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The Parkside Hotel
December weddings. They are as rare as a white rose in snow but when they do happen they are always something special. With December comes winter weather, something that nobody can predict not even a photographer. But I had faith and my prayers were answered.
As I drove to the Parkside Hotel where the morning preparations were happening I saw our glorious sun climb over the Buckinghamshire vista. It was as if it were wiling itself to be special just for this day. In the car I gave a small thank you prayer for this miracle.
I arrived traditionally early to meet the bride. I took the opportunity to take photos of the hotel as the sunrise was in full glory; even took a few arty ones which may not make the final cut but I love doing it anyway.
I was carrying several cases of camera equipment. I went to reception where I was met by a slightly aloof receptionist. The poor chap was probably tired.
Everyone was getting ready in room 3. I love this moment just as I approach the door I hear happy voices and usually giggling. I knock on the door and it all goes quiet, as the door opens all eyes are looking at me all with the same thought, “Uh oh, the photographer is here, and we’re not looking our best.” I do the same thing every time and reassure them I won’t be taking any pictures immediately. Nervous faces do not make good pictures.
Becky was chilling on the bed chatting to her bridesmaids and family in the room. Her father, Steve, was telling cheesy jokes which I do find funny. I could see her younger daughter rolling her eyes as she was having her hair done. Steve was great in making the atmosphere very relaxed. The usual wedding morning busy-ness was being done but without any fuss or drama.
There was some chatter about the wedding but its conversational subjects were quite diverse; they talked about the hotel, current affairs, Jeremy Clarkson and how do people remember funny jokes! It was all very normal.
It was important that I was not in their way, however a photographer with a big camera in a modest room is not difficult to hide but everyone was very nice and did not seem to mind. After a while I blended into the background, it was only Becky’s young sister Megan who noticed me whenever I pointed the camera in her direction, she was always aware of where I was. She was clearly not comfortable in front of the camera and I was not winning her over, so I took a bit of time to get her to chill out a little around the camera. I tried to talk about topics that were relevant to a teenage girl, but it was very apparent I failed spectacularly when I suggested “Wellington boots” could be fashionable! But she did smile.
Photographing the Wedding Dress
The wedding dress was hanging on the only window in the room. It was hooked on a fragile looking rail above the window. The dress was still in its protective plastic cover. Because of its length there was no where else to hang it. Becky suggested we could photograph it in another room so I made arrangements for another room to be available for a few minutes. Becky and I took the dress to the other side of the hotel. The room was not in a clean state, it had not been made ready by the cleaning staff (the receptionist did explain this to me so it was not a surprise). I only wanted a close up shot. Because I imagined the room to be larger I did not anticipate trying to photograph a long dress on a four post bed in a small room. I asked Becky to be at hand to help me. She even had a go at taking a few photos with my camera; something I’ve never let anyone do before, but she seemed keen and it gave her something to do while the others were getting ready. I thought she did very well under the circumstances.
Getting the Boy Band Shot
Soon after I dashed off to central Milton Keynes with Steve to photograph the Groom Robert and the men as they were getting ready. When we arrived the lads were a bit surprised to see their photographer there. It was very casual but lots of activity; checking of the hair, ties being put on and lots of “where is the…” type questions being asked.
Time was pressing so I needed the lads to be as ready as possible to get the shots of them done. Robert took us to an open area where we had space to do some photos. The space was nice, but the surrounding buildings were not ideal. The architecture was not fitting for a wedding photo plus there were wooden tables and benches which could not be avoided. Tick tock, tick tock, time was running out! I had to get back to Becky because she would be getting into the dress very soon. I looked through the camera viewfinder framing the surroundings looking for a good angle. I had to be quick, focussed but at all times calm and in control. I briefed the lads as to what I wanted to happen, they were loving the attention (especially the best man). I did the classic “Reservoir Dogs” shot where they all walked towards me, but as is the norm I gave them strict instructions to walk a certain way and at a particular pace. They really enjoyed that, the resulting photos show it. Then I wanted them to do what I call the “Boy Band Shot” where they all stand facing me in a V formation with Robert in the middle. As soon as I said “Boy Band”, the best man yelped with glee! He was genuinely happy about it! I posed them very quickly acting out how I wanted them to stand and within a few minutes the shots were in the bag and I dashed off back to the Bride. But there was one last surprise Becky had for Robert. She had organized for a classic VW Camper Van to take them to the church. I grabbed a few quick shots of the Camper Van by standing in front of oncoming traffic! We photographers would almost die to get a good shot!
When I arrived back at the Parkside Hotel Becky already had her makeup done. She was still in her dressing gown (which featured the word “Bride” on the back) but myself and Steve were kicked out of the room so Becky could get in the wedding dress. I was waiting outside with Becky’s mum, Megan and a bridesmaid. I was right by the door when it slowly opened as if in slow motion. It was like theatre curtains being drawn open to reveal the star of the show. Becky was breathtaking. She looked like a model. Her dress was amazing on her petite frame. I had to grab a shot while she was receiving glowing praise from the others.
For the next half hour I took photos of her in various poses. I got some stunning photos of her beside the window. You simply cannot beat natural light.
Very soon, the others left for the church. There is that magical moment where I was left alone with the Bride and I always remember thinking how incredibly blessed I am. She was a bit nervous, so to distract her I asked her to pose a little bit more thinking these shots won’t work because of her nerves. But as it turns out they are some of my favourite moments of Becky. She smiled, she wanted to hold her flowers and smell them and she looked anything but nervous. Without even reviewing the photos on the back of my Nikon I just knew they would be magical.
Becky wanted photos taken with her dad Steve outside the hotel. All morning she had been hiding in her room away from other people, so when she walked outside for the first time a chilly breeze rushed through her and she gasped. I was wearing several layers and I had felt the cold all morning. With this in mind I kept them out only for a few minutes to get those shots. Then I dashed off to the Church burning petrol faster than a jet plane. The Bride was running a little late but their photographer wasn’t going to be! Pow!!!
St Peters and St Pauls Church
St Peters and St Pauls church in Newport Pagnall is tucked away in the town centre. It’s prominent clock tower is the only way you would notice it was there if you were driving. I parked my car, put the appropriate lenses on the Nikons and got straight to work. I only had time for quick introductions, I knew Becky was on her way so I needed to get as many shots of the guests, family and church taken before she arrived. When the Bride is at the church, all focus must be on her.
When Becky arrived, there was much anticipation in the air. The guests were talking in respectful whispers. Robert was in his position and yours truly was keeping track of everything that was about to happen. I got some great photos of the Bride as she was receiving last minute updates from the Church Vicar Karen. She was debating whether to keep on her shoulder clothing.
I could not stay at the Church entrance any longer so I took my position at the altar ready to get the “walking down the aisle” shot. I politely reminded Karen to move aside for a few moments while I took the photos. I honestly don’t remember much else other than getting the photos technically focussed and balanced. In these precious moments, the photographer has to get it right and almost without thinking. I took those photos purely on instinct. Only now having reviewed the photos could I tell you how amazing Becky look, and how proud Steve must have felt.
The ceremony was beautiful. It really did feel like a traditional wedding. The readings were particularly memorable with one being a tearful affair. As the readings were being spoken, Becky and Robert were sat to one side. The sunlight was bathing them in a glorious glow. The light coming through the windows was broken up with deep shadows which made the shots uneven but very interesting.
I made my way round the church to the back. I wanted to get some photos from the rear looking back up the aisle. I only moved when the congregation were singing the hymns so I wouldn’t disturb anyone. I continued round to get in front of the choir. One singer saw me, even though I was trying to be discreet and covered her face with her song sheet!
Everything went according to plan. The signing of the registry was done in a small office room away from the main church hall. I took a few discreet photos in there. Robert was proudly showing off his new wedding ring and admiring his new wife’s wedding dress. Then it was time for the new Mr and Mrs Bramley to walk through the church as their friends and family applauded their marriage. I was a few steps in front of them getting those important shots, as we approached the outer door I asked them to pose very quickly by the archway. It was then I remembered how chilly it actually was outside. I could see the couple’s faces almost turn blue. Becky was really feeling the cold. As the rest of the guests piled out I could see the ladies shivering. I quickly consulted Becky and Robert and made the decision to do the group photos back inside the church. This was the first time I had ever asked wedding guests to all go back into the church so I did not know what reaction I would get. Fortunately everyone thought it was a good idea and they all moved back inside away from the chilly breeze and into the warm church. Once they were all in I explained to everyone what was about to happen. I enlisted the best man and ushers to help me move them all to the altar where the photos were going to take place. I knew it was going to be tight so I grabbed my 14-24mm lens and my step ladder. Once I had instructed where people should stand the rest was quite easy.
Not long after the group shots, it was time for Becky and Robert to leave for the The Parkside Hotel. I grabbed some quick shots of the couple leaving in the VW Camper Van. It was very cold and I could tell the guests were wanting to get somewhere warm as soon as possible.
Back at the Parkside the temperature was dropping rapidly. I gave the newlyweds some time to get some warmth and to socialise with their guests. All the time I was checking the light outside. It seemed the sun was in a hurry to be somewhere else that day.
I borrowed a very quick 10 minutes with the couple. Becky was literally shivering because it was so cold, but she braved it so I could get some of the shots I wanted. I had originally planned to setup a shot near the tree line, but because Becky was reluctant to step on the slippery grass I had to come up with a plan B very quickly.
Soon after it was time for the speeches. They were from the heart and had that magical touch which really had the wedding guests a little bit teary eyed. Even yours truly got a bit wrapped up in it.
I only had a small part to play in the Bramley’s wedding. It goes without saying I had great fun just being there and witnessing the union of two people and two families.