Real Scottish Weddings - Drumtochty Castle
An Engagement Photoshoot
This particular wedding story starts one beautiful sunny day in June 2022 when Calynn & Johan came over to Scotland from their home in South Africa to see family, visit their venue and enjoy an engagement photoshoot at Roslin Glen.
When your couple lives so far away, it was exciting to get to meet Calynn & Johan just under a year to the day before their wedding and to get to know them, to build a bond and a relationship that would feel more like friendship than client.
If you're ever lucky enough to photograph Calynn & Johan, you'll know instantly how natural they are in front of the camera. They are effortlessly in love, and when they lock eyes with each other you can be sure that they enter a world no one else can reach.
Scottish Destination Wedding
Fast forward a year later, multiple planning sessions and some exciting messages about golden hour exchanged the night before, and it was finally Calynn & Johan's wedding day at Drumtochty Castle.
Set in beautiful Aberdeenshire, Drumtochty Castle is a truly luxury Scottish wedding venue. It was easy to see why they'd fallen in love with Drumtochty for their venue. With a grand entranceway and gorgeous interiors, it's one of the best castle wedding venues I've been to. It's surrounding grounds are lush and green, featuring woodlands and a tiny pond that's perfect for wedding photography.
As an Edinburgh wedding photographer, I love travelling all over Scotland for weddings and this would be my third time in Aberdeenshire this year to photograph a wedding.
Staying overnight in nearby Fettercairn, I watched as torrential rain hit the area - followed almost immediately by a rainbows and a burst of sunlight in true Scottish style. With such a gorgeous wedding venue and an outdoor ceremony planned, I was a little worried that another deluge would impact their photography.
But this is Scotland and when you're a Scottish wedding photographer you really have to be flexible and seize the opportunities as they arise. You also should never trust a weather forecast.
When I arrived, Calynn was beaming from cheek to cheek with her hair and make up already done. She'd chosen an up-do with a gorgeous tiara to add a little sparkle.
With hours to go until the ceremony, she was bouncing off the walls with excitement. All the bridesmaids, in matching robes, had joined her in t he bridal suite to get ready, relax and soak up the energy of the day.
When I photograph a wedding, I always start with the details first. This time was no different, but there was a little plot twist when it came to the rings...
In a top secret email after our last catch up call before the wedding, Calynn had told me about her surprise plans for Johannes. She had commissioned a jeweller in South Africa to make a wedding band in a similar style to her own engagement ring. The original plan, as far as Johannes was aware, was to repurpose his own engagement ring as a wedding band - but that plan went out the window when he'd lost that ring weeks ago. So they got a replacement ring, which to Calynn was a decoy ring, and to Johannes was going to be the real wedding band. Still with me?
Only Calynn, best man Frikkie and myself were aware of the top secret ring. My plan to avoid suspicion was to ask Johannes for the rings as normal, knowing Frikkie had the real one. As he was also conducting the ceremony, I was also going to request to speak with him "outside" so I could get my hands on the proper ring. As a wedding photographer, I've mastered my dead pan expression for when there's surprises between partners like this, but when I went to meet Johannes and his groomsmen to ask for the rings, my eyes met with Frikkie's and he slowly shook his head nervously.
And now for the plot twist.
Johan began proudly telling me about his secret surprise for Calynn. He'd only gone and had his original engagement band replaced!
"Oh, how lovely!" I said.
"Oh, sh*t!" I thought.
As Johan gave me the rings, I definitely levelled up my dead pan expression skill. A second later, I was calmly asking Frikkie to join me outside and we both promptly both burst into laughter. We now had more wedding rings than we knew what to do with, and two partners who were so perfect for each other they both had the exact same idea.
We agreed we'd let Calynn in on the craziness and when we entered the bridal suite to let her know she couldn't contain her laughter. If anything could have proven her love for Johann more, it was this. After a quick discussion, the original plan was to go ahead - a plan that would now lead to perhaps more confusion than surprise for Johann. It was brilliant. We couldn't wait for his reaction.
Ring chaos concluded, it was time to get back to the photography. We got some cool shots of Johan and the groomsmen in his suite before venturing out into the grounds.
Maybe it was the whisky, maybe it was because he was just so overjoyed to be marrying the love of his life, but Johan was so relaxed and happy in his smart forest green suit.
Back in the bridal suite, it was nearly time for the girls to get into their dresses. Before then we wanted to get the all important prosecco shot, and a chance for Calynn & all her bridesmaids in their matching gowns to be together for some photographs.
When it comes your morning prep photography, I always recommend this shot as it's a lovely way to get everyone in one place after they've been racing around getting hair & make up done.
Guests were gathering outside and the bagpiper had already begun playing. Excitement was mounting.
The bridesmaids rushed off to get into their own beautiful gowns first so that Calynn would be the last one ready and have her big moment.Calynn's wedding dress was truly stunning - floor length with lace detail and incredible train. It caught the light beautifully and perfectly complemented her eyes.
Bridal photography is one aspect of wedding photographer I can never tire of. I was in my element as I positioned a glowing Calynn in the windowsill. She was sure to take Johannes' breath away when she made her epic entrance at the wedding ceremony.
We also had planned a First Look with Calynn's Dad, who had been patiently waiting outside the bridal suite for some time. Sorry, Dad, I was having too much fun taking photos of your daughter!
Led in by one of the bridesmaids, Dad wasn't allowed to open his eyes until I said so and when he did he was clearly blown away. He stood there, stunned and brimming with pride.
The Wedding Ceremony
Each bridesmaid arrived solo down the aisle, building the anticipation for Calynn's own entrance. When I gave Johan the nod to turn around, his reaction was perfect. As predicted, Calynn well and truly took his breath away as the two were finally reunited on the best day of their lives.
The wedding ceremony began with Frikkie retelling the story of how Calynn & Johan first met - anecdotes from the "Man Child Cave" - which may or may not still be Frikkie's Wifi name - and how it became quickly apparent to their friends that Calynn & Johan were made for each other.
When couples exchange personal vows, it's all the more precious and makes for fantastic candid photography. But these two took it up a notch with their emotional tribute to each other - with Calynn providing a supportive hand to a nervous Johan, and then groomsman Ruan stepping in with a tissue to save the day. If you look closely, you'll see that Calynn isn't the only one in tears!
With the happy tears somewhat dried up, it was time for the ring exchange - I zoomed in, primed for Johan's reaction.
There was a cheeky grin on Frikkie's face as he handed Johannes the ring box. Opening it, Johan was flushed with confusion. He'd trusted his best man with the rings and he'd screwed it up! Then it clicked - Calynn burst into giggles, Johan whirled around in laughter. Guest confusion peaked, and when Calynn caught breath long enough she explained what had happened. It was the perfect pay off for her secret plan.
The wedding ceremony came to a close with their First Kiss and they incorporated their exit as husband & wife with a confetti shot involving all their guests.
Previous couples will know I have a wee secret to get the perfect confetti shots - see if you can spot what I do!
After an entire guest group shot, the cake cutting came next. When you're getting married in a Scottish castle, it's tradition to cut your wedding cake with a sword and something tells me Johan really enjoyed this. His new brother in law knighted him with the sword, before he assumed position beside his Queen, cut their cake and.... licked the sword of all the chocolate much to his wife's horror. Five minutes into marriage and she can't take her husband anywhere.
Romantic Couples Portraits
Ever since our engagement photoshoot back in Roslin Glen I had been looking forward to Calynn & Johan's newlywed couples portraits.
As we stepped away from the wedding reception and into the estate grounds, the magic truly happened.
Calynn & Johan slipped effortlessly into the romance of the moment as the sun blessed us with soft golden light - a real treat as we entered the woodlands on our way down to the pond.
The grounds around Drumtochty Castle are just perfect for romantic wedding photography. There's so much colour, natural light and varying terrain. We could probably have spent the whole day there taking couples portraits, and if you're reading this Calynn & Johan I'm more than happy to return for an anniversary shoot!
The ballroom was beautifully decorated for their wedding meal, with candles and white linens. Their speeches kicked off with the Father of the Bride, recounting stories from Calynn's childhood and teenage years. Johannes' mum recited hers entirely in Afrikaans, but announced to the room that if anyone didn't understand what she was saying they'd need only to look at her son, whose eyes were glistening with emotion.
After Bridesmaid, Camilla, gave her heart warming speech, the happy couple took to the stage and thanked everyone for coming. They also pointed to the two chairs next to them at their sweetheart top table, and said they were open to anyone who wanted to sit and chat to the happy couple.
I thought this was such a fantastic wedding idea. So often wedding banquet layouts can be difficult to navigate and the couple can feel a little remote from their guests. It's also a great compromise for couples wanting to have a more private sweet heart top table and still be able to spend time with the friends & family.
Evening Reception & First Dance
As the ballroom was turned around, we seized the opportunity to get a group shot of Calynn & Johan with each of the tables.
Many thanks to the wedding party who helped round everyone up in table order! The setting of these group shots is just one of the many reasons why Drumtochty Castle makes for such a beautiful wedding venue.
And Drumtochty wedding photography wouldn't be complete without some epic staircase shots either. Calynn's dress flowed like water down the steps.
As a surprise to guests, Calynn & Johan had something very special planned for their first dance. For months they'd worked with a dance teacher in South Africa to create their very own choreographed First Dance. Before the big reveal though, they wanted some private shots of their practice session. Having never danced in their wedding outfits before, or indeed in Drumtochty's ballroom, they took the time to perfect the steps and routine.
With such a unique first dance, I chose lighting that would best capture the atmosphere and romance of the moment. I love the way my flash caught Calynn's dress as she twirled, waltzed and dipped. It was such a gorgeous first dance to capture on camera, with both bride and groom owning the dancefloor with their confident moves and footwork.
And with that the dancefloor was open for everyone. Calynn took her father's hand at this point for their dance together, and with Johan looking on it was such a beautiful moment to capture.
The DJ started off with a quick ceilidh dance and quickly moved to Abba - who I'm assuming were as big in South Africa as they were in the UK as every single guest got up rock out to Dancing Queen and Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! As night fell, Calynn's Dad was rocking out with an inflatable guitar, groomsman Ruan and his partner were twirling away like pros.
Creative Wedding Photography
Whilst we'd avoided a downpour all day, the lingering clouds had robbed us of our chance for golden hour wedding portraits. Disappointing as it was to miss out on what could have been glorious sunset wedding photographs, I feel what came next more than made up for it.
It was pitch black. We used flash lights from our phones to make our way down through the woodland to the pond.
Bats flitted over the surface of the water, making adorable squeaking noises. The pond was so still that it made the perfect mirror, catching the reflections perfectly. It was so peaceful and calm down here, away from the party.
The final shots of their wedding photography were in part inspired by Galadriel from Lord of the Rings, and if you are familiar with the behind the scenes you'll know exactly why.
As a creative wedding photographer, I'm always looking to try something new and unique. Backlit photographs are definitely part of my signature style, but I wanted to experiment and be a little more creative this time.
The fairy lights worked so well with the backlit flash and warm hues from within the castle, contrasted with the deep, darkening skies.
And just like Peter Jackson on the last day of filming Frodo's final scenes in Bag End, I didn't want it to end - not just these set of backlit photographs, but the whole day. It was a truly spectacular Drumtochty Castle wedding, from the memories of morning prep to the ring fiasco, the lovely members of the wedding party, the emotional wedding ceremony, all the smiles and laughter throughout the day.
I felt as if I'd been on a journey with Calynn & Johan for almost the length of their engagement, and I felt sadness as we hugged and said our goodbyes. But as our journey together came to a close, their own adventures were just about to begin....