One of the quieter parts of this job is that every so often, someone entrusts you with a secret – and when Chad sent me a text one day that read, “what would it take to secure you as a wedding photographer on December 31st, 2017?” months before he had proposed to Brandy, I was downright giddy to be in on this one. Chad was planning to propose to Brandy on Hog Days weekend, which was, quite simply, the perfect time and place to do so because of her love for the Kewanee holiday itself. They were surrounded by so many of their loved ones in the moment when Chad went down on one knee, and anyone can see that Brandy and Chad are at their best when surrounded by not only each other, but also their favorite people in the world.

I first met both Chad and Brandy many years ago, and the funny thing is (and the thing I imagine most people come to realize about their own relationships with Brandy and Chad) is that I don’t ever remember a time when either of them was a stranger to me. I don’t remember what it was like to not know either of them, because they are both the kind of people who immediately bring you in for a big hug, and pull you onto the dance floor, and ask how you are doing and truly mean it. They’d invite you to their Jorts party one year, and their Olympics themed party the next, and even though the rooms and backyards are always filled with their many friends, they have this way of still making you feel seen and loved.

Their wedding day was as perfectly Chad-and-Brandy as I could have imagined. Chad asked Brandy if she could pick a song to be playing during their first look, so George Straight’s “I Cross My Heart” played from one of her bridesmaid’s phones as she walked out the door onto the deck of their venue to see Chad for the first time that day. There were tears and embraces and more tears, and then the most perfect thing happened – they took each other’s hand, and they just started swaying, then dancing to the song, and it was twelve degrees outside but in that moment, they didn’t even notice. I honestly think I was holding my breath as I photographed this and fought back tears – sometimes you witness these moments that feel so delicate and sincere that you don’t want them to ever end, so you hold your breath and not only let them bask in it, but remember how lucky you are to have a front row seat for these kinds of things in the first place.

Despite being the coldest wedding day I’ve ever photographed, these two didn’t miss a beat – everyone threw on gloves and boots and braved the chilly air for photos outside, and they laughed and snuggled despite their rosy cheeks and numb fingers. Princess Leia, their pup, showed up later on for pictures, and both Chad and Brandy lit up when they first saw her. She stuck around for not only outdoor photos but also the ceremony and cocktail hour, and honestly, it truly felt like I was capturing a family of three as I watched them with her. Brandy and Chad went on to throw their biggest party yet, and they did what they do very best – they had a freaking blast, and they pulled their loved ones out on the dance floor and told them how much they loved them.

Venue: Peoria Civic Center
Bride’s Dress: Eva’s Bridal of Oak Lawn
Day of Coordinator: Lana Romanelli of Marien Mae Bridal
Tuxes: MM Bridal
Bridesmaid Dresses: The Crystal Bride
Dueling Pianos: Felix and Fingers
Caricature Artist: About Faces Entertainment
Flowers & Cake: Pollen & Pastry
Caterer: SAVOR
Videographer: Double Shot Artistry
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I’ve known Chris as “Heather’s cousin” since we were younger, so when I first learned that he was dating Heather’s friend Tricia a few years ago, it made complete sense to me. When you meet someone through a mutual friend, you get the opportunity to see what they’re like outside of the dating lens – how they operate when there’s no pressure, and what kind of a friend they are – and as two of Heather’s closest people, I immediately imagined that this was a pairing that came from seeing those sides of each other and knowing this could potentially be their person.

Their initially planned engagement session was rescheduled due to rain, but since they had originally mentioned hoping for snow, I was thrilled when plenty came down prior to their day-after-Christmas reschedule date. But as the day came closer, the temps continued to drop – the expected high the next day was nine degrees when I reached out to them on Christmas Day to see where their heads were at. They decided to go for it, and officially became my “coldest session yet”. It’s a serious team effort at an engagement session like this – we hopped in and out of Chris’ truck together multiple times, warming our hands and blasting the heat between photo sets before making a brisk walk off to the next spot. I can’t stress enough how tough it is to not only have your photo taken in single digit weather, but also to smile and laugh when you can’t feel your toes. But Chris and Tricia were freaking troopers through all of this – not only did they smile and laugh, but they also cracked jokes to one another, and kept each others’ hands warm, too.

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When Stacey told me that she was hungover, makeup-less, and wearing a hair net when Nick first introduced himself to her years ago, I knew I was going to love these two.

They were both students at Purdue, and Stacey had been working at the dining court for a few years. Nick was on the football team and she had frequently fed and cleaned up after the team, so their paths had indirectly crossed many times before they finally “met”. On the day when it finally happened, Stacey was going about a normal morning of work, donning a look many of us get after when we’re in college – no makeup, a sports bra instead of a regular one, and subtle signs of a hangover. Since she was working, she was also rocking her hair net when one of the football players did a double take of her as she walked by while he was eating breakfast. From there he came up to shake her hand and introduce himself, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nick and Stacey have now been together for over six years, and between buying a house, taking care of their dog, planning a wedding, and working full-time in jobs they both enjoy, life looks a lot different than it did when they were two college kids falling in love. But when you really step back and look beyond the conflicting schedules and the real life stuff that adulthood tends to throw at us, you see this person who you’ve not only watched mature and grow and learn throughout the years, but you also realize how fortunate you are to be doing the very same thing right alongside them.

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Jenna and I are cousins, so I have known her for literally her entire life. We come from a big family, so bringing someone you’re dating to one of our family functions can be somewhat intimidating for the newcomer. When Jenna first brought Ryleigh around, he handled our chatty, numerous selves like a champ, and I remember thinking from the beginning that the two of them would likely spend the years to come together, too. They are incredibly supportive of each other, and immediately seemed as though they were best friends. Between their date nights and weightlifting and concerts and impromptu trips, Jenna and Ryleigh are adventurous and bubbly and fun, so the amount of hiking and exploring we did together during their engagement session at Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park was perfectly fitting for them.

We met in the parking lot outside of the trail entrance, and Jenna had not only packed all of her outfits into the backpack hanging from her shoulders, but she and Ryleigh both were wearing shoes that made sense for hiking and had a few libations beforehand to ward off any potential session jitters. (From this moment on, I knew we were in for a great session.) We ended up hiking a few miles at Starved Rock between photo locations, then made our way over to Matthiessen State Park for the remainder of their session, where we’d end up tacking on a few more miles. Jenna and Ryleigh climbed and dipped their feet in cold water and went barefoot at points and helped each other across a stream by way of wobbly logs and rocks, and they did it all with laughs and smiles on their faces, in true Jenna-and-Ryleigh fashion.

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One of the questions I’m commonly asked is what my personal “favorites” are – my favorite wedding and engagement session types being most popularly questioned of all. I usually tell people it’s hard for me to determine because I think certain types are fitting for some people while others are not, and this has a lot to do with personality and style and each person’s nature. While I’ve shot what feels like a bajillion engagement session locations and types at this point, none of them had felt truly personal to me — that is, until I shot Kari and Greg’s.

These two have both spent over a decade living in Chicago, and having met in the midst of that at a bar in Wicker Park and falling in love + creating a life together between there and Logan Square, they wanted their session to reflect that. So we decided to roam around these two neighborhoods that represent so much of their lives – we had coffee at Bang Bang, one of their favorite spots, then walked up the street to Boiler Room for PB & Js. We swung by their apartment for some photos with their fur babies, and they hopped on their scooters on the nearby streets they travel so often. We went to the rooftop at The Robey, the hotel where their wedding guests will be staying later this year. And lastly we wrapped up our session with a drink at Bangers & Lace, the bar where Kari and Greg decided to go when they broke off from the group of mutual friends they’d been hanging out with on the night they first met, which would eventually become the site of their impromptu first date. It all felt so undeniably them, and somehow also felt indicative of my own life in the short time I’ve been living in this city, too. Downtown sessions are beautiful in their own right, and there’s no denying that the skyline and ‘scrapers are part of what this city is known for – but sometimes, popping into your favorite local bar and cruising down the tree-lined street you’ve walked countless times feels a bit truer.

Kari and Greg both have this energy and zest for life that makes you always want to stick around for one more drink, so I naturally couldn’t resist having a beer and some cheese curds with them after snapping the last photo. If their engagement session is any indication of what their wedding will be like, I think it’s safe to assume I’ll eventually have yet another favorite on my hands.

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