Grant Stirling


Wedding and portrait photography in Nelson New Zealand

34 - Location Shoot: Before or ... After Ceremony?

Nelson Wedding Photographer Grant Stirling 

Thinking of having your wedding photos taken before the ceremony? Grant's shot over 100 weddings over the past 20 years, but only about 20% of these had the location shoots before the ceremony. We actually did this for our wedding, and thought it was a lovely & intimate moment to see your future wife / husband, in a beautiful location with only a handful of people (the bridal party) and you can still have your 'first look', plus it didn't keep our guests waiting around for a couple of hours, while we went off to do our photos. 

We spoke with a couple last night, who asked us to do their location shots before the ceremony, because of the above reasons, but also, being on a budget, it keeps the costs down for food & drink for your guests in the time that you're away. 

Modern weddings are all about creating your own traditions and molding your wedding day to fit your personal values and desires as a couple. You may choose to include particular wedding traditions in your celebration, which is why we don't think there's a correct answer to whether or not you should take your photos before the ceremony.  I definitely respect the brides I meet who have envisioned that walk down the aisle to see their groom for the first time since they were a child.  

Nelson Wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

From our perspective, as a been-a-wedding couple, as photographers and as someone who's seen the in's and out's of weddings, we will share some valuable pros and cons with you, to definitely keep in mind! 


If you think you're going to have killer nerves all morning, photos before your ceremony is the best way to cure them. You kids are in this together and you will be so much calmer and more relaxed for having seen each other before the ceremony.

Nelson Wedding Photographer Grant Stirling 

You can include a 'First look' in your wedding photos and boy, these can be super sweet and emotional! Think about it, when you see each other for the first time at the end of the aisle you can't talk or kiss, you can hardly touch and you'll have somewhere between 5 and 500 of your closest friends, family, co-workers and their random dates watching you. OR, you can see each other all dolled up, hug, kiss, laugh, and cry, without the audience. It is an intimate moment, just between the two of you, where you can set up a romantic moment that you can really enjoy before the ceremony. Laugh, hug, kiss, cry - you don't have to hold anything back because you don't have to worry about anyone watching. AND, the moment usually makes for sweet pictures. 

Pre-ceremony photos mean that your hair and makeup will look perfect. Your bouquet won’t be wilted/ squished by the sun and guests. Aunt Mavis' lippy won’t be smeared on your cheek when she smooched you, and your hair won’t be falling out from everyone bear-hugging you after the ceremony.

Nelson Wedding Photographer Grant Stirling 

Without a lengthy photoshoot straight after the ceremony, you'll have way more time to spend with your guests. This has got to be the number one reason right?! On a day that's going to pass by in a blur, you could end up feeling pretty stressed as you try and get face time with everyone. Seeing each other beforehand and getting pictures done means that once you're done with the ceremony, you're ready to head straight to the reception with nothing else to worry about except dancing with your friends.

If you list photos as one of the most important thing to you on your wedding day, I'd highly recommend shooting before the ceremony and have the opportunity to go a bit further afield to find your dream spot for wedding photos. Why not travel to a beach in Kaiteriteri, or the Nelson Lakes for photos even though your ceremony is in Nelson? Have no real time constraints, really expands your options for what you're able to do. You're able to schedule in extra time to drive to a great location, time to get a wider variety of shots and just have a more relaxed photo shoot. 

Nelson Wedding Photographer Grant Stirling 

The few hours before the wedding is when mums, florists, friends helping to set up, etc. begin stressing over little details and begin to come and ask the bride for answers and you hear questions like these: "Do you want the flowers here, or six centimetres to the left?" or "We can't find the cake! Oh wait... we found it." All things that can work themselves out and if you're not available because you're off taking pictures, you never have to know. ;-) 


Nelson Wedding photographer Grant Stirling 


* Many couples still hold to the tradition of not wanting to see each other until the moment the bride walks down the aisle. Old traditions of not letting the groom see the bride until the ceremony was a tactic to keep him from deciding she wasn't worth the price he was paying and backing out. Obviously, I don't think that's why anyone is carrying on the tradition today. I think that regardless of whether you've spent the morning getting ready together, or had a first look and then had your photoshoot, the walk down the aisle is still pretty dang intense, and special! The ceremony is such an emotional part of the day and nothing can steal its thunder. 

Nelson Wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

* A key question to ask yourselves is this: what is the light going to be doing when you want to shoot? Coming at this from a completely photography-brained perspective, I do gulp whenever the timeline means that I'm going to be shooting portraits in midday sunlight. In New Zealand this time frame is not awesome to be honest. Imagine harsh shadows, sweat, and the desperate search for shade. Fingers crossed it's overcast! It's not the end of the world by any means and being an experienced photographer I will be able to deliver the goods.

Nelson Wedding Photographer Grant Stirling 

So check what the sunset time is on your wedding day, check the time of your ceremony and what time are you serving dinner, then plot it all out. If you're getting married in the height of summer, the sun might not set until 9 or 10pm, so it wouldn't really make any difference would it?! And you can always sneak out of your reception for a few sunset snaps if you're really keen! 

* It's kind of nice after the ceremony, the congratulations, and the flurry of family group photos, to be able to nip off for photos with your bridal party, share a bottle of champers, and just take a little time out with your new spouse to go 'We totally got married! Whoop!' before you dive back into the party.


First off, I'd like to say that there is no right decision. Everyone is different and I strongly believe that weddings should reflect the character and personality of the bride and groom, even down to how they lay out the day. Whether you decide to take photos before your ceremony or not entirely depends upon yours and your fiancé’s personal values and the picture you have of your wedding day.

Most couples we've talked to after their wedding say that they were so nervous and anxious until the moment they saw each other and the butterflies all went away, regardless of whether that moment was at the alter or a couple of hours before. You suddenly have your other half and you can begin processing the day with them. One time, while we were driving from the photo shoot to the ceremony with a couple, a groom (who will remain nameless) turned to his bride and with a relieved look on his face said, "I would have crapped my pants if I had to wait until the ceremony to see you!" 

Nelson Wedding Photographer Grant Stirling 

Most bride's main concern is losing the wow factor of her groom seeing her for the first time as she walks down the aisle. But the magic of that moment isn't lost. YOU'RE ABOUT TO GET MARRIED!! That moment is HUGE. (Gosh, I'm sitting here with teary eyes just writing about it.. soppy me). You walk down single and walk back united with another person. Whether he's seen you in your dress or not has nothing do do with the magic of the moment. You can see it and feel it, the emotion is still there. At my own wedding, Grant still teared up when I walked down the aisle with my dad. Never mind that he and I had been joking around with friends 30 minutes prior.

Nelson Wedding Photographer Grant Stirling 

Look, pre-wedding photos can be a fun and relaxed experience and definitely won’t steal any magic from your ceremony. On the other hand, photos taken after the ceremony or even the reception can include the gorgeous sunset light and provide a breather from the busy wedding festivities. Think about the pros and think about the cons, then chat with your fiancé and make an informed decision. All the best with your wedding planning! Bye for now, Inge

Below are photos of our 'first look' at our pre-ceremony shoot .. 

NB: All photography shown taken by Grant Stirling 

33 - Strike a pose!

Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

I know, it can be really difficult; smiling a 'natural-I'm-not-nervous-at-all' smile, on ANY occasion, let alone your WEDDING! Everybody's looking at you, nerves are running through your veins, and while you "just don't know how to pose" ... you DO want to get some nice, unforced, relaxed photos, right? It's easy for people to say 'don't worry, just smile, relax', but it's not that easy though is it. No.

So, how DO you get to relax in front of the camera, so that you don’t get that posed smile? 

One way of getting people to feel at ease, to relax and getting a nice shot, is by having a laugh, keeping it light. Just have a look at the video below. Grant likes to share a joke and is chatty which really helps couples, but he also loves photography and genuinely loves weddings and creating images of someone's special day, that couples will feel so good and happy about. With all of this, comes experience. Not just in taking photos, but with the people involved. He has 'tricks' up his sleeve that certainly helps anyone in front of his camera. 

Unless you do tons of work before you actually press the shutter, we think it’s nearly impossible to relax someone before the photo is taken. Something Grant does; is thinking about how couples think about having their photo taken – most people hate it, because they are used to seeing bad photos of themselves, so they assume they will look bad in every photo. What we're saying, is that if you just get your camera out and then try to relax them, this will be very difficult.  Grant does 90% of the work before he takes the shot.

Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 
Wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

One thing we can recommend for you, if you're feeling a little apprehensive in front of the camera, is a mini / pre-wedding or engagement shoot with us. This can give you a great idea of how Grant will work with you on the day or for your portraits. It will help put you at ease, as well as learn more about their bodies; how to hold them, how to pose.

All of those lovely doubts about your outfit, hair and body can come out, but we easily give you direction that let's you and your hubby do your own thing and your personalities shine on the day. As photographers, it’s our job to put ourselves in our client’s shoes and create the feeling that you want in your photos. If we're nervous, you'll be nervous. If we're warm and chatty, so will you be. If we're confident and getting crazy excited about the photos, so will you be.  Energy feeds on energy. 

Wedding photography by Grant Stirling 

Grant's advice during a shoot is to "think about being engaged in your relationship with your partner, and don't pay attention to the camera". 

Where kids are easy to entertain, adults can be much more difficult. They have real worries about not looking the way they want, coming off awkward in the photos, and of course a slew of real world problems completely unrelated to the shoot. 

It’s a lot to get over, right? Well, good thing we have some tricks up your sleeve that I will share with you now: 


From the moment right before we start shooting, to the moment we click our first photo, we'd never ask you having to switch 'on' without a 'warm-up'.  While you're relaxed talking with your bridal party, or husband / wife, we're organising our gear, checking our camera, walking around for best angles, but also having a chat with you, asking for your feedback on potential shots etc. By doing this, it will give you some time to 'warm up' and get comfy. This way, you will then also get used to being in front of the camera and don't have to immediately put on your cheesy smile. Plus it will also give you a few minutes to learn how we work and any directions we might give you. It's all a matter of creating trust in us, and an understanding of the way we photograph. 

Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 


I had a photo session once many years ago, where the photographer barely gave me any direction. I’m comfortable in front of the camera but I can’t read minds and I ended up doing my own thing and to be honest, the photos were lacking. The photographer and I were clearly not aligned and it showed.

In other words, giving direction is so important. For example: "So now Andrew, can you point your feet to your left.  Julia, cuddle up with your arm behind his back making a “V” position with your bodies. Andrew put your right hand in your pocket. Julia shift your weight to your back leg. Now, I’ll have you talking to each other while I back up and take a wider shot. Talk about happy things, think funny, or sweet, or sexy things about each other! I’ll tell you when I want something different from you.” You get it right? 

We can let them know what they are doing with their bodies as well as what Grant's doing. They're chatting and so having real emotions and I can go far away, close up, tell them to look at me, or to snuggle in closer. As long as they know what to do, they're feeling confident and it shows in the photos!

Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 


There are times that for the first 15 minutes of a photo session, we're simply talking with our clients to try and get them as comfortable as possible with us. We talk about how they met, what they're currently doing in their lives (work, school, travel etc.), favorite foods, travels, anything! Talking about things that are interesting to both of you is paramount. There are no key questions to ask, only the questions that you really want answers to. Being chatty comes very natural to the both of us, and personally, one of our favorite parts of being a photographer is meeting new people and learning about different cultures. 

This isn't lost time because now that they're comfortable with us, we start connecting on different levels and for the rest of the shoot they'll let me into more intimate moments, resulting in better photos! 

It's easy to pose a couple and then snap a few photos, but where is the feeling in that? Where do their personalities come in? A great portrait has a story. It's Grant's duty to tell that story, authentically and truthfully. Capturing magic takes work, but it's worth it! 

Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

I know I've talked about the couple in this post, but the same applies for bridesmaids and groomsmen; practice facial expressions in the mirror, or find out what your best side is, what your best smile is. You are part of what will make a great photo for the bride & groom, and are relying on you as well. Discuss it with each other, as will we with you on the rehearsal and on the big day .. It's all about teamwork and communication ;-) 

Bye for now, Inge 


32 - Blue-penciling the edits

It is common for clients to not understand our business process or why we do what we do when it comes to editing, and after a recent enquiry, about why they couldn't see all the photos that were taken of them, I thought I'd write a post about it. 

Nelson wedding photography by Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

It really is quite simple; The fact that you hear the shutter click hundreds of times but only have 50 or so photos in your album / gallery, (more of course for weddings), is because we are checking our lighting or exposure, taking multiple photos in case of blinking, open mouths as well as to see if a pose plays out on camera the way you see it in life. We need to make rapid real-time adjustments which requires test shots, changing up composition, and solving any lighting challenges to ensure that you create the perfect image for delivery.

Wedding photography by Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

Pleasing our client is very important to us, but showing less than quality images per your request is just down right disastrous. Our client galleries should show nothing but stellar examples of who we are as a photographer and as a company, and shows we care about quality. 

So, not every photo will make the cut.

This is why we explain to our clients, prior to their photo session because we want to ensure they are not disappointed later and will be less likely to feel cheated out of something they did not receive. In this blog post, I will explain why we take more photos than you see and what you could expect in your photo gallery on the day of viewing. 

Client's galleries display Grant's talent and professional expertise and what we show you, will leave a lasting impression. Giving you anything less than our best will make you feel you are all over the board.  Now of course many of the outtakes we have from a session are out of our control such as blinking or unexpected photo bombs ,but still a client sees this as our work.

Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

As we mention in our Booking Form ... 

"We will select the best images from tor you.. The minimum number of final images can vary, and we are not obligated to give the client all the images shot during the wedding shoot. 

It is our process and policy to only show what is of highest quality and we take more photos to ensure that we can provide you with a large amount of these.... It is not our process or policy to show any images other than those that were chosen as finest quality. The final images that have been chosen were done with care and consideration.  Doing business with high standards is our mission. I am sure you can appreciate the great care taken to showcase your special day in this manner".  

All the excess images help create a final product, but they are not the final product, and won’t be treated as such.

All images are captured in a raw colour format, so the image-making process is not finished, even when the shoot is over, as funny as that sounds.  Our job at that point is to go through all images, and select the finals that all the other shots helped create.  I take those shots and spend a great deal of time working with them by hand to tone the colour, smooth any imperfections, and produce heirloom pieces of art that are up to my artistic standards – the same quality of work you see in my portfolio.  

Nelson Wedding photography by Nelson wedding photographer Grant Stirling 

We don’t release any images not included with this set of final images, because they were neither created nor intended as final products – they simply enabled us to work out issues that arose to ensure you’d get the high quality images you received.

What we hope to achieve with this post is to help you see the “other images” not as options that we blithely discarded, but as part of a working process leading up to exactly what they received.






31 - Rainy day weddings

Photo credit: pinterest 

Photo credit: pinterest 

Cue Alanis Morissette’s 'Ironic' "It's like rain on your wedding day" .. and may seem like a natural disaster of bridal proportions, but there is a lot to be said for a rainy day wedding. Aside from being a sign of good luck, rain on your Big Day is an opportunity to have pictures and a party like no one else’s.

Whether a drizzle or a downpour, precipitation is no reason to give up hope on an awesome wedding day. Stormy weather is nobody’s ideal wedding forecast, but unfortunately, it’s out of your hands. Prepping in advance will save you a headache in the future. 

Any couple having an outdoor wedding ceremony should really have a weather backup plan in their wedding venue contract — even if it's an indoor room, a covered outdoor area or a last-minute tent setup. This way, if the forecast spontaneously calls for showers on your day, you’ll have something to fall back on — and no reason to panic. However, if you forgot to make a plan B from the start, here’s how to pull off a fabulous wedding despite unwanted weather.

Wedding photography by Grant Stirling 

Talk to Your Venue

You planned an outdoor wedding, but your only weather prep was crossing your fingers and praying to the rain gods — now it’s supposed to pour all day. Call your venue coordinator, or put them in touch with your wedding planner if you have one, and find out your options. Do they have another protected space on-site where you could relocate? If you were planning an outdoor ceremony and an indoor reception, can they help transform the indoor space for both the ceremony and reception? If you go with this plan, ask them how long it will take to flip the room. A good team should get the job done in about an hour while you and your guests enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at another spot at the venue. Another option could be, if your budget and venue allow, is to rent a tent last minute. The site manager might even be able to refer you to a rental company they’ve worked with before. 

Wedding photography by Grant Stirling 

Embrace It 

Get ready to roll with the punches and welcome the weather — myths have it, that rain on your wedding day is actually good luck! I know... nobody wants rain on their day, but if the days brings rain, as well as wind (and chilly temperatures), arrange for heat lamps, offer blankets and make sure there’s plenty of hot coffee, tea, cider and cocoa. Provide enough umbrellas and rain boots for your guests — or, at the very least, for your wedding party. Plan a playful rainy photo session with your wedding party holding cute umbrellas and wearing colorful rain boots. Or sneak away with your soon-to-be spouse for a first look and romantic kiss under a shared umbrella.


You’re Allowed to Be Upset (for a Little Bit)

Rain or shine, this is true of all weddings: No matter how beautiful your floral arrangements, elaborate your reception amenities or terrible your weather luck is, your guests will feed off your mood. If the forecast makes you flustered, upset and anxious, you’re allowed to let your frustration out (we know, it stinks), but don’t let it weigh you down for the whole celebration. Your guests can sense all your tense and negative energy, so the sooner you can get past it and be your own source of sunshine, the more fun both you and your guests will have— we promise.


There have been other couples whose nuptials got caught in the rain, but that doesn't mean it needs to dampen your spirits, plus you are still going to get married and you will be amazed how beautiful your wedding photos can still turn out. A seasoned photographer, like Grant, who's shot weddings for nearly 20 years, know very well how to deal with different weather situations.. So don't be disheartened and  See how a huge storm created a magical moment for country music singer Randy Houser and his wife on their wedding day.


 Talk to your photographer. Find out if they’ve  shot a wedding in the rain before. Do they have any ideas for how to make it more fun, exciting and sweetly unique? What’s the plan, logistically and financially, in inclement weather? Will they still show up, stay throughout the night? Grant has in fact shot weddings in the rain before, so he can help you with any questions, not to mention the photography on the day. 


Here are some more tips for you .... 

Hair hacks: Call on the glam squad. A little rain may call for some last-minute beauty changes. If you’re worried about out-of-control humidity hair, consider a beautifully messy bun or relaxed flower crown. These styles are on trend and perfect for preventing frizz and falling.

Umbrellas - Keep a few of these on hand just in case, they're definitely important to being your shelter if a sudden rainstorm decides to fly through... However, if it won't rain, or it has stopped, they can make great props! You can always use pretty Parasols, for yourself or / and your guests, who will want to stay dry during the ceremony or walking to & from their cars to the ceremony site or reception venue. This is also your chance to getting creative with this opportunity … do you want everyone to have matching umbrellas, or should the audience be a flood of color? Options are endless... 


A Place for Food to Be Stored - If you're planning on having your reception outdoors, be sure to have an indoor spot you can keep the food if rain suddenly comes down. That way, all your food won't be spoiled.

A change of shoes - Nobody likes to walk around with wet feet. Keep a spare pair of shoes in your bag in case you need to dry your feet and put on a new pair of kicks for dancing. Alternatively .. wear fashionable gumboots, and get your bridal party to wear them too. If you’re loving the rainy day vibe, but may see sunshine, you can still incorporate these fun accessories. They make for great photos!

Big Towels - You might need them to wipe yourself off if you get stuck taking photos in the rain or if it suddenly downpours on you during the ceremony.

Make up - Obviously waterproof mascara is a must, but bring some basic make-up and mirror with you, just to touch up, if you've been caught in the rain without an umbrella. 


Cool Temps + Wind - Rain may not be the only weather-related issue. The temperature may drop drastically, or the wind may threaten to blow the guests away — and not the way you had in mind. Ask your vendors if portable heaters and tent walls are available, and if not, locate a vendor for these prior to the big day. And don’t forget to have a bolero, jacket or shrug ready to go!

Scheduling - Consider a flexible timeline. If a torrential downpour looks likely right at the time of your vows, consider extending the cocktail hour or perhaps going immediately from vows to reception. When planning, allow the schedule some flex room. It’ll keep your guests out of the rain and your stress to a minimum. A little adjustment goes a long way!

Either way, no matter what the weather, whatever you decide, commit to it and have some fun! Good luck, Inge 

All photography by Grant Stirling, unless stated otherwise.