Reflecting on our own wedding photos…

If you’d asked me three months ago what we were doing for our first wedding anniversary, I’d have said that we were planning a trip away over the Easter break, a nice meal out in the same village as our venue, and that I’d secretly ordered a wedding album as a surprise gift for Jon (my husband).

Now, in the middle of coronavirus lockdown, it’s a rather different story. Our anniversary trip is cancelled and we certainly won’t be going out for a fancy meal anytime soon. The album however, is still very much part of the plan (though I’ve now fessed up to the surprise), and I really can’t wait to sit down with Jon to re-live our wedding memories.

Truth is, it’s times like these when you really realise the true value of your wedding photos. Of course I’ve always believed photography is the most valuable thing you are left with after your wedding, it’s the ultimate souvenir of your day and everyone who shared it with you. Now though, it feels even more poignant, as it’s likely we won’t see many of the people in our wedding album for a long time to come.

With all this in mind, it seemed like a good time to write a personal post about what I learned from being on the other side of the lens for a day and how my feelings about our wedding photos have changed during our first year of marriage. I’d been thinking of writing something like this for a while, I hope you’ll find it interesting.

Of course, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Liv of Olivia Johnston Photography and our second shooter Paul for all the beautiful photos which populate this page, you were amazing photographers x

 

How it felt to actually be in a photo, for once

Once upon a time, I believed that being a photographer was a great excuse to avoid being in pictures. Naturally, if I was the one taking photos at every birthday, Christmas and wedding, I’d avoid the terrifying glare of the lens and wouldn’t have to suffer seeing the results. Looking back though (or rather, not looking back because I don’t have many photos to look back on) I really, really regret not being in more pictures.

When we started to plan our own wedding, the prospect of being the centre of attention was a huge stumbling block for me. Like many others, I have several hang ups about the way I look, and was scared of the awful truths I thought the photos could reveal. It took a lot of mental preparation to resign myself to the fact that yes, I would have to actually be in some of my own wedding pictures – there was no escaping it.

To combat the anxiety I thought back to all the wonderful couples who I’ve worked with over the years and how their inner and outer beauty was obvious to me, but not always to them. I told myself that even if I didn’t like how I looked in the photos right now, I would probably look back at them in ten years time and only see the good bits! I’d just have to deal with best I could, trust our photographer (Liv) to find my best side, and remember why we invested in a photographer who specialised in natural, un-guarded moments. Of course it’s nice to look nice in pictures, but it’s far more important to look happy!

When it actually came to the wedding day, I’m pleased to report that my worries practically evaporated the second I had a suitable layer of makeup on.  I was so  immersed in the wedding whirlwind, I barely noticed when pictures were being taken. And when I did hear those shutter clicks, I knew that they meant something good, something worth capturing, was happening. Remember this if I’m shooting your wedding in the future – camera clicks are a compliment.

Setting  priorities

OK, so here is one of my most shameful confessions. I wrote a list of ‘must have’ photos. Yes,  I know every wedding photographer reading this will be mortified and trust me, nobody is more shocked than me that I fell into the ‘must have photos’ trap.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m referring to making a long list of things (or even specific moments) you’d like your photographer to capture. While I always ask couples if they have any special requests, the only list a wedding photographer really needs is the one for the family photos. You know, the posed shots with parents and grandparents, etc. We certainly don’t need a list to remind us to take a picture of the first kiss, confetti or first dance.

Still, there I was making such lists for poor Liv to execute. Once I finished writing it, I realised the list I’d prepared left no room for those spontaneous, relaxed moments nobody can possibly predict. Coming to my senses, I ditched the list and asked Liv to shoot whatever she thought looked good with just a couple of special requests.

To be honest though, the whole saga was actually quite helpful as it made me realise what our priorities actually were for the photographs. It wasn’t having the ‘perfect’ confetti photo or a walking off into the sunset, it was just to enjoy ourselves and have some great photos of whatever happened to show for it. I’m so glad Liv never saw the original list!

Group Photos

Here’s another confession for you…  I was shocked  to find that I broke my own golden rule of asking for a maximum of 10 formal, group photos.

I don’t have a problem with group photos – I believe they’re actually really important for many reasons – but it’s always best to keep them to the bare minimum so they don’t become tedious and, therefore,  a bad memory. And yes, I still stand by that sentiment, but now I see it’s not always so cut and dry. For example, I realised I really wanted a picture of just me with my mum and granny, and Jon wanted one of just him and his best friend who’d come over from Australia, etc. The list quickly added up to 15. Yes, FIFTEEN. What an example to set to my couples!

Once we’d written this list and realised there was no way we could cut it down, we decided to extend the drinks reception to allow for the extra time and also to book a second shooter (more on that later). I’m so glad we did that as once the family shots were done, we still had a good amount of time to mingle, chat and grab a drink with our guests.

Looking at the group photos now, I’m glad we did them because they didn’t take very long (thanks to Liv’s organisation skills) and they’ll ultimately become part of our family history. I never thought I’d have a group photo printed for my wall but yep, there’s one sat on my desk right now. I guess these photos are considered classics for a reason.

On a side note, we managed to save a lot of time with our group list by keeping the ‘poses’ informal and relaxed. So if guests were holding drinks or handbags, that didn’t matter, we  didn’t want them to look stuffy or formal and I honestly think everyone looks happier as a result. Something to consider if you’ve got a longer list like we did.

Choosing our Photographer

I bet this is the bit you’re most curious about… how the heck does a wedding photographer choose their own photographer? Do I pick someone I know and trust but risk getting myself too involved with the photography, or a total stranger whose work looks great but I’ve never met? It wasn’t an easy decision as I know so many wonderful photographers, but ultimately decided to choose my close friend Liv. I’ve known Liv for almost a decade now and we often second shoot for each other at weddings, so it goes without saying that I knew her pictures would be perfect..

Aside from the actual photographs, a major part of the decision was also based on choosing a someone who’d gel with our guests on a personal level.  I knew Liv’s quirky,  cheery personality would help our family and friends feel comfortable and that Jon and I could  fully relax around her too. If you feel like your photographer is on the same wavelength as you, it’s so much easier to let your guard down in photos, which gives much better results.

As I said earlier, I also had a lot of anxiety about having my picture taken, but knew Liv wouldn’t let a dodgy double chin shot ever see the light of day (unless it was for really, really good reason!). Trust is so important when choosing your photographer and if you struggle to relinquish control (like me), you can only do that when you feel 100% confident your photographer will have everything covered without your guidance.

Booking a videographer

It’s a sad fact that wedding videos can get easily overlooked. I hear couples say things like ‘we’re not bothering with video’ and ‘we’d probably only watch it once or twice’ all the time when they’re planning. Sadly, this often turns into ‘we wish we’d had it filmed’ once it’s all over.

Neither of us had any strong feelings about video initially, but I’m so pleased we decided to have one. I can now say from personal experience that it’s one thing to have beautiful photos of your day, but to re-live it with movement and audio is something else altogether. I think the problem is we all “know” what you get with wedding photography and it’s generally seen as pretty essential to the whole experience of getting married. The value of video isn’t so ingrained and you might not even know what modern wedding films looks like nowadays.  You probably won’t realise how much you’ll love your video until you see it for the first time.

When it came to choosing a videographer we chose Sarah Vivienne, another photographer friend of mine who I’ve worked with for the last ten years. We picked Sarah because she works in a mindful, documentary style which we knew wouldn’t compromise our photographs, and she’d also worked with Liv before.

I cannot emphasise how important it is to choose a videographer whose style compliments your photographer’s. If you are interested in booking a videographer always ask your photographer for recommendations, as they will know who they can share a space with to still achieve the best results.

Why we booked a second shooter (for our tiny wedding)

I’m a bit ashamed to admit this too, but at first we weren’t going to book a second photographer for our wedding. After all, we only had 50 guests, everything was happening in one venue, and Jon wasn’t too keen on the idea of getting ready shots. You’d think I’d know better given how much I value good photography, but I was just so focused on the idea of having a small wedding I didn’t think much about the parts Liv wouldn’t be able to capture.

Thankfully, one of my photographer friends set me right over coffee one day, reminding me of all the moments we’d miss without two pairs of eyes on the job. All those unscripted hugs and hellos when guests arrive, the shots from the back and front of the ceremony which you simply don’t see when you’re the primary photographer. Looking back, I can’t believe we nearly missed out on some of our favourite photos which were taken by our second shooter Paul. The moment my dad and I waited for the music to start outside the ceremony doors, Jon chatting to my granny before I arrived, the guests chatting indoors while we had our group photos taken outside… the list goes on.

My only regret is not persuading Jon to have had a few photos getting ready in the morning. I really wish we had one or two shots of him and his family at home to match the beautiful ones I have with my mum, dad and granny.

The photos I loved most then

Another confession now… when we got our wedding pictures back after our honeymoon, I was so scared to look at them I put it off for over a week. I don’t think many people talk about this, but once your wedding is over, you can be left feeling a bit bereft. The big day you’d spent ages planning and looking forward to is all done and dusted, life’s gone back to normal and receiving your photos becomes the grand finale of the whole experience. It’s a bittersweet moment.

Of course, I had nothing to worry about and we were absolutely thrilled with our pictures when we finally sat down to look at them. What I think is most interesting though, is how my favourite pictures have changed over time.

When we first opened our gallery, I was probably most excited to see the shots of Jon and I together. The all important ‘couple shots’.  When we started to go through them I absolutely loved them, but must admit I hunted for the ones where I looked ‘the best’ and focused on those for a long time. I loved the documentary, story-telling shots too of course, but my initial favourites of myself were definitely the ones where I looked better.

Some of these are still firm favourites a year later, like the one of my dad seeing my in my dress for the first time, and the beautiful shots at sunset. But there are others which I barely looked at at the time which have now taken the top spot…

The photos I love most now

A year on, many of the photos I’d consider favourites now are ones I didn’t even notice at the time. When I look back at our pictures now, I see so many new and different things and entire moments I’d forgotten completely. Same with the video. It’s no exaggeration that your wedding photos eventually become your memories, I would have forgotten so much without the beautiful, natural photos Liv and Paul captured.

The self-criticism has gone completely, I see how Jon and I were together on our wedding day, and all I see is happiness. It’s lovely. Interestingly, my favourite shot of Jon and I together is one I didn’t like much when I first saw it… it’s now printed and framed, pride of place in our home:

How being a bride changed the way I do my job (for the better)

This is a biggie. By the time we got married in April 2019, I’d shot over 200 weddings and figured I probably had a pretty good idea of what having our own would feel like.  I wasn’t totally wrong but wow, I had no idea just how overwhelming and downright lovely the whole thing would be. When I go out to shoot a wedding nowadays, my mindset is very different. I see weddings in a whole new light.

While I’d always focused on capturing the more natural pictures anyway, I now spend more time hunting out the most meaningful moments and letting them unfold naturally. Before, I might have been tempted to intervene to get just the right lighting or background, but now recognise that the integrity of a picture is way more important than if  it’s technically perfect or not. I am also far more likely to include the occasional imperfect photo for couples nowadays, because the moment is more important than the artistic execution.

For the posed shots like portraits and group photos however, my attention to detail has been sharpened and it seems more important than ever to get these spot on. It’s nobody’s fault but my own, but I wish I had adjusted my dress a bit more often on our wedding day so it was sitting right in certain photos, so it’s little things like this I’ll be looking for more than before.

I also know now that it’s totally true when couples say they barely noticed I was even at their wedding! This has always fascinated me because when I’m shooting, I try to be invisible but sometimes need to creep in closer to the action, and worry if my presence is distracting.  I can honestly say I barely remember Liv, Sarah or Paul taking pictures and video for the most part of our wedding. I didn’t even clock the cameras as I walked down the aisle, all I saw was Jon.

What Surprised me most

I think what surprised me most about our wedding photos was how much we loved the pictures of our immediate family. It sounds obvious, but all those amazing shots of our mums, dads and grannies feel like gold dust to us now. Even the group shots are firm favourites, seeing everyone all together at that moment in time is just lovely.

I’m also surprised how much I love the detail shots. I’ve always taken pictures of the little details at weddings as a matter of course, but often wondered if having a photo of your dress hanging up was really all that important. When I look at our detail shots  I’m surprised how much they mean to me, mostly because of what they signify. Yes, the photo of my dress hanging up wouldn’t be framed on my wall, but too right it’s in the wedding album. I remember laying it out excitedly the night before, and when I see that picture now that same feeling comes flooding back. I’m also so pleased we have pictures of our table settings, flowers and gift bags. So many hours went into thinking up all those little things, it makes us smile looking back at them now for sure.

Why I Never, Ever Want to See the Outtakes

In the past, I’ve occasionally had couples come back and ask me if there are any outtake photos from their wedding… they want to see them for curiosity’s sake. My reply is and always has been that no, there aren’t any outtakes that you want to see. Trust me. It’s your photographer’s job to make it so looking through your pictures is a happy experience and you aren’t faced with twenty shots of yourself with your eyes closed or a face full of food.

With our own photos, I’m so pleased that I don’t have to endure looking at any outtakes. I trust Liv’s selections 100% and know that if there were any other ‘useable’ photos, they’d be included in the final set already.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about which pictures didn’t make the final cut, but no way on earth do I want to see them!!

Why I Ordered a Wedding Album

I’ve always been a firm believer in the importance of having a wedding album. Spending so many years making these for other couples has shown me how important they are, and whenever I receive one fresh off the press it’s so exciting to see all the pictures come to life in print.

You simply don’t get that with a USB of digital images. The way I see it, the digitals are your archive copies, there when you need them but the rest of the time they’re invisible, forgotten. An album is a tactile object, the ultimate way to preserve your memories in a way which makes you feel something. Seeing your photos printed in their true colours, full size and in a storytelling format should be the ultimate goal for your memories.

We all know that technology dates and moves on so quickly – one day a USB full of JPEG images will be the same as a floppy disk full of PSP files you can no longer open. A printed book is forever. I can’t wait to show Jon our wedding album for our first anniversary and re-live our memories all over again.

 

Time for some Thank Yous….

Photography: Olivia Johnston Photography & Second Shooter Paul

Video: Sarah Vivienne

Venue: Irnham Hall

Florist: The Botanical Flower Studio.

Music: Ariella Strings

Hairstylist: AO Hairdressing

MUA: Paul Tennant

Caterers: Black Peppermint

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The Secret to Happy Group Photos

The Secret to Happy Group Photos

Published November 3rd, 2014

Today I thought it would be good to talk about the one part of a wedding few people enjoy. Yes, you’ve guessed it – Group Photos. Let’s face it, you’ve probably been to a wedding or two where you’ve found yourselves roped into endless formal photos which seem to take over the entire wedding reception. ...Read More