Eleanor & Ben

I woke to a balmy Spring day in London town – oh who am I kidding, April in London, there had to be showers..or maybe even snow! But nothing could dampen our spirits as we waited excitedly for Eleanor and Ben to arrive at Southwark Registry Office. Ben arrived in good spirits laden down with beautiful floral bouquets created by Becca at Hayford & Rhodes, followed shortly after by Eleanor who, with a background in the theatre, arrived in a carefully crafted blush coloured gown in delicate organza and satin, that will surely result in requests for commissions from friends and family for some time to come. After a beautiful ceremony, Ben took the instruction “You may now kiss the bride” quite seriously, giving possibly the longest, most passionate post ceremony kiss I have ever photographed, to Eleanor, amid rapturous applause. (Note to future bride’s and groom’s: it’s not a competition, but I do love to see the romance). 

After handing out 15 white umbrellas everyone embarked on the short walk to the reception at The Crooked Well to the sound of Londoners in their cars tooting their congratulations. A hearty feast, followed by heartfelt speeches. Being a fellow Lindy Hop dancer, I was full of anticipation about the first dance. Lights were rigged, chair’s were positioned and shoes removed then Eleanor said, “We need more space, we’re going to dance like we do around our lounge!” – I thought that was just my guilty pleasure, I’m glad I am not alone.  As ‘On a Ragga Tip’ by SL2 came blasting out the speakers, Ben and Eleanor started to rave and the guests piled on 30 seconds later to join the party. Dancing continued on long after we left. 

Another wedding in collaboration with award winning Gordon Smith Baxter . Eleanor and Ben’s big day seen through two very different pairs of eyes, from two different perspectives. Here are a few of our favourite pics from the day. Please feel free to leave comments below for Eleanor, Ben or us. 

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Autumnal Family Shoot

I joined Gordon Smith Baxter Photography for a fun family shoot in Cambridgeshire last weekend. Whilst Gordon worked his magic in the studio, I took a few photographs of Woody and Ernie in his garden. Autumn provides us with, not only glorious, rich colours, but beautiful dappled sunlight which you simply don’t get in Summer. Gordon and I have the same ethos on family shoots, first and foremost they should be fun. Here are a few of the photographs I captured, along with some behind the scenes…enjoy.

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Nadia & Charles

It was the perfect day for an outdoor wedding set alongside the charming river Cam in Cambridge. The river was bustling with life – punts, ducks and Japanese tourists with more camera equipment than I even own. Even a herd of cows passed by on the other side and paused to witness the vows at one point.

Once the ceremony was over the party got under way big time and what can I say, these guys know how to party!

Today I was second shooting for the awesome Gordon Smith Baxter Photography. It’s great to work with another creative, to bounce ideas off each other, learn new ways of doing things and generally share in the joy we both have of photographing weddings.

My role was to shadow Charles, whilst Gordon photographed Nadia’s morning preparations. Here are a selection of my photographs taken on the day. Please leave comments below for the bride, groom and myself and share on Facebook, Pinterest etc.

As always, photographs are copyright of Helen Perry Photography so please do not copy or use them without permission. Photographs are reduced in resolution for faster viewing.

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Beth & Ric

‘The Big Get Away’ is the day when statistically most Brits get in their cars and leave for their Summer holiday – this I was to realise only whilst sat in an enormous queue on the motorway in torrential rain. Seven hours after setting off I arrived in Portishead, grateful we had packed 7 cream umbrellas and wondering exactly what tomorrow would bring.

I woke to the pleasant surprise of brilliant sunshine and immediately headed over to the hairdresses where Beth and her bridesmaids had started getting ready. Much hair rollering, backcombing, hair spraying and Champagne drinking later and the girls were good to go. Beth arrived at St. Peter’s church in style, stepping out of a vintage classic Austin 7 looking elegant and sophisticated. I was second shooting for the creative and talented Gordon Smith Baxter Photography and I photographed proceedings from the rear of the church, up a surprisingly narrow, spiral staircase to a balcony overlooking the congregation. Fully wired with a modern sound system, I didn’t miss a word of the service. At one point the vicar noted that she had never had pre-marriage meetings before where she struggled to get a word in as the groom liked to talk so much, causing uproarious laughter in the congregation.

Following the service, the wedding party proceeded to grand Clevedon Hall, where the wedding breakfast would be served in the library. Guests enjoyed a tipple in the beautifully manicured grounds beforehand whilst listening to live music performed by friends. With Beth being a doctor and Ric a chemist, there were a fair few medics and scientists in the house. Their passion for sailing was apparent and provided some comedy material for the speeches. The evening kicked off with an energetic Ceilidh dance and the celebrations continued on into the wee small hours.

Here are a selection of the photographs I captured on the day. Please leave comments below for Beth and Ric or myself and feel free to link to Facebook or Pinterest.

Photographs are reduced in resolution for fast web viewing and copyright of Helen Perry Photography. Please do not copy or use without prior permission.

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One Hell of a Show!

In the past two years I have discovered a passion for dance. As a child I loved to watch Come Dancing with my mother and watched in awe as the ladies were twirled around the dance floor in dazzling dresses. When I grew up I thought dance was always something other people did, despite a few early ballet and tap classes. I admired from afar but never imagined I could bring dance into my life until two things happened, one of which was being asked to photograph for Dance Arts Academy. Of course watching the little un’s do ballet and tap did remind me fondly of my childhood, but it was watching the teenagers dancing as if in a music video that made me stop and think. My chosen dance styles have since become Modern Jive and Lindy hop. Both are so much fun, Modern Jive being accessible to all, fluid, full or spins and turns and swinging Lindy hop being more energetic, ‘let your hair down’ flamboyant.

The common phenomenon I’ve found in both is the lack of male leads. It seems women love to dance but men, less so. I suspect this is because as children girls are encouraged to express themselves through dance and can be found more often in ballet and tap classes, where as boys are pushed more towards football and such like. Either way, as we grow up we are encouraged to leave behind our artistic, playful side and focus on what we are told are the fundamental skills for life, namely maths, english and so on and so forth.

I touched on the subject in my last blog post about Dance Arts Academy, but when our society struggles with obesity and other health related issues from lack of exercise, the best way to get your recommended weekly raising of the heart rate, is not by forcing yourself to pound a treadmill at the gym but to do something you love – inadvertent exercise. For me, dancing is that, and so much more. It gets me moving, gets my heart racing from the sheer joy as well as the exertion.

I love the philosophy of Dance Arts Academy owner Catherine Lewis in making dance open to all. It’s never a competition or about being the best, only about participating, letting dance into your life from an early age and hopefully never letting it go. The only regret I ever hear a dancer speak of, is wishing that they had learnt to dance earlier.

Dance Arts Academy and the Reading School of Dance joined together to create a showcase of their classes. A day where the children could perform for their parents, grandparents and siblings. Putting on a show like this is no mean feat and being asked to photograph backstage I saw just what goes into staging such a show. The 160+ children, dance teachers and numerous volunteers gave an enormous amount of effort and delivered some fantastic performances which they can be proud of. Never stop dancing kids, you were amazing!

Here are a selection of behind the scenes photographs shot at beautiful Bearwood College of Radio Times – Dance Through the Decades. As always, photographs are copyright of Helen Perry Photography so please do not copy or use without prior permission.

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Yulia

200 dresses and over 200 pairs of shoes housed in a bedroom converted into a wardrobe. A 5 metre sculpture of Mother Earth in a Ukrainian town with her face on it, performer in her own one woman theatre show, now CEO of a consultancy agency. Owner of 14 rescue cats, 4 dogs (all but 1 rescued), 7 rabbits, 2 rescued turtles and a flightless Indian ringneck parrot found in a shoebox. Yulia is not your typical model, determined and resilient, defender of the underdog and seemingly more at home with animals than people. Honesty in love and hate, simplicity in desire and a lack of greed she tells me is what appeals about animals.

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I later learn in exchange for modelling she wishes for her fee to be donated to Phnom Penh Wildlife Rescue Centre who work with the Wildlife Alliance to rescue wild animals from the illegal wildlife trade and attempt to release them back into the wild or offer them a permanent home should that not be possible.

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The cause is close to her heart when years earlier Yulia stumbled upon Charlie (a 2 week old baby macaque monkey) in the jungle on Koh Rong Island, off the coast of Cambodia, alone, apart from one elderly family member (who could not be saved), all others in the troop had been slaughtered by poachers. She took him home, put him in nappies and carried him around for 10 months as if he were her own infant. She knew at some point a permanent home would be needed for her growing monkey, but where can you re-home an orphaned monkey who has no one in the world but you to care for him? After months of research she found the perfect home for Charlie at the Phnom Penh Wildlife Rescue Centre. The only problem, they did not have a suitable enclosure and they would need $3,500 to build one. Not put off by these obstacles, Yulia set about raising money to build a permanent enclosure since Charlie would not be able to be released back into the wild, having mostly only known her. Later Yulia was to meet Eli in a bar, another monkey who was being given cigarettes and alcohol by her alcoholic owner. She intervened and now Charlie and Eli are inseparable playmates at the centre where Yulia still visits fortnightly and continues to financially support. I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours being leapt on and groomed by these two monkeys and another, rescued later. All three seem delighted with their new, safe but exciting surroundings and their bond, to the staff and each other is evident. To support the good work of the rescue centre and to have your own unforgettable experience, you can book a tour of the centre here.

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As a social portrait photographer I am always interested in seeing the true person beneath the mask of clothes and smiles that we wear. Scratch the surface and I find Yulia is a surprisingly multi-faceted person. Her nurturing nature doesn’t just extend to animals, though she one day dreams of owning her own animal sanctuary. Her background is in Human Rights, having worked for 11 years at the UNRWA UNHCR Human Rights Watch Amnesty International Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre. As head of the community services unit for urban refugees her role was to ensure those most vulnerable (unaccompanied minors, SGBV victims etc.) were settled, had legal papers and a sustainable solution was found. She sought foster families for unaccompanied minors, helped trace lost family and so much more. Now, disheartened by the UN she believes it to be an excuse for governments to keep manipulating politics and simply have the UN clean up their mess. Eventually this drove her decision to resign.

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It seems there is nothing Yulia can’t make a success of as in 2010 she and her partner of seven years, Darren Harris founded Innov8 International, a consultancy agency specialising in corporate events, market research, corporate training and systems development and who’s clients include the giants Coca Cola and ANZ Bank. Not forgetting her routes and a strong desire to make the world a better place, they run corporate responsibility projects raising funds for charity and Innov8 has made donations to an orphanage, paid medical bills for sick children as well as supporting wildlife conservation projects.

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How then did she get into modelling I wonder. Like something out of a fairytale her Ukrainian grandmother was a legendary beauty whom strangers would come to visit, with a husband 12 years younger in a time when such things were completely unheard of. Her father, a painter, chose not to leave his homeland and follow his wife and teenage daughter for a new life in Canada and was to tragically die of sarcoma within 3 months of diagnosis, not affording Yulia the opportunity to say goodbye, something that will haunt her forever. She describes the pain, as real today as when she first learnt of his passing.

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Modelling she describes mostly as a hobby, something she enjoys doing, though she did some through Canadian and American agencies as a teenager, her mother put a swift stop to it, instead encouraging her to focus on her education. As an adult she became involved in avant-guarde, body expressive theatre productions and placed second at an International Theatre Festival where she performed in her own one woman show in Hungary. Unfazed by the request to wear minimal make-up and knowledge that no Photoshop would be used, I ask her if she is as ‘at one’ with her body as she seems to be. She admits, no one is perfect and on down days she sees flaws but quickly picks herself up again. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in the mind too” she says. She describes her 30’s as a liberating decade after suffering debilitating bullying during her school days. She enjoyed the process of dressing up, applying make up and going out but always en-route to social occasions would lose courage, slowly removing her jewellery, wiping off her makeup, resolving she did not want to be noticed. Shy of both her looks and her intellect, when interesting ideas would come to her she would tell others that someone else had said it instead of claiming the idea as her own. This picture is a painful one and when I reflect on the woman who stood before me as I photographed her in Cambodia, I see she has come a long way and has a lot to be proud of.

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Yulia’s love of fashion is as strong today as it was in her youth, a self confessed shoe addict, though not a labels person, not a big fan of day long shopping trips Yulia instead prefers looking around vintage shops and flea markets hunting for individual pieces. Her wardrobe contains everything from $2 dresses found at flea markets to $2000 designer dresses, all of which she loves in equal measure. Her advice is to not concern yourself with following trends but instead to seek that which you love and that which makes you happy.

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Photographs taken under the expert tutelage of Damien Lovegrove. Feel free to leave comments below and share on social media and Pinterest.

More Tales From Cambodia

Climbing down from the minibus I heard the thunder of small feet. I look up half expecting arms outstretched, hands cupped, but these children are not asking for anything from me. They stop abruptly 5 metres from me as if a force field stands between us. They crowd around, clinging nervously to one another, heads tilted, eyes wide. We are both equally intrigued by one another. I smile, they smile, my heart melts. I could happily have spent several days with the children of this remote rural village. Without a doubt I would have learnt a lot about friendship, enjoying the simple pleasures in life, like splashing in the river and living off the land.

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Below, children surround my tuk tuk (motorbike pulled carriage), keen to come say hello and even more delighted when I showed them their image on the back of my camera.

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Visiting Cambodia during the rainy season meant everything was lush and green, sometimes wild and overgrown.

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“I’ve heard there is some good kickboxing going on over here, want to go watch?” And with that I’d agreed to attend my first kickboxing match. I’ve never hit or kicked anyone in my life or thankfully, been hit or kicked. It wasn’t the world I grew up in, a world where breaking a sweat probably meant you were ‘horsing around’ and needed to calm down. In adulthood I’m a pretty measured person and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about seeing people potentially hurting one another, for entertainment? For exercise? Proving once again that travel teaches you not just about the world around you but also about yourself, on this day I learnt that I enjoy watching kickboxing matches. There, I said it. I walked into a dark, humid, hanger at night, unsure of what to expect, but I soon became fascinated as I patrolled ringside with my lens, adrenaline pumping. There is definitely a skill to be admired and agility and respect seems high on the list of necessary attributes, more so than hatred or thuggish aggression. It’s tactical and controlled and I admit I was excited enough to leap jubilantly through the ropes at the end to pose for a group photo with the exhausted and slightly surprised participants.

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Below, a woman in traditional costume dances. They spend years perfecting very specific hand movements for this slow, flowing, ritualistic dance. She must keep perfect posture in order to keep the heavy, ornate crown from falling.

Ancient temples in the jungle made for an excellent backdrop for photographing this lady however, I learnt another valuable life lesson on this day. Never wear shorts in the jungle but if you do, certainly never stand still long enough for ants to climb your legs and bite you. Repellant can’t help you and running soon gets tiring.

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The food and colourful night life.

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Although the UK is famous for having four seasons in one day, 30 seconds in a Cambodian shower and you have to change you’re so entirely soaked through. But as sharp as they fall, showers cease quickly and after the pavements glisten anew.

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Cambodia is a land rich in natural wonders, with beautiful tranquil lakes at sunset and noisy, fast flowing waterfalls surrounded by delicate foliage.

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Cambodia, it’s been a pleasure, thank you for having me.

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Inspired

My travels in Cambodia were not all about sight seeing. In reality, I’d had a lifelong dream to visit nearby Vietnam but didn’t know much at all about Cambodia. However, when I learnt that the enormously talented photographer Damien Lovegrove would be teaching out here, I jumped at the chance. I’m a firm believer that you never stop learning and it’s a mistake to ever think you know all there is to know about a subject and close the book on it. I continue to be hungry to learn more and to be inspired by those around me. It’s not about being better than anyone else but about being the best you can be, being better than you were last month and last year. The rush I get when everything comes together and I capture exactly what I had envisioned or something even better evolves, is like a drug and I’m addicted. Learning is about increasing the run rate on punching the air and exclaiming “Perry you are cooking on gas!”.

Let’s be honest, I’m sure we’ve all been taught by “those who can’t, teach” or those that don’t really want you to fully grasp the ideas or techniques, either because they haven’t the patience it takes to get you there, or because, ‘why would you share all your secrets?’. Damien Lovegrove is so far down the other end of the spectrum, I need binoculars to see him. He has to be one of the most generous educators I have ever come across. I imagine he would positively swell with pride if one of his past delegates produced award winning imagery later. He is enthusiastic beyond measure. I’m sure some evenings his wife must have to wrestle the camera out his hands in order to make him stop at the end of the day. He gives, and keeps on giving, even when you’ve asked the 100th question on your list, it’s dark and it’s surely time to clock off.

He asks for energy from his models and he gives it in bucket loads. He sees nothing as a problem. Nothing can come in the way of achieving the vision that he has in his head, even when that vision is on the second floor of a derelict building with no staircase, a quality I greatly admire. The experience has reminded me once more to enjoy the process, not just focus on the end result. Life is for living and Damien knows how to live it.

Our beautiful model Charlotte was a joy to photograph. Effervescent, sophisticated and clearly also loves what she does.

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Tales from Cambodia

I’ve always adopted the boy scouts motto of ‘Always Be Prepared’, never more so than when travelling. Somehow four years had managed to elapse since I’d last been abroad, despite a deep love of travel. As I exited the airport arrivals hall to clamber into a taxi in the pitch dark with a man who spoke no English, I reflected on the leap of faith you have to take when travelling abroad alone. Sure you take all the precautions you can to protect yourself but being in unfamiliar territory there is ultimately an element of, hoping for the best. With the adrenaline pumping I soon found myself unable to tear my eyes from the scene around me. As we raced towards the city centre of Phnom Penh I felt alive as hundreds of motorbikes, cars and tuk tuk’s, jam packed full of people, swerved in and out all around me, honking horns. Motorbikes with toddlers stood sandwiched between parents. Moped’s carrying crates of chicks, veg, you name it. I felt like Jeremy Clarkson in a Top Gear travels episode, though I couldn’t tell you about the horse power of anything I had a ludicrously big grin on my face. The adventure was just beginning.

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Holiday’s previously had involved a spreadsheet with fun scheduled at exactly 11.05am (anything earlier would just be wrong) and boyfriend’s base jump at 15.00. But with a hectic work schedule, relinquishing control to Linda Bell (Founder of Essential Explorations) was a must and something entirely new to me. Our first excursion to the Russian markets was a cultural immersion so full of colour I hardly knew where to look. There you could buy everything from moped parts to a cooling sugar cane drink, a “genuine fake” Mont Blanc and fish for supper. The buzz, the steam, the cockroaches, the smell!

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Away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh the Mekong river provides a lifeline for the villagers who use it.

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After an overnight stay in Siem Reap, it was a bus ride to Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and home to more than 100 different bird species from storks to pelicans as well as other animals like otters and turtles. 90% of the surrounding population earn their income from fishing here. The floating village includes a school with notices attached, kindly requesting visitors not to stop and disrupt the pupils education from local monks. Drifting past wooden houses on stilts set alongside the river gave me an insight into a distinctly different way of life. Life is difficult and some houses flood seasonally forcing the inhabitants to relocate to higher ground, but everyone I saw had a smile for me.

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Moving home does not always mean removing ones possessions but rather tethering the wooden house to a rowing boat with outboard motor which literally drags the floating home down the river to a new location.

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Angelina Jolie fans may remember scenes from Tomb Raider were shot here, indeed Cambodia is where she met and fell in love with one child she later adopted after visiting an orphanage here during a break from filming. I would have loved to have visited an orphanage myself, having worked in one in Hungary some years ago, however I understand there is a fine line between offering supplies and quality time to orphaned children, and not allowing children to become something of a tourist attraction for ones own pleasure. I was shocked to learn that not all orphanages here were born out of genuine need, instead corruption has led to the buying of children to live in these orphanages from poor families in rural areas. A money making scheme to get cash from tourists, so visiting is generally discouraged. I fear the long-term psychological effects on these children who feel abandoned and become institutionalised in this manner.

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Ta Phrom, made famous by the Tomb Raider film starring Angelina Jolie, is a small but impressive lateritic and sandstone structure built by King Jayavarmen VII in the 13th Century. The ancient trees have taken over, their roots ensnaring the temples. I was so lucky to be able to capture these photographs as sadly there is a plan to clear the trees from the site this coming year, in order to rebuild the temples. The magic of the place will be lost forever for me.

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The rainy season (July-September) is the perfect time for a photographer to visit Cambodia. After the rain your grass looks rich and lush, surfaces glimmer and there are fewer tourists featuring in your photographs. It was during one torrential downpour that I visited the World Heritage site of Angkor Wat to marvel at the craftsmanship that has gone into this most magnificent of architectural feats. Once the capital of the Khmer Empire, built in the early 12th century, it’s a fascinating place, first used as a Hindu then Buddhist temple. It’s a proud symbol for the Cambodian people, a place to lose yourself in and ponder on the past.

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To be continued…

Annette and Tom Tie the Knot

As I attempted to elegantly climb over the padlocked gate into Annette’s field I knew this wedding would be a little bit different. Just one week away Annette pointed towards one corner of the grassy field, then the next, explaining her vision of her future wedding day. I wondered how she would transform this empty field in less than a week, but I didn’t need to worry, Annette is the type of woman who knows what she wants and get’s things done.

No posing, she had said to me, and with that I had agreed to my first, reportage only “fly on the wall” wedding. No directing, no moving things into good light, no planning. Instead the approach is to watch and wait, wait for that moment, those emotions, then to run like the wind to where you know you’ve got to be to get a good angle, without tripping over anything.

I woke to glorious sunshine and joined Annette and her bridesmaid for preparations in the marquee. A dangerous recipe for home-made punch was underway. The wild flowers were picked. The DJ was compiling his playlist. The field had been transformed and the countdown had begun.

I meandered down to the village pub to find Tom in the beer garden calming his nerves over a pint..or two with friends, before heading back to photograph Annette’s final preparations. There is a moment on every morning, of every wedding day, when the bride is almost ready and her thoughts turn to the significance of the day. A quiet stillness envelops the room. It’s a moment of being, completely in the moment and you can’t help but notice everything; the beating of your heart, the goosebumps, your breathing, every single thing your body is feeling as you reflect on this commitment you are about to make. Call me an old romantic but it’s one of my favourite parts of the day, just a few minutes long but it always affects me and reminds me what a privileged role I have to play. Often this arrives when the bridesmaids are dashing around downstairs putting the finishing touches to their make up or topping up the bubbles in their glasses. Often it’s just me and the bride, she turns to me and I see the thoughts flash past her eyes and we share in that moment of anticipation and wonder at the future, not saying anything. On this occasion Annette had her moment of reflection surrounded by the girls and so the excitement built.

The church was packed (standing room only at the back) and as we waited for Annette’s arrival I could sense Tom’s nerves. These quickly melted away when, to the sound of the organ belting out, Annette walked down the aisle on the arm of her proud father. The love Tom and Annette have for each other couldn’t be seen any clearer than in the moment they saw each other for the first time that day and I couldn’t help but beam uncontrollably myself. I think the photographs speak for themselves.

After the service the 300 strong congregation walked in procession up to the field where the revelry began, kick started with the home-made punch and a hog roast. Guests lapped up the early evening sun sat amidst the long grass whilst Red Kites flew overhead. A visiting ice-cream van and even the portaloo’s gave the celebrations that festival feel Annette and Tom so wanted. A demonstration of Irish dancing followed by band, The Life of Riley, got everyone onto the dance floor. The dancing continued well into the early hours and a bonfire built by Tom earlier in the week was set ablaze to keep the many guests camping in the fields behind a little cosier. Here are a selection of my favourite photographs from their special day. Feel free to leave comments below and click to share the blog post on Pinterest and Facebook but remember, photographs are copyright of Helen Perry Photography so please don’t copy (steal) them, it’s not very nice. As always, photographs are reduced in resolution for fast web viewing. Enjoy!

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