO1600 perfectly happily, but the aisle had been shot moments prior and was substantially darker than this scene which was relatively well lit by a high window to the rear right of camera.

It’s one of my favourite images from the day, I hope you enjoyed the story behind it.

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Image of the Week - Light & Composition

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The last couple of weeks have been pretty hectic with consultations and wedding fairs, hence the delay in posting an IotW. I’ll try and post a second IotW later this week to get us back on track.

It’s sometimes hard, and often counterproductive, to condense the tenets of good photography. Nonetheless, over the past five years I’ve been trying to do just that. Perhaps a better way to describe it is an effort to roughly rank the varied, and sometimes competing, elements that are present in great images. What’s more important, timing or posing, DOF or composition? On one level, these are complete unanswerables, often moot and hugely dependent on mood, intent and subject. Nevertheless, I find the ability to offer some loose ‘sovereignty’ to one area of photography over another can be helpful in knowing where to begin. It helps bring order to the thought process. It’s a bit like getting into a suit. It doesn’t really matter whether shirt or trousers go on first, but if you do up the trousers before you put on the shirt, you’re going to have to undo the trousers to tuck in the shirt. Yet somethings remain pretty fixed. For example, Pants after trousers doesn’t work unless your name is Clark Kent.

It’s taken a long time to hone in on any sort of maxim that holds together, but in the last two years I think I’ve got there. Photography is such an opinion driven subject that an all-encompassing edict is impossible, so unsurprisingly what I’ve settled on is narrow in its scope. Nonetheless, I think it’s useful.

Outstanding photography begins with two simple elements: great light and great composition. If you combine these two elements and forget the rest, I’d argue that you won’t go far wrong. Light is the magic element in photography but its texture, colour and consistency varies immensely. Great light brings great drama. Composition on the other hand is the photographer’s primary art and what separates us from someone who simply points a camera.

For an Image of the Week post it may seem like I’ve spent a long time talking about something other than the picture at hand but, to be honest, everything I said above is condensed in this week’s photograph. Great light and composition are the making of this picture. It was shot at Hampton Court House during Emma & Justin’s wedding last August. It was shot at about 7pm, just as the ‘golden hour’ was starting. The golden hour is a term that refers to the hour or so prior to sunset when natural light’s colour temperature warms and, when the sun is out, goes golden. It’s a fantastic time to shoot as the light is less stark than when the sun is high in the sky and the colour brings life to an image.

These two little flower girls were absolutely adorable however all the being good had rather taken it’s toll! The Guests were finishing their meal and so when the opportunity to play outside presented itself it was far too good to resist. Hampton Court House is a bit like the book Watership Down - bunnies are EVERYWHERE. The gardens are literally awash with them and they hang about until you get very close indeed. This shot was after a couple of informal group photos with the girl’s parents and with the light so lovely and the bunnies in the background it was simply a matter of arranging the elements in a workable composition. I placed a bunny between the girls to give the sense that they were looking right at it and made sure not to disturb them. I wanted to bring an undisturbed quality to the picture.

A great image is often a simple image and frankly, the light and composition are all that this image required. It’s one of my favourites from the day because when I look at it, I literally feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and find the sense of peace and tranquility is palpable. I hope you enjoy it also.

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Image of the Week - Wave!

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This is the second instalment in the on-going image of the week series. Zoë & Ben’s wedding was back in June 2011 and was one of my favourites from last year. After getting married in St James’ Church in Elstead, the plan was for Ben and Zoë to lead a convoy of cars the short distance back to Zoë’s parent’s gorgeous home for the wedding reception. The distance was pretty short, so a convoy seemed totally plausible, and they had just the car for the job. Ben’s Mum owns a gorgeous vintage Morris - my research suggests it’s a Model 8 Series II - and thanks to a family friend it had been lovingly restored for their wedding day. Trust me when I say, this car oozed style.

When Zoë first explained the plan for this part of the day, along with thinking how fun it’d be, I really wanted to try and capture it in an evocative, motion filled shot. A convoy is all about movement and Elstead is a lovely picturesque spot. I know it relatively well as we go for the occasional chinese there and I drive through it quite often on the way to my girlfriend’s sister-in-law. There’s a great narrow bridge where the road out of the village crosses the river and it’s surrounded by all manner of rich vegetation and leafy trees. The shot I had in mind included the speeding Morris, an excited couple, a road stretching out behind and a sense of motion.

One of the parts of a wedding day that I worry about most are the logistics. I’m constantly anxious about uncontrollable elements such as traffic jams, parking spots and breakdowns. Thankfully, in Elstead, I didn’t have to worry too much about traffic and I drive a new reliable car. Nonetheless it’s a small village and finding convenient places to leave your car can be tricky. When considering this shot my main concern was getting from the church to the end of the bridge - where I wanted to shoot the picture from - in time. The post ceremony period of a wedding is normally a pretty excited, fast flowing affair and I didn’t want to miss it to get in position for the convoy shot. That said, getting into and out of a car, while carrying two cameras and a bunch of lenses takes a small, but not insignificant period of time. To this end, I figured it’d be quicker to walk from the church to the photo spot rather than get in the car, drive the short distance, park, get out and then walk to the exact spot.

This plan would have been ideal save for one mistake. I seriously underestimated how far it was on foot! What I thought would be a 3 minute walk was more like a 10 minute jog! As I walked and realised that the bridge was further than I’d imagine, I decided that missing this shot was simply not something I was going to let happen. As such I broke into a camera laden jog. Fine over 10 or even 50m but over the 700 odd, that Google Earth informs me it was, distinctly less so. The entire time I feared the sight of a Morris racing past or the sound of a vital piece of camera equipment detaching itself and bouncing loose. Luckily the gods were good and neither occurred. I arrived with no sign of Morris in sight.

I found my spot, which I’d scouted in a previous recce (though not the route march to it!) and selected my 17-40L. I wanted a wide angle to show the road stretching away behind Ben & Zoë and intended to wait till the car was as close to me as possible before pulling the trigger. As my breathing and heart-rate normalised, I stood and waited. And waited. And waited. I begun to worry that in my focussed, head down run I’d missed my targets as they’d gone sailing by. Considering this I came to the conclusion that it was highly improbable and that they were probably behind me. After a few more minutes and following a few false alarms, the distinctive maroon nose of the Morris appeared, horns tooting, bouquets waving.

I love Canon’s 5DII dearly, it is my favourite camera and arguably the best camera body I’ve ever used. I’ve used the layout for such a long time that I find it extremely instinctive. Nonetheless, it has it’s weaknesses and frame rate is one of them. Even at a relatively slow 30mph, through a wide angle lens like the 17-40L the car starts very large and then becomes very big very quick. I didn’t want the Morris too deep in the frame but neither did I want to catch only half of it. With only 3fps or so, I couldn’t afford to machine gun the shutter and so it came down to timing the composition. Thankfully I got lucky and as promised Zoë was whisked past waving like her life depended on it. The delay, it turned out, had been due to the
difficulties assembling a multi-car convoy in the confines of a small village green. Understandable really!

I was pretty pleased with the way the image turned out, it included all the elements I’d hoped for, had been considered but not staged and the fun and excitement of the moment shines through. I shot the image on a 5DII using a 17-40L wide open at f/4 with a shutter speed of 1/320th, ISO 200. I wanted a touch of motion blur, hence the choice of shutter speed and I panned with the Morris as it sped past. The 5DII gets a bad rep as far as AF goes and I’d love to see it improved in a forthcoming replacement (please Canon) but it does a decent job and hung on during this fairly difficult scenario of closing speeds, panning, busy scene and shifting light.

I’ll be back next week with another Image of the Week, if you’d like to see more of my work, then please take a moment to view my portfolio.

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Image of the Week - Castle Steps

I’ve been meaning for some time to start an ‘image of the week’ feature focusing on some of my favourite images. The idea is fairly straightforward, spotlight an interesting image and discuss it. That’s pretty much the gist of it, nothing too labourious or long-winded. Hopefully it’ll be of interest to both prospective couples and photographers alike. I’m sure the frequency will vary somewhat, sometimes becoming fortnightly or monthly and at other times being every few days. Nonetheless, I’ll call it image of the week for simplicity’s sake. To get us underway, I thought we’d start with the image below:

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This was one of my favourite images from 2011 and is from Lucy & Ollie’s wedding at Gorey Castle in Jersey. Mont Orgueil, to give the castle its formal title, is a vast coastal fortress and the walk from bottom to top is considerable. Wedding day or not, the only way up is via the steps. I’d flown out to Jersey the day before the wedding to recce the locations and I’d really liked the look of the winding steps that linked the higher Grand Battery to the lower areas of the castle. On the day itself the majority of the guests made their way up to the Grand Battery for the drinks reception fairly promptly while Lucy & Ollie remained at the bottom for a few minutes.

This not only allowed me to race to the top but also allowed the stairway to clear of people. I positioned myself towards the landward edge of the Battery, which looks down onto the steps, and while keeping one eye on the stairway photographed the guests mingling and the band entertaining. When I spotted the Bride and Groom approaching I turned round and made sure they weren’t looking. The shot I had in mind was observational rather than interactional and what I envisaged was a birds-eye view without direct eye contact. The edge of the Grand Battery overlooking the steps has a low wall. I’m quite tall, but it was certainly beneath waist height for me. I’d pre-framed the image and found that I wanted as wide an angle as possible to include as much of the sweeping, curving steps as possible. However, to get the angle just so and to include as little of the wall closest to me as possible at the bottom of the frame I found I had to lean out a fair bit! With the low wall and the issues with framing, I found myself adopting a rather unusual, somewhat hilarious, semi squatting, semi spread-eagle position as I effectively gripped (read ‘humped’) the curved wall in front of me with my legs and knees. Thankfully guests were too absorbed in having a good time to notice…

The frame was shot on the Canon 5DII with a 17-40L at 17mm. I wanted to include a reasonable amount of detail in the rising walls so I shot the image at f/5.6. Although they didn’t spot me, Lucy & Ollie had the good form to walk hand in hand, in a perfectly centred spot midway between the two walls. As I saw the Bridesmaids following on behind I chose to wait until they entered the frame. The distance between the two pairs was simply good fortune but made for a nice balance to the frame. The final timing of the shot came down to two things, firstly gait - timing the shot such that the Bride & Groom were in a nice spot in their step pattern - and the unknown quality that may or may not appear. As luck had it, just as I pressed the shutter, Lucy held her bouquet out the side as she linked arms with Ollie. It’d have been a nice shot without this, but the action adds a certain quality, both in isolating the bouquet and emphasising the couple.

I’m predominantly a fan of this shot for its composition. I love the snaking line of the steps, the separation of Bride & Groom and the bridesmaids, their central placement on the walkway and the texture of the stone. It’s always satisfying to see an image ahead of time and then for it to come together in the camera. Planning played a part, but luck was a massive factor too, both in terms of the timing and in the placement of the subjects. I could have staged it, but that’d have run counter to both my nature and detrimental to the ‘truth’ of the image.

If you’d like to see a larger version of the image it’s currently featured in the initial slideshow that visitors can find on my website homepage.

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