Never in a million years did I think I'd end up being a wedding photographer. Though I love taking photos, I never dreamed I'd be a professional, much less a wedding professional. But for eight years I shot weddings, bridal portraits and engagement sessions. Hundreds of them. Ohhhh, the stories I could tell. And I will, but I won't tell most of them here (you'll have to read my book when it's finished. There are some doozies.)
I met Ashley Smith (now Shearer) in 2005, when we worked at the same studio. She was a year ahead of me in the wedding photography school of hard knocks, and I learned a lot from her. We usually didn't work together, though, because we each had our own weddings to shoot for the studio. But when we did work together, it was definitely more fun.
In 2007 I moved on to go back to school, and she worked for another studio for awhile. In 2009 she asked me to second shoot for her, and though it was a rare weekend I had off, I did it because I missed her. After she culled and processed the photos, we both agreed that we rocked the wedding, as in, our complementary styles and different perspectives provided a unique collection of memories. She asked me if I'd like to go into business together. I agreed, and the rest is history.
We owned AL Collective for four years, and I don't know if I could've done it with anyone else. Our strengths and weaknesses were perfectly matched and we had significant style differences. She shot Canon, I shot Nikon. She had a PC (at the time) and I work on nothing but Mac. I can honestly say that though we disagreed at times, we never had a falling out. In fact, we became closer friends in the process. She's only one year older than my oldest daughter, but she's definitely more like a sister to me.
My middle daughter, Mandy, joined us in 2011 and became an invaluable member of our team (she's a pro at shooting details!) Bottom line is that the three of us covered for each other, assisted each other, encouraged each other and performed for each other– the latter of which made work a lot more fun than it oughta be.
We shot our last wedding as a team in 2013, and Ashley always said she was going to gather a collection of our crazy pics and do a blog post about them. But you know how it goes (plus, finding our outtakes in thousands and thousands of wedding photos is no small task.) But she finally got them to me so we could preserve the memory, and without further ado, here's a slice of our adventures.
Though we tried to avoid it, quite often we kept each other from getting clean shots. And we'd always rag on each other about it.
Over the years, we somehow fell in to a little game called, "photograph your partner's butt." We always said we were going to gather those images and post them someday. This is a very small representation of how we snuck up on each other. I'll never forget being in the front seat of a limo, taking photos of the bride and groom before they drove off, and realizing that Ashley and Mandy were outside shooting pictures of my ass.
This is just another level of "shoot your partner's butt." Except that it shows the lengths to which a wedding photographer is willing to go to get the perfect shot.
While setting up our makeshift photo booth, one or more of us had to sit while the other got the light just right. We often tired of just sitting there, so somewhere along the way we started posing and making crazy faces.
So often the finished product looks like an effortless shot, but it's often not. Besides trying to keep yourself out of the mirror when you're in 150 square feet with about 15-20 other women, there's lots of adjusting veils, bustles and trains. And sometimes I had a big advantage when shooting on the dance floor, since I'm six feet tall. Holding the camera over my head resulted in some pretty cool shots, but my arms and shoulders were always yelling at me the next day.
There comes a time in the wedding day when the photographers have to take the bull by the horns and get the couple to their reception. For me, the formal photos were probably the most stressful time of most of the weddings I shot. You may or may not be surprised by how many people want to run the show, telling us how to position people, where to take the pictures, and even suggesting shots that the bride and groom had already told us they did not want (i.e. divorced parents together, etc.) It's a difficult line to walk between graciousness and assertiveness.
One of my my favorite things about working with Ashley was watching her dance. When the event was almost over and we'd been taking pictures of the same 15 people for more than an hour, we'd slow down a bit. Inevitably, that's when Ashley would catch my eye and do her dance moves. At the end of a very long and exhausting stint, I reliably broke into raucous laughter, which gave me the second wind I so desperately needed. I never danced at weddings because A) I can't dance, and B) I didn't want pictures of me surfacing on a blog like this.
When this wedding was almost over, Mandy and Ashley took a break while I kept watch for last minute photo opportunities. When I came looking for them, this is what I found. They were around the corner lettin' it loose.
One of the many reasons we worked so well together is that we were always a team. It was never every girl for herself... we were constantly checking in. Sometimes we'd see it coming and pose or mug for the camera. Other times we were deer in headlights.
Though it was very hard work, we always, always managed to have some fun.
In digital photography circles, habitually looking at the screen on the back of your camera is called, "chimping." (The name reportedly came from photographers saying, "Ooh, Ooh! Look at this!") Chimping is a highly addictive habit.
When we were revamping our website, we convened at a wedding an hour earlier than we were scheduled to be there, in order to take photos of each other. None of these made it on the website, but they provide ample evidence that the three of us were not only like-minded, we were pretty close.
Believe it or not, there are many occupational hazards in the wedding photography business. You haven't lived until a drunk chick places her lit sparkler on your exposed arm (that happened to me only once, but I've been singed many a time.)
This sequence is brought to you by my being in the right place at the right time. I happened to catch Ashley falling on her butt while she was trying to photograph the bride and her mother from behind.
If I had a nickel for every time I nearly broke my neck tripping over a tiny kid that appeared out of nowhere, I'd be able to take you out for a large bowl of Amy's Ice Cream. With as many toppings as you wanted.
Now I'm not saying that this was the case with this videographer (though I don't really remember) but sometimes the tension between photographers and videographers is intense. Case in point: one videography company had three cameras swarming the bride and groom during the first dance, and did not leave any opening or room for us to get a shot without a video camera all up in their faces. We learned early on to firmly negotiate such situations. Sometimes it worked out, others you just had to work around them (which was super stressful.) P.S. This band was awesome.
This would be my face when looking at the three pages of "must-have" shots the bride and groom gave us. Single spaced, font size: 12. Here's a tip for people getting married: if you hold your photographer to an extensive shot list, they're going to miss a lot of what's going on, because they will always have their faces in the list.
This wasn't the case at this wedding, but at a previous ceremony at Old Glory Ranch (which was one of our regular gigs) there were a ton of decorations and candelabras and an eight piece string ensemble up front. I volunteered to be the "altar" shooter that day, but when I got up there there was literally no place to stand. I was wedged in between chairs and candles and tables and musicians, and could hardly extricate myself when the bride arrived. Did I mention that I'm not a small person? So after that I made Ashley be the altar shooter whenever I could. I said it was because she was shorter than me. She usually obliged.
File this under things you never thought you'd see at a wedding. Yes, those are pinatas. Yes, the guests (and the bride and groom) took a bat to them. It was kind of unsettling to see the bride and groom bashing away at their paper maché spouses.
File the next batch under "who the heck knows what was going on at the time?" I imagine the caption of the first one reads, "You're probably all wondering why I called you here today..."
When I'd stick the camera in Ashley's face she'd either ham it up or give me a "why-you-gotta-do-that" look. And she always returned the favor.
There came a time at most weddings where, in order to make it to the end, you had to get your game face on. That usually involved coffee and Rosie the Riveter poses.
But inevitably, the exhaustion set in. There are some great memories to be sure, but it's hell on the body.
Right before Christmas one year, we shot a wedding in Fredericksburg. We headed home about midnight (which was about a two-hour drive) and Ashley was determined to shoot a photo of us in front of the Johnson City Courthouse. I wasn't so gung-ho. I was tired, it was cold, and I wanted to go home. But she insisted and by the end of the mini-shoot of course I was smiling. (Side note: we spent another 15 minutes after this looking for a dropped memory card, because Ashley thought it had somehow fallen out of her bag. It hadn't -- she eventually found it later.)
I love this photo because it catches Ashley in an "Awwwww" moment.
Our prom pose. Yes, we meant to do that.
This was our last wedding together, which happened to be at Old Glory Ranch. We brought champagne and toasted our partnership, our wedding photography careers (we both retired after this) and our futures.