Wood Norton Wedding Photography
Wood Norton Weddings
I have been a recommended photographer at the Wood Norton now for a number of years and to this date it remains one of my favourite Worcestershire wedding venues. It's as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside and whatever the weather, you're going to end up with a lovely set of wedding photos.
The Wood Norton Hotel near Evesham is a Grade II listed mansion, which was completed in 1897 as a getaway for exiled European royalty. A stunning example of Victorian opulence, there are terraces and vistas taking in the views from the local countryside. A new formal garden was created in 2013 in French Renaissance Parterre style making this stunning Worcestershire wedding venue as grand on the outside as it is on the inside. The venue describes itself as 'A real oasis; room after room is much as Royalty left it in 1912, but with a twist of the 21st Century'
Alison & Nick's Wood Norton Wedding
I've done weddings here in the snow, but at Alison and Nick's wedding we experienced quite the opposite - extreme heat. I remember their day well for two reasons - firstly, it was the day of my 30th birthday, but secondly, because I've never been so hot anywhere in my entire life! The heat actually made us do things during the day in a slightly different order, so the photos below might look like they're not in chronological order, but I assure you they are... I'll explain as we go!
I've always said that the light in the Wood Norton is unlike anything else. The combination of the large windows and and reddish-brown panelling on the walls means that you can create some really striking portraits in the bedrooms where most bridal parties choose to get ready. The suite in which Alison and her four bridesmaids were using was large enough that the makeup artists was able to use the living space, whilst the hairdresser was able to use one of the adjoining bedrooms. This meant that I was able to stand between the two rooms and cover both angles at once.
I'm sure Alison would be the first to tell you that she may have found the wedding dress-buying process a little tricky. I believe the one pictured below was the third wedding dress she had purchased, and this one only arrived less than a week before the wedding! Needless to say she was very happy with her final choice, and it really suited her and the day.
One of the ways I like to add context to an image is to shoot-through people or objects, to include added subject matter in the frame. In the above photo I was able to shoot through an open doorway, and frame the main subject against two other bridesmaids on the right and the doorframe on the left.
For the photo of Alison's shoes I used the makeup artist's hand-held mirror that was placed on a stool at the end of the bed. I'll admit this isn't the usual way that I might choose to photograph bridal shoes but I saw the opportunity and wasn't going to miss out!
I get to weddings early. I always have done and will continue to do so - a lot of wedding photographers say they work 'all day' but they arrive for the last hour of bridal prep and disappear straight after the first dance. Instead, I tend to arrive when the hair and makeup artists do, so I'm able to tell the whole story of a wedding from start to finish. This means that I often spend 5-6 hours with the bride before the wedding is due to start. In that time often comes a small lull in activity where I'm able to sneak off and take some photos of the venue and the wedding itself being set up. It's always a fascinating time, seeing the venue go from being whatever it is normally (in the Wood Norton's case, a hotel) to being a wedding that you've put your personal stamp on.
I got back upstairs just in time to see the brides' and bridesmaids' flowers being delivered, and captured so much emotion in a single frame (below) and of course, I couldn't help but make it a black and white!
Things were starting to progress quickly and before any real time had passed, I was informed that Nick and his best man were arriving down stairs. Luckily, from where I was I could get to reception within 20 seconds or so, meaning I was in the right place at the right time to capture these images of a very cool and collected looking Nick arriving by taxi. A really unique touch for his wedding, he had purchased matching sunglasses for all of the groomsmen!
After Nick had settled into the venue and met with some friends, it was time for a few formal (and some less formal) photos of him and his ushers in the gorgeous grounds of the Wood Norton. It was at this stage when we started to really appreciate how warm it was getting. It was a cloudy sky, which meant there wasn't direct sunlight to contend with (which can be a nightmare for photographers) but it did mean that it was really started to get very humid. I felt for Nick and the groomsmen in their wonderful three-piece suits - I had ditched my jacket a long time ago!
I really like the images above and below - Nick and the boys were determined to get a serious looking photo of them all together, but as you can see it wasn't too long before the laughter broke out! Given the fact that all of the groomsmen were in matching glasses, I thought it would be a great opportunity to reenact the famous 'Reservoir Dogs' imagery - all line abreast and walking towards the camera (in my mind it was in slow-mo with 'Little Green Bag' playing in the background)
I got back upstairs to the girls just as they had finished getting dressed, with the makeup artist and hair stylist putting their finishing touches in place.
I really love the following two images (I really love all of these images but you know what I mean!) - I've used the same technique described earlier, shooting through two of the bridesmaids to help frame the subject. The atmosphere had been amazing all morning, and it was a really nice moment to get on film, with the one bridesmaid doing up the wedding dressed as the others watched on.
I switched positions to get some more detail-orientated images of the dress actually being done up.
With all of the dresses on and the final touches to makeup applied, we had a few minutes to take some formal portraits of the girls before the registrars needed to interview the bride. The combination of an overcast sky outside, large windows in the Wood Norton and the dark-wood background made for some beautiful pre-wedding photos. The light through the windows was soft and flattering and just fantastic to work with (this is really the kind of light that all photographers want to work with all the time) and the dark background means there are no distractions in the image. I used an 85mm portrait lens and stood as far back as I could, whilst at the same time using a wide aperture in order to ensure only the bridesmaids and bride were in focus, with everything else falling into an out-of-focus blur behind.
I switched to a wider-angle lens in order to get the group photo you see above. This proved to be the perfect choice of lens for what happened next too: The bride's son was giving her away, but in the build-up to the wedding, the bride hadn't seen her son in his suit, nor had he seen his mother in her wedding dress. Their 'big reveal' or whatever you'd like to call it was a perfect moment that was just great to catch on film. There's so much emotion in the following frames and that's really what my job as a wedding photographer is all about.
As soon as the registrars arrived to interview Alison, I took my leave and went downstairs, into what was now the blazing summer sun, and took up position to the side of the pergola where the outside weddings at the Wood Norton take place. It was HOT. To this day I still don't know whether Nick, in the image below, is wiping away a tear or a bead of sweat!
From the position I took I was able to capture everything, from the bridesmaids arrival and the groom's reaction, to the bride walking down the aisle. When Alison had reached the end of the aisle, I stepped back and took up my new position to the side of the pergola to watch the wedding ceremony unfold before me.
Luckily for them, the bride and groom, witnesses and registrars were all in the shade. I however, was not. I was stood in the direct sun, in a black suit, fully expecting to burst into flames at any moment. If you're interested, the BBC recorded the local weather as having highs of 34c (!!!) and 95% humidity. I really felt for the guests who were sitting in direct sunlight with no means of escape during the service.
I really don't like moving during wedding ceremonies if I can help it - which is good because registrars don't like photographers moving during weddings and vicars really, really don't like it! If I do move, I pick my timing carefully - there has to be something else going on that means my movement doesn't distract people. In a church wedding, I'll move when the hymns are being sung - this way people are focused on reading the lines and pretending to sing (largely) and their voices masks my footsteps. In a civil ceremony, I'll only move when someone else is - in this case, for the image above, I moved when the father of the groom came up to do a reading, and moved back into position when he had finished. (If you look in the bottom right hand corner of the above image, you can see one of my cameras which indicates where I was stood for the ceremony itself.)
With the wedding ceremony over, I left the bride and groom to meet and greet their guests without any intervention - this is by far one of my favourite times to photograph during a wedding. Everyone acts naturally, no one strikes an awkward pose before the camera and everyone seems genuinely happy and excited to be there. I have always thought that my job is about story telling and you really can't do that if you don't, in some way, capture the emotion of the day. Without showing people's emotions and reactions to things, a lot of the photographs taken are almost meaningless. The 20 minutes after a wedding when people are swamping the bride and groom with love and affection is just gold.
When everyone had given their best wishes and congratulation to the bride and groom, it was time to take the group photos. It had been so hot during the summer of 2018 that most wedding venues were really struggling to keep their grass green - I remember being asked by one venue to 'photoshop' their formerly green grass back into photos! To get around this, I took a lot of the smaller group photos on the path that skirts around the outside of the front lawn at the Wood Norton. This is no bad thing - the background is beautiful and in summer, the sun is directly behind people which is ideal - who wants to be staring directly into the sun and squinting in a photo?!
Whilst the group photos were being taken, the wedding guests were being entertained by a magician. As you can see from the image below, he was a real hit! I could fill an entire portfolio with images of guests reacting in wonderment.
I always recommend 8-10 group photos as being a good number for a bride and groom to aim for. It's enough that you should be able to get every single person into at least one photo, whilst at the same time not being so many that the remaining wedding guests feel like they're just stood around waiting for them to end. If however you do worry that your guests might need a little light entertainment for this part of the wedding day, it might be worth looking into options such as garden games (nothing makes me happier than watching drunk wedding guests playing giant Jenga) or a magician.
For the group photo I went back upstairs to the bridal suite where the bride and bridesmaids had been getting ready that very morning. There's a small Juliet balcony that provides a perfect opportunity for the largest of group photos. The key thing to make images like this work is height - as as photographer you need to be able to get to an elevated position in order to get everyone in to the frame.
After the group photo and a quick confetti photo, it was time for the bride and groom to head up to the Orangery and take a look at the wedding breakfast setup before any of the other guests had seen it. What would usually happen immediately after this time is myself, the bride and groom would head back into the gardens of the Wood Norton for some photos as the guests walk in the opposite direction and head up to the reception room. I had an idea though that made life a little easier on everyone - that we wouldn't take the couple's photos now; instead we would take them after the wedding breakfast. It was well over thirty degrees centigrade and almost 100% humidity, and no one wanted to be standing around in that whilst positing for photos. Instead, I suggested that the couple's photos be taken after the wedding breakfast and speeches had finished. This meant that we could all cool-down in the nicely air conditioned Orangery, wait for it to cool down a few degrees outside before venturing out for some photos. It was absolutely the right decision, I can only describe the heat at the time as 'oppressive'!
The reception room - The Orangery, looked absolutely stunning. The pink roses in the centrepieces just adding a splash of colour into the room, with the real focus being on the cake table in the centre. The bride and groom had opted for the best of both worlds - a traditional, tiered wedding cake, with a tower of cupcakes of various flavours too. This gives you something to cut and keep as per tradition, with the cupcakes being much easier to hand out and eat than a piece of cake otherwise would be.
[Below] Not quite your traditional cake topper - but then again it's at the bottom of the cake! Still it's a wonderful idea; the whole day was about the family, so what better way to demonstrate that than the addition of these figurines, hand painted to match the outfits of the wedding party.
Once the bride and groom had been welcomed into the room, it was time for the speeches to get underway. Alison started the speeches in lieu of the father of the bride speech, and there wasn't a dry eye in the room. The best man rounded up the speeches in a way that had everyone in tears again, but this time tears of laughter!
I think when you start photographing weddings (which for me was 16 years ago at the time of writing) it's very easy to assume that the speeches are all about the people speaking, but in my style of photography - where I aim to capture the true emotions of people, I tend to focus more on the people listening than to the people speaking. As you can see from the images below you can get so much in terms of images of people's reactions, in a short space of time. I've presented these images in black and white to increase the focus of the image - removing colour removes potential distractions and really allows the viewer to get to the heart of the image.
I really loved the underlying theme for the reception - gin! The tables were all named after different bottles and outside, empty gin bottles with fairy-lights in them lit the path back to the pain hotel.
The cutting of the wedding cake signalled the end of the first part of the wedding reception. The catering staff divided up the cake and along with the cupcakes, it was presented alongside tea and coffee for the guests to enjoy back in the main building of the Wood Norton. I was photographing the guests enjoying themselves on the terrace (the room where the teas and coffees were served is directly underneath the Juliet balcony that is attached to the bridal suite) when I noticed that the bride and groom had made their way outside, so I was able to grab a few frames of the two of them sharing this romantic moment.
Champagne and cupcakes in the late summer evening - what's not to love?!
As I mentioned earlier, Nick and Alison's wedding day was hot. Really really hot. The wedding guests at this stage were well looked after - most of which were outside, on the terrace and under parasols with cool refreshments in hand, or inside one of the air conditioned bars. The bride and groom and myself however still had to go and take the couples photos that we had delayed doing earlier under the midday sun. It was now about 8pm, the sun was lower in the sky and a little cloud cover had started to form. It was much cooler than it had been earlier, but it was still very humid so I didn't want to move the bride and groom too much or rush them - we would take things slow and steady.
For the first set of photos I started in the formal garden that's to the side of the Wood Norton. Pink roses that matched the ones in the bride's bouquet and the centrepieces in the reception were in abundance, so again to add a splash of colour and a natural frame to the images, I choose to shoot through some of these beautiful flowers, with the resulting effect being visible above and below.
The light was pretty much perfect at this point, with the evening sun peaking through the clouds from time to time. This is the kind of light that I just love working in - it's soft and warm and as forgiving to work with as it is flattering for my subjects. Even I'd look good in this light!
These photos were taken against the perimeter wall that runs along the outskirts of the garden and ultimately stops guests being able to fall down the steep slope on the other side! I included varying amounts of wall in the images, using the architecture to lead your eye into the centre of the frame, towards the bride and groom.
One of my favourite places to take wedding photos at the Wood Norton is between this avenue of trees for lack of a better term. If you're not familiar with the Wood Norton, the hotel itself is slightly behind me over my right shoulder as this was taken, with the front lawn directly to my right and the formal garden that you've seen in previous images is behind the trees to the left of the frame. When you're photographing in the evening, from late spring towards the end of summer, if you get the timing right, the sun appears through the trees at the back of the image. I love how the trees again create a wonderful natural frame for the image. There was one (now very famous) photo that I thought to take here, later in the day when the sun had gone down completely. Of course at this time I didn't know if it would work at all, and I really didn't expect to get the resulting image that I did... Keep reading for the result!
I continued shooting the couples photos on the main lawn, now in the shade of the giant trees behind them. This lead us naturally to the rope swing which I think I used to great effect! I love Alison and Nick's reactions/expressions in the bottom two images of this set, taken under the tree. You can't fake a look like that!
[Below] Perhaps the best thing about the weather that we'd experienced this summer (apart from how harsh the grass had found it) was just how lush and ripe everything looked. I decided to take a few last photos whilst shooting through some of the foliage. I love the stark contrast between the rich greens at the edges of the frames to the white/blue sky and the crispness of the wedding dress and the groom's shirt in the middle.
Once the formal photos were complete, the bride and groom rejoined their wedding guests on the terrace for a few drinks before everyone headed back to the Orangery for the latter stages of the reception, which was kicked-off with the bride and groom taking their first dance as husband and wife.
As I mentioned earlier, the day was as much about the family as it was Alison and Nick. After a few short moments on the dance floor, the bride and groom invited their children to join them for this magical moment. I was so happy to have been in the right place at the right time for this lovely image.
Speaking of being in the right place at the right time...
If you've stuck with me thus far you're doing well, because I realise this has become quite a long wedding write-up (but what a wedding it was) but it would be remiss of me to not speak about what's certainly the most well known wedding photo taken at the Wood Norton.
I knew that I wanted to take this photo - the image idea came to me earlier in the day, when I was photographing the bride and groom in the exact same position, only in daylight. I think it was taken at around 10pm - you can see that the sky still has an inky-blue to it, so it wasn't quite properly dark yet. I set the image up, took a test photo (when you're shooting at night using lights, it's hard to picture what the image will look like until you actually take it) and when I was ready, I placed the bride and groom where I wanted them and took a single photo. The lights had worked, everything triggered as it should, so I took a look at the camera screen to see what I had got...
'oh my god... the camera is broken' I thought to myself, as I was kneeling there in the dust with the bride and groom some 50 metres from me, not aware that something drastic had just happened. As I looked at the screen, the image was covered with these white spots. I looked to the bride and groom to see if I could see what was causing it and there was seemingly nothing there. I could only assume that my camera's sensor had developed a fault. I took another photo using the same settings and the white spots were still there - only they had moved a little. I took a third photo and they had gone completely. It wasn't until I zoomed in to 400% magnification on the back of my camera that I realised that I had captured a one-in-a-million photo. Just as I had taken the first couple of images, a swarm of bugs had silently been passing over head. The bright light from the flash had illuminated them perfectly, but of course when I looked to see what was causing it, without the flash light I couldn't see anything. Relieved that my camera wasn't broken - and that I had captured something truly special, I ran over to the bride and groom to show them the image. They were as speechless as I was. What a wonderful way to bring a close to both their wedding, and my 30th birthday!