A thing we often hear from couples is that they “make each other better” – that when they are together, they become better versions of themselves, so to speak. A lot of times this bettering happens in moments that aren’t as clearly visible to others, often through variations of helping each other grow and learn and lean harder into their good qualities within everyday life and work and relationships. The thing about Brycelyn and Ryan, though, is the way that it seems they do this not only for each other in the aforementioned ways, but also in small ways that can actually be seen by the rest of us, and I felt lucky to get a front row seat for this on their wedding day.
They both started their mornings calmly hanging with their friends while getting ready, though as they each read one another’s letters on different floors of the hotel and anticipated their first look, both Brycelyn and Ryan seemed excited and ready for the part where they would soon see each other. I love when couples first do so on their wedding day not because of the potential tears or reactions, but simply because of the way it allows for lingering nerves to dissipate – the way they take deep breaths of relief afterward, and they give each other big hugs and talk about how their mornings went and it finally feels like two people in love, just hanging out in nice clothes before doing a really big, exciting thing.
From then on, they spent the rest of the day together with their friends and family, and I watched (and photographed) as they continually lit each other up. It was also apparent that the two of them not only equally value their friendships, but also that their friends have become so intertwined that it felt like one big, happy crew rather than “her friends” and “his friends” – I watched them all singing and dancing on the party bus together and realized I couldn’t tell which friends came from which groups (which is often a thing I catch on to as a wedding day goes on). This feels like a sort of ripple effect with Brycelyn and Ryan and their crew – together they’re thoughtful and fun and laid back, and they seemed to surround themselves with people know and love and get them, both together and as a couple, and they all seemed entirely at ease with one another.
They then grabbed a drink with their wedding party prior to the start of the reception, and spent the remainder of the night with all the people they love most – their parents and siblings and friends and aunts and uncles and cousins who could make it, and there were thoughtful toasts and big hugs and sweet dances, and it was all the things a wedding can be when two people end up together, and everyone in the room has seen the love on them for years and couldn’t be more excited be part of making that official.
Reception: The Warehouse on State
Church: St. John the Baptist, Bradford, IL
Videography: Hoophouse Creative
Catering: Cracked Pepper
Florals: Garden of Grace
Bridal Gown: Rhylan Lang Bridal
Bridesmaid Dresses: Cloud Nine Bridal Boutique
Decor: Create A Scene
Makeup: Leiana Marie Makeup Artistry & Ashlin Goreth
Hair: Danielle Stroud, Danielle Nelson, Michaella DeReu
Cake: Cindy Ehnle
Josh and Lauren started, as did many couples who planned a 2020 wedding prior to the pandemic, with plans for a wedding day that looked quite a bit different the celebration they ended up with. Their wedding was originally supposed to take place back in May, and once the Department of Defense signed into effect a travel ban for military and their families due to covid, the two of them decided to officially postpone their wedding for the month of August. Not only did these two take it all in magnificent stride, but they also made alterations to their plans in order to create a safe environment for their loved ones: they reduced their guest list, and made sure those attending adhered to the church’s mask requirement – they had to-go boxes for the dinner in case anyone wanted to catch the first dance but felt more comfortable eating at home, and they moved the rest of their reception outdoors behind the venue. They were thoughtful and wore their masks when indoors with their older family members, and they laughed and celebrated and danced amongst all this – they showed us all what it looks like to not only do it right, but to also soak in the beauty and joy that comes with getting married at the same time.
When I think about my favorite moments from Josh and Lauren’s day, I think about how so many of the experiences within a wedding involve the relationship between poignancy and joy. I think about the way Lauren’s mom’s eyes filled with tears as she watched her daughter’s friends see her in her wedding dress for the first time, and the way Lauren and her parents quietly teared up while in the room at the back of the church prior to the ceremony, and the way Josh embraced his mother on the dance floor, and the tight gripped hug his father gave him immediately after the ceremony. Moments like these are bittersweet – it’s letting go of a previous chapter of life and preparing to embrace a new one, and a happiness for your grown child that I imagine can only be explained by those who have experienced it. I’m reminded of this poignancy again when I think about the loved ones watching Josh and Lauren get married via a live stream on this day – thinking about the tears I didn’t witness or capture with my camera, but that happened out there all the same. These happy tears for two people they love, and the understanding and care that comes along with this moment in time we’re all in.
Wedding days are ripe with poignancy, and I think it’s important to revel in that, because how lucky are we to have people and moments like these that lead our hearts to feel so insanely, heavily full? And then, there’s the joy – the outright joy that comes from so many things on a wedding day, like the sweet toasts from your siblings, and the relief that comes from getting beautiful weather on your backup wedding date after moving your reception outdoors, and casually chatting with your loved ones under a tent as your favorite songs play, and your girlfriends hoisting you up in your wedding dress for a photo, and seeing friends and family you haven’t been able to see in months, and watching your wedding guests dance and laugh and put their drinks in the air and celebrate together in a way that feels downright special these days. It’s poignancy and tears and laughter and swaying and joy all swirled together and a reminder that when it comes to being with the people you love and getting the opportunity to celebrate life with them, those things are the main ones that actually end up mattering.
Reception Venue: The Stables
Church: St. John the Evangelist
Dress: Marien Mae Bridal Boutique
Florist: Enchanted Florist
Day of Coordinator + Decor Rentals: Aunt Sue’s Bridal
Catering: Renee Endress
DJ: 815 Productions
Shelby and Kolby each began their wedding day in homes that mean a lot to them – Kolby and his friends got ready at his parents’ place, and Shelby and her girls did hair and makeup in the house she and Kolby now call home together. I walked into Kolby’s parents’ house to find him in the kitchen chatting with the guys – his mom was getting ready to head over to see the ladies soon, and his dad was coming inside from working on the farm that morning. Kolby gave the guys each a gift, and after watching them open their socks, he made his way upstairs to put on his suit. Their mornings were equally calm as Shelby also hung out with her crew – there were bridesmaids steaming dresses and mimosas being poured, and friends and family all came together as they excitedly chatted about the day ahead.
Kolby and Shelby both shared prayers separately prior to the ceremony, and I caught myself marveling at the similarities between their experiences, despite being in separate rooms. Their loved ones placed their hands on them as they prepared to not only see each other in the aisle in mere minutes, but then vow to spend their lives together after that. Kolby’s tears and Shelby’s beaming smile reminded me how beautifully couples can balance one another – their friends and family shared later in their speeches the ways in which Kolby is thoughtful and kind and reserved, and how Shelby is bold and expressive, which felt so evident in this moment where she walked toward him with her father, excitedly grinning and giggling all at once.
I’m a firm believer in balance being integral to both life and love, and seeing that in full effect when you’re spending time with Kolby and Shelby is such a treat. Their differing traits have a way of bringing out a playfulness in both of them – there was a bit of sweetness in the way they messily fed each other ice cream instead of cake, and a bit of romance as they shared their first dance, and a lot of goofiness as they excitedly competed in their dollar dash. Not only do they seem to have an incredible amount of fun together, but it’s clear through the continual looks on their faces how lucky they each feel to be ending up getting to spend life with one another, too.
Reception Venue: Parker Run Vineyard
Church: First United Methodist Church, Geneseo, IL
Catering: Renee Endress
Ice Cream Truck: Kamaela’s Kreamery
Bride’s Dress: Adore Bridal
Florals: Garden of Grace
Makeup + Hair: Courtney Wagenbach
DJ: DJ Mike from Performance Sound
If there’s one thing I love about weddings in the midst of the pandemic, it’s the allowance of intentionality that comes along with these restrictions. It feels sort of silly to suggest that we are being given a gift of allowance as other parts of this experience are taken away from us, but it also feels sort of true. I also think it’s important to be clear that getting married right now isn’t an easy thing to do, whether you try to do it with 10 people or with 45 – I’ve witnessed multiple wedding days over the past two months, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that this process most definitely is not and will not be a smooth one. People are measuring the space between tables and wearing masks in their wedding garb to protect their loved ones, and they’re making difficult decisions to not see their grandchildren get married, and they’re getting covid tested and they’re trading out wedding favors for hand sanitizers and they’re not sure if and when they should hug or dance, and the pandemic becomes a part of every facet of the couple’s wedding day, quite simply because it is a part of every facet of our current lives. Getting married right now isn’t for the faint of heart, but man, when it’s done well? It really can be as beautiful as it gets.
Robert and Courtney took that allowance of intentionality and they freaking ran with it by throwing together an incredible Plan B. Robert got ready at his mom’s place, and it was just the two of them and his dog, Rey. Courtney got ready at the venue with her mom, sister, and niece, while her brother and Dad came by later. Her dad quietly teared up when he walked in the room, removing his mask as he made his way over to hug his daughter. Courtney and Robert’s wedding ceremony fell one day after the state of Illinois moved into Phase Four, and they had thirteen of their closest people surrounding them as they got married in the garden of Warehouse 109. They all shared hugs and tears afterward and facetimed loved ones that couldn’t be there, and after a brief mid-afternoon shower that cooled things off, they stepped out front for their car parade. Friends and family pulled through, faces beaming as they cheered and held up handmade signs and blew kisses, snapping photos of the newlyweds on their iphones and telling them how much they loved them. I’ve seen a lot of special moments, but this one left me feeling like my heart was in my throat – there was so much love there, and so much excitement and hope for the future of Mr. and Mrs. Cool, and witnessing all that during this time made me feel like the luckiest person.
Afterward, Robert and Courtney made their way to the courtyard, and there they toasted with their small circle of loved ones – they told them how much they all mean to them, and how fortunate they felt, and despite how many toasts I’ve seen and captured in the past, the intimacy of this one will keep it with me for a long, long time. They then took a few more photos with me before meeting their families at a restaurant nearby, where they sat down to a dinner together, and drank wine and laughed and chatted not only about the day, but about life in general. It’s not often that I see a wedding day that feels like it has a way of reflecting everyday life – the intimate get togethers and the simple conversations and the reminder that small, quiet moments with our loved ones can really be the best thing – and capturing them in the midst of that was such an incredible gift.
Jade and Phil met online two years ago – Jade was in her last year of nursing school at ISU and Phil was wrapping up his final year of PT school at Bradley. Phil made the drive from Peoria to Normal on a weeknight for their first date, and they went to dinner and played a round of mini golf. After that they made those drives down 74 to see each other week after week, getting to know each other and seeing movies, going to hockey games, and cooking together. They eventually finished their programs and now both work at OSF St. Francis in Peoria, so their days together look a lot different than the ones spent driving back and forth – they now grab lunch together during their breaks at work, and spend their weekends fishing and disc golfing and working on Phil’s new house.
Having grown up in the same small town as Jade, I’ve known her since she was a little girl – that said, I haven’t seen her in years, so their engagement session was my first time hanging out with her as an adult. They’re both smart and ambitious and make each other laugh and know what they want, and they make a great team and have a way of seeming wise beyond their years. They reached out to me right after getting engaged at the end of May (and as all of you are quite aware of, there aren’t a whole lot of people getting engaged during the pandemic and *intentionally planning a wedding in 2020). But these two did, and they did it well – they sprang into action and planned a wedding in three months, and next weekend, I get to photograph them marrying each other. Life is wild right now but love is still so big and thriving and good, and these two are such a great reminder of that.