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The latest news, events and stories from Deer’s Leap Retreat. Find out more about the celebrations we share and the memories made at our beautiful rural haven.

Interview – Award Winning Photographer

Mike Wells

At Deer’s Leap Retreat we understand all too well how Covid-19 has affected the wedding industry. We have been blessed, working with the most amazing couples who have shown true courage and grace as they have rescheduled their weddings. We are also incredibly lucky to be working with fantastic suppliers, who have also picked up the pieces and found ways to accommodate our wedding couples.

One of these is Award Winning Photographer, Mike Wells. Mike is no stranger to Deer’s Leap, he was the venues first wedding photographer in 2014, when owners Heather and James held their own wedding here.

We recently caught up with Mike to ask him some questions and find about the impact of Covid-19 on his business.

Like most of us, I am sure a year ago you didn’t think a world pandemic would rearrange your business, how have the recent events affected you?

2020 was all set to be a bumper year, with bookings coming in right up the weekend before the lockdown. Since then I have moved over 20 weddings to 2021 and beyond. My clients have been amazing! They have worked with me to book new dates, some have even offered to pay part or all of their balance, just to help me get through the year which has been a huge help financially and personally. Although 2020 is a bust, I think 2021 weddings will be huge fun, and we can all get out and party!

Mike, we know how passionate you are about Wedding Photography, working with you we understand how much you love your job. Like us, you love the opportunity it gives you to capture memories for your clients and their families. You have won multiple Fearless Photography Awards; can you tell us a little about that?

My first Fearless award was very humbling. Fearless is group of the very best photographers in the world, and to have one of my images ranked alongside those was a great feeling. To give you an idea of how hard it is to receive a Fearless award, four times a year around 12,000 images are entered and less than 1% are awarded. I also won a Story Award which is 20 images from one wedding, I got 16th in the World and Number 1 in the UK.

That’s amazing! We love the way your work often includes a lot of humour, it fits with our relaxed, fun vibe at Deer’s Leap. How are you able to use that light-hearted approach in these difficult times?

I like to keep the mood light during any wedding and I’d keep that going now. I’m a friendly guy, so being myself helps couples to relax and I feel that most see me as a friend with a camera, rather than “The Photographer”. If the couple are relaxed with me it tends to flow through the wedding party and people are less guarded, be themselves and enjoy the day. This leads to some great humorous moments during both the day and party time.

So even now, you are really able to capture the emotion and unique moments of a wedding?

Even during this time, it’s possible to capture the emotions of the wedding day. My approach will change a little after lockdown, using a slightly longer focal length than usual and keeping a few feet extra distance between myself and guests but the photos really shouldn’t be that much different. I am constantly moving around and seeking out those moments. I have heard more than once from couples that they are amazed how much of their day was captured. Covid will not deter me from doing the same, although from a slightly more distant spot.

It’s very reassuring to hear there are still ways to capture creative photography with social distancing.

Of course! All weddings have their own obstacles to overcome from a photography point of view. Getting creative is part of what I do and with over 15 years of experience I’ve overcome a lot to get the best shots. Covid and social distancing is just another obstacle that I will overcome. My creative Mantra is, get high, get low, get close, go far, you only have to have one omission, can you guess which?

My style is to tell the story of your day as it happens, not traditionally in the formal sense anyway. The traditional big group photos will have to change after lockdown, it would no longer practical, as you’d need a football pitch and a super wide lens to get everyone socially distanced in! However, the smaller groups will be fine.

So, what would you say to couples who are apprehensive about booking wedding photography in the wake of a Pandemic?

A Good photographer will capture your day beautifully, no matter what the situation. Here in the UK we are used to dealing with lots of factors, such as wet weather. As photographers we overcome and adapt each and every time we shoot a wedding. The social distancing will make a small difference to the way I shoot a wedding, but I will still be able to capture great photos and the essence and enjoyment of your day.

At this point in time who are you allowed to photograph?

At this moment in time I can do pre wedding shoots, which are great fun and small weddings. So far, two of my full day weddings have reduced to just the couple, due to guests not being able to travel from overseas as well as other factors.

Guests health is a priority and at home I have my own family and elderly in laws to think about, so it’s a priority for me too. During the wedding I will keep my distance and wear a facemask if requested (I have some bespoke camera style ones) by either the couple or the venue.

I have told all of my 2020 couples, if they want to reschedule, I will move their date, where possible, without any additional fees. It’s one less thing for them to worry about knowing that the photography side of things is hassle free.

Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, it’s great to hear your positive and practical approach to everything the wedding industry is going through. We can’t wait to welcome you back to Deer’s Leap Retreat, and you are right, future weddings will be great celebrations, full of joy and lots of fun!

You can find out more about Mike and view his work on his website and on his Instagram page.

Below is also a selection of Mikes unique documentary style.

Real Weddings at Deer’s Leap Retreat – Jess and Sam’s Story

Jess and Sam met at Uni, but it wasn’t until 4 years after finishing their degree’s, when Sam decided to gate crash a weekend Game of Thrones marathon with Jess and her friend, that friendship turned to romance. The couple soon had a second date, alone, over pizza and their new relationship began.

Having been friends for a while, they knew a bit about each other and that they shared each other’s taste in music. However, when Sam started to build his knowledge on surfing, braving the frigid waters of Denmark and South Wales, it was then Jess knew that he’d sealed the deal!

They decided to hold their wedding at Deer’s Leap in the Summer, knowing they wanted to have an active outdoor celebration; and not least to prevent their guests from Australia from going into Hypothermic shock with our British weather!

It was important for Jess and Sam to express their personalities through their wedding and they needed a venue that offered the flexibility to make the celebration personal. Jess says, “our artistic sides definitely took over, from personalised surfboard keyrings as place names, to using our campervan as a photobooth; homemade garden games and a menu based on Caribbean food (where Sam proposed)”. The couple even made their own wedding cake at Deer’s Leap the afternoon before their big day.

Of course, the couple had visited several potential venues before choosing Deer’s Leap and it wasn’t just the tranquil rural setting that appealed, but as Jess describes Deer’s Leap’ “Laid back” vibe. “It’s hard not to feel relaxed around Heather and her family and the beautiful landscape, there were so many things that made it the perfect venue for us, the flexibility, the relaxed atmosphere, but most of all – it really is stunning.”

When Jess and Sam booked Deer’s Leap, they had no idea that they would be puppy parents by the time their wedding came around. As soon as Bodhi came into their lives, they knew it wouldn’t be the big family day they wanted, unless he was included! Bodhi shared all of the special moments with the couple and as Sam says, “he had a blast”. He also provided a few memorable moments of his own, including photobombing the couple while relieving himself in the background of their official photos!

During the day, one emotional moment came as a huge surprise. During the Father of the Bride speech, Jess’ Dad gifted the couple a handmade wooden surfboard that he’d spent months making in his workshop in Perth, Australia. “He had it shipped over in secret.  We were both totally blown away. Particularly as he had inlaid the wedding invitation artwork that Jess had drawn into the board – it couldn’t get much more special than that. Said Sam.

The couple certainly enjoyed a very personal day and with the help of Heather (who owns Deer’s Leap) they took the time to plan entertaining games for their guests. “Our garden games were a huge hit (particularly the space hoppers!) and combining them with a sweety station resulted in some very comical photobooth pictures, mostly of some very hyper kids!” said Sam.

Being an exclusive venue, couples, their friends and family are able to relax, make the place their own and the most of their time together. Many of Jess and Sam’s guests had travelled from across the globe to be with them, including Jess’ 85-year-old grandmother, who flew over from Melbourne, Australia. “We felt very lucky to have everyone there, it truly meant the world to us!” said Jess. Big family celebrations are made all the more special by the personal time shared between loved ones, which is why sharing the whole venue for 2 nights and 3 days creates so many incredible memories.

As Jess and Sam said, “one of the main reasons we chose Deer’s Leap as our venue, was that both of us have brothers and sisters with young kids, so when they all needed to get to bed they could be in the farmhouse with a babysitter, and our brothers and sisters could re-join the party! The farmhouse was also really useful for older family members who wanted to have a break from the partying”.

Their celebrations were concluded with fireworks over the lake, shared with their guests to an eclectic mix of their favourite songs that summarise them as a couple. There were a few guilty pleasures included like, AC/DC ‘Thunderstruck’, followed by The Surfaris ‘Wipeout’ and finished with Walt Disney’s Moana soundtrack!

Jess and Sam certainly created a weekend wedding that would stay in the hearts and minds of their guests for a lifetime. A celebration of the love they share, not only for each other, but their family and friends also.

Here’s to a long, happy marriage to a wonderful couple!

You can also read more about Sam and Jess in the March issue of Devon and Cornwall Weddings Magazine.

The stunning wedding images were taken by Checkered Photography. Find more images here Instagram @checkered_photography