While I admire all of my couples in some way, the reasons for this admiration vary with each of them – they all come from different backgrounds, with different individual stories and their own unique kind of chemistry and balance between one another. The thing (there are many more, but let me begin here) I admire most about Andy and Jessica is their deep sense of not only knowing one another, but also of embracing each and every little element that makes up the other person – the positive traits as well as the not-so-positive, the creativity and the intelligence and the flaws and the insecurities.

I spent much of their wedding weekend with the two of them – on the day before their wedding day, the three of us got together that morning and I photographed them in their traditional Korean attire, and then later that evening, I photographed their rehearsal dinner. While spending an entire wedding day with couples normally allows me an insider’s view of their relationships, adding the day before to that equation elevates this more than I realized it would. That Friday morning, I saw them take deep, excited breaths as they stepped away from the to-do lists together, and watched as they helped each other adjust their clothing and fan one another in the 90 degree heat. I snapped as they giddily discussed what they imagined the weekend would hold, and later that night, did so again as the energy and stress and excitement was slightly heightened. I photographed the moments of toasts and songs and happy tears, but also the moments of planning and discussing locations and next-day time frames and how to get the rings from point a to point b. It was a running comment amongst the toasts from her friends that Jessica is “a planner” – and one of the things I had the chance to see that weekend was how well she and Andy problem solve as a team when things don’t go according to plan. I fully realize “problem solving” isn’t a sexy-sounding trait to describe a couple, but the real life shit isn’t all that sexy, either.

When Jessica and Andy stood up to give toasts at their wedding reception, I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes beginning to well up with tears as they spoke to their loved ones first, and then directly to one another. Of the 100+ weddings I’ve shot, not many couples do this type of toast at their reception – where they speak to one another openly and honestly, and look each other in the eye with a microphone in hand, and tell each other exactly what it is that they love about one another. It was both in what they said as well as the way they said it that got me – like two people who each know their own mind, and soul, and desires, and weaknesses, and goals, who have found a person who knows and embraces these exact things about them just as much. I think I was crying in this moment because these toasts felt oddly personal for me; part of why I admire this quality in Andy and Jessica’s relationship so much is because it’s what I aspire to for myself. I ain’t about that sexy, romantic love – but gimme the real-life kind like Andy and Jessica have, and I’m all in.

Reception Venue: iHotel
DJ: Dustin Hoke & Joe Brown
Dress Shop: Michelle’s Bridal
Bridesmaids’ Bracelets: For You By Me
Handmade Signs: Letters from Lindsey
Bespoke Suits: Indochino
Desserts: Cream & Flutter
Flowers: Flora
Food: University Catering
Chairs, Uplighting/Monogram Light: Elite Entertainment
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When I first arrived to the room where the girls were getting ready on Ashley and Mike’s wedding day, Ashley turned to me in the midst of getting her hair done and said, “we really just want three good ones. You know, like three good pictures of the two of us. That’s all we need.” I laughed a little bit and agreed, particularly because I understood exactly what she meant but rarely hear it from brides. By three “good ones” she meant three good “posed” shots — the framers, the ones you make large prints of for your walls, the images you order extra copies of for your parents and send out on your Christmas card. Ashley is the definition of a laid back bride, so I knew she truly meant this statement; and later when their ceremony started thirty minutes late despite the fact that the sun would be setting soon and we’d start losing daylight, I knew she wasn’t sweating that, either.

Mike and Ashley both live in and are originally from Chicago, so I remember being a bit surprised when they mentioned that their wedding would actually take place in Galena, IL, a few hours west of the city. I overheard a few of their wedding guests laughing about the narrow, winding country roads leading up to the venue, and then heard them again later as they spoke in awe of the sun setting as two people they loved said vows on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. It’s easy to start to feel like you’ve “seen it all” in a gig like this, but in my brief moments between photographs during their ceremony, I found myself just as in awe as their wedding guests.

Beyond their casual nature, Ashley and Mike are the kind of people who light up a room, both individually and together – they’re all smiles and wit and laughter, while also fun and determined and thoughtful and good to the ones they love. Because of this, her simply giving me the opportunity to focus on the moments surrounding them instead of the posed stuff felt like the biggest blessing I can be given in this gig. Because instead of staging for the “pretty shots”, I got to really see the way she and Mike interacted with their favorite little babes, and pay attention to how freaking beautiful a wedding ceremony can be when it’s personal and sincere, and watch the way the two of them broke into giant grins when their dog, Mila, ran toward them. I had the chance to simply document and be present, and more importantly, they were able to be that much more present with the ones who adore them on one of the happiest days of their lives. I look at these photos and honestly believe I can feel the love pouring out of these people — these images remind me of the way their laughs sounded and how they looked at each other like they both felt like the luckiest human on this earth. While I feel confident that we got those “good ones” as well, it’s the rest of ‘em that are gonna stay with me as a reminder of what I love most about this job.

Venue: Chestnut Mountain Resort
Dress: BHLDN
Floral: Oh My Floral!
DJ: Cage + Aquarium
Cake + Sweets: Chicago Sweet Connection
Hand-drawn portrait artist: Doodlebooth, Jana Kinsman

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I walked through the front door of Laney and Casey’s home the morning of their wedding and was immediately greeted by their two dogs; Henry was perched on the back of the couch, while Essie casually sniffed at my camera bag. Laney and her girls were scattered across the main floor getting their hair and makeup done, and I casually started snapping as the light-hearted conversations and contouring continued. As I roamed from room to room, I noticed a thick stack of photo books sitting on the kitchen table amidst the makeup palettes and mimosas; I opened the one titled “our first year of pictures” and was met with baby-faced photos of Casey and Laney, and paragraphs about first dates and kisses and the initial moments that eventually became the beginning of their story. I continued to find myself entirely wrapped up in the narrative while eventually flipping through “our seventh year of pictures”, a book with moments that felt less driven by butterflies and more so by the stuff that lasts. I smiled to myself as I closed the book, because there was something beautifully surreal about the fact that the reason I was there in that moment was to take photos of a day that would eventually be added to the book about year eight.

One of the things I often tell my couples is that something will likely go wrong on their wedding day; in my years of experience with weddings, there is essentially always something that doesn’t go according to plan, and thus, this has always held true. At the end of Casey and Laney’s wedding day, I realized I couldn’t claim this anymore — from what I could see, this day could not have possibly been more perfect. The morning felt smooth and calm, and Laney and Casey were continually laid back and content as I photographed them with their families and friends. The videographer, who had flown in from Florida, was in Iowa for the first time and commented to me about how beautiful the weather was, and he was absolutely right. In the midst of an unseasonably warm midwest September fell this gorgeous day for Casey and Laney’s outdoor ceremony, and we were able to use the golf carts to roam the course as their guests had drinks on the club’s patio afterward. As the night went on, everything felt so seamlessly easy (and it’s not often I use that word when talking about a wedding day), but with Laney and Casey, it just was. They mingled with old friends and new friends and danced and belted out lyrics along with their dueling pianos, and the reception was so fun that I found myself not ready to stop photographing by the end. My realist “something will go wrong” theory got entirely squashed by this wedding day, and I am more than ok with that.

Venue: Davenport Country Club
Wedding Planner: Stress Free Weddings
Cake: Old Towne Bakery
Dress: La Belle Vie 
Florist: JE Designs
Hair (Bride/BMs): Katie Mahoney
Hair (Attendants): Ellie DeLaere
Linens: I Do Events
Make-Up (Bride + BMs): Brooke Olson
Make-Up (Attendants): Glam2Go
Dueling Pianos: Felix & Fingers
Officiant: Steve Rigdon
Photo Booth: Twisted Mics
Suits: Men’s Warehouse
Transport: Luxury Limousine
Video: Messersmith Films
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Beth and Jon’s wedding day was the second wedding I shot on Labor Day weekend; I photographed a wedding on Friday in Chicago, and made the drive Saturday morning to the Quad Cities for their big day. While these double-header weekends can often be exhausting, I couldn’t have possibly picked a better couple to spend my “round two” day with if I tried. I essentially forgot about how tired I had initially felt that morning simply because these two are full of so much freaking life – you can see it in their giant grins, and hear it in Jon’s snicker and Beth’s hearty laugh. They had their wedding guests cracking up as the priest retold the story of how they first met during the ceremony; he laughed himself about how Beth had unabashedly explained that she had picked up her part-time bartending gig at Kelly’s Irish Pub years ago with the main intention of “meeting a man”. She shrugged and nodded her head as he described this to the congregation, and the man she did end up meeting at that bar grinned knowingly alongside her. This is one of the many things I love about Beth and Jon – they’re honest and hilarious and brazenly themselves, and anyone observing them can tell they’re genuinely having the absolute most fun when they’re together.

We hopped on the trolley post-ceremony and had one of the most enjoyable, laid back afternoons – there were drinks and laughs and plenty of photos taken, but it never really felt as though we were adhering to a typical wedding day schedule. Their reception was full of them spilling their love and laughter all over the people in their lives – their tight-knit families, and their wedding party, and the friends who made the long trek from out of state. One of the best parts about being a wedding photographer is observing what people are like when they’re with the individuals they care about most – Jon was hugging his people left and right, and telling them each how much it meant to him that they made the trip, and having me snap photos with them as I’d pass by on the dance floor. Meanwhile, Beth was scooping up her nieces and nephews to dance and play with them and sharing jokes and dances with her siblings. While I was photographing the reception, Beth told me she wanted to have a cigar from their cigar bar with me and our mutual friend Jacqueline (one of my past brides, who also happens to be who Beth found me through in the first place) once I was “off duty”. While I loved this idea, I assumed it was unlikely to happen – I’ve photographed enough weddings to know that the bride and groom are a hot commodity during their reception, and figured the chances of her being able to break away from her friends and family and dance floor were slim. But instead, I packed up my gear and to my surprise, Beth made it happen – she, Jacqueline, and I hopped out on the patio of the venue, drinks in hand, and smoked cigars together. While something as simple as smoking a cigar during a wedding reception sounds small, it felt kinda big to me; it reminded me of how lucky I am to be in a job where I meet people who start simply as “clients” that I get to end up calling my friends. Beth and Jon are the real deal, and getting the chance to both photograph + know them in the first place made me feel all sorts of lucky as I drove home that night – likely with cigar on my breath and a grin on my face.

Reception Venue: The Outing Club
Ceremony: St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church
Bride’s Dress: A Storybook Ending
Cake: Olde Towne Bakery
DJ: Twisted Mic’s
Videographer: Accent Studio
Hair + Makeup: Haus of Heir
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Every so often, I’ll have a bride who asks me about if I have any “favorite things” I’ve seen at weddings – locations and photo ops, or beautiful signs and clever hashtags. To be completely honest, I rarely remember any of these sort of details – after photographing weddings for seven years, I can honestly say that I never think back to the cool guestbook I saw at so-and-so’s wedding or the collection of eclectic yet rustic knick knacks that made up the reception centerpieces. Sometimes I feel almost guilty about this, because I know the amount of time and thought and money that often can go into these elements — but in the long run, these things just don’t stay with me.

That said, I still have a hard time answering the question, because the “things” that do stick with me are the things that can’t necessarily be duplicated, nor do I always see them coming. On Alex and Andrea’s wedding day, I arrived that morning to a house full of people at her parents’ home – her bridesmaids were getting their hair and makeup done, and her aunt was arranging boutonnières on the couch, and her grandparents, who had made the trip up from Mexico, sat patiently in the living room as other family members popped in and out.

Normally a house full of people can feel stressful on a wedding day, but not this time – everyone seemed at ease in whatever they were doing, and both the closeness of the group and the childhood photos on the refrigerator and walls made me feel immediately at home here, too. Andrea got into her dress in one of the bedrooms upstairs, and both of her parents embraced her fully as her dad looked at her and said a thing that I imagine many parents are thinking on their son or daughter’s wedding day; he quietly uttered “you always have a home here”, not because there was any doubt that she did, but instead because no matter her age or marital status, your daughter will always be your little girl in some way.

Andrea came down the steps to the main floor and did a kind of impromptu first look that I had yet to experience – she entered a room full of her grandparents and aunts and uncles and siblings and cousins and best friends, all at once. After embraces and squeals, her father grabbed her by the hand and lifted his right hand to her forehead for a blessing, and her grandfather and grandmother did soon after, too. My eyes got blurry from blinking though tears, so I wiped them accordingly as it all continued before me, because it wasn’t happening for the photographs.

After a beautiful ceremony followed by hanging out with their closest friends by the lake, in the city where they first met and subsequently fell for one another, Alex and Andrea made their way to the banquet room full of the rest of their most loved. They had a way of spreading their love across the room – they shared dances with friends and photo ops with family and a bottle of gifted tequila with all of these people, too. Many of the receptions I photograph feel full of energy and vigor, but as their parents and friends and families meshed together based on their mutual love for Andrea and Alex throughout the evening, this one felt especially so.

Andrea’s maid of honor, Lexi (being the mutual friend who first introduced them), described the way Andrea’s eyes locked on Alex the first night the two met when the girls happened to run into Lexi’s old friend from NIU at a bar in Chicago. Lexi said you could see in their faces the way they were immediately drawn to each other, and the rest, as they say, is history. I knew exactly what look she was talking about, because even after years of dating and life’s ups and downs, it’s the same look I’ve seen them give one another from behind my camera, and the one they gave each other quietly throughout this incredible day.

Ceremony: St. Ita Catholic Church
Reception Venue: Concorde Banquets
Bride’s Dress + BM Dresses: Wolsfelt’s Bridal
Makeup: Aaron Gomez Skincare & Makeup Artistry
Hair: Lilly’s Bridal Boutique, Lilly and Heather
Flowers: Alelis Flowers
DJ: Joe Delfin Ultra Events Production Group
Cake: Central Continental Bakery
Photo Booth: Icon Photo Booth

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