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
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get in touch
How to choose a wedding photographer
Top tips on how to choose your wedding photographer
- Know your fine art from your reportage
- Look at lots of complete weddings, not just portfolios
- Meet in person
- Make sure you like them!
- Understand what’s included in each package
It’s an age old question, how do you choose a wedding photographer…this is a long one, let’s start with some LOL’s…
Understanding the different terminology used when describing wedding photography style is integral to narrowing down your searches.
I spent hours trying to define my own style. My work is fun, and it’s also documentary.
Wait… I’ve got it.
Don’t you love a good portmanteau?
Blend two styles of photography to invent a brand new one, how about, fine art and documentary? “fineocumentary” or “docart”. Liam Smith – best docart photographer in the world (n.b, Liam is the only docart photographer in the world and wins by default)
To answer my own question, how do you choose a wedding photographer?
The answer is choose me…I’m obviously hilarious.
What are these stupid words I keep reading, what styles are there? What do these words mean?
I believe in creating great images. I’ve read endless blog posts and magazine articles trying to define what a photography style is and what it means.
In my years of experience I have found that there are essentially two types; posed and unposed.
Unposed can be referred to as candid, photojournalistic or documentary, essentially they are the same thing; capturing people unawares.
Counter to this there are posed images; fine art or traditional. These images are orchestrated and the photographer is in complete control of the outcome.
So who cares?
It’s easy for people within the wedding industry to forget that there is a world outside it. Phrases are coined and banded about and then thrown at the customer expecting them to know what they mean.
If I question these terms objectively, fine art sounds like each image is going to take as long as a painting and photojournalism sounds like my wedding is going to be photographed like a war-zone. This is of course me being dramatic, but I hope you can see my point.
Documentary wedding photography (sometimes called photojournalism) refers to capturing natural moments, no staging or posing. The intention is to provide the couple with a narrative of the day, it doesn’t matter what happens on the day, your photographer will record it.
Grandma falls over; click. Grooms scrunched up crying face; click. This is the real stuff. Pure emotions. No pretending. Great documentary photographers are masters of composition. Patiently waiting to create artwork out of serendipitous moments.
Timing is everything. You have to be in the mix, switched on and up close and personal with people. Documentary photographers will also take couple portraits and group pictures. I’ve written in more detail about documentary wedding photography here
Here’s an example of being in the moment. Documenting events as they happen.
Fine art wedding photography focuses on recording your day in the most beautiful and elegant way possible.
Lots of bright colours, clean whites, couple portraits and details. Stunning pictures that would look amazing on the mantelpiece or in an album.
Fine art wedding photographers are masters of light and styling. Being able to find soft, even light is a must and a keen eye to arrange details to capture that editorial feel is a sure sign of a good fine art photographer.
The main man of the fine art world is Jose Villa, his work is exceptional, “For me, it is all about making something beautiful, even if I have to insert myself into the situation . Ultimately, my goal is to craft vibrant, energetic, fine art images that are as unique as the people in the photographs.”
N.B Fine art wedding photographers often take photographs using old school film – expect their fees to be considerably higher if they do.
Takeaway/What to Google
Documentary/Photojournalism/Candid wedding photography – beautiful images, story telling, documenting not posing, people focused.
Fine art wedding photography – beautiful images, posing where necessary, lots of details.
Should I meet my wedding photographer before booking?
In short. Yes.
For me, this is the second most important factor after the images themselves when deciding on who should photograph your wedding.
I always say at client meetings that they have to like me. How much you can like someone in an hours meeting may sound silly, but your gut instinct is rarely wrong. If the vibe isn’t right, go with someone else.
In order for you to relax, you need to like the person who will be spending the day with you. Of course they won’t be partying and socialising, but if you don’t feel like you trust them, then ultimately you won’t relax, they won’t get the pictures you want and everybody loses.
Knowing when it’s not a right fit is an integral part of the process. A wedding is a collaboration, you have to be able to work together. Even if you choose a documentary wedding photographer who won’t be posing you, you still need to trust them. There may be a moment happening right in front of you and the photographer nowhere to be seen. If you can’t trust that they are off somewhere else capturing an equally important picture, then you won’t relax and you won’t enjoy your day to it’s fullest.
Meet them. It’s one of the best investments you’ll make in your wedding.
What defines a good photographer?
This is also tricky as it is so subjective. Awards are difficult to judge a photographer by as some are more valuable than others. Certain awarding bodies use client feedback to judge the photographers quality of images and service. Others prioritise certain styles, so it’s worth investigating whether or not the wedding photography award has come from a relevant and established source.
Who are these sources? WPJA, Fearless Photographers, Masters of Wedding Photography. Directories have their own awards, but only award to those who advertise with them. ‘Top 50’ round up posts are a technique used to get links to websites. Some photography bodies give you an award for submitting which means you can then call yourself ‘award winning’. I have won an MoWP award, of which I am immensely proud.
If I were to pin such a big decision on a question or statement, it would come down to this; when you look at their work, do you feel something?
Great images move people. They stir something in the soul. Whether laughter or tears, if you can feel a connection to the images, and the people within them without even knowing them, then it’s a great picture and you’ve found yourself a great photographer.
Look at the blog in serious detail
Portfolios are there to give you a wow. The blog is there to tell you the whole story.
A portfolio could be made up from 100 or more weddings. A blog is one day.
Even if a photographer only blogs the most insane weddings it will still show you what they delivered to the client. If you are happy with that then add them to your shortlist.
Important frequently asked questions and top tips
A few thoughts and important questions to consider when trying to choose a wedding photographer.
How much should I budget?
This is of course dependent on your personal circumstance, no one should ever consider stretching themselves financially for the sake of a wedding.
I love weddings, I think they’re truly magical. But life is long, your family grows and develops, magical moments happen on multiple occasions. Whether it’s a wedding day, the birth of a child or buying your first house and rolling around on the carpets, life is full of joy, pay what you can afford.
Between £1000 and £2000 is realistic for someone who is good. “Define good” some may cry. Well that’s subjective, and I can’t. You have to use your judgement on this one and trust your gut. An iMac with the same spec laptop that I’m currently typing on would be one thousand pounds more expensive. Some products are more expensive because of their quality, some are based upon branding.
Look at the photographers portfolio and then examine their blog posts in detail. Only then will you be able to gauge what a full days wedding looks like and then make a judgement on call on whether that represents good value.
Do I need two photographers?
If you love documentary wedding photography, consider this; with a single photographer shooting in a photo-journalistic style, there is no guarantee that all of your guests will be captured in an image.
Does this bother you? Maybe it doesn’t.
Keep in mind that the photographer won’t know how your most treasured guests are. A second photographer can be a valuable asset as although it goes against my documentary ideology, the second photographer could arrange formal photographs to make sure that your most important persons are photographed in some capacity. If you’re a purist like me then ignore that bit, I like to give both sides of the coin. If your budget will allow it aim for two, more pictures is never a bad thing. Note, this is likely to push your costs up to the £2-3k mark.
How many hours coverage do I need?
When whittling down the shortlist, working out how exactly how many hours you need might save you money.
Magazines for some reason say from bridal prep to the first dance. WHICH I HATE.
Many couples don’t have a first dance. And what if you don’t want photographs taken in the morning?
Ten to twelve hours should be about right for the vast majority of people. I always say to clients the best way to judge this is based upon the general vibes of the day. If you know that your crew is going to rave until the early AM, then twelve hours might be a good idea to make sure you capture all the madness. In my experience, ten hours is usually plenty. It gives you approximately an hour and a half of getting ready and another hour or so of the evening dancing.
What’s included?/what do I need in a package?
One photographer, ten hours, £1000-£2000 is the average cost in the UK.
With that in mind, ignore books in the first instance – you can always buy one later.
I always recommend to clients that they book as many hours as they can if cost is an issue, they will always have the photographs and can save up for albums and prints at a later date.
Do I need an engagement shoot?
I think the question should be asking yourself is why do you want an engagement shoot?
If the answer is ‘to get used to the camera’, then it may be worth considering the reality of that for a moment. If you prefer documentary style images, there’s no need to pose, so no need to get used to the camera.
Documentary photographers are skilled at being unobtrusive and capturing people off guard. Practising poses will not put you or the photographer at ease as you’re both engaged in an activity that neither of you want.
IF however, you love fine art style images, then engagement shoots are perfect. It gives you a chance to understand your best body position for posed photographs and gives you an idea of likely how long your posed pictures will take on the day.
Gut instinct shouldn’t be ignored.
It exists for a reason. It’s not a random part of your brain making decisions. It’s a combination of all of your thoughts, feelings and experiences coming to the fore at an important moment. Trust it.
The wedding is in the evening/winter etc. will lighting be a problem?
You need to know the answer to this when choosing a wedding photographer if it applies.
Any wedding photographer worth their salt will have equipment that can deal with low light levels. It is however, something to consider.
Shooting in low light is difficult at the best of times. It’s near impossible without high end equipment.
-If your photographer is cheap, chances are, they won’t have high end gear and will struggle to shoot in low light.
If you are having a candlelit wedding ceremony, then these are questions you will have to ask.
I received this message from a bride and it is a fantastic question.
“Our ceremony is in the afternoon and will be by candlelight. We both don’t like staged photos and are looking for a creative photographer that can shoot gorgeous photos in a candlelit/fairy light environment. We are very aware good photos depend on lighting etc. and are very keen to hear your take on this. Would that be something you would be able to help us with? Do you by any chance have some photos to show from other night weddings?
The plan is to create a fairy light backdrop for the ceremony (which will take in a separate area) with candles in the aisle next to the chairs. In this scenario there would be no light coming from above. Do you anticipate that being a problem? There is a beam that runs the length of the aisle that we could always wrap in more fairy lights if you think that might help.
In the barn where the dinner and party will take place there will be a festoon light ceiling and a festoon light backdrop behind the main table. On the tables there will be candles, additionally there are loads of lights all over the barn that can selectively be turned on and dimmed.
I look forward to hearing from you!”
Here is my reply:
There are two main considerations when working in low light.
One – the images will be grainy
Two – candlelight only from below can cast unflattering shadows
I’ve attached a few images for your consideration.
The first image is an example of how low light levels (only lit by the fairy lights) will result in what’s called ‘grain’ on the photographs. It’s simply unavoidable, but something you should certainly be aware of. Personally I don’t think it matters and often adds character to an image, particularly black and white photographs.
It’s worth noting that when light only comes from below the shadows can be unflattering.
Image two I photographed in a particularly dark barn. This is a combination of fairy lights and ‘candle light’ bulbs worked very well to produce well lit photographs whilst maintaining the ambience. The bulbs fill in the shadows and provide more even lighting across the face.
My recommendation would be to have a combination of the two, candles for ambience and fairy lights to add to the ambient light.
Another consideration is the heat from the candles if they will also be your primary light source. I’ve seen the Gentlemen get quite hot in a three piece woollen suit stood next to candles!
Low light equals grain. Grain is not indicative of bad pictures, only low light. If you are having a candlelit wedding ceremony you should definitely ask if the photographers you have shortlisted have example images to share with you.
How do I approach the day? – Blending the styles
I believe that weddings should be photographed with care and compassion as well as integrity. Capturing the narrative of the day, true to events. Weddings are an opportunity to dress up. Thought goes into every outfit, from the bride to the second aunt, everyone considers how they will look and wants to look their best.
I believe that the bride and groom should also have a series of images that document the connection between them and have them looking amazing. This is possible if you shoot in a documentary style and I believe gives more genuine images than pure fine art.
By mixing the two you have the benefit of controlling the location, the light and the basic body positioning, but then you let your confidence as a documentary photographer take over and let the moment unfold naturally.
Believe me this takes serious practice and belief in yourself as it can feel super awkward at first, but you have to be bold, if you’re confident, then your client is confident in you. Continue as if this is absolutely normal. I’ve found if you stand maybe twenty feet away and say “I’m going to shoot this one quite wide so feel free to chat” something magical happens. All of a sudden they feel free to express themselves, everything becomes more relaxed and the real people emerge, not the ‘people in that pose’. Then, because you told a fib and you actually have a 50mm lens on, you can shoot at f1.4 and capture those dreamy fine art style images which have all the blown highlights and shallow depth of field, AND capture a natural moment. Hazaahs all round.
Here’s the magic
Here’s an example to demonstrate my point.
Here we have a beautiful couple and a beautiful location and an outrageously sunny day. The control part from me is placing them in this location under the willow tree. I have used my knowledge of light, environment etc. to place them in a setting I know will look good.
The boughs of willow trees create a perfect canvas of elegant greens to create a couple portrait. Next, my instructions are thus “enjoy yourselves, the wedding flies by so take this opportunity to be together in the moment”. They look great, the light looks good and everything is peachy. Then I say “I’m going to shoot this one quite wide so feel free to chat!”.
Then the most extraordinary thing happens.
It’s as if people feel like they’re no longer being watched and the most intimate moments happen. I’ve heard of some photographers who say to their clients “imagine a comet is about to hit earth and these are your last few moments, what would you do?”. Whilst this may work for some, having to enact a scenario isn’t real to me, plus my clients would probably tell me to fuck off, after all, they did hire me because of my documentary *ahem* unposed style :).
The recent image that went viral is a beautiful example of how inviting clients to interact can work. The instruction in that image was “whisper in her ear why you married her”. The sentiment is beautiful as is the resulting image, but if we’re going all purist, is that a real moment? If my one aim is to show clients images of themselves that they recognise, will they look back on that image and say ‘that was the most amazing moment of my life’ or ‘that was when the photographer instructed us etc. and I cried’?
Here is the magic moment. No instruction from me, everything apart from the location is spontaneous. Even the holding of the dress looks amazing, but had nothing to do with me. For me this is the perfect blend of fine art and documentary. The image is absolutely them, this is how they interact, how they stand, how they hold each other. Its magic.
The one thing clients always say
The second best thing about this image? We were only gone from the crowd for fifteen minutes. Everyone tells me they hate it at weddings when the bride and groom disappear for the entire drinks reception for photographs. There’s simply no need. Find a nice spot, be calm, relax, let the magic happen. It’s a moment, it only lasts for a few seconds and then it’s gone, so you have to be ready.
So Liam what do you do for the other 99% of the day?
I take pictures like this:
Liam Smith is a documentary wedding photographer from mars (probably)
If you like the look of my work and my philosophy, hey, why not get in touch?
Black and White Wedding Photography
Why it’s so cool and how I use it in my work.
My work has been influenced by a variety of sources. From the black and white portraits of Richard Avedon to the beautifully saturated and complex compositions of William Eggleston. No doubt as I continue to develop as an artist new influences will be discovered, maybe byzantine art or the cinematography of Robert Yeoman. Regardless of the work I am fascinated by at the time, my love of black and white documentary photography is enduring. There is a quality to black and white photography that colour cannot rival. It seems to remove the photograph from the narrative of present day and inserts it somewhere in the timeline of history. It preserves a moment and allows it to exist all on it’s own. Placed within the context of weddings black and white is a complete joy to work with. Images become immediately timeless.
There are of course instances where black and white simply doesn’t work. This is why I always shoot in colour and then convert to black and white in post processing. Sometimes, colour is absolutely imperative to give context, direction and a focal point to an image, remove it and the structure is lost. Weddings lend themselves beautifully to black and white photography because of the day itself carries so much emotion. Emotions don’t need colour to give them structure. The gesture itself is the most moving part of the photograph, isolating it’s shape and form in black and white places emphasis upon it and increases it’s potency.
For anyone who’s interested I shoot the vast majority of the day with two lenses. 28mm and 85mm are my two favourite focal lengths. The 28mm allows me to get close but still keep important elements in the width of the shot to give context. The 85mm is great for tight compositions to create drama through an almost cinematic feel. I’m not super fancy with gear, I buy what works for me. I prefer gear to be light weight and fast focusing. Both lenses tick these boxes and have never let me down. Camera equipment can cost you tens of thousands if you let it, it can become quite easy to be swayed into purchasing gear you don’t need. The canon 28mm is about £400, the 85mm, about £300. There is of course an 85mm lens that costs £1700, its as heavy as a bowling ball and is painfully slow to focus. My mantra has always been that great photographers take great pictures, not great gear. I continually look towards my spiritual place and emotional intelligence to improve my work and not the shop window.
All about emotion
My job as a wedding photographer is to make use of compositional tools, story telling elements and manipulate the technical elements of the camera to create an interesting image. Whether the image is in black and white or colour, these rules still apply. For me, the emotion is what carries a black and white image and that’s always what I focus on during the wedding day, the connections between people.
Black and white strips an image back to it’s most simple parts, light and dark. The eye is immediately drawn to the brightest part of any photograph. If you squint at the image it cuts out the mid-tones, you’ll notice that the grooms shirt and brides face are all very similar in terms of brightness. By using simple composition and placing the face in the centre of the frame the eye is immediately drawn to it. The first dance is often a nightmare for a wedding photographer for a variety of reasons. Most significantly in my experience is the use of coloured lights from the DJ. Lasers and coloured LED’s can make people look like they have odd skin blotches. Things like this used to stress me out. But now, not at all. If I show black and white images on my site, my clients understand that that is predominantly how I work. I can focus on the interaction between the bride and groom, knowing that I’ll convert it to black and white after.
Kids are hilarious
Children are hilarious. This section should just end there. They’re always up to something. Some are so entertaining that it’s easy to get pulled into their world, either that or at turning 30 I’m maybe starting to think about kids. That’s a huge thought. Crikey. Let’s move on. This little guy was toting a red ruck sack the whole day. Inspired by Dora the Explorer no doubt – fun fact ‘exploradora’ is explorer in Spanish. Photography stuff AND fun facts, it’s all going off. Eggleston always said he thought that red was at war with all the other colours, and I have to agree. It is such an arresting colour that everything else in the scene is almost invisible, you cannot help but look at it. In black and white that distraction is gone and the eye can freely move between both groups. Rather than being distracted by colour, the shape and form of the image becomes much more apparent. The symmetry between the groups, not only occupying equal space, but the figure on the left in the respective groups is taller than the figure on the right. Would this be apparent in colour? Maybe. I don’t, however, believe it would be as easy to appreciate.
Here is a wonderful example of how practice is the game. If you’re constantly taking and reviewing photographs, I mean all the time, not just during a wedding, then you train your eye to see the world in a very specific way. Take the above image for example. I didn’t see the moment happening and consciously think to myself “a ha, using the rule of space for the eye to move into and recognising the angular momentum of the pew, coupled with the distinct depth in the three layers of the scene in front of me will create a tremendous photograph”. I saw what was happening, instinct kicked in and took the photograph. Is it an accident? no, my years of experience, knowledge of great images, knowledge of art and cinema took over and informed my instant decision making. This allows me to work on instinct and has helped the development of my craft no end. I’m constantly looking for new sources of inspiration, I recently watched the Tom Ford film ‘A Single Man’ and loved his mode of storytelling, if you know of any good films to watch drop me a line.
This image is a great example of how composition can’t always be perfect and the moment takes centre stage. If I’d have waited a split second to consider how it is slightly off centre I would have missed the moment. Hands are wonderful communicators of emotion. We hold on to things we love, we pull them close. It’s so easy to empathise with images like this, I mean really empathise, you can feel the squeeze. Removing the colour helps communicate the intensity of the moment. The distractions of the background are gone and the textures of the hands and face take centre stage allowing the viewer to once again really empathise with the moment.
The unpredictable is where the magic happens
For every photograph like this, there’s a hundred more where someone walks right in front of the shot. You can’t complain, it’s part of the game. If you’re shooting in a hectic environment, it’s unpredictable, even when you think you understand the nature of a crowd they will always do something to surprise you. Every now and again, the stars align and a moment happens just at the right time, the composition comes together and frames that moment to create an image that could never be recreated.
Equally, for every shot you get, there’s plenty more that you miss. You can’t be everywhere at once. This is a mistake I made early on in my career, I would chase moments. Timing is such an important factor in any career. Comedy, acting, athletics. Time your moves deliberately and precisely, exact patience and the rewards will come. You have to sit back and believe that the images will come to you. For this image, that’s exactly what happened. It’s common for the bride and groom to move straight from the cutting of the cake to the first dance. This little guy was running around outside and I took a chance, waited, then pow, he does this.
Colour is important too
As much as I love black and white wedding photography, sometimes it simply doesn’t work. Often an image has to be one or the other, it cannot work as both. When you remove colour from an image, a dimension that was already present should be increased in potency. The touch, gaze, laugh etc. If it detracts, then it needs the colour for harmony. Lets not forget that beyond my desire to create beautiful photographs, there is a client on the other side of the images. They may have planned a specific style and colour scheme, this is why ninety percent of the images will be delivered in colour and black and white.
I hope this piece was useful and offers a little bit more of an insight into how I approach taking pictures and my philosophy. Read more about my love of wedding photography or my wedding photography style.
Here’s a few recent favourites to round off with.
Liam Smith…intergalactic wedding photographer.
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