All love stories that end up with a happy ending seem to have a period of time where the love wasn't so grand. Ups and downs. Breakups and makeups. Come to think of it, all good relationships that are worth keeping and clinging onto are the ones where you can prove to each other and the world that, despite and against all odds, you can grow and learn from distance and separation, and ultimately find your way back to the familiarity of each other's arms.
Meet Lea and Steve.
Lea "had me at hello" with her first enthusiastic email to me. She had been searching for photographers and had seen our recent work from a mutual friend's wedding. I quickly scanned through her email to see the words jump off the page as if to blind my eyes. Costa Rica Wedding.
"BABE!", I screamed downstairs. "A friend of Krissy's just asked us if we are available in April!!" And so we were. We met Lea and Steve at a local Ancaster pub over drinks and dined on our mutual love of white Belgian beer and deep fried dill pickles. I usually anticipate how these meetings initially play out.The guys are bored and uninterested, trying to maintain a poker face about price, and the brides can't hold their excitement back. Steve's main concern was finding a photographer that would blend into their fun and large group of guests. Lea and I instantly compared similarities. OMG. I LOVE SHOPPING AT WINNERS TOO!! DO WE HAVE THE SAME FRONT TEETH? HAVE YOU SEEN THAT HILARIOUS YOU TUBE VIDEO WHERE THE BRIDE FALLS IN THE WATER?
All wedding consultations start out with us finding common ground with our couples. Men quickly realize that Michael is more like a buddy than a vendor. And women just as quickly find out how much I love my career and how invested we are in their experience. The seasons changed, fall and winter quickly came and went and before we knew it, it was time to embark on our first South American adventure.
In the six months leading up to the wedding, Lea and I feverishly exchanged text messages about life, love and her upcoming nuptials. I realized something when we showed up to their stag and doe during the biggest snow storm to have hit for a couple of years. We really loved these two. These were no longer clients, but friends who's family and wedding party warmly opened their arms to us.
85 of us boarded the plane including their friends, family, grandparents, cousins arriving from Spain, a cousin from Australia, makeup and hair stylists and photographers. We arrived to beautiful Costa Rica and Michael and I instantly fell in love. I would have to say from a vendor's perspective, it was the least intimidating country we have travelled to in terms of worrying about our equipment, security etc. After a breathtaking winding countryside bus ride and a local stop for beer, we arrived to our palace for the week. Paradise.
It wasn't until later in the week when I realized barely anyone knew each other at the beginning of the trip. The first five minutes were slightly awkward. The group sort of set up camp in a spot near the bar, pool and beach and that was our spot for the week. The five minute awkwardness of not knowing anyone quickly passed and before I knew it, we were chatting with all the guests as if we had known each other for years.
I can honestly say in hindsight that because of Lea and Steve's wedding, they have brought together so many different groups of people into what seems like lifelong friendships. At the airport on the way home, everyone was exchanging contact information and excitedly planning for the reunion party to view all the photos.
During the week Michael and I would bring our cameras to various events such as the pool, excursions, rehearsal dinner and I even sent the girls to the beach to do a sunset girlfriends photo shoot. One of the guests asked us if we were paid to take photos for the week. In all truthfulness, destination wedding photographers are hired for the day of the wedding and in some cases, the day after. They justify their costs because of the risk to equipment, the exhaustion of working in extreme conditions and missing a full week's work back home, and in some cases, two Saturdays which could potentially be wedding weekends. With that being said, there is something very special and enchanting to me about a destination wedding. Unlike home, you spend a week with your couple and their loved ones and really get entrenched in who they are as people, and what their connections are with their guests.
We have been told that a huge part of what makes us successful wedding photographers is the human approach we have with our clients and their special people. There is absolutely no way that even the most talented wedding photographer could draw out the emotion they need from people for true, gritty, heart wrenching photos, if they don't have the social capabilities to connect. I'm not saying that there isn't a place for second shooters or photojournalistic approaches because there absolutely is. But shooting a wedding in it's entirety is a whole different beast. Remember me, the introvert? Yah, that has pretty much had to take a backseat to the extremely social and extroverted role it takes to be a wedding photographer. I'm still exhausted after a shoot and need my quiet and down time. But when the day comes, it's show time. And we are prepared, ready and on. We work with blinders on. We are blind to the cold and hot weather. We are blind to the emotional drama that often ensues on the most important yet stressful day of someone's life. We are blind to it all and our focus is 100% on the wedding. It has to be. You can't miss a moment. You have to work fast, anticipate reactions and be ready to change your camera settings without hesitation or a second thought. You also have to have a great relationship and connection with your couple. There is no point in creating wonderful photographs if the couple looks back at them and remembers their experience with their photographer with disdain.
The week was hot as hell. But not as humid as our Mexican weddings. We had no issues with our cameras fogging up. The nights were balmy and cool. And Lea and Steve's wedding day was beautifully overcast; the pillowy clouds making for the perfect natural softbox and no harsh shadows.
We arrived to Lea's door first thing in the morning to deliver some gifts and plan for our day. I peeked in the room to see all the bridesmaids in tears. Oh boy. This was going to be an emotional day. The girls headed off to breakfast while we quickly worked to photograph the dress and not be seen by any of the guests scattered across the resort. I had a plan for a few photos and when we arrived to her room on the other side of the resort, I realized the furniture on the huge rooftop terrace was no longer there. Michael made some phone calls and arranged for the staff to lug the couch that I wanted back across the resort to the terrace. We blew up balloons for her bridal shoot. The terrace was all white and the pop of colour I thought would look gorgeous.
Michael headed to the groom's room which was perfectly organized and clean by the groomsmen. In full suits, they weaved and bobbed through the resort taking photos with no complaints. Meanwhile, in the bride's room, their friend and hairdresser quickly worked to finish up hair so we would have time for photos. It was a tight timeline. But we got the photos we needed.
Lea's dad rounded the corner and the tears started. They are a very close family. We arranged for Steve to come to the same spot Lea was at; almost a first look but they did not see each other. The photo we got was pure magic. From where I stood, I witnessed two excited and nervous people who hadn't seen each other yet. And I was photographing them simultaneously. It was an epic moment I won't soon forget.
With any destination wedding, people stop and stare. I don't know what it is but they do not get out of the way for photos. We have some classic beach shots with your cliche speedo-goer in the background.
People love weddings. People adore love stories. And people love to look at beautiful brides. All brides are gorgeous. But I have to say....beauty is so much more about the soul and less about the looks. Obviously Lea is jawdroppingly gorgeous, but her soul and her heart are about as beautiful as they come. There were times on the trip where I would quietly sit on the sidelines and just watch as she ensured everyone from the hired help to her fiance's nonna was included and comfortable. When things didn't go to plan, she didn't miss a beat or bat an eyelash. She has class and rolls with the punches. She is loved and truly, one of a kind.
Steve and his groomsmen awaited. He looked handsome and emotional. The guy that I had got to know as a partyer and jokester was standing awaiting his gorgeous bride. An orchestral rock song played and everyone rose from their seat.
The ceremony, toasts and group photos came and went. Once we were finished with the bridal party and bride and groom shots, we had the rare time to go back to our room, shower off the day's heat and change for the reception. Sometimes, just that 45 minute break is all it takes to feel renewed and refreshed. The reception was a covered terrace entwined with twinkle string lights. Lea's brother and his girlfriend did an absolutely AMAZING job as MC's. We have been to a lot of weddings and the MC can really make or break an event. At certain points in the evening, I was left awestruck at how confident, talented and young these two were. It was apparent in their introductions just how tight knit a group everyone was.
Lea and Steve's family and bridal party said their speeches. I've never laughed and cried so much; often points in the evening at the same time. It was obvious these two families were close. It was pointed out that Lea's family is just like Steve's, minus the prosciutto.
The party continued and the dance moves intense! The final song would find Lea and Steve on their friend's shoulders chanting Don't stop believin' !!
And that's exactly it. During their entire young, adolescent and adult lives, they never stopped believing. Nobody did. Everyone knew they would end up together. And so they did.
And it was an ABSOLUTE privilege to be included and witness this amazing union.
Lea and Steve, we love you. Thank you for including us, thank you for your appreciation and above all, thank you for your friendship. Thank you for one of the most unforgettable wedding experiences we have ever been a part of. May your lives be blessed with love, respect, family and forever.
* Special thanks to Emilio for carrying our bags on the wedding day, Chloe for assisting with some photos and both Katie's (Caity) for being so helpful with timelines and basically anything else we needed and Mark & Dom for cleaning up the room for photos! Thanks to everyone else who made this week possible and perfect for Lea and Steve. It absolutely takes a team of concerted efforts to pull off a day like this.