This really is a wonderfully quirky venue for a wedding. On the outskirts of Newport, South Wales, West Usk Lighthouse is the perfect setting for the couple that want stunning backdrops to their wedding photography and a wedding venue with real character.
West Usk Lighthouse: personal service guaranteed
Frank and Danielle, who own and run West Usk Lighthouse are charming and delightful hosts who take great care to make sure the wedding arrangements all come together on the day. This is a perfect venue for smaller and more intimate parties, it easily coped with a party of fifteen, although I’m told they can host up to 25 guests. Paul and Tracy had booked the lighthouse for the whole weekend which made the whole wedding much less pressured than one can find with some venues where other couples are waiting and time windows are tight
Frank uses his prized Rolls Royce to collect the registrars and bring them to the venue in style. He has an eclectic taste and you’ll also find a Dalek and a Tardis among the curios in his collection. Frank described how they bought the lighthouse back in 1987 but it needed much work doing on it and have lovingly restored the building over a period of some years – including restoring the stunning lantern room which offers fabulous views of the Usk estuary.
The wedding of Paul & Tracy on May 21st 2016:
Looking at my BBC Weather app the night before, we;d been warned of heavy rain and oh boy, did it rain! The ceremony was scheduled for 3pm so having done some bridal prep images, it was a case of shooting mostly indoors as people gathered for the ceremony. With the formal part passing off smoothly, I was keen to get some couple portraits, particularly with such a beautiful venue. We did a few shots in the rain, but with the promise of it easing off by the early evening I arranged to return later. Patience was rewarded with a really stunning sunset and some great images.
South Wales Wedding Venue: West Usk Lighthouse
The West Usk Lighthouse operates as a Bed & Breakfast hotel when not being used to host weddings.
For the location I wanted wild open countryside and the hillsides around Blaenavon and Brynmawr offered some useful possibilities. Driving through Beaufort though towards Llangynidr found me the perfect spot with pretty much 360 degree views.
Outdoor shoots are always a risk with the weather and although thankfully the threatened rain held of most of the day, we didn’t get to use my fire-torches in the dark as by 5pm the wind had picked up, the skies darkened and we were only just packed up when the heavens opened.
In this article I will give you an outline of what to expect to pay, explain why cheap photography is a false economy, and why the old adage – “ya pays yer money and ya makes yer choice” is so very true – especially when it comes to wedding photography prices and packages.
There’s a traditional rule of thumb when it comes to considering wedding photography prices – “expect to spend between 10-15% of your budget on the photography” and this still holds true. In an age of modern digital photography one might wonder if that is still necessary. The simple answer is yes – creating good quality images that record and represent your special day in all its glory is not something to skimp on when it comes to managing the budget of your wedding.
In my article “how to choose a wedding photographer” you’ll read more about the things you need to consider when setting budget and making your choice. The three key costs are (1) Labour (2) Equipment (3) Business overheads. Firstly, and most importantly, the photographer you employ must charge enough (or be paid enough) to cover their time to do a fully professional job and not feel under pressure to push images out that lack the attention to detail that your wedding deserves. For every hour taking pictures, the professional photographer will typically spend two or three editing and working on a selection in post production to ensure the best quality images are provided to the customer. Remember too that labour rate is what remains after the costs of the business have been covered (more on that later).
Wedding Photography Prices: Why equipment matters
When it comes to Wedding Photography, good equipment is critical to achieving the best images: and pro equipment is expensive. With wedding photography there are particular challenges that push ordinary digital cameras beyond their abilities – getting good clear images from inside a dark church without graininess will outwit most – and then minutes later being able to capture subtle details on a white dress in bright sunshine requires high specification equipment.
Wedding Photography: Business Overheads
Asides from the normal costs of business, wedding photography prices are impacted by the high cost of marketing a successful wedding photography business and by the cost of professional photography equipment. This season I’ve been able to invest in the newest model camera body from Canon, which offers the latest specification and is particularly well suited to Wedding Photography. But, with any new equipment it’s important to put it through its paces before it goes out on a paid job, not least because I needed an opportunity to familiarise myself with the new positions of the controls. On-going professional development is important too – testing new ideas, trying out new equipment and keeping abreast of developments in the field. About 30% of the fee will go on business overheads.
Wedding Photography Prices: watch out for the Ryan Air deal
When looking at wedding photography prices and packages, If a deal sounds too cheap to be true it’s because it is. A low package deal may draw you in, but then you quickly find by the time you’ve added in all the things classed as ‘extras’ that you’d have expected anyway, suddenly the price isn’t so appealing.
Wedding Photography Prices: match budget to expectations
If you’re researching wedding photography prices and packages, take some time to check with friends to see what they paid and what they got. Look carefully at the quality of the images – in both composition and production. Good photography is an art – do the pictures look like they were taken by an artist or are they just ‘snaps’. A skilled photographer will know how to pose you to get the best out of you on the day, will put you at ease, be helpful and kind to you, and will want your day to be really wonderful so that the images are something you can treasure always. You can’t always choose which relatives come to a wedding but you do get to choose the photographer: find one you like, whose work you love and pay them what it costs. And expect that to be about 10-15% of your total wedding spend or not far off what you’ll spend on that lush dress.
Below is a set of images from a wedding photography training event, hosted by my dear friends Deb & Steve of Tiptop Photography, Birmingham which gave me the perfect opportunity to test my newest equipment and enjoy a day of shooting a wedding in the stunning setting of Birmingham Cathedral. I love this work. 🙂
Caerphilly photographer Alex Drummond aka grrlAlex has a weekend in the big city…
In my other life as a campaigner for LGBT human rights I sometimes get to do the odd conference. This weekend saw me leave Caerphilly and head for London for a two day conference on Transgender health care. Taking the opportunity of being in London I headed for Picadilly and Covent Garden area to see what caught my eye.
The picture above was shot in Picadilly in the evening experimenting with slow shutter and frozen motion – the guy is lost in his phone as the world spins around him. The following day I explored the Covent garden area – here in the centre of a busy city a yacht chandler – established for centuries and somehow still finding a way to survive a changing world.
Another old and established business from an almost bygone era is this umbrella shop – the gold leaf signwriting is a rare sight these days.
In Russell Square, the renowned Hotel Russell is a fine example of victorian architecture with elegant and fine detail – its sister hotel, the Imperial designed and built by the same architect was demolished in the late 1960’s and replaced by a modern building in the 1970’s. Sadly, this one lacks the finesse and timeless elegance – how how its archetecture now looks hideously dated.
The conference went well and the trip to London was a rare treat to catch up with people and do some street photography just for the love of my art. Did a lot of walking and spent a fair amount of time on the underground – here then to close this post is Caerphilly photographer Alex Drummond doing a rare selfie…
A bridal wear commercial photography shoot for Caru Brides, Caerphilly
As a photographer it’s nice to have a balance of work and a range of challenges to stimulate creativity. The opportunity to shoot wedding gowns and bridesmaids without the pressure of a full on wedding is always a joy as it allows me to experiment with ideas which can then inform my wedding photography. A local wedding dress vendor Caru Brides needed some promotional images for their website and so a couple of wedding fairs locally gave us the chance to plan some commercial photography shoots to showcase examples of the stunning gowns they offer.
Doing a commercial photography shoot is also a great opportunity for me to experiment with different lighting techniques. Whilst much of a typical wedding is shot using natural light, it’s important that when I’m working as a wedding photographer I am able to quickly adapt to the varying and different light conditions that are presented throughout the day and to be able to quickly use additional light where appropriate. In the two shoots featured here I used both natural light and flash – using a lighting assistant to make that task easier. As I’ve done here in this commercial photography shoot, I also like to take a lighting assistant with me on a wedding shoot – this way I can have greater flexibility to overcome what might in other ways be quite challenging conditions. In the images in this collection you’ll clearly see some images that have used directional off-camera lighting – what you may not notice is that even in the outdoors shots, in some I have used additional lighting to balance the level of light and shade.
Indeed, what many people won’t realise unless they’re photographers themselves, is that shooting a white wedding dress and being able to capture details is quite a challenge which is why much of the wedding photography you see leaves the dress blown out and detail lost – especially if the bride is outdoors. By being able to add flash or have an assistant use a reflector to throw light into shadow areas means the picture can be more balanced. And yeah, sometimes I’ll deliberately want to blow the details by choice to create a very white high-key image, but other times I can choose to use additional lighting from my assistant to create a range of images. For me its about having artistic choice: and there’s no getting away from the fact that bright sunshine and white dresses are challenge for even the most expensive cameras!
Commercial photography is about showcasing the product and helping potential customers see themselves related to the image. In this commercial photography shoot, I’ve worked with this local business owner to create a selection of images that are predominantly focused on the how the dresses might look in a wedding setting and using models we hope potential clients can relate well to. We like to use natural models rather than the ubiquitous size 8 so that real women with real bodies can see how good the dress can actually look rather than seeing a dress advertised on a size 8 model and feeling excluded. Indeed, it’s a common complaint that even in plus size wedding dress images the models are seldom above a size 12.
So, the thing is I love food. I love photographing food; I love cooking food; I love inventing recipes. So this blog post is mostly me being creative on a day off.
Pomegranate Molasses is a bit of a misnomer – it’s made by boiling down and reducing pomegranate juice until it thickens and goes sticky. So its not really got anything to do with molasses per se except that molasses describes about how thick the juice should end up if you get it right. If you google recipes for “how to make pomegranate molasses” you find the recipes basically follow the same format – pure pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice, boiled for about an hour until it is reduced to about one third and starting to go sticky. I’ve put some additional notes below as there are a couple of pitfalls to avoid!
The inspiration for this recipe came from a recipe for white chocolate parfait I’d tried at Christmas and a reference to pomegranate molasses in a fab new book about meringues. Having made the white chocolate parfait recipe a couple of times I’ve concluded there are better ways of doing it so take your pick – my version at the foot of this post or the recipe above in the link.
Pomegranates are a weird fruit really – novel, a bit fiddly and not a common ingredient in UK cuisine. But the juice is rich in antioxidants and vitamins and there are said to be many health benefits from eating pomegranates.
How to make Pomegranate Molasses
You ideally need fresh pomegranate juice which I found in the local supermarket in the chill cabinets. Fresh juice is best because the ‘juice drink’ variety has sugar already added making it hard to know how much it needs to render down.
Pomegranate Molasses Recipe
Take 4 cups of fresh pomegranate juice and put in a stainless steel saute pan.
Add 2/3 cup of white caster sugar
and 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (two decent sized lemons well squeezed)
Bring it to the boil stirring gently to dissolve the sugar. When it reaches the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle bubble and stir gently every now and then to help it along.
After about an hour, when it is reduced to about one third of its original volume you’ll notice the liquid starts to coat the spoon. Be aware, when the liquid cools it will be thicker – a lot thicker and the first time I made this I basically ended up with pomegranate toffee when it had cooled! *Oops!*
Tip: When the liquid in the pan is starting to froth you are definitely there so take it off the heat and let it cool. You now have your basic Pomegranate Molasses. At this point, you can use it for any number of recipes – apparently it’s a popular ingredient in Lebanese cooking. When you taste it you’ll think of lots of possible uses – from cocktails to salad dressing, marinades.. the possibilities are endless!
Pomegranate juice has a curious combination of sweet and sharp so for my desert I added a splash of Creme de Cassis (which is a blackcurrant liqueur) to add richness to the flavour and additional sweetness. You should end up with a syrupy liquid the consistency of .. well..er.. molasses.
The white chocolate parfait is a cinch to make. The recipe above suggests putting white chocolate pieces in the blender and chopping until its fine. The noise of this scared me and it leaves little mini-chunks in the finished dessert so I prefer now to melt the chocolate instead.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl suspended over boiling water. Don’t let the bowl touch the water though.
Put the sugar in a separate pan, add four tablespoons of water and bring to the boil. When it reaches boiling point reduce the heat a bit and boil gently for about four mins stirring regularly to create a sugar syrup.
While that’s working away, whip the cream in a bowl to soft peaks – don’t over beat it especially if you’re using an electric beater as it don’t take long to go from ‘soft’ to ‘thick and grainy’. Thick and grainy is not good: useable but less good than soft peaks.
In a large bowl, whisk the three egg yolks until they thicken a bit, add the sugar syrup and the melted chocolate. Now fold in to the cream and pour into freezer proof glasses. I bought some plastic ones (see picture above) and filled five with this mix. Leave about 1/4 inch at the top spare for the sauce bit later!
Put in the freezer and chill for at least three hours. Pull them out of the freezer about 20 mins before you need them (so when you are serving first course get them out – by the time you’ve finished they’ll be just softened slightly).
To serve, pour the Pomegranate molasses over the surface so you have a glossy red layer about 1/8 inch thick covering the parfait. Happy noms.
The grandeur of Cardiff City Hall offered a perfect venue to host this event. The Wedding Show Wales 2014 offered an opportunity for many of Wales’ leading wedding vendors to come together under one roof and present their products and services to an enthusiastic audience. The numbers were encouraging: two floors bustled with visitors and getting to speak to some vendors often meant waiting patiently for others to have their queries answered first. Wales may still be coming out of a dark recession, but the romance of a beautiful wedding seems thankfully to remain as popular as ever.
With so many stalls and vendors filling both floors there was much to take in. My eye is always drawn to the decorative things – the dresses, the flowers and the other little details that can help define your wedding as unique. So, details matter, from choosing the style; to deciding on the dominant colours for your wedding, details make all the difference. Nifty table details and decorations, wedding favours; the dressing of your reception room: and of course… the flowers!
Vintage themes continue to be popular sources of inspiration and the show offered a whole section of the ground floor for stalls and vendors offering a vintage feel for your wedding details. Here are a few of the dress details that caught my eye. Dresses in this montage are by All About Eve of Chepstow, and designer Sophie of E&W Ethical Couture
Manor Parc Cardiff showcases their Wedding Venue facilities:
[January 4th 2014]: Had a delightful afternoon, meeting the team at Manor Parc Country Hotel on the outskirts of Cardiff and viewing their wedding venue facilities. Set back from the main A469 Caerphilly mountain road, the Manor Parc Hotel is nestled among tree lined gardens and neatly set back from the main road. There’s ample parking and a really nice spot right next to the front door for the bride and groom to make their entrance direct from the bridal car.
The gardens afford some useful chill-out space and photo opportunities (especially when its not raining which it sadly did for most of the afternoon which put my model off going outside)
*update: See footnote for details of 2014 “Pride Cymru”*
Cardiff Mardi Gras: Celebrating LGBT identities with pride!
Caridff Mardi Gras is Wales’ leading Gay Pride event. However, its much more than that – its not only “Wales’ biggest celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities”, it’s a party in the park for all! With much of the entertainment specifically intended to be family friendly: it’s a very inclusive event. Adding to the true Mardi Gras spirit, in 2012 a parade through the streets of Cardiff was added to the schedule of events. In 2013, I was asked to photograph some of the event – immediately below is a selection of images from the parade and later in this article are images from inside the stadium to give you a flavour of the event.
The idea behind the Mardi Gras has always been to bring people together, to celebrate all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. As a visitor, one thing you’ll notice is there is such a diversity of identities that everyone fits in.
Cardiff Mardi Gras is a giant party in the park
(except for 2013 when it moved to the Millennium Stadium but we’ll come to that!)
My first visit was back in 2011: and for me it felt like a very scary thing to go to, as I’d only come out as trans* in 2010 and I’d never been to a Pride event before. I needn’t have felt worried – from the moment I went through the gates into the park, the upbeat, and joyous atmosphere just made for a really positive experience: people were nice, and the whole vibe was really welcoming: particularly for a newbie like me.
Food photography at Abergavenny Food Festival 2013
The Abergavenny food festival is a wonderous collection of artisan producers bringing a selection of often hand crafted produce to the market. Whilst some of the arenas are pay-to-view, there are numerous stalls in the main street and all manner of delights to sample.
As you’ll see in the short collection of photos here, the name doesn’t really do justice to the full range of stalls and fringe events you’ll find over the weekend -the Abergavenny Food Festival offers many other crafts besides cooking. Started in the late 90s by volunteers the Abergavenny Food Fayre went from having an estimated 3,500 visitors to over 35,000 estimated visitors in 2009 and has continued to grow each year since.
Known for its wide diversity of food, cooking techniques, masterclasses and entertainment the Abergavenny Food Festival provides an exciting day out for the whole family, from the youngest child who can do various crafts in the beautiful market town (not to mention find plenty of goodies to beg for) to the older person who can find interest, not only in the wonderful food and crafts, many of which they may recall from their youth, but also in the lovely old buildings of the town.
With over 200 stalls the town comes alive with colour, scents and sounds, everything from sweeties and cakes to beautifully cooked and presented meals prepared by top chefs, it’s the ideal place to learn knew techniques and get ideas for your own kitchen.
A slightly more out there part of the weekend is the opportunity to go on walks and forays to learn about the food that is readily available from the fields and hedgerows, ideal for those who are into survival or for anyone who likes the idea of using natural foods in their cooking.
In recent news, The Abergavenny Food Festival 2013 has was so successful it won the National Tourism Awards Best Event in Wales, which seems a well earned recognition for all the work that goes into the preparation and run up to the weekend.
Whilst some of the festival is open access, there is an entry charge for adults to many of the workshops and some of the display areas (albeit no charge for children under 16): tickets are best ordered in advance and at about £7 per person is not too unreasonable for the size of event. We’d only got a couple of hours on our visit this time – next year we’ll take the day and purchase the wristband. Tickets are available from the Abergavenny Food Festival website.
With a host of food, crafts, and otherwise beautiful or unusual items available it’s a good excuse for a day out.