Saturday 14th March, 2020 - Lowri and Tom

It feels like I have spent an age waiting to pap my first official wedding. I have read endless blog posts and articles and my YouTube history is rife with videos from Eric Floberg, Jamie Windsor, and Jessica Kobeissi. All these sources exude various tips and tricks to help such as:  always accompanying a veteran photographer to learn the ropes, the classic images to collect, and the importance of having two camera bodies and spare batteries. I had envisioned months of preparations before my first wedding, with a long check list and plenty of planning.

With this checklist in mind, I had already been invited as a second photographer to a wedding in late May with the wonderfully talented local photographer Emily from Emily Janine Photography, and I had casually attended a couple of weddings in 2019 and papped on the down low. My preparations so far appeared on track.

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I had taken a Friday off work to spend some time with my boyfriend’s family who were visiting us in Aberystwyth, a town nestled in a nook on the west coast of Wales. As they were not due to arrive until late afternoon, I took the liberty of cancelling my alarms, setting my phone to do not disturb, lavishing in the early weekend privilege of lazing about in my pyjamas, and crunching the dewy grass outside with my bare toes with a fresh earl grey and best of all, expectations of being nowhere. Juxtaposed to my ordinary mundane mornings of trying to locate matching socks, hushing the Google home alarm, attempting to curl my hair whilst eating toast and loving one of four cats, and rushing to work via Home Bargains in search of fifty-nine pence iced coffee. Despite my provisions ensuring the safety of an indolent morning, I was roused by the incessant vibrations of my phone, and sunlight glaring through the peep in my curtains for poignantly the first time in months. 

The do not disturb feature has a setting where calls and texts still go through in the event of repeat contact, aside from immediate family, my boss, and close friends who can still reach me in any event. My notifications list was elongating with missed calls and messages from Emily. After a rapid skim read of each message, I had a shower to think about the question. Do I want to be a last minute wedding photographer? The original photographer Emily was in one of the first waves of self-isolation following symptoms of COVID-19 and could no longer attend, and even more heart breaking as the bride was a close friend.  It is funny sometimes how solitude reflection under hot, high pressure water often brings clarity to conundrums like this. Is it the safety in the familiar mechanics of washing your hair that brings simplicity to our decisions or are all bathrooms a sanctuary away from responsibilities? I felt bad at first when considering absconding for a Saturday to pap my first wedding, but the offer was too sweet to miss. 

After the greenlight from my boyfriend to ‘follow my dreams’, I jumped at the opportunity and panicked about the house trying to find the battery charger for my second camera (a Canon 1300D), as it had been forlornly forgotten about since the purchase of my 80D, and emptying what felt like a thousand vagrant SD cards so I could have a thousand spares. I then spent my morning investigating all my lenses as though I had never lain a fingertip on them before, double checking for dust particles lying their ostentatious selves upon the glass in an effort to mock my lens caps. I ended up grabbing my boyfriend’s Canon Powershot G7X and my brother’s sparkly new GoPro Hero 5 as the ultimate backups just in case both of my cameras miraculously combusted or decided to elope to Paris together and leave me forgotten near the alter next to tutting guests. 

I went back and combed through Emily’s message and she had sent me a pdf containing a crash course on the couple and sample images of what they hope to capture throughout their day. I remember sitting on the edge of my yellow armchair, with mucky patches from four years of tea spillages, and bouncing my heels waiting for my laptop to come back to life so I could read the plan on a larger screen. At this point, I am essentially throwing coal into this relic of a laptop in a bid to keep it alive. The alternative was pouring over my five-inch phone screen and getting a sore right pinkie from gripping the phone so tightly I might get the chance to learn through osmosis. 

Eventually, I burnt out and put my apprehensions to one side and engrossed myself on the afternoon events with Dan’s family. We tottered off to Backyard BBQ, an eatery just off the main high street that without a doubt makes the best topped nachos in the entire of Wales, and steadily got more wine drunk as the evening progressed. I follow a wedding photographer on Instagram who is based in Pembrokeshire, and she religiously has a soothing bath and watches Netflix the night before a wedding, I am not sure indulging in nachos and rosé gives off the same vibes of serenity but I gave it my best shot. 

I snapped my eyes open long before the alarm on Saturday morning. I had prepared an outfit already but still tore apart the wardrobe looking for a professional but comfortable combination. Newcastle Emlyn was about an hour and a half away from Aberystwyth. And we needed to travel via Aberaeron to pick up more (yes more) spare SD cards from Emily. I still could not drive as my leg was still recovering from a break in June, 2019 and my brother Sam took up the mantle to be my taxi, camera caddy, and last minute spare photographer. It was my (new to me) Peugeot’s first trip longer than the drive from our house to Tesco, and we added an extra half hour onto our start time to allow for the new car to commence any misdemeanours on the way. We jailbroke so early that we even had time to make a pit stop for snacks. It dawned on me as were traipsing around Lidl that I was wearing Crocs instead of dolly shoes. Women Who Run In Crocs does not quite have the same ring as Women Who Run With Wolves but we made do! 

We arrived at the Emlyn Hotel whilst there was still a misty haze over the ground in the neighbouring churchyard and the sky was threatening to rain. We grabbed the umbrellas from the boot and walked straight into the Groom and Best Man outside the carpark entrance. It was not the meeting I had envisaged with tea cakes and coffee, but it was not as terrifying a deep end as I was expecting. Sam and I strolled around the venue, taking advantage of our early start to note down settings for the camera in the varying light environments. We discovered the bar and hastening to not make a bad impression with a pint, we had a pot of tea with individual biscoff biscuits with an appointment to be in the Groom’s suite at 11:30 for the formal beginning of the day. 

I cannot credit Tom, his son, and the Best Man enough for letting me shuffle about the suite and arrange furniture to get textbook lighting. They donned their matching navy suits and set to work styling ties. Watching the groom style his son’s hair was a heart wrenchingly adorable moment, and I was blown away by how polite this small human was. The rest of the wedding party followed suit, everyone was courteous to allow for me to spend a little extra time to get the perfect shot, they waited in the wings when I was waiting for the flawless cheesy grin, and two men in kilts raised their glasses whenever they locked eyes with my camera. 

I met Emily’s second shooter Ffion, a Welsh photographer currently based near Kent, who took charge leading the day and effortlessly weaved amongst the family arranging them into perfect timeless photos that would become heirlooms for generations to come. Two photographers at a wedding is definitely an essential for capturing every nook and cranny of the merry moments between family and friends. 

The flower arch for the ceremony was framed by twinkling fairy lights and a four foot letters that lit up spelling L O V E. A backdrop perfect for Tom and Lowri’s special day. I quietly nipped around the crowd and remember watching the mother of the bride, and the mother of the groom embrace in a hug. It was not a genteel hug among strangers, but a happy squeeze of reunion between long life friends, the union of their children merely confirming family status in the eyes of the law. A relationship, in my opinion, rarely emulated in modern day family dynamics. 

I took my position, nestled by the back right corner of the guests, Sam behind me with the telephoto and wide angle lenses, Ffion up tucked up front, guests anticipating the hush of the Registrar with phones and digital cameras at the ready. All of us poised to capture a couple becoming husband and wife, Mr and Mrs Hughes. The music began, the bridesmaids walked calmly into the hall and along the aisle, posies in hand, dressed in variations of long, navy elegant dresses. I focused my camera on the bride, meeting for the first time in passing as she smiled diligently at her guests before laying eyes on her husband to be. Tom looked up at the ceiling, blinking tears from his eyes before setting his eyes on the woman who he cannot wait to spend his life with. All eyes in the room followed Lowri as she joined Tom. The youngest daughter clutched at her mum’s tender fingertips and her grandfather’s earnest hands as she tottered carefree in a line of three generations. Tiny in comparison to the scale of history being made. The father of the bride ceremoniously said goodbye to his daughter, allowing for a round of hwyl fawr, before scooping his youngest granddaughter and being seated. A brief kiss exchanged between Tom and Lowri as guests returned to their seats and the Registrar began the ceremony by tentatively bringing the microphone to her mouth to hush the flock. I’m not sure how much time passed as we papped away but soon enough, rings were exchanged and applause broke out as the nuptials concluded. 

We nipped to the French doors to snap the newly-weds and guests on their way out to the courtyard. Shoulders snatched up to ears to brace against the brisk air but relaxed upon sight of the ice-cream stand and the array of drinks composed in the atrium. We filtered among the guests capturing reunions of old friends, and children jovially sinking next to each other to discuss Fornite and their flavour choice of ice-cream. When the timing seemed right, ice-creams were finished being consumed, and the sky was only spitting, we raced to the daffodil clad garden to capture some cherished moments between the bride and groom. Umbrellas at the ready, shivering at bay for a heartbeat, lenses primed, we set to work getting photographs of the new Mr and Mrs Hughes. 

We raced back inside to re-join the guests. The rooms were buzzing as empty wine glasses emerged on side tables and colouring books were left deserted in favour of playing in the bay window and on the bannisters. I wandered through the rooms snapping little nuggets of time, occasionally finding Sam to change lenses or share brilliant photos from the last half hour. After what could have been an hour or two, we eventually went through the catering entrance to sneak some detail shots of the Wedding Breakfast tables, and note down our new camera settings for the evening. I worried that by using a high ISO of 1250-2000, I would be left with grainy images, but I risked interrupting the moment by using an attachable flash to get crispy clear photographs. I was told once that noisy images did not matter as long as the composition was flawless – so that is what we aimed for! What I learned is that fairy lights are invaluable for adding ambiance, bokeh and ardour. 

With the ceremony chairs cleared away from the hall, circular tables arranged, and sweet stall established, the guests trickled in through the door, and children immediately set out to make the new space their imagination nation. Guests explored the seating plan for their names and enjoyed the young photos of the new bride and groom nuzzled in the photo frames among the table labels. Ffion noted that the guests were wonderful at promptly finding their seats. Each place setting had a neat pair of welsh cakes in the shape of a heart in a packet with ‘Lowri and Tom’ inscribed on the front. I was expecting to wait by the bar or sneak off to a local co-op for snacks during service, and spend some time backing up photographs in the now empty atrium – I was stunned to find my name on a table plaque with the bride welcoming my brother/taxi/spare-photographer/camera-caddy to sit as well for the wedding breakfast. The hospitality offered by the bride and groom throughout the day was unparalleled. It had been a long time since our pot of tea and biscoff biscuits. All of the courses were beautifully plated, refreshing, and delicious. It was a breath of fresh air to sit down, take in the room with my own eyes, and get to know the guests on our table. Occasionally, one of us would get up to take a turn about the room in-between courses to snap a candid of a child running about full of sweets fuel, or a pair of adults in deep conversation over wine and whiskey. Soon, the speeches came and whilst Ffion focused on the top table, we fanned out for glitzy wide-angle shots of the room in pensive thought, and intermittently casted around with a prime lens during the pauses in speeches. At the conclusion of the speeches, some members of the wedding party made their way to the side of the room and began tying their legs together for the ultimate three legged race. It was pandemonium. Two teams smashed through chairs, guests, and even photographers to blaze to the finish line. The room erupted at the victors’ finish. 

Eventually, the guests slowly migrated to the bar, the newly formed dance floor, and to other tables to chat with other guests. Ffion and Sam ducked outside to make the last of the blue light with the bride and groom, and I sat near the new DJ booth to capture the children playing in their element. The wedding party came back to the hall and as the spotlights came off, the disco lights started. Ffion sunk into the corner to capture the Bride and Groom’s silhouettes during their first dance, and I waited for the signal to begin using the flash. After a happy half an hour of flashing away, we said our goodbyes to the guests and packed the car. As it started to rain heavily, we turned on the car headlights and headed home through the welsh countryside. 

Finding the time to edit was a big personal challenge. I had my external fixator removed a few days after the wedding, and whilst the country went into lockdown, I still needed to go to my day job, launch my business, and take a heartbeat to recover. By late spring, the photos were online, and seeing them altogether made me unequivocally proud. I am hoping another summer is not taken way from us by Coronavirus and that we can all get back to celebrating weddings with friends and family.