A couple months ago, I asked Dustin and Cahri what they were most looking forward to on their wedding day. They said, “Not thinking about anything else besides how much we love each other, and celebrating that with all our favorite people.” And that’s exactly what happened on the first day of their marriage.
Witnessing a couple see each other for the first time on their wedding day is always a treasure. Their biggest smiles, sometimes tears in their eyes, the tightest hugs, and the stepping back to really get a good look at each other – all of it is so genuinely beautiful!
Just before the ceremony, Cahri’s nephew shared a goldfish cracker with Dustin – he thought he might need a little snack. :-)
Dustin and Cahri were able to have their pastor from Bismarck come down to Custer State Park for their wedding, and him being there to officiate made their ceremony the most memorable part of the day.
Dustin + Cahri’s pastor invited them to turn and look out at everyone gathered for their wedding, and I could see the feelings of love and gratitude wash over them.
Another wonderful thing their pastor did was paint this painting for them. He explained how when he paints, he starts with the darkest darks and the brightest lights, which resembles their lives in the most beautiful way. Having been through some of the darkest darks, we are able to appreciate the brightness of the light in our lives. There was not a dry eye in the crowd.
One moment I love to wait for and watch unfold is the ‘just married’ hugs after walking back down the aisle. And of course, the hugs from loved ones.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it agin – photographing sisters’ weddings is one of the greatest honors for me as a photographer! These two beautiful ladies had the most perfect-for-them wedding days, and they, along with their husbands and family hold a very special place in my heart.
Dear Cahri + Dustin – Thank you for sharing your beautiful relationship for all of us to witness. You, my friends, are a light for all of us to follow.
“Real but also silly.” My favorite kind of people, and those are exactly the words Chanda used to describe herself and Dan! They brought their parents and their daughter to the Black Hills to witness the first moments of their marriage, then they all went out for some old-timey photos. A pretty great blend of ‘real and silly’ if you ask me! :-)
They started off their elopement with a first look, giving them a chance to soak it all in and enjoy the beauty of the Black Hills (and each other). ;-)
Since their little girl was all smiles, she joined in on the little love fest for a few family photos before the ceremony.
Mary Maisey-Ireland of Your Joyful Wedding does a fantastic job organizing and creating the most personal ceremonies!
Dan + Chanda’s heartfelt vows had us all a little misty-eyed!
“Feathers have been used in our homes and on our bodies since we first caught birds. They decorated our hair, our garments, our hats. They warm our bodies in the form of down jackets and soften our beds as pillows, mattress toppers and comforters. Some of the world’s greatest literary works were penned using feather quills.
“For some cultures, feathers represent our connection to the spirit world. Native American tribes believe that hawks and eagles carry our prayers to the Great Spirit. The Iroquois used feathers to express gratitude for the bounty of the earth. Christians imagine that angels’ wings are made of feathers.
“Feathers can be about inspiration, about surpassing our limits, taking flight as it were. They can be used to tickle, and they can even remind us to take ourselves lightly.
“All of this symbolism is so fitting for a family. May you use your love to warm and comfort one another, to inspire each other, to give thanks to each other and for the gifts in your life, to exceed any self-limiting beliefs you may have about yourselves, and to remember to always find something to laugh about.”
All of the beautiful-ness you see here was put together by Sarah from The Vintage Lease – she brought the food, arranged the table, and put together the bouquets (and even had extra raspberries just for Dan + Chanda’s little girl while they enjoyed their breakfast/scenery).
One of the greatest adventures in life is marrying your best friend. Tane + Elle made the first day of their marriage uniquely them by planning a small wedding at the Chapel In The Hills followed by pizza. However, all the unplanned moments are what truly made their day an adventure – one they’ll never forget!
Let’s start with the kids – they’re always the most entertaining! ;-) Allow me to give a little commentary on the following photos… First, one flower girl got a little carried away with her duties and started tossing petals prematurely, but both girls helped pick them all back up just in time. Next, one ring bearer hooked grandma’s hand (while Tane’s twin brother guarded a bouquet), but thankfully someone realized it before causing any damage! Whew! Finally, it was time to toss the petals. And the littlest ring bearer of all got stuck in a crack.
The fishing poles were the perfect last-minute addition for Tane + Elle’s wedding. They were going to have ring pops on the end (just like how Tane proposed) but I think this way turned out just perfectly (even with leaving the hooks on). :-)
I LOVE the look of excitement/entertainment in Elle’s face as she rounded the corner to see the hilarity of all the kids ahead of her, and Tane waiting for her!
Shortly after the ceremony started, Tane + Elle looked around at all their guests, and I love how they are each having a moment with everyone there with them!!
When I first arrived at the chapel for this wedding, Elle wasn’t sure if they remembered the marriage license. Turns out, Tane had it packed. Whew! But then, right before the ceremony, Tane realized he forgot the rings. This moment is when he’s telling Elle that he borrowed his brother and his wife’s rings.
Such a beautiful moment made even more memorable!! :-) The pastor had just talked about how they will spend their lives asking each other for forgiveness, and Elle said, “I forgive you already!!” when Tane put his sister-in-law’s ring on Elle’s finger!!
Just after they were announced as husband and wife, and they walked down the aisle, Elle had to stop and hug her brother (and the flower girl who came rushing over)!
Elle’s next hug went to her father-in-law… as Tane’s brother helped with the bouquet again. He should really get a best man award – offering to hold flowers *and* let his brother use his wedding ring. :-)
These next few photos are ones that I usually reserve for the annual ‘best of MOMENTS’ blog post – the hugs shared between best friends and grandmas.
And of course, showing off ‘the ring’ that wasn’t actually her ring. So funny, and something they will all laugh about and remember for so many years!!
Waiting for that one last person for the group photo like…
Elle had Victoria’s Garden do the bouquets and they were SO SO lovely!!!
Fun fact: Elle and Tane are both twins!!!
Another fun fact: it SNOWED just days before their wedding… at the end of MAY!!! You can see some of it leftover in the shadows next to the chapel.
Couples who can laugh and have a good time on their wedding day are destined for a great marriage! Bonus points are awarded for awkward hugs.
Since they had their ice fishing poles for the wedding, we did a few fun, silly photos down by the stream (turned river because of all the aforementioned snow)!!
Tane + Elle – Thank you so much for having me document just a sliver of your marriage. It was such an honor to watch you truly enjoy every single moment of your day. I wish you all the best!!
During that confusing time of mixed emotions, I received so many lovely messages from the couples I have photographed. I always feel connected to the couples who trust me to document their wedding (we spend a decent amount of time together – bonding is bound to happen), but when they turned to me with their love and support these past couple of months, I felt such an overwhelming sense of love.
These couples I photograph are more than ‘just weddings.’ They are preparing for and celebrating the first day of their marriage. They are lovely human beings who care deeply about their family and friends, and they simply want to gather and enjoy the day together.
My two main goals for my couples is to document their life as it’s happening, *and* to create some lovely portraits for them to treasure and show their children and grandchildren. So here is my ‘best of 2018’ – the moments, the portraits, and everything in between. Enjoy!!
First up, Michael + Rebecca’s first look that lasted 68 seconds. Go ahead, give someone you love a hug for 68 seconds and see how good it feels!!
David + Marcy traveled to the Black Hills for a fun weekend full of hiking, and they agreed to meet up for a second engagement session. So much fun!!
This anniversary session still has me on cloud nine – who wants to hike up here with me this summer?
The way the breeze wanted in on Thomas + Alicia’s snuggle!! Sometimes portraits turn into moments with the help of mother nature. :-)
It rained all day this day, so we got creative and ducked inside any building that had lovely windows. I love this little portrait/moment they had together!
Another ‘portrait turned moment’ – after these two said their vows, we took off for some portraits (which is also great for a bride and groom to focus on each other instead of reception details). We pulled up to the lake and we were caught in an instant downpour!! We waited in the car for it to let up (I told you about that wedding day bonding! ;-)), but as we walked to the water, another little shower came through and created this magic.
And now, we’ll move over to engagement photos. Yes, it’s a time to ‘get good pictures for save the date cards’ but it’s also to showcase a couple in their natural state. Happy, in love, goofy, carefree. I hope you see that in these next few photos! :-)
I told Eric + Brianna to walk to that spot in the sunshine and ‘do a little dance’ – this is what they came up with!! So perfectly them!! Haha!!
Before Lex + Heidi’s engagement session, I asked them a few ‘get to know you’ questions. One was, ‘What quality do you love most about each other?’ Her response was how he made her feel safe and secure. Throughout their session, I kept waiting for this moment to happen naturally – Lex’s arm around Heidi’s shoulders. Holding her safe and secure as they walked along. :-)
Did I mention I like to capture the goofy side of couples? ;-)
The *most* natural they could be – fishing!!
Now, I don’t post a lot of detail photos unless I know the meaning or significance behind it… this heart-shaped ring bowl was hand-carved by the groom, and he surprised his bride with it on their wedding day!
On to the wedding day portraits and moments. First looks are always full of emotions, and I enjoy watching each one unfold!!
And then there was this first look with Amy and her dad. I love their identical reactions – speechless, crying, then laughing!
Now, to the next part of the day – bride and groom portraits! I always give my couples plenty of time and space for their first look, because I never want to cut that moment short. So, after I’ve gotten a wave or a ‘so… what’s next?’ we do a few portraits before the family and wedding party join in.
This ‘portrait’ is not a portrait. They eloped last winter in their backyard, and hired me to photograph some portraits and their reception. But I did something a little sneaky. I got a copy of their vows from a mutual friend of ours, and had them re-read them in this storefront (tucked away from the non-stop rain). My favorite line was how they vowed to love each other in sunshine and rain. They read these vows for the first time in the winter, and now again in the rain. (Who’s getting misty eyed? Just me? Sure, okay.)
By the time I’ve walked around with my couples, most of the wedding party/family have gathered for group photos. But sometimes… we wait… Haha!! I feel like Lex and his twin brother have been in this situation more than once in their lives!!
Waiting for everyone to arrive and get organized is also a great time for candids with the littlest wedding party members! :-)
… and sometimes the littlest don’t want to be in any photos…
Then there was that one time I forced a groom’s brother to stand closer than he was comfortable and it resulted in a very awkward, hilarious moment that I hope they all remember forever.
Who tooted? Haha!!!!
Okay, okay, back to some sweet moments! The ceremony always brings out all the emotions!
After the ceremony, it’s easy to see how relaxed my couples are. The ‘hard part’ (saying their vows out loud in front of everyone) is over, and the rest of the day is just for fun! And, the light is lovely. ;-)
As you can see, portraits can be beautiful *and* fun! Now, moving on to the reception and dance… This little man is the groom’s nephew, and he turned seven the same day his uncle got married. That night was part wedding reception, part birthday party, and it was totally perfect!
I still love that Gina’s grandfather said the meal blessing for both her and her sister’s wedding a few years ago!
Mike + Becca didn’t have a dance after their morning wedding, so after their guests got settled in at the reception, they snuck back outside and danced to a song playing on Mike’s phone in his jacket pocket.
One thing I love about first dances is how a bride and groom hold each other naturally. They are so wrapped up in the moment, they don’t have time to think about ‘what to do with their hands,’ and it ends up being one of the most beautiful, genuine moments of a wedding day.
…and then there’s these ‘jazz hands’ from when Mike + Becca finished their ‘first dance.’ Hahaha!!
I also love the variation in mother/son and father/daughter dances. Marcy and her dad picked a classic country song, and swayed back and forth on the dance floor, with a few of these spins (just like my husband does with our four-year-old daughter) mixed in.
Brianna Mae and her dad picked a faster-paced song, providing the perfect tempo for a jitterbug and other fun moves. :-)
But this moment will forever be a favorite – Marcy dancing with her dad, looking up to her mother and daughter in heaven. *all the heart strings being pulled*
Heidi said she’s always been a grandpa’s girl, so when I saw them dancing as I was packing up my gear, I knew I had to quickly put it back up to catch this moment!
To all the couples planning their wedding dance, ask your DJ about doing a ‘generations dance’ – each and every married couple gets on the dance floor, and the DJ narrows the group down to the couple who has been married the longest. It’s a great excuse for all those husbands to ask their wives to dance (because they were basically told to ;-)), and it’s a lovely way to honor the couples who have been through ‘for better or worse.’
Dance off!! I’ve never seen a dance quite like John + Natalie’s – so many sweet moves!!
Lastly, something a little ‘new’ – some family photos I’ve had the honor of being a part of this past year. I don’t really consider myself a newborn or family photographer, but it’s so heartwarming to see my brides and grooms become parents and experience a new kind of ‘best day ever.’ For example, watching a ‘bride and groom’ hold a newborn and watch their toddler find joy in throwing rocks into a stream on a cool summer evening. Doesn’t that sound like a ‘best day ever’ kind of day to you?
Skinny newborn legs in daddy’s hand!
Mama snuggles are just the best.
Going through my favorites from the past year – I clearly have a thing for baby toes!!
Lastly… Walter the cat!! I’ve been to his house a few times, but I hadn’t actually seen him in over a year. When he came out from his hiding spot, baby Freya and I were both so excited!!
Whew! I think that’s all… for now… I had such a hard time narrowing these down! There are so many more sweet + funny moments from 2018, I’ll probably share more on my Facebook or Instagram accounts (because as anyone I’ve ever photographed knows, when I say I’m done, what I really mean is I’m not done and I just can’t help myself when it comes to good photos)!!
When Sarah from The Vintage Lease asked if I would be interested in photographing a styled elopement, I said YES without any hesitation for a few reasons:
Her work is so lovely and thoughtful, and I know her enough to trust her vision completely.
Elopements are small, so recreating any part of this shoot for a real wedding would be so easy and realistic!
SUNRISE IN THE BLACK HILLS, need I say more?
On the day of the shoot, I was so excited for what Sarah had put together, but I also wanted to be super intentional about making this look as real as possible, so we had our already-married models do a first look. They were so sweet to play along with all of our ideas, and I hope this styled elopement can provide plenty of real inspiration for anyone out there planning their own elopement. :-)
The groom then surprised his bride with some new earrings to match her wedding ring.The gorgeous ceremony site provided by Custer State Park, and lovely dress from Freckled Fox in Spearfish.The next ‘set up’ that actually turned more real than any part of the day was the couple meeting their officiant – Mary Maisey Ireland from Your Joyful Wedding. I have had the honor of working alongside Mary at many weddings, and she always has a way of putting everyone at ease. Yes, this was an awkward morning (a married couple pretending to elope), but Mary did what she does best and greeted the couple with warmth and sincerity, gave them an overview of what was about to happen, then led them to the spot we picked for them to ‘get married.’Even for an elopement you can walk down an aisle (or grassy pathway)!Again… yes, these are staged photos, but this couple, as well as Mary, were so sincere that I was about ready to sign a marriage license to make this elopement official!!Another thing Mary does that I LOVE is that she gives couples some space for their first kiss as husband and wife. Even already-married couples can’t stop kissing once they’re pronounced husband and wife!! ;-) Also, I love how the sun is peeking over the Hills, embracing Jake + Tessa for this moment!Now, I’d like to brag on Jenny’s Floral for a bit. Her business in downtown Custer is full of fun home decor, including several items made by local artists, and there is always a happy helper behind the counter, oftentimes Jenny herself. Every time I photograph her bouquets, I fall more and more in love with her work. Every single wedding we’ve done together is a ‘favorite!!’And this ring from Riddle’s Jewelry? SOOOO BEAUTIFUL!!!! I love that morganite has become so popular – the faint hint of pink is so subtle and sweet, I couldn’t help but stare!Jake + Tessa, our models, also own Ebony & White Design, a local woodworking business. They make the most impressive custom furniture, as well as personalized wooden signs, such as this! How perfect!! Finally, Sarah’s masterpiece. While we walked around taking portraits, Sarah set up this lovely table just a few feet away from the elopement site (on more level ground – haha)! She grew up collecting antiques with her parents, and has recently turned that passion into a business, renting and styling anything vintage (sofas, chairs, glassware, everything you see here) for small weddings and events. Again – this ring!!! The rose gold wedding bands really highlighted the morganite. Who doesn’t love blush?!Another local find was this gigantic caramel roll from Calamity Jane’s Mercantile in Custer. I *might* have picked up a few extra for all the behind-the-scenes vendors who came out before sunrise for this amazing day.
So, what do you think? Does any part of this styled photoshoot make you want to elope? Or get out to watch the sun rise? Or eat an enormous caramel roll? If the answer was yes to any of those, I think we’ve succeeded. ;-)
A huge thank you to the following vendors for putting together this styled elopement: