How I Got Here

It was a long and twisting path that eventually brought me to wedding photography.

My family lived in Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains where gentle, rolling hills were a short drive away. In twenty minutes we could be cruising through the Blue Ridge Parkway with clear views of countless, layered knolls all the way to the horizon. I’m grateful to have grown up there. There’s no question this is where my connection to nature started.

My dad had a Canon AE-1 film camera when I was a kid. And I remember his photographs having a certain quality that I really liked. Back then, I wasn’t certain exactly what that was, but our clunky little point-and-shoot definitely didn’t produce photos that had that same look. When the time eventually came for Dad to upgrade, he passed the AE-1 down to me. I was stoked! I’ve still got it today. By the way, I eventually figured out what gave his photos “that look”—it was a 50mm lens that could produce a shallow depth of field.

But I didn’t combine my love for the outdoors with photography until I moved to Lake Tahoe and bought my first “real” camera. The brilliant blue lake, rimmed by rugged mountains, creates a spectacular backdrop. Words don’t really do it justice. So if words couldn’t fully capture that beauty, could pictures? The challenge was faithfully capturing the wonderment and awe that you experience when you’re there—in it. Was that even possible? I was determined to try so I focused my energy on landscape photography.

Click forward a few years and it’s 2011. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) got a job offer in Hana Maui. It sounded amazing! She jumped at the opportunity right away. I had been working in video production for over a decade at this point, but my real bread and butter, up until then, came from a production gig that was going to vanish. Our longtime, now soon-to-be-former, client wanted to transition their TV budget to social media. I’m still not sure they knew what that meant at the time, but our team knew our jobs were going to be gone soon. So in a sense it was really the perfect time for me to make a big change because a transformation was on the horizon — whether I was ready for it or not.

Neither of us had ever been to Hawaii so we didn’t know what to expect. I began researching Hana and what jobs may be available for me there. First of all, the place looked like a proper paradise, but also remote and tiny with limited job opportunities. Our friend that connected my girlfriend with her job was putting out feelers on my behalf too. One day she was hanging out on the beach with a guy who was a  wedding photographer. He asked her if she knew anything about editing photos. She said no she didn’t—but she definitely knew someone that did. Me!

Our friend connected me with the photographer guy and I gave him a call. We talked for a quite a while and it went great. That was a Saturday, I flew to Maui on the following Tuesday and starting editing for him on Thursday. Almost immediately I started doing more than editing. I was handling all the IT stuff, taking on the inquiries, managing the office, basically everything except shooting the photos.

Then before long there was talk of me becoming his second / associate photographer. That sounded cool, but if I’m totally honest the first thing that jumped into my mind was, “Bridezillas!” I was petrified by the pressure and the idea of dealing with fussy brides. I was pretty confident I could take decent photos, with scenery like Maui has, the pictures almost take themselves. But I was definitely worried about difficult, demanding clients. Besides, I’d never really photographed people. In Tahoe I had been shooting landscapes—not portraits. 

One day he got an inquiry to shoot a surprise proposal. A young Canadian fellow wanted to come to Hana and propose to his girlfriend. He wanted to have it photographed and he wanted the whole thing to be a surprise. My boss was already committed to an event so he couldn’t do it. Now was my chance—take it or leave it. I took it.

We came up with a game plan to pull this thing off. I’d be wearing board shorts and a tee-shirt so that I’d look like any other tourist. My girlfriend would come along and we’d pretend to be hanging out, taking photos of each other on the beach. He would walk past me, give me the nod, lead his lady to “the spot”, I’d creep in behind them and start shooting away as he took a knee. I’m not sure how his nerves were doing—but I was nervous as hell! But once he walked in front of me it was on and I went to work. The whole thing went off without a hitch. I got some great photos. And she said ‘yes!’. That’s where it all started for me.

This newly engaged couple was so incredibly gracious! I started to realize right then that all these people are going to be cool. They’re in paradise. They’re celebrating love in an amazing place. Sure we may encounter the occasional bridezilla, but it’s seriously like one in a thousand. I quickly learned that these photographs are about relationships. Not just the couple’s relationship with each other, but my relationship with them. If we have the chance to really connect with one another, the chances of a bride/groom-zilla falls to almost zero.

Once I started to understand all these things I grew infinitely more comfortable with photographing couples. It’s an honor to be involved in someone’s Most Special Day. Everyone is happy, they look their best, they’re in a stunning location and they’re celebrating love. What better “work” environment could there possibly be? 

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