When it comes to choosing the venue for your wedding, there are so many things to take into consideration. Will you opt for a sprawling country-house estate, a landmark city hotel or a remote barn in the countryside? Will your wedding be in a hotel, under a marquee or in the open air at the top of a cliff?
While you try to work out what is best for you and your guests, have you thought about how the choices you make will impact on your photographer – and, ultimately, on the photographs you will cherish forevermore?
It is so difficult to find the right venue, at the right size, with the right surroundings, on the right date, at the right price, that it’s understandable you may have overlooked whether or not it’s also a good choice for the photographer.
Try to picture your dream venue through a camera lens and the restrictions or limitations of the place may begin to become apparent. Skilful snappers can conjure up amazing pictures out of all sorts of unpromising surroundings, but the more challenging the venue is, the more pressure and responsibility for making it look amazing on camera is placed on the photographer’s shoulders – and that can be a heavy burden to bear.
In a bid to be prepared for anything, many photographers will conduct a ‘recce’ of the venue in advance of your day so he or she has an idea of what the location has to offer in the way of picturesque backdrops for shooting.
A recce, while desirable, is not always possible, however – your photographer simply may not have the time, and if you’re getting married in another city (or indeed another country), it may not be feasible.
Booking a very experienced photographer may give you peace of mind, but there’s no guarantee they’ll have worked at your venue before, so don’t assume they have.
MAKE A PLAN B
Photographers are not miracle workers (although some have been known to magically replace a dull sky with a bright blue one using editing software!) and despite what you might think, it’s not always the photographer’s responsibility to have a contingency plan on your wedding day. “You can only work with what you are given,” says Gail McCarthy of Gail Photography (gailphotography.co.uk). “If I know a venue isn’t ideal for photography, I advise the couple to go elsewhere for pictures. At one wedding a couple of weeks ago, neither the church nor the reception was great for photos, so I suggested we go to a nearby garden. They were happy to do so, and their photos were lovely.”
But a back-up plan that involves having your official photographs taken in a local park or outside the venue post-ceremony or pre-reception isn’t entirely trouble-free either. For a start, have you asked permission? And will there be enough time?
Written permission is usually needed from the local authority before you can have official wedding photographs taken in a public park. Arrive unannounced, and you and your photographer risk being turned away. You’ll need to get in touch with the council well in advance to give them time to consider your request and give you a response.
LET’S GO OUTSIDE
Every bride lives in fear of a downpour on her wedding day (or at least all those getting married in Scotland!). And it’s not just you – your guests don’t want rain, and neither does your photographer.
With good back-up plans made well in advance, the weather should not determine the success or failure of your wedding day.
This matters in an indoor venue such as a hotel as much as in an ‘off site’ venue, like a remote barn or a marquee, because when it comes to photography there are a whole host of issues to take into account besides the unpredictable nature of our climate.
A lot of photographers prefer to do their work outside, largely because natural light is so much more flattering and effective than artificial light, and the range of scenic backdrops in the gardens and grounds of many wedding venues are far superior to the interiors, however beautifully decorated the rooms may be. But what happens if it’s raining, muddy or simply freezing cold? Can you go inside? (Bear in mind, the inside of large tents and barns are rarely the most picturesque of backdrops!) And is there power or a generator in case your photographer needs to plug in studio lights/equipment?
If your reception is in a city-centre hotel, is there a room or area available for photographs when you need it? Often, city hotels will have very limited outside space for photography. What then?
Gail McCarthy always plans ahead before a wedding shoot by visiting the venue to gauge what shots can be taken where. With almost 20 years’ experience in the business, she has a list of favourite venues for photography and knows which ones don’t offer as much scope for interior pictures.
“Some venues are better than others,” says Glasgow-based Gail. “It can be amazing outdoors, but you sometimes have to ‘make do’ inside. By visiting the venue beforehand, I make sure there’s somewhere I can use both outside and inside, if the weather is bad. I think, as a photographer, you need to do that.
“Obviously, I prefer venues that have gorgeous interiors and fabulous grounds, but not every place can give you that, and not all couples think about photos when they’re choosing where to host their reception.
“In Glasgow, the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park is wonderful inside and out. So is Glasgow University – it’s stunning outside and its Cloisters are under cover. The Botanic Gardens and Kibble Palace are also perfect for indoor or outdoor photographs.”
A venue without natural light isn’t ideal in Alistair Brown’s opinion (alistairbrownphotography.co.uk). The Ayrshire lensman explains: “Rooms or halls with few windows and drawn curtains are usually big negatives. In those situations, I will nearly always use artificial (flash) light to properly compensate for the lack of natural light, and that doesn’t always go down well during a ceremony where the celebrant or wedding officials have a no-flash policy.”
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
A good venue will have natural light and suitable outdoor space for photography. But even if they have staircases, fireplaces, breathtaking views, tree-lined avenues and rooftop terraces, the attitude of the staff could destroy the success of a photo shoot, as some photographers have discovered.
With 42 years’ experience in the wedding industry, photographer Graham Wilson (grahamwilsonphotography.co.uk) has two venues he is not keen to return to – because of their employees: “Everything is down to attitude and people. I once arrived at a five-star hotel at 3.50pm and was told by the staff, ‘Right, you’ve got until 4.15pm because the chef has to serve.’ I politely explained I could be taking photographs until 5.30pm (I usually allow an hour and a half), but at 4.15pm I was tapped on the shoulder and told I had to stop. It was a shame for the bride who’d paid the venue over £15,000 thinking she was going to get the best, but she didn’t.
“Once when it was snowing, another venue told me they didn’t have anywhere I could take the pictures – apart from the reception where people were checking in!
“That’s two venues I’d rather not go to now because of the stress.”
‘Accommodating staff’ should be top of all brides’ lists when sussing out potential venues, Graham insists, because they make all the difference. Staff at Ingliston Country Club showed him courtesy when the bride was an hour late and the photography overran. “I noticed the chef coming out of the kitchen and striding towards me – I feared he was going to hit me! – but instead he shook my hand, welcomed me and said it wasn’t a problem. It was a breath of fresh air!
“I would recommend that venue for the attitude of their staff and chef. Also, most good venues have wedding coordinators. They’re the people I speak to beforehand and, on the day, they guide me through.”
So if you’re still deliberating over your venue shortlist, look at it again through your photographer’s eyes and it should help you come to a picture-perfect conclusion.