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Back in the saddle: The wedding that changed it all (Part I)

Well, I'm back.

In case you haven't gotten sick of me since my last wedding blog post, I’d like to share a little more insight into my world as a wedding photographer with you.

For the sake of those reading this, I have decided to break this blog into two parts since there are a lot of things about this wedding that helped shape me into the photographer I am today.

In this post, I will cover everything leading up to the ceremony itself. In my follow-up post, I will cover the ceremony and reception.

The point of these posts, and really my blog as a whole, is for you to get a little more insight into me as a person and a photographer as well as for me to share some of the fun stories of my experience as a wedding photographer because, quite honestly, it’s just about the most fun thing I am lucky enough to do in my career.

Now, before I begin the story of how I ended up going from a guest at my sister-in-law’s wedding to the wedding’s photographer, let me give you a little back-story.

As those of you who read my last blog entry know, my first experience shooting weddings was less than ideal. In fact, for a while I swore off ever doing another one ever again.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could shoot weddings—the photos from Kelly and Jeremy’s event came out pretty well for a first-timer and, more importantly, the couple loved them—it’s that I didn’t think I was ready to do so.

So, fast-forward almost a year from the date of Kelly and Jeremy’s wedding and there I stood at Bittersweet Farm in Westport, Massachusetts with a camera body in hand and a hope that, this time, I would be ready for whatever the day’s events would throw my way.

I was … and yet I wasn’t.

Details: The Wedding of Holly & Damien

Location: Bittersweet Farm, 438 Main Rd,

Westport, MA, 02790 Date: August 6, 2011

Call to the bull-pen

I never expected to shoot my sister-in-law’s wedding and, quite honestly, I wasn’t even supposed to.

About six months or so before the big date, my sister-in-law and her finance Damien had everything planned out and had a photographer booked and ready. That all changed a few months later, however, when their out-of-state photographer lost his full-time job and had to cancel on them


Now, anyone who has ever had to procure a wedding photographer knows that the best ones are booked two years in advance, the great ones book out a year and a half in advance and the average ones know their schedule about a year ahead of time.

In other words, three months in the wedding business is akin to going to your favorite restaurant on the evening of Valentine’s Day and expecting to walk right up and get a table. It almost never happens …and, when it does, the prices are usually astronomically inflated.

It makes sense then, that my sister-in-law, facing a tightening budget and a rapidly-approaching wedding date, would panic over who was going to shoot her event.

Luckily, she chose me.

I can honestly say receiving that phone call was one of the highlights of my career at that point.

It wasn’t just that Holly trusted me to shoot her big day, it’s that she was present at my first wedding as a guest, saw the photos and STILL decided to hire me. In fact, she played a key role in helping me land several of my first clients. It makes sense, of course, since she was one of the biggest reasons I got into professional photography in the first place.

So to say I was honored to be chosen is an understatement. In fact, the only feeling I had was fear: a fear I would completely screw it up.

A restless night

You know how they say the night before a wedding can be one of the most stressful for the bride and groom? Well, that stress also applies to the inexperienced wedding photographer staying in the hotel room down the hall.

My game plan for this wedding was simple: shoot everything I possibly could and hope when all was said and done I ended up with a couple hundred photos I wouldn’t completely hate.

But as I lied in bed that night, I realized something much worse. While shooting a wedding is tough, at the end of the day you can like or hate the photos all you want but it’s still a business arrangement. When the bride and groom take off, you go your separate ways. Shooting a wedding for a family member, especially one you like, is a far riskier proposition.

If you mess it up, you’re never going to live it down. You’ll be reminded every time you go to their house and see photos you may or may not have gotten right hanging on their walls and in their photo frames. Or worse … you’ll see none of your photos on display and know they hated them.

Suffice to say, when the sun rose the morning of Holly & Damien’s wedding, all I wanted to do was get through the day and find a way to not ruin the biggest moment in either the bride or groom’s life.

Thankfully, it went much better than I expected.

Though this was, by far, the most nerve-racking shoot of my career, it was also one of the most important. And, in the end, I walked away with tons of lessons that still resonate with me to this day.

Like, for example, what to do and what not to do while a bride is preparing herself for her wedding day.

Blending in

Ask any photographer what the toughest aspect of taking portraits of people is and they’ll almost all universally agree it’s getting you subject to feel comfortable with you and letting their guard down.

I found out on this morning that that’s not as easy as it seems.


The plan for the pre-ceremony part of this wedding was simple: early-morning wake-up call, get to the bridal suite, take photos of my wife doing her sister’s makeup, get pictures of the bride getting her hair done and getting ready, get pictures of the groom getting ready and head to the ceremony site.

But it’s never that easy is it?

For one thing, like a lot of brides, Holly didn’t sleep much the night before.

Be it nerves or excitement, when I walked into the bridal suite for the first time that morning, Holly looked exhausted. Then again, few people look at their best before they’ve had their breakfast.

I knew early on getting Holly to open up and relax wasn’t going to be easy and it really wasn’t … until I put the camera down.

Instead of making sure I shot every single second of the pre-wedding preparations, I made sure to spend some time talking to the bride in order to get her comfortable.

For a little while, I wasn’t Paul, the wedding photographer who had to document every moment before it was too late. I was Paul, the brother-in-law there to celebrate her special day.

It paid off.

By the time it was Holly’s turn to have her makeup done, she was the radiant person I’ve always known and I could finally get down to business at making sure to capture her memories with my camera.

In actuality, it’s an important lesson for shooting any wedding: you never know what mindset your bride is going to be in and the best thing to do is sit back and watch the action unfold in front of you.

Some brides are relaxed, others are panic-striken and worried that all their planning is going to all come unglued at the worst-possible time.

As a wedding photographer, my job is to document all of that but, also, to make the bride as comfortable as possible.

Regardless of how much I make a bride laugh or relax, however, there will always be at least one moment where the person on the other side of my lens freaks out.

And, in Holly’s case, I learned that moment can happen in an instant and be over just as fast.

Breathe, just breathe


Holly’s freakout moment was a simple one. As we rode in the elevator down to the limo that would take us to the venue, she started to feel the stress of what was about to happen. With her eyes upward and her brow sweating just a bit, I noticed her breathing was starting to get heavy and she was starting to lose it.

Naturally, I grabbed a photo of it, which you can see to the right:

By the time we left the elevator, she had regained her composure and was ready to walk down the aisle.

But that one moment was a key lesson for me and it’s a lesson I share with all of my couples to this day. At some point before your ceremony, you will freak out. But if you’re ready for it and you know it’s coming, you can ride that wave of emotion and you won’t get overwhelmed.

To this day, the photo of Holly’s freakout is one of my favorite candid moments in the lead-up to a wedding and it’s not only because it tells a great story of a pivotal moment of that day, it’s because in that story are lessons worth remembering for a lifetime.

The other side of the coin

While Holly was anxious to begin the day’s events, her soon-to-be-husband was busy walking around like it was any other day because, honestly, that’s just how most guys feel.

In fact, of all the weddings I’ve shot and/or been to thus far in my life, I’ve only seen one groom even look remotely worried or nervous and that was me … at my own wedding.

Guys just have less stress. We (usually) don’t have to worry about our hair or make-up. We simply wake up, get dressed and show up.

Damien was no different: he was cool, calm and collected the whole time leading up to the ceremony. In fact, the only time I saw even a sliver of panic on his face was when I asked him to pose for this photo and he nearly stained his shirt.

Another lesson learned: Always be mindful of the groom’s attire.

Let it roll

If the biggest lesson I got from Kelly & Jeremy’s wedding was to let the moment happen in front of you, the biggest lesson I learned from Holly & Damien’s wedding was that you have to roll with the punches.


And that’s how I’ll close out this blog post, by sharing with you one of the most embarrassing things that has ever happened to me at a wedding.

Keep in mind, I’m sharing this story here so you can have a chuckle because, honestly, it’s hilarious. And, my hope is that after you laugh at me, you realize that even wedding professionals are people too.

So, here it is: as the limo carrying me, Holly and her bridesmaids finally arrived to our destination, I scoped the location out and tried to plan my shooting accordingly.

I saw the path from the limo to the gazebo where Holly and Damien would say their vows and decided where I would stand to get photos of everyone coming down the aisle.

Just before the start of the ceremony, I made sure to get photos of all the bridesmaids and their respective groomsmen that would be walking down the aisle together.

As I made my way toward the end of the line, though, I noticed the procession was beginning to move. Not wanting to miss anything, I decided in an instant that I would have to get in front of the line and, like the true professional I was, leapt over a rose bush like a track star effortlessly gliding over a hurdle in his way.

I made the jump successfully, got into position and got all of the shots.

The only problem? Though I didn’t know it at the time, that jump started a chain reaction that led to me splitting my pants in the middle of the ceremony.

And while no one in attendance was any the wiser, and while I had a pair of back-up pants in my car just in case something happened, when I told Holly & Damien this story after the wedding, they couldn’t help but laugh.

I guess I should be complimented that my instincts after splitting my pants were to just keep on moving along like nothing happened but to this day, thinking about that moment makes me blush and turns my face bright red with embarrassment.

But, hey, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, right?

More to come

If nothing else, in that moment I learned not to take myself so seriously and, honestly, that was a freeing thought as I shot Holly & Damien’s ceremony and reception. But as I’ve already broken the 2,000 word mark (I told you I’m wordy), I’ll save those stories for another post on another day.

Until next time, I hope you’ve enjoyed my first batch of stories about what remains one of my favorite weddings I’ve ever been fortunate enough to shoot. I’m glad to share them and even happier to relive this day.

I only hope Holly and Damien feel the same way. :)



Beyond the Lens: A blog by Paul J. Spetrini

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