It’s pretty incredible, what unfolds when you let people be who they are.
I’ve been friends with Sara since we were 13, so it was an incredible honor for her to choose to work with me for her marriage to Ben. The incredible thing about knowing somebody for so long, is that not only do you have insight into who they are fundamentally, but you also get to see them in so many different stages of their life, and environments – like their wedding.
I do a lot of work with couples leading up to their events to prepare them for the level of hands-off I am when it comes to creating images, and I had to do a little bit extra work with Sara + Ben. Because Sara was one of my first subjects over and over when I first got a camera at 15, she was used to me directing and telling her what to do – a shift from the work I create now. I had to work through a decade’s worth of me telling her how to move, so that they felt comfortable when it came to their wedding. Their engagement session was a huge practice in this, in just showing them that playing, interacting, embracing the way they always do, will result in images they love.
This came into play strongly during their wedding.
Sara + Ben had a medium sized family list and wedding party too, so we actually spent a pretty good portion of time doing the “formal” images at their event. (About 40 minutes, between family, wedding party, and their dog, Charlie). While this is still considerably less than most photographers, it’s on the longer end for me – so sometimes I get lost in all the directing, and forget to listen.
And that’s exactly the moment that was granted to me here.
As we were waiting for some family to file in, I was taking the opportunity to grab some images of just them together. I had them get close, look at each other, all the loose direction that I typically give during family/wedding party. But a part of me took over that direction, forgetting that it wasn’t necessary – that people really just have to be themselves.
As Sara and Ben were playing, dancing, laughing together in this brief moment, they stepped into this bright-ass sunbeam that comes through the Clyde Iron Works balcony windows. Knowing it wasn’t “ideal”, I was halfway through the sentence, “let’s take a small step this way, out of the sun -” when Sara interrupted me:
“I like the sunbeam.”
My entire world shifted beneath my feet. Of course she likes the sunbeam! She loves the balcony. She loves the light. She’s embracing in her wedding day. How naïve of me to try to control a scene that she and Ben had more than enough control over. I realized in that split second that my ego had taken over, and was trying to create something I saw: softly lit, evenly lit, “perfectly” lit (according to bogus photography standards). And all of this hit me in such a split second that it was only a beat before I said:
“You’re absolutely right. You keep playing in that sunbeam.”
All I had to do was listen. Pay attention. Let them live their lives. Things that I preach all the time that I lost for just a split second there.
I reminded myself: Your job isn’t to create photographs. It’s to photograph what’s there. There isn’t a handbook on right and wrong lighting, there isn’t a guidebook on what makes a photograph great or average. There’s only what you know about weddings: the experience comes above all else.
Have you ever basked in a sunbeam in a chilly October? It’s pretty glorious. And that split second in which Sara non-intentionally reminded me, “Makayla, this is my wedding. I know how to experience it.” Stepping back helped me create this.
Professional photographers: you can make magic of everything. Even crappy backlight, even fog, even direct sun. You just have to stop and listen.
I stepped back, exposed for the sunbeam Sara was basking in, and just followed their movements. What unfolded was a series of images (this one included) that show exactly what it felt like to stand on that balcony, and bask in the sun with her new husband.
A feeling that only she knew at the time. Impossible for anybody to experience but them, together, in that moment.
And all I had to do was listen.
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