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Does Your Wedding Photographer Need to Do a Site Visit?

Many, many years ago now I was booked to do a Central London Wedding in Late December.  I wanted to do the “bridal party” shot (the one with all the bridesmaids and groomsmen) down by the Thames at night.  So the evening before the wedding I went and scouted out the exact location, checked the lighting conditions, and timed exactly how long it would it take for the bridal party to walk down.  Everything should of gone down perfectly right?

Nope, it failed spectacularly.  In the 24 hours between the site visit and the City of London had erected loads of ugly steel barriers in preparation for New Years Eve.   All of my hard work was in vain, because I still didn’t have the backdrop that I hoped for.

There are several bridal magazines, forums and blogs that recommend photographers do a site visit.  Although I’ve done site visits in the past, I’ve found they aren’t always particularly helpful.

Here are some more examples….

The two photos below (from Helen and Simon’s Wedding) were taken in the same location, just one day apart.  In the first photo, we have amazing golden light coming through the background creating all sorts of magic. And the second photo, while still awesome in it’s own right, has completely different lighting and a totally different feel.  The weather on their wedding day was just completely different.

The photo below is from Kate and Mark’s Wedding at Leez Priory.  Even though I’ve shot in this venue before, everything from the ceremony, to the wedding breakfast and the first dance all happened different locations.  So even though I knew the layout of the grounds, the wedding day still was different.

One more example, this is a shot from Katie and Chris’s Wedding at Langar Hall.  This is the third time I’ve shot at Langar Hall and it’s definitely one of my favourite venues.  Both of the times before when I shot at this venue, the foliage was completely different, and I didn’t even know they had such a massive crop of Gipsofila before this wedding.  Being very familiar with the venue didn’t have a massive difference on the locations that I choose to photograph in.

So if site visits don’t work, what does? 

Many Wedding Photographers, myself included, generally opt to do a “recce” of the venue the day of the wedding.  That typically means arriving early to walk around and see what’s available for us to use.

Items like flowers and foliage change constantly, so it’s nice to see what looks best on the day.  Some things might be under a bit of construction, or maybe what was once a beautiful distressed wall has been painted over.   Even in wedding venues I’ve photographed in multiple times, I’ve found myself using different parts of the grounds depending what was in season.

Checking out that venue on the day gives us a exact understanding of what’s available to us that day and what it looks like right now, not months in advance.

The few cases where site visits are helpful:    

In some cases, site visits can be helpful if the venue layout is more complicated than usual.  These can be easily combined with engagement sessions or client meetings to help “kill two birds with one stone”.

The photo below is from Richard and Huong’s Engagement Session at Hever Castle.   We planned their engagement session and wedding venue visit at the same time to make the best use of our time.  Hever Castle is an excellent example of a venue where site visits can be helpful, the grounds were so incredibly sprawlingly that it took at least 20 minutes to cross.  Richard and Huong also had really specific ideas on locations they wanted to use for photos, including the tea house which was on the other side of the lake and using boats to take photos, which was great to talk through in advance.

Other cases I’ve found site visits to be particularly helpful are destination weddings, where the natural lighting can be considerably different than what we’re use to to in the UK. For destination weddings, I generally go out the day before at the same time as the ceremony and the couples portraits and get a good idea of where the light is hitting.  Even in those cases, the site visit hasn’t always been fruitful as the lighting has been different the next day.

The thing that you do really need to think about… 

The elements that will probably have the most dramatic affect on your wedding photos are the ones that you can’t predict.  Pouring with rain? DJ just turned out all of the lights before first dance? Photographer pushed to the back of the church by the vicar? These are area’s that an experienced wedding photographer will have encountered before and can make all the difference in your wedding photos.  The venue itself is just the backdrop to the photos.

An experienced wedding photographer can make use of the best use of the elements around a wedding no matter what is thrown at them and that’s the thing that matters the most.

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