2018 marked my fourth year as a full time wedding photographer. This year was full of hard lessons, soul searching, and a lot of obscure opportunities for personal and professional growth. I lost my footing a few times, but now I finally feel like maybe I found my stride.
Coming out of a jam-packed 2017, I intentionally strived to carry a lighter load. I traveled more for my couples than I ever have before and we often spent multiple days together as their wedding day stories unfolded. You took me up and down the coast of California, to the tropical waters of Puerto Vallarta, and across the Atlantic to Italian paradise, just to name a few of those magical places.
2018 at a glance
27 intimate weddings & elopements
15 engagement, couples & portrait sessions
21 flights & 12 road trips
4 states & 2 countries
15 National & State Parks
I can safely call 2018 the rollercoaster year of highs and lows. Right in the middle of my busiest season, we had to surprise move out of our house. Then, a few weeks after getting settled in our new place, we lost my grandmother to terminal cancer. And two months after that, I got engaged to the love of my life. I struggled to balance work life with my personal life and was dealt an incredible amount of self-doubt along the way.
New Year, New Goals
Maybe it’s cliche to make new year’s resolutions, but I love a fresh start. I have some big plans for 2019…especially when it comes to balance. Every year, I cut back on the amount of couples I work with so I can invest more of my heart into each one of you. The longer I do this, the stronger I believe that wedding days should be an intimate affair, not impersonal. That includes the experience your photographer gives you. After all, the words “spread thin” and “intimate” do not get along with each other very well.
For 2019, I’m limiting myself to 2 weddings per month and no longer taking big weddings (100+ guests). This has been on my heart for awhile, but I’ll be diving deeper into my niche of intimate wedding and elopements. To all of my couples who I’ve already booked with for your big day, please know I am over the moon to be there for you. You are some of the lucky last few to close this chapter with me.
Like last year’s round up, I decided to structure this post to celebrate the realness of a wedding day. The image sequence is similar to how an actual day would unfold…and just made the most sense to me. I love that it highlights our differences, but more importantly, captures our shared humanity. Thank you with my whole heart to everyone who made this year exactly what it was.
Maria and Darren met me in Big Sur for an incredible day exploring the redwood forest and golden beaches of the Central Coast. It makes my heart so happy when my couples travel the extra mile and turn their engagement session into an experience they’ll never forget. Big Sur never fails to impress me or my couples with its magic atmosphere.
GOLDEN HOUR IN THE REDWOOD FOREST
After a scenic drive down Highway 1, we made it to one of my favorite redwood groves in time for golden hour. The winding trail led us to a grassy meadow, full of colorful blooming flowers and berries. We frolicked in the soft grass, then made our way down to the Big Sur River. Maria and Darren picked stones from the riverbed, laughing as they skipped across the water.
As the light waned, we chased rays of light poking their angel fingers through the forest canopy. We eventually came to a dirt path with a stunning background of redwoods. Maria and Darren were slightly ahead of me, unknowingly kicking up dust as they walked. The dust rose and subtly illuminated the rays, then disappeared in an instant. I beamed with excitement when I saw this.
I encouraged them to run up and down the trail together, kicking up as much dust as possible. My plan worked and the most magnificent rays I’ve ever seen lingered over our heads. We ended our forest exploration on a high note and headed for the coast.
We piled back into the car and headed north on Highway 1. I can personally attest that no turnout is a “bad” turnout on this drive. You’re greeted with something to “ooh” and “ahh” over around every turn. Maria and Darren changed outfits in the car, then we stopped at a random turn out with a great view of the Point Sur Lighthouse.
The wind was insane compared to the calm in the forest. It ripped at our hair and our clothes as we stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the water. We grabbed some scenic shots, then sprinted back across the road to the safety of the car.
Since Maria and Darren were newbies to Big Sur, I thought a stop at Bixby Bridge seemed appropriate. The iconic bridge is always crowded with tourists in the summer time and the lot was overflowing. A gut impulse beckoned me to keep driving down the dirt road. The narrow mountain road came to a turn and gave us a beautiful view of Bixby from a distance. It might even be my new favorite way to experience this landmark.
SUNSET ALONG THE CALIFORNIA COAST
By now, the light was peaking along the coast. Our last stop of the evening was the hidden lily valley and sandy beach of Garrapata. The sunset light cast a warm orange hue over the coastline and rolling waves. Maria’s white dress billowed behind her as we ran up and down the sandy beach. We had the entire place to ourselves.
We were giddy over the beautiful landscapes and perfect weather for their session. It was hard to leave the beach as the light faded, but grumbling bellies and tired legs finally pulled us away.
Reflecting back on this day makes me so happy. I am over the moon to photograph Maria & Darren’s wedding in just a few short days! Congrats you two, can’t wait to create more magic together!
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.
Gina & Robbie’s intimate holiday wedding at the Franciscan Gardens was elegant and full of all kinds of festive touches. A week earlier, these two officially tied the knot at their church, accompanied by their immediate families. The bigger celebration fell the day right after Thanksgiving. We were all feeling the love at this romantic hideaway in the heart of San Juan Capistrano.
PORTRAITS AT MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
The ladies got ready by the coast at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott while the guys dressed in the parlor back at the venue. The entire wedding party dressed in classic, all black attire. Gina wore a gorgeous two-piece Hayley Paige dress and Robbie chose an all black suit from Friar Tux.
We all planned to meet at Mission San Juan Capistrano before the ceremony for Gina and Robbie’s first look. With the bridesmaid’s bouquets in hand, the groomsmen marched up the street to the Mission. All the ladies arrived by limo a short time after.
Robbie waited for Gina with his back turned, right in front of the ruins of the Great Stone Church. When she tapped him on the shoulder, his expression was of pure adoration. It might be one of my favorite moments to recount from this day.
Back at Franciscan Gardens, soft notes from the harp drifted around the garden as guests took their seats. Delicately placed candles lined the aisle, framing the beautiful ceremony arch adorned with Magnolia leaves. Robbie made his way down the aisle first and cast his gaze toward the gates hiding Gina. When the doors opened, I swear you would never know it was Robbie’s second time seeing his bride.
Their priest, Father John Weiling, also officiated Gina’s parents wedding. Mid-ceremony, Father John led Robbie in a sweet serenade to Gina. When everyone lifted their hands in prayer, Robbie couldn’t help but sneak another peek at Gina. And as soon as they were announced as husband and wife, both of them couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear.
HOLIDAY WEDDING RECEPTION
As guests mingled at cocktail hour, the vendor team flipped the ceremony space for dinner. We took the opportunity to slip away for another round of portraits at Mission San Juan Capistrano.
The market lights and paper lanterns created the most beautiful atmosphere for the reception. Each table featured a festive wreath centerpiece and chocolate chip cookies for guests. Gina’s brother built a wood board for the escort cards, decorated with hand-painted magnolia leaves with everyone’s names.
The beautiful and emotional toasts from family and friends made this feel even more like an intimate holiday dinner. I’m pretty sure their first dance and parent dances didn’t leave a dry eye in the room either. Later at the reception, Gina surprised Robbie with a Raider’s themed wedding cake. And then Gina’s mom surprised BOTH of them with a Rolls Royce get away car!
I loved every part of this wedding and I hope you loved re-living it with me too. (Especially since this day happens to be their anniversary!) Congrats Gina & Robbie!
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!