Lessons from a Cocktail Photographer Shooting her First Wedding

One year ago, on a warm and sunny October afternoon in Portland, I found myself sitting at a picnic table outside of Nong’s Khao Man Gai across from my recently engaged friends, Sean and Hannah. The meeting was pre-planned and I was mulling over all the possible ways I could turn down their hair-brained request. Be non-committal and then let them down gently via email. Say yes and then lie and say you’ve decided to move to Barcelona. Say yes and then actually move to Barcelona. But no. The pair are so damn charming and lovely and persuasive that when they asked me to photograph their wedding, there was no letting them down. There was no backing out. There was only yes- a terrified, deer-in-the-headlights, crap-your-pants kind of yes- but a yes no less.

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Now don’t take this as me agreeing with their decision. I thought they were crazy for asking (I still kinda do) and I made very clear to them all the reasons why this was completely nuts (namely that I’m not a wedding photographer, I’ve never photographed a wedding in my life and that wedding photography is completely different from what I actually, kinda know how to do which is taking pictures of cocktails). But they would hear none of it.

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As it turns out, it takes a village to teach a food and drink photographer how to shoot a wedding. I set up meetings with local wedding photographers to pick their brains and mostly ask them what I should be most scared about. From there I started to have nightmares about dropped lenses and broken memory cards, missing equipment and dead batteries (I didn’t, however, dream about what actually happened which was my computer crashing and losing all my data 2 weeks after shooting…I can say that out loud now that the photos have been rescued and are safely in the hands of the bride and groom. My new wedding photography business is going to be called Back Up Your Shiz.).

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Next step- find yourself a couple of mentors that have been in the biz for years (Lachlan and Emily, that means you). Get them to teach you the ways of the world and share their most important lessons (ie: “community over competition” and “two is one and one is none”). Tag along on a shoot to learn the ropes first hand. Harass your friends to let you take pictures of them so you can practice photographing people instead of fancy glassware (because, as I said previously, there’s actually a huge difference).

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Finally, find yourself a partner in crime. You don’t want to shoot your first wedding alone (or any wedding for that matter). It’s always more fun to work alongside someone for support, for commiseration, for creative inspiration. There was only one person I wanted to do this with. I’d never photographed with her before but in my gut, I knew Brooke Bass was my photography unicorn. She too is a food photographer and I felt that if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it with someone who could understand what I was going through, someone who had little expertise in the field of wedding photography but was an inspired artist all the same. With about as much trepidation as I had when committing to this whole thing in the first place, Brooke reluctantly agreed.

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And with that, all that was left to do was pick up our cameras, hold our breath and hope for the best. No more tutorials or mentorship, no more meetings, no more planning. There was only steady hands and a vague hope that somehow, despite our respective self-doubt, we would be able to pull this off. And in the span of 8 hours on a spectacularly sunny day in Central Oregon, not only did we manage to get the job done, but we did it in a way that made me feel like I had been working alongside Brooke since the very first day I picked up my camera. There was a seamlessness to our movement, a mutual ease between us that left all doubt on the doorstep.

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An audible sigh of photographic relief could be heard once the “I do’s” were uttered and a tender, lake-front kiss was shared. Just like that we knew that the rest of the day would be gravy. We photographed until we lost the light and our wrists and hands couldn’t bear the weight of our cameras any longer. And then we danced and we sipped on punch and jokingly made all the plans for our up-and-coming wedding photography business. But what seemed like a joke into the wee hours of the evening felt like more of a possibility by sunrise. Because while we reluctantly and fearfully agreed to do this in the first place, the truth is it was far more fun than either of us ever could have imagined.

And so begins a very new and very unexpected chapter. What came together by chance has sparked passion and excitement and has revealed a new path. So thank you Sean and Hannah for trusting us and believing we could do this. Thank you Lachlan and Emily for making me a better photographer. Thank you Brooke for dipping your toe in the water with me, even as you were in the throes of preparing for a grand adventure of your own. And if you would like to follow along as I embark on the terrifying journey of wedding photography, feel free to check out my new pet project- The Common Heart. Cheers!

  • elaine laurin

    such a magically lovely story and photos, brought tears to my eyes

  • Brooke @ Chocolate + Marrow

    This is just the sweetest post ever and I’m hugely honored that you asked me to share this experience with you. And also that you trusted me to not F it up 😉 I love you so hard and am insanely grateful that the universe allowed our paths to cross and that we’ve been able to share so many moments of laughter, tears, and silliness together. Cheers to the next chapter, cheers to adventure! <3