The art of the pre-wedding photo shoot

I’ve just finished reading this article on Time magazine’s website, it tells the story on the importance of pre-wedding photo sessions for the many engaged couples in Shanghai, China.  The lengths (and budgets) couples some go to will blow you away.

Pre Wedding Shoot You can visit the article here,

I’m not sure my words can actually do this article justice,  suffice to say that the couples who visit these dedicated pre-wedding photo studios take the whole thing very seriously. The studios are vast and some couples are even opting for an underwater experience.  The images are amazing!

Photo Credit CDN Turner/ Mr Chang

Photo Credit CDN Turner/ Mr Chang

Coming back home to Kenmare

But what about here?  Is there something in these photo sessions that we can learn from ? An extra photo session may seem like just another big hurdle before your day, but if photographs are important to your wedding,  I think you should definitely consider it. Try and view it as a no-pressure win for you as you plan your day.

My ‘two quick reasons’ as to why a pre-wedding photoshoot should be on your ‘needs to happen’ list.

1. Your actual wedding photographs will benefit from them.  Pre-shoots give the photographer a chance to get to know you both.  What you like, what you don’t like and importantly how you are in front of the camera. For example if the groom has no clue about posing, then a pre-wedding shoot is the perfect time to help him.  You certainly don’t want to be worrying about this on your day.

2. You can go anywhere and test out any style of photography you like.    The zoo, the beach, a museum, a shopping mall, a movie, really anything goes.  As I’m typing this I really fancy the idea of a zoo trip… Great images can be taken anywhere, so think of it as planning a trip out.

So, whilst I’m probably not going to be able to replicate a big budget New York street scene for you in Kenmare, there really is a blank canvas when it comes to your pre-wedding images.  Make sure you build it into your wedding plan and make them work for you.  The photos may be great for your invitations / save the date cards and some of them could even make it into your wedding album!


I offer a pre-wedding shoot to all my clients as part of my wedding service, so whether or not you fancy a trip to Cork Zoo you can drop me a line via this enquiry form.    Find out more about my pre-wedding photo shoot and wedding consultations on the website, or alternatively pop into the studio in Kenmare.  Chat soon : ) Nick


The evolution of a creative portrait

If you are anything like me you’ll see the work of peers and wonder where it is they get their never ending and constant streams of creativity. I’m sure there are people who just have ideas each day when they are having breakfast and that’s them set. I’m a million miles away from that person, I can appreciate great art but sit me down with a blank page to write down ideas and an hour later my page will still be blank.   For me the only way to be creative and create something different is to just go out with the camera and try to build on what I know is important and works.

It’s important for me to stress here that I don’t believe that ‘waiting for that special moment’ ever works. I see that phrase in a lot of wedding photographers blogs and it’s nonsense.  To create strong images, you need to work with what is going on and  put something of your own in, you can’t just sit by and wait for it to happen.

I thought I’d write a blog about this creative process and use one of my own favourite images from 2015 as an example.  It was taken on behalf of a Manchester based charity called Safe Child Africa  and my brief was to capture some portraits that they could use to highlight their work.  You never really know what to expect when you arrive at a project in the field. As we were greeted I was told that this particular project  involved a foster mother who had voluntarily taken in about 15 young lads.  Apart from supporting their normal day to day activities she spends time encouraging them to  learn skills in crafts that they then use to help fund the cost of school.

This is an image from that session that I’m most pleased with. What this blog will show is how it could never have happened had I not built up from a simple image.

Portrait Calabar

From the second I get out of a car in any new place, I’m immediately looking for suitable portrait locations. The sun is always very high in the sky in Nigeria, so I know I need to either find good shade cover or pose people very close to a high wall. I know from bad experience that I don’t ever want the sun to feature in a portrait.  Archways are always good, and so I’ve become used to completing a quick 10 second survey of arches, doors and the like.  I’m not a great believer in taking any extra time to find something better, if something fits then I plan on using that place when the time comes to take my camera from my bag.

At this point I’ll just ask one person from a group (randomly) if they might just stand in front of the neutral background whilst I take a few pictures. If a group is watching (which at this stage it most probably will) I’m actually using this time to show them how I direct a pose.  I want them all to know that when their time comes I’ll be directing them in the same way.

This is all very deliberate because I know I’m never just going to be taking one person and leaving.  Thankfully Nigerians tend to be much more relaxed in front of a camera than the timid British and that is a massive help for me. If I ask someone to pose in a certain way, they’ll tend to do exactly that.

Here’s the first portrait from the day in question.
Portrait Calabar

The first thing that I noticed with this lad is his t-shirt. There’s so much going on with the colour and pattern here that I knew we had to do something.  The t-shirt is all over this picture and so it is hard for the viewer to actually notice the boy. The easy thing to do was to ask him to show something he’d made.   There’s nothing spectacular with what we achieved in this, we’d just built upon a good background and reduced the impact of his colourful t-shirt. I was happy enough at this point.

Portrait Boy, Calabar

The idea of featuring the crafts the boys had made in their portrait was now established , and so we simply repeated the exercise with another boy. To my right was a corrugated iron fence and by using that instead of the wall for the boy above I knew we were able to remain with the same theme, but give the impression that that it was an entirely different location.

This boy had made this marvellous woolen blanket and rather than just have him hold it in front on display we tried a couple of different ideas to make for a more interesting picture.  Blanket portrait

Blanket Portrait

I felt immediately as  I’d taken the shot directly above that it was a bit twee and just didn’t work. I liked the idea but it just didn’t work here, I wasn’t particularly worried because the image where he was holding the blanket out was already in the camera and I liked it.

And then… another of the boys from the foster home stepped up and asked me for his picture. He’d been in the group watching for the past 10 minutes and I not used him for anything because…well.. of his shirt.  I don’t like busy or complex fabric designs in any portrait, as they tend to become a feature which isn’t really my thing.  I would obviously never refuse a portrait request, so instead of just taking one I asked the boy above if we could use his blanket.

Shirt design

All of this is very light hearted which allowed me to be frank and say “I really don’t like that shirt” lets do something different.  and hey presto then we get this. Portrait Calabar

And that was pretty much it; we were able to create a strong and creative image by just being aware of the many imaging components and then adapting them to the situation we faced. There’s nothing magical in photography. The camera in my hand was a Nikon, but it could have equally have been an iPhone. Modern day cameras can do far more than we are able to ask them.

For those curious about the technical side of this portrait, I‘m using the actual owner of the blanket to bounce some light back onto the shadow side of his face. The reflector he was holding has a gold  side which works brilliantly on dark skin.   The exposure setting was 1/125 at f/5 with an ISO of 320.

Nick Cavanagh is a portrait photographer working at home in Ireland and abroad in Sub Saharan Africa.  You can contact him and ask anything by using this form.   His mobile is 0879 491 002

New Frame Style, ‘Sail’ by Salvadori Cornici

Here’s a quick blog entry for customers thinking about which frame option to choose for a print.  We’ve added a new frame style to our studio range today. It’s called ‘Sail’ and I’m really taken with it. I thought I’d discuss why I think it will become a great addition to our in-store range.
Sail in GreyFirst, the large internal depth of this particular frame will make a good option for larger mounted prints. As a guide the print shown here is 24″ x 16″ (60cm x 40cm).  It is definitely a frame designed to draw the viewer in and is well suited for prints where we might want to present a lot of detail.   If you have a wall already in mind that has other images hanging, maybe a simpler frame might be more appropriate, but as a solo modern piece this looks grand.

Sail DepthYou can see a close up of the frame quality here. The grey vinyl used in the sample corner gives a clean and modern look.  The covered wooden internal frame shown below proves that nothing has been compromised in terms of build quality.  I’m confident saying that this is a frame that is made to last.

Sail Grey CloseThe frame is manufactured for us by Salvadori Cornici, (an Italian manufacturer) and it is available in a variety of finishes. You can view the available options in the image below and if you click on the image you’ll get a much bigger version to view.    Personally I’m not convinced by the reflective options,  the type of natural portraits I try to capture might clash with them but I do think the rest are compelling.

Sail Available Finishes

If you want to talk through frame options, I’m always happy to offer my thoughts.  I would definitely advise that you take your time and tread carefully if you’ve a slight doubt about the style. There should no rush when it comes to choosing your frame.  We’re open  6 days a week but if you want to chat via email that works too.  Just drop us a line on our ‘Ask us Anything’ contact page.

Before you go, did you read yesterday’s blog about our prize offered in Supervalu’s raffle? You can view it here.

Family Portraits; can the old masters teach us something?

As long as humans have been able to put paint on a wall we’ve been obsessed by the family portrait. We find drawings of family groups on pre-historic caves, inside ancient Egyptian pyramids and since the middle ages they have been hanging on every wall in every home. If we ever needed proof that the family portrait is still important to folkl, it is the one question about our work that I get asked each day.

The answer is yes, we do spend a lot of our time capturing family groups, but the question made me think. How might I be able to deliver the best quality every time a family comes to visit us. Can we prepare something that goes a bit further than ‘normal and straightforward’ ?

Family Portrait Blackwater

Family Portrait Blackwater Valley, Kenmare

I’ve always known that creating a strong family portrait is the biggest challenge facing any photographer, but how to go one better and create a stunning finish ? I decided to begin by looking at family portraits from history to see what the masters of the past came up with. I’m not sure but I’m guessing that Mum & Dad in the picture below were not on the best of terms on the day of this portrait!

Family Portrait

The Cuspinian family portrait painted by Bernhard Strigel (1520).

With any group image there are always so many things the photographer has to be aware of. You have to believe me, remaining in control of 10 people whilst many eyes are all looking in multiple directions is enough to make anyone dizzy. How the artists of old managed to keep children still whilst painting them baffles me.

And then it occurred to me.. I’ve been so focused on keeping the family’s eyes open I was ignoring everything else that would make the image really special! I was basically saying to myself “Eyes open?”, “Yes”, “SNAP”.

Keeping the family portrait image fresh is vitally important.

Preparation for a family portait is an interesting balance between remaining flexible and leaving nothing to chance. We are basically aiming to create a flawless piece of art that is timeless, classic and unique. That’s why we invite families to let us know who will be coming, how old they are and who is related to who. It’s helpful to know what makes each family tick.

During the renaissance, artists would be commissioned by families to paint the family portrait. We all know how technically gifted these artists were with their paint and brush, but what they really excelled at was their ability to create a portrait not just of the family group, but an image that showed their role in society, what their interests were and even where they lived. We should definitely not forget that family pets played a part on the canvas! I love the movement in this picture – how often do we see gust of wind play a part in a family portrait?

Family Portrait by Coxcie

Portrait of a Family. Jan Anthony Coxcie (1694)

The personal work that these artists lay down on canvas all those years ago is a challenge for modern photographers today. The family portrait genre should never be mundane or generic. These are unique pieces of art that will be passed through generations. We need to up our game and reawaken the genre of the classic family portrait. Just because we can take 10 pictures a second doesn’t mean we should. Taking time to get it right is so much better than clicking and hoping. If a family spend their time outdoors should their portrait not reflect that? If they love dogs, the dogs need to be there. A picture only becomes a portrait when it tells the story. The family portrait is so much more than a group shot of relatives.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait at Parknasilla Spa, Sneem

I’d be delighted if after reading this you’d be interested in having your own family portrait captured by us. You can read more about our service here or visit our studio at any time to discuss ideas. By chatting through the ideas for the picture we’ll be well on the way to creating something that can never be called mundane. My mobile number is 0879 491 002 and you can always ask us anything by using this email form.
I’m particulary interested in hearing from a family who might want to take part in a creative family portrait that I’ve got in mind. Something special : ) Drop me a line.