DUKE UNIVERSITY CHAPEL
Without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favourite places to photograph weddings is Duke University Chapel. The chapel is the most emblematic building at Duke University and, dominating the skyline for miles around, it is the focal point of the campus itself. Duke Chapel was built between 1930 and 1935, but with its Gothic architecture has the look and feel of the churches from the Tudor period that I grew up surrounded by back home in England. Probably for this reason, this is one of the North Carolina wedding venues that I feel most at home in. It has a character and soul in its arches, arcades and vaults that just lends itself to beautiful photography and I just love working there.
As a preferred vendor, I have photographed tens of weddings at Duke Chapel, yet I never get tired of seeking out and finding new ways to capture its majesty. Take a look through the gallery below and you’ll notice my eye for composition and light dovetails with the exquisite Gothic architecture of Duke Chapel. As always, I strive to make sure every client’s wedding story is told in a unique style that blends photojournalism with fine art portrait photography. No matter the time of day or the season of the year, My intimate knowledge of the photographic opportunities at Duke Chapel will ensure you have stunning photographs to look back on and remember your day.
As an example, the image below was taken on the spur of the moment as the bride and groom were leaving the Chapel. We’d already taken some more “safe” traditional images of the couple in the arcades, etc. so I wanted to see if I could do something a little different for this couple. I could see that the sky looked really dramatic as the sun was setting behind the Chapel and the clouds were lit in a soft glow. I decided to use the shape of the Chapel as a silhouette in the background and exposed for the sky. My assistant then held two flashes to light the couple and we took a few quick frames before heading to the reception. Despite having shot tens of weddings at Duke Chapel, I’m always looking for ways to experiment and do something new and unique.
I then took the flash away, recomposed and took this image. I love the glow of the sunlight around the bride and groom and the way it catches the bride’s veil
Duke Chapel is also a great venue for bridal portrait sessions or post-wedding sessions. It’s always a lot of fun to take our time and make some images without the time constraints of the wedding day timeline itself. The image below was actually taken at a post-wedding session, which was necessary as the bride and groom had the 3pm slot in early January and did not want to do a first look. Sunset at that time of year is around 5pm, so with the ceremony and family photos finishing at around 4:30pm we did not have a whole lot of time to experiment to get a shot like this. It also snowed on their wedding day, so the arcades were really icy and we did not want to get the bride’s dress dirty on the day. When we came back a few days later, the temperature was in the high 60s, the snow had melted and a strong breeze was blowing, which allowed for us to get the movement in the veil for this image, which is one of my favourites. You can see some more photos from one of my Duke Chapel bridal sessions here.
Here you can see a photo from the same bride’s wedding a few days earlier. A Christmas wedding at Duke Chapel always looks amazing. The front of the altar area is decorated with scarlet poinsettias and the choir stalls are bedecked with wreathes. It really does look beautifully festive.
To see how snowy it was on their wedding day, take a look at some of the other photos we took. These were taken back at the Washington Duke Hotel right as the last rays of sun were visible on the ground. We literally had five minutes to take photos before it set completely.
First looks are a really nice way to ensure you and your groom have ample time to get the photos you need at the chapel with the time slot you are given. I love the sheer happiness on the bride’s face in this photo. The Duke Chapel wedding staff do a great job of coordinating the period of time before the wedding ceremony, so we’ll work with them to ensure you get all the portraits and family photos you need.
Another option is to do your first look nearby at Duke Gardens. This means you have even more time to get photos together and, if desired, with your bridal party, family, etc. This couple decided to do a first look at one of my favourite spots at Duke Gardens. We then walked around to take family photos, including a few with their cute pup.
This couple had a first look in the rain! We could see it was in the forecast, so we prepared accordingly and it made for some beautifully romantic images.
This couple had a first look at sunset at Duke Gardens on the winter solstice, which meant we got a lot of great photos of them together before we headed over to the Chapel:
Although I shoot at Duke Chapel a lot, I am always looks for new ways to utilise its striking architecture and lighting in my photos. With the image above, we arrived at the Chapel to find the altar had been pushed back way further than it is normally. The gave us the space to take some photos facing back into the sanctuary with the couple framed by the organ and hanging lights.
This is another one of my favourite photos from a bridal session at Duke Chapel. This was an evening session in July and a summer storm had just blown through. The light turned beautifully soft and we got this photo as were finishing up at the chapel. I used a telephoto lens to compress the background and pull in the chapel doorway to frame the bride.
Here are some more images from this bridal session. As I say, it rained that evening so we had a lot of fun experimenting with different looks and techniques while we waited for the storm to pass. We also headed over to Duke Gardens for a few photos at the end of the session:
During the ceremony, I move around discretely to look for unique angles and ways to capture the beauty of the Chapel. There is so much to take in at this beautiful place of worship. I often like to shoot from the back of the Chapel to bring in the amazing architecture and lighting.
And from the sides in order to take in views like this:
I always prefer to work Duke Chapel weddings with a second photographer. This allows me the freedom to allow my second stay up close to the altar to get images like this…
… whilst I am at the back of the church to capture images like these. Once you have been pronounced husband and wife, there are always lovely moments to look out for and capture. The image below tells two great stories of the relief that is felt when the ceremony is done…
and you finally have that ring on your finger…
Here are just a few more of my favourite photos from some of my Duke Chapel weddings.
The bride with her mum waiting to walk down the aisle with Duke Chapel staff making final adjustments to her dress and veil. I use a variety of lenses, both modern and antique, to capture the feel of the unique moments of the day:
A flower girl fixes the dress after the bride has stepped up onto the altar. I’m always looking out for little moments like these.
Of course, we will spend some time ahead of the ceremony getting some bridal photos and group photos with your friends and loved ones in the arcades. Here’s a candid image of the bride and her bridesmaids walking to the arcades to start taking these shots…
If it is raining, we walk through the chapel’s basement to get those images and I love using the spiral staircase to capture images like these…
Once you get there, we will generally take some family photos first. I like to keep things nice and relaxed as you can see by the natural smiles in the photo sbelow:
The bridal image was taken on a January evening right before the 6am wedding service. It was already starting to get dark, but I love the mood of the arcades at this time of day too. It was pretty windy, so the bride was a trooper given the cold temperatures. The whipping wind allowed us to get some dramatic images of her dress and its gorgeous train.
Conversely, this image was taken before the 6pm service in July. I love how the light changes throughout the year. My experience shooting at Duke Chapel in all seasons means I know exactly how to make the most of the light to get the most beautiful images.
After the first look, this couple took some time with me inside the chapel to get some unique photos. These images are never really planned, but come together organically from a combination of the light on the day, the mood of each couple and how much time we have for portraits within the timeline.
We then added in a flash to get this image:
After the ceremony, we headed outside to get these portraits, amongst others:
Just a few more of my fave Duke Chapel wedding images from different parts of the day:
If you’d like to get a better idea of how a full Duke Chapel wedding album might look, you can see some more photos from my past Duke Chapel weddings here. These will give you a more rounded vision of how a typical wedding day coverage will look.
If you’re interested in me photographing your wedding, please drop me a line here. I love photographing weddings at Duke Chapel and I’d love to talk with you about your plans!
Check out the gallery below for more Duke Chapel wedding photography by Joe Payne: