The Elms Hotel and Spa Wedding Photography
Rachel & Phil's wedding at The Elms Worcestershire
In the year leading up to Rachel & Phil's wedding at the Elms Hotel & Spa in the Worcestershire countryside, I had photographed a couple of charity events at the venue so I was vaguely familiar with it. Having never photographed a wedding here before though, I was keen to meet up with the bride and groom a couple of weeks before their wedding and have a look at it from a fresh perspective - that of a wedding photographer. The day we picked for our meeting was cold and blustery, a far cry from the day we experienced for their wedding! The sun was shining, the daffodils were in bloom and it was a lovely, tranquil day.
Usually when I arrive at a wedding, I head straight for where the bride is getting ready. As I was walking to reception I literally bump into Rachel, the bride, who tells me that the family are all dressing the venue. Getting ready, having your wedding and reception all at the same venue makes my life very easy. I especially enjoy it because I get to see the wedding day coming together. If you're at the bride's house for example, you don't get to see the hard work that goes into making the venue look the way it does. If everything is all at the same location, it makes my job as a photojournalist almost effortless.
Each of the tables in the wedding reception room was named after a breed of chicken in case you were wondering!
It was lovely seeing the whole family 'chipping in' with the venue decor. The bride and groom had actually produced all of the table centrepieces themselves; painting the wellies gold, cutting the wood for them to stand on and even arranging their own flowers, having bought them from a wholesaler. The amount of work they must have put in was surely huge, but ultimately worth while. Not only does this save a lot of money - but you can look back on your wedding and know you put a truly personal touch on the day.
One of the stars of the day was Wilbur, Rachel and Phil's dog. The Elms are a dog-friendly hotel which is rare, but was ultimately one of the deciding factors for the couple in choosing where they got married. I'm a huge dog person myself, and I know how close some people are with their pets - not being allowed their dog at the wedding would be akin to missing a member of their family. (There are plenty of dog photos to follow!)
Rachel and Phil's wedding was the first time that some members of either family had met, which made for some fantastic imagery. There's nothing better than getting photos like this, showing real emotion. For this style of photo (as with the receiving line you'll see later) my preferred focal length is 35mm as this matches the field-of-view of the human eye, allowing the viewer to really feel like they were there at the time the shutter release was pressed.
As I mentioned previously, at most weddings, I would spend most of the time with the bride and bridesmaids, having their hair and makeup done by professionals of their respective industry. For Rachel and Phil's wedding though, I chose to do things another way. There was so much activity in the morning, with members of both families coming together to make the wedding venue look truly unique and very special.
The morning for the bride and groom was a well orchestrated ballet of not running into each other. It was nerve-wracking at times, with both the bride and groom staying at the same location. Somehow they managed to avoid each other before the wedding, but as troublesome as it might seem having them both in close vicinity, it was wonderful for me. Normally, to capture both the bride and the groom separately on the morning of a wedding requires two wedding photographers, not here though!
Keeping with the DIY feel of the wedding, the bride, her mum and step dad were tasked with decorating the wedding cake! After 10 minutes of trying to get it perfectly level, they set about adding fresh and sugared flowers - the results of which can be seen further down this article.
With Rachel and Phil now both turning their attention to getting dressed, I took a few snaps around The Elms, as it was getting towards the time for the wedding and everything was pretty much as ready as it was ever going to be. The ceremony room at the Elms is in a wonderful location, with light flooding into the room from what is the front of the hotel. The quality of the light is bright and soft, which is absolutely the type of light you need for weddings and portraiture.
Wilbur the dog got his own letter along with the bride and groom! The letters were placed just inside the front door to The Elms, allowing them to be easily seen by all of the wedding guests upon arrival.
One of the best men was running slightly late, meaning I had to take the photos of the groom and his groomsmen a little closer to the wedding than I normally would have liked, but the photos haven't suffered in any way. Owing to the shape of the hotel, the path that leads to the main entrance is secluded and shaded, again giving the perfect light for wedding photography.
Inside the Elms, the light level is kept relatively low which gives the venue a homely, charming feel. This also means that the natural light from the windows is more impactful, and can be used to great advantage when it comes to portraits like that of Phil below.
With the groomsmen making their final preparations downstairs in the hotel lobby, I headed back upstairs to one of the suites where Rachel and the bridesmaids were getting ready. Before long it was time for the wedding ceremony to start!
The confetti cones, like almost everything else for their wedding, were handmade by the bride and groom!
For the wedding ceremony, I was able to stand at the front, beside the registrars. The light was coming in from windows behind me, which had a really gentle fall-off. This meant that the bride and groom were illuminated beautifully, with the guests behind them being ever so slightly darker in the image, really helping the couple to stand out.
I shot the entire wedding service with a 50mm prime lens, at an aperture of f/2. This proved to be just enough to keep the important parts in focus, with everything else falling away into a smooth blur.
As soon as the bride and groom and then the guests had left the ceremony room, an informal receiving line seemed to organise itself. This is one of my favourite parts of the day - the bride and groom get to speak to all of their wedding guests who are usually emotional for having just come from the service only a few moments previous. With the right light (and of course presenting the photo in black and white) the imagery is just so moving.
For these photos once again I chose to shoot with a 35mm lens (which has the same field of view as the human eye,) to really give the feeling that you're there inside the image.
The wedding guests made their way outside once they had finished being greeted by the newlyweds, ready for the confetti photo.
For the group photo that you see below, I made my way upstairs to the room that's central in the hotel. Luckily it had been hired out by one of the wedding guests who was happy to give me the key to their room! This was the idea time to take this photo as everyone was already outside, having just thrown the confetti. I would usually take the biggest group photo towards the end of all of the photos to be taken, but I'm happy to change the way I do things in order to make the day go a little easier for everyone involved.
For the smaller family photos, we moved to the rear lawn of The Elms. The early Spring sun was low in the sky which produced a lovely warm light.
When it came time to take the 'couple's photos' I decided that we'd start in the same place. I had timed the couple's shoot with the wedding guests being called to dinner for two reasons. Firstly, this means that the bride and groom get to spend as much time as possible with their guests. Secondly, the wedding guests don't feel like they're missing anything - they're pre-occupied taking their seats for the wedding breakfast and at the same time the bride and groom don't have to 'pose' in front of anyone they know!
Keeping the sun behind the bride and groom meant that I always had the best light to work with. The sunlight was warm and created a beautiful rim-light effect around the couple, lifting them from the dark background that I had chosen to photograph them against. That same light also produces a lovely glow that's very flattering. All of these photos are either taken with an 85mm portrait lens or my trusted old 35mm. I try to only shoot with two focal lengths as I feel it makes for better continuity when you're looking back at the images. Using zoom lenses or a range of different focal lengths tends to throw the depth of field and perspective around, which can feel unsettling.
As the wedding took place in March, the garden was somewhat sparse when it came to flowers and other sources of colour. The only thing I had to work with was the sunlight itself, and the contrast I was able to put into the image by shooting against dark backgrounds whilst having the couple in light. The effect works rather well!
Walking back towards the wedding reception, I noticed that in one part of the garden that joined onto the spa, there was a small patch of daffodils that I realised I could use to add a splash of yellow to the photos. I positioned the bride and groom at roughly the distance I thought I would need them, and keeping the sun behind them, knelt down to take a photo through the flowers.
As you can see from the two images below, the wedding cake looked amazing! It really does go to show that you don't have to miss out by saving and doing certain things yourself - and before you ask, no, Rachel isn't a professional baker or florist... she breeds chickens!
As soon as everyone had taken their seats, it was time for the speeches to begin. The maid of honour spoke first, followed by the grandfather of the bride. The bride even stood and said a few words of her own which was lovely. I always think that black and white lends itself so well to this sort of photo. Removing all of the distractions of colour allows you to really focus in on what's happening within the image.
Just as the wedding breakfast was finishing, the sun was beginning to set, and the light was just incredible. On my list of group photos, I still had to take one of the groom and his groomsmen together. I decided to start with this (after they got their mandatory selfie out of the way) but as soon as I realised just how good the light looked in photos, I ran back in to get the bride too!
All of these images were shot with my beloved 85mm portrait lens at an aperture of f/2, which really allows the background to melt away. It gives the groomsmen in the image below the appearance of having been 'photoshopped' or superimposed into the image.
With the sun now having set, we made our way back inside The Elms. The bride and groom had brought a bench with them that they were asking the wedding guests to sign (or draw stick figures on.) I thought this was a cracking idea - you see signing books all the time, and I often wonder how often couples get them out of the cupboard to read them. With a lick of varnish this bench will sit proud in their garden for decades, and every time they sit to rest they can take in some of the messages left for them by their loved ones.
I spent the remainder of the wedding reception photographing candids of people enjoying themselves. Time seemed to fly by and before anyone knew it, it was time to cut the cake and get the party underway!
For the first dance, I did my usual trick of placing two flashguns behind the band, in order to give the images a little more life. On-camera flash often looks flat and boring, and no flash at all doesn't really work when it's this dark! One of the things I love the most about the image below is the wedding guest's clapping hands at either side of the frame. It's a nice way of centring the bride and groom in the photo.
I thought the 'Floss Dance' had seen it's day back in 2018 but it seems I was wrong. Sadly.
As always, I wanted to leave the bride and groom with a 'big picture' - something they can stick on their wall as a piece of art. To be honest, most of my 'big pictures' I like so much I could actually frame and have in my office.
I spent some time looking around the venue, at the various trees that were found around the carpark and at the back of the venue, searching for inspiration, something different. There was one tree in the car park that I thought had promise but ultimately, it was a tree in a car park, and taking a photo without cars in proved impossible. It wasn't until I was to walk back into The Elms that I realised I could use the building itself. After all, the building is beautiful and the two wings, jutting out at either side were like arms hugging the couple. As the light one the building wasn't really sufficient, I used a flash on a small tripod, placed between the couple and the building, facing back towards the front door. At the same time, I used a second flash in the same location, but this time pointing towards the couple and myself. This provided a much needed rim-light to lift the couple in the image and make them really pop. I think it worked rather well!
This image draws to a close Rachel and Phil's wedding images. It was my first wedding at the Elms and I loved it. I can't wait to shoot there again, which, luckily, at the time of writing this, is only 36 hours away!