Dumbleton Hall Wedding Photography
Harriet & Shadi
Harriet and Shadi got married at the magnificent Dumbleton Hall on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border. Dumbleton Hall is a traditional Cotswolds Manor House set in 19 acres of woodland and garden and features it's own lake, with resident black swans. Dumbleton Hall is a licensed wedding venue, meaning you can use the venue either for just your wedding reception, or host your whole day there should you wish. This is what Harriet and Shadi chose to do, as you'll read in this article.
My day started at 8am, when I arrived to photograph Harriet and the bridal party getting ready. As you can see from the photos immediately below, the weather was idyllic and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
Before I took any photos at all of the bridal party, upon looking out of the window of the room where they were getting ready I noticed the groom, best man and father of the bride going for a walk to breakfast in the next village.
We were a little tight for space in the room so I had to get creative with the images of the bride having her hair done.
It always makes my life easier when the groom is getting ready at the same location as the bride - or at least that is, that I'm able to better tell the story of the wedding day when the groom is near by. There is always the option of booking one of my associate photographers to second-shoot on the day, covering the groom's preparations separately, but with the bride and groom being only seconds away from each other I am able to cover both perspectives on my own.
One of the bridesmaids (on the left in the image below) wasn't used to wearing makeup at all, so the bride insisted on a 'big-reveal' - I think it was a great idea as the photo of their combined reaction is superb! I'm not sure who looks more surprised at the result between her and the bride.
The typical bridal party usually takes in the region of 3-6 hours to get ready on the morning of the wedding, but from my experience I can tell you that it's not the same story with the average groom: 20 minutes of a shower, shave and hopping into a suit and they're pretty much done. Still, it was great spending time with Shadi in the morning, and really good to show a part of his story from before the wedding. With the bride and groom both getting ready within a minutes walk of each other, I was easily able to cover both perspectives.
The father of the bride had not yet seen the wedding dress and it was being kept a closely-guarded secret. When it was time for the bride to get into the wedding dress, I popped outside to give her some privacy. At the end of that same hallway, I saw the father of the bride pacing up and down, occasionally taking a break to look over the countryside through the open fire door that leads to the roof. I grabbed a few frames without being noticed.
The father of the bride's reaction was absolutely worth the wait! After her big reveal, Harriet presented her father with a pair of cufflinks to be worn on the day.
Despite being ready in good time, the bride still made the groom wait anxiously at the end of the aisle. His anxiety is palpable, but when it comes to wedding photography you really can't beat a nervous groom. Dumbleton Hall is licensed for up to 100 guests internally and can cater for up to 250 guests if you opt for a marquee reception. The same room is used for both wedding ceremonies as well as the serving of the wedding breakfast. During the time the room is being 'turned around' the guests are invited to enjoy a drinks reception either on the terrace if the weather is warm, or in the bar if it's not.
One of the great things about Dumbleton Hall weddings is the sheer length of the aisle that the bride walks down to meet her husband to be. It's huge! As you can see in the images above and below, this means you get a fantastic perspective, being able to shoot back past the awaiting groom at his bride. The length of the walk also means there's plenty of time to get some gorgeous entrance photos.
After the short wait he endured, it's great to see such a natural look of elation on Shadi's face. Before the wedding ceremony started the groom looked really nervous throughout all the time I spent with him, and not just because I was there snapping away either. As soon as his bride met him at the end of that aisle though, he completely changed and looked so relaxed.
Another fantastic feature of Dumbleton Hall is that the bride and groom exchange their vows and wedding rings in front of a huge bay window that just pours natural light into the room. So many wedding venues are dark or rely heavily on artificial lighting, so it's so refreshing to be able to shoot at a relatively low camera sensitivity, which delivers the best quality.
To add some context, the photo above shows the couple's reaction to a reading that's taking place out-of-frame and the image below shows a conversation between the groomsmen during the signing of the register.
I absolutely love this moment, captured as the bride and groom were walking back down the aisle. After only a few paces, the father of the bride out stretched his hand in order to shake the hand of the groom, truly showing his approval of the pairing.
This was the first time I took this style of photo but it's now one I always try to look out for - it's the view of the confetti line-up, as seen from the perspective of the bride and groom.
There's at least an acre of lawn immediately to the side of Dumbleton Hall that's a great place for the formal family photos. It's close enough to the terrace where the drinks reception takes place that people are aware of what's going on, but far enough away that you can snap away unobstructed. The best part from a photographer's viewpoint is that which ever way you're facing to take the photos you have a great background. On an overcast day, you can take photos in the opposing direction to that which I have in the images below, and have the lake and willow tree as the backdrop. On bright and sunny days, I never ask my clients to look into the sun, but even with the sun behind them I can still shoot into gorgeous scenery.
Immediately after I had finished taking the formal family photos, I took the bride and groom for a short walk to take some stunning portraits of the two of them. On the terrace, a singing duo performed, and when we were almost out of ear-shot, they played one of the songs specifically requested by the bride and groom. They took this opportunity to take a dance in the grounds, and I was careful not to interrupt this beautiful candid moment.
Where possible I try to avoid photographing people in direct sunlight, but I saw an opportunity for a great photo and just had to take it. The sun was bearing down and illuminating the green-yellow leaves of this tree, and it was so bright it still appeared to glow in the middle of the day. I got down in the grass, shooting from a low angle so I could frame the bride and groom between the long grass at the bottom and the brightly back-lit leaves at the top.
The grounds surrounding Dumbleton Hall looked absolutely stunning for Harriet and Shadi's wedding, and the bright summer sun lit up the trees and grasses like nothing else. The colours on show made for a great natural canvas against which I could photograph the bride and groom.
After a short time spent photographing the bride and groom I popped back inside Dumbleton Hall to take some photos of the room setup before and of the guests moved inside. Earlier in the morning, before I met with the bride, I noticed an enormous patch of freshly flowered bluebells on a piece of sloping land at the back of the hall. I knew that I wanted to take some photos here, but felt that the bright midday sun was far from ideal. I checked the weather forecast with the hotel's reception, and as no rain was due, I informed the bride and groom that we'd go back out to the bluebells after the wedding breakfast and speeches were finished.
Harriet and Shadi's wedding cake featured a traditionally iced single tier on top (for cutting after the wedding and then keeping) with 100 cupcakes tiered below in several different flavours. Cupcakes are a great idea for weddings, especially if you intend on serving cake at any time throughout the day. It saves the time and effort of someone actually dividing up the wedding cake, and they're so much easier to serve. Wedding cake is usually piled on a platter and served on napkins, but beautifully finished cupcakes are so much more inviting and come ready to eat.
Harriet and Shadi opted for a traditional welcoming receiving line at the entrance to the dining hall where the guests were to be seated for the wedding breakfast. This is a great time for some natural photos of the wedding guests, with a whole range of emotions being displayed.
The father of the bride kicked-off the speeches to a roaring reception. As the top table is positioned in the same place that the bride and groom exchanged their wedding vows, it benefits from the same enormous light source that I used earlier during the ceremony.
Cutting of the cake - often easier said than done as can be witnessed below. The cake was placed atop a stack of cupcakes, and the stand proved not to be too rigid! Sure, this isn't your traditional cutting of the wedding cake photo, but isn't this just so much more authentic?
Once the speeches were complete and the cake had been cut, I asked the bride and groom if they'd mind joining me for a few photos in the bluebells that I had spotted earlier. The walk up the grassy slope wasn't easy in a wedding dress and heels so I asked that a couple of bridesmaids could lend a hand too. They agreed on the stipulation that they could bring their wine with them!
The golden evening sun was hitting Dumbleton Hall at just the right angle, illuminating the whole of the building as I stood and watched. It very quickly became apparent that a fantastic photo opportunity was unfolding before me, so I knelt down and snapped away as the bride, groom and bridesmaids walked through the frame.
The area that the bluebells occupied was vast and the opportunities were endless. I thought far enough ahead that I might need a choice of lenses with me, so took both my 70-200mm zoom lens as well as a few wider primes, giving me more shooting options once we got there. I did my usual trick of 'stand there and pretend I'm not here.' I have a good eye for what makes a great photo, and I usually know how I want to shoot an image before I actually press the shutter button, but posing is unnatural and for a lot of my clients, posing in front of a camera is something they've not done before. I don't want my clients to look back at their wedding photographs in 20, 30 or 40 years time and think of the pose that they're striking or how awkward they felt. I want them to look back at their photos, see them stood in an amazing surrounding and actually remember exactly how the moment felt. That's not something you can emote with a pose, but it is something that will come back to them time and time again, as it is, after all, the bride and groom being their normal selves. (With a photographer 40 yards away taking photos...)
It would have been remiss of me to have walked the bride all of that way, and not taken any photos of her alone, in her wedding dress offset against the amazing backdrop of the bluebells. The photos are absolutely worth the effort, even if getting the bride out of the field was easier said than done!
We took a slow and casual stroll back towards Dumbleton Hall in time for the start of the evening reception. The ceremony room had once again been cleared and was transformed into a disco, with a dance floor set up at the one end and seats dotted around for the guests who forgot to bring their dancing shoes. For these images, I placed a couple of flashguns behind the bride and groom and remotely controlled them using the camera and a radio transmitter. It's nigh on impossible to get this same effect using disco lights alone - Whilst disco lights produce this effect in photos, and are bright enough to create the desired look, it's not possible to time a photo when both disco lights are pointing at you, with the bride and groom exactly where you want them. This way, I allow the bride and groom to enjoy their dance, pick the moments when I choose to take the photos (based on how they look through the viewfinder) and rest assured that the light is doing what I want, when I want it to.
I was present for the throwing of the bouquet which actually happened after dark. I was able to light the scene with off-camera strobes to capture the action.
The bride and groom rounded-off their evening with wedding sparklers. Many couples choose to pose for a photo with their guests and their sparklers in a setup very much like the confetti throwing earlier. Harriet and Shadi however were more keen to just let their wedding guests light the sparklers and have a blast!
Wedding tip: If you're planning a wedding and like the idea of having wedding sparklers, make sure you purchase the slow-burning variety. A normal sparkler sparkles for around 30 seconds, which is fine for individuals, but if you're lighting 60 sparklers at the same time, by the time you have the last one lit the first one has usually fizzled out. Slow burning sparklers last closer to two minutes, giving you much more opportunity to really nail a stunning sparklers photo. Finally, buy enough sparklers that you can setup the photos you want twice - If you're planning on a photo with 25 guests, buy 50 sparklers. They're not too expensive, but it can be tricky capturing a perfect photo, especially at night. Give your photographer two chances to nail it and the rewards will pay dividends.