How to shoot in difficult lighting – improve your wedding photography

How to take better wedding photography portraits and shoot in difficult lighting conditions!

Are you just starting out on your wedding photography journey? Or looking to push on to the next level and improve your wedding portrait photography?

Hopefully you will take away some useful information from this post and be able to implement the tips and information to take better pictures.

Picture a beautiful scene.

Now imagine it’s overcast.

Or worse…raining.

Your couple are ready, time is ticking and then your light just disappears on you. FFS.

It happens. Everything could be perfect, but if the sun suddenly disappears you can be left stranded. A team of expectant people around you or if you are at a wedding, the couple stood waiting wondering why you aren’t shooting.

It’s happened to me before plenty of times and is the main reason why I strongly suggest you add this trick to your repertoire before you become unstuck.

It’s a go to method for taking beautiful naturally lit wedding portraits that can be replicated in near enough any location.

A big bonus for this trick is that it can be used if it starts raining and you have nowhere to shoot indoors.

Weddings are incredibly difficult to photograph well. You need as many tools in your kit (not literal kit) as possible to get you out of any possibly difficult situations.

I don’t mean to compare it to shooting snow leopards in Tibet for 6 months. I mean more like it will test every facet of your photography knowledge and ability. Documentary, fine art…standing still. It all gets tested.

Trees are your best friends

Every time I visit a new location, I will look for trees just in case I have to implement this trick.

Let’s get into it.

What do you need for a good portrait?

Flattering light.
Decent background.
Shelter if windy.
Shelter if rainy
Happy couple.

Here’s how we are going to get all these things.

Who’s your best friend? Yes, trees, correct.

Trees give you shade from harsh sun. Placing your subject in the shade of a tree will create even light across the whole face. This is flattering for any person as there are no harsh shadows and therefore no weird shapes to contend with.

This is your first win. Second win, it creates a difference in light between the subject and the background.

Result?

Exposing for the skin of the couple will result in the background being overexposed, which will either eliminate any clutter in the background, or, overexpose it to the point of it being pure white to give you a clean canvas to work with.

Nice.

Back lighting

Tip – make sure that the light is coming from behind the subject. This is called backlighting. Reason for this is you might otherwise end up with dappled light coming through the leaves and landing on the face making weird shapes. You might want that sometimes, but for this example, we want even lighting. The type of light that Jose Villa and Elizabeth Messina always seem to shoot in. Backlighting has the added benefit of seperating your subject from the background, creating a similar effect to a hair light/halo effect.

Here’s an example of how this can work in the real world.

deliberate overexposure difficult lighting

In this picture on the left I have exposed for the background, which you can see has rendered the area under the tree near enough black.

Take photographs of your hand

I always take a photograph of my hand to get an idea of accurate exposure for skin tones. If my hand is exposed properly, then their faces will be too.

Placing my hand in the shaded area and increasing exposure now gives me accurate exposure for skin tones and renders the background much, much brighter.

This difference in light is what you should be looking for. A shaded area with a brighter area behind it.

What your eye sees and what the camera sees are often very different. Where you might not see a great deal of contrast, the camera will, so play around in different lighting conditions to get to grips with it.

In this image taken moments later, the full effect is revealed.

overexposed portrait photography

The couple are perfectly, evenly lit and the background is bright and clean allowing them to stand out.

When I took this, it was raining

Not only was it overcast and a crappy grey sky with no contrast, but it was also raining.

When I first started this would have been a nightmare. Training myself to see light using this method means I can create a great picture with just a tree.

Extreme depth of field

The second part of this trick is to shoot at an aperture between f/1.4 – f/2.8. An aperture any smaller than this and the background will start to be rendered in focus due to a deeper depth of field.

Shoot at an aperture that you know you can nail focus with. Shooting at f/1.4 is a high risk move if you’ve no idea what you’re doing. If the focus is off by a few inches, the extremely shallow depth of field will render the image out of focus. Remember this can’t be saved in Photoshop. Out of focus=bin.

I use a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens – it’s a beast, but the sharpest lens I’ve ever owned. I’ll write a review on it one day. For me it’s the best 50mm lens on the market, Sigma are producing amazing lenses, for very reasonable money. I used to use the plastic Canon 50mm f/1.8, then upgraded to the 1.4 but then realised that was crap and went all in on the Sigma.

The extremely shallow depth of field will render the background out of focus. If you’re lucky enough to have a background of trees as well, then the light coming through the leaves will be rendered as lovely, soft out of focus orbs. Beaut!

Not just for the rain

This is a perfect technique to use when it’s blazingly sunny as well. If it’s face meltingly hot, people don’t want to be in direct sunlight. Grooms in suits sweat, make up runs, paige boys cry.

Make sure you have factor 50 sun cream on, and put your couple in the shade.

This works for me at weddings because the groom is often wearing a woollen three piece suit. He is going to be blisteringly hot and possibly anxious to wrap things up. It’s difficult for people to have their head in the game if they’re too hot and can’t even.

Go out and practice, let me know how you get on.

Captain camera.

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Mastering composition to improve your wedding photography

Before we get started, keep in mind, these are the exact techniques I have mastered as one of the best wedding photographers in London. Master these and you can produce amazing wedding photography. Let’s get started:

Composition

noun
1. 1.
the nature of something’s ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up.

Composition is something of a beast. There are many rules and considerations when framing an image. The size of the canvas, the subject matter, the colours. The list is endless. Each individual element can have an impact on the image and it’s rhythm, and sometimes, the intention is to deliberately break the rules for artistic or conceptual reasons.

The intention of this article is to introduce and for you to experiment with a few more composition tools that should hopefully lead to mastery.

Consider the language you speak, you can only read this article because you know the language. When you speak, you do not consciously reach for words one by one, they come to you naturally. With enough practice these tools and techniques should hopefully enable you to do the equivalent with your image making.

When you raise the camera to your eye, you do not actively think of a technique, your subconscious recognises the scenario playing out in front of you and you naturally employ those techniques. This however, cannot be achieved without practice, discipline and honesty. Sometimes your images are crap, but to learn you must understand why.

You will never improve if you don’t critique your own work. Be brutally honest and pull your images apart.

So here we go, the rules of composition.

Play with these rules, insert them into your workflow and see how it affects your wedding photographs. Enjoy making work and enjoy the journey, we are all students of wedding photography and should always strive to learn more and develop our practice no matter how difficult it may be.

You will probably notice that there are areas of overlap throughout this. That’s a good thing. Composition is intertwined, interlinked. separating each individual element is troublesome, but it emphasises why practice is incredibly important. The more you practice and actively critique composition, the more the rules will begin to merge and you will see how some compliment each other more than others to make more sophisticated compositions.

Rule of thirds

You’ve no doubt heard it before, but what the hell is it and why would you use it?

The rule of thirds is a grid that breaks your image up into thirds.

It looks like this:

rule of thirds grid

Premise of the grid:

1) by placing the key part of the image either along either one of the two vertical or horizontal lines will make the image more aesthetically pleasing.

rule of thirds gridrule of thirds grid

2) by placing the key part of the image inside one of the blocks it will become more aesthetically pleasing.

rule of thirds grid rule

3) by placing the key part of the image at a point where the lines intersect it will become more aesthetically pleasing.

rule of thirds grid

Does it work?

The short answer is no. You cannot simply place an object along a line or on a point and expect it to be good. There are other factors that must be considered.

The rule of thirds attempts to take the incredibly complex subject of composition and break it down into more basic principles, which only serves to introduce you to the subject. Beyond that, we have to look at composition in more depth and explore the rule of thirds relationships with other rules in order to make sense of it.

Do not hate the rule of thirds. It serves a purpose.

An analogy of this could be the complex world of cooking. One rule might be that salt and sweet go together. But when you know that rule, you then go on to learn that it can be broken.

You then learn that there’s also sour, savoury and umami. You then go on to learn abut how steaming, frying, baking, roasting, sautéing etc. all affect taste and flavour.

Hopefully you see where I’m going with this.

Rules are one part of a whole. One rule will only work when applied in the correct context. The rule of thirds is one of the first rules you encounter, but the topic is so complex it will take years to master.

Rule of thirds and balance

The rule of thirds is an incredibly simple way to introduce the basic principles of composition.

It attempts to encompass a few key points such as balance, direction and rhythm. One of the most integral is introducing balance.

In placing the focal point in one of the thirds of the image, you create a difference in ratio. 2:1 negative to positive or positive to negative space. This creates a balance between positive and negative space.

rule of thirds photography example

This can help to move the eye left to right or right to left from the negative space to the focal point. It can also do the opposite, move the eye from the focal point into the negative space.

2:1 Ratios to balance the composition

rule of thirds compositionrule of thirds composition

If the subject is placed within a single block of the grid, then the ratio is 8:1 negative to positive space. This can create a feeling of isolation, loneliness and oppression.

rule of thirds photography example

But it is not so easy, you can’t simply place an object in one of the segments and expect your composition to be amazing.

Take this for example, if we recompose the Mona Lisa, it’s not quite as good…

mona lisa recomposed

The other common application of the rule of thirds is to place the object of interest on the point where the third lines intersect.

rule of thirds power point

Why would you do that?

The idea is that the lines naturally create a point of tension where they meet. That is the idea anyway. As we delve into this a bit more, hopefully it will become apparent that in order for a technique to work, multiple other factors have to also be in place.

Rule of space or Lead room

This describes a scenario in which the subject is looking into the negative space, it can be used to create a sense of movement as the subject has space to move into. It can also be used to add a sense of optimism – look out towards the future. Tension or a sense of unease can also be created as the subjects gaze can lead the viewers eye out of the frame. Notice the 2:1 ratio is still present.

rule of space example

rule of space

lead room example

Placing the negative space in front of the subject can also create a sense of movement and narrative. The subject will inevitably move into that space and reach a destination.

rule of thirds and space

Aspective view
Aspective view or Orthogonal view is the rendering of a three dimensional object in two dimensions or in linear perspective.

Orthogonal; of or involving right angles; at right angles.

This is relevant to you, the photographer, because it allows you to depict objects so that they are easily identifiable to the viewer. invisible rectangles and squares dictates how the subject is viewed. Allow me to explain. A gap in a persons legs as they walk which creates an angle that clearly communicates that this person is in motion. You are taking a three dimensional object (the person) and using angles to create a clear distinction between body parts which makes the persons shape immediately obvious and therefore immediately identifiable as not only a person, but also a person in motion.

Lets inspect this guy:

aspective view

The clear shape created by his legs is immediately recognisable as a person, but also a person in motion. It adds another layer of information as the plane on which the triangle sits implies the direction he is walking in also. He is two dimensional, but he has been rendered in such a fashion that makes him and his purpose immediately obvious.

Rule of odds

In the words of De La Soul, three is the magic number.

The rule of odds suggests that on a subconscious level, as human animals we find three objects to be harmonious. Squares and regular cuboids suggest stability, whereas a triangle is a dynamic shape as it emphasises directional movement diagonally rather than linearly which in turn creates a sense of movement.

Diagonal movement encourages the eye to move across the entirety of the image, left and right as well as up and down.
The rule of odds would dictate that any odd number of objects would create harmony and balance, however this is subjective and is also informed by other elements of composition. Basically this is one rule to consider and is only one tool in the composition box, to be used in conjunction within others to create dynamic compositions.

In this example the light areas either side help to frame the centre.

rule of odds

Robert Frank: Three key elements of the composition creates a triangle and establishes a relationship between the objects.

robert frank rule of three

robert frank composition

Placing three images together can also create harmony by framing the centre image. This is called a triptych (trip-tick)

rule of three tiptych

Exceptions

This is a picture of two Swans. So two things can work in harmony if other ingredients are in place to facilitate it – remember, these are rules, not laws. In this case, notice how the water compliments the shape of the birds and creates a harmony. Much in the same way as the yin and yang symbol does.

rule of three

Coincidences

Beatboxing. Yes, beatboxing. It’s a brilliant analogy for explaining how coincidences work. The basic beat is laid down, buh tu cah tu buh tu cah. Then new instruments and sounds are added, but your brain keeps the underlying beat going. That’s how coincidences can work. The lines start, form the majority of a shape and then your brain continues following that imaginary line to create the harmony and finish the shape. This creates structure and rhythm across an image without the need for rigid, visible lines.

coincidences in composition

The foreground

Is the scenery amazing and you just cant take a good picture of it? It seems awkward, unbalanced, something’s just not right. Examine the foreground and see if the objects nearer the camera upset the balance of your image. Understanding how it can add depth to your images can transform a photograph from good to great.

The foreground can lead the eye from the front to the back of the image, balance near and far objects by rendering them similar sizes and can also add much needed context. The foreground can also be used to create a frame within a frame, a much loved technique of Steven Spielberg.

Depth and scale are incredibly important in composition, particularly in landscape photography. An effective use of the foreground can make the image feel like it starts at your feet and draws you into the landscape, taking you on a journey with it. It immerses the viewer in the image. The foreground is like an extended hand, it will hold yours and walk you through the rest of the picture.

Foreground is not always confined to the bottom of the picture, but can form a complete or partial frame of the subject. Doorways, arches, windows. All good foreground frames. A personal favourite is finding the bough of a tree that creates a pleasing arch. The best part of utilising the foreground is that you can use it to hide anything unsightly. Sometimes the light is amazing and the setting ninety percent perfect, there’s just an ugly bastard part of a building in the background.

I have in the past taken a branch and pulled it down (not off, I’m not a monster) and then arched it to hide something hideous in the background. Its simple but effective. If you place an object right in front of the lens then no amount of depth of field will render it sharp so you have to embrace how its shape will move the eye across the picture.

foreground composition technique example

Alignment

A composition tool for a scene that has prominent lines, the aim is to align two or more of these lines with the edge of the frame to emphasise the geometry. As the edge of the frame is a rigid geometric structure, how the photographer chooses to embrace it can have a major effect on the rhythm of the structure contained within it. Shape and form can be emphasised in composition when a structure is aligned with both the horizontal and vertical borders of the image frame. The corners also play a part in this composition technique, they can contribute to the directional flow of the photograph. Angular momentum can be emphasised and can move the eye in a particular direction across the image.

alignment dynamic composition

Contrast

Not often considered a tool of composition, but it plays an important role in more complex pieces. Contrast can be utilised in both colour and black and white photography. The difference between light and dark aids the sense of structure, formality and directional flow. Specifically within architecture the dynamic lines are an important feature to emphasise due to the direction and movement along their length and height.

When composing an image of a building the composition becomes pleasing to the eye because it will compare the angle and length. Horizontal lines, for instance, have a more tranquil effect than diagonal lines as they lead the eye in a single direction laterally from left to right. Zig-zags can be exciting, but also disruptive to the flow of an image as it breaks up the natural line that the eye will take. Bold lines can express strength whereas thin, curving lines, suggest delicacy.

contrast in composition

advanced composition

contrast in advanced composition

Arabesque

“Surface decorations based on rhythmic linear patterns”

Basically swirly patterns that make an image interesting by moving the eye across it. Stems from Arabic patterns, so literally Arab-esque. Adopted as a term in western art during the 1500’s. Imagine how a bird may swoop, climb and dive, it moves from left to right or right to left in a rhythmic fashion, with pauses, changes of direction and elevation, but ultimately moving across the landscape – they take you on a journey with them. That’s what arabesque composition should do for your photographs, move the eye across the image in a rhythmical pattern.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night is a beautiful application of this technique. The clouds allow the eye to gently drift across the image on that same breeze.

Arabesque composition

Symmetry

Symmetry is fundamentally linked to beauty because of it’s relationship with unity and regularity. Distinct elements within the image are both related to each other and to the whole. The parts of the whole are essentially interchangeable, this creates harmony as each section can be interchanged.

symmetrical composition

symmetry composition

Counterpart

Imagine a set of scales. You place a weight on one side, it lifts the other side up and it becomes unbalanced. You place an object of equal weight on the opposite side, it becomes balanced. That is the fundamental thought process behind the counterpart – when you insert an object, you need another to balance it.

Now imagine a tablecloth on a table. If you pull it in one direction forcefully, the tablecloth comes off, you would need to pull it equally from the opposite direction. Now you have two people pulling equally in opposite directions, and the cloth is stable. An image can pull from all corners. In order to create harmony across the image we need to strategically place elements to make sure that the image pulls equally in all directions.

Take this image from William Eggleston. With all of the elements in place the image pulls equally in all directions.
Remove one of these elements and the image is no longer anchored, the composition is skewed in favour of one side of the picture. You could then say if you were analysing this piece, that the frames in the respective corners act as counterpoints to the cables on the ceiling.

counterpart composition example

Dynamic composition

Fancy term for using a more complex grid to compose your images. The rule of thirds is a linear grid, it goes up and down, left and right. The intention of dynamic composition is to enable the eye to move both across and up and down the image simultaneously. This creates a rhythm across the image as your eye does not reach the edge of the frame at a ninety degree angle, which would potentially cause the flow of your gaze to stop. Like dropping a ball, it goes in only one direction and will stop in that place. Bounce it at an angle and it moves both up and diagonally at the same time. To calculate how to best use dynamic composition, we need to use what is called an Armature. This is based upon mathematical ratios, if you recoil at the sight of the word ‘maths’ do not fret, you can create the most basic version of it with a ruler, a pencil and a simple connecting of corners and lines. It doesn’t matter the shape of the canvas, draw diagonals in the same fashion as the image below. The diagonal from the bottom left to the top right is called the baroque diagonal. From bottom right to top left is called the sinister diagonal.

The latest version of Photoshop has different crop grids to overlay onto your images so you can try it out with your own pictures.

baroque and sinister diagonal

In this image we have some megalols

The relationship between the lady laughing in the foreground and the background creates a channel in which the diminishing size moves the eye to the right. The croquet stick in the background lines up nicely with the Armature, as does the angle of the models body in the foreground, each element creating a sense of movement from left to right.

dynamic composition

Composition with a concept

Composition is not only used to create visually interesting pictures, it can also be used to emphasise a concept, or hide a subliminal message.

10 Pillars of Knowledge: The School of Athens.

The School of Athens by Raphael represents human knowledge. Human knowledge is composed of 10 pillars (parts) that include all the fields that establish our cultural and scientific heritage. Here the image has been composed to deliberately place significant historical figures in positions that represent their philosophical, mathematical and historical views.

composition with a concept

To make this image doubly interesting, the composition was as inspiration in Alt-J’s video ‘Tessellate’. Many modern creators and creatives reach back into the archives of art history to recycle old ideas. Next time you’re looking at a painting, why not challenge yourself to think of how you would make it into a wedding portrait?

art inspired music videoAll of these are merely tools, ideas for you to play with. Go forth and conquer. Create something that makes you happy.

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Destination wedding photography FAQ

Destination wedding photography is probably the easiest thing to write about because it is pure adventure. It is a buzz like no other. I have had so many funny moments happen to me whilst shooting destination weddings and I’m pleased to say that whilst on these adventures, I have made some amazing friends. Contact me at Liam Smith Photography for any questions about bookings!

When in a foreign land there is a warmth that can be felt by all guests and family. I’ve never been to a destination wedding and not felt it. Everyone welcomes you into their culture with the warmest of embraces and I immediately feel like one of the family. You eat together, drink together, sing together. It’s magical.

New people, new places, new culture. Most importantly, new food! I remember when I went to Croatia and the bridesmaids took me on a food journey through the local town. Being so close to Italy had penetrated the food culture and I had was eating two slices of pizza and gelato at the same time, I could not get it in my face fast enough.

These events pick you up and take you with them, typically the majority of guests have travelled to the location and there is an air of pulling the wedding together as a community. Everyone is chipping in to run to the shops for last minute ribbon – but wait, who’s got the rental car! I’ve seen it all, the singer lose her voice in the dry heat, the parents pane delayed, sudden downpour in the hottest part of the world. It’s a whirlind, and it’s so bloody exciting.

One of my favourite tales as a destination wedding photographer was when I landed at the airport with the groom and his two best men. We sauntered up to the rental car office, exchanging witticisms and discussing plans of the epic event about to unfold. Then we hear the words, ‘there’s been a mistake – I am so sorry’. Fast forward twenty minutes and I am laying on top of a crate of schleur in the back of a van with no windows…and no air conditioning. This turned into one of the best trips of my life. We had one day to get to the venue, when there’s no choice, you do whats needed. We had a five hour drive ahead of us, keep calm and carry on.

No one should ever lie on top of schleur (does that even still exist?) but why was it so good you ask? Well i’ll tell you. To break up the trip we decided we’d go on an epic food bender which would start in a local town known for it’s pastry. Cue the custard tarts. Holy Maholy (Nagy – photography gags) I’ve never eaten anything like it. We went all in on jams, pastries, pizzas, coffees and cakes. My food horizons widened and sufficiently satiated, I slept on that schleur with glee and woke up just as we arrived on a balmy summers evening.

So how does it work, who books what?

I do not charge additional fees for my services or for travel time. I ask that you book my flights and transfers and pay for sustinance for the duration of my stay. I arrive two days before the wedding to familiarise myself with the surroundings and get used to a new time zone if we are further afield. If you are planning a destination wedding in the US or Australia, arriving a day earlier than usual may be needed to factor in the extra travel time and associated fatigue. In all honesty, putting together a package that covers all eventualities is near enough impossible without specific details. Please do get in touch to arrange a call or meeting and we can get the ball rolling.

Before taking the decision on who to book as your destination wedding photographer, please take plenty of time to scroll through my wedding photography blog and portfolio page to get an idea of my style. If you are based in the UK, let’s meet up for a drink to discuss plans and see if you think I would be a good fit for your day. If you are based abroad, we can always arrange a skype call so you can see my face.

I often get asked about my kit and wether transporting it is safe. I keep that bag clutched to me like winnie the pooh with a jar of honey. I will never check my cameras in, even if super hard cases do exist, bags still get lost. Imagine if they went missing! Forget that, I would have a heart attack.

A few answers to frequently asked questions.

You will only need to fly me out to the destination, unless of course you hire a second photographer through me as well. I do not have a team or an assistant.
If you are having a wedding that also has pre-wedding festivities ceremonies, I’m more than happy to come even earlier than usual to photograph those too. Get in touch and I can put together a custom qoute for you.

Hey Liam, why don’t we simply hire a photographer who lives in the country that we are getting married?
Honestly, I hope you are on my site because you want me, Liam Smith, to photograph your wedding (My name is actually Liam Bailey-Smith these days, I changed it when I got married cos i’m a cool, modern man).

All photographers are different and see the world differently, which is why photography is such an exciting medium to work in. From a practical point of view language barrier could be an issue, if you’re unable to meet the photographer before booking or booking a package deal then you have no idea who will turn up on the day. Secondly if we are in the same country, it’s much easier for us to meet in the first instance (so you know if you like me), and then I can physically deliver your photographs.

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Isle of sheppey wedding photographer north kent

Wedding photographer isle of Sheppey North Kent

If you’re looking for a unique wedding venue close to London, you’ve just found it. The isle of Sheppey is an astonishing place, only an hours drive from my flat in south east London. Situated within the Elmley National Nature Reserve The estate is 3200 acres. Part of the Thames estuary, the name Sheppey is apparently derived from the Saxon word “Sceapige” which means isle of sheep. Funnily enough, it’s full of sheep. Having never heard of the island prior to shooting a wedding at the Kingshill Barn I wanted to brush up on my geography before departing for the wedding. My favourite fact is that those dwelling on the island are known as ‘Swampies’, true story. For any of you London folk reading this I recommend a visit even if you have no intention of getting married there, the nature reserve is an incredibly tranquil place so close to the capital. Sat in the North of Kent it’s also remarkably close to two other major towns, Maidstone and Canterbury…or are they cities? Answers on a stamped addressed envelope.

Isle of sheppey wedding photographer

I decided to visit the venue on a week day roughly at the same time of the cocktail hour to gauge lighting, locations and best places for couple portraits. After locating my favourite spots, I simply sat for a while. It was so soothing, nourishment for the soul. It’s incredible how quickly you can forget what the world is like outside of London. It’s sad in a way, I often find myself longing for the countryside, I’ll find my way back to being a pig farmer one day. Until then we have Sheppey on our doorstep. Take the kids, take a picnic, go for the weekend. It’s beautiful. I sat for the best part of an hour watching the sky change and the world go by. Wading birds, kites, kestrels, woodpeckers…of course hundreds of rabbits. The best spot of the day? A family of weasels! Larking about in the sunshine, I sat perfectly still and they paid me no mind. Tis a vast wilderness, teaming with wildlife. It is a truly unique wedding venue and one to seriously consider if you’re one; looking for a barn wedding venue outside of London and two; wanting to achieve a boho wedding feel.

Elmley National Nature Reserve wedding venue

This day was full of love, laughter and spaghetti, my kind of wedding. With the light streaming in from the window at the far end of the barn, a respectful hush descended and the stillness and calm from the surrounding reserve could be felt. The silence broken only by the call of a songbirds call carrying on the wind. This has to be the most blissful place in north Kent. If you’re looking for a wedding photographer for your wedding on the isle of Sheppey would be delighted to hear from you, my documentary wedding photography style is all about getting involved with the day, living moments with you and documenting your day candidly with honesty and integrity. I love people and I love wedding photography. Get in touch to book in a cup of tea and cake, or biscuits, or affogato. To see more of my work check out my portfolio or read more about my approach to black and white documentary wedding photography

isle of sheppey landscapeElmley nature reserve weddingisle of shepphey barn wedding photography black and white wedding dressblack and white wedding dress detailsbridesmaids laughingbridesmaid tying wedding bouquetbride shruggingwedding guest laughingmother of bride hugs bridewedding flowers prepbride in make up chairbride having hair put upopening champagnemother of bride laughingfather of bride emotionalclose up of brides hairbride looking in mirrormother of bride affectionatemake up artist laughinglacing up wedding dressbride walks down stairsisle of sheppey colourful wedding flowersushers laughinggrooms nervous handsmother of bride laughingusher pulling facesusher smiling at groomgroom cries as bride entersbridesmaid smiling at bridegroom smiling during ceremonyisle of sheppey wedding barn venueisle of sheppey wedding ceremonybride smiles at groommother of bride criessigning the registerguests laughingbride laughingisle of sheppey barn wedding ceremonyguests smilingwedding guests hugwedding guests laughhugscongratulationswedding hugswedding hugsgroom hugs mother of brideisle of sheppey barn venue wedding breakfastisle of sheppey barn wedding flowerselmley nature reserve wedding barn venueisley of sheppey barn wedding venuebride tosses bouquet isle of sheppeygroom clappingwedding guests laughgroom hugs mumgroom laughingbride hugs dad

 

Useful information when looking for a wedding venue

Hire the whole place for three days
If I reflect upon my own wedding honestly, one thing that I would like to have been different is the turn around time. Having only one night in the bridal suite was a bit rubbish as you don’t really get to enjoy it. Don’t cry for me Argentina, the next day I was on a plane to Costa Rica. HOWEVER, at the Elmley reserve you can hire the whole place for three days. One before the wedding and another the day after. No rush, no hurried goodbyes. Chill. Drink some coffee, look at the views, eat a bacon sandwich. Nice. The wedding party and selected guests can stay bang in the middle of the nature reserve. I’ve stayed in the Saltbox and drinking tea in bed whilst the sun rises out of your window is amazing. Top tip; don’t get blasted the night before as you will more than likely be woken by the sun rising, not so blissful with a hangover.

Use any supplier you like – including caterers.

This is significant. Venues can be quite strict on their policies when it comes to which suppliers you can use which can put a lot of engaged couples off. This isle of sheppey wedding venue let’s you use whoever you like. Bands, discos, churros vans – go for it. Defintely worth bearing in mind when conducting your venue search. Some venues even have a sound limiter at the request of the local residents and council. Double check that the music you’re hiring can be heard! A double win is that when the party carries on into the after hours you can set up a fire in the fire pit and bust out the acoustic set. Jammin.

The wedding ceremony – where does it take place?
The law in the UK states that you have to married under some sort of canopy/fixed structure. Sometimes the pagoda at a venue is licensed for marriages but the main building isn’t, our laws can be quite funny. Anyway, the wedding ceremony itself can take place inside the Kingshill Barn or in the open barn in the courtyard. Good to know, just in case it rains. Inside the kingshill barn is beautiful. With a huge window at one end it creates that Caravaggio light. Chiaroscuro at it’s finest. Guests can watch you be wed with a stunning backdrop of open emerals green fields and sapphire blue skies. The two barn wedding venues in one place is also a winner in case of too much sun. Yes you read right. Too much sun in England, it does happen. If it’s an absolute scorcher, men in three piece suits soon get hot. Maybe pack umbrellas for both eventualities.

What is the capacity?
We can have 200 people at each event. We suggest that 150 is the maximum to be seated comfortably. Please note that as the barn is in the amazing location of the middle of a National Nature Reserve, additional evening guests are limited to avoid disturbance to the wildlife by additional night-time traffic.

Summary

  • Capacity is 200. 150 is a comfortable number for seated guests
  • Evening guests are limited as the night-time traffic disturbs wildlife
  • Live music is permitted
  • Camping is available – you can’t pitch your own tent though.
  • Barn closes at 0030hrs. Party should probably finish by midnight.
  • All clear up is done by the venue and their staff
  • No corkage charge
  • Dogs not allowed
  • Visiting Hours: Opening hours: 9 am to 4pm. Closed on Tuesdays.

The National Nature Reserve is independently run by Philip and Corinne Merricks, they have farmed the marsh for over 40 years. The site is of international importance as it has a huge number of rare and endangered species. Elmley is synonymous with wading birds. Lapwing chicks fledged in record numbers in recent years. One of the coolest things about the venue is that it is completely off grid. Solar panels generate the power which is stored in batteries, party on Garth.

For more information visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england

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Alternative wedding photographer

Alternative wedding photographer

Alternative wedding photography…what does that even mean any more. The problem that the majority are faced with, is that what was once the alternative has now become the norm. This is by no means a bad thing. The quality of photography in my humble opinion has increased dramatically in the last five years. The free sharing of knowledge and information across the internet and the rise of social media has meant that people can learn more quickly and learn from other peoples mistakes, as well as their own.

Alternative wedding photography was coined to distinguish the new wave of wedding photographers from the old school ‘stand in a line’ traditional approach. The vast improvements in digital technology has allowed photographers to take pictures in increasingly difficult lighting conditions. Now digital cameras can work in near darkness. This means that we can now take pictures of every part of the day, without the need for flash. The end result? Every photographer now has a documentary element to their work. The alternative has now become the norm. So where will it go next?

This is how I roll – documentary style

Here is some of my most recent work. It’s documentary and photo-journalistic in style. It’s up close and personal, getting stuck in amongst the crowd and capturing tangible emotions.

bridesmaids hug and laughwedding guests laughing playing croquetboy presses face against glass looking at wedding cake

Where will alternative wedding photography go next? – testing the conceptual limits

For this piece, I challenged myself to create something truly alternative, this was the result. N.B the following was not a paid wedding, just in case you got scared that I this is how I would decide to shoot for no apparent reason.

alternative wedding photographerconceptual wedding photographyabstract wedding photographyquirky wedding photographyfun wedding photographersun setting on quirky weddingmoments after sunset at alternative weddingdusk

Yo Liam. Ya’ll crazy

Aren’t they beautiful? They have a narrative all of their own, show no people and yet carry so much emotion. 

I love conceptual art. The idea of it anyway. Like any practice some pieces are better executed than others. Its what it encourages that I am most interested in. Expansive thought. Not seeing the world as it is, but for what it can be. Any broadening of the imagination I am game for, even if it comes to nothing, challenging the systems, the framework, the very fibres of something should always be encouraged.

How can you photograph a wedding in a way that perfectly captures the atmosphere and a sense of time, but also encapsulates a concept. When I first started shooting weddings I read an article by Elizabeth Messina. In it she stated that she always took a photograph of the sky on a couples wedding day, there was a certain quality to it that encapsulated the day. Whether rain or shine, she would take it. Often taking a photograph of the moon as well. I love this idea. There’s an ethereal quality to it and it forms part of the narrative of the day.

This got me thinking. What if the photographs were only of the sky? The transitions of light, the undulations of the clouds. The textures, colours and emotions they might summon. The idea that tied it together was when I considered that by shooting the sky, it in fact removed the notion of ‘place’ and made the images exist all on their own, in their own domain. This opened up the possibility for the conceptual element to be explored. If the images show no time or place, then they could be any time or place. More than one wedding will take place on any single day. Photographing the changing skies means these images could be of anyone and everyone’s wedding. They belong to no one and yet they belong to everyone. There is something truly beautiful about these images, I don’t mean my photographs, that would be too braggy. The beauty of the sky itself. The ways in which it changes in twenty four hours. Each image is entirely unique, never to happen again. The similarities between these pictures and my regular wedding work is quite interesting. I haven’t constructed, interfered with or altered them in any way, I positioned myself, moved around the subject and documented what was happening in front of me. It’s exactly the same as how I photograph people.

The reality of this statement is understanding intent, and ultimately asking, what type of wedding photographs do you want? My pictures of the sky could be considered quirky and alternative wedding photography. They are also fun, playful and artistic images that are the closest thing to unique that is out there. Do you want pictures of the sky? They tick all the boxes. My guess would be the answer is no.

Give me fun, give me quirky, give me alternative

This is my interpretation of fun wedding photography. Honestly weddings are the most fun occasions that I have ever witnessed. Full of laughter, tears of joy, the entire emotional spectrum is covered.

black and white wedding photography guests laughing and eatingbride laughing in black and white wedding photographblack and white wedding photography first dance

This is my interpretation of alternative wedding photography. Not your usual formal line ups of guests. Don’t stand still and be unhappy, own it. Go crazy.

group wedding photography not formal having fun

This is my interpretation of quirky wedding photography. Being in the moment, ready to capture people as they are, being themselves. Undeterred by my presence as they exhibit unexpected qualities. I love it. Being in the mix, joining in the wedding.

groom hugs sonbrother of bride crying

The Jazz Photographer

I like jazz wedding photographer. That sounds much more cool. Liam Smith – jazz wedding photographer – yeah! Photographer Liam Smith attempts to break down photographic convention, discarding fixed notions of compositions, relevant subject matter and equipment to be used. That’s what my Wikipedia page should say.

From my experience, the term alternative is an attempt from modern photographers to distinguish themselves from the old school of formal and stuffy. The old school my lovely readers, is long dead. However, it’s been dead for so long that now the parameters have changed again. What was once the alternative is now the norm. We are in an exciting phase, ushering in a new dawn of quirky and fun. It’s going to be amazing to watch the market evolve in the next ten years and I’m super stoked that I get to be a part of it. 

Want to find out more about how I work? check out my article on black and white wedding photography and why I love wedding photography

 

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