not all weddings are created equal

When KATE HOPEWELL-SMITH got a chance to shoot her dream wedding, all money concerns were Left at the altar

At some point during every wedding training session, I ask my delegates what kind of weddings they would like to shoot and almost without exception the same type of wedding is described: featuring a relaxed boho couple with a festival vibe and stylish, bespoke details.

And I couldn’t agree more — what’s not to love about this from a photographer’s perspective? The sad truth I have learnt is that generally the reason these weddings are so DIY and home grown is a lack of the massive budgets required to host celebrations at the likes of Blenheim Palace or Aynhoe Park. Whilst the photography usually matters greatly to the couple with the creative wedding, they often don’t have a large amount of money to invest in imagery.

This weekend I shot my favourite wedding to date — it perfectly fits the description above and it was a pleasure from start to finish. It genuinely did not feel like work and left me on a high which is not how I normally feel when I pack up my gear and head home to back up.

When I was trying to get established in the wedding market I organised styled shoots as a way to network and build a word-of-mouth referral system. My most ambitious and favourite styled shoot was based on the theme of Lady Chatterley. Finding the right people for the role of Constance Chatterley and Mellors the gamekeeper wasn’t easy, but when I saw photographs of Ash and Charlie I knew we had found them — the fact that they were a real life couple was also essential.

A few months after the shoot (which was published widely in magazines and blogs) I got a Facebook message from Charlie with the news that they were engaged and that she was interested in me capturing their wedding. However it soon became clear that I was way out of budget and Charlie began to look Locally for photographers. About two months later she was back in touch saying she had done a lot of research, talked to many photographers but her and Ash both desperately wanted me to shoot their wedding and was I prepared to negotiate?

I asked for more information on the day and she began to tell the story of two families building a shed from the ground up to host the reception, of table tops being cut by Charlie (she’s a tree surgeon) and table legs and fire pits being cast by her metalworker brother. Of a dress being designed by her mother and a bell tent for a bridal suite. I didn’t need any more persuading to offer them an affordable package and the option to pay in instalments.

Back at the time of the Lady Chatterley shoot I had said to Charlie I would love to do a boudoir shoot for her and a couple of weeks before the wedding we finally pulled a plan together. I did this for nothing because I was confident I would get amazing portfolio imagery that would help me move towards commercial lingerie work.

The day itself was incredible. I have photographed a few weddings at the bride’s home and the workload leading up to the day is always intense and exhausting but as a result all involved live the day to the full. The speeches were very emotional because they were full of heartfelt thanks for the incredible team effort.

Ash and Charlie wanted beautiful imagery from me. They knew they had to give me some time and they listened to me on the day when I told them we would need to split the couple session before and after dinner to ensure the best possible chance of getting pretty backlit imagery. They hardly needed any directing — I made small suggestions to prompt interaction and expression but then could sit back and shoot. This is NOT normally the case and I was a bit excitable during the shoot because I knew we were getting some beautiful shots.

At about 10 they demanded I put the camera down and had a drink. I put one camera away and kept one to hand which was a good move as the last song by the band was Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars and it was photographic gold and a part of a wedding story I rarely witness.

I posted a handful of the images yesterday and a blog got in touch with me immediately wanting to feature the wedding. I already knew it was bloc fodder — weddings like this are. So what’s the moral of this story? Blenheim Palace weddings feed my family but Ash and Charlie weddings feed my creative soul. Once or twice a year I will forget about price tag and give the gift of photography to a deserving couple — because I get just as much back in other ways.

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