Don't get it wrong....you may never get another chance
This is a post about three things.....life, death, love. It's going to be sad, so strap in! But it's going to be ultimately uplifting too. But its also about doing the right thing to ensure opportunities aren't missed. There won't be any pictures in this post, but let me explain.....
A couple of years ago, a very close friend of mine called me and asked if I was available to do some wedding photography on a particular date. I said I was, but it was a bit close, why the urgency? He explained that his brother had brought forward his wedding as they didn't think their Mum was going to be around for much longer.....
I knew their Mum. I knew their Mum very well. I lived with my friend for 3 years while at University and would regularly meet up with his parents for a drink, a meal, or go visit them at the family home for a weekend. She was fantastic, a strong willed, independent, intelligent woman who was kind, helpful and with a heart of gold. She helped me through a rough patch that I was going through in my life not long before my friend got married back in the mid-naughties....wise wise woman, someone who I knew well, but admired and respected much more.
I knew she had been ill for some time, I knew it was terminal and I knew that the medical services around her and her friends in the business (she was a prominent and well loved local midwife) were doing the best they could to keep her going. But there would only be so much time this would work. I got reports regularly from my friend and he would be reasonably upbeat, but this phone call was less so. She was finally on the way out. It was only a matter of weeks.....
Of course, I totally understood the situation. My friends brother, who I also knew, wanted to get married so his Mum had the best chance of being there. But, due to the condition, it was touch and go whether she would be. So, I agreed, of course I did. The date was set.
On the day, I was treating it like any other job. And their Mum was on tip top form, really was. The cocktail of drugs had clearly worked for that day and unless you knew, you wouldn't have been able to tell there was anything wrong. Not a thing. We had a quick chat, but it was a busy day and although she was doing relatively well, the word is relative.....she was living off adrenaline, drugs and sheer willpower to get through this day. I could tell, but she was being utterly amazing, as always.
The day went by in a flash. A lovely little intimate wedding, pretty traditional, but a heck of a lot of fun! I managed to sit down at one point for a drink while not much was going on at the beginning of the evening and my friends Mum came and sat next to me. We hadn't seen each other in a while, but we had a lovely chat. Life had changed a lot since I had seen her last....I had got married, had two kids, changed jobs and so on. I asked her how she was, she explained, but clearly was holding stuff back to spare the details. We had a laugh, a good old look back on good times, but then I had to get back to work. I said I would see her again later, she said yes Ok and off she went...........
It was the last time I ever saw her.
When my job was done, as I knew the family, I was asked to stay on for a while and enjoy the party. I asked my friend and his brother where their Mum had gone and they said she had gone to her room, it had all become a bit too much. I said to them both that she had done amazingly well and they agreed. They said if the wedding had been a day before, there was no way she had got there. The drugs timed well, the day was good, she was up for it. The day before was not a good day. I subsequently heard the day after wasn't a good day either.
I enjoyed that wedding. It was a heck of a lot of fun. But this is the point of the story.....it also holds a lot of sadness and a lot of importance in what should be considered when choosing and spending wisely on a photographer for the day, or any other supplier for that matter. Do it well, research, know what you are getting into as this, as it turns out, was the last photos that were ever taken of their Mum. And doing my job, I managed to capture some extraordinary memories for them to cherish and keep and show her in all her finest before she sadly passed away a few weeks later.
I was told that she got to see the photos I did for them and was moved and overwhelmed by them. So were the brother and my friend and the rest of the family. They were glad they chose someone who knew what they were doing, someone who could capture them and importantly, their Mum being what she was.....Mum. Some of the images, even I look back on, make me well up with pride, sadness and a sense of job well done. As that is what a wedding photographer is about. Capturing those moments you will never see or have chance to recreate ever again. And what's there may be people in those photos you will want to cherish in the memories forever and a moment or so will embody what those people mean to you. A kiss, a touch of the arm, a look.......its only the small things, but those small things mean the world.
I did the same thing for another friend not long after. It wasn't a wedding as such, but his Mum was also terminally ill and fading quickly, so a hastily arranged ceremony where his Mum and Dad could reaffirm their wedding vows was done and I was asked if I would take some photos. Of course, why wouldn't I? She was sadly much further down the line and was quite infirm and unable to really look after herself by that point, but it was lovely. She managed to have an amazing time, made the whole occasion not a sad one (they even had little pictures and posters up saying "No Tears" or "Tears are banned"!) but an extraordinarily happy one, both for the couple but for everyone as a celebration of their life together and her life as a whole. It was very special to be part of and quite incredible.
My friend said that she has short batteries nowadays and as I was there with a camera, many people were asking me to take pictures of them with his Mum and she was getting very tired and asked if it was Ok for me to leave so they could get her some rest. I absolutely agreed and went to say bye to his Mum. We had a chat, she said thank you and as I was about to leave, she held my hand, looked at me and said "Bye John". I think we both knew that would be the last I would see her. I mildly smiled and said "see you soon"......and again, it was the last time I saw her.
The photos I got from that day were some of the last again ever taken of her and the day was such a happy and joyous one that it means the world to the family. So much so they still occasionally pop the odd image up on Facebook etc two years after she passed away.
And why? Because those images mean something to them. Not just a memory of the day, but a memory of the person that was and who they were, the life they had and could have had.
A photo means everything.
There are many photographers out there who have similar stories to tell. But I have also heard horror stories of couples not choosing their photographers well and regretting it. Telling the photographer that there was a special person they wanted photographing, but it turns out they only got one picture, from behind, of that said person. Or the image was badly lit so you can barely see them.....and so on and so on.
Do your research, set aside money for someone who can do the job properly. If you want to spend £200 on a photographer, go ahead. I know some couples are on tight budgets and I absolutely understand that. But be aware that that person might not have the skills, the experience or expertise to get the shots you want....or would want from those special moments. I am not looking down on cheaper photographers in any way. There is a market and a job for everyone. But time and time again I hear stories of couples who say they went for the cheaper option and later regretted it for all of the above reasons. "I wish I could go back and do our wedding again. Our photos were rubbish". "Our photographer was so up himself". "We had to wait weeks for our photos and when they came back, they were all dark"......I have heard them all. You may not think the photos are that important to you before the wedding, but your day goes so quickly. So much going on. And many many things you don't even know are happening. Thats what your photographer is for. To capture those moments, and people, for you to look back on and laugh and cry over. Only in hindsight do many couples realise the importance of those photos of their most important day. Don't be one of those couples. Don't live in regret. Don't fall into the trap. It might seem like we just press a button, but you get what you pay for. Simple economics, just like anything else. There is a reason people charge what they do. Its because they go above and beyond and along the way, produce amazing photographs that will go with you forever.
Don't make the mistake of missing that special person on your day when you look back in years to come. Don't make the mistake of not having the right person there to know whats going on. Don't make the mistake of skimping for the sake of it when a few pennies more will get you the real deal. You will undoubtedly regret it. The stories above illustrate that beautifully. Those families will have stories and happy memories and beautiful photos of their loved ones for the rest of their lives. You may never know on the day what may happen. So make sure you choose your photographer well. It may be that they are the key to you never holding a regret......