Clare & Danny - Ballinora Church & Fota Island Resort, Cork

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My first wedding of 2014 was a cracker – even if it was freezing cold outside, and quite a bit wetter than anyone really wanted. It goes to show that, as I’ve said before, the weather makes no difference at all to how enjoyable a wedding day is or, even, to the photographs that can be taken. Sure you might need to do photos indoors rather than outdoors, but weddings are first and foremost about the people and what happens on the day – the location is secondary – and wedding photography should reflect that. So I never mind too much about the weather – even if I could slowly feel frost bite kicking in as we gathered outside the golf club at Fota Island Resort on this particular Friday in a futile (as it turned out) attempt to beat the rain and defy the cold with a short stroll around the grounds. But that was all much later – the day started in the suburbs of Cork city, not too far from where I grew up. It was a house dominated by women as the bride (Clare) and her gaggle of bridesmaids (that’s the official collective term, by the way!) Aisling, Ann, and the two Deirdres, were pampered by hair and makeup artists. The photo above shows the results of that pampering!

It was one of those mornings where all rooms were being put to a useful purpose, and I was grateful that the makeup was assigned the front room with the best light. The fact that the girls were having a laugh and the smiles were all natural helped too. As the finishing touches were being applied in the hair and makeup deparments, Clare’s dad Johnny found himself a corner of the kitchen to put finishing touches to his speech. 

Four bridesmaids and a bride meant that on occasion upstairs became a “girls only” zone, but I was allowed up to capture the girls tie up the dress as Clare transformed from fiancée to bride before our eyes.

While all this was going on, a few miles across the city bounds Danny and his grooomsmen were doing much the same, but with less hair spray and bronzer (I think!) out in Ballinora. An important job for any grooms man is to make sure that the guests can find the church, and as I travelled to Clare’s that morning I had already seen signs that James, Denis, Colm and Eoin were working through their to-do list, finding them out on the road putting up signposts earlier that morning. When I next caught up with them at the church a few hours later, not only had the sign posts worked, for the church was filling fast, but they were all suited and booted and ready to go.

It was one of those weddings where family and friends played important roles, from reading to singing to making cakes to driving, and having photographed Clare and her Dad outside the church before they stepped out of the car I pulled back for a wider shot to include the bride’s friendly chauffeur too!

The walk up the aisle is always a special moment at a wedding – the groom gets his first glance at the bride, the bride gets her first look at the groom, the bride’s dad prepares to (metaphorically, at least) hand his daughter over to his son-in-law to be and all of this is watched and soaked up by the couple’s closest family and friends, and more often than not there are a few tears of joy scattered around the room. I get the easy job here – all I need to do is snap a few photos from a distance.

The ceremony was presided over by Father Twomey, who is not only a family friend, but also a priest who in times past served in the parish in which the wedding was taking place – on this occasion the groom’s parish – and so knew pretty much everyone in the room quite well. He’s not only a very nice man, but a very funny one also and on more than one occasion he had the entire gathering in stitches.

Particularly memorable was when he insisted that, as he passed a coin to Clare after the exchange of the rings, that Danny say “I give you this token, and my wages, as a sign of our love”.

The rain threatened again once it came time to walk down the aisle, so the happy couple were greeted by their guests inside the door but outside guests mingled and wished each other a Happy New Year as I sought to capture a few photos and add to the collection of recorded memories from the day.With all the family mingling after the ceremony, it’s always easier to get the family photos at the church if possible, and Ballinora Church is both bright (even in early January) and photogenic, so as the guests headed on to Fota Island Resort for the reception we stayed back for ten minutes to get the formal photos of the families out of the way and allow everyone relax at the hotel.

With the light fading fast we scooted onto Fota for a quick bridal party photoshoot before we would join the rest of the guests as the first big party of 2014 underway.

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One thing to remember with a wedding around Christmas is that there really isn’t a lot of natural light to play with. Come 4pm and it becomes quite a battle to eek anything out of the fast-setting sun that might light a photograph, even more so if there’s a cloudy sky blocking that sun in the first place. And even if there is light, there’s a fair chance it’ll be cold, wet, windy or, on those unlucky days, all three. As I drove from Ballinora to Fota Island Resort for the second part of Clare and Danny’s big day, it wasn’t immediately clear how the weather was going to behave or misbehave – it was one of those afternoons best described as “changeable”.

As it happened, there was a short dry window in which we could have perhaps walked past the lake by the golf club house for a quick bridal party “walk and talk” type shot, but it was a window we missed. Instead we took refuge in the club house itself – quieter than the main hotel which was fast filling with 200+ guests, and drier and warmer than outside.

I commandeered a couch and took to some furniture repositioning to move it to a more useful angle, and asked the bridesmaids, groomsmen, bride and groom to pile in on and around it. Such a photo, to my mind at least, is about having everyone looking well, looking comfortable and relaxed, but also not looking like they’ve been waiting 15 minutes to have their photo taken, and the key to that is to let them pose themselves with a pointer or two where needs be around which way to face or what to do with their hands or the bouquet, and most importantly to take the shot quickly and move on.

If I was to spend 15 minutes fussing over every group photo, they would look like photos of people who’ve been fussed over for 15 minutes. That’s not my thing, and usually not theirs either.

So from the first bridal party photo (once the full bridal party had arrived, which did – and often does – take a little longer than planned!) to the last bride and groom photo before we made for the hotel was maybe 18 or 19 minutes in total.

The quick session at the golf club meant by the time we arrived at the main hotel entrance, we were done in terms of formal photos and (after the obligatory cake photo in the function room) Clare and Danny mingled as I snapped candids and details. I quite like the function room at Fota Island, and the pools of light that it spills on the tables makes for interesting table shots – these are scene-setters, if you like. The kind of shots that help move the story along in the slideshow or set some context in an album.

The speeches were before the meal and were a joy to photograph – lots of great reactions and expressions, and just the right length. There was no official videographer at the wedding, so the photos of the speeches would be the lasting official record of that part of the day. It’s important in that situation to not just focus on the speaker, but also on the listeners too, to get the full sense of the occasion.

I’m not a big fan of “formal” table shots where you disturb half the guests at the wedding as you suggest one half of each table moves around to the other side for a photo, and prefer to take candids as I explore the room once the eating has finished. Sometimes you get spotted, of course, and get called on to do a photo. And sometimes that photo involves fake moustaches made from the bow ties that decorated the menus!

The fact that the speeches had been given before dinner meant Clare and Danny ended up with some downtime after dinner. Clare and the girls popped up to the bridal suite and we got a few quick photos up there (while I tried and failed to find a way to get quick bridal photo on the roof balcony in pitch black darkness), and downstairs I found Danny and the groomsmen and fathers of the bride and groom for a photo intended to show off the Only Fools and Horses socks they were all wearing!

With the band almost ready to go, we took a quick visit outside the hotel for a night-time photo.

And with that it was back into the function room for the first of many dances, and the last of many photographs.

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