I'm Glad I Crashed the Wedding

Background

This isn’t a blog about the classic 00’s pop hit by Busted, although I do love that song. No, this is the story of one of the most significant steps in me becoming a professional wedding photographer. It is the moment that I started to believe I could do it, and decided that I was going to do everything within my power to give me the best chance of making it happen.

Having been a keen amateur photographer my whole life, my love of photography had ramped up in more recent years with the impending birth of my son. The 12 months prior had seen plenty of photos taken when my wife and I took in a short driving tour around Europe, back at home many hundreds of photos taken of the dogs, wildlife, family gatherings and landscapes. It was a wonderful hobby, and my greatest love outside of family. Here are a few of the very first photos I took with my first, and very basic SLR camera that I bought from my sister for £30.

paris eifel tower tourists wedding blog
lotus exige belgium spa blog
tractor sunset blog farming

I had begun to get some nice feedback from friends and family on facebook, and that spurred me on to be more adventurous and do more than just shoot what I see, and to start seeking out specific times of day and locations. Having started to push up against the limitation of my A330 I upgraded my camera to a new Sony A77ii, which is a semi-professional crop sensor camera for around £700, and a notable step up from my original £30 investment.

Exposure

Then twice in the same year I was best man. The first wedding had a highly acclaimed professional photographer capturing the day, but I kept my camera on me with the intention of snapping the best mans’ perspective. I was shooting purely for my own amusement, but was delighted to be told by my friend after the wedding who is also a keen photographer himself that he preferred my photos to the pro’s. At this point I was very pleased with this feedback, but it didn’t even cross my mind I could make a go of this. I was very aware of my technical limitations and lack of experience and was just happy to have provided a friend with an alternative record of their day.

Then later that month with my second best man appearance there wasn’t a photographer booked, so working around my best man duties I took a more proactive role in telling the wedding story. I loved it and got another handful of shots I was really proud of, some of which I use in marketing material to this day. The feedback once again was overwhelmingly positive, and came from more than just friends this time, with other wedding goers who didn’t know me encouraging me to do more with it, and even the wedding venue itself posting some of my photos online and on social media to advertise themselves.

Opportunity

At this point I loved the idea, but it just seemed too big an ambition. How could a guy who trained as an electrician and spent over 17 years working in building services become a wedding photographer?! It was a pipedream, something nice to imagine, but nothing more.

Besides, for someone to choose you to photograph their wedding they want to see proof of your work, and I only had some snaps at two weddings. I needed more variety and depth to my portfolio. But in order to increase your portfolio you need to shoot weddings, that nobody will book you for because you don’t have variety and depth to your portfolio! Chicken & egg.

Then one Saturday having been out for a few hours I returned home to see a pretty sign saying “Church” outside our house pointing towards the church in the village. “Ooooh, wedding!” I thought.

I had to make a split second decision. Do I run inside, grab my camera and get down to the church at the bottom of our lane and see if I can get some photos? Or not be so rude and make myself lunch?

Before I knew it, and with “he who dares Rodders” echoing in my head, I found myself running down the lane. I couldn’t have timed it better if I tried. The guests were in the church and the bridesmaids were outside just waiting for the bride. I quickly told one of the bridesmaids and the official photographer I was hoping to have a go at wedding photography and would they would mind me taking some photos? They were happy to do so, and the photographer encouragingly said “we all have to start somewhere”. I am very grateful for his generosity. I quickly got to work, first getting some candid moments, then getting a bit of confidence to set up a couple of shots too.

The bride soon arrived, and I did my best to not mess with her mind as to why a random guy in shorts and a T shirt is taking photos very enthusiastically at her wedding! Luckily they were all absolutely fine with it, and had I not been welcome I would have gone home immediately.

So with everyone in the church I went back home to download the photos, hands still shaking with the excitement. Then whilst sat at my computer the penny dropped…..they will be leaving the church as well! So memory card inserted and camera back in hand I waited outside the church hoping to maybe get my first proper confetti shot!

Confetti

Thanks to my years of experience photographing my dogs running at great speed, I was able to quickly get my camera set up for a fast paced, blink and you miss it confetti moment. I got about a dozen frames, of which this was the best. Not bad for a first go eh!?

Then the icing on the cake. A few moments later Stu the groom came speeding around the corner on a farm quadbike! I quickly ran to the other side of the lane to frame it perfectly, slowed my shutter to ambitiously portray the movement, which risks blurring the whole image but I’d come this far so let’s go for the ambitious shot!

quad bike wedding car

Details

The buzz from getting these two shots alone was like nothing I’d experienced before. Capturing two once in a lifetime moments, as close to as perfectly as they could have been captured is what every photographer aims for, and to capture them for a couple on the best day of their life had me completely hooked.

Looking back at the photos I took that day, I can see that even at this early stage how capturing the details and often missed moments is an innate part of my style, something I don’t think about, I just do. I love taking the photo nobody else is taking, and it’s often those quiet discreet moments that tell a greater story.

Lightbulb Moment

With the bride and groom riding off into the metaphorical sunset, I popped over to thank the maid of honour for being so helpful, and got her email address so that I could forward on the photos for the couple to have (for free of course).

I got home and reflected on a whirlwind hour. I would always prefer regretting doing something, than regret not doing something, and whenever I have a quandary in life now I remind myself of that moment I was torn between making myself lunch, or grabbing my camera!

That evening I set up my Lee Hawley Photography business facebook page, and a few days later I built a very rough early version of www.leehawleyphotography.com armed with now a nice spread of photos. I knew I still had a long way to go, but I now believed there was a chance that I could do this. If nothing else, nobody will work harder than me, so surely with the bit of natural ability I seem to have, it is possible.

The positives from that day didn’t stop there though. A few months later I was contacted by Sarah who is a friend of one of the bridemaids on that day. She was enquiring to whether I could photograph her wedding. By this point I had a (very cheap) price list and a basic business strategy. The initial goal being to build my portfolio with as many weddings as possible, get better camera gear, and get my name out there. Sarah’s wedding wasn’t for a year and a half so plenty of time to hone my service. And hone I did!  By the time of Sarah’s wedding my experience and technical ability had indeed reached new heights, as had my kit bag which had grown to a scarcely believable £10k+. All worth it when you see these:

Legacy

I have also been contacted by Chelsea, a friend of Sarah, and I’m shooting her wedding as well!

There is obviously a lot more to building Lee Hawley Photography to its current position, lots and lots of hours, initiatives that worked and others that didn’t, but that one decision is certainly one of those defining moments. Another of which was attending my first wedding fayre, which I will write a blog about another time.

I am a very risk averse person. I don’t gamble, I like to know what the plan on a family day out is ahead of time, I’m never late, and although I love the idea of being the sort of person who turns up at an airport with little more than a backpack and passport and goes wherever they can find a flight to, it just isn’t me. So to make such a huge change in direction in my life wasn’t taken lightly or recklessly.

I have, and continue to take a planned and methodical approach, step by step. But it has taken a few bold moments like crashing that wedding. Just setting up my business facebook page made me very self-conscious at the time. Who was I to say I thought my photos were good enough for people to spend money on? What if people laughed at me putting myself on a pedestal? I thought how If this doesn’t work out, it’s going to be public and very embarrassing.

But my advice to anyone experiencing those emotions, is have a go, by doing so you have immediately put yourself in a tiny percentage of people who have tried. As legendary wordsmith David Brent once said, “I can live without being a success, I couldn’t have lived without trying”.

Future

The exciting thing for me is I still feel like this adventure is only just beginning. I have so many targets on my list, with a few more bold steps planned along the way. One of which will be the production of more video blogging throughout this year with a dedicated page on my new website gradually growing in content which you can see here. Just like setting up my facebook business page all that time ago, I originally was full of negative thoughts like “who would want to see me talk about wedding photography?”, “what if it doesn’t work, that’ll be embarrassing!” and “everyone will just think its cringey!” but I have more confidence now to go with my gut. I enjoy making them and would rather be as open as possible so future clients can see what they are buying into, as wedding photography is so much more than a few pretty photos on a website.

Siobhan & Matt

Wedding day Video Diary

Tess & John

Wedding day Video Diary

Reminiscing about this early exposure to wedding photography in order to write this blog has been a real joy and those photo’s will always hold a special place for me. I owe Kirsty and Stu a debt of gratitude for tolerating me shooting outside of their ceremony, and I hope they take some satisfaction in the springboard it gave me.

Thanks for reading, and to jump forward in time to see my latest work, check out my Galleries and Recent Weddings pages.

 

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I truly invest in my couples, spending time to understand what makes you tick. Even if you don’t really know what you want, in a brief chat over coffee I will understand how best to approach your day, resulting in you being relaxed and able to enjoy your wedding and resulting in a set of images tailored to you.

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Posted by Lee Hawley