Just over 12 months ago I broke one of the cardinal sins for a photographer. On a trip to my homeland (the great North West of England) and in a slightly drunken yet elated state I offered to take the photographs for two very good friends of mine who had recently announced the date of their forth-coming wedding.
The next morning, slightly hung-over, I recalled my “generous” offer and hoped that the couple to be might have suffered a greater alcohol induced memory haze than myself. I’d returned back to London and nothing had been mentioned for at least a week, “phew that was a close shave” I thought and then, that fateful email pinged into my Inbox.
“were you serious about taking the pics for the wedding Andy?”
“yes no problem, call it my wedding present to you both…..”, hmmmmm mistake number 2.
So I was now well and truly committed. I’ve taken snaps before at many weddings but never as the “official photographer” so the pressure was on to deliver the goods, plus I was also a guest at the wedding which would include a large group of some of my very best friends… we don’t often get the chance to all get together so I didn’t want miss a great opportunity for a catch-up. I had 5 months to prep myself (plenty of time) the only other additional complication was the wedding was to be held in Spain!!! To be more accurate the ceremony in Gibraltar and the reception later in the day at a Villa on the Costa Del Sol.
So with a few weeks to go I thought it might be prudent to read-up on the subject and take-in the do’s and don’ts. I’d also need to confirm the finer details with the bride and groom e.g. timings locations and logistics. Logistics, I found with research, would be important especially given we would drive down in the morning to Gibraltar for the ceremony at 11am. This would mean having to deal with the border crossing from the Spanish town of La-Linea into Gibraltar and the notorious traffic queues caused by the overzealous Spanish border officials.
With Flights and Car hire booked, my camera kit packed and a memorised (backed up with paper) list of MUST HAVE shots I set off for Gatwick Airport bound for Malaga on a late night flight that would get me to the Villa a couple of days before the wedding. Those 2 days prior to the wedding were great, I had to chance to have a few beers with the lads and tease more details out about the ceremony and reception which helped me plan in my mind how I’d tackle the task at hand.
Day of the wedding, and a early start. I was responsible for making sure the groom was up and ready in time for the best man to collect us from the Villa where we would drive south to Gibraltar. This meant I’d have to be up even earlier to get myself suited and booted and make sure all my kit was ready to go.
First logistics success was the decision we’d taken NOT to attempt to drive over the border into Gibraltar. On arrival in La-Linea the expected traffic queues materialised so we decamped on the Spanish side of the and hot-footed it over the border, which for those that have not experienced this before means about a mile walk through the border, across the runway of Gibraltar’s International airport before you can grab a short bus ride into town. This wouldn’t have been too bad if it wasn’t for the heat combined with the weight of my kit and the full suit I was wearing. After a quick hydration stop we arrived in good time outside Gibraltar’s tiny registry office. This gave me a chance to get the groom and his family shots in before the bride and her bridesmaids arrived as well as the much welcomed opportunity to cool down in the shade.
The bride arrived a little late, as is permitted (and expected) which gave a great opportunity to grab shots of her and the bridesmaids walking up, reservoir dogs style through, the narrow cobbled street that approached the registry office.
To describe Gibraltar’s registry office as small would be an understatement. There is about enough room for the Bride, the Groom and registrar plus about 7 guests – it is literally an office!!! So not too good for shots other than then obligatory signing of the register and the happy couple together.
Post the ceremony we took a stroll towards the Marina to celebrate with a quick mid morning glass of champers and the route there gave me ample opportunity to grab some shots amongst the old town walls of Gibraltar, coincidentally right next to Gibraltar’s own Photography Club.
The early afternoon would see us all drive back north towards Malaga where a humanist reception amongst the remaining guests and friends would await us. This is where it would get difficult as many of my friends would be gathered there and in no time the drinks would be flowing whilst I had to keep on my game for the remainder of the day. I’d previously promised myself that I’d only partake in a couple of drinks on arrival and through the meal, setting myself a cut-off time post the bride and groom’s first dance, then I could put the kit away and play catch-up.
All went smoothly, corralling the guests for pictures was easier than expected primarily because my friends were assisting in ushering people together and as I think everybody knew I was also a guest I got more opportunities to blend in and get some great documentary shots which really helped to tell the story of the day, and true to my promise I put the kit (well most of it) away after the end of the first dance.
The day was a great success – I was running on adrenalin (more like beer) at the end of the evening and was really happy with the results. To top it all I was showered with compliments from the Groom’s father, a man when growing up, I had greatly revered and knew that such compliments were never given easily.
So what lessons did I learn? Planning is key. Knowing in your mind the types of shots you are aiming to get before the day, helps massively. Chat with the bride and groom about the sort of shots they are after and write a list of the “banker shots” that every wedding should have. Pre-scout the venues and locations to get an idea of nearby places that could offer good photographic opportunities, use Google Earth and Flickr to help you out with this. Build rapport with the bride and groom to put them ease… in this instance this was easy for me as they had been lifelong friends. Don’t be afraid of getting into the best position for a shot especially post reception and ceremonies when you’ll have competition for good pictures from the guests. HAVE FUN and most of all don’t worry too much about breaking that rule e.g. don’t be the photographer for a friend’s wedding.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. After the event I compiled the pictures together and sent off the shots to be published as a photo book. Having been a guest at many weddings I can honestly say that being a guest and the photographer was an honour. Witnessing and sharing in such a big event in peoples’ lives is one thing, but knowing you have helped to document this event and that for years to come my friends will be able to look back at the photo’s I’ve taken and remember their special day fills me with pride.