dani + cj | shapiro ballroom wedding | chicago, il

Sometimes I think about how wild it is that this is the job I ended up in. Once upon a time I was a cynical young thing who didn’t really know if she believed in marriage, and I certainly remember my own internal scoff at the idea of weddings, believing they were a waste of money and a thing that often led people to get married for the wrong reasons. Looking back, I hadn’t really been to many weddings at the point in my life when I believed this – but from the outside looking in, all I could see was people talking about wedding décor and “the dress” and the production of it all, and I didn’t like what I thought I saw. Stumbling into this industry has been such a gift to me, not only because of the people I’ve had the chance to get to know and spend time with, but also because of the way they’ve reshaped my understanding of what weddings really are and can be. Sometimes there are weddings that shift my perspective just a little bit more, through their intentionality and continual emphasis on the things that matter. Dani and CJ’s day was one of those.

When I arrived at the rental home that morning, Dani was getting her hair done while surrounded by not only her friends, but also her parents, and her brothers, and her niece. As a girl who also grew up with brothers, I immediately fell in love with this idea of having all of the people who were important to her there, regardless of gender or wedding party status. I watched as she ate lunch alongside her brothers, as she and her Dad joked together on the couch, and as she and her brothers watched in quiet awe as their Mom walked out in her dress for the first time that day. Later, Dani would walk down the stairs in her own dress to be greeted by her family and a few of her best friends, and I saw the same look wash over all of them. Her brother, Spencer, then helped her into the car as their Dad drove them to the church where she’d be marrying CJ in a few short hours.

She and CJ originally met through their church, so they decided they wanted to see each other for the first time on their wedding day in the pew where they normally sit together during services. I have seen a lot of special moments over the years, but there’s something particularly great about a specific spot where they spend their time taking on a new meaning from here on out when they sit in this pew in the future. I photographed them briefly, and then they took one another’s hands and started to walk away from me. Dani turned around to give me a look and a smile, and I knew it was my time to give them some space, snapping my last few images of the moment as I left the room.

Dani had told me during the planning process that the most important part of the day for them was their ceremony, particularly when they’d be giving communion together with their fathers. I understood quickly how accurate this was as I watched them smile and laugh and nod their heads throughout every message and tradition, and it was one of the most engaging, thoughtful religious ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed. From there, I had the chance to watch them joyously spend the rest of their afternoon and evening together – from hugging their loved ones, to taking photos on the street where Dani used to live, to walking into the venue expecting to nonchalantly join their guests for a beer and instead being greeted by uproarious cheers and high fives. Every second of this day encapsulated who they are as a couple, and their adoration for the people that have loved and lifted them up for all these years. At the end of the night, I was preparing to put away my gear soon as I looked around for the two of them to let them know I’d be packing up – and there they were, on the edge of their dance floor, swaying and wrapped up in one another and dripping in bliss. And here is why I wholeheartedly believe in marriage and weddings now – because of people and moments and days like this.

Reception Venue: The Shapiro Ballroom
Church: St. Teresa of Avila
Makeup: Rare Bird Beauties
Hair: Danielle Henson
Food: Six06
Dress: Bride KC
Flowers: Romance in Blooms
Pie: Harner’s Bakery
Cake: Costco

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Chicago, IL


Weddings + Engagements + Life

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