Get to know Stephanie for just a few minutes and a couple of things will become readily apparent: she loves to laugh, she loves her husband and she really, really loves shooting weddings.
“There’s something so…magical about a wedding day.”
Since shooting her first wedding in 2009, Stephanie’s shot 43 weddings in the past two years, all while pursuing careers in marketing operations and design. In 2012, she made the decision to pursue wedding photography full-time, working solely for herself.
“I felt like the universe kept sending me signals and nudging me in this direction, that I needed to take a leap,” she says. “Being able to focus all of my energy on what I love, waking up in the morning and being genuinely excited to work – it’s a remarkable feeling.”
WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALISM &EDUCATION
Simply put: Stephanie loves shooting love. She knew this was something she could do for a living before the final dance of the first wedding she shot – Angela and Nate. “Being surrounded by love and laughter and a bottomless well of happiness, knowing there’s nowhere else I’d rather be…” she pauses for a second.
“Being a wedding photographer is free therapy,” she finally says, a small smile on her face. “It’s impossible to not get caught up in the moments.”
It’s capturing those moments that form the heart and soul of Stephanie’s work. Her shooting philosophy is simple: love, happiness, and fun. She lives to capture those tiny snapshots of life – realism, hope, happiness, faith – and capture it in a way that is open and transparent.
Developed as a result of her newsroom experience, Stephanie’s wedding photography philosophy is deeply rooted in the idea of true photojournalism: documenting the events without inserting yourself into the situation. Stephanie spent four years at Humboldt State University, six hours north of San Francisco along the Northern California coast among the Redwoods and Pacific Ocean. She switched majors three times – art, archaeology and finally journalism. She planned out her semester schedules six-to-eight weeks in advance, color-coding blocks of time and maximizing her working hours in between classes, student government and the newspaper.
“I was definitely channeling a little Hermione Granger there,” she says, laughing.
Stephanie’s time as photo editor, art director and finally editor-in-chief are reflected in the highly candid approach she takes to her work. “Shooting sports and breaking news really challenged me as a photographer. Shooting news is like shooting a wedding in many ways – it’s unpredictable and you have to tell the story. There is always ‘something interesting’ happening. There is always something to be told. A relationship. A belief. An honor. Being able to showcase events honestly and transport the reader visually and emotionally through a series of pictures is an incredibly vital skill to have as a wedding photographer.”
“I would be a completely different photographer if I had never stepped foot in a newsroom.”
You can see her journalism background play out in her attention to detail at a wedding: if possible, she’s early and is constantly moving throughout the day, watching the crowd, anticipating moments, and looking for the hidden story. Nothing’s more important than her couple and making sure everything goes smoothly. If it doesn’t, she’s there to take charge.
“It would be called my Mamma Goose attitude,” she says, referencing a nickname of hers given to her by friends and co-workers. “I’m there to make sure you take care of yourself and do what I can to minimize your stress.” Just what does that entail?
“That can range from providing more posing guidance, cracking jokes, setting up tables, dropping F-bombs, making sure you shaved your armpits, fixing your dress and taking the hair tie off your wrist,” she says wryly. She’s seen – and done – it all.
“There are so many ways a wedding can go wrong – but there are many more ways it can go right,” she says.
“I professionally attend weddings,” she explains. “I know how long dinner will take if you’re doing buffet style or sit-down. I know that family members who are crucial for family pictures will run late. I know that we have 60 minutes of sunlight left in the day without looking at a watch. Being able to run with unexpected changes and letting problems roll off your back makes it so much easier and less stressful for everyone.”
Weddings are highly uncontrolled events; the more that you’re willing to give up control on, the less stressful it’ll be in the long run. The weather is something she sees many brides unnecessarily worry about prior to the ceremony. “There is no amount of praying to the sun gods that will give you control over the weather.” she says.
“Everything happens for a reason. Just roll with it! Rain is romantic, sunlight is warm and fun, clouds provide even light – as long as it’s not a torrential downpour, your wedding will still be gorgeous and romantic.”
A common misconception are bright sunny days are the best for photography. While light is ideal, windy and cloudy days can provide some of the most “breathtaking romantic frames of the day.” Stephanie turns on the Mamma Goose again. “If I’m telling you it’s going to be awesome, it’s going to be awesome. Trust me and we’re gonna have a blast.”
She references her own wedding as an example of letting some things go and rolling with the punches. “We were 45 minutes late because I was trying to do too much and help everyone out. Being late is normal. 100% normal. The only reason we weren’t more late is because the light started changing and I decided, ‘Yup, good enough for me!” She laughs.
“I was far more concerned about the lighting than I was about how my hair looked!”
Since shooting her first wedding, she has realized a couple things about herself. Namely: she had to get over her fear of dancing. “You have to dance to get the shot,” she says. Once the night begins winding up, Stephanie usually straps a wide angle lens to her camera, stows her gear and heads out to the dance floor. ”You have to get out there and have fun to really get the crowd to loosen up.”
“I start dancing, singing – all while shooting. I’m constantly moving on the dance floor, never taking more than one or two shots at a time of a guest. I’ll drag the shutter to get some fun light streaks and just watch the energy. Guests start dancing with me and the camera,” she explains. “That’s the difference. Yes, I’m there to capture the night as it happened, but my job is also to make sure everyone’s having a great time.”
She’s resigned herself to a “diverse” taste in music, much to the chagrin of Ryan. “I love anything with a good beat; I definitely have some jams that are my favorite,” she says. “It’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll like anything played at a reception.” From the Beach Boys to the Beatles, Keith Urban to Bon Jovi, Journey to Kanye West, she’s an “equal opportunity listener.” She warns though, that she’s not responsible for song choices that pop up on her Facebook feed late at night, when she’s knee-deep in an editing session.
“I have a weakness for power ballads and boy bands. I know it’s a problem.” When she’s not editing sessions or designing new cards and invitations for Ahava Studio, the wedding stationery press shop she opened in 2012, she can usually be found doing one of a few things: bargain hunting, reading & relaxing, or playing video games. The first racks she hits while shopping are usually “clearance or the perimeter,” where sale items can be found. “I’ve found some really awesome things on Target endcaps,” she says, smiling.
She’s a big shoe lover, an addiction that wasn’t helped when they lived in Manhattan. “Only in New York do you learn the importance of a fantastic pair of heels that can take you comfortably more than 20 blocks.” She’s a voracious reader and has quite a few favorite series, including Harry Potter and Song of Fire and Ice. She’s kept all her old anthropology textbooks and has re-read Jurassic Park so many times, the binding is starting to fall apart. She admits her “Harry Potter references can get ridiculous and slightly nerdy.
She’s unapologetic for the 150 hours shes spent playing Skyrim this winter and the size of their movie collection (600 films and counting). She attributes the movie and video game love to almost a decade working in a video store. It’s not uncommon for her and Ryan to embark upon “epic nights” of Rock Band, pizza and beer. With her admittance of her love for ’80s power ballads, that should be expected.
In May 2012, Stephanie and Ryan will return to the San Francisco Bay Area for good after leaving 10 years ago. After living in the most expensive city in the world and juggling multiple jobs at once for the past few years, Stephanie is looking forward to finally settling down and starting a family, something they’ve wanted for many, many years. The couple are incredibly blessed to wake up every morning and make something beautiful with friends, not clients.
“I don’t want clients,” she says. “I want friends. When I can build a friendship with a couple, and get to know them both individually and together, there’s an emotional line thats crossed and the quality of the work changes.”
“I cry at every single wedding I shoot. I’ve stood there with a father, listening to him reminisce about his beautiful daughter growing up, a proud smile on his face and a catch in his throat as he watches her dance with her new husband. That’s an honor. Feeling that love, being emotionally invested, means I’m there. I’m not checked out. It’s not ‘just another gig.”
It is this emotional attachment that Stephanie thinks is one of the traits that sets her apart from other wedding photographers. “When I don’t cry anymore – when I just go through the motions – there’s something missing. Something’s changed. If I ever get to the point where I’m not feeling that happiness, I’ll know that I shouldn’t shoot anymore. Because you deserve better.”
She lays it out on the table. “Knowing my couples allows me to capture the day unlike anyone else. We have a great time and you trust in me that I’ll deliver my best performance, not just because I have to, but because I want to. That’s why I do this.”