2020 - An End Of Year Review…

Wow, 2020. Where do we start? Let’s see how long it takes before I have to mention the C word. I thought I’d try and focus on some of the positives that came with this past year. This is my first “end of year” post that I’m sure you’ve seen on lots of other photographers social media. Instead of a gallery of my favourite images from the year, I thought I’d try something different and write a little more. Besides, I post all my favourite images to Instagram, so you can see a visual summary of my year there. I’m often involved with so many other peoples stories, so I thought I’d share a few of my own. Lockdown 3.0 has brought upon more spare time than anyone self employed could wish for, so here’s some of what happened in my year…

January & February are usually quieter times of the year, what’s often referred to as “enquiry season” by us wedding photographers. A new year has begun and it gives engaged couples a kick start to begin making plans and planning their day. Some of them engaged at Christmas, but more so the couples that have been engaged for a while. Lots of emails & messages coming in and lots of appointments at the studio. Some call it a consultation but that sounds way too formal. It’s more a coffee and a chin wag about your big day that you’ve just booked and are buzzing with excitement for. I want to hear all about what you’ve got planned, which other suppliers have you been chatting with, what does the overall day look like? 

I continued working with the Welsh blood service early this year. We started working together last autumn on a new project for me. When donors reach an important milestone in the amount of blood they’ve donated, they are invited to an awards evening in their local area to honour and celebrate their commitment. It’s a lovely evening with a 3 course meal and guest speakers. Some have hit 50 donations, some 75 and even 100. There’s also bone marrow donors who have literally, directly saved someone’s life. It’s a great evening to be a part of and it’s inspirational to hear lots of amazing stories. These events grounded to a halt this year but I’m excited for them to start back up again in the future. 

It’s also a time of year to take a break and get away before the wedding season starts back up again. After a busy January with new bookings I went away with Alice to Dubai and took a cruise around the UAE. We absolutely love going on cruises. It’s definitely the best way to visit lots of different places in a short timeframe. There was some tension at the time with the US in Bahrain which made the price of cruises around the region super cheap. Luckily Bahrain wasn’t on the Itinerary so it seemed a perfect time to go and explore that part of the world. I was at Fairyhill on the 8th February photographing my first ever same sex wedding. I’m not sure how it took over 10 years to do that, probably a lack of portfolio? Sam & Dan put their trust in me and I had the most amazing time photographing their intimate celebration. The families were all very close and there was so much love in the room, just what you want at any wedding. I really wanted to try and bring in the colours of the LGBTQ flag to celebrate my first wedding and managed to get this photo using the outdoor lights. 

I was sat down having my lunch scrolling through the news app, watching a video of a plane trying to land sideways in Heathrow airport thinking shiiiit! I get a text 30 mins later, OMG our flight has been cancelled!!! Al took the train to London to see her friend the day before and I was driving straight to Heathrow after the wedding and meeting her at the airport. There was a heavy storm brewing going by the name of Ciara and although we didn’t really feel the effects of it at the wedding in the Gower, it was causing Heathrow to cancel lots of their flights. I’m sat there eating my lunch, Alice is about to start watching a show. Perfect timing for me, not so much for her. Thing is, the ship isn’t going to wait for you so we were stressing trying to figure out a solution, the next available flight that hadn’t been cancelled meant we’d arrive after the ship has sailed. We’d have had to fly out to the next port and catch up at our own expense and didn’t fancy that! Alice carried on refreshing the BA app every 2 minutes for a cancelled flight to be uncancelled and I went back to work to photograph the speeches. Sam played a song on the acoustic guitar to Dan as part of his speech and for 5 minutes I didn’t think once about the flight. Wow, what a lovely thing to do for someone on your wedding day! 

We got lucky, and the 1pm flight became uncanceled and she got us on it straight away. I said my goodbyes at Fairyhill and went home for a few hours sleep before leaving at 6am to drive to meet Al at the airport. Although the storm was still causing disruption on Sunday, we managed to take off safely and saw an old retired Concorde parked up as we left which was a nice bonus. 

One of my favourite places was definitely Oman. We went off piste and took a 6 hour round taxi to spend 3 hours exploring the Wadi Shaab. A network of beautiful caves and rivers. Hassan drove us there and was our guide for the day. We hiked with him for around an hour before having to leave your clothes behind a rock and swimming the rest of the way through the caves. We were pretty hungry by the time we’d trekked back so we took Hassan out for lunch to a place he recommended on the way back. The fish was amazingly fresh, caught from the sea right opposite the restaurant that morning. 

It was my first time to the Middle East and thoroughly enjoyed. We rode camels, watched belly dancing, went off-roading in 4x4’s in the desert, went dolphin spotting and ate plenty of curries! It was also the first time that I saw the impact of coronavirus in real life and not just on a screen. 

You’ll all remember the cruise ship that was on the news every day. The Diamond Princess was parked up in Quarantine but that was all the way in Japan. No-one really thought it was going to start spreading worldwide? We went to quite a few Mosques and malls and on the entry and exits there were thermal imaging cameras scanning everyones body temperature as you walked past. I guess if you were too hot they’d have pulled you to one side. There were no cases of coronavirus in Dubai at the time and only a handful in the UK. No-one really knew much about it. We were in Abu Dhabi when it was officially named Covid-19, I remember the breaking news on the TV in the cabin. As soon as it had a name I think more people started to pay attention. Cruise ships are very clean places all of the time, even before the pandemic. For as long as I can remember there’s always been hand sanitiser stations outside any food place and there’s signs everywhere telling you to wash your hands regularly. They take hygiene very seriously, as all sorts of bugs & viruses can spread very quickly on a floating city. I’ve had the first day or two cut short once because the previous cruise had a noravirus and they had to disinfect the entire ship from top to bottom before letting any new passengers on. Time is money to these massive cruise lines and they promote hygiene onboard to avoid having to miss a day of a cruise having to clean up the ship. 

Anyway, time to head home. It was amazing to notice such a huge difference in Heathrow Airport in 10 days. “Normal” when we left and full of posters and signs asking if in capital letters if you had any symptoms. 

It felt like I was having a year of firsts when Kirsty and Pete got married at Bryngarw House on the 29th February. My first wedding on a leap year! I asked what they’d do for the next 3 years to celebrate their anniversary and they’re going to do it the day before. My new Fuji X100v that I’d preordered wasn’t due until the first week of March but it arrived the day before their wedding, on the Friday. I was super excited to try it out and got some lovely shots with it. The new and improved lens and sensor on this new model over the previous ones allows me to comfortably use it as my second camera at weddings. It’s so small and discreet, it doesn’t even make a noise when I fire the shutter. The perfect little camera for capturing people candidly at weddings. 

We turn into March and it’s the week of my brothers stag do to Prague. James is due to marry Lucy on the 27th. After attending hundreds of weddings with my camera over the years, I was really excited for my brothers, the first time I’m on best man duty. With only 100 cases in the UK, it’s still not really much of a concern. We fly to Prague for the weekend and drink far too many shots of the revolting Czech liquor, Becherovka. One of the boys came back with some form of man flu and weeks later claimed it was covid, but we all know it was just a result of a heavy few days on the beers and those dreaded shots. Whoever was the last one to arrive at our meeting place, (usually the pub right opposite the hotel) had to buy a round of 16 Becherovka’s for everyone. YUCK. The Czech republic closed its borders a few days after we returned home, things have started getting a little more serious now. The WhatsApp group joked about narrowly avoiding having a longer than planned stag and spending even more time locked up in the pubs of Prague. There’s even talk of the wedding being postponed. What?? A wedding having to be postponed because of a virus? Bit of a shock to the system, that’s never happened before. I’ve got 45 of them to go to this year, wonder if they’ll be safe? 

It didn’t take long for the wedding to be cancelled. There were rumours of a “lockdown” coming like had happened in many other European countries, notably Italy and Spain. On the eve of Boris Johnsons press conference, I was speaking with Anthony & Emma who were due to get married the following day at Hensol Castle. They had spent all day there on Friday setting the room up, putting the finishing touches together and their guests had travelled and checked in and were looking forward to a pre wedding dinner. At 5pm BoJo goes live and tells the whole country to stay at home. I get a phone call an hour later saying the wedding tomorrow is off, all hospitality has to close immediately. What an absolute bummer. They packed up their cake, took down their centrepieces, left the Vale resort with a re-arranged date and joined the rest of the country in staying at home. 

I spent the first week of lockdown doing a very similar job to that of an air traffic controller. I had emails flying in left right and centre with couples being forced to postpone their weddings. I was constantly juggling new dates and trying to slot the rescheduled dates into later in the year. A couple of days later my diary was now blank for the next 4 months. The thing is, everyone thought we would be “back to normal” in a few months time, so the summer weddings held on for a little, they had “back-up dates” that I had to pencil in the diary. Another problem with this process was that the majority of venues were already fully booked for 2021. The couples trying to reschedule for next year were having no other choice than to choose weekdays. The complete opposite of what they envisioned but they didn’t have much choice unless they wanted to postpone for TWO years and get married in 2022. 

I was also glued to the news channels and the daily government press conferences. It was so hard not to be engrossed by it. This was all so fascinating and something that we hadn’t experienced before. I HATE the over use of the word unprecedented but that’s really the only world to describe it. When it came to losing out on my wedding season, strangely I didn’t really mind so much. Of course it was a bummer, but it felt like it was all for the greater good. There were far worse problems going on in the world and the quicker everyone stayed at home and stopped gatherings, the quicker it would all go away. 

So last year (2019) I’d been speaking with my good mate Phil Warren about starting a photography podcast but we’d both been too busy to actually get the ball rolling. With all the time in the world on our hands, March was the time to jump in. With something like 16 years of wedding experience between us, we had plenty to talk about. Weirdly it was quite difficult to buy a microphone online as everywhere was sold out - I guess lots of other people had the same lockdown idea. We both managed to sort our home setups, jumped on Skype and hit record. Ffotocast was born. At the time of writing, we’ve recorded 33 episodes, interviewed some of our fellow wedding suppliers and talked a LOT about how the year impacted our businesses. If you haven’t checked it out already, search Ffotocast in your podcast app of choice or head here.

The next few months seemed to pass by in a blur. We had to get used to lockdown birthdays, family zoom quizzes, clapping for carers and government handouts. I borrowed a friends Playstation, rediscovered Call Of Duty and we seemed to have completed Netflix. I had a big Ebay clear out of all my unused odds and sods from the studio, which I put the money towards investing in a medium format camera system. For the non-photographers reading, this is a big and heavy, super high resolution camera that was once reserved for those shooting billboard campaigns. I had no jobs going on when it arrived, so our friendly bird in the garden was a good enough subject for the test shoot. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I do lots of work with local clothing company Doomsday. Corey first approached me to do his photos when he started up aged 16 and we’ve been close friends ever since. With most brick and mortar businesses seeing closures, declines, and uncertain times, the opposite could be said for online retail. Doomsday’s sales went through the roof and they were struggling to keep up on orders with their small team.  I volunteered to login from home and jump onto customer services and reply to some emails. What was supposed to be an hour or two a day, turned into 8 hours a day, which turned into me helping out at the warehouse full time for 2 months helping to clear the backlog of orders, whilst they recruited and grew their team. Such an exciting time to see such huge growth and it felt great to be able to contribute. 

As the summer rolls in, there are a few couples who are determined to get married despite all the doom and gloom of the ongoing pandemic. Some have decided to get married at the registry office and keep their rescheduled date for a future celebration. Some have just decided to go ahead with however many guests they were allowed at the time. Either way, it was lovely to see such determination and it’s a fine example of how love always wins. Such a shame seeing guests having to wear face masks when they’re dressed to impress, but as the saying goes, it is what is is… 

I photographed a grand total of 8 weddings in 2020. 3 of these being before lockdown 1.0, 3 during the summer restrictions which were shorter celebrations and later on in the year, 2 “full day” weddings with only 30 guests. Quite a bit different to the 45 I had scheduled. I’m lucky that I don’t only shoot weddings and was able to keep my cameras from gathering dust. 

I had a few projects to work on this year with some local companies that needed new content. It’s one the many reasons I love my job so much, the variety that it brings me. I worked on a new campaign for a collaboration between Bombay Sapphire & The Botanist in Cardiff, a new product launch for a paddle board company, a magazine article for a nationwide charity and lots of lifestyle shots for clothing companies. One piece ended up being used as a full page print in Total Guitar magazine for music producer Romesh Dodangoda.  I used to read this religiously as a teenager when I had a guitar glued to my hands for years, so it was a proud moment having my work published in their magazine. 

Autumn arrives and this years weddings have passed. It’s now time to work on Doomsdays Black Friday & Christmas marketing campaigns. They’ve launched a lot of new products over the year and we collaborate and pave the way for how to utilise imagery to run their adverts effectively. We spend a lot of time in the studio and shooting on location with a variety of models. It’s a success and they have their busiest Black Friday to date.

During a meeting the night before Black Friday.

With the year coming to a close, covid cases are back on the rise. Scientists predicted the winter causing an increase in infections, but we’ve been told by the government we’ll be allowed to spend 5 days with our families over Christmas. Something I’m really looking forward to, having not been able to spend much time with my parents and brothers on and off throughout the year. Mum’s got a rare disease called Addisons and Dad had a small heart attack a few years back, both being placed in the “vulnerable” category. 

I was lucky enough to escape to North Wales for a few days with the boys to go and explore Snowdon. Somewhere I’ve not been before and been itching to go for a while. Like most others, when you think of going away, it’s always to the furthest away place you can think. I’ve wanted to go to North Wales for ages, but somewhere else in the world further afield always takes its place. When you’re not allowed to travel outside of your own country, it was the perfect time to drive North and climb some mountains…

Sadly, the news broke that the Christmas relaxation of the rules was being cancelled immediately and we were entering another lockdown over the Christmas period as of midnight. Another lockdown that’s still in place at the time of me finishing this post. You knew this one was serious as it was starting in 7 hours time. All our other lockdowns had been announced with a start date of next week sometime.

We spent the Christmas holidays going on plenty of dog walks and I started experimenting with Fujifilm recipes. This is when you change the settings in your Fuji camera to emulate different film stocks from years past. It’s a way of choosing how your photo is going to look before you’ve taken it, and don’t need to add a filter or an edit afterwards. Most of these photographs below were taken with a Kodachrome “recipe” and taken on the beloved X100v I mentioned earlier.

2021 was supposed to bring much optimism to the wedding industry, but 3 weeks into January, I’ve been playing air traffic controller again and moving those rescheduled 2020 weddings into further in the future. Couples who were due to get married for the first time this year are also jumping ship. 2021 was supposed to be the year us wedding suppliers merged two years worth of weddings into one, but it looks more likely we’ll be merging three years into one in 2022. 

For now it’s batten down the hatches, let them roll out the vaccine as quickly as possible and hope for brighter days ahead…

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