A creative collaboration between intuition and mother nature
Storm Hannah was busy battering Britain with wild winds on James and Rachael’s wedding day.
I haven’t experienced a windier wedding in nearly 15 years of being a photographer! So you can imagine how many great action moments there were to capture. But this is my favourite photo from the day… which only came about by veering away from the security of my tried and tested routine.
Here’s the story…
Imagine Rachael, her mum and the florist gathered around the kitchen table on the wedding morning discussing whether the flower arch could go up at the church, the hair stylist sensibly using extra grips to secure Rachael’s veil and me wondering how messy my messy bun could get in the wind before it’s considered too messy*.
And then imagine me, arriving in Grandborough village, wondering if I was at the right church because it was so eerily empty. The long lines of densely parked cars were a sure sign of wedding guests but I double checked my paperwork against the name on the church noticeboard just in case. St Peter’s church, it said. Pweh! I was in the right place.
Walking up the church path, I spotted the floral arch and smiled for Rachael; knowing she’d be thrilled to see it holding fast when she arrived. Then I spotted an usher waving wildly through a window to get my attention and beckoning me to go to the side door to get in. Then it all made sense. Everyone was sheltering inside and the front door was being kept closed to stop the wind blowing a hooley (not to mention dust and debris) straight down the aisle.
Fast forward 45 minutes or so…
And James and Rachael are making their way back down the aisle as newly-weds, with me capturing their exit, as I always do, from the back of the church.
Then a plot twist emerged.
When I’m shooting alone (rather than as a team of two) I always, without fail, shoot the couple walking out of the church door from outside the church. Never have I ever done it any other way.
But today was destined to be different.
As James and Rachael came closer, instead of following my usual “yep, that’s about two-thirds of the way down the aisle now, time to run outside” routine, I casually stepped to one side while they walked past me.
“Errr, Sarah?” I said to myself. “Shouldn’t you get out there?!”
But something was stopping me.
The guests weren’t expecting James and Rachael to go outside at this point. In fact, the vicar had asked everyone to convene in the vestibule at the back of the church at the end of the ceremony.
So everyone looked on quizzically as James and Rachael walked towards the door. I could sense them all thinking: Are they really going to go out there? They’re not actually going to do that, are they? Oh my goodness, I think they’re going outside!
It was almost as if the wedding guests’ thoughts were holding me back by my camera strap.
James and Rachael seemed to be debating the same things… Shall we? Shan’t we? Dare we?
And, ever the documentary photographer seeking out special shots, I observed it all unfolding with gleeful anticipation, knowing it would mean a spectacular shot full of movement if they did brave the wind and venture out.
Then they passed the point of no return!
I ran in closer (to stake my claim and capture a good view before a crowd gathered), while the best man dashed in to hold back the curtain that had been pulled across to keep the draught out (you can see him on the left of the photo). Every pair of eyes in the church was looking on with disbelief, excitement, nervousness, curiosity … watching and waiting for what would happen when those doors opened.
The wind shot in, whipping Rachael’s dress and shaking it furiously like a duvet cover. The flapping flag-like sound was as fascinating as the sight of Rachel’s dress taking flight and curving up into a frame around her. It was a wondrous sight.
It’s my job to capture moments like this
But it’s also exciting for me to experience them through my camera lens and I’m thankful to have a job that brings me such joy.
It’s not without its challenges though and I had a couple of big problems to overcome in capturing this particular moment.
1. The camera exposure for the aisle was different to the exposure for the church door. Whilst it felt like everything happened in slow motion, in reality, there was no time for a test shot. So I had to make a calculated guess as to what my camera settings should be. Thankfully, I have experience to lean on and got it right, but I always worry.
2. The church porch was dark, I was shooting into bright light and there was a lot of movement in the scene. That’s a focusing challenge right there! My camera’s focus system didn’t work for the first few attempts. I jabbed at the shutter, willing it to work … nothing. Yikes! Luckily, I’m calm in a crisis and quickly changed my angle and adjusted the framing slightly, balancing the contrast in the scene and making it easier for the camera to focus.
Experience, intuition and a great gust of wind came together at just the right moment :)
Seconds later, James and Rachael thought better of it, turned around and the door was swiftly shut again.
It wasn’t a rational decision
Heck, I haven’t even thought about photographing a couple’s church exit from that perspective before, at least not without a second photographer in place to capture the external view.
But, in the heat of the moment, it felt like the right thing to do. There was so much tension inside the church that it instinctively felt like the best place to capture this moment from.
I love this photo because it reminds me of how we were all intensely focused on that impending pandemonium. I also love that it brings back the memory of how it felt to be sheltered inside the church, safe from the turbulence outside.
I look at this picture now and still marvel over how very wrong it felt to shoot from that perspective but also oh so right.
Sticky note to self: Get out of my comfort zone, trust my intuition… and throw caution to the wind!
*Luckily, I used lots of grips too and still don’t know the answer to that!
Before & Ta-Dahhh
On the left is the photo as I took it, straight out of the camera. On the right is the edited and finished photo.
The original exposure and colour were pretty good but I had two concerns: 1) The church clutter was distracting my eye and 2) the horizon was wonky.
The latter was easily straightened but a bit more work was needed to simplify the scene and stop your eye from being drawn away from Rachael’s dress.
Converting the photo into black & white and darkening the shadows helped but it wasn’t quite enough. So I removed the most prominent paraphernalia (some cables, paperwork and foil-covered bowls). And then I darkened the shadows some more because they couldn’t be cleanly removed!
The end result feels clean, calm and classic, true to the moment but with a little helping hand.
Want to know more about my approach? Clickety-click here to read more about my wedding photography.