You might see me on a wedding day running over to a couple and excitedly telling them “it’s on”! I am not sure that other people feel the same way about a sunset as I do. But there is something quite magical, karmic even. Almost as though things have cosmically aligned. In his book, A Brief History of Everything, the writer Bill Bryson outlines the amazing chance that any one individual is alive today. All the elements that had to come to together for that person to be alive and that specific point in time. He describes in simple, yet great detail, from the Earth being in the goldilocks zone, to the atmosphere, the place on the planet. That moment in history, the fact that generations of people met and had subsequent generations to have you reading his book.
The beautiful improbability of every wedding day
“Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result — eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly — in you.” Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything. In many ways a wedding day is also so improbable. You happened to meet this wonderful person you are marrying and fell in love. They just happened to meet you and fell in love with you and said yes or perhaps they asked you. The odds, if you ever care to think about them, are eye watering. Furthermore, you chose this venue, on this day and we all turn up and the sunset chooses to be magical – see I told you I take this seriously – I mean what are the odds?
Relaxed wedding photography all through the day
So, on your wedding day, if I excitedly start to ramble on about there being a nice sunset outside please humour me. Couples sometimes, quite rightly, choose to stay inside and enjoy the party. I just want to give our couples the opportunity to have nice relaxing walk as the sun sets. This relaxed walk then allows me to capture some really special moments of them bathed in beautiful, fading light. But this isn’t for every couple, so sometimes the sun sets and everyone stays inside – and so do I, capturing whatever action unfolds. It’s never my place to impose on a couple’s wedding plans. My approach is relaxed and allows couples to enjoy their day as they planned it. And if that means missing out on a sunset, then so be it!
Like photographing a painting
However, on this particular day at the Yorkshire Wedding Barn, I knew how much Joanna and Stephen wanted to have some images as the sun set. They had talked about it earlier with Patrick and me. We knew from checking our weather apps that the weather was going to be kind but even then, we were unsure if the clouds and the sun would deliver the sunset all were hoping for. So, we were excited when we glimpsed the reddening sky through the windows as the wedding speeches took place. We could see something quite spectacular was afoot. The sky was turning a deep, deep red, like some kind of end of days scene from an apocalyptic movie. Or perhaps a Caspar David Friedrich painting. It was unworldly and almost surreal view. Though we knew they wanted some sunset images, Joanna and Stephen might still have been a little sceptical when Patrick and I suggested they might leave the warmth and fun of the party to enjoy a walk outside. Speech givers were all sitting back to soak in the post-performance afterglow of absolutely nailing their public speaking debuts. However, when we stepped outside, Joanna and Stephen didn’t need convincing. In fact, we had quite a job keeping up with them. They took off towards the beautiful red sky. The colours now resembled a Van Gogh painting with the palette restricted to only flame like hues. They set off bewitched by the spectacular display.
Choosing the right lens for every scene
As they walked – almost running – ahead of us, Stephen and Joanna asked what they should do. I simply said as I always do ignore our cameras, enjoy the moment and be yourselves. That was the limit of our guidance and influence on the shoot. I quickly switched to a telephoto zoom, my trusty 70-200mm Tamron f2.8, lens (mounted on my Nikon D4s camera). I also had my Nikon D750 and 85mm prime, just in case I wanted to shoot with a more shallow depth of field, but I stuck with the 70-200 for most of the shots. I did this for several reasons, firstly I knew Patrick was on a wider focal length (Patrick has won a Masters of Wedding Photography award for one of his shots of this stunning sunset). This is one of the advantages of having a second photographer. We can both record a scene or moment from not only a different viewpoint but also with very different lenses, enabling us to capture wide views or tightly cropped images. If I was on my own, I would have perhaps stayed with the wider focal length, more normally used when shooting a landscape view. However, shooting with a telephoto lens allows me to fill the frame with a subject for a more striking composition, it allows the photographer to pick a distant subject out. Telephoto lenses also flatten perspective, meaning all focus falls directly on your subject and backgrounds can be used as a dramatic compositional device.
Unobtrusive couple shots
The other reason I chose the lens was to keep up with a rapidly disappearing couple who seemed intent on disappearing over the horizon. With a Telephoto lens, a couple can feel quite relaxed and alone with each other without a camera in their face. Our style is to be as unobtrusive as possible when shooting. However, in this instance we couldn’t have directed the couple had we wanted to. They were simply too far away. We were also fighting the fading of the light; this was a genuine race against time. Joanna was charging up the hillside, at quite a gradient, in wedding dress and heels. Patrick was also very far away from me, but I found myself talking to my camera imploring Joanna and Stephen to make the top of the hill before the sunset faded. I began to make series of frantic hand signals to Patrick, I think I was trying to let him know what lens I was using, but they must have been fairly unintelligible and we both turned our attention to capturing the most we could out of this scene.
Risk taking wedding photography
Our style of photography could be described as risky. Not in a dangerous sense – like a surfer searching for the perfect wave – but in the sense that we don’t set shots up, we don’t pose our couples. So, it’s a risk in the sense that we truly and genuinely record what our couples do. We don’t create or fake any moments. So, when Joanna and Stephen set off for the hills and began to hug and kiss all of their own accord, because they were genuinely enjoying the moment together as a couple, we were able to capture these images. It is for moments like these you will find me checking the weather forecast and staring out of the window. Always seeking that perfect moment.
Why this image works
However, for this NineDots award winning shot, the moment captured is before the kiss. It shows Joanna and Stephen at the top of their ascent, just as they reach the point when they might seemingly touch the sky. They hold hands, they are connected. There is an urgency to how they move. It’s this tension and the fact that this is a real moment caught in time that really helps make this image special. Also, the image is cropped in. That blood red sky is as real as is the moment. But often, an image can be improved in processing, just with a slight crop. For this image we have accentuated the sky our crop. There is just a slither of horizon remaining and then all that red space. The eye goes to the sky, all the wonderful texture – then to the couple and the moment. I’m not sure I will ever find that perfect sunset, that perfect moment, but this sunset was like no other. It really does stand out in my portfolio of images. Thanks, so much to the NineDots judging panel for giving me the award. Bigger thanks go to Joanna and Stephen for stepping outside on that cold autumn night to experience this near perfect sky – and the atmosphere such a sight helps create – with us. By Matt Godman, M and G Wedding Photography.
Choosing M and G Wedding Photography as your photographers
If you’re interested in our sunset chasing, relaxed photography style, please get in touch. We would love to hear about all your wedding plans. We don’t charge for travel for any UK wedding, so wherever you are getting married we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch here to check our availability.