‘Optical illusion’ theme ideas for a barn wedding

April 30, 2014

I’ve done styled shoots for some of my fellow Northants wedding suppliers over the last couple of years but I haven’t done one of my own for some time. The truth is that I just haven’t been able to think of a ‘theme’ that hasn’t been done before. There are so many styled shoots being done in the industry that I just couldn’t see the point unless it was something truly different.

Then Toni (a hair and make-up artist) mentioned how big ‘optical illusion’ is as a trend in hair, fashion and interiors. I googled and searched on pinterest for various iterations of ‘optical illusion wedding ideas’ which brought up very little. So we had our unusual theme and booked a shoot in the diary!

My initial research showed mostly black and white patterns which trick the eye. Monochrome shoots have been done many times in the industry; we wanted something a bit fresher, more on trend and softer colours to weddingfy™ the concept. So grey and coral it was.

The concept was a challenge for the whole team but that was the whole point; it was a chance to be creative and push ourselves.

It took quite some time and lots of pinning to decide how best to express the theme in a dinner setting. There were lots of ideas floating around and narrowing them down was tricky!

We wanted strong, clean lines to reflect the geometric shapes of optical illusion patterns but felt it needed to be softened for a wedding situation. It had to be unusual too. We settled on a show-stopping floral display hung over the top table and kept the table itself simple. (I can imagine this looking good in a marquee too.)

The hanging display was created on site on the day of the shoot. It took a few of us to get the initial branches hanging level from the beam. Anna, from Julie Anna Flowers, collected nearly a whole tree’s worth of fallen branches from her local park (thank goodness for all those high winds and bad weather we had!). It’s created from eucalyptus, hazel, ivory ranunculus, coral Miss Piggy roses, coral & peach vuvuzela roses and peach carnations. Oh, and hanging tea lights.

It took Anna about two hours to create and me considerably less time to photograph! Then we had to dismantle it to use the same space for the cake (see below). It felt so wrong to take down something so beautiful that quickly after so much work!

Creased table cloths is one of my pet hates! I think they look distracting in photographs. So I was very glad that Tracey offered to iron!

The table itself was all about strong lines and shapes. Choosing your own tableware rather than going for your venue or caterer’s standard option can really help bring a theme to life.

The menus, by Tracey at Nothing But Lovely, were equally clean and simple in white with a striking illusion pattern; which we used throughout the shoot. The same pattern is on the cake for example. All the stationery was personalised, with coral patterns for the girls and grey patterns for the guys.

Tulips and candles were set in square vases on top of mirrors; a clever trick to make things look more luxurious. Everything reflects and makes it look as though there is more than there actually is.

It’s all about how you display your wedding cake right now. So for this shoot, Katie, from Couture Cakes, suspended her cake from one of the barn’s beams. A hanging cake! Oh. My.

She initially thought about using fishing wire to suspend the cake but soon realised it wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the weight of the cake. We wanted a secure solution that could actually be replicated for a real wedding. Lola tried removing the wires in photoshop but it just looked fake and superimposed on the picture. So they stayed! I actually quite like them even though we didn’t intend for them to be visible – because you know it was hung and not a photoshop cheat!

Every single stripe on the cake was cut and applied individually by hand. It took over 12 hours. Katie’s such a perfectionist; every one was perfectly spaced. I checked! Katie said that seeing straight while she did it was tricky. I think that’s the point though. Job done!

Anna and Katie worked together to place the fresh flowers and created the ‘table cloth’ of flowers to disguise the base and give the cake a floating effect.

This was Maddie’s first time modelling. So we broke her in gently by getting her sitting on a chair which was laying on the floor! The floor was freezing and the chair was digging in her back but she did brilliantly. What a pro! And all because we wanted the hair to look like it was standing out on end.

I took the picture from high above Maddie; with my camera set on self-timer extended on a monopod. I use this technique a lot at weddings to get a high viewpoint but had a wobble on trying to support the weight of the camera with it extended horizontally as well as above my head! Ladders would have been easier but they would have shown in the picture.

Toni, a hair and make-up artist, was on set the whole time to make sure Maddie’s hair looked good from whatever angle I was photographing from. Lisa from Serendipity Brides was there too; making sure the dresses were arranged beautifully and shown off at their best.

The sun came out at just the wrong time; flooding in through the windows. Beth, a very talented nail technician, helped out by holding up my diffuser to block the sun. It was a huge team effort all day with everyone helping each other to overcome challenges.

This gorgeous dress is Galia Lahav. Lisa and I picked this particular one because it has an illusion back. The lace is part of an invisible mesh panel to give the impression that there’s nothing holding the lace there.

In these before/after pictures you can see the bright red mark on Maddie’s back from where she was laying on the chair. Lola removed it much faster in photoshop than it took to go down on the day. Ouchie!

Toni chose coral, peach and grey make-up to match with the colours in the rest of the shoot. There were touch ups and subtle changes throughout the day.

Nails are something that I’ve overlooked on shoots in the past. From now on, it’s a must! Bethanie Jones did a fabulous job of creating false nails to suit the theme. For each look and dress there was a new set of nails; using concepts like strong lines to give the appearance of longer nails and negative space that you can see through, which was big at London Fashion Week this year.

Colour was a big part of this shoot and Toni wanted to bring it into the hair too. She used hair pieces that she’d pre-coloured in grape, coral and dusty pink; pinning and weaving them into place. It looks just like Maddie’s hair in the finished styles.

I wanted the photography to be an illusion in itself, with lots of mirrors and reflections. I love using mirrors but it’s so so hard to find just the right angle with no unwanted things in the mirror. Usually it’s me that’s in the way! And with no mirrors on the walls the team had to hold them by hand. Their poor arms ached! I think I was cursed several times!

A lot of the finishing touches to the hair was done once Maddie was in place and we’d tested the shot and finessed the angle. Then we realised that spraying hairspray on set with mirrors wasn’t such a great idea, doh!, and Lisa (bless her cottons) spent ages rubbing furiously to clean it off so it didn’t show in the pictures. arghhhh! It’s my bedroom mirror and has never been the same since!

Combining flash with a mirror is also hard apparently! The light bounces off the mirror, and particularly the bevelled edges, creating shadows in the wrong places. It was sooo hard to get the mirror, model and flash all at the perfect angle. I didn’t quite get there but had to admit defeat as we didn’t have very long to get the shot before needing to move on to the next look.

I used the glass side of the staircase as the basis for this picture. We turned out the lights because the overhead spot lights were at an unflattering angle. So instead I lit Maddie with a wirelessly triggered flash which was positioned above her on the mezzanine. We’d had to turn out all the lights because we couldn’t find the switch to leave just one on (!) but the pitch black worked really well with the spotlight of flash as it enhanced Maddie’s reflection in the glass barrier.

At the last minute, right at the end of the shoot, Toni decided to use Anna’s carmen rose (a single rose with lots of added petals to look like a huge rose) as a headpiece. I shot this from above so that the shape of the rose can be seen clearly. It was actually photographed against a plain grey background and Lola added the striped pattern which we used on the stationery in post-production.

And for a shot that was a spontaneous thought and done in seconds right at the end of the shoot; it made the front cover of Image Weddings magazine. Hoorah!

Are you having your wedding at Dodford Manor?

Plump those cushions, sink back and have a nose around if you are!

First up, check out this page for the low-down on what I think makes Dodford Manor so good for wedding photography. You’ll find links to some of the weddings I’ve captured at Dodford on that page as well, including some ceremonies at Dodford church. If nothing else, it’s great for decor ideas!

Then, if you like what you see, give me a shout. I’d love to hear from you.

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