Well, I arrived in Italy yesterday for a few days to shoot a large wedding (with the promise of famous entertainment) in Florence in the heart of Tuscany.
I thought I would document this trip for myself more than anything but if anyone is interested, there are some interesting and need to know facts that you must deal with and plan ahead for if you are planning on humping your kit all over the world to shoot weddings!
The journey to Malaga Airport was a doddle in the early hours of the morning but seeing my 2 year old daughter cry and shout "Daaaaddeeee" as I got out of the car was something else. My 4 year old son was also clearly upset as this was the first time I had got on a plane without them.
Still, a hasty entrance into the airport cured it for me and the offer of food to my daughter by my wife instantly cured her pain too! Hrmph!
Flight to Milan piece of cake (Malaga doesn't fly direct to Florence) and the views were amazing as we jetted along the French coastline for much of the way. Pics taken with camera phone by the way.
Baggage, first off and I was first out of the terminal. Car, easy and the Italian folk at Europe Car were very friendly and even helped me book a hotel at the airport for my last night.
Got outside and the heavens opened! August in Tuscany...great!
It rained for most of the 300km journey to Florence but I still managed to sing, talk to myself and annoy the wife with pointless and unnecessary texts most of the way.
Tuscany is beautiful although I was a bit disappointed with Florence...very busy and industrial looking in the rain. Maybe a full days stock photography today will see it in a different light? Weather looks good and I am meeting the wedding couple later so off I go!
Destination Weddings - Day 2 - The Italian Job
Well...what can I say? My first impressions of Florence were quite unfounded as I found out today.
I woke to sunny blue skies and set out at 10am. The walk to the car park just happened to pass a castle and plenty of amazing architecture. When I got to the main riverbank area I was gob smacked...beautiful, just like walking into a painting and just how I imagined Tuscany to be.
The culture here is amazing and the ancient statues and buildings completely dwarf anything else I have ever seen. However...
August in Florence is a no-no! There must have been 10's of thousands of people all milling about buying, eating, having their portraits drawn and generally being tourists. Everywhere I looked there were advanced digital compacts and DSLR's...amazing. The Digital SLR craze really is in full swing...I bet they all had them on full auto though...
Driving - Don't do it...not here. If you come to Tuscany in August hire a bike and cycle around or just walk. The roads here are as mad as a box of frogs! Italian drivers have obviously spent too much time watching and dreaming of being short listed for "The Italian Job - Part 3".
If you do drive...get a map. Then tear it up and throw it in the bin! Simply drive aimlessly for hours until you finally find where you are going by accident like I did. What you see on a map after carefully planning your journey is irrelevant.
They seem to have a cunning network of one way streets here that only locals know of after being initiated into a secret sect or "Order of the crazy driver". Once, I found myself (after carefully navigating increasingly shrinking streets), slap bang in the middle of a pedestrian shopping centre!!!
If that wasn't embarrassing enough, trying to do a 25 point turn on a heavily packed pedestrian street with a million people surrounding your car and pointing, really "took the biscuit".
Still, I managed to shoot over 200 stock photos before meeting the wedding couple who, by the way, are a very nice couple indeed! They told me who the two lots of entertainment are and I am quite looking forward to it I must admit...
I can't say who it is yet as some of the guests don't know and it is a surprise...but I am impressed nonetheless. Watch this space in a few weeks for a short video of their performance as I will be filming some of it as well as shooting it.
Anyway, part one of the wedding tomorrow...the civil ceremony in the Sala Rossa (Red Room) in the City Hall. What a room! Bellissimo!
Destination Weddings - Day 3 - The Civil Ceremony
Well, that is part one of the wedding over and what a truly eventful day! Out at 9.30am starting with a 2km hike to get the car followed by a simple 20 minute drive to one of the most amazing hotels in the world...literally.
It is listed as one of the world's top hotels and I can see why. Nestled in beautiful woodland gardens overlooking the City of Florence with incredibly helpful and friendly staff. I ordered a couple of coffees whilst waiting and of course, no charge. These would set me back over €5 a time at a 5* hotel in Spain...Italy=class!
I also met a couple of very talented brothers who run an Art Gallery in Florence and were hosting an exhibition in the hotel. After chatting for a while I agreed to do a shoot for them on the day before I leave in exchange, from what I could gather, for a very expensive piece of art! We shall see...
The fact that it was pouring with rain throughout the day didn't dampen things, especially with the happy couple. I rode to the "Sala Rosa" with the Bride and Groom and entered the City Hall. Wow! Impressive architecture.
Note: The saying "you get what you pay for" doesn't count here either. One family of guests who flew in for the wedding by private jet, had their luggage misplaced by the Savoy of all places which meant they had to attend the ceremony in the clothes they wore to travel in.
A few shots inside after the ceremony, followed by Champagne at the Savoy and then back to the other Hotel. Weather too bad for shots outside so a few of the meal and then "finito bonito" for me...or at least I thought it was!
Got back to my hotel after another 2km walk from the car park, kicked off my shoes, got everything charging and uploading, set phazer to "fun" and then got a text from the Bride. Not only had it stopped raining but it was clear blue skies and as warm as toast...
...2km walk back to the car, 20 minute drive to the couples hotel for a few shots in the garden.
Feet blistered, calves as hard as rock, back aching but I was out now and it was sunny...may as well make the most of it and I am glad I did!!!
I drove up to Michelangelo Square to see the view I had heard so much about...holy cr*p! This place just keeps amazing me. I stood in the same spot for two hours whilst filming the sunset (for a speeded up time lapse sunset over Florence), and waited for dusk...
Imagine this...the sun is setting over the one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, you are admiring the view with thousands of other people whilst chilling on some steps listening to a guy playing guitar for everyone...Ooh Yeah! I like my job.
Part two tomorrow evening...a meal and party accompanied by special guest number one.
Destination Weddings - Day 4 - The welcome of the guests with an evening meal.
Woke up to the sounds of heavy rain...my heart sank once again! This was to be an outside function at one of the most prestigious and beautiful parts of Tuscany...sigh! Off I go...2km hike...blaa blaa blaa, you know the routine. It's getting harder to carry all the kit including 2 bodies, 6 lenses, heavy Manfrotto tripod, speedlights and enough battery power to fire up the space station every day!
I have set off about 6 hours early in the vain hope that I may get some stock shots in before this evening...raining all the way. Luckily I have found an Italian "Rock FM" radio station which plays all my faves from yesteryear! I go deep into Classic Chianti country on the Estate of Machiavelli with some of the most impressive villas and countryside I have seen.
Rock FM then plays "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd...one of my all time greats and as it plays...the sun slowly but surely comes out...and stays out for the rest of the day. Yay!
After shooting a ton of stock and losing my voice to the likes of Kiss, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden (as well as turning the grapes sour), I go for an exploratory drive about and come across a huge American War Memorial so I park up to have a look.
As soon as I walk in I get an eerie feeling as I am the only one there apart from one lady and it is sooo quiet. This place is huge with some large monuments and right at the top there is a water feature, some statues and a long list of all the soldiers who lost their lives in this region during WW2.
When I got back to the bottom of the cemetery, I noticed the graves of two brothers from Maryland next to each other with a solitary statue of a soldier looking over them...they died just 5 months apart towards the end of the war.
Left alone with my thoughts I felt quite emotional in the silence.
At that exact moment, as if on cue, the pre-recorded sound of (what I think was, I wasn't counting) a 6 gun salute followed by "The Last Post" on Bugle echoed around the cemetery...I surprised myself and lost it for a while...very emotional.
At least my contact lenses got a clean...
I made my way to the villa as planned and on time only to find out that it has all been put back 1-1.5 hours due to a delayed flight for the rest of the guests...I should know by now. I take some pre event pics of the grounds as well as the special guest doing his sound check (young Ray Quinn, runner up from the X Factor 2006), and then have a meal with Ray et al, the DJ, planners and sound engineers before the party starts.
Evening goes well apart from the fact that it is very dark except for a few lights from the DJ. I hate direct flash but I have no option. The diffuser from Harbor Digital does the trick though. Ray does his set and everyone enjoys themselves, especially the young ladies and kids and I manage to get some great shots (can't show you as the wedding couple won't see them for a couple of weeks).
Finished close to midnight and then had to find my way back to Florence in the dark, navigate the crazy City streets and park up. 2km walk.....I am now shattered but still, big night tomorrow night, and a show for the fellas!
Destination Weddings - Day 5 - The Big Day.
Well the big day finally arrived and I was up bright and early-ish! I didn't have to be at the venue until 4-5pm so I did a little work online and then set off to do some more stock photography as it was another nice, sunny day.
Once again Rock FM were thumping out some kicking tunes but I could find no more inspiration for stock as I just had the wedding on my mind, plus I didn't want to use up too much memory and battery power as I knew I would be needing it!
I decided to get changed at the side of a country road before heading off to the Villa and as I did, Rock FM played "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC. There I was, a British photographer playing air guitar in my boxer shorts at the side of the road in the heart of the classic Italian countryside!
I got to the villa and there was a definite air of excitement and I must say I have not seen this kind of preparation for a wedding before, the Park Lane in London came close but this was something else!
A huge stage and lighting rig had been set up in the garden and there were staff everywhere decking the entire area with roses and candles, right out into the vineyards...amazing.
A 4 piece string quartet played for the bride's entrance and the hymns which really set the mood. The ceremony was great and good fun although, as with many weddings, there were a couple of minor glitches...nothing to get stressed about and the couple just laughed it off with their guests.
Everything else went well and I will explain a lot more when I write up the destination weddings article later on.
The meal came and went and then the guests were ushered to the rear gardens for the main entertainment...many guests already had a good idea who it was as the band had done a sound check earlier on. The groom came on stage and introduced the 5 piece British girl band "Girls Aloud" to the excited 60 or so guests.
Now I grew up on rock I but also like any music from Motorhead to Mozart. I also have to admit to liking a couple of Girls Aloud's records, and I was distinctly impressed that the wedding couple had swung it for these girls to come to a villa in the middle of the Italian countryside to do a 45 minute set to just 60 people...that is cool!
Not only that but it was the full set...dance troupe et all. The volume was set to "bleeding ears" and the likes of "Jump", "Walk this Way" and "Sounds of the Underground" pumped out across a sleepy Tuscany...I loved it.
Once they had finished, the girls came along for a drink at the reception and posed for numerous pics with some very happy guests as well as signing a few autographs.
The couple cut the cake and as they did, a huge firework display kicked off out in the vineyards where the candles led to...what a show!
I finally got done around 12.30 and wearily made my way back to the hotel. This time, as I was checking out in the morning, I had to make the 2km walk with not only my camera gear but also a suitcase of accumulated cr*p from the hire car!
I still managed to upload the images to the laptop and set the batteries charging for my studio shoot in the morning before collapsing into bed at around 2.30!
Destination Weddings - Day 6 - Aaa've done my time Aaa'm comin hoooome.
I woke at 7.30, shattered and aching all over, it had been a tough week. I had breakfast, meticulously packed my suitcase of clothes only to pick it up without closing it...oops....start again. Packed it once more, picked up the case only to realise that this time I hadn't closed the outer compartments and my entire stash of toiletries fell out...I am so tired!
I eventually got to the artist's gallery and workshop at 10.30am as planned. The building had been in the family for 30 years since their father used it for his art and architectural work. It overlooked the River Arno and town of Florence...stunning views and very inspirational for any artist.
All they wanted was around 10 shots which I got done in no time at all and true to their word, out popped the painting that I had previously been eyeing at their exhibition...valued at around €1,500! What a gift! Not only that, they also presented me with a 2005 bottle of classic Chianti from the vineyard of one of the brothers' wives.
I set off to Milan (airport for the night before my flight) a very happy chap and had thoroughly enjoyed every minute spent in and around Florence, even though it had been the hardest I had worked in years.
As I hit the motorway junction to Milan I spotted a sign for Pisa! What the hell...it was only 67km and I couldn't leave without seeing the "leaning Tower", it was so close!
I motored straight to the main town in record time, parked up after asking directions in my own British style and best Italian (this involved looking at a man, putting my arm up at a 45° angle and saying "tower?"), and quickly made the 1km walk to the 'Piazza di Miracoli'.
All very impressive but I was short on time so I fired off a few stock shots, walked back to the car and made my long journey back to Milan...I just want to go home now.
Traffic accident...1 hour delay stuck on motorway...hassle at airport finding hotel...gave car back early...missed shuttle bus to hotel...eventually got there...had some beers and went to bed!
Up at 4.30 am to catch flight which all went incredibly smoothly and landing to find my kids (4 and 2 years old) waiting for me at arrivals with a huge sign saying "Daddy". They both ran towards me also shouting "Daddeeeee" and gave me a great big hug which is just what I needed!
So, there ends my fantastic adventure and huge destination wedding to Italy! Thanks for reading and be sure to look out for a new article on destination weddings coming soon including what to pack, how to prepare and cost up and the equipment needed.
Cheers and all the best!
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