Long before we even moved to Ireland and opened the studio here at The Memory Factory we’ve been behind a camera, documenting family, friends and all sorts of subjects, including a rather self-conscious three year old Roisin “The Poet” McLaughlin seen here. Fast forward 20+ years and find ourselves photographing Roisin & Barry’s wedding on a wild October day in Lagg and at The Malin Hotel.
1: An informal photograph taken quickly, typically with a small hand-held camera.
2: A shot taken quickly by a hunter.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “snapshot” was first used in 1808 (some twenty-one years before the commonly accepted date considered to mark the invention of photography) by Sir Henry Hawker. He noted in his diary that almost every bird he shot that day was takenby snapshot, meaning a hurried shot, taken without deliberate aim. Snapshot then, was originally a hunting term, and not one which implied carelessness or a lack of skill. I suppose as photographers we like to align ourselves with the latter definition, rather than the former. As we have said elsewhere, ‘formality’ has become (rightly or wrongly) synonymous with ‘boring’, and we are exhorted to ‘snap away’. Fine. We will. The trick is to marry the two definitions, and to blend them into something worth remembering. Millions of photographs are taken every day by people with no aspirations to be considered photographers or artists, but they are made with common intent. To commemorate, to celebrate, and above all, to remember. That face. That moment. That they were there. That they existed for that time. Many of them may be technically flawed, the equipment may have been poorly chosen, the circumstances less than ideal. Yet there may be value in them just the same.
As strangers, brought in from somewhere outside that group of people, we are entrusted with the responsibility of making images which will connect with our clients and help them mark and remember some of the most profound moments of their lives. Usually, we would hope to get all the technical mumbo-jumbo sorted too. Usually.
We’ve been musing a lot recently about one particular aspect of our work at Memory Factory Photography. It’s become a large part of our business although it’s not something we ever imagined ourselves getting involved in. The main thing that put us off was probably everyone’s preconceived notion of wedding photography, even the fact that there is such a term, as if it’s something separate from any other kind of photography.
Really what we’ve always been driven by was a fascination with photography, and, while the particular event being photographed matters, in the end the important thing is to see each event as simply an opportunity to make beautiful, moving, insightful pictures (with a bit of luck). So we would say we’re still not really interested in “wedding photography” – what we are interested in is making photographs at weddings.
The way in which couples have chosen to have their wedding day recorded for posterity has changed so much since photography firstbecame popular. My granny and grandad, married in 1925, spent their honeymoon in Moville and caught the steamer to Derry where their wedding photograph was taken in a local studio – just one beautiful picture of the bride and groom leaning on wooden table, a vase of flowers for a bit of decoration.
In 1950 my mother and father were married at St Aloysius Chapel, Garnethill in Glasgow and walked round the corner to a studio in Sauchiehall street to have two pictures taken, one of the bride and groom and one of the bridal party. The one of the bride and groom was carefully hand tinted and presented in a mirrored glass frame.
In 2013, almost a century later, Lindsay, my Grandmothers Great Grand-daughter was married in Cambridge. We took a few pictures . . quite a few pictures, actually.
When Lorna & Johnny came up to see us to talk over the plan for their wedding photography, it would be fair to say that Johnny was not over excited about the idea of being put in front of a camera.It can be a little uncomfortable. After all, it’s not something most of us do an a daily basis. We often hear people asking “What do you want us to do?”
In most cases, when people feel a little ill at ease in front of a lens, we find that keeping our distance helps! In particular, when we’re doing pre-wedding shoots, the main purpose is to help break down that tension, and sticking a camera four feet from someones nose and telling them to smile isn’t going to cut it.
Wedding photography, we think, should be mostly about the relationship between the couple. While it is important that we try to help people to come across well, (and yes, looking towards the camera is sometimes appropriate!) our presence should never be intrusive. If we can help our clients relax, and while not exactly ignoring us entirely, at least shake off the idea that they are there to be made to do something they are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with, things generally go much better.
Pre-wedding sessions can be a tremendous benefit for our couples and us. With the anxiety and nerves which can be so common on the day of a wedding, we need to know that we have built a relationship of trust with our couples beforehand.
So, if all goes according to plan the couple have a few images to mark their engagement and we have a better understanding of how they, and we can work together on the day.
When we were asked to photograph Joanna and Michael’s wedding, it was at least partly on the basis of photographs we had already produced in other situations. From the outset though, Joanna and Michael made it clear that they weren’t looking for “Wedding” photographs produced to a formula. Aside from the fairly obvious family groupings – which took about 15 minutes! – they trusted us to simply photograph their wedding, their real wedding as it was, seen in our way.
There is a quote often, and wrongly, attributed to Henry Ford (American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company). “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
This remark has often been cited to support the idea that consumers don’t really drive innovation by asking for more or better products, but that the drive comes from the producers. This could be an interesting point of view (if it were true) but it’s just patronising and ultimately wrong-headed.
The implication was that Henry Ford thought he knew best, that his developments in terms of his products, better served his customers. It seemed that he saw little value in listening to customer responses and ideas, preferring to believe that “The public wants what the public gets”. While the Ford Motor company was and remains a significant presence in the car industry it seems fairly apparent that customer expectations and desires play a more significant role in the direction of development than Mr Ford might have acknowledged.
Congratulations, by the way, if you’re still reading, no doubt wondering when if indeed ever, we’re going to get to the photography bit. Well, here it is. Wedding photography is often a bit like the whole “faster horses” idea. Our clients book us on the basis of what we have previously produced. The pictures they’ve already seen. Our job is to understand that. From the outset, there is an expectation that things will look a certain way and perform the same functions. That’s the horses bit. Meet the expectations that people have, which they have made based on past evidence, first.
So, that’s the job then? Produce “Wedding Photography” on demand, on tap? Give people what they’ve already seen? No, the real job is to deliver what the client did not expect or imagine. Remember their expectations are based on past – and as importantly – detached experience of other people’s weddings. The tricky thing is, that we can’t control the situations we are working in. We don’t get to choose the time, the date, the venue, the people, the weather or indeed, anything else.
We have to deal with each situation as it unfolds in front of us. No rehearsal, and no second-take. The pictures we’ve made in the past only existed in that moment, that specific and unrepeatable combination of light, time, composition, point-of-view, lens selection and a dozen other factors.
Maybe that’s why so much wedding photography looks so similar. The pressure to do what has already been done leads to formulaic and predictable cliches. It’s safer to fall back on repetition. No surprises, everyone gets pretty much what they expected. In that respect, Henry Ford did have a point, but only up to a point. The Ford Motor Company undoubtedly revolutionised mass transportation. The ‘Model T’ went far beyond customer expectations, yes, it was much more than a faster horse. Innovation usually comes from the supply side.
But times change. Customers and consumers routinely expect more of us. Sometimes that ‘more’ is hard to define or articulate, but we have to acknowledge and respond to the demand nonetheless. Ford responded slowly and late to consumer demands, (You might think of his other, accurately attributed remark that the Model T was “available in any colour you like, so long as it’s black”) and in doing so, saw Ford’s market share in the U.S. fall from around 65% in 1921 to around 15% in 1927.
Absolutes don’t always work. Expertise and professional experience have a part to play in the development of most businesses. Clients may not entirely understand exactly what it is that they do want. We’re in this business because we enjoy being creative. That means we attract clients who trust our creativity and want to give us the space to come up with something new and unexpected (not just faster horses) at each and every event (be it a wedding, christening, anniversary, festival, reunion or whatever)
Joanna & Michael never asked us for a faster horse. Instead they trusted us to bring our experience and ideas to their wedding and to make the particular and specific photographs that reflected their wedding.
Responsiveness, trust and a willingness to listen, on both sides, is part of the process.
A lot of effort goes into organizing a wedding. So many things to be considered and accounted for. The process becomes potentially much more difficult when you’re making the arrangements from another country! For Claire & Daniel however, the result was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
In the later part of the Summer, at The Beech Hill Country House Hotel and at St Mary’s in Ardmore, Claire and Daniel brought together their families, friends and a host of details for a truly memorable day.
The flowers came from “Bloomin’ Marvellous” in Buncrana, and it would be hard to imagine how they could have been more appropriate to the occasion and the setting.
Is there a collective noun for Flowergirls? A flock maybe? Here they’re supervising Claire as she writes a card for Daniel. Hair & Makeup were by Ash Hair & Beauty in Ardmore
No nerves here. Not yet, anyway. Deep breath, Daniel!
Daniel’s Uncle provided music during the service, while a couple of willing nephews captured video of the day courtesy of “Shoot it Yourself” who provided the video cameras and equipment.
Done, dusted, Married!
Family, friends, a few tears, and bubbles.
The staff at The Beech Hill, do almost literally, “Go the extra mile” for you. Well, several hundred yards anyway, to bring Claire and Daniel a quick bite and a little drink between shots!The Beech Hill really is a hidden gem. Little more than five minutes from the City, it seems like another world.
The Marquee and surroundings beautifully decorated by Starlight Weddings who also provided the Sweet Cart.
Formalities over, music for the evening was by The Great Escape. There’s an adage that goes “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail . . .” No such issues for Claire & Daniel whose attention to detail, coupled with the calm they both seemed able to maintain throughout the day made for a perfect end to the Summer.
Jamie & Danielles’ wedding at Solis, Lough Eske Castle.
We’ve mentioned previously some of the logistical challenges couples can face when organising their wedding from a distance. Jamie & Danielle went further, literally, than many people would feel comfortable with.
Not only did they organise their wedding from Canada, they had to work out how pretty much everyone and everything involved in the wedding was going to get here from Canada, the UK and elsewhere.
You can probably guess, from Jamie’s choice of Formal Wear that his family roots lie in Scotland. What was surprising was to find that he, like Martha and I, had studied at The Glasgow School of Art.
Danielle also told us that Jamie is a keen photographer himself. As it turns out, so were more than a few of their friends and relations. No pressure there then!
Here’s one of the boys going to work with a lovely little Yashica Twin Lens Reflex. At one time, cameras like this were the workhorses of the social photography & wedding photography world.
St Eugene’s Cathedral in Letterkenny is a spectacular setting for a wedding. The scale, the atmosphere and the architecture all combine to create a truly memorable scene.
Ceremony over, now it’s off through the wild landscape of County Donegal to Lough Eske nestled beneath the Blue Stack Mountains, and home to a dragon or two.
Donegal isn’t exactly renowned for its long, hot summers. When we posted some pictures a while ago, of Leona & Barry’s pre-wedding shoot we’d had some pretty mixed weather and the soon-to-be-weds were a little concerned that the weather might affect their day.
Just a couple of hours before the service Barry and the boys enjoyed a quick bite, while the weather was not looking too promising!
Leona’s spectacular footwear, “jazzled” by Divine Soles of Dungannon. Flowers and bouquets from Heaven Scent in Carndonagh.
Breakfast over, the boys get down to the tricky ties and cufflinks routine
As Barry waits, the skies open and we decide it would be kinder to move inside for a few quick shots of the boys in their finery.
Now if only Leona had been fashionably late, perhaps this downpour might have passed!
Weather isn’t Barry’s main pre-occupation any more.
By now, the skies have cleared a little, if anyone still cares!
Not the day to get the top down perhaps, but the wedding cars by Dessie Lynch at Fairytale Weddings in Steelstown, Derry were immaculately turned out.
A little bit of wind and rain weren’t going to put anyone off, not today.
Leona in her gown by Benjamin Roberts from McElhinneys in Ballybofey
Leona & Barry had chosen a cake by Mary Lafferty in Carndonagh. Sweet.
I’m sure almost everyone’s familiar with the adage, “Well, tomorrow’s another day” Usually a response to a day that we might have hoped had gone better! For the superstitious among us, maybe it’s particularly apt on Friday the 13th. For Leona & Barry though, tomorrow really will be another day. A very particular day. Come rain or shine, ever after, Saturday the 14th of June 2014 will be the most life-changing day. The day they got married.
Needless to say, we’d prefer it to shine rather than rain!