After their engagement session on Friday in the rain forest and on the beach and their wedding on Sunday at Casa de España, we capped off our trip to Puerto Rico on Monday with a newlywed session at Castillo San Cristobal and in the streets of Old San Juan. Overall, from a photography perspective, it was so fun to be able to truly capture so many views of Puerto Rico in one trip. We got the rain forest, the beach, a fortress, the colorful Old San Juan streets, and, of course, the wedding venue right there in the midst of town.
While Casa de España is walking distance to Castillo San Cristobal and is right there in Old San Juan, the timeline of the wedding day didn’t allow us even 10 minutes to go off-site so this session, the next day, was a perfect choice! It was relaxed and fun with zero clock-pressure. And, as an added bonus, Nicole got to take portraits in her reception gown! (If you look at their wedding photos, she was wearing a Morilee gown, but changed for dancing later than night into this gown.)
We flew into Puerto Rico on Thursday and got up bright and early Friday morning to head to El Yunque, the national rain forest that takes up a large chunk of land on the eastern side of Puerto Rico. It served a dual purpose since we wanted to hike there and we were also going to be doing part of Nicole & Braylen’s engagement session there in the afternoon. A few trails (and one waterfall that I was particularly hopeful to see) were closed off from lingering hurricane damage, but most of the park was open and accessible so we started the day with a hike up to Mt. Britton Tower and then hit as many other smaller trails as we could. All throughout the day, I was scouting for locations to take pictures later on. We got hit several times with outbursts of rain–being in a rain forest after all–sometimes torrential, sometimes misting, but thankfully, it all cleared out by late afternoon when we were taking these pictures.
We ended up with 3 different spots that I wanted to use: a true trail in the rain forest, an old lodge building that Kevin stumbled upon after venturing further than I did on a muddy trail, and a bridge over what used to be–many years ago–a swimming pool in the forest! Logistically, my biggest issue was (ironically) the same thing I deal with here in Iowa: the early sunset. Because we had just flipped back from daylight saving time the weekend before, sunset was happening at 5:45ish and as soon as it sets, it gets dark quickly. So we started the session in the rainforest (where we’d need the most light) and then ended it at the beach (where we’d have open access to the sun and the sand acting as a natural reflector). And all in all, despite the fact that we had to play it by ear just a bit, it ended up being absolutely perfect and so so beautiful!
As a little sidebar: I have couples ask me all the time when they should do their engagement session and I always say that there are zero rules about that! This is a perfect example. They wedding was on Sunday and we did their engagement session on Friday afternoon. The only time that you absolutely must do your engagement session 6+ months in advance is if you want to use photos for your save the date cards. Otherwise, it’s all fair game! The best way to think about your engagement session is that it’s a practice run for you. I get to see how you two interact with each other (the goal, of course, being that I’ll be able to capture you most naturally); you get to feel how I direct you in and out of poses and all of that works together to make for a smoother wedding day when you have already practiced and are old pros at it!
Just a week ago, we were enjoying the warm sunshine in Puerto Rico as we were celebrating Nicole & Braylen’s Casa de España wedding in San Juan. We were thrilled to be back in Puerto Rico (my sister got married at Castillo San Cristóbal 10 years ago!) and we loved getting to meet Nicky & Braylen’s friends and family. Their wedding day was filled with so much joy and celebration (the dance floor never emptied) and it was so sweet to witness their vows. We packed our trip with photos (the wedding, obviously, but also an engagement session on Friday and a day after session on Monday; those will be on the blog later this week!), but we also had some time to hike in El Yunque, swim in the ocean, and walk through the Spanish fortresses and Old San Juan. It was a busy trip, but busy with so many good things.
Nicole & Braylen live in North Carolina, but Nicole is from Puerto Rico and many of her family still lives there so it was sort of a hometown wedding and sort of a destination wedding. They had looked at several venues in San Juan, but everything about Casa de España fit their wishes and it was such a beautiful venue to photograph in! Casa de España was built in 1934 as the headquarters of a private social organization made up mostly of Spanish citizens who lived in Puerto Rico at the time. This is clearly reflected in the stunning Spanish Moorish architecture. (Those pillars! Those tiles! That courtyard! Those towers! That ceiling!) Two interesting facts that I found out: 1) the fountain outside is a copy of the “Patio de los Leones” at La Alhambra in Granada, Spain! and 2) the courtyard where the ceremony was held was used to film two coronation scenes for the Disney movie “Princess Protection Program,” which I’ve never seen, but now I sort of want to. So all that to say, this building has history and it was really fun to photograph in such a unique and beautiful place!
We started the day at the Caribe Hilton, where everyone was getting ready. It’s a beautiful resort that was just a short drive from Casa de España and we got to look out over the ocean as everyone got ready.
When they first began talking, she was going to grad school in Lincoln, Nebraska and he was working in Columbus, Nebraska. “I remember him saying he was from Iowa and I couldn’t believe our home towns in Iowa were an hour apart!” Sara was really busy in grad school so they continued talking, but didn’t go on their first date for another two months. They ate at Applebee’s–both say it was the best restaurant option Columbus had–and then went back to his place to watch a movie because “my home theater system was better than the Columbus Theater,” Josh said. They discovered early on that they both love watching movies and still, five years later, say they do a lot of dinner-and-a-movie dates.
Since their first date, they have moved back to Iowa and call Pella home. I loved getting to hang out with them in downtown Pella before we traveled a few miles out to Lake Red Rock, a place I had honestly never heard of before, but have since found out that it’s actually Iowa’s largest lake!
Josh had a rough outline planned to propose to Sara, but Iowa was hit with the polar vortex last winter (you guys, do you remember how brutally cold that was?!) so he had to move things along a little quicker than he had planned. Sara said, “So we had planned an evening in January (used it as an excuse to celebrate our dating anniversary) to go see Harry Potter in concert in Des Moines. There weren’t any events really going on around our anniversary so we decided to go that weekend instead.
“I kind of had my suspicions but I didn’t want to get my hopes up and have nothing happen. After the concert, he asked if I wanted to walk around the courtyard next to the event center. He knows I like Christmas lights and they still had the lights up in that courtyard. Not thinking anything of it I agreed. After I gracefully fell into a snow bank (I’m a klutz), we walked around talking about how we couldn’t believe it had already been 4 years. I remember him saying, ‘You know I love you, right? And because I love you, I am finally doing this.’ He got down on one knee and, after that, it was all a blur as I have never been so happy in my life!”
I‘ve been antsy to shoot out at the new Little Lights on the Lane (if you’re getting married there, I have a special venue-love discount off your photography with me!) and this styled shoot ended up being a perfect, fun, low-key way to be able to enjoy the space. Ever since I saw the plans for this beautiful space, I’ve been thrilled to see it come to life! It is so perfectly situated right on the Cedars Edge Golf Course with the most gorgeous established trees and views! Every little detail from the getting ready suites to the hidden sprinkler system to the bar that opens to both the inside and outside has been thought out and executed with such precision. It’s such a masterpiece of design and I’m so excited that it’s right here in our backyard!
This particular styled shoot was very last minute and I give Emily with Soiree so much credit for saying, “Yes!” and making it happen so quickly. Within moments of my original text to Emily, we had Allegra on board with paper goods, Every Bloomin’ Thing pitching in with the florals, and Jocelyn Taylor Bridal & Prom loaning us a gown! To round it all out, Eden Salon & Spa graciously provided hair, makeup, and nails and M.C. Ginsberg loaned us the jewelry. We needed some models and absolutely lucked out with the cutest couple who is both newly engaged and getting married in December! Thank you, Breana and Cole, for dressing up and playing wedding with us!
They are from the same home town and grew up within a mile of each other. They both went to the same grade school, high school, and college. They even worked at the local Quizno’s. “Yet the first time we ever spoke in person to each other was on our first date when we were both in our late 20s,” Matt says. “Our first date was at Big Grove. Best first date of my life, we ended up staying at the brewery talking for about 4 hours. When I was walking into the brewery there was a girl in front of me that I was pretty sure was Nicole, but was going to wait until I got in to say anything. She tripped and almost face-planted about 20 feet in front of me. Right then and there I knew she was special, but it was more a series of events that really solidified her as the one I wanted to spend my life with. A couple examples were her meeting my parents for the first time without me because I had to take call that night and couldn’t attend. Another was her making me a care package of snacks and energy drinks when I took a vacation day to play a video game on the day it came out. I love how empathetic and caring she is. She is the kindest, most gentle person I know. She makes me a better person and I aspire to be more like her in a lot of ways. She has the biggest heart and goes out of her way to make everyone around her happy.”
Nicole and I first met last summer when she was a bridesmaid in another wedding I was photographing (hi, Kaitlin & Alec!) and, since that time, her and Matt have gotten engaged and moved from Iowa City to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Because of their busy work schedules and the travel arrangements they needed to make to come back here, we’ve had the date planned for a while for their engagement session. So when the forecast wouldn’t budge from the gloomy 80% rain, we made a last-minute plan to switch locations completely and try to shoot indoors. Matt, ever the optimist, was like, “It’s not going to rain; it’ll be fine.” And you know what? While it did rain, it also uncharacteristically passed over so we ditched the umbrella and were able to get shots I had given up hoping for! And honestly, even if it had rained the entire evening, I wouldn’t have minded because these two were so much fun and I knew the second we started that we were all going to make it the best we could given whatever we had to work with.