A defining moment in my 6 years of photography happened about 3 years ago. It changed my career path and it’s part of my why. Why I am who I am and how I became the photographer that I am today. The moments that made me tear up, hold my breath and have sweaty palms because I am as much in the moment as they are. I get to share in the intimate and powerful moments with my clients and it’s my greatest joy.
Three years ago in the Spring of 2016, one of my best friends was finally graduating college. Not that it took her an extremely long time but for her it took longer than she wanted, and she was proud of herself. We were all proud of her. She was finally going to be able to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. A career path so many family members, mentors and friends saw in her way before she saw it in herself.
In the same season of transition and excitement, her sister was getting married and her family was planning a wedding. Two incredibly important moments in each of their lives that they get to share together. Quite literally. Let me explain what I mean.
Through a series of unfortunate events, during the planning process the wedding was accidentally booked with the venue for the same day as her college graduation. At no one’s fault just a misunderstanding. Everyone was completely devastated. Even the bride. It meant just as much to her to see her younger sister walk across the stage as it meant to the other to celebrate her marriage.
My best friend was not going to be able to walk across the stage with all her classmates. The prestige and powerful moment of being able to wear her cap and gown (that she had already ordered), shaking hands with the Dean of Education to receive her diploma (or a fake diploma only to receive the real thing months later), and then getting to move her tassel from the right to left. We were all heartbroken when we found out about the miscommunication of the wedding date.
Just like any other wedding planning process, it takes control of almost everyone’s lives. You must decide (sometimes interview) and hire all your vendors. If you’re doing a DIY wedding you have to plan out what you want to make, find the time to buy the materials, make the items and then actually decorate yourself the weekend of. The couple decides on their guest list, seating plan, ceremony structure, reception music. And SO much more! If you’ve never been a part of planning a wedding, it’s an all hands-on deck event. Unintentionally, the bride’s day was quickly overshadowing our senior’s greatest accomplishment.
As the day drew closer and closer, her family and closest friends knew our senior needed time for her to be the focus, the center stage with a spotlight. She needed to be celebrated just as much as the bride. So they all planned a graduation party with several events throughout an entire weekend for it to be all about her, the weekend before the big day. They wanted her to feel just as special.
Flashback to 2014, you see I had shot two weddings while I was in college and I decided at that time that weddings were not for me. I did not have enough confidence in myself to capture the most important day in a couple’s lives. Even though from one of those weddings I did gain lifelong clients and friends. No really, I’m still shooting newborn sessions and family sessions for that same couple 5 years later. While in college I moved on to pursue sports photography.
After my college graduation, I moved to Richmond for an internship in the summer, and in the fall I moved to New York to work for Sports Illustrated. It was the toughest season for me. I grew a lot spiritually, professionally and personally. You can read more about my New York experience here. After I moved back home to North Carolina, I had to regrow my clientele and reevaluate my photography career. For months, almost a year, a lot of people actually didn’t know that I was even back in town, much less shooting portraits.
Come 2016 my best friend’s older sister asked me if I wanted to be one of her photographers for her wedding. My first wedding after deciding I wasn’t going to be a wedding photographer. The first wedding after moving back home. They trusted and believed in me. She also hired another close friend (we were both new and growing our businesses).
Finally, the wedding day arrived and we all had a secret plan. The bride had only communicated to a few people prior that there would be a surprise for our sweet senior, her younger sister and maid of honor at the very end of the wedding ceremony.
Meredith, the other photographer, was in the middle of the church sanctuary capturing the vows and kiss and I was in the front (sort of hidden behind the bridal party at the altar). The time had come for the surprise and I needed to get in place. I slipped out a side door of the church during a prayer and ran all the way around to the front of the church to be in the front entrance/vestibule.
Let me just tell you that it was May and it was hot. The door I had originally planned to come back in through was locked so sheer panic was running through me I started crying immediately thinking I was going to miss the surprise moment. I ran around again to another door on the other side and made it to the vestibule just in time! Still crying but now because of the moment we had all been waiting for.
The bride and groom said “I Do” kissed and receded out of the church with the bridal party and our maid of honor right behind them. Before I tell you what happens next, I should explain a few things for context. Our senior was graduating college with a degree in early childhood education. Her (and the bride’s) great aunt has her Doctorate in Early Childhood Education and was once the Dean of the College of Education at the same university. Their dad is a leader in the community and a well loved teacher as well. Okay, let’s continue.
Our maid of honor receded out of the church and walked into the vestibule only to find her sister and now brother-in-law and their great aunt with her cap and gown in their hands! (TEARS!) She immediately gasped and started bawling. As soon as she recognized what was happening, her sister and brother-in-law through her cap and gown on her while she stood there in literal shock and tears streaming down her face (and everyone else’s in the room). After a couple of minutes of explaining to her what was happening, their father got up in the front of the church and explained the story to the guests.
With the bride and groom on each side of our senior, holding her arms, they walked hand in hand back into the church and down the aisle so she could walk across the stage and receive a fake diploma from their great aunt, and her father pinned her with her college of education pin. The entire church was on their feet and clapping. There wasn’t a single dry eye in the entire church. It was the most magical day for this family and I was there to capture that for them.
A few things from this wedding defined my decision to be a wedding photographer for real. First is the fact that I got to be a part of their special wedding day AND capture the most magical moment in my best friend’s life. The fact that two sisters got to share their day together and celebrate one of the greatest accomplishments in their lives at that moment. How amazing and selfless of the bride to want to celebrate her sister’s graduation on her wedding day?!
The other thing that I’ve always always loved being able to do is to share photos of individuals to a family after they’ve lost a loved one. The joy you can bring to someone when they look at a photograph of someone they loved is so special. A few months after the wedding, the groom’s grandparents passed away. Both of them within days of each other, it was as if they quite literally could not live without the other. It was complete devastation to the family and the community.
I gifted one of the daughters with this family portrait in a frame. This image that I was able to capture and have as one of the last images of their parents. A moment that if I hadn’t been in the exact moment and the perfect time would not have been captured. It’s one of the greatest gifts God has given me, my talent of being a photographer. It’s my duty to share that talent with others and spread love and joy through my photography. That is part of my Why.
I reflect back on this wedding day and I realize that there will likely never be a surprise graduation ceremony on a wedding day again. However, I do know that there is a huge chance that I could capture the last moments of someone at a wedding. That I can be there to celebrate all the moments that happen good or bad. Sometimes you’re celebrating pregnancies, you might see a proposal during the bouquet toss and moments so intimate that only the bride and groom will share. It’s the moments that you never want to forget that I want to be there for.
This wedding will always be a defining moment in my photography career and the reason behind why I switched and why I want to be there on YOUR wedding day. I will always love my sports photography family and have the desire to go back to the athletic fields. But now, now my purpose is sharing your story. Capturing the small moments that go unnoticed and the big moments that you never want to forget. I value the intimate and little moments that add up to the big story. Because without each puzzle piece you’ll never see the full picture. This is something I strive for and value. It’s part of my why, why I am the person I am and why I am the photographer that I am.