On Sunday, August 25th, Dustin and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary! Honestly, it’s hard to believe we’ve been married for such a long time. The years have flown by since we’ve been together. To celebrate all this wedded bliss we had a gloriously lazy day together. We took the kids for a morning swim at the gym, ate a yummy lunch together at home, and then had an evening away just the two of us. Our kid-free night included cheese boards and a movie and lots of holding hands and sneaking kisses. I am so happy I love this dude so dang much after all these years. He is my favorite and my best. I am the luckiest.
This past week I’ve been transferring old files from a computer I’m retiring to some fancy storage thing Dustin got for me. (He’s in charge of all the computer things around here so I don’t know exactly what it is but I’m glad I have it.) I came across our wedding photos in the process and, of course, spent an hour looking through them and reminiscing. Looking at those photos (which I totally love!) made me realize how many things I’d learned about my own photography business from them. There were lessons I learned at the time we got married, but now with a whole bunch of time passed and life lived since that day, there are some things I learned that changed how I take wedding photos and what I think couples should consider when they are choosing their own wedding photographer.
1. DO AN ENGAGEMENT SESSION WITH YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
Honestly, I wasn’t super sure an engagement session was a thing I wanted to do when Dustin and I were getting married. But, our photographer insisted and I AM SO GLAD SHE DID! As I’ve said about twenty million times, being photographed is weird! Having our engagement session helped us figure out what we liked and didn’t like about particular poses, how to interact with each other while being photographed, and what to expect on our wedding day when it came to being photographed and working with our photographer. The experience was SO valuable. The truth is, I love our engagement session photos even more than our wedding photos. They are SO much more true to who we are as people and as a couple.
In the decades of running my own photography business, this has become an even bigger deal for me. Photographing a couple together prior to their wedding is awesome! We get to know each other, I see how you interact with each other, and we make some discoveries about the best way to capture the real you in your photos. The time we spend together makes the wedding day SO much easier, and the photos turn out just that much better. I can’t recommend having an engagement session with the photographer who is photographing your wedding more highly! It’s an important part of putting all the pieces of your wedding day together!
Bonus tip: Your engagement session is 100% the time to get your hair and makeup trial for your wedding. INVEST IN YOURSELF! Our engagement photos were taken after work, where I slapped on some makeup in the office bathroom and ran a brush through my hair. That was some real poor planning on my part. Last year when I was getting some new headshots, I had my hair and makeup done and felt like a freaking rockstar. I said, MANY TIMES, that I looked better than I did on my wedding day BECAUSE IT WAS TRUE! Girl, get your makeup done! And fellas, don’t be afraid of a little makeup either. Dustin has rosacea, and he’s self conscious about it in photos. I dab and blend a little bit of a green stick on his face before photos and he feels a thousand percent better! Being photographed is hard enough – get your makeup done, bask in the glow of your radiating self confidence and make some pretty pictures!!!
2. HAVE TWO PHOTOGRAPHERS
Our wedding was kind of weird – mostly because I’m kind of weird and had a pretty specific way I wanted things to go. Dustin and I got married on a Thursday with a small group of about 25 people and then had a huge reception on Friday night with about 300 people. There was a lot going on, loads of people I didn’t even get to talk to (or see!), and we had only hired one photographer to capture it all. When I got the photos back, I was thrilled with all the photos of me and my new husband. We looked so freaking foxy! But as I went through the delivered photos I realized there were almost no photos of anything else!
Since it was just one person with a camera for our wedding day, if she was photographing us she couldn’t be photographing our family and friends enjoying the party or getting detail shots of all the things we’d worked hard on and spent so much money on. She prioritized photos of the two of us. At the time, I was thrilled with the photos we got. But as time has marched on and things have changed (parents and loved one’s passing, friends and family moving away, etc.), I find myself a little sad about some of the photos I don’t have.
Having an extra set of eyes at your wedding is a really good thing, and so valuable in the long run. Take for example the following photos of our friends Lisa and Geoff at their wedding ten years ago. While I was down in the front of their ceremony taking the photo of Geoff watching his bride walk toward him, my second photographer was in the back taking this awesome image of Lisa walking with her dad as her guest looked on. The time stamp on these images show they are seconds apart.
If it had only been me photographing that wedding I wouldn’t have been able to get both of these images. That is true of so many moments throughout a wedding day. When you’re getting family portraits taken after your ceremony, my second is at the cocktail hour getting photos of your friends and family enjoying the party and looking awesome all dressed up for your big day. Having two people recording your day is how you get to see even more of your wedding, capture moments that are so fleeting, and have a collection of images that are more than just you and your beloved looking freaking foxy (though, you will get those too!)
3. YOUR WEDDING IS NOT A PHOTO SHOOT – IT’S A WEDDING
It’s time for me to get real with you, and in so doing share a part of myself I’m kind of embarrassed by. When I first started photographing weddings I treated them like photo shoots. I genuinely thought the wedding was about the photos – especially the photos of the couple – and in doing so, I managed to make another person’s wedding all about me! As time has marched on and I’ve done this work for over two decades and grown up a whole bunch, I have come to realize with profound clarity this simple truth: WEDDINGS ARE NOT PHOTO SHOOTS AND THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME.
Your wedding would go on with or without a photographer. While awesome photos on your wedding day can be super important, it is by far NOT the MOST important thing. Your wedding does not exist for the purpose of wedding photos. Your wedding exists because you are promising your life to your person, and the people who have loved and supported you all along the way are gathering together to honor and celebrate that commitment. This is a big freaking deal! And as time moves on, and your marriage grows and matures (just as you will) those freaking beautiful photos of the two of you will be cherished and loved, but I PROMISE YOU there will be other moments captured that you will cherish and love far more.
While I desperately love the photos of Dustin and I at our wedding, I would give anything for a photo of my dad seeing me in my dress for the first time, or my nieces and nephews running around my reception high on sugar cookies, or my parents laughing with their friends as they enjoy the only wedding reception any of their kids had while they were both alive, or some grip and grins of all those awesome people who came out to our wedding to support us but who I didn’t have enough time to connect with. I am SO glad for all the photos of me and Dusty looking so young and so cute, but they aren’t the most important photos and they don’t tell the whole story. I take my job as the person who gets as much of the story as possible really seriously. On your wedding day you’re in this weird bubble and it all goes by really, really fast. Showing you your parents watching you say your vows, or your friends laughing, or just how great everyone looked is a big part of why I am there for your day. And what an honor that is!
4. THE DETAILS MATTER
Dustin and I got married really fast. We were only engaged for 4 months. We were young and didn’t have a lot of money so we got real creative with things. We really lucked out when it came to how much our family and friends helped us during the planning and execution of our wedding. Because we were young and broke and paying for everything ourselves we opted to have a dessert wedding. We had our reception later in the evening and made it a night of dancing and desserts. I had so many people help to pull our celebration off!
I had a wacky wedding cake that was stripes and polka dots. One of my roommates at the time was taking pastry classes and created over 300 sugar cookie replicas of my wedding cake. She hand piped those cookies and they were beautiful… or at least I’ve been told they were. As is often the case with a wedding, I didn’t actually get to see them as I was busy being a bride. People raved about them after the wedding. I was SO excited to see photos of them! But, there weren’t any. My photographer took photos of a few of my details but didn’t get a single photo of the dessert tables piled high with the sweets my family and friends had worked so hard on, and we had spent so much money on. Honestly, I was pretty bummed. I had three photos of the cups we rented, but none of the table of delights that was the main focus of our reception.
There is a trend among some photographers right now that details don’t matter. I respectfully disagree. The details of a wedding are the things you’ve stitched together over the months to make this day yours. You’ve spent a lot of time and money on these things, and you want to remember them. The details of a wedding is often where I get to know a couple best. Seeing photos of the generations of marriages that came before them, or the cake cutter your parents used at their wedding, or the locket attached to your bouquet or just the way you have the tables set all tell so much about a couple and what is most important to them. The things you’ve put together to delight your guests, make the space beautiful, and personalize your wedding are so valuable! Making sure your details are photographed is important to me. It’s why I work hard to create a timeline for your wedding photography that has plenty of space to make sure these little things are recorded. My job is to show you your wedding. ALL of it! (Or, you know, as much as humanly possible!)
5. DO A FIRST LOOK
True story: I drove Dustin to our wedding. I love to drive, and it zens me out when I’m stressed. Dustin knows this about me and so he made sure I was behind the wheel when we made our way to our wedding venue. It was actually pretty perfect. We had an hour in the car to ourselves to talk and hold hands and get ready emotionally for our big day. Once we were dressed and in our wedding clothes we spent a few minutes together – just us – saying the things to each other that I truly consider our vows. All the stuff I didn’t want to say in front of other people, the things that were for just us.
I am SO grateful for that time we had together and in the years since our wedding I have looked back on those moments quite frequently and with great fondness. Those moments we got to steal away together are some of my favorites from our wedding day. Even better, seeing each other and spending so much time together prior to the actual ceremony of our wedding didn’t change the feelings we had as we walked down the aisle at all. If anything, it pulled those moments into sharper relief when I experienced them, and hence they are so in my memory of the day. Dustin and I walked into our ceremony together and I remember seeing the faces of our inner circle and tears springing to my eyes. There were our people, showing up and celebrating our union. I remember the look on Dusty’s face when we said our vows, and the laughter that rang out when I flubbed a line and when Dustin put my ring on the wrong hand. I remember the wave of emotion I felt during our first kiss as a married couple. I am SO glad I have those strong memories and that I spent the majority of my wedding day with the person I was marrying. It was perfect!
In all my years as a photographer, I have never once had a couple say they wish they hadn’t done a first look. But I have had people say they wish they would have. I wish I could properly explain how people’s whole physicality and emotional energy changes when they see their partner. Wedding days are so stressful! Not seeing your person until half way through the day usually leads to one or both of you being super stressed out. I truly believe seeing each other before the ceremony is such a beautiful way to connect with each other and be so much more present as you promise your lives to each other.
I have found that making a moment of your first look helps to make it even more memorable and important to your day. This is a great time to exchange wedding gifts or private vows. Say the things you don’t want to say in front of your parents! Connect with each other! And then you’ll be able to show up so much more for the rest of your day.
6. GET A WEDDING ALBUM
There is something VERY powerful about printed photographs. I feel a bit bad for the generations of humans that are growing up where printed photos are the exception, not the rule. Holding your photos in your hands is a beautiful and meaningful experience. A wedding album, the visual story of your wedding day from start to finish, is not just a pretty book to look at and reminisce, it is your first family heirloom. Your wedding album is something that will be cherished for generations.
My parents did not have a photographer at their wedding – just some family friends taking photos here and there. The photos that do exist are blurry snapshots. My aunt and uncle did have a photographer at their wedding a few years prior to my parents, and when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary seeing their wedding album laid out brought tears to my eyes. There was my family, long before I was even a thought, captured so beautifully and preserved for me to view and cry over all those years later. My dad had passed away a few years prior to this celebration, but seeing him in the photos as a young man acting as the best man for his brother’s wedding was joyous. I am SO grateful that part of our family history was so beautifully preserved.
Dustin and I got a wedding album when we found out I was pregnant just a few months after our wedding. I knew if I didn’t have a wedding album by the time Lauren was born, the chances of me EVER having one were slim. I love my album, and display it with pride. I had no idea that in the years to come my own children would find so much joy in looking at it. Over the years they have adored pulling that album down, flipping through the pages, and asking us all about our wedding day. It has been such a wonderful way to share the beginning of our family with the kiddos who made it complete. Holding that book in my hands, having a physical visual representation of the day I promised forever to my partner for life is one of my most beloved positions, and such an important part of our family history.
All these years later, I am SO grateful for meeting my person and making him my husband. I love the photos we have from our wedding, and I am so grateful that I learn from that experience even now. Being married has been the most wonderful, joyus, heartbreaking and challenging thing I’ve ever done. Being married for as long as we have, there is no way to not have gone through some pretty serious life stuff. But despite the pain we’ve been through, and the unimaginable joy we’ve been blessed with I can say without a doubt there is NO ONE I would rather do this life with than my Dustin. He is my favorite human on earth and I truly am the luckiest. Being in the space where other couples promise their lives together, and standing as their witness to the love they have for each other and the love their family and friends have for them, has been the most rewarding part of my career. I don’t consider myself an artist. I see my work as an act of service. I get to show people just how much they are loved. The photos we create together put up a mirror and let them see how valued and cherished they are. It has been one of the greatest gifts of my life and I feel so lucky that I get to do what I do!