One question we photographers are commonly asked by couples either before or after booking is this: “Have you worked at our venue before” or “Do you do a site visit to the venue before the day to look for good places to take photos?”
It may surprise some readers to learn that, for us at least, we always hope beyond hope that the answer to the first question is that no we’ve never been there before and can categorically say that no is always the answer to the second.
On the face of it this seems admittedly bizarre. Surely if it’s a venue that you’ve worked in before then you already know from experience what is and isn’t going to work, and if you have never visited before then it seems obvious that you would want to go and have a look so that you have plenty of ideas going into the day. Some photographers would certainly subscribe to both of those theories and every photographer works differently, but for me (and most other photographers we’ve spoken to lately) knowing the venue in advance of the day is at best an irrelevance and at worst a hindrance.
Now don’t get me wrong, I always make sure I have plenty of time on the day of the wedding itself to take a quick look around the venue and make sure I know where everything is, but beyond that it is not really the nooks and crannies of the venue that will define what’s going to make a good photo, it’s you: the bride and groom, your guests, and the available light in that exact place in that exact moment which no-one can predict ahead of time. Even what appears to be the most incredible of settings may look bland if it’s overcast and shadowy whilst, under the right light, the simplest of backgrounds can become something extraordinary. There’s literally no telling what will work until you’re there in the moment, and it’s not just the light that will affect the photographer’s decisions at that time.
The photographer needs to know what you look like dressed up in your wedding outfits before choosing how to place you. They need to know how you interact, whether you’re elegant and regal or fun and easy-going, whether you’re a smiley, cheeky couple or cool and debonair. They need to see the emotion in your eyes, they need to match you with your surroundings. There are 1000 things that might turn a photograph from a nice but plain portrait to an extraordinary image from the way you smile to that bird that happened to fly overhead at just the right moment and the fact that you visited the venue a year before doesn’t even make the list. The best photography is spontaneous; as Henri Cartier-Bresson once said it’s about capturing the “Decisive Moment” and that moment can never be anticipated more than a few seconds before it happens.
For these very reasons knowing a venue too well can actually be disastrous. The fact that you’ve tried a shot in one location before and found it didn’t work is likely to mean you won’t even bother checking it the next time and that can be a fatal mistake. A shift of light or a different position might turn something terrible into something amazing and for me I’d rather have that freedom to let my imagination run wild than be restricted by the memories of what I’ve tried before. Every wedding and every couple is completely different, entirely unique and whilst we of course rightly learn from our past mistakes, we as photographers should never allow them to hold us back from taking a chance or find ourselves producing carbon copies of shots that “worked the last time. “
So worry not whether your photographer has visited your venue once, twice or never before, think only whether you connect with their images. On a wedding day YOU are the photograph right there, in that place in that moment, and no amount of scouting can ever prepare you for just how powerful, just how emotional that moment and that image is going to be. Live in the moment, enjoy your day and let your photographer worry about the rest.