I first met Andrew and Alexandra when I photographed Alexandra's sister Charlottes Wedding last year at the Gilstrap in Newark. It always gives me a thrill knowing that a family have been impressed enough with my work to be invited back.
Their chosen venue for the big day was the West Mill Wedding Venue which is set on the banks of the River Derwent in the village of Darley Abbey, just North of Derby.
The mills, built between 1782 and 1830, by Thomas Evans were used as cotton mills and had originally been know as the Boar's Head Mills. The mills and its surrounding buildings are now the home of many local independent businesses, with the tallest part of the Grade 1 listed building one of the best wedding venues in Derbyshire.
I started my day at West Mill in the spa styled Bridal dressing room. The room has bags of character with lots of natural light and is conveniently situated just down the corridor from the room used to conduct the ceremonies.
For hair and makeup Alexandra chose the very talented Rochelle O'Brien (makeup) and Mon Amie (hair). Charlotte the bridesmaid was blasting out some timeless Motown tunes all morning helping keep Alex relaxed.
After spending some time photographing the girls I paid a visit to Andrew and the guys who were just over the courtyard at the Mill House. The Mill House consists of 8 en-suite double bedrooms and is the perfect location for the groom and his party to prepare.
I was greeted by the sight of Dom (one of 2 best men) scoring the soles of some brand new and very expensive looking Hugo Boss shoes with a borrowed screwdriver. Andrew didn't want to risk slipping on the shiny new soles, I'm pretty certain those shoes could not have been returned after that!!
The atmosphere over at the Mill House was very relaxed and I spent a few minutes capturing the preparations.
The ceremony was getting ever closer so I gathered Andrew, Mike and Dom together for a few posed shots outside.
Next stop, back with the girls as it was time for Alexandra to get into her dress with some help from her sister.
Once in her dress it was a short nervous wait for the guests to fill the room ready for the ceremony. The ceremony room (The Cotton Quarter) is on the top floor of the building and has lots of natural light from the Georgian panelled windows which also provide a wonderful view of the river and weir. I'm certain that this room is a huge part of what makes this venue so special, with space to easily seat 160 guests.
Once the guests had been seated we had just a few nervous moments waiting before the ceremony to begin. One of my favourite shots is of Mike poking his head around the door and seeing Alexandra for the first time, the shock on his face is just brilliant.
Ted, the bride's father, had a few moments to himself looking at the family photographs that had been put out on display before heading in to see his daughter. Capturing these moments is what makes this job so rewarding sometimes.
Just before the ceremony I try and make time for shots of the groom and best man awaiting the bride, by this stage you can really feel the nervous tension building as the wedding is just a few moments away.
Often at civil ceremonies it is possible for me to get a perfect position for capturing the bridal party as they come up the aisle. It makes a great shot in most venues but here at the West Mill it's fantastic with light flooding the room from all sides.
The flower girls came up the aisle first. Unfortunately the youngest tripped over just at the last moment. She was immediately helped up and luckily had not hurt herself. It made a dramatic little sequence of shots that maybe when she is older she will look back on with a smile.
After the flower girls and the bridesmaids it was time for Alexandra and her father to make their entrance. You can really see what a proud father he is in this sequence of shots.
The amount of natural light available even in late January meant that I could shoot the ceremony without using any flash. This is how I love to work if at all possible. Being free from flash means I don't cause a distraction, which is especially important during the vows.
After a few brief shots of the newlyweds signing the register it was time for Andrew and Alex to walk up the aisle as man and wife. This often gives the first real natural shots of the day as the big event is now over and it's the first time couples really relax.
The guests followed the couple downstairs for much needed refreshments and the start of a few formal group shots. First on the list was the confetti photo. Guests, with handfuls of confetti, lined up either side of the main courtyard entrance. Sometimes in the chaos I only manage a couple of shots that really work but at this wedding I was spoilt for choice.
The courtyard made the perfect spot to take the big group shot. Abi the West Mill Co-ordinator kindly giving me access to a upstairs window for the picture (photographers be aware though, it's the smallest space to squeeze into but worth the effort).
One of the challenges with a winter wedding is the limited hours of daylight. Google helpfully pointed out that sunset was just after 4:30pm. Luckily it was a cold bright winters day so we had just enough time for some groups in the courtyard.
After the groups I had a chance to do some couple shots before the wedding breakfast. Set along the banks of the River Derwent the venue boasts some lovely private gardens which together with the industrial elements of the venue make for some simply stunning photography locations.
Another great feature of this venue is that because it is spread over 4 floors it has a different space for each part of the day. After we had finished with the portraits it was time for everyone to head up to the 2nd floor for the Wedding Breakfast.
Food was expertly prepared by Jenkinsons, who are experienced wedding caterers from Stafford. Andrew and Alex thoughtfully provided me with a meal so I know first hand that it was exceptional. For starters it was Mango and Brie parcels, main was a classic Sirloin of Beef with seasonal vegetables followed by a assiette of desserts. Perfection!
After the food was a round of highly entertaining speeches before the guests moved down a level for the party. A Beatles tribute band provided the music and with a photobooth on the ground floor the guests had plenty to keep them entertained. All a perfect end to a great wedding. What a start to the year and with another visit to the West Mill soon it's going to be an exciting year ahead.