I met Dianna and Chris on a golden afternoon last December for their Sunset Cliffs engagement in Ocean Beach. I travel a lot for work and sometimes forget how much beauty there is right here in my own backyard! It’s easily one of my favorite beaches in Southern California and made the perfect backdrop for their session.
If you’ve never been, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is particularly epic in the winter time. First of all, winter sunsets on the coast are unreal. The tide is low enough in the evening to expose the beautiful tide pools that are usually covered up. Not to mention the beaches are clear of tourists this time of year! In fact, our timing couldn’t have been better since Dianna and Chris were already in town for her holiday work party. We scheduled their golden hour engagement session right before the party started.
Exploring Sunset Cliffs
To kick things off, we met on the less crowded south end of the park and hiked one of the back trails. After a little scrambling through the brush, we found a clearing on the bluff that we had all to ourselves. The view of the water was spectacular. We also had front row seats to watch surfers paddle out from the rocks below.
As the light began to wane, we made our way back to the stairs and down to the tide pools. This is the area of the cliffs everyone always clusters around to watch the sun set (and for good reason). A haze settled on the horizon, casting a reddish glow on the sun as it lingered above the ocean. As we dodged tiny puddles of water, the sky lit up in shades of cotton candy all around us. To finish off our session, we clambered back to the top to wave good bye to the sun.
I’m incredibly excited to shoot Dianna & Chris’s intimate forest wedding in Big Sur next week! Congratulations you two, thanks for braving the cliffs with me.
Dania and Trent’s destination engagement session at Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon in Page made all my desert dreams come true. I was itching to get back to this rural town in Northern Arizona ever since our Grand Canyon road trip in 2016. These two drove all the way from Yuma to meet us that afternoon.
Dania booked our private tour through Upper Antelope Canyon well in advance. We met in front of the tour office and piled into our guide’s SUV together. After a short, bumpy ride, we pulled up to the entrance of the slot canyon. All of the parked caravans made me feel like we were about to embark on an Indiana Jones adventure! Dania dawned a bright red dress for our session, which looked awesome in contrast to the surreal desert landscape.
These images are a little deceiving because the canyon was packed with tourists that afternoon. Luckily, booking a private photo tour meant we had time to ourselves in each chamber. The canyon grew darker and darker as we made our way through the winding tunnels. I had no choice but to bump my ISO way up for this set of images. But I actually love how much drama the moody light and grain created! We spent an hour or so wandering through the slots before making our way back into town.
We took a break for lunch and met up again for golden hour at Horseshoe Bend. The view was even more spectacular than I remembered. To bypass the heaviest foot traffic, we explored the outer edges of the bend. Vertigo doesn’t scare Dania and Trent the same way it scares me! They cozied up to the edge of the cliff more than a few times.
As the sun set over the mountains, the rocks around Horseshoe Bend glowed red. We stayed out until moonrise, then slowly hiked our way back to the car. It was the perfect way to wrap up our epic adventure.
This trip couldn’t have had better timing, considering the traumatic events that happened on October 1. Andrew and I planned to cut our road trip in half by flying out to Las Vegas the day before, then driving to Page through the night. Our plane landed in a somber Vegas the day after the Mandalay Bay shooting. Our favorite artist, Tom Petty, also passed away that evening. We listened to the Heartbreakers on repeat that night as we tried to take it all in. I thought this song set the mood of this session perfectly. This one goes out to you, Tom.
Last fall, I traveled to San Francisco to document Hannah & Nick’s intimate wedding in the Muir Woods. These two came all the way from Missouri to exchange vows under the towering California redwoods. With only 13 of their closest family members and friends in attendance, it was a day to remember.
Muir Beach Preparation
Hannah and Nick rented two Airbnbs along Muir Beach to host everyone. That morning, the skies were overcast and a thick marine layer hung over the ocean. Hannah and Nick prepared for the day in separate houses, anticipating their private (and epic) first look by the coast.
Nick arrived at Muir Beach Overlook first and waited for Hannah at the furthest point. The wind pulled at Hannah’s hair and billowed out her dress as she made her way down the steps to Nick. He lost it as soon as she tapped him on the shoulder. Behind them, you can make out the etched words “Grateful for Everything” carved into the fence post (nailed it). We took a few more intimate portraits along the bluffs, then headed into the woods.
Intimate Muir Woods Ceremony
As we walked up to the entrance of the Muir Woods, Hannah and Nick’s family greeted us enthusiastically. Their officiant, Rick, led us down the winding wood path into the Cathedral Grove. We chose the most magnificent hollowed-out redwood to be their altar. With all of us circled around them and the giant redwoods looming above us, Hannah and Nick were wed.
After the ceremony, we took a few group shots before excusing everyone to cocktail hour. We spent the next hour wandering into the depths of the woods for their couple portraits. Hannah and Nick passed a heart-shaped flask to each other full of vodka to settle their nerves. They couldn’t stop giggling whenever they caught the other’s eyes.
Everyone clapped when Hannah and Nick made their entrance back at the beach house. We all grabbed a drink and headed down to Muir Beach to share a toast in the fading light. In lieu of a sunset, the sky slowly transitioned from grey to blue. Despite the moody atmosphere, this day was light-hearted and chalk full of joyful moments.
Hannah & Nick- Thank you for welcoming me and Andrew into your tribe. We are so happy for you and honored we got to be a part of this day!
Last summer, Maya and Denzel hosted their bohemian, Hawaiian-inspired wedding overlooking the San Diego harbor. Maya and Denzel met in the Air Force Academy and were still attending school together in Colorado while planning their wedding. Maya’s parents live in San Diego and played a huge role in the planning process. Her dad was the one who scouted out the perfect venue for them in Point Loma.
The forecast threatened rain, but by some miracle, the clouds held out for us. Instead, the bay was transformed into a foggy wonderland that created an extra enchanting atmosphere. It was perfect weather and you could just make out the tiny city skyline over the water. Boats of all shapes and sizes sailed by that afternoon.
Maya and Denzel opted to forego a first look in favor of tradition. As an alternative, we snuck them into an empty room where they stood back to back and prayed together. As a result, the build up to that first look moment down the aisle was pure electricity. Denzel’s reaction to seeing Maya ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole house.
After an emotional ceremony, we snuck off to Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma for their couple portraits. In stark contrast to the grey clouds hanging over the venue, the cliffs were drenched in gold. On an edge overlooking the sea, Maya and Denzel raised their arms to the wind. You could feel their joy pulse and radiate. We didn’t have much time, but it was enough. The party awaited.
As a nod to Maya’s Hawaiian roots, their wedding day was infused with little island twists. Maya rocked a bohemian lace gown from Dreamers and Lovers. Her aunts created beautiful arrangements of greenery for the ceremony and reception spaces. Maya’s dad dawned a lei and Maya wore a haku following the ceremony. Chocolate macadamias were given to every guest as a wedding favor. And during the reception, one of Maya’s bridesmaids surprised us all with a traditional hula dance.
Scroll on for some of my favorite imagery from this day, accompanied by insight from Maya herself. Congrats you two. This song “Soulmates” is about your love in a nutshell.
“I was randomly searching for bohemian wedding dresses one day (instead of doing homework) when I found Dreamers and Lovers’ website. I immediately knew I wanted to try on some of their pieces when I got home to California. The dress I had been eyeing for a few months ended up being the one I chose for the wedding. It was a lace with long-sleeves and an open back that was very light and simple-kind of like me! I wore an heirloom that my Aunt gave to me when we were getting ready in the dressing room. It was my grandmother’s ring. She passed away three years ago and I was so grateful to have a piece of her with me.”
“I loved doing a first look with my dad. I’m such a daddy’s girl and we both cried like babies. He was such a presence of peace when I started getting anxious before the ceremony. ”
“To honor his father, Denzel walked down the aisle with one of his jackets. We left a seat open next to his mom so he could hang the jacket on the back of the chair during the ceremony. One of my favorite moments of the day was seeing Denzel for the first time from down the aisle. Looking through the images still makes me emotional. I’ll never forget that feeling of walking up to the rest of my life with so much gratitude and confidence.”
“Denzel and I took communion in the middle of our ceremony as a way of submitting our marriage to God. Another tradition our officiate suggested was to name three things we loved about one another during the ceremony. It was the first time we heard what the other person wrote and it was a really sweet moment for both of us.”
“Our wedding theme was bohemian chic with a Hawaiian twist. Our colors were blue, grey, and tan. Denzel’s suit was blue, his groomsmen wore grey, and my bridesmaids wore different shades of tan in mismatched styles.”
“I didn’t wear a veil…it never really fit with me for some reason. Instead, I wore a haku for our couple portraits and the reception.” (Hawaiian word for flower crown)
Denzel: “Her strengths are my weaknesses. She helps me better myself in areas I struggle. Her weaknesses remind me that our spirits complete each other for God’s glory. Maya’s heart is pure and honest. She loves unconditionally. I can be vulnerable and intimate with her because of her open love for me. Her grace when I fail reminds me of God’s complete grace. He gives me over my life.”
Maya: “I think Denzel’s humor is probably one of the most contagious things I’ve ever experienced. Laughing with him is one my favorite things to do. When I’m with him, I feel like I was created to find joy in unexpected places. Denzel just gets me when no one else does. He understands what I’m really trying to say, the stuff underneath all of the words. He’s patient in figuring out what my heart is actually feeling (no matter how long it takes). I also admire Denzel’s pursuit of Jesus. Throughout his journey, he’s been the first to share his weaknesses with others. I find safety in knowing I’ve found a man who can lead me closer to God from a place of grace and humility.”
“My parents visited the venue a few times to sample the food a few months in advance so we could get a feel of what was good. We went with a simple menu–a couple meats paired with simple sides and wine. We were able to do an hour of free wine and beer and called it the “Hour of Power.” We thought our friends from school would appreciate it!”
“My aunts created all of our floral arrangements for the bouquets, boutonnieres, and the head reception table. They decorated each guest table with lots of greenery and tucked little pieces of baby’s breath into all of the napkins. My mom, aunt, and cousin stuffed Hawaiian macadamia chocolate in cute little burlap bags as wedding favors. My neighbor, Sharon, baked our blue marble cake and all of the other deserts for the sweet table. There was a donut wall, cookies, and peach cobbler. We also set up a remembrance table for Denzel’s father.”
“Denzel and I wanted to have a fun wedding. Good food, good drinks, good people, and a lot of dancing! We really enjoyed coming out with our bridal party at the beginning of the reception. All of us started feeding off of each other’s energy before we hit the dance floor and the pictures prove it!”
“For our last dance, one of our slightly intoxicated friends decided to lift up a lit candle. Pretty soon everyone had a candle in their hand. We both really loved the idea because people still had them out when we made our grand exit through a tunnel of light! It was LIT!”
“Remember to invest more into your marriage than your wedding day. The last week before the wedding got a little hectic, as usual, but you will forget all of that when the big day comes. Choose to embrace the things you can’t control and do your best with what you have! Something that was really important to us was documenting our wedding, which Paige and Jamie blew out the water. Not only did they capture special moments, they did it in a way that made Denzel and I comfortable in our own skin.”
We almost postponed Olivia & Ricky’s desert engagement last May because of high heat warnings. After some back and forth discussion, we decided to brave the conditions anyway and met in Joshua Tree National Park. Sort of unsurprisingly, the park decided to greet us with perfect spring weather. Shame on you, weather man.
The golden light began to peek around the valley as we piled into the car together. Our first stop was the massive granite boulders right off the main road. From there, we ventured deep into rocky crevices and stumbled across some late blooming aloe vera plants. The sun beaming through the rocks cast a beautiful halo on everything it touched. In that fleeting moment of beauty…I received my first Joshua Tree bug bite. Ouch.
We hopped back in the car and sped towards the rolling fields of wheat in the center of the park. The light wasn’t going to wait on us, so we casually sprinted to the closest Joshua Tree. We only had time for a few stolen dance moves before the sun dipped behind the mountains.
Our last pit stop of the evening was Keys View, the iconic scenic vista overlooking the Coachella Valley. Somehow, we made it just in time to watch the heaven’s glorious sunset finale. The rainbow sherbert sky moved this desert engagement up a few notches in my book. We watched in awe as the bright sky transcended into dusk, illuminating the city lights below. I kept shooting until there was no more light to shoot in. Now that’s how you end an engagement session on a high note.
Where did 2017 go? Here we are, one week into the new year already. 2017 was a tumultuous year, to say the least, and I think we are all relieved to close that chapter for a fresh start. I rode my own highs and lows, but going through these images reminded me of how much good and love there still is in this world, despite the ugliness that dominates the news.
This summer will mark three years of running my photography business full time. It took a huge leap of faith and overcoming a whole lot of self doubt to get to this point. Looking back at how far I’ve come since then is incredibly humbling and mind-blowing. I shot the most weddings and couples sessions of my career and traveled to some gorgeous places in the name of love. This year my work took me all along the California coastline, to the surreal red rocks of the Southwest, deep into the redwood forests, and across international borders to the sandy beaches of Mexico.
2017 at a glance
34 intimate weddings & elopements
43 engagement, couples & portrait sessions
9 flights & 5 road trips
4 states & 1 country
13 National & State Parks
I owe so much to the couples who trusted in me to document their special days. For all of you reading right now, thank you infinitely for allowing me into your lives to capture your love. Thank you for revealing your truest selves and valuing the art as much as this human behind the lens. Foraging new friendships and being a part of your story is the most rewarding part of wedding photography. There is something to learn from each one of you and every type of wedding day I’ve experienced has taught me how to be a better storyteller…and a better person. Without you, none of this would be possible.
My first cull of the archive left me with more than 300 photos…an accomplishment in itself but way too many for this post. As I went through them again, the photos that jumped out at me were those moments suspended in mid-air. Those fleeting, blink-and-its-over-kind-of moments rich with emotion, spontaneity, and silliness. To me, those are the most powerful images that trump even the most epic landscapes.
This is a collection of images that celebrate the realness of a wedding day. From early morning preparation to late night dance parties, I organized this post based on how an actual day would unfold. It highlights some of our differences, but more importantly, our shared humanity. Sit back, hit play, and enjoy. I would love if you shared your thoughts in the comments!
Jem and Peter’s summer camp wedding at Leonard Lake Reserve is one for the books. The Reserve encompasses a whopping 4,000 acres of land and boasts the largest lake in Mendocino County. Ancient redwood groves and fir trees surround the property, providing shelter to several species of wildlife. Jem and Peter’s 60 guests enjoyed exclusive access to all of the outdoor goodness for the entire weekend.
Their wedding day was so authentic to their relationship. Low key and no frills. They wanted the scenery at Leonard Lake to be the statement of their “decor” and for their family and friends to have a helping hand in putting on the event.
During our stay, we had several encounters with the local wildlife. A rattlesnake lunged for our ankles on a hike, a fox snatched the campfire marshmallows, and Peter’s dad unintentionally baited a small mouth bass with his nipple. And let’s not forget about the daily mosquito spray down parties. This was definitely a weekend to remember.
SUMMER CAMP SHENANIGANS
In true summer camp fashion, we were all assigned cabins to share. Jem and Peter opted for more privacy in one of the tents down by the lake. Andrew and I settled into the living room of the big Knoll House, featuring epic diamond windows.
Most of the guests arrived Friday evening to settle in and enjoy lakeside activities. We joined everyone for a welcome BBQ and sangria at the picnic tables. That night, we roasted marshmallows over the campfire and laid back to enjoy the stars. We crashed early, exhausted after a long day of travel, but it’s rumored there were quite a few late night skinny dippers.
In the morning, we took the canoe out before camp woke up. The water was still and beautiful, with only the ripples of our boat disturbing it. As the sun rose, more guests ventured down to the dock to enjoy the lake before the wedding festivities began.
Everyone had something to accomplish that afternoon. Peter’s aunts baked fresh fruit pies for dessert in lieu of cake. Two ladies took a canoe out to clip water lilies, as a team in the kitchen built artisan charcuterie boards for lunch. Meanwhile, Jem foraged fern leaves to spruce up the picnic tables and family members pieced together flowers for bouquets.
WEDDING DAY FESTIVITIES
Jem was ready for the day quickly and effortlessly. She dawned a delicate tiara from a past trip to Thailand and a whimsical blush dress that billowed out with every step. Peter wore a complimentary red suit with the coolest feather bowtie. Peter swung her round and round when he saw her for the first time. Together they looked flawless.
The two exchanged vows under a canopy of trees near the lake, with Peter’s step father officiating the ceremony. Afterward, Christy, took us up the hill for portraits in the Cathedral redwood grove. Jem slipped into her second dress while guests enjoyed cocktails under the market lights. Her mother found the dress at a small boutique on her way to the opera with her dad. After toasts, we snuck down to the dock to soak up the last of the light for portraits.
Three dance songs were scribbled on a napkin, but Spotify was the DJ for the evening. Everyone danced under the stars in complete merriment through the night…followed by more skinny dipping.
As a closing thought, all I can think to say is: Peter and Jem, you are truly better together. Congrats to you and thanks for the memories!
Haley and Andy reached out to me a few weeks before their lakeside elopement in Big Bear. These two crazy kids met on a motorcycle ride with friends. Everyone except Haley had a fast bike and she struggled to keep up with the pack. Andy hung back to make sure she didn’t get lost…the rest is history. Instead of spending their money on a big wedding, they opted to buy new motorcycles instead. A few days after the elopement, they rode their bikes up the coast to Vancouver to celebrate their honeymoon.
It drizzled in the mountains that afternoon during my drive. Haley prepped for the day with help from her mom and aunt in the Enchanted Forest suite of Castle Wood Cottages. This quirky room is complete with an indoor oak tree, twinkle lights, a grotto, and an elves’ house; a nod to Haley and Andy’s shared sense of humor. All jokes aside, this room is beautiful in its own unique way.
Haley’s monarch butterfly crown was one of the most unique accessories I’ve ever seen a bride wear. The structured bodice and floral lace of her bohemian Rue de Seine gown tied her look together. She fit right in with the Enchanted Forest and played the role of princess bride perfectly.
Andy caught his first glimpse of Haley in a secluded meadow by the lake. They shared a private moment together before Heidi, their officiant, met us in the clearing. She started their ceremony with the Celtic hand fasting tradition. With arms extended, Heidi led them through the steps of tying the ribbon without letting go. Tears flowed freely when they exchanged vows. A few onlookers watched from a distance, but Haley and Andy were in their own bubble.
When the light left the meadow, we all hopped in the car to scout a new photo location. We stopped when we came across a rocky outcrop that partially extended into the lake. The lake reflected every color of the vibrant sunset that evening and the moon danced across the water. To wrap up a perfect day, Haley and Andy shared a private meal under the twinkle lights at Evergreen.
Last month they hosted a small reception for their family and friends at Booze Brothers in San Diego. They are such a fun couple and I know we will remain good friends. Thanks again for allowing me to be a part of your special day and congrats again!
No wedding day is quite as special to me as an intimate wedding in nature, and Hannah and Rocky’s day at Henry Cowell Redwoods in Santa Cruz was no exception. Their wedding was centered on intimacy, simplicity, and the true meaning of marriage.
While in the infant stages of planning a larger, more traditional wedding, Hannah and Rocky stumbled across Kaitlyn and Matt’s intimate Big Sur wedding. After browsing through the images, they fell in love with the raw intimacy surrounding a smaller celebration. They tabled their original idea and decided to invite only their closest friends and family as witnesses.
We started planning their day in Big Sur, but Mother Nature threw a wrench in our plans. The landslides and bridge closure from the winter storms forced us to relocate less than two months away. I sent them an alternative list of forests in Santa Cruz and they settled on Henry Cowell Redwoods. It wouldn’t have mattered much to them what forest they married in, so long as they were surrounded by beauty and loving company.
I met Hannah and Rocky the day before their wedding to tour the forest together. They showed me some of their favorite scenic spots off the trails, as well as the special clearing they chose for their ceremony. We spent the rest of the afternoon lost in the trees trying to track down the elusive Garden of Eden. After more than an hour of searching, we finally found the way down to the watering hole.
Later that evening, we met up again at Allegro in the Carmel Barnyard for their rehearsal dinner. Hannah and Rocky’s family charmed my socks off, warmly welcoming me into their group with open arms. We enjoyed wine on the balcony, listened to some heart warming speeches and feasted on delicious Italian food.
INTIMATE WEDDING DAY
On the day of the wedding, I made a pit stop at Rocky’s family home in Carmel where the guys were getting ready. When I arrived, they shared some heartfelt words around the table and a prayer over breakfast. Rocky opened Hannah’s letter and gift- a beautiful watch to go with his suit. His reaction was so sweet, I think everyone let out an audible “awe” all at once.
The girls were in a charming barn-like Airbnb in Aptos, close to Henry Cowell. Hannah opened Rocky’s gift- a dainty pearl necklace that complimented her dress perfectly. The girls huddled around Hannah afterward and prayed over her…I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.
We met up a few hours later at a clearing in the park for their first look, one of Hannah and Rocky’s most anticipated moments of the day. The guests waited for us at the main park entrance and we all walked to the ceremony site together. Rocky’s mom pinned on boutonnieres while their friends scattered petals to line the aisle. With her brother softly strumming the guitar, Hannah and her dad made their way up to the altar. In the middle of exchanging vows, a nearby giant split from its roots and came crashing down. The sound of it was like thunder ripping through the sky- an incredible sound I won’t be forgetting soon.
We temporarily parted ways with their guests after the ceremony to soak up the sparkly forest light for portraits. My favorite moment of the day was when we spotted these finger-like rays of light beaming from around the trees. I put on Iron and Wine’s cover of “Time after Time” while Hannah and Rocky practiced their first dance. On the way back to the entrance, a deer came charging through the brush and leaped over the wooden fence just feet away from us.
After the sun had set, we made our way over to the reception dinner at Casa Nostra. The rest of the night was filled with laughter, the best Italian food, and dancing. I couldn’t imagine this day ending any more perfectly. Congrats Hannah and Rocky!
In Hannah’s words: “We loved being able to spend our day with each other and the closest people in our lives. There is something magical about walking through the woods on your wedding day that we really can’t explain.
We ended up hosting receptions for both of our families after we got back from our honeymoon. This allowed us to spend quality time with even more people we love than we could have on our actual wedding day. If you’re thinking about having an intimate wedding, we highly recommend it.”