The dark and soggy Cape winter kicked off with a white wedding in the rain a couple of weeks ago. (Of course, this week-end promises to bring the mother of all storms, but that’s another story.) I always admire couples who are brave enough to schedule their wedding out of season. For a start, it means they’re pretty sure about their magnetism: they know their friends care enough about them to venture out in a storm just to watch them get dressed up in very expensive, very fancy clothes and promise to grow old together.
The other bit I like about wintry weddings is the light. The Cape has magical autumn light (okay, okay, so (probably) do London, and Peru, and Japan, and probably Cambodia also). Most brides are hell-bent on showing off a golden tan in a strappy dress, and and dancing ’till dawn on a wine farm in a hot and sweaty December, and so forget the incredible display of rich colours put on show on an autumn evening. The golden light filtering through russet leaves sets the country ablaze and casts a warm light on the skin, creating infectious catchlights in the eyes and a healthy glow on the skin. On a rainy day, the artist’s palette of electric greys and vibrant blues paint a sky more dramatic than any clear summer’s day. And, if you have a little patience, the sun will break through the clouds, washing the scene in the most spectacular light – a scene that would send shivers down the spine of any movie or stage director. All you still need is a bit of wind to rustle the bride’s skirt and lift her veil, and the pictures are pure magic.
The cold also helps to create a more festive mood. Fewer guests head outdoors to mingle and tend to stay where the party is. And if you are where the party is, then you have to party, so the atmosphere at the off-season wedding is usually far more buoyant (but maybe that has more to do with the red wine consumption on a cold evening than anything else!), and it shows in the photographs.
Be all that as it may, while the guests are knocking back their sherries and ports and red wine, the rain minimal good light cause a fair amount of stress for the photographer. The couple will have had their hearts set on good weather, despite having booked their wedding in the middle of winter, and will have been planning to head to a certain venue for a certain kind of pic, straight after the ceremony, not taking into account that the darkness will be barrelling in, like the evil guy in a fantasy movie, without any consideration for their wishes.
But everything, photographically speaking, depends on the light. The good light usually comes … but it hangs about for nobody. If it appears, you have to shoot, no matter where you are. You have to beg and plead with the enamoured couple to stay where they are, take in the moment, and not drive to that pretty garden where they really, really want their pictures taken. They knoweth not what they do! But you do.
Of course, you can’t tell your clients what to do. It’s their day. And it’s about them and how they want the day to pan out, not about the pictures. Well, for you it’s about the pictures. But you’re there to serve them.
I photographed these really lovely people two weeks ago. (Funny how brides never feel the cold!) They told me they weren’t too fazed by the pictures (oh dear, I should have told them then and there that it’s not about them … many other people, like their parents and grandparents) are very fazed by the pictures), and that they would take any inclement weather in their stride. To their credit, they did. They were truly sweet and relaxed, although the gods conspired to throw dreadful weather and light at them the entire day. There was a wee break in the weather, straight after the service, and I did try to hold them where they were. But more powerful people than themselves (the patriarch, for example) felt it would be best to push on to the reception venue. The IPL traffic slowed the progress, and by the time we arrived there, the very brief break was over. The clouds had drawn a dark and angry curtain over the sky, and all the pics were taken indoors, with flash.
So, if you’re a winter wedding photographer, make sure that a) you own a flash, b) you know how to use it and c) that you have tons of extra batteries. And take the tripod along. Far more useful, of course, is to have two flash heads, and to use one off-camera (which I didn’t have here, by the way).