January 18, 2021
I mean honestly, is anyone sad to see 2020 go?? Not this girl.
This past year, despite its extreme highs and lows, held many silver linings. If for nothing else, I can thank 2020 for reintroducing me to the importance of my role documenting milestones for my couples. I’ve long held the belief that my #1 job as a photographer is to capturing moments and memories. I want my couples to look back on the images we capture 20+ years from now and be able to relive every detail of the moment.
But in 2020, that role amplified when I realized that my role not only memorializes milestones for my clients, but it also helps their friends & family experience these moments – sometimes for the first time. I found myself feeling a different level of responsibility for my couples and their loved ones.
As the year progressed, I started to notice small differences in my photography. I began focusing more on the raw and real in front of my camera, and less on portfolio-worthy staged images. Certainly, I still captured plenty of portfolio-worthy beauty with my couples, but I found those raw candid moments inspiring me more than I ever expected.
In celebration of the especially unique moments captured at 2020 weddings, for the first year ever, I’ve decided to compile my favorite images from the year. This isn’t meant to be a braggadocios “ooh look what I’ve done” kind of post, though. That’s boring. Instead, I wanted to share some of my favorite images from 2020 alongside stories and lessons from the year. This is a reflection of one crazy roller coaster of a year, and a celebration of the couples that I was lucky enough to serve throughout it.
So, read on and enjoy!
Alden & Brad are the ultimate example of what a small group of dedicated family and vendors can accomplish in just a few short hours! You may recall that they pushed up their wedding by 6 days to be able to get married before the nationwide lockdown in March. Their wedding day was quickly pared down from the country club affair they’d planned to an intimate living room elopement.
But don’t for a second assume this wasn’t a beautiful elegant celebration! Their families and vendors all came together to create a beautiful wedding in a matter of hours: Bittersweet Floral NAILED IT with their quick turnaround of some beautiful floral pieces. Alden’s gown was simply stunning and handled the drive from Lawrence to St. Paul without any wrinkles. McLain’s Bakery rapidly baked their original cakes in the pinch!
To get ready, Alden, her sister, and her mom each took turns helping each other with hair and makeup. Even though these images aren’t technically the best captured that day they’re some of my most favorites because they tell so much of the story of the early weeks of the pandemic.
2020 seemed like the Year of Puppies participating in both engagement and wedding photos, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it! Anytime a couple asks me if their pup can be in their photos I basically require it now 🙂
Rachel & Ben brought along young Fritz to be a part of their engagement session this past summer. This good boy was model ready and so eager to celebrate with his humans. Towards the end of the session little Fritz’s energy began to lag, but he still tried his darnedest to stay photogenic for the camera!
Lauren & Luke were another couple that had to make drastic changes to their original plan once they realized they weren’t outside the clutches of the pandemic. Instead of an opulent east coast affair, they opted for an intimate hometown celebration in Kansas City.
When redeveloping their photography plan, I was determined to give Lauren & Luke the same style of images that they would have received with their original east coast location. And I was so pleased that we could find certain places nestled around Kansas City that create the same overall aesthetic!
During the reception toasts, we were all reminded of the true reason for this celebration when Luke gave the most moving speech to his new wife. It’s tender moments like these that remind me what an honor it is to document such intimate moments for my couples.
By May, two months into the lockdown, Events by Elle and I were definitely getting stir crazy. Neither of us had had the chance to really scratch our creativity itches in months! So we hatched a plan to create a pampered (think: hair & makeup, attire, champagne, AND a vintage car!) engagement experience for one lucky couple in Kansas City.
Megan & Mike were the winners of our contest, and we could not have asked for a more deserving couple! Not only are they genuinely kind people, but they had an absolute blast at their session! I’ll appreciate anyone who will lean this far into a champagne toast with a vintage Bentley behind them 🙂
You know how all of these stories are my favorite moments from 2020? Well this one just might be my favorite favorite.
In early May, I drove up to Des Moines, Iowa, to capture Molly & Nicholas‘s backyard wedding. These two took back control of their wedding from the pandemic, and made the day uniquely their own. Their ceremony and reception were held in Molly’s beautiful childhood backyard. Neighbors and family friends surprised the couple with decorations. Nicholas’s best man arrived at midnight the night before the be there for his best friend. A car parade of guests cheered on the couple after they said “I do”.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But the very best part? Molly & Nicholas held their first dance on the steps of the Iowa State Capitol building. Halfway through, the song stopped playing, but Nicholas kept the moment alive by singing the words to his bride. There was not a dry eye on those steps, myself included.⠀
In April, I was itching to have something beautiful to photograph. Thankfully, I was able to get my hands on a wholesale floral account. Not thankfully, I decided to wield this new power to purchase literally hundreds of dollars of fresh blooms to style and photograph in the comfort and safety of my own home. But the result was life-giving, so I guess my budget can’t be too upset, right?
Kayla & Austin’s March wedding day just barely happened right before the shutdown. In mid-March, venues started cutting guest counts to 100 people. Then 50 people. Then 10 people. Kayla & Austin were determined to still get married on their wedding day, no matter what the celebration looked like. The images below are from their ceremony (before masks were mandated). Over 150 friends & family should have been filling these seats, but instead they had to watch live from the Facebook video Kayla’s sister filmed.
During Kayla & Austin’s first look, Kayla made sure to include a stuffed Pooh bear with its own little bouquet of flowers. Afterwards, I asked Kayla what the significance of the bear was. She told me that it’d been a gift from her late father, and this was their way of including him in the celebration. I love that Kayla & Austin were able to take special moments throughout the day to honor those that were celebrating in spirit.
“Don’t worry about all of the things that are out of your control.”
– sage advice from Kayla & Austin
Before Macy & Alex‘s actual wedding ceremony, they made sure to carve out time for something truly personal. After all the family formal portraits, the wedding party pictures, and their own portraits, they carved out time to take a moment for just the two of them on their wedding day. During this time, they read each other’s vows.
I love when couples reserve this ritual for themselves on their wedding day. Your wedding vows are promises to each other, and they don’t necessarily need to be shared with anyone else, even your wedding guests. Private moments like these are a true honor to capture because they feel more personal and intimate than any other images captured on a wedding day.
“We loved that we wrote our vows and shared them together before the ceremony with just the two of us. The day went by so fast and having that moment where we could stop and take a moment to share that together was very special for us.”
– sage advice from Macy & Alex
Ashlyn & Joe‘s wedding was a true honor to photograph for myriad reasons. Ashlyn and I have a serendipitous past (we met in the Galapagos, of all places). At the time, my photography business was still relatively new. I was still working full-time in corporate land, and the desire to take my own business full-time was still a secret I kept in my heart.
Ashlyn herself was going through many transitions of her own, including rediscovering Catholicism. And Joe wasn’t even on her radar. A person instrumental in this particular transition for Ashlyn was the very priest that would someday perform Ashlyn & Joe’s marriage ceremony. Because of the deep connections these three shared, their ceremony – especially the homily – was all the more personal and meaningful.
“First, keep a checklist for each month of planning. And during the last two weeks, allocate tasks to each day to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed.”
– sage advice from Ashlyn & Joe
Diana & Randy‘s July wedding day almost didn’t get to happen! As the world moved deeper into the pandemic, events in Kansas City slowly began to reopen, giving everyone a glimmer of hope. Mere days before their wedding day, the city shut down again.
Diana & Randy quickly pivoted, deciding to keep their focus on their marriage. Their wedding day was still as beautiful as any, even with a pared down guest list. And that didn’t stop little Louie from being a guest of honor for portrait time 🙂
“We would encourage couples to focus on themselves and what they want. It’s your day, so make it what you — not everyone else — wants.”
– sage advice from Diana & Randy
Meet the Gunderson sisters! These two sisters (and their now-fiancés!) are incredibly special to me. I first met the Gundersons years ago when I photographed family portraits for them. They’ll forever hold a special place in my heart because they were one of the first families I photographed!
Fast forward to April 2020, when Karleigh messaged me about photographing her sister’s surprise proposal. You can only imagine how excited I was about this, especially considering the turmoil of the wedding industry at the time. Kellyanne & Kevin’s proposal went beautifully, thanks to Kevin and Karleigh’s careful planning. It was such a bright spot in the 2020 spring!
Fast forward a few more months and now both Kellyanne AND Karleigh are engaged and I get to be a part of BOTH of their celebrations! I captured Kellyanne & Kevin‘s official engagement portraits in the fall (hello gorgeous leaves!) and Karleigh & Alex’s portraits in January 2021 (so you’ll have to wait for my favorite moments with them 🙂 ).
I’m so grateful for the chances to capture even more milestones for this wonderful family. I can’t wait for all of the fun I’ll have with this crew in 2021!
Taylor & Nick got married on the coveted 10.10.20 wedding date. Surprisingly, our paths did not cross until the summer of 2020. Their original photographer could no longer be a part of their wedding day, and I have to say that I greedily jumped at the chance to work with these two when I first met them.
Taylor & Nick’s wedding day was an elegant dream come true. I am so so thrilled that they were able to have their celebration, even among so much chaos on the world. It was a true bright spot to our fall!
Anamarie & David‘s May engagement session was one of the very first sessions I got to do after the reopening this past spring. Every time I think about our time together, three words immediately come to mind: beauty, adventure, mud.
Anamarie & David wanted their engagement photos captured out in the woodsy countryside of Kansas. Sounds beautiful, right? They were even making a little weekend getaway of it, renting a little treehouse cabin on the property. In the days (hours!) leading up to their session, buckets of rain came down, covering everything in soggy mud. But that couldn’t stop these two adventuresome spirits! Anamarie & David quickly adapted, packing muck boots to wear in between photo stops, and even bringing along a discrete piece of wood to stand on so Anamarie’s heels wouldn’t sink into the mud!
I loved how much these two embraced the added obstacles that Mother Nature brought to their engagement session. I certainly won’t forget it for awhile!
I have to tip my hat to Bri & Michael. Their August wedding day was in the middle of the second wave of city-wide shutdowns, which meant that in the weeks leading up to their wedding day they were developing options B through E to figure out how they could safely hold their celebration. And when all was said and done, their wedding day was still exceptionally elegant, meaningful, fun, and true to them. (I’m not sure which plan we landed on, though, and it doesn’t matter!)
One of my favorite aspects of Bri & Michael’s wedding day was that Bri got ready at her parents’ home. I always find this decision to feel extra personal and relaxed. Bri’s mom has this giant mirror in their entryway that was the perfect place to capture a quick portrait of Bri after her first look with her bridesmaids. I later found out that Bri’s parents use this mirror as a “final check” spot before they head out. I love that Bri got her “final check” in this mirror in her wedding gown!
“Remember the reason why you are getting married…YOUR LOVE! It can be overwhelming with all the decisions and complications that can come up during wedding planning. Remember to always keep focus on the commitment you are making to one another. It is such a powerful thing!”
– sage advice from Bri & Michael
Diana & Randy’s spring engagement session also almost didn’t happen! (I hope this is the end of this pattern for these two.)
A massive thunderstorm was rolling towards Kansas City on the scheduled day of their session. We’d already had to postpone their session a few times due to COVID, and we were determined to make this date work. Hours before their session we were texting back and forth to try to guess the safest window when we could have their session.
Thankfully, the rains held off and we were able to capture some truly beautiful portraits! But we were just in time – the storm started literally as we were pulling out of the parking lot to head home!
In July, I had the opportunity to photograph an editorial wedding shoot at Rust Manor House outside of Washington, DC. I went back and forth about whether it was a good idea to travel in the middle of a pandemic for non-vital work. But in the end, I’m so glad I had this opportunity.
So often throughout 2020, I felt as though my creativity and personal growth was being stymied at every turn. When I arrived in DC for this shoot, I was a bit nervous. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to capture the level of images I wanted, or if I’d be able to tap into my creative side that felt so dormant at that point.
But the moment I arrived at Rust Manor House, I knew I’d made the right decision. Inspiration jumped out at me at every corner, and I left feeling reenergized and re-inspired to tackle the coming months.
One of my favorite moments during Kaitlyn & Connor’s fall engagement session was our time at Loose Park. Shockingly while we were there the park felt absolutely empty, which is super rare for Loose Park. Like, unheard of.
Usually in Loose Park, I have to photograph relatively “tight” portraits my couples to ensure I’m not getting a lot of strangers in the background of their photos. I want to minimize pesky distractions like this in my portraits! So it’s pretty rare when we get to capture large expansive images in Loose Park.
But Kaitlyn & Connor are two lucky souls, because on the day of their engagement session we had the opportunity to capture some truly expansive portraits showing off the park’s beauty! I love when I get to share rare moments like these with my couples 🙂
In August, I had the distinct honor of traveling to Pennsylvania for Ashlyn & Joe’s wedding. Never have I photographed a wedding on the east coast before, and boy do I hope this isn’t the last time!
When asked to describe my photography style and brand, I always include something about how I lean more east coast than west coast. I am inspired by old world and historical elegance, and the east coast has that in spades.
This wedding proved a lot to me, like:
1) deep and lasting connections with my clients lead to great things
2) the east coast is where it’s at for me
3) I can successfully travel to photograph weddings – in the middle of a pandemic, no less – and have a blast doing it!
As I said, it was a true honor to travel to Pennsylvania to serve Ashlyn & Joe, and I can’t wait for my next opportunity!
There’s two things you need to know about Valerie & Alex: 1) They are incredibly kind and sweet people, and 2) Valerie loves the fall. Like, loves it.
Valerie & Alex’s wedding day will be this coming fall, and they’ve wisely chosen an estate-style wedding venue that will give us ample opportunity to capture all of fall’s glory.
But why stop there? When we first started planning Valerie & Alex’s engagement session, we knew we wanted to capitalize on fall’s foliage. The original date we selected was freezing cold and cloudy. Not exactly a recipe for romance. Thankfully these two agreed to push their session a few days and WOW was it worth it! Mother Nature put on the best show for them, complete with peak fall vibrancy!
I was just as eager as anyone to leave 2020 behind when the new year came, but I hope that the lessons and the strength that last year taught me will stay with me forever.
Thank you for joining me on this reflection of 2020. Now onward to greater things in 2021 and beyond!
a reflection for the new year