Thursday, 21 September 2017

Seeing with your Head and Heart

Ditte of First Light Weddings is one of my favourite photographers, and I'm delighted that she's found the time to contribute this heartfelt story to my blog.

Seeing with your head and heart - why you should have an unplugged wedding ceremony

I often lament the fact that we forget to look with our eyes and heart, but rather observe the big and small moments in our lives through a lens or screen.

But then I can hardly talk, my trigger finger itches when I see nice light or my beautiful children and I don't have a camera to hand. I'm slowly learning to see, hear, smell and live the moments rather than capturing them.

Except when I'm working, of course.
It is estimated that over a TRILLION photos will be taken in 2017. About half of those are taken as newlyweds make their way down the aisle. Ok, that last part may not be true, but it can sometimes feel that way when we battle against iPhones, iPads and other booby traps to capture wedding ceremonies.
Much as I love to capture big and small moments on my phone, I'm a fierce advocate for unplugged wedding ceremonies.

I remember walking down the aisle at my own wedding nine-and-a-bit years ago - All the well-known faces of friends and family smiling at me, whispering hellos and good-luck wishes as I passed. I remember it so keenly, each look and smile filling me with love and happiness as I approached my husband-to-be.

We had asked guests not to take photographs during the service, so instead of a sea of phones and cameras, I saw the eyes and faces of our loved ones. I will always be grateful for that.

As a wedding photographer, it can be frustrating when our photographs looking up the aisle are full of screens, detracting attention from the main point of focus: the couple. The bolder guests will sometime step out into the middle of the aisle to capture the best shot of the wedding ceremony, completely blocking our view - which in turn restricts the couple's memories of the day, as we are there for them, to document their day for them.

I don't begrudge guests wanting to take photos on a wedding day - it's a big day for them too, one they'll want to remember.
But during the ceremony, you have a responsibility to the couple - to play your part: To be there, be present, to bear witness to the joining together of two people in marriage. Not via a screen, but with your eyes, minds, hearts.

So please: for just 45 minutes, put your phone away. Look up, into the eyes of your friend/ relative as they walk up the aisle. They (and we!) will be eternally grateful.

About Ditte: 
Ditte is the owner and primary photographer of First Light Photography  A wedding and portrait photographer, her photographic style is light and natural, seeking to capture the beauty and personality of whatever or whoever is in front of her lens. 

She did the photos when Susie and I got married and you can see some of them here

Originally from Denmark, Ditte lives in Edinburgh with her husband and two kids. When not behind a camera or in front of the computer, she can be found travelling around Scotland and further afield (usually with a camera in her hand…)

Wednesday, 20 September 2017


I feel very honoured to learn that I've been shortlisted for a Vows Award: I'm told that I'm the first celebrant ever to be nominated, so I'm chuffed!

My sincere thanks go to all the happy couples who voted for me. 

The awards night is 20th November, so, fingers crossed!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

What is Humanism?

Despite the popularity of humanist ceremonies in Scotland, most people still don't know what humanism is, so I was delighted to be asked, as the Honorary Humanist Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh, to give this talk at 6.00 pm on Tuesday 19th September at the David Hume Tower in George Square.

It's been organised by the Edinburgh University Humanist Society, but all are welcome. Tickets are free, and you can book via their Facebook page here.

I won't talk for more than 30 minutes, after which there will be an hour's Q&A session. It should be an interesting and stimulating discussion, so please come along if you can.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Humanist Weddings in Scotland - More Popular than Ever!

It made me laugh when I saw my photo with this headline, but I really don't think it's all down to me!

Yes it's a big story, but there's another one in among the statistics published by the National Register of Scotland: the continuing rise and rise of humanist marriage.

While ceremonies conducted by Humanist Society Scotland have fallen by more than 14% over the last two years, weddings conducted by other humanist organisations have continued to rise.

There are four humanist organisations in Scotland of sufficiently long standing to be listed by name, but there are others of more recent creation, which is why one of the categories is 'Temporary Authorisation - Non Christian'. That's how I and my CHA colleagues are described.

By my calculation, from the Registrar's published statistics, the number of humanist marriages in 2016 was 5,533, of which the Humanist Society Scotland conducted just over half - 3,040.

I think the reason their numbers are falling could be connected to the fact that the HSS insists that couples who choose to be married by one of their celebrants also become members of the society, at an additional cost.

That surprises me, because the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), of which the Humanist Society Scotland is a member, says this.

"For Humanism, there is no entrance procedure, or rite of passage, and no hierarchy to which you must belong. Humanists are humanists, they do not have to join an organisation, or be on a list somewhere!"

That is why at the Caledonian Humanist Association we don't insist that anyone become a member, but if they want to support us and the broader humanist movement, membership is free.

If that sounds like you, come and join us: we'll be delighted to see you!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Meredith and Joel's Humanist Wedding at Carlowrie Castle

Meredith and Joel got in touch with me just over three months before their wedding in July of this year. 

As you may have guessed from their names, they're from the USA and they decided to come over to Scotland with their closest family and friends for 'a destination wedding' in the Orangerie at the glamorous Carlowrie Castle.

Just to make it a bit more of a challenge, they wanted to have a legal ceremony, which involved a fair bit of paper-chasing and official-hustling on their part, and it's a credit to their energy and determination that they did finally manage to get their official letter of approval from the Home Office in time to allow the Registrar General of Scotland to give them the all-important Marriage Schedule for us to sign on the day. If, like them, you're planning on doing this from overseas, click on this link to find out what's involved.

Legalities apart, this was always going to be a fun day. Meredith is a lady who knows her own mind, and when she finally gave in to the persistent nagging from her friends Dan and Jess and created a profile online, she had no truck with the usual nonsense. When Joel messaged her, she bluntly replied, "if you're at all interested, here's my number: give me a call'. Joel did. Clearly he had no idea what he was getting himself into!

Their first date was in a sushi bar. Of course it was: they lived in LA at the time... Meredith wasn't sure if Joel was a serial-killer with bad shoes or a genuine nice guy, but Joel reckoned that if this fashionista was prepared to order duck fat fries with her burger, he was with the right girl.

Meredith's Maid of Honour, was her college roommate and best friend, Lauren. The pair of them are known as Bossy and Bossier. I'll let you work out which one is which...

Joel's Best Man was his friend, bodyguard, and partner in crime for fifteen years, Darryl. They'd make an excellent tag team in WWF, don't you think?

I liked the way that before the ceremony began, Joel walked in with both his parents.

Meredith chose the more traditional entrance, with her father, and my old friend John Rae, AKA The Pickled Piper.

They had some great ideas for the ceremony. First of all, they invited their friend Susan to give us a reading of a poem I hadn't heard before by Terah Cox called Time Travellers

Then they combined a ring-warming ceremony with a pause for quiet contemplation, so all the guests could hold the wedding bands in their hands and think about Joel and Meredith before the time came for them to exchange their vows.

I was also really pleased that they decided to get their guests to make some promises to them before they made their personal vows to one another. I call that 'The Guest Vows' and it's a great way to remind everyone that they're not there just to give you some nice bed-linen: they're a part of your future!

Having brought their guests almost to the climax of the ceremony, they then cleverly delayed it as they both spoke of their reasons for wanting to marry each other directly, from cards.

Lauren gave Joel's ring to Meredith, while Darryl gave Joel Meredith's ring, as they spoke their vows. Meredith isn't a traditional kind of gal, so she chose to wear her wedding ring on her pointer finger, rather than the usual third finger of the left hand. 

Then we signed the Marriage Schedule, with more emotion than usual: they actually brought along their original letter from the Home Office just to double prove their wedding was real!

I could tell it was going to be a great party! 

A couple of days ago, Meredith sent me these excellent reportage-style shots from the talented Glasgow-based lensman, Neil Thomas Douglas, and this note.

"I wanted to thank you for all that you did for us leading up to our ceremony, and of course the ceremony itself. It was an amazing day, and everything was perfect. Joel and I can't thank you enough." 

The pleasure was entirely mine, Meredith. You took the idea of creating a ceremony that was original and full of meaning, and you ran with it, and for that I can't thank you enough either!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Fiona and Allan's Humanist Wedding at Prestonfield House

This is the story of two equally important but very different envelopes...

Are you sitting comfortably? 

Then I'll begin.

Workplace romance can be tricky, as Allan discovered when he realised that he'd fallen for his colleague Fiona. They'd been colleagues for years, and during that time, they'd both been in long-term relationships, but coincidentally both their relationships had ended around the same time.

One day, when Allan was at home and feeling especially lonely and miserable, his beautiful daughter Danielle asked him the all-important question: ‘Dad, is there no one that you like?’ Allan thought about it for a while and said, ‘actually there is a girl at work who I have always liked - and she is single!’ 

He decided - as Valentine’s day was fast approaching - that he would send Fiona a card, and see what came of it. 

Now Allan is quite a shy and private individual, unversed in the subtleties of office romance, so he made a school boy error in sending the card by internal mail, forgetting that Fiona shared her mail box with three colleagues... 

The card was duly collected by one of them who, noting both the date and the red envelope, correctly guessed as to the contents, so the rumour mill duly swung into action. It was the talk of the steamie, with everyone speculating as to the identity of Fiona’s secret admirer!

When Allan realised what was going on, he thought "I can't admit to this: I will be a laughing stock and I’ll never live it down!"  

But then, just a few days later, he was working with two colleagues, one of whom was another of Fiona’s not so secret admirers. He said that as no one had come forward to claim responsibility for the card, he was thinking of saying it was from him and chancing his luck. 

Allan thought: no way! He decided to find Fiona and own up, but this was easier said than done.

Fiona was in meetings all that day and the following day she was due to go on leave.

Allan decided to put all his thoughts in a message and send it to Fiona through Facebook. He spent ages writing it and ages more plucking up the courage before he hit 'send'. 

Fiona got the message just before she boarded her flight out of the country. She looked at her phone and thought “Why would Allan be sending me a message?”

You've probably guessed by now that the story worked out rather well in the end, and so it was that in June of this year, Fiona and Allan brought their families and friends to witness their wedding at the wonderful Prestonfield House Hotel.

The ceremony was every bit as entertaining as the above excerpt suggests.

We were all gathered together in the Garden Room, where Gregor gave us a reading of 'Look to this Day, and Lucy read 'I'm so Lucky to have found You'. 

Then it was time for the vows, and the all-important Legal Declaration, which they spoke directly to one another.

The next thing we had to do was sign the Marriage Schedule, the document that makes the whole thing legal. Except we couldn't find it...

So I suggested to Kris Soul, the photographer, that he take some of the portraits he would usually do later while we tracked it down. 

It took a while. 

It turned out that Allan had given the white envelope containing the Marriage Schedule to his son Dale that morning. Dale in turn had  handed the envelope to Fiona's mum, but she,  unaware of its importance, had left it in Prestonfield's Whisky Room. 

Fortunately an eagle-eyed member of staff had spotted it, and taken it for safety to Allan and Fiona's bridal suite, so after only a few frantic minutes it was retrieved, and Fiona was able to breath again!!

I had forgotten that particular detail when Fiona and Allan got in touch with these photographs, and a lovely thank you message.

"Married life is wonderful, and we are both still on a high! Our wedding was the most fantastic day and thanks to you our ceremony was so special.

All our guests loved how personal it was and Allan and I are so grateful as it was just how we imagined (apart from the misplaced wedding schedule!)"

As I have said before, 'all's well that ends well', Fiona and Allan! Thanks again for letting me share your wonderful story, and thanks too of course, to Kris Soul, for these lovely photos.

Seeing with your Head and Heart

Ditte of First Light Weddings is one of my  favourite photographers,  and I'm delighted that she's found the time to contribute th...