Stanbrook Abbey Worcestershire Weddings
Parastou & Neil's Anglo-Persian epic at Stanbrook Abbey
I haven't written the article for these images yet but feel free to take a look all the same!
Stanbrook Abbey, nestled in the Worcestershire countryside on the road towards Callow End and Upton, is one of my favourite wedding venues. It has pretty much everything you could ask for, whatever the weather. The grounds outside are expansive and varied, giving so much opportunity for some fantastic wedding photography. The inside however is equally generous, and Stanbrook Abbey is perhaps the only wedding venue I know where I would be quite happy doing an entire day's wedding photography without stepping outside.
Parastou and Neil had a Persian wedding, which varies a little to what you might expect from typical tradition. Instead of the typical getting ready - wedding - family photos - couples photos - reception - evening reception the order looks something like this: getting ready - couples photos - family photos - small reception - wedding - big reception - party. Having experienced this a few times now, I can honestly say this is probably how I'd do my wedding! All the stress of having your photos taken is well out of the way before the wedding... when you get married, you've spent a couple of hours together already, so there are no worries there either, and post-wedding you're free to simply enjoy yourselves with your friends and family.
Parastou, the bride, her bridesmaids and the mothers of the bride and groom were all getting ready in the Brides Manor, a link-detached manor house that's at the far end of the venue. The bride's manor has several bed and bathrooms as well as a massive living room, fully fitted kitchen and even two standalone dressing rooms, making it the perfect location for anyone getting ready before a wedding.
One of the other features that belongs to Stanbrook Abbey which makes it perfect for wedding photography, is how the groom and groomsmen have their own private space in which to get ready too, in the form of the groom's parlour. This room, set off from one of the main corridors is a secluded area where a groom can relax with his best friends before the wedding, and maybe add a few finishing touches to his speech!
Neil had provided each of his groomsmen with a personalised gift box, containing everything from soft drinks to whiskey and handkerchiefs to bullet-case cufflinks.
For the vast majority of the morning, I shadowed either the bride or groom, carefully documenting their big day every step of the way. The bride's manor and the groom's parlour are only 200 metres from each other, so going between the couple wasn't an issue.
The bride's wedding dress had the biggest train I had ever seen - and a veil that was even longer! It was easily 24 feet long and it made for some spectacular photos - which you'll see later on in this article!
I've always really liked the lighting in the groom's room. There are no windows, but a massive opaque skylight that gives a wonderful natural light.
The bride took to the living room to perform her finishing touches - lipstick earrings and a necklace. The living room in Bride's Manor isn't often used on the morning of a wedding which is unfortunate. The room itself is again massive, and beautifully appointed.
Then came the time we had all been waiting for - Parastou having her veil placed by the hairdresser. As you can see in the images both above and below, the veil was huge! So huge in fact that I couldn't find a single room in the bride's manor where I could get the entire veil in. In a sitting room on the lower floor, I stood Parastou in a window for some portrait images, and even then, the veil poured out of the room and into the corridor (I was actually stood with my legs splayed and the veil passing underneath me for this image)
Below is another favourite image of mine from the morning of Parastou's wedding. Even with the entire staircase available to me, it still wasn't quite possible to get the entire veil in one photo!
As Parastou and Neil wouldn't be seeing each other for the first time as they walked down the aisle, they opted instead for a first-look. This largely American tradition is becoming more and more popular here in the UK, and it's something I welcome. It's a fantastic opportunity to get some really special images in a more controlled environment.
The reaction Neil showed was exactly what I (and I imagine, his soon-to-be wife) was hoping for. That beaming smile and the huge hug he gave Parastou immediately afterwards. The sunlight bouncing off Parastou's wedding gown illuminated Neil perfectly for the photos, giving the images a real vibrance.
After the first-look it was time for the couples photos. As I mentioned earlier, traditionally, you'd take these images after the wedding, after the family photos are finished. The formal group photos can be stressful, finding people from a crowd and then getting everyone into exactly the same place. Here however, having the couple's photos taken before anything else, means that the couple haven't done anything remotely stressful and they get to spend their first hour together on their wedding day in a really relaxed manner.
As the wedding took place in mid-November, autumn was well underway and the colours in the trees were just gorgeous. We were blessed with sunshine throughout the day which really brought all of the colours out. It wasn't too cold either which was nice - sometimes in November it's freezing to the point where you have to rush through the photos to prevent the couple getting too cold. At Stanbrook Abbey on this day however, things couldn't have been more in our favour.
To the one side of the venue (the side furthest from the old front entrance/main road) is a willow tree that overlooks a small pond, complete with a wooden footbridge. I love taking wedding photos in this location, especially in autumn (just look at those golden tones!) but bizarrely, many of my clients tell me that they're not shown this location when initially viewing the venue!
To capture the intimate feeling in the images below, I used a long telephoto lens and stood back - hopefully allowing the bride and groom to feel like I almost wasn't there, and allowing their true selves to come out in the photos.
I used the shade of the willow tree to capture some really beautiful bride and groom portraits. I always prefer using open-shade where possible as it creates a really flattering light, and means the couple aren't squinting as they look into the camera.
Before the wedding day itself, I had worked out a route that I wished to walk with the bride and groom for their photos, taking us past or through all of the areas wish I intended to use for photos. As it was potentially going to be a cold day, I didn't want to waste any time searching for locations to use or doubling back on myself. The other benefit of this approach is that I was able to get a tonne of photos of the bride and groom walking - I've found this to be the most natural way of photographing people and as you can see below, you always get great results.
Once we had finished the couple's photos outside, it was time to venture back inside and into the warm! Wedding photography at Stanbrook Abbey is always easy, whatever the time of year or whatever the weather is doing; it's one of the only places I know of (in terms of wedding venues) that is as pretty on the inside as it is on the outside! We started in the cloisters, one of the most instantly recognisable parts of the abbey.
I absolutely love the image below, showing (almost) the whole veil. I really like how it leads your eye into the image along with the repeating perspective of the walls and ceiling too. The early winter sun was low and cutting across the abbey, giving plenty of contrast, leading to a really striking image.
After the couples photos were complete, it was time for the wedding itself, after a few formal family photos (I understand that from a traditional British point of view, these events are happening in reverse order but trust it, it's awesome and leads to a really relaxing wedding!)
One of the Persian traditions that I witnessed was the bride writing the names of all of her single female friends who were present at the wedding onto the soles of her shoes - the gesture is meant to bring good luck to those named when it comes to finding love!
It was a little chilly outside, so I really wanted to avoid having the guests waiting out in the cold for long periods of time when it wasn't necessary. Instead, I gathered the guests together that were to be in the photos, and got them to wait just inside the building, in the Piano Bar (which used to be part of the front entrance to the abbey before George's Bar was added at the other end.) This meant I could call upon the guests as and when they were needed, but allowing them to relax and remain warm when they weren't required in front of the camera.
It was cool outside, but aside from a slight chill in the air it was a gorgeous day, with bright sunshine and no wind, allowing us to get all of the photos that we wanted.
The bride usually approaches the Callow Great Hall from the opposite direction from that seen below - the Bride's Manor is on the opposite side of the hall, which is a shame as you don't get to make use of this fantastic location before the wedding.
Once inside the Callow Great Hall at Stanbrook Abbey, it was business as usual in terms of how the wedding went. The main differences of course being that the bride and groom had already spent two hours together before the ceremony, meaning there were perhaps less nerves than there otherwise might have been, and that the bride entered the hall from the left, instead of the right as you'll usually see in photos taken here.
One of my favourite aspects of Stanbrook Abbey is the sheer length of the wedding aisle. The guests get a fantastic view as the bride enters, can watch as she walks the entire length of the hall - rather interestingly, all of the seats face inwards in the hall, instead of facing forwards as you'd usually expect. The length of the aisle, aside from giving the guest a great view, is that the wedding photographer also has plenty of scope for photos. I really enjoy shooting over the groom's shoulder, as it gives the images much more context than just a close-up shot of just the bride and in this case, her brother, as he escorts her down the aisle.
For the ceremony I used an 85mm telephoto lens, allowing me to focus on solely the bride and groom, giving the photos much more of an intimate feel. Depending on the venue and the amount of space you have available to you, as a wedding photographer you sometimes find yourself squashed into a corner with the registrars, using a wider angle lens than you'd like to. Stanbrook Abbey, with it's cavernous great hall, doesn't have any of these issues!
Immediately following the ceremony, the bride and groom made their way back into the Groom's Parlour (which practically adjoins the ceremony room) whilst the wedding guests make their way outside for the confetti photo. As soon as everyone was in place, I ran to get the newlyweds (again I didn't want to keep people in the cold unnecessarily) and we pushed on with the confetti shot!
With the confetti shots in the bag, seeing as all of the guests were already outside, we went straight into the big group photo. I would usually do this on the lawn you can see in the bottom of the image below, but as it had been wet recently, it made more sense to keep everyone on the drive, therefore not getting anyone wet and muddy for no reason!
There were a couple of formal photos that the bride and groom still wanted taken, which you can see above, but after these were completed, the bride and groom were completely free to just sit back, relax and enjoy the company of their guests. This is completely different to how most weddings go, especially as late in the year as this wedding was (when it's dark at 4pm, you can't take the photos after dinner that you would do in summer when it's light until 9pm for example, so you're really up against it.)
Usually, the wedding ceremony finishes and I tend to leave the bride and groom alone with their guests for as long as I can - after all, weddings are about people, not about photos! From there you'd normally take the group photos first, and start the couple's photos just as the wedding guests are being called to dinner. This way, the wedding guests don't 'miss' the newlyweds for any real time at all. Depending on the venue, and who's planned the wedding time table, this part of the day can be really rushed and stressful - having to find groups of people from a much larger group for a formal photo, and then racing the rotation of the earth in order to get the couple's photos done before the sun sets. This wedding was different - as the couple's photos had been started at midday, and 80% of the formal photos taken at 1pm, before the wedding, all of the time for the reception after the wedding was just that - a reception, where everyone could just do their own thing for the rest of the day.
One of the things I was most looking forward to at this wedding was the use of the Callow Great Hall for the wedding breakfast. This was the very first time that Stanbrook had allowed the Great Hall to be used for the wedding breakfast, and I honestly wish they'd been using it for this purpose since it reopened as a wedding venue. The banqueting table filled the length of the hall, and each place setting was laid immaculately. With the royal-blue and gold trim, it looked like Christmas at Hogwarts!
Each place setting was marked with a laser-cut name tag. There was literally no expense spared when it came to the wedding breakfast, and the room was breathtaking.
Before the bride and groom were welcomed into the room for the first time as husband and wife, they had an impromptu receiving line in the entrance. This was a great opportunity for me to get photos of the couple interacting with their guests.
Before the food was served, the couple elected to have the wedding speeches. As beautifully romantic as the candlelit dinner was, it was too dark to photograph in really. In order to get around this, I used off-camera flash, although you really wouldn't be able to tell from the photos! I placed a flash at either end of the hall, and fired them up towards the ceiling, where it disperses and comes back down looking really natural.
One of the more unique things about having a single, long banquet table is during the speeches you can see so many reactions from people in a single image. It's a great way of storytelling in your wedding photos.
After the wedding breakfast was finished, it was time to move onto the evening reception which started with the couple cutting their wedding cake. The reception took place in the Thompson suite, which has now turned into the Thompson dining room/restaurant. The suite was a great place for receptions; space for a band or DJ at one end, with plenty of seating at the opposing end where things are a little quieter. For the first dance, I used a similar lighting technique to the one described above for the speeches, only this time, I had the lights pointing inwards to create a more dramatic look.
Towards the end of the evening, just before I was due to leave I asked Parastou and Neil if they'd mind having a few final photos taken. As I'm sure you're aware, if you've spent any real time on my website, I LOVE taking photos as night. Working when the sun has gone down means, as a photographer, I can completely control the light, generating images exactly the way I want them to look. You can be really creative and produce some magical shots.
For the first one, I used the wall which is at the new end of the building (George's bar to the right of frame, and the Thompson suite on the left.) When we went outside, the lights were bright green and it looked like something from a Hulk movie. I knew the colour of the lights could be changed in reception, so went and put a request in for blue lighting to match the colour scheme of the wedding. I used a flash behind one of the pillars to add the essential light, and I really like the final photo.
For the very last image of the day, we ventured back to the old front door (now the back door) where I created this lovely photo by placing a flash inside the entrance with the bride and groom.
Parastou and Neil's wedding was amazing from start to finish, and I really appreciated the traditional Persian way the day was run. Having a first look followed immediately by the couple's photos was a fantastic way of doing things (which more couples are doing these days) and getting the formal photos out of the way before the wedding meant the entire day was really relaxed. I'd recommend this approach to anyone, and it's certainly the way I'm going to have my wedding!