My mom spent her early childhood living in North Dakota, and though her parents eventually moved their immediate family to Illinois, many of my mom’s cousins and aunts and uncles still live there. So, my brothers and I’s own childhoods often involved an annual trip back to see family and get to know a little bit about the places and people my mom came from. As we got older, the time between each trip increased; we were busy with sports and college and work, and we didn’t make the drive up north as often as in years past.
So when Haylie reached out to me about photographing hers and Jesse’s wedding in Bismarck, ND, I jumped at the opportunity. Haylie’s mom, Kristie, and my mom are first cousins, and I’ve always loved my mom’s stories about their time together as kids. I hadn’t seen Haylie since we were children ourselves, so photographing her wedding day felt like such an immense honor.
Haylie began the morning getting ready with her friends, sisters, and mom. They filled up a section of the salon, then made their way to Haylie and Jesse’s place to get into dresses there. Haylie’s sisters helped her into her dress, and friends and family members became teary when she walked back out into the living room and they saw her in it for the first time. She then went to a nearby park to see Jesse for the first time that day, and they gave one another a quiet-but-giant squeeze as they giggled through the craziness of the moment. Their crew came down to join them soon after, and as we snapped pics, I realized how fitting it was that they had this big wedding party and close knit family group all rolled into one, because it’s so clear how much these people all mean to the two of them. Not only was their closeness with these people palpable, but also with the loved ones they had each lost in years past. There were tributes to their grandparents sprinkled throughout the entire day, which felt intentional and had a way of making it feel like those loved ones were there with them, too.
Jesse and Haylie are a couple that have been together for many years – they’re the type whose families feel like one unit, and it’s hard to distinguish whose friends and cousins are whose because it mostly just feels like one big, tied-together crew. They were married in the church where Haylie’s parents got married years before, and then they hit up a local rooftop bar with their best friends. This time frame was one of the main things I hope to see for people on their wedding days – in short, it felt like a great big exhale. They grabbed drinks and toasted in the open air and simply hung out with their people, and as strange as it sounds, wedding days don’t always feel like this. They often feel structured, mostly because everyone’s often adhering to a schedule and making sure to always move on to the next step, so I absolutely loved getting to see Haylie and Jesse relax and celebrate without thinking about the clock. As two people who often come off more quiet and reserved, it was so cool to see them cracking up and making jokes and feeling completely at ease amongst their people. They took that energy with them to their reception, entering the room to “Thunderstruck” and chugging beers in the middle of the dance floor with their wedding party. The night was full of giant, cheesy grins and heartfelt toasts, and a great band and an even better dance floor, and I watched as Haylie and Jesse broke it down with friends and family, and my mom danced with her cousins, and I could not have felt more fortunate to be a wedding photographer than on a day like this one.
Dress: LeeAnne’s Bridal & Bliss Prom
Flowers: Crabapple Floral
Videographer: Starstruck Videography
Venue: Ramkota Hotel & Conference Center
Hair: The Hair District, Caitlin Sauvageau
Cake: Cash Wise Foods
Cake Balls: Cake Balls by Jess
Photobooth: DY Photobooth
Limo: Bismarck Limousine Service
If there’s one thing that’s wildly clear as we near the end of 2020, it’s that this year has not only been unlike any other, but also that none of us could have come close to imagining this experience. This was my tenth year of photographing weddings, and yet I could never have pictured so much of what I’ve witnessed as a photographer in the months since March. And despite that, so many couples found new ways to do things – they came up with a Plan B and C as they replanned their entire wedding days, they wore masks in their wedding garb at the altar, they placed large containers of hand sanitizer where they would normally place flowers. They took what they had seen and known about weddings in the past and they blew it all up, and they replaced it with something different and thoughtful and safe, and they found ways to get married despite a pandemic, and they’ve often left me entirely in awe by doing so with such grace and joy.
Jamie and Matt knew they wanted to get married on their original wedding date this fall regardless of the state of the pandemic, so they postponed their reception and decided to move forward with a more intimate version of their ceremony. It was drizzling as I pulled up to Jamie’s parents’ home in Naperville that day, though you wouldn’t have known it based on the giant smile plastered across Jamie’s face. I walked into the living room to see Jamie, her mom, and her sister-in-law as they all hung out and had hair and makeup done, calmly chatting and laughing together as I noticed photos of Jamie as a child strung across the doorway nearby. Jamie’s dress hung upstairs in her childhood bedroom, and her dad and brothers were milling around and hanging in the family room just off the kitchen. She excitedly got into her dress upstairs, and when she came down, her brothers exclaimed (and as a fellow girl with three brothers, this made my heart fill right the heck up) and snapped photos on their phones of their sister in her dress. They grabbed umbrellas and climbed into the bus that was waiting for them and made their way to the church for Jamie to marry Matt.
The ceremony was beautiful and perfect, and I swear you could see Jamie and Matt’s smiles consistently despite the masks. They FaceTimed with Matt’s grandpa immediately after the ceremony (who was proudly wearing a “wedding crasher” shirt and holding up an applause sign, to everyone’s delight) then greeted their guests outside as everyone cheered and snapped pictures and congratulated them, then they grabbed their umbrellas once again and made their way to a nearby forest preserve for some photos with their families. The rain soon let up upon our arrival, so they were able to hang out and chat and have drinks and snap pics with me sans umbrellas, and I honestly had so much fun spending time amidst their quick-witted jokes and close-knit family banter. They finished the day with a private dinner with the small group of friends and family that was able to join for the ceremony. It was such a fun, laid back afternoon, and I felt so lucky to not only get to be the photographer capturing it, but to know that I get another excuse to hang out with this crew all over again next year, too.
I walked into the house that Jade grew up in to a home full of excitement – ladies putting finishing touches on their makeup, Jade’s mom getting ready in the bathroom off the kitchen where the girls were, her dad gradually getting dressed as he chatted with his daughters and their friends. Spending time on a family’s farm and lifelong home feels special in a way that only small things can explain – the wall of photos of Jade and McKinna through the years in the living room, the family pups doing tricks and receiving treats as the ladies ate lunch, the antique pew by the front door from the church where Jade’s parents were married years ago. Everyone hung out and excitedly planned for the day while surrounded by a lifetime of memories in every single room they entered. Phil got ready with his friends as well as his parents – his mom adjusted his pocket square and pinned on his boutonniere, and they laughed at the same time as the facial features she’d passed down to her son became evident.
After the tears and big hugs of seeing one another for the first time, Jade and Phil went into the venue to see the space together – a space, I should add, that is owned by her grandparents. Jade teared up once again as she saw the floral hanging she’d envisioned had beautifully come to life above the head table, and they looked around in awe at the thought and care that had gone into bringing this all together. After taking a few photos and hopping on the bus with their wedding party, they made their way to the church to get married.
Jade and Phil’s pastor joked about how these two were the first couple she’d ever married that had taken their own marriage assessment *prior to meeting with her, and though I laughed along with their guests, I did so because nothing about this surprised me. One of the things I love most about Jade and Phil is the way in which you can see it on them that they know – they absolutely know that this is the person they’re supposed to be with, and that the life they’ve built together makes them happy and will continue to do so, and their love is goofy and silly and sweet and funny in a way that suits the two of them perfectly. And so they spent the rest of their evening looking at each other with not only love, but also certainty as they danced and looked out at their loved ones and both laughed and cried through the toasts. Their friends and parents recounted the tales of their first date – Phil’s nerves and Jade’s reservations about online dating, and the tiny little moments that have accumulated over time and now make up their story. This day felt like the perfect addition to that – planning a wedding within a few months in the middle of a pandemic isn’t an easy, simple thing, but Jade and Phil aren’t really the type looking for easy and simple anyway. They not only pulled the day together, but also did so beautifully, and I have a feeling at the end of it all, they couldn’t have imagined it any other way.
Venue: Elmore Stock Farm Barn Weddings & Events
Florist: Garden of Grace
Dress: Adore Bridal
Decor Rental: Peoria Rentals
Videography: Avant-Garde Videography
Catering: Renee Endress
Cake: Cindy Ehnle
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