Post-Lockdown weddings...welcome to 2020!
It goes without saying that getting married in 2020 has not been easy. For over three months, once the lockdown began in late March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, weddings were effectively banned. The restrictions only eased slightly on July 4 – no more than 30 people, social distancing measures in place, no music, no hymns, etc. No wedding receptions even – no dancing!! For most couples, it was either postpone to next year or cancel. For Kim and Tom, July 24 2020 had always been their wedding date. Like many other couples, they had cancelled their wedding venue and their multiple suppliers. But they had not cancelled the church ceremony. So with the easing of the rules a bit, there was the option for a rather different, much smaller wedding ceremony. They could still get married. So unlike most couples, they chose to go for it!
I came into the plans just a fortnight before, with Kim and Tom booking four hours coverage (it ended up slipping to five on the day), after getting my details from a photographer friend of theirs. He had posted about it on a professional photographers group on facebook and passed on some names to the couple. So finally, after multiple booking postponements and a few cancellations for me over the last few months, my first wedding of the year to shoot. In late July! (More on that later)
Post-Lockdown wedding in London
Coverage kicks off in a small Premier Inn room full of people getting ready. Casual chaos did give way to quite high stress for Kim, as the clock seemed to tick faster. The plan was to walk the short journey to the old church in Chiswick village. Going via the underpass next to the Hogarth roundabout, one of the busiest access points getting in and out of London - where traffic from both M4 and the M3 meet. She was running late. Old Chiswick is a small strip of fantastic old architecture between the A316/A4 and the river Thames. St Nicholas church being just a stone's throw from the brewery that makes my favourite beer. I love it when a bride and her father walk to a church, it makes for more interesting pictures than a wedding car – especially when the bride walks barefoot and then, in sight of the church, starts to run towards it...! (She was only 9 minutes late!)
But there would be another twenty minutes before the ceremony could begin. Kim's mother, sister and her family had yet to arrive from the hotel – along with her veil. An anxious wait outside. But a very chilled vicar – I think on his first post-lockdown wedding too. They could wait. A few tears, some hugs and then the ceremony could begin. Inside the church, notices on every other pew to keep them clear, for people to spread out. The hymn books were taped off, there was hand sanitizer on a table as you came in. Taped arrows on the aisle floors. Otherwise, a normal wedding ceremony - just no singing or bell ringing. The vicar would bless the rings but not handle them. One reading came from family in Cornwall, via Zoom on Kim's laptop that was perched atop the pulpit. Ceremony done, Kim and Tom married and a V for victory sign from Tom as they walked back down the aisle. Outside the south entrance, some confetti cannons, then over to a friend's van to grab some drinks, change shoes or have a cigarette.
The idea now, with the weather holding up, was to walk to the gardens of nearby Chiswick House for a picnic. This was where the timing went astray a bit. Somehow it took an hour to get to the picnic spot. Socially distanced picnics in the sunshine, to the bemusement of other people in the park, seeing a wedding party there.
Speeches and dancing in the park
After some food and with glasses topped up with champagne, it was time for some speeches. The large speaker was then moved forward and Kim linked her phone to it, to play a surprise for Tom. A personal message for the couple and some songs from former Xfactor contestant, Ché Chesterman. Time for a first dance in the open air. It made some onlookers tearful at the romance of it. A few very quick portraits elsewhere in the park and that was the coverage done. Time for Kim and Tom to head back to their home in Dorset.
A small wedding, and they were lucky with the weather, but it goes to show that a story can be captured from these small post-lockdown weddings. Strip away much that isn't really necessary on a wedding day and still have a meaningful, relaxed and special event.
Here are few images from this post-lockdown wedding 'day'...
Photographing a post-lockdown wedding
2020 started off as looking like going to be a busy year of weddings for me. Unusually my bookings were strongly clustered between May and September this year, with a couple of triple headers (Friday, Saturday and Sunday weddings). But then Covid-19 came along. The last time I had been in London was March 10, for the Elevate wedding photography conference, at the Curzon cinema near Piccadilly Circus. Covid was becoming a bit more real back then, but was still the subject of nervous jokes at the conference. Little did we all realize what impact it would have on the wedding industry and for how long. I remember deciding to not take the crowded tube that morning, covid partly in mind, but walked across from London Bridge instead. No idea that the next time I would be on a train would be July 24, wearing a face mask.
In fact travelling in from my home in Sussex was very different, on a nearly empty train. Rolling past empty car parks at Gatwick airport, so odd a sight in the summer. To train stations with one way systems in place, shops closed down and most people wearing a variety of face masks, quite surreal. This was the day that it finally became mandatory in England to wear masks in shops. Still some people, even on the train, not wearing any face coverings. This pandemic may take longer to get over... (Catching the 17.12 from Clapham Junction on a Friday evening heading back home and actually finding a choice of seats in the train carriage, that was definitely weird).
So how to approach photographing a post-lockdown wedding, with the pandemic far from over, especially in this country and it's truly woeful response to dealing with the crisis?
The wedding industry has been devastated by the pandemic/lockdown. For events that have lots of people coming together, hugging, kissing, getting close, whether sat together at tables or on a crowded dance floor, social distancing measures will mean a long wait to get back to weddings of old. This coming winter may be the death knell for many wedding businesses, after a lost season. Most businesses are self-employed, one-man bands. Florists, makeup artists, hairdressers, photographers, videographers, DJs, etc. Some have closed up already, including venues. Refunds being claimed from businesses that have little or no income to replace that outgoing. Nor much chance of income until next year...? Many have been left out from any help from Government, despite the headlines. Insurance companies sending aggressive letters/emails to suppliers demanding money back, that they have paid out to couples as part of their wedding insurance policies. Then stories in the media attacking one particular wedding venue chain, for their attitude over refunds/postponements – when I hear from a bride, booked with the same company, that they have been nothing but helpful. Lots of misinformation out there.
I got my first postponement back in March, weddings for May moving to this September. Back then September looked possible for large weddings? This is not New Zealand. As I write this, all but one have now moved again to next year. I had a wedding in September move to the same month next year and a May wedding move to that September date this year. Will it move again? Even a wedding in November has been postponed, the couple live in Australia and no international travel is allowed until the end of the year. Many postponements to next year are now midweek weddings. One couple were asked by their venue to formulate a backup date with their suppliers back in April, for their September wedding. The choice was one of four Wednesdays next July. That wedding is now one of those Wednesdays.
Couples have been in touch since March to try and work out dates like this, that I and other suppliers could do. Most have worked out. Two weddings in May and June had to cancel, rather than postpone to a new date, but both say they will be back once they can confirm a new date with registrars, who aren't yet taking on new bookings. One I had been ready to be one of just six people at the ceremony, acting as a witness too, but the lockdown rolled over to smother that date too.
Currently I have four weddings still in the diary for this year. As to whether they will happen, even as small weddings, remains to be seen. Hopefully Kim and Tom's wedding can be of some inspiration to some? I've shot many small weddings over the years, three hours or four coverage, even a wedding with just six people– all long before Covid-19. Even with the restrictions, there is still a story to tell – even if you don't get a bare-footed bride running to her wedding ceremony!
So how? What is different, from the photographer's perspective? Two new additions to the 'camera bag' for a start. Hand gel and a face mask.
Cameras, lenses (25mm, 35mm, 55mm and 135mm), spare batteries, sd cards, cloth, ....hand gel and a face mask.
There a has been a fair bit of debate amongst wedding photographers about how to approach weddings amid this pandemic. Some don't want to at all. Some have and then said not again, with no social distancing happening, guests being too close, too tactile, etc. I've read different accounts. I thought about this and the key moments in a wedding day when you really have no choice but be close are the getting ready part of the day, usually due to the lack of space in a room where a bride is getting ready. The confetti moment and the dancing. The drinks reception, you can shoot a step back, it can still make images. With any crowded dance floors ruled out for now, I feel sorry for the DJs and the bands, this may be the last feature of a wedding day to reappear. I shot much of the prep in Kim's Premier Inn room from the doorway, there wasn't the space in the room to shoot anywhere else for much of the time anyhow. The window in the room didn't look outside, so no natural light to play with either, which often dictates where you stand in a room.
I decided I would wear a face mask. It seems like the professional approach? I've read accounts of photographers taking them off, because no-one else at the wedding was wearing one. But the photographer is the outsider, who knows what social bubbles are happening in the very select group of 20+ people at the wedding. So yes, it feels silly – we all need to get used to the idea. If this was Japan, there would be no issue, no stigma attached to mask wearing. On a practical level, this being the longest I've worn a mask, apart from a few minutes in a supermarket previously, they aren't easy to work in, but not insurmountable. I don't wear glasses, so no steaming up of them but the camera eyepiece did steam up for a time in the hot hotel room. This can be a problem in winter too, coming from the outside into warm rooms. A face mask then may add to that? I wore my face mask at the hotel and the church, eventually taking it off when shooting from a distance in the park. It was back on for the train journey. Quite what it is like on a very hot day? Again something we all have to get used to doing and seeing. I was the only one wearing one at Kim and Tom's wedding. The hand gel, I'm not really touching anything at a wedding anyhow, that was just for the journey really and the odd time during the coverage.
Did I get close at times with my wide-angle lens, yes I did. The confetti shot, for example. But I'm not photographing a wedding with an 18mm lens, six inches from peoples' faces. My wide 25mm got as much use as usual, when no dancing. There is a difference to photographing a post-lockdown wedding – mask, etc but hopefully the images from this wedding show you can still capture a natural narrative as a reportage wedding photographer documenting a post-lockdown event. Still a story to tell, a significant one given this moment in history that we are all living through. Always a story to tell.
Please do get in touch if you are wanting to get married this year under similar circumstances and would like your unique day captured like this - natural wedding photography.
Wedding Photography Awards
Two images from this wedding won awards in the international wedding photojournalism competition held by The Wedding Photojournalist Asscoiation (WPJA).
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