As wedding photographers, we uphold the great responsibility of capturing someone’s “best day of their life”— and the focus is, as it should be, on the couple and their love. We are taught to story tell their day back to them through a collection of photographs that artfully show how the day unfolded. We are trained to shoot the details: to set up shots of invitation suites, florals, the shoes, the rings, the decor. We are told to make sure we always get photos of the couple at golden hour, and how to do it. But no one’s writing books or blogs about how to capture moments of the guests and family in a way that means everything— because someday, these photos will be all that the couple has of that person, that family member, that moment—- and they will cling to them harder than you ever could imagine.
Except that I can imagine it. Because I photographed my little sister’s wedding, while my mom was on Hospice care. She had a big wedding in the works, and I was planning on taking off the photographer hat and handing it to someone else until cancer had another plan for all of us. We sat at the foot of my mom’s hospital bed, while doctors told us not to wait for the wedding because time wasn’t guaranteed. In under a week we planned a wedding in the backyard of our childhood home, scaled a guest list down from 150+ to 14, and my mom was able to walk her down the aisle.
The power in capturing those moments with my mom was so incredibly special. Those photos mean everything to me, and to my sisters, because they are some of the last photos of my mom— smiling brilliantly, dressed up and looking so beautiful—- before things took a turn and we weren’t taking as many photos anymore because we were swallowed whole by grief.
I get at least one email a year thanking me for taking the photos that someone has of their special person who has passed away since their wedding. Sometimes I get an email sharing that someone has used one of my photos for an obituary or printed large scale at a memorial service. This past year, I got more emails than I ever have before. And this week I lost my best friend’s Dad, and I’ve found myself going through wedding photos from when I shot her sister’s wedding, cherishing the ones of him that I have.
I don’t photograph weddings anymore hoping to be an award winning wedding photographer or with hopes of getting enough detail shots to publish the photos. I photograph through the lens of grief. And I don’t mean this in a morbid way, but the experience of losing both of my parents by the time that I turned 28 has made me, for better or worse, highly sensitive and aware of the fragility of life. I know first hand, that at the end of it all, you will hold photos of the people who were with you on your wedding day tighter to your chest than ever before and wish you had taken a million more. I know that a photo of you hugging someone can transport you back in time and make you feel like you’re hugging them again. I know that in the long run, you won’t frame or care much for the stylized photos of your shoes. You’ll want the photo of your mom, your grandma, your sibling, your best friend. That’s what’s going to go on your walls. That’s what you’ll feel thankful for. I believe it is miraculous to have all your favorite people together at one place and one time, and I want to capture all of that for you in a way that you’ll cherish forever.
Photographers— this is where our real responsibility comes in. We owe it to our clients to tell the stories of their wedding days in a way that feels most meaningful to them. It’s up to us to photograph the people at their wedding just as much as the beautiful flowers and the table decorations. It’s reminding ourselves to get photos of grandparents on the dance floor and hand squeezes between parents, and capturing guests in quiet moments too. Yes, the focus is forever on the couple who is getting married, but don’t forget to focus on the moments that make their wedding day unique— the community of people surrounding them that they chose to share in their day with.
I’m always humbled when I think about the comfort and simultaneous heartbreak that my photos can provide for someone and their family, and I’m continually reminded of why I do what I do— beyond advocating for the Queer community through my business, I’m advocating for a stripped down, real and vulnerable take on the wedding industry. I’m pushing for photographers and other vendors alike to connect with their clients and their people in a deeper way. And I’m gently reminding anyone who is getting married that the photos of your wedding will someday mean everything to you… so find someone you trust to photograph your wedding and the people around you. This life is short and nothing is guaranteed, but the impact we have, especially as photographers is enormous. Cheers to photographing with more heart, more room for grief, more joy and more capacity for the human experience than ever before…