How I felt during our own pre-shoot

August 2017

I am more comfortable behind the camera... so here goes

Our pre-wedding photo shoot in Edinburgh

Our wedding will be on the Isle of Harris, on the Outer Hebrides, later this year. A nine-hour journey from home! Our wedding photographer is located near the Isle of Skye and arranging a pre-shoot with that distance was not an option unfortunately. One of my trusted friends - Colin, who took the big photograph on my About page, was the first that came to my mind when I thought about having some photographs taken of Mo and I so I could figure out how we are together in front of the camera and what works for us.

Poor Colin!!! We met on Calton Hill and - January - it was cold. Mo was freezing. I was totally fine, probably full with adrenaline and I was totally nervous too. I was simply going to “work” my posing routine with the two of us and Colin was supposed to take photographs. During the whole thing he called me bossy a few times :) It was totally interesting to see what he did with us and how he approached taking our photos.

Every photographer has a certain style and Colin’s style is vastly different from mine. So to expect him to take photographs like me is just not possible. Apart from the hair disaster in the morning, I really enjoyed the photo-taking process of Mo and I. We had so much fun, and our friend suggested a few location ideas and kept clicking away.

Things that came to mind:


Me as a photographer: I never feel the cold, the damp, the wind, because I am so engrossed in taking photographs. I am IN THE ZONE and there’s nothing around me that can stop me from taking photos.

Me as a model:  I felt COLD. Brrrr!! It was 6 degrees and I don’t have a stylish winter jacket that I was happy wearing in the photos. Mo’s jacket was a black duvet jacket, which is not sexy either. So it was no question for me: jackets off! Mo was freezing, and he kept reminding me of that fact.

Learnings for the future: Advise my winter pre-shoot clients of additional layers under the shirt to keep warm, maybe a cardigan for the bride-to-be to keep warm.

Pre-wedding shoot location

I have done a few pre-wedding photo sessions on Calton Hill. The Royal Mile is another favourite location of mine because of all the different amazing buildings in the background, the alley ways, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE to include strangers in the photographs, blurred out in the foreground or background and make the couple really stand out.

Me as a photographer: I have been in this situation hundreds of times, taking photographs in a busy street of buildings, people, and so on. I don’t notice strangers, onlookers, because I am IN THE ZONE. I am used to it. I am used to their reactions and I have the patience of a saint and just wait for them to move on.

Me as a model together with Mo: I felt absolutely fine with him, we were in our own love bubble, having fun, giggling, making fun of each other. Only occasionally did we have to wait on other people vacating our spot so we could continue taking photographs.

Me as a model on my own: EEEK. I did not like it. AT ALL. I wanted to have some up-to-date photographs  of me I can use on my website and in my brochures. Colin had this fantastic idea of taking a photo of me sitting in a cafe and he would take the photo from outside through the window. Because Mo was with us too, he was playing around with my camera, taking photos at the same time. So there were two guys taking photos outside the cafe of me - sitting in a cafe. People stopped and looked who the “celebrity” was in the window, then a bus stopped, full with people and they all stared at me.

Learnings for the future: A pre-shoot is only for the couple. No-one else should be there, and I will try to choose a location that is quiet, with no added strangers if possible. The same applies to weddings: Avoid taking bridesmaids, mums, or friends to the shoot and be firm with them to stay behind at the venue. Sometimes, a bridesmaid wants to help carry the dress or bouquet, or people might stand outside after the ceremony, near the location where I take the wedding photographs. This then results in the bride and groom feeling very self conscious. So I will make sure that we have our own time and space for this special time, and they are not distracted by anyone else.

The hair situation

Naturally, I have very curly hair. If I treat it right, it’s bouncy curls. If my hair has a bad hair day, it’s just a wavy mess of frizz. Guess how I woke up that morning… The last time I went to my hairdressers, she gave me this wonderful blow-dry of a sophisticated business lady and I was going to replicate that at home. I had managed it a few times before, but this morning, computer said NO! It was all too straight, and still frizzy.

When it came to having photos taken on my own and I saw my reflection in a shop window, I just wanted to run away and hide. I didn’t like what I saw and I had no idea on how to pose myself so Colin could take some shots of me I’d be happy with. So we took a break, I was grumpy, and after a Rocky Road and a large coffee I was back in the room, ready for more frizzy messy hair photos.

Me as the photographer: When I realise that my model is unhappy with a certain aspect of their appearance, I will work with them to find out what it is that is wrong and together we try and rectify the situation. We might change location, outfit, or both and with encouragement we can go back IN THE ZONE and continue shooting. Usually at this point coffee or some sort of chocolate re-fuelling is involved too.

Me as the model: I just wanted to go home. But I knew Colin had taken the time, so I had to find a way (chocolate + coffee) to go back in the model zone and continue taking photos. Rocky Road certainly helped and we continued the photos.

Learnings for the future: a professional hair stylist can do a much better job than I will ever be able to do with my hair. So for pre-shoots, if my clients feel uneasy about anything with their appearance, speak to someone they trust and can help them before the session. A professional makeup artist might be able to help, a blow-dry might be a great solution. Also, when you think about clothing, take a selfie in the mirror and check if you like what you see. Do the colours flatter you? Do the selected clothes flatter your appearance?

Photos on my own / Studio Portraits

Colin is great with lighting, and he has studio lights for studio portraiture at home. I don’t like studio portraits. Full stop! I used to have a photography studio and I felt very constrained with the equipment. It was more about the lights than about the person. It all took too long to get it right and the person then wasn’t allowed to move. I am a natural light photographer and I LOVE natural light portraits. Colin loves studio lights. I trust my friend. I sat in front of the lights and he arranged the equipment.

After a few very posed portraits, a strand of hair started tickling my face and I removed the hair. With my hand in my hair, laughing about the whole situation, Colin pressed the shutter and I loved the photos!

Me as the photographer: I don’t like lights. I am used to using flash at weddings and that’s fine, but I am really good at natural light portraits and that’s my real strength.

Me as a model: I don’t like lights. I felt posed, Colin adjusted the lights so they were casting the right shadows at the right places in my face. He really knows what he’s doing, so I went along with it, I LOVE the results, but I am not a convert for studio portraiture. (#sorryColin)

Learnings for the future: Posing is not fun. Having a carry on is fun. When Mo was with me, we were having a laugh, but when I was on my own, I had to sit and come up with ideas of what I’d do on my own, how I would want to come across in the photographs. This was hard work.

Putting on a professional smile and so on - this was all difficult for me. I learnt about myself that I do not have a pretty “solemn” face. I need to smile in my photos. I look weird side-on. I need to be front-on, maybe slightly angled, but definitely no side-on photos of me. I mustn’t laugh too much, these photos just look W.E.I.R.D. !

Contrary to popular belief (including my own!!), photographs taken of me from below my eyes looked awesome! Normally, I would make sure that my camera is always at least eye level with my model, if not above their eyes. The reason for this is to make eyes look bigger, and the jaw-line always looks a lot more flattering. Colin tried this and I loved the ones of me taken from below the eye line.

I need to make sure that when I take photographs of people on their own I need to make them do something. I often do that in my photo sessions anyway, but there is always an element of posing - especially for the professional portraits I regularly do for my business clients.

Summary - being a model / posing / the lot

Gosh, I learnt more about my own working style in that 4 hour marathon photo session than I had anticipated. It’s amazing to reflect and put myself into my clients’ shoes and feel what they feel. I am totally at ease now about our wedding photographs - I cannot thank you enough Colin!! I can look forward to them because I know what works. Our pre-shoot, even though it was not with our own wedding photographer, was an eye-opening experience. Both Mo and I had never been photographed together as a couple before - other than the selfies we set up with our tripods and cameras in the highlands before. We are totally cool together in front of the camera. There is no weirdness, strangeness, we just giggle on as usual when we are together and the photographer can do their thing.

Another learning for me was the confirmation that I love my natural light photography and I will continue working on my style, improving my style for my clients.

Posing - I don't like it!

I now have a deep understanding of posing. 99% of my clients say they don't like posing. However, I believe that really good photographs only can exist if I help the people in front of the camera relax into a standing or seating position they are totally comfortable with.

However, the "posing" comes into play when the photographer finds the model striking a pose they (the photographer!) are totally happy with and then they get a "click frenzy". I get click frenzy a lot, I over shoot and most of my clients get way more photos than they expected. Click frenzy happens when the photographer (me) sees something through the lens that makes me absolutely happy. It means I found the sweet spot, and at that moment I know I am producing outstanding photos. I might "overshoot" the pose by taking way more photos than of the previous poses, which then results in the couple getting bored because they have to keep the pose for what they experience as way too long. Hence - they feel posed!

My learning from this is that I have to keep doing what I am doing: work fast, keep changing things and keep my clients excited and interested in the whole experience :)

Colin - thank you!!! x (#theStig)

The Stig (or maybe some else called Colin), pre-shoot model
The Stig (or maybe some else called Colin).
Mo and me on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, pre-shoot model
Mo and me on Calton Hill in Edinburgh.

Who is Nadin Dunnigan - Wedding Photographer in Edinburgh

Hey, I am Nadin! (same as "Nadine" - just without the "e"). I am a wedding photographer in Edinburgh, Scotland, specialising in big family weddings in Edinburgh, Scotland, and internationally. I have photographed so many weddings, and it is my mission to help couples with planning their dream wedding. Any questions I come across repeatedly - either in person or online, I will pop in here and provide more insight.

I hope you will find them useful :)

Nadin Dunnigan Photographer