It’s mid-September and the weather has been absolutely perfect; crispy in the mornings and evenings and comfortably warm during the days. This past Saturday was just that, a dream of weather cooperation. We got to the church prior to the bridal party so we were able to scope it all out before things really got busy, which is always the best way to start a wedding day. It was just cool enough that I remember briefly thinking that I should’ve packed a sweater. (I forgot about it once things started rolling!)
When Sara and her friends arrived, we quickly shifted into details mode and, as wedding days go, once the gears start moving, time flies! Sara and Josh were married in this beautiful brick church on a gravel road in the country, a church that Sara attended as a child and that other family members have been married in. And though 2020 hasn’t brought about much in the “easy” department for wedding planning, Sara and Josh tackled every curve in the road, including actually, moving their ceremony to this church, with grace and determination. Sara’s dad joked later in the evening in his toast that they had a long engagement and could’ve gotten married last year, but, no, Sara wanted to wait until 2020 and, well, look at how that turned out. But really, it did turn out perfect. Maybe not in every way they had dreamed of–one of Sara’s bridesmaids couldn’t attend due to a positive COVID-19 exposure and it was heartbreaking–but in many of the ways that matter, it was perfect.
When Sara and Josh 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, six years later, say they do a lot of dinner-and-a-movie dates, which probably works out well with social distancing, I suppose. Dinner to go and a home theatre? Winning!
I have a lot of couples ask if they can do some pictures with their dog(s) on their wedding day. I end up photographing a lot of pups (both at engagements and at weddings!) and yet, ironically, I don’t have any pets of my own! When it comes to photographing dogs, while I don’t have any experience as a pet owner, I do have a lot of experience as a photographer and I rely heavily on that to get the best reactions from both the animal(s) and the humans.
Here are 5 tips if you plan on having your dog in your engagement photos:
1. Be realistic. What I mean is that animals are similar to children; they have short attention spans and are usually really excited to be in a new place (grass! trees! water! new smells! adventure!) with new people (me…with an exciting “toy” that I’m looking through that makes clicking noises…and with your family and friends and lots of attention). Expect that the first few minutes will simply be letting your dog explore a bit and get used to what is happening. Your dog may not look at the camera. Your dog may not want anything to do with your beautiful family photo. And that’s okay! Those happen to be my favorite photos! Play with your pup and let me capture real life for you. The imperfect is what makes it perfect.
Chase proposed to Jessica last year in Italy and when she said yes there on the Amalfi Coast, they never knew all that would come up before their wedding date arrived. Whew. They started planning their wedding for May 30, 2020 (see their engagement session here) and when the pandemic hit, they had to start reassessing how they wanted to proceed. In the end, they decided to go ahead with a secret backyard wedding on May 30th and reschedule their big wedding to August, thinking and hoping that things would have returned to normal by now. (Haha, we were all so hopeful back then, weren’t we?)
I was so honored to be able to photograph their secret wedding and everyone there was able to keep the marriage a secret. Jess and Chase announced it to those who were at their rehearsal last Friday night and then at the start of their ceremony on Saturday, Jessica’s brother, serving in his role as officiant, announced it to all the guests. The delighted gasp that rippled through the crowd was so fun to hear. In her toast later that night, Jessica’s best friend said, “It’s very on brand for Jessica to have not one, but two weddings to the same man…in the same year.”
Truly, Saturday was so perfect and beautiful. It had been scorching hot in the days leading up to it and then Saturday’s heat dropped by over 10 degrees to a mild and lovely low 80’s. All the stress of the pandemic, having to change wedding dates, then having to move venues, being without power for almost a week thanks to the derecho, and endless reworking of plans thanks to the ever-changing COVID-19 mandates (masks, no alcohol service after 10 PM, etc.) and yet, thank the good Lord, it was perfect. Jessica was first my friend before becoming one of my brides and so it made it extra special for me to be part of her day, to be trusted to document it, and to celebrate in every step along the way.
Jessica and Chase met back in 2009 and one of their first official dates was a concert at the Iowa State Fair. When he asked her out that night, she actually initially said no. “I thought we didn’t need a label; it was just going to be a summer fling. Whoops.” But that very same weekend, she realized he was the one. “We were supposed to go to his grandparent’s home in Missouri and I thought we should still go. We went and had a great time, however, I got a kidney stone and he had to take me to the emergency room. On the way there, I kept screaming in pain and he looked at me and said, ‘You probably have a kidney stone and if you puke from pain it’s okay.’ I claimed I wouldn’t do that, but within seconds, I threw up all over his new car.
“After 3 hours in the ER, they finally got me back to a room where they officially diagnosed me with a kidney stone. The doctor asked me who Chase was and I went with ‘my boyfriend’ to avoid any awkwardness but he went and ahead and said, ‘Oh really, that’s new.’ So it was awkward either way.
“We left the hospital with meds and went back to his grandparents. We were suppose to go to the Cardinals game the next day and I insisted I wanted to go so he took my drugged-up self to the game and I don’t remember anything but the hot dog. I realized on the way home that he was a pretty good guy and we should date, but I also realized he was the one. If I could puke all over his new car, at his grandparent’s place 7 hours from home, and he still took me to a baseball game… He’s amazing.”
As for Chase, he says he knew pretty quickly. “Pretty early on I knew it was possible. It was more of a question if she could stand me long term than the other way around. I’m pretty easy-going.” They are yin and yang. When Chase listed three things he cannot live without, he immediately said: guns, dogs, fast cars. Whereas Jessica’s answer was: batons, kiddos (my dance students), and pictures! And when I asked what they would do on a date (anywhere in the world, do anything you wanted, for any amount of money), Chase started out by saying, “Mine will be completely opposite of hers.” (He would choose to go somewhere completely secluded like a backwoods cabin in the mountains or in Canada; just be together and go fishing, hunting, hiking, boating. She would choose a trip to New Zealand or Australia and go deep sea fishing, snorkeling, holding a koala bear, seeing kangaroos, eating good food and drinking fun drinks.)
But the beauty of opposite personalities is how well they balance each other out. She describes him as hilarious (“he’s constantly making me laugh and I would love to know where he come sup with half the stuff he says.”), hardworking (“he put 100% into everything he does. He is a determined man and whatever he is working on will get done and get done correctly”), and passionate (“the things he does love, he puts time into”). Jessica adds, “I love that we are opposites because I think that is what makes us work out so well. He teaches me how to take time off and relax when all I do is run around. He shows me the positive in every situation no matter how frustrated I am.”
Chase agrees, “She’s the opposite of me. She cares what people think and she works harder for everyone even if they probably wouldn’t always work harder for her in return. She will quit, but it doesn’t take much to get her back up and going. She hasn’t quit anything for good since I’ve known her. She’s always happy and always sees the best in people.”
Their original wedding date was May 30, 2020. When the pandemic hit, wedding couples everywhere started sifting their way through uncharted waters, making decisions based on moving data and ever-changing information and rules. Jessica & Chase made the difficult decision to move their date to August (thinking, as most of us did, that things will be better by now), but May 30th was special to them and so, even as they announced their date change, they planned a secret backyard ceremony for their original date.
Jessica is not only one of my brides, but first, a personal friend so it was doubly special to me to be part of so many special dates: their engagement photos, a bridal shower, change-the-date photos, a secret wedding, and, two days ago, their big wedding (photos coming soon)! The only people who knew about their May 30th nuptials were those of us who were there. (They made the first announcement to those who were at the rehearsal dinner this past Friday night and then, to everyone else, at the start of the ceremony on Saturday.) I’ve kept these photos hidden for 3 months and I’m so excited to finally share these photos from Jess & Chase’s official wedding date, their first of two weddings in one year!
It was a hectic week in Iowa leading up to Elisabeth & Manny’s wedding. They, along with some family and friends, were traveling to Iowa from New Mexico in the midst of a pandemic and a derecho. When Elisabeth and Manny arrived, the hotel for them and their guests didn’t have power (and still doesn’t) because of the massive storm and they had to rearrange all the room bookings to another hotel. When I met with them on Friday night for their engagement session, they were completely calm about it all, despite having just spent 3 hours trying to get their hotel room key so they could get inside to get dressed for the session. Their philosophy all along has been: we have found each other, we don’t need anything else. In all the world, they found each other and that is their greatest gift. Hurricane-force winds, power outages, and a pandemic couldn’t shake them or erase the smiles from their faces.
Their wedding was on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon at Cedar Ridge Winery and it was such a joy to see their love for each other. Manny had said what he was looking forward to most about the wedding day was seeing her walking towards him in her wedding gown. “Kind of like the time I met her, but this time I will be getting married to her.”
Back at their engagement session, we naively joked that we were getting the rain out of the way and their wedding day was going to be absolutely perfect. And while, spoiler, their wedding day did end up as a perfect day, the tears and stress that occurred before getting there were numerous. Getting married in 2020 during a worldwide pandemic is no easy feat and the decisions and moving pieces involved in even determining if it’s worth it are many. At one point, we were chatting about them rescheduling their wedding to next year, then we also talked about doing a really small ceremony on their original wedding date and still rescheduling the big event. Finally, Nicole and Matt landed back on keeping the wedding as planned and moving forward with plans, facing whatever challenges that would involve.
And while a pandemic was not on our radar back at their engagement session, at least we were aware of it for the past several months now and have been able to figure out plans for masks, sanitizer, meal service, etc. What we could’ve never seen coming was a derecho–an inland hurricane with 100+mph winds–whipping through Iowa just 6 days before their wedding, knocking down trees, power lines, and damaging everything in its path. It wasn’t until Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the wedding, that Rapid Creek finally got electricity back and we could all breathe again. At one point last week, Nicole had texted me to tell me that there was still no power at their venue and that there was a lot of downed trees. “We will still be able to find spots for pretty pictures, right?” she asked. I promised her we would and I am so so so happy to share with you some of my favorite images from the day, including, Nicole, so many pretty pictures! I promise.
Nicole’s dad passed away when she was a senior in high school and she wanted to find ways for him to be part of her wedding day, including a way for her to “walk” her down the aisle. “My dad was the BEST. You would have loved to meet him, Emily. He could make anyone laugh and was one of my best friends. He gave me my love for sports and always told me I could be anyone I wanted to be when I grew up. I think he helped me believe I could be a doctor and I think I am a more compassionate physician because I lost him when I was young.” Later on during what would have been her father/daughter dance, Nicole danced with several men who have played an important role in her life, including her grandpa, her now father-in-law, her sister’s husband, and her nephews. I have teared up at many weddings, but I’ve never cried like I did during that song.