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Does your photographer need to visit the venue before the wedding?

When it comes to booking your wedding photographer you’ll often have lots of questions, great. Honestly I mean that, the more questions, the more answers and the more likely that you’ll end up with a collection of images that you absolutely adore. It’s very easy to assume that clients have an in depth knowledge of photography and the variables involved in making great wedding photographs. This of course is bad practice and it’s up to me to make sure that you have all the information you need in order to make an informed choice on who you should choose to be your wedding photographer. A very common question is “Do you need to visit my wedding venue beforehand?”.

There are a few variables involved in this…

Do I need to visit the venue before the day?

[Editor’s Note: To learn more about Liam Smith, check out his article 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Me by click on the link].

Light is essentially what makes or breaks a photograph. Quality of light, strength and direction are what make quality photographs. You can’t predict the light in the same way that you can’t predict the weather, the chances of the light being the same on the venue visit as the wedding day are slim to none.

My work specifically doesn’t rely heavily on posed shots, therefore there is no need to scout locations as they are not the priority on the day. When arriving at a brand new location I will look for cool trees and big windows.

The background in my work is often irrelevant. I shoot at large apertures which means that the background will be out of focus. Alot of the skill in my work is being able to quickly determine what is interesting within a scene and what could be potentially distracting. In those split seconds I make a decision on how to compose the photograph. Even if I was aware of what was in the background, when you’re in a flow state there is no conscious thought and you work automatically, if I took tie to consider all of the formal elements within the frame, the moment would vanish before I was ready to take the picture.

That being said, I do still take some group pictures and some portraits of the couple – that is, if they want them.

In the final collection these images comprise roughly 1% of the images. The main reason to visit a venue would be to scout these locations in order to make sure the posed images are the best that they can be. To visit the venue to plan a small number of images isn’t necessary. When you hire me, you’re hiring someone who you trust. A photographer who brings with them a wealth of knowledge and experience and a person who you trust to make the right call on the day.

Having photographed well over 100 weddings I am very well versed in making these quick decisions. Summing up the direction of the light and the background in a very narrow timeframe is part of what i’m used to doing and something i’m very good at.

Other factors: sometimes, I physically can’t, if a wedding is abroad then this of course makes perfect sense. With the prevalance of google and wedding blogs, it’s very easy to conduct a virtual scout of a location and use google maps and google earth to work out the best location for staged pictures. This is a remarkably accurate way of conducting the location scout.

Investing time in meeting you.

All solid relationships are built on trust. It’s the reason I’m not fussed about engagement shoots. If you trust me and are comfortable in my company, then the pictures will be fantastic. This is why I insist on meeting before you book. A cup of tea, a pint or even dinner. The more time we spend together the better. Many of my clients I consider friends by the end of the wedding journey, such is the level of emphasis I put on this.

BUT (and a big but)

If it would make you feel even more at ease, I will of course visit the venue…

For me, this ultimately falls under the banner of customer service. What’s also great is that we can always tie up our first meeting with a visit to your venue so you can tell me more about your day.

One thing that’s worth mentioning is that it’s beneficial to see the venue closer to the wedding date as this means the foliage, blooms and weather will most likely be in line with what to expect on the day itself. Summer is my busiest period, which means it’s difficult to arrange to meet at the venue on weekends, so sometimes I do go on my own to have a walk around the grounds and become familiar with the venue.

To summarise.

Do I need to visit the venue before the wedding day, no. Will I visit the venue before the wedding day, yes.

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Canon 28mm f1.8 review

In need of a wide angle (ish) prime?

I went to Alan Law’s law-school in 2017, (it’s great, you should definitely go) and was intrigued by Alan’s style. He said he typically use the 24mm wide angle prime. I loved the look of it, intimate, gathered the scene, but didn’t warp the face like some wide angles can do.

I’m a stickler for improving your technique before shelling out on new gear. I really wanted a wider prime lens but I wasn’t sure it would fit my style. I scoured the net looking for the best option. Spoke to friends and colleagues and looked at plenty of sample images. 

I’ve also posted more personal articles, so if you find this review helpful, check out my article 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Me.

The 24mm, you’re looking at £1k+, it’s a beast of a lens, L series and stops down to f/1.4. I couldn’t justify the expense so I looked to my kit bag for what I already had. I own the 17-40mm f4, which is an L lens, but f/4 can still be too dark when working indoors. Then I found the 28mm f/1.8, which I’d bought maybe two years prior, used a couple of times and then forgotten about when I started shooting the 35mm and 50mm combo.

Go on any photography forum and have a look at the gear discussion section. Anyone talking about the ins and outs of the latest and greatest gear are rarely taking the best pictures.

Remind yourself often of the Ansel Adams’, the William Kleins and the Diane Arbus’ of the world who took outstanding photographs with equipment decades old. Digital photography has surpassed film in terms of outright quality (not in aesthetic, but that’s another debate) and modern lenses can out-resolve the old school equipment by a stunning margin.

  • Good pictures come from any camera – it’s the photographer that makes the difference.
  • Don’t get hung up on technical issues like movement, chromatic aberration and fringing – some of the greatest ever photographs are even out of focus. No one examines raising the flag at Iwo Jima at 100% crop to check sharpness.
  • Get equipment that works for you, a camera that you can afford and practice with it until you break it.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

Right, that’s me down from my high horse, where was I?

This lens in short is brilliant. Impressively sharp, lightweight, relatively inexpensive. The lowest you’ll want to open it up is to about f/2.8, beyond that and it begins to get quite soft. Shooting at f/1.8 is fine in the centre, but I’d only recommend shooting wide open if you have no other choice. For me that scenario would be if you’re in a church that is nearly pitch black, or during the evening reception or photographing speeches when constant flash isn’t appropriate.

I’ve been a guest at weddings where photographers have used flashguns during the speeches and it was like a bloody disco. I suffer from migraines and I was genuinely worried that I would have to leave. I understand the need to shoot through a moment, when it turns into a strobe light however, it gets a bit ridiculous.

That’s where having a prime lens you can open up is a must (for me anyway. I’m not saying by any-means that how I work is how it should be done), venues in the UK tend to be dark, particularly churches, and because of the marriage licensing laws in this country, very few ceremonies are held outdoors. And when they are outdoors, you can bet your bottom dollar the clouds will come over. Shooting in low light is a must, and the 28mm f1.8 gives you the option to do that without breaking the bank. With the invention of the new EOS R cameras, i’m yet to find out if the new focusing system will make this lens even more of a steal, but I do plan to try it out. One issue I’ve always had with shooting wide angles wide open is the propensity to miss focus. This is why I’ve often opted to stick with the 17-40mm and shoot at f4.

It’s cheap, sharp, versatile, quick to focus and lightweight – weight is becoming more and more of a factor as I get older, something for you young persons to think about. Get light gear, invest in good straps and good shoes, it’ll pay dividends over the course of your career.

Sample images, that’s what we all want in reviews, here we go:

canon 28mm reviewcanon 28mm review

canon 28mm

Overall, I’d give it 4/5

It ticks all the boxes apart from focusing accuracy and for being soft at f/1.8 – but it’s still a solid enough performer for me to keep in my camera bag along with much more expensive lenses.

In all honesty, I like the way that the focal length looks. The pictures it takes look right to me, for some it’s 35mm, others 24mm. I’ve warmed to this lens purely because of how true to life it looks. If there was a better version of the 28mm, I’d be all over it.

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How many pictures do we get?!

Great question, the packages say three hundred and four hundred, but this really is a minimum. My philosophy on what to deliver has changed somewhat over the years and it was all triggered by an email exchange with a previous client.

In their final gallery I had decided to leave in a picture of the bride hugging one of the guests. It was shot quite wide, but you could clearly see the happy expression on the guests face and the warmth of the embrace could easily be identified in the image. Beyond that, not much else I happening in the frame. No big laughs, no one falling over, the hug is the only action in the image, the surrounding people and setting are for context only. As a rule of thumb, images like that wouldn’t have typically made the cut in the past, not enough excitement for me. This could have been born out of excessive pride, thinking that I would be judged on this image and deemed to be a mediocre photographer, but thankfully, these thoughts no longer plague me. By the way, you can learn more fun facts about me here.

Fast forward a few months after the wedding and the bride reaches out to me to say thank you, this is not abnormal i’m sure you’ll be glad to know. It was abnormal in this case however as many thanks had already been sent my way. It transpired that the gentlemen depicted in the aforementioned photograph had very sadly, and very suddenly, passed away. The image that I had taken of him was the only photograph they had of him. Isn’t that an incredible thought. We can lose images through house fires, computer crashes or degradation of paper over time. A entire family history can effectively be wiped out by one disaster, it helps put into perspective the importance of photographs, and the importance of proper archiving!

It helped me understand an element of photography that had been in front of my eyes the entire time, but i’d never been able to see before. That is, the images that people cherish are rarely the ones that you expect. They may be composed poorly, be technically poor, or slightly out of focus. Look around your parents or grandparents home, the photographs are never technically perfect, but they either define a moment, capture a personality, or are the only image of a person in existence.

To that end, I include a lot more images in the final gallery. Because who knows, although it might not meet ‘my artistic vision’, you wont care if it’s the only image you have of a lost family member. You won’t critique it if the lighting isn’t great or if there’s a hint of movement, you don’t see the technical flaws, you see the person. I’m glad I’ve come to this realisation early on in my career, the images are never about me, they are about you and the people you love.

This is a long winded answer isn’t it?

400 is an absolute minimum. I include around 50 prints in the box, 300 images on the highlights slideshow and then the gallery will be 400+. The biggest collection I delivered in 2018 was 1168 (bear in mind that these images are still of quality, I don’t bombard you with nonsense), if I deem it to have value to you, or depicts a family member otherwise not captured in the rest of the images, then it makes the cut. There is no upper limit!

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How to use macro in your wedding photography, without a macro lens

Details are important. In the same way that a great filmmaker will give you shots of important objects or items significant to the plot, a great photographer will give you close ups of the smaller parts of the day that create the entire narrative.
In my work, details take a back seat in favour of photographing people. I think they help bind the story, but they’re not key plot developers. Like the binding of a book. It holds it together, and completes the package, but the story still exists in its entirety without it. Here’s another tip: don’t get hung up on your gear.
In any good narrative, the same rules apply. Like the old adage goes, “if you show a close up of a gun in act 1, it must go off in act 2”. There’s no point in photographing details if they have no real relevance to the plot development. Poorly placed close up shots in a narrative can be a distraction, rather than an aid.
But! As I mention, they have their place. An even bigger but, I don’t own a macro lens. I don’t take enough close ups to warrant the expense. Instead, I employ the following camera hacks to get the results I want, using the gear I already have.
The reverse lens macro camera hack
dslr macro hackwedding photography macro hack
Very simple on paper, but can be difficult to master. 
Take the lens off, turn it around as if you were going to put it on the body the wrong way around. Hold it up against the body annnnd…macro lens.
This is best executed with a camera that has live view, most do, but I grew up in an era where this wasn’t a thing, so mentioning it is out of habit as much as anything.
Remember, you can’t control your aperture anymore. 
Canon users – the lens usually defaults to its max aperture, so expect a very shallow depth of field 
Nikon users – the lens usually defaults to its minimum aperture, so expect a very deep depth of field 
Canon users – because the lens defaults to its widest aperture, expect to use a fast shutter speed in order to achieve correct exposure. Because the lens is no longer talking to the camera, the live preview isn’t going to be accurate, so take the picture, look at the screen and adjust accordingly.
Nikon users – because the lens defaults to its smallest aperture, expect to use a slower shutter speed and high ISO in order to achieve correct exposure. Because the lens is no longer talking to the camera, the live preview isn’t going to be accurate, so take the picture, look at the screen and adjust accordingly.
Close up filters
On balance, the simplest solution out of the three, but its second in this list because you will have to pay for them. The beauty in the first method is that you can use any lens that you already own.
Close up filters come in different varieties and will have +3, +5 etc. written on the them. The bigger the number, the more magnification. Simple, cheap, effective.
Extension tubes
Essentially bits of plastic lens mount that make your lens longer. They increase the distance between the glass at the rear of the lens and the camera sensor, and in turn allows you to focus much, MUCH closer…sometimes too close if you use the whole stack.
macro extension tubes
Pick them up for cheap on Amazon.
Take your lens off, mount these on the body, then mount your lens on the extension tubes. Easy peasy. Make sure it clicks into place, no accidental broken lenses please. Voila! Instant epic macro.
Oswaldo technique
I have absolutely no idea what this is, so I made up a name that amused me.
close up lens
What to do?
You will need a large optical glass element. I have one of these in my bag because I use it for ‘lens chimping’ – the technique where you deliberately blow out highlights to create lens flare.
With this same piece of glass, if you hold it in front of the lens, it become a magnifying glass. Bosh!
There we have it. Four techniques to achieve close up photography without having to shell out for a dedicated macro lens.
One technique costs nothing, big win, but sometimes clumsy. Increased chance of smashing a lens.
Extension tubes and close up filters are my favourites. Close up filters are cheap, lightweight and take up very little space in your camera bag. Extension tubes optically produce the best results, but are a bit bigger.
Either way, with one of these methods you can create close up shots of wedding details, probably most useful for rings, and save a pretty penny.
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2019 – I won three new awards

award winning wedding photography

I’m not particularly fond of awards. I like to think I’m on the fringes. A bit like the Stewart Lee of wedding photography. I take pictures that I find interesting or funny and then hope that it resonates with people.

Fortunately my love of capturing real moments instead of staging seems to have struck a chord and I am incredibly fortunate to work with the most amazing couples who share in my vision. On a personal level, awards don’t really mean a great deal to me. The joy in the job is creating images that allow my couples to relive their day. Images that spark an emotional reaction. I’m also grateful that I never got fancy with my camera gear.

They probably mean very little to me because I am my harshest critic, too harsh in the opinion of those closest to me. I believe holding myself to the highest standards across all domains will not only improve my work, but also improve me as a person.

Awards are funny things. People who I’ve never met, judging images of people they’ve never met. When my work is so heavily predicated on the emotional connection the viewer has with the image, then surely the client can be the only real judge of an image? When you see ‘award winning’ on a wedding photographers website, it’s never followed up with the criteria of why the award was given, does that matter? I don’t know. This blog post feels like a stream of thoughts rather than a cohesive critique of a subject. I just start writing and see what happens. Now that I’ve written that, I guess at least you know that I’m not self censoring, and what I write is actually what I think.

I think what I’m trying to say is that my work has to resonate with you. You have to be able to see something in my images that sparks an emotion, triggers a positive reaction. Awards and client testimonials can re-enforce those feelings, but awards on their own can’t tell you that I’m good. I’m a big believer in that you, the viewer, knows what’s good already, only sometimes you have to see it before you know what you’re looking for.

This is a very long winded way of announcing that I won an award. Three awards in fact.

I like to think on things, assess, and then really try to think about how I feel about it. Writing helps me think. Writing for me is thinking.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the world of seeking recognition, becoming hell bent on winning certain awards as a mark of prestige. What I don’t like about it is how black and white it is, you either win an award, or you don’t. It’s not a dialogue or a critique from someone you admire. It’s a catalogue of images that the judges either like or they don’t. I only enter awards where the judging is conducted by peers who I admire, it’s very easy to forget that no one really cares about my ‘artistic vision’ if the product isn’t of high quality. I could in theory win every wedding photography award but have endless client complaints because I’d only chased an image that would win me an award, rather than documenting the day properly.

In this instance, this award feels jolly lovely as I’ve managed to deliver on both quality of narrative, super happy clients and also images with artistic merit which the wider wedding photography community has acknowledged…which is nice.

Below are the images that won. What makes these awards doubly funny is that I don’t think it’s my best work, so I immediately find myself in a stupid position where I’ve won an award, but the excitement is immediately tempered by the fact that they didn’t choose my favourite picture, so who is the arbiter of quality?

I can only re-state what I’ve mentioned hundreds of times before. It comes down to you, the client. You’re the people that count. When you choose to work with me and come away with a selection of pictures that you love, then that’s all that matters.

award winning wedding photographyaward winning wedding photographyaward winning wedding photography

Like my work and my philosophy?

Have questions?


Feel free to send me an email and ask any question you like, I’m a real person at the end of the email and more than happy to help!

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