The first twenty minutes that I stared at this empty photo album, it stared back at me, laughing. I had perused many wedding albums, watched countless Youtube behind the scenes videos, and even consulted some friends who have shot weddings before, but like most things it’s completely different when you are in the driver’s seat. I tried positioning the rings on a table. Nope, that’s not it. Went and tried on a railing outside. Nope, that’s not it either. So I moved on. Maybe the dress! So, we hung it up from the cross beams. I tried something up close. Nope. Far away. Nope. If you had seen some of the images that were being captured, well let’s just say, these would have not made the final album. I kept trying shot after shot but each click was another little voice saying that maybe I couldn’t do this.
Eventually, I stopped banging my head against the details and decided that I should focus on the people. After all, that’s what I love capturing in photography. So, I stopped by where Emily was having her hair done and lined up a shot.
I made a quick glance down at the playback on my camera screen and felt a great surge of relief. I had captured the first image. Funny, the less I tried to control the better.
It’s not often that you get invited to photograph a friend’s wedding. More often than not, a friend of the bride and groom finds themselves in attendance at the wedding. Maybe as a bridesmaid, a groomsmen, or just a normal attendee, friends are there to take part and enjoy the festivities. A photographer on the other hand has a mission to accomplish: capture the day in all its beauty that through images the moment can be relived for generations to come. Now, maybe I’m wrong, but I would think it is rare that a friend would also be the photographer. It’s difficult to enjoy the ceremony when you are constantly worrying about “missing the shot”. Yet, that’s where I found myself. I wasn’t just in attendance, I was documenting this moment in a world where I was one of two guests that were not immediate family members. The nerves were real, but as Karl was able to tell me as we were driving out to the venue, “You’re nervous because you care.”
It’s true. I did care. A lot! This wasn’t just any friend, it was Emily! The first friend I met in college. A friend who I grew alongside over the past four years. A friend who I was also blessed enough to capture their proposal, and engagement session. Both of which I was equally as nervous. I remember being perched out in the bush waiting for her and Luke, her now husband, to walk up and then shaking as he dropped to one knee. And I wasn’t even proposing!
So as Karl and I left Luke’s childhood home where we greeted his mother and a few siblings, I was trying to showcase my nerves as excitement, can’t let the wedding party see the nerves… right…? I don’t know how it looked to them, but as we left Luke’s house and headed into the beautiful countryside of east Texas nerves and doubt were cycling through the back of my head like a cassette tape on loop.
Arriving at the quaint bed and breakfast that would be our venue for the day, the first people I met were Emily’s parents. The Frederickson’s have been ever supportive of me in my photographic journey. From kind words, to small donations, to even housing me the first time I had an event to shoot at in Austin, they have been a beam of support. So when I got to talk with Emily’s Dad, George, I was relieved of a bit of nerves when I saw how nervous he was. This was his first daughter to be married and as he mentioned to Karl “between drum corps and school, she’s been gone and grown up so fast, it’s hard to let go.”
It was comforting to see that we were all in our own little bubbles of nerves about this wedding. We all had our own experiences leading into this day, and we all were in a sense “rookies”. While my nerves existed in the thought of failure, it is very different from the feeling of marrying away a daughter. It’s something I hope to know one day, but for now I just have to think about what it’s like to release someone that you have poured every last little ounce of love you could have into since the onset of life.
After this short chat, I entered into the warm home where Emily was getting ready. Beautifully decorated with a cool light gleaming in from the windows, a feeling of beauty, peace, and love was found.
A hug and smile greeted me when I first saw Emily, and yet beneath it I could feel the significance of a day which she was planning for years. Seeing her as she sat in a chair having make-up done brought me back to three years ago when in a chaotic dorm room she was placing the finishing touches on her make-up as she prepared to go out for her first date with Luke. Time sure has flashed by, but the love the two of them have shared has only been exposed in greater detail. A love that I believed I can capture, but until I clicked that shutter for the first time, it was still an empty photo album staring at me.
As we got closer to the ceremony starting time, the families started to show up, and with them the children began to roam. Children’s experience with these big events is something that is joyous to watch as I wonder if they fully understand the significance of the day. As far as I could tell, they were happy to be outside, inside, and all around. Playing with toys, hair, and anything that could gather their attention.
The innocence that came within their experience was one that I hope many people can bring into these monumental days. A chance to experience the day as it is.
Outside, I could find Luke helping with the finishing touches of balancing the music that would be playing as his bride-to-be walked down the aisle. He was already suited up only needing the garter to finalize his simple but groomed look.
It’s interesting the difference in the way the bride and groom vary in how they get ready. One was lots of people and mini details, the other a solo act with larger strokes. Yet, mentally I think you could sense the same feeling being shared among them. Joy of the unknown that awaits them as they enter into this new life together. A future that the men took a moment to pause and pray over.
It’s here where I finally saw Emily, aisle ready. We talked very little as she began to wait for the ceremony to have it’s starting cue. Taking a moment to peek around the corner seeing the huddle of men in prayer.
As her mom began to fix up final touches on the dress’ train I photographed a portrait. I could see how she wanted to smile, but yet there was a different emotion that was showing itself. An honest form of grace.
Meanwhile, Dad seemed to be at peak nerves.
But as the music begins and the walk down the aisle proceeds, a dad once overcome by nerves now has a sense of peace over him as he walks with his daughter. It’s no more than a few feet into the walk when the love starts to overflow. Luke, overcome as he sees his bride. Emily, beaming as she sees her husband.
A embrace and kiss from dad and the two find themselves underneath the arbor in front of their families ready to join together.
Throughout the ceremony, there is so much to treasure. The weather is gorgeous, the people are smiling, and the children add a little bit to the spontaneity and beautiful chaos.
Among all the images I took a brief moment behind the setting to put the camera down and breathe just a moment deeper. Appreciate all that the day had brought. In a world where many weddings were cancelled due to Covid-19, I was one of two non immediate family members here to witness and partake in this moment in person, not through a screen.
It’s now that I began to feel again how important friends and family are in our lives. They are here to celebrate and love us on this glorious day, even if it is through comments on a live stream, and they will be here to support us as we take the next steps into the world.
Then the moment came, “You may kiss the bride”. Ready to capture I let my eye do the work and let the photo burst fly. A moment enshrined in time.
Another great relief waved over me as without looking at the screen I knew I had captured it; only to have the battery in my camera die moments later and the plastic battery holder break off my camera as they began to walk out the aisle. Luckily, I had earlier placed another fully charged battery in my pocket just by chance. A quick change and desperation fixing of the battery flap and not a moment was missed as we went into the newly wed’s portrait session.
It’s always fun to do these portraits because while I have an idea, most of the time we are just going and seeing what the moment brings. Happily, I found a perfectly placed sign and some beautiful light that made capturing the love all the easier.
As the sun set, the serene woods provided a pleasant backdrop for the reception. Laughs were all around the table as we failed to answer the trivia about the newlyweds we all thought we ought to know, cake was cut larger than a bite can manage leaving icing across faces, and shoes were raised at opposite times indicating maybe the newlyweds still have things to learn about each other, but hey that’s why this is just another step in the long journey of their lives.
As the tables were wiped and the camera was packed, I couldn’t help but appreciate the whole day. From the nerves and the moments captured, to the joys and moments not captured, I can feel nothing but gratitude to chronicle the love between two friends.
I don’t know when I will, if ever, have the opportunity to photograph and witness a love from start to wedding day again. But for now, that’s ok. I will enjoy being a witness from afar to all that these two will document and experience in their life together. And one day, when they find themselves with the nervous excitement at the wedding of their child, I hope they will reach back and pull out this, now full photo album and remember what it was like on May 1st, 2020.
With the Greatest Love,