Interview with Nicola Dawson Photography - Including Tips When Choosing a Wedding Photographer
Posted by Zoë on 25.05.2020
Once you’ve booked your wedding venue. One of the biggest decisions you will make on your wedding day is choosing the perfect wedding photographer. After all, it’s their job to tell the story of your wedding day with beautiful timeless images. Photographs that you will treasure for the rest of your lives. So, finding a wedding photographer that you trust to do that is essential. Then you can get on with enjoying your day knowing that your wedding photography is in safe hands.
Today, on the Fabulous Wedding Venues blog, I am talking to the very talented Nicola Dawson of Nicola Dawson Photography and I’m going to be asking her a few questions about her career and getting some tips for couples currently planning their wedding.
I first met Nicola last year when I booked her to photograph a wedding venue styled photoshoot. I was immediately impressed with her warm and bubbly personality that instantly put our models at ease. The images she created on that shoot were really impressive and really showcased Nicola’s distinctive style whilst showing the wedding venue at its very best.
So, let’s start the interview and find out a little more about Nicola.
How did you start your career as a wedding photographer?
It was really quite unexpected to be honest. I have always loved photography and I studied it as a GCSE whilst I was taking my A levels and also went on to study it at University but then made a slightly sideways decision and joined the Police. Then about 4 years ago, my passion for photography really returned and happened to coincide with a growing unhappiness at work. I started my business as a family and pet photographer as a part-time side hustle and never even considered weddings.
And then at the beginning of 2017, I was asked by two colleagues if I would photograph their wedding. The responsibility of that seemed enormous. They knew I had never shot a wedding before and it was at Cooling Castle in Kent which is like a wedding day machine and runs like clockwork so I knew it would be an ‘easy’ venue to be at. After much deliberation, I decided to go for it. There is always a first time for everything and I thought I may never get the chance again. So in the months that followed I read books, blogs and magazine articles all about wedding photography. The more I learned, the less chance there was of any surprises. I knew I could take good photographs but had no idea how I would manage the stress on the day.
The day came and I just about managed to keep down a small breakfast between the waves of nausea. I arrived, got my camera ready and headed to the bridal suite to start wedding preparation photos. And that was the start of it. I loved every second of the whole day and from that moment on I devoted everything to creating the wedding photography business that I have now. 18 months later I resigned from my job to be a full-time photographer as bookings reached levels beyond what I could manage part-time. I have never looked back. I love it.
How would you describe your style of wedding photography?
Warm, authentic and relaxed. I want my couples to enjoy their day without worries or nerves being in front of the camera which is how they will get the best wedding photographs. I build a relationship of trust with them, get to know enough about them that I understand what is important about their day. Then they are completely themselves around me which I love.
I would say I have a documentary style to my work but I am not a true documentary photographer. True documentary means no instruction, no posing, literally shooting as the day unfolds but what I have found is that my couples, particularly during their portraits, feel more comfortable being given subtle direction. I use little prompts and ask them to do things which make them forget they are being photographed and mean I can get the gorgeous, natural interactions between them that I love. My editing style is warm and rich but natural too, just as I want my couples to feel.
How long before their wedding should a couple start searching for a professional wedding photographer?
Most couples look for their photographer as soon as they have a venue and date booked. Prime summer dates can get booked up 18 months sometimes 2 years in advance so it depends a little when you have in mind for your wedding. It really is never too early. Out of peak season or midweek weddings can usually be booked at a shorter notice. The shortest notice I have had is two weeks but maybe that is cutting it a bit fine in most people’s books.
We increasingly see couples having engagement shoots, what are the benefits of doing this?
I love engagement shoots or pre-wedding shoots, or couples shoots - whichever name you want to use. Think of them as a fun, relaxed practice session for the big day. If you are slightly nervous or uncomfortable about having your photographs taken then they are perfect for you. You get to see how I work and how I get great pictures of you just by asking you to engage with each other in cute, simple ways. You realise that actually being in front of the camera isn’t as scary as you thought. It gets you super excited about the wedding and you also get some lovely photographs out of it too.
Do you have any tips that you could give to help couples when they are looking for their ideal photographer for their wedding day?
I know that there are so many of us out there. Start narrowing down your search by thinking about the type of images you imagine in your head. If you plan a classic, elegant wedding, don’t search for fun wedding photographer. Will it be rustic, alternative, fun, relaxed? Add an adjective to your search term. That should help.
Once you have found one that takes your fancy, follow them for a while. Watching a photographer's social media for a period of time will tell you a lot about them and will really help you know if they are the right kind of person for you. It is SO important to feel comfortable with your photographer because of how close they are to you throughout the whole day. I like to appeal to couples who want to look and more importantly feel completely relaxed about their pictures on the day.
If you are looking to work with me, you should be able to imagine yourselves in my images, with genuine smiles and laughing together, looking relaxed. You should love the warm tones of my editing style. But it’s just as important that when you read the words on my site and on my social media that I seem like the type of person you’d like to have capturing those memories.
You must have visited lots of fabulous wedding venues. Do you have a favourite venue that you have worked at?
That’s a really hard question. I work at such a variety of venues; from small boutique Hotels like The Bull Hotel at Wrotham to gorgeous garden venues like The Secret Garden at Mersham le Hatch, manor houses like Eastwell Manor and Bradbourne House to DIY village hall humanist ceremonies, golf courses and castles. They are all so different but I genuinely love working at them all and love the variety. I don’t mind what kind of venue it is just as long as it is a reflection of the couple I am photographing and that they feel like they can be themselves in their surroundings.
Is there any part of the wedding day that you like the best?
If I say that I love all of it, would that be a cop-out?!
There are so many bits I love. There is a unique buzz around in the morning of a wedding so getting images during all the preparations really builds the excitement. Then there is the moment that the couple see each other for the first time on their day. The first kiss, although the best bit of that for me is the look they share between them moments after, looking in each other's eyes, usually filled with happy tears. The huge, beaming smiles as they walk back down the aisle as a married couple and then, of course, I love the portraits. Taking them away for 20 or 30 minutes, away from the hustle and bustle and reminding them they are now married; it always leads to some really special moments and I’m the only one that gets to see them! It’s such a fantastic job and I often get a lump in my throat or teary eyes.
With so much going on during a wedding, how do you manage to capture all the important bits?
Each wedding is different and couples all have slightly different priorities so during the build-up finding out this information is really important. Six weeks before the big day I send my couples a really detailed questionnaire all about the timeline, important people, addresses, situations that I may need to be aware of and I use that information to draw up a plan so I know where to be and when.
Most weddings follow a similar pattern and having been to so many, I know when it is time to prepare for the next stage of the day. But as much as it is about the ‘main’ bits, it is also about seeing all the little in-between moments going on around me too; giggles, hugs, laughs, selfies and all the other things that tell the story of the whole day. It’s people-watching with a camera!
Tell us one thing something about yourself that our readers might not know about you.
My favourite holiday destination is in the Highlands of Scotland.
We also love Greece and usually make it once every few years BUT of all the places I have been, the coastline at Durness, Sutherland is just breathtaking. It’s a 15-hour road trip from Kent and I do wonder if my husband and I are a little unbalanced to do it with our three children and Springer Spaniel in tow. But we have just the best time on huge, completely deserted, untouched beaches, golden-white sand, crystal clear water and stunning views in every direction. Our 2021 holiday there is already booked and we can’t wait.
I’d like to thank Nicola for taking the time to talk with me and wish you luck in planning your wedding. Make sure you have fun with it! As I meet and work with more of the best wedding suppliers in the South East, I will keep you updated through this blog. In the meantime, if you wish to browse Nicola’s gallery and learn more about her approach to wedding photography visit her website at Nicola Dawson Photography.
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