Chelsea and Cody been together for 8 years…high school sweethearts. This weekend they snuck down to the Red River Gorge and rented a cabin. On Sunday, she spent the day baking a lovely cake and decorating boxes for two very special rings.
At that same time, I am out in a field collecting flowers and greenery. I had spotted some small yellow ones earlier in the week and hoped they would be perfect for Chelsea. While I’m there, I also gather purple clover flowers for good luck and Queen Annes Lace to help fill out the bouquet. Back at the gallery, I pick a few Zinnia’s out of our garden to add even more color. I had noticed a particularly plump purple Zinnia a few days before and decide that will be saved for the grooms boutonniere and with a few strands of lavender to accentuate it.
Towards the early evening Cody helps Chelsea get into her dress and she makes sure his shirt is tucked in neatly and his shoes look presentable. He ties the bow to the back of her dress…taking his time to make a it perfect for the big day. When you’ve been together for 8 years, this level of comfort and intimacy is how it is. Of course he would be the one to help her into her dress. He’s her best friend and confidant. At 7:25pm, they climb into their car and drive through the Red River Gorge as the sun starts to make it’s daily descent into the horizon. They take their time winding through the curves…their hometown in Indiana doesn’t have roads quite like eastern Kentucky. It’s going to be a beautiful sunset.
Finally, they meet up with us and our star witness, Eric. I proudly hand the bride her flowers that I had just picked from the fields. She is as delighted with them and I gush casually shrugging it off as being nothing. She doesn’t need to know that I’ve thought about those flowers all week and contemplated which ones to pick…hoping to find the right combination that would please her. I am at Mother Nature’s mercy and I am humbled by that every day. Dave finagles with the boutonniere and Cody. Chelsea tells me that Cody loves Lavender so the boutonniere is perfect. I grab the beautiful ring boxes for some quick photos as Dave handles the formalities of the marriage license and such. We chat for a few and Dave and Eric head on down the trail ahead of us so we are able to snap photos without an audience.
This is my favorite time…my time with the bride and groom. I get to hear their story and sometimes when I’m feeling babbly, I’ll tell them what has been on my mind…and these next few moments I hope to capture a smile or two and a few kisses here and there. I imagine their children finding these photos 10 years from now and going through them. The daughter asking if she could wear that dress for her wedding. I remember when I was a child and I would sit for hours looking at my parents elopement photos from 1955. The green dress, the red lipstick. The little cake cutting. Their two wedding guest. This to me was what a wedding was… Yes, their daughter will spend hours looking at these photos and dreaming of her true love.
This couple is comfortable in their skin as well as each other’s arms. She loves to laugh and he loves to watch her laugh. This makes for great photos. Once we reach our destination, I outstretch my fingers sideways towards the sun, measuring the distance between it’s glowing sphere and the horizon of the next ridge over. This is a survival trick Dave taught me last year when I thru-hiked the Sheltowee to determine how much longer ’til sunset. Two fingers and it’s perfect. Three fingers and we need to wait a few more minutes. One finger, we need to get a move on. This night it’s perfect. Two fingers.
The bride is giddy and smiling. The groom is happy-go-lucky. Both are a tad nervous. Even though they have been together for 8 years, this is still a big step. Dave positions them and I move from stage left to stage right and direct them to inch forwards, backwards, left or right, moving them in and around the light. You see, we are a photography company that performs weddings. Not an officiating company that happens to takes pictures of weddings. It’s all about the photographer. Me. My angles. The lighting. I get to make the call because the photos need to be perfect. And then it’s Dave’s turn. With a smile, he makes eye contact with the bride…I see her let out a little sigh or relief. His smile and soft voice calms her. Still working it, he says something funny and directs their attention to the cliff lines and the sun. As I look through my viewfinder, anticipating that first shot, I see the grooms shoulders start to relax as he glances over at his bride. She returns a smile. It’s Showtime.
And so Dave begins…as the sun is setting, he speaks of arches and sandstone and storms of rain and wind. He talks of love and commitment and reads a poem about a man who has fallen for a woman. I stand back and down low starting with the wide angle lens. Always the wide angle first. The telephoto lens is for the emotion. The Vows. The Rings. I move up and around the couple always keeping my distance. I have learned the Dave likes a wide girth and a quiet shutter. Even though I am his wife, he is not shy about telling me to back off. This is a sacred ceremony after all. I change from the 50mm to the 85mm and back to the 16-35mm. I move back and work the 135mm for awhile…loving the lighting. Dave ask for the rings and after some gushing over the handmade boxes, he continues to talk about these tokens and what they symbolize. The bride and groom exchange their vows through the happy tears and place the rings on each other’s finger just as the sun dips below the horizon. Perfect timing. Dave has some advice for them. It’s never going to be easy every day. Remember this moment. With his gorgeous smile, he announces them and steps out of the frame (he knows just how far to step out) so I can capture that first kiss…as I’m wiping away a tear…hoping Dave or Eric missed that. Tears are for the mushy, gushy folks and I do not want to be classified as one of those. Eric and Dave clap and the bride and groom laugh. I hum the recessional bridal march and everyone giggles and I capture the moment. It’s my one goto line to get a smile.
After some hugs and laughs, we scamper back to the top of the bridge to watch the sky turn from blue to pink to yellow and contemplate life and it’s joys. Slowly we head back to the parking lot. I wait for it. The whippoorwills. This particular location has a few that will serenade us in the evenings as we walk back. Mother Nature’s bridal recessional. With perfect timing, 15 minutes after the sun sets they start their songs as the dragon flies swarm around like dancing fairies.
We say our goodbyes with more hugs and smiles and we watch them head back through the gorge and on with the rest of their lives. In our hearts, we will see them again. It’s too sad to think we never will. They will fall in love with the gorge and they will come back from time to time to visit and remember the magic. We look over at each other and smile. He reaches for my hand and gives it a squeeze. Miguels? He says.