In Britain we joke about a plan for a barbecue being a bold invitation to rain. Brides, photographers and wedding planners have a similar fear and dread for the big day. Rain is the fiercest foe of a good wedding. So, as I travelled to Bristol last autumn to photograph the wedding of a dear family friend, I cursed the heavens for threatening to unleash a torrential downpour on the day. The BBC weather app informed me that the chances of precipitation were over 90%, nearly all day.
Determined not to let anything put a dampener on the special day for my old friend and namesake Aneesa, I packed my bags with loads of lights and reflectors. If the heavens had decided to limit the light I was going to get naturally I would defy them by making my own illumination.
Aneesa and Dan had planned a registry service in the city centre for tying the knot and the reception at a bijou pub called The White Bear. But before we got to the main action I was shooting Aneesa's wedding preparations in her home and at the salon, where she was going to get her hair and make up done. Although it was a small and intimate wedding, it was spread out over three locations with heavy Bristol traffic to navigate. Added to the weather demon chasing every hour, it felt like it was going to be quite a challenge. I was acutely aware that Aneesa and Dan had been planning their special day for over a year but the actual passing of it would be over in a flash. I wanted to make sure that I captured as much detail as possible so they could go back to it later and relive the moments that dissolved quickly into passing haze.
After all the months and weeks of meticulous planning many brides can be quite fraught and anxious at a sudden loss of control on the day. Aneesa was not one of those brides. She was as cool as caviar when I met up with her at the pub, where the reception was to be held later on. Aided by her Mum and bridesmaid Michelle, Aneesa was inspecting the floral displays and little decorative touches being added to the space. This is where the guests were going to eat and relax after the formal registry ceremony. She was equally relaxed at the salon where she was styled by her heavily pregnant hairdresser. Her equilibrium was disturbed only by the unexpected weight of the false eyelashes, which set off a series of gasps and guffaws, and jokes about them ending up on her cheeks by the afternoon.
After the salon it was a dash back home to slip into her sumptuous autumnal wedding outfit. In a tribute to her paternal Pakistani heritage, Aneesa had opted for a salwar suit with a long flame-colored dress. Embroidered heavily in gold thread and beads, it set the room alight with elegant flowing reflections of orange and gold. The bride looked stunning with low golden heels to set off the glamourous wedding outfit.
By the time the bride and groom had arrived at the registry the clouds had shed a few swift showers but no major storms had erupted. The large and grandiose room in which the couple were to be united in matrimony turned out to have few sources of natural light. The weather became immaterial at that point. As is often the case, the registrar would not allow the use of flash during the ceremony. While the normal eye can see perfectly even in dim light, cameras are not as sophisticated. The only way photographers can manage this situation is to set the camera on a high ISO setting to make the most of the available light but this makes the resulting images very dull and grainy. Often photographers turn these images into black and white which adds drama and life to compensate. Low light also messes around with the colours so B&W is much more appealing for the finished look. Despite these technical challenges I snapped away through the vows and declarations, delighted to get some decent angles. Some registrars do not like photographers hovering and insist they stick to one spot. Luckily this one was relaxed about my movements and soon the couple were wed and everyone was smiling and ready to pose for group shots.
By the time the newly weds and their guests strolled out of the building the curtain of grey clouds lifted as if to welcome the happy occasion. This was my window of opportunity for group photos. I was relieved that I hadn't needed to set up studio lights indoors, which would have interrupted the flow of the event and taken up more time.
Natural light and the outdoors provide the best possible lighting to capture the visual array of celebratory fashions and styles displayed by the guests but wedding photographers need to prepare for every eventuality. Having a covered alternative for group shots is something all wedding plans in the UK should include as standard.
As anticipated the day sped by. Before the guests settled in at the trendy pub for post marital food and frolic I managed to squeeze in a few quick shots of the couple in front of the quaint front door. I resisted the urge to drag the beaming couple out into the urban chic streets nearby for more stylised portraits because Aneesa and Dan had asked for a documentary style of coverage. They were not keen on constructed and posed photos. Respecting what the couple need is the first rule of wedding photography. It is not just about getting timeless images and memories, it is about making memories too. In this sense the day had run to plan as Aneesa and Dan were floating through it on a cloud of well laid plans.
As there were no dances and speeches my job was a little more straight forward for the rest of the day. After the delicious sit down wedding breakfast prepared freshly at the pub, evening guests from around the country and the couples' respective pasts started to trickle in to gasps of delight and wide grins all round. Using on-camera flash I mingled and snapped capturing the relaxed and happy aura of the wedding tail-end.
To top it off the evening buffet was laid out with a classic and elegant white wedding cake made by Linda the groom's Mother. This was another personal touch in the day that had been carefully crafted, mostly by Aneesa I gathered, to be as relaxed and informal as a solemn event of this kind can be. More than any other factor I believe it was the light-hearted, happy nature of the bride and the easy-going, thoughtful support of her partner Dan that made this possible.
It was a lovely day that ended with bright colourful lights and sparkly glowing guests having the time of their lives. A perfect way to start the rest of married life. Wishing Aneesa and Dan many many years of joy that I hope these photos help them revisit.