Wedding planning is a weird thing. However detailed and extravagant you want yours to be or not, it's a day that is so special to you and your fiancé that you want it to be 'perfect'. As in perfectly tailored to meet your vision.
The outfits, the venues, the food, the cake, the music and so much more you spend months putting together. In reality, It's been years in the making. The imagination has been taking place behind the scenes. You have attended other people's weddings giving unsolicited ratings imagining how you would not make the same misses or using them to design details in your mind that are set to make yours most unique ceremony the world has ever witnessed. You know how it goes. You are unique and you want that to show on that day where all eyes will be on you and yours.
It's all in the works even before the ring arrives.
Then the ring arrives and the pursuit of that perfect day begins.
I don't know why it's this way. There's the element of sharing your pure joy with people who matter but the expectations undoubtedly have snowballed out of control to the point where bride-to-be's lose weight from the stress and anxiety of planning one single day in their lives. Or maybe it's the ego's obsession towards unattainable perfection or it's lust to be envied.
To many of us, the concept of having fun and enjoying the day ourselves may be missed altogether.
That would be a topic for another blog post.
From all the choices my partner and I had to make , photography was the most stressful. You can pick all the 'right' venues and colors, hunt down that amazing makeup artist but at the end of it all, what prevents the memories from fading is the pictures you remain with.
So we got to work, we looked around, made a list and then a short list.
It was important to us to pick a professional who knew the ethics and standards of customer care which sadly were qualities that didn't come in abundance in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where our wedding celebrations were held.
So we settled for a photographer who lived in California and had moved to Ethiopia. Long story short, he disappeared with a $1500 down payment and no contract sent after I prematurely and in good faith handed him the money. Before I demanded the money back, he would ignore messages and calls from us requesting a receipt and a contract or to honor the word he gave me to go 'approve' the venue from a photographers perspective and positioning of the altar for our vow exchange ceremony. Needless to say, this blog is not about him. Took a while to let that money go but eventually, as I met more and more people who echoed similar and even worse business encounters with him and the more I noticed myself sinking into rage to get our money back, I decided to release the matter to karma and kept my peace instead.
Back to the drawing board we went.
By that I mean I shifted the whole photography decision to my husband.
I was frustrated. Things were getting too much to handle and the months were closing in too fast. I told him in frustration "anyone, I don't care!"
Fortune would have it, my husband's online research landed him on a British fella with a story to tell. He had quit his office job to pursue his passion for photography and had done a few destination weddings, one of which were in Liberia, which caught my fiancé's eyes. At that point, neither of us knew anything about documentary style wedding photography. All we knew was 'pose, snap, switch it up, pose and snap'.
We had a three way video chat with Matt and we were both convinced that whatever he was pitching, we wanted it!
I say whatever because even though he explained his style in detail, we didn't REALLY know how exactly it would translate into our unique needs and expectations. I guess he didn't have to do much explaining. He was professional yet friendly, reassuring yet not making unrealistic promises and all of that and more spoke to us. It would be his first time in Ethiopia so we knew it would also be an experience he will not forget. 'Great', we thought, the time will be as special for him too, and it felt like we were making a lifelong friend!
We were all set!
With a refreshed sense of excitement and feeling in control again, I went shopping on Pintrest for ideas. I got busy designing specific shots for Matt to plan for and take. Ordered me some chalk boards imagining a shot where my bridesmaids would write where each one met me. Mr and Mrs boards for us to hold in another shot. I didn't stop there, I took screenshots of specific formations and poses the internet threw my way and I thought were romantic and/or funny. You name it. And sent them all to Matt under the heading "wedding day shot ideas", only phrase I left out being "to replicate."
A day later came a lengthy reply that made my jaw drop just a little. He respectfully explained how his style of photography will not leave much time for staged shots and that we will be taking the most advantage of his skills if we allowed him to capture the natural flow of energy on those days. How the spontaneous documentation of the day's events will be more cherishable in his opinion.
He stressed on the fact that the day will go by in the blink of an eye. Therefore, Matt reasoned, the more attention we give to how things are naturally occurring than us spending time to stage them, the more vivid our memories of all the angles of it that we couldn't take note and savor will be. He pleaded there will be many details we will not be able to experience as we would naturally be overwhelmed with joy and attention. That he would like to have the time and freedom to catch and immortalize them instead of instructing a wedding party of 16 people, then more family and friends, on how to be.
'Oh no he didn't just meticulously say no to me', was my initial bridezilla attitude.
But then I re-read his message until I understood and even appreciated his honest plea and standing by what he knows to be qualities he offers. I got the point and agreed to let him do his thing, although I didn't fully know what it was until the day of the wedding and especially the day we received our photos.
"When looking back at their photo, the couple are reminded of all the amazing fun and what it felt like to be there at their wedding, instead of remembering 'oh that's when the photographer told us to do that thing "
Let me just say this, being out of my comfort zone never felt more comfortable.
Matt showed up, became one with our families and culture. He took food bites directly from the fingers of strangers, got elbowed around while he hunted for live action on the dance floor, got poked by taxi drivers as he took shots of us from the median of a busy street in Addis rush hour. He became the butt of many jokes for his sneaky positions as he tried to disappear in a crowd of wedding guests who are too used to being warned and prepared to be a certain way before someone took their photos. It was harder to achieve for him since he was the only caucasian present among hundreds of Ethiopians. Once everyone had an idea of who he was, "Ferenju yetale?!" ("spot the white guy") became a common phrase as friends and family understood just what he meant by repeatedly asking them to not look at the camera but to "just be natural"as they couldn't help the urge to never be caught being less than 'camera ready.'
But things changed, then followed the very natural state of being present and enjoying themselves, forgetting sneaky Matt was lurking around to catch them mid-air and unprepared.
Taking his recommendation, we popped a bottle of bubbly as we sat in a flat in London and relived our happy day through photos that had heartbeats. We laughed, exclaimed, cried tears of joy. The most amazing part is that, two years later, we still do!
We are constantly wowed by the shots he took, the energy he successfully captured as they naturally emanated from us and our loved ones. He made immortal the cocktail of human emotions on display, no popping veins left out and no laugh lines ironed. Priceless!
This may have sounded sound like a "hire Matt Badenoch" pitch and you would be right in a way. But the bigger message is to sell you his fresh approach to wedding photography. What I wish for every bride and groom to-be is that ditching 'picture-perfect' pose photos to a photographer whose presence you may forget as you devote your attention to rather being fully present on your wedding day may be the best decision you make in planning your big day.
For me and my husband, it was!
Try to read it all in Matt's own words and also check out his blog posts about our wedding and 'Mels' celebrations then please enjoy some of my favorite shots. You can find his web link under his name at the bottom of the page as well. As usual, thank you for reading my blog and please feel free to leave your feedback in the comment section!
"One of the most special parts of a wedding is having all your favorite people in the world (family and friends) together in one place. Sadly this doesn't happen enough in today's world. By focusing on capturing moments between loved ones naturally, allows the couple to enjoy more time with their guests (without direction) and for the photographer to capture amazing, beautiful moments which just can't be recreated. When looking back at their photos the couple are reminded of all the amazing fun and what it felt like to be there at their wedding, instead of remembering "oh that's when the photographer told us to do that thing.This approach also allows the photographer to capture a lot of the action on the day that the couple may have missed. So when they look back at their wedding photos, not only are their memories kept fresh, they also get to enjoy a lot of their wedding day for the first time"