On Ash Wednesday (the day after Mardi Gras for all you non-New Orleanians), I got a call from my neighbor asking me if I would be interested in photographing a wedding in Costa Rica. The catch? It was in ten days! I wasted no time and headed straight for the couple’s house and was met by a group of people in various states of post-Mardi Gras nap. I couldn’t have known it then, but in just over a week, I was to completely fall in love with that group of people.
After their original Photographer had to back out last minute, Amber and Tatum were scrambling to find a replacement. I wanted to help them out and was also thrilled at the opportunity to take my normal New Orleans wedding photographer self and become a destination wedding photographer in such a beautiful country as Costa Rica. Within 24 hours, flights and hotel were booked for me and my second shooter. Within a week, we were faking our way through Spanish and settling into the country’s hot Pacific coast, near the popular beach town destination of Jaco. We had barely checked into our hotel before hopping back in our rental car and going to check out the wedding venue. WOW! The Zephyr Palace at Villa Calletas is an oasis on the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean. The couple was set to be married in front of an infinity pool with large columns reminiscent of Greek architecture and the sun setting behind them. Well- that’s how I imagined it any way. The ceremony was actually set to start a good hour and a half before sunset. I was worried that the sun would be in the wrong place for both the guests ability to view the nuptials and for our ability to shoot them! I filed that away in “things to ask the wedding planner” and set about planning my portraits.
When I met with the Bride on the big day, she was excited but worried. Planning a wedding is challenging enough but trying to coordinate with 85 people who traveled to a foreign country to attend your wedding is pretty nerve-wracking! And Amber is one of those sweet humans that wants to make sure everyone is taken care of. I reminded her to relax, breathe, enjoy her day because everything was going to be just fine. We did a walk-through of the ceremony and I mentioned my lighting and heat concerns to the wedding planner. She asked if I thought we should start the ceremony later and I absolutely did. I never would have dreamed that we would be able to hold the ceremony for an hour until the harsh sun had a chance to drop down closer to the horizon. Just an hour’s time would be the difference between squinty, sweaty guests and a beautiful, golden, back-lit ceremony. I was pretty damn excited at the prospect of making that happen!
The Bride and Groom split up to get ready and I spent the next few hours with Amber and her girls. Amber was still being asked to make wedding related decisions and make sure all of her guests were being transported to the venue while she was getting ready. I was impressed at how her wedding party took charge so that Amber could just be the Bride. Her stylist was particularly helpful- making executive decisions in between touching up everyone’s hair and makeup. We were running behind schedule but that was perfectly fine with me. The later it got, the better light we would have! I had a lovely time shooting Bridal portraits with Amber- she was so stunning in her modern gown and a complete natural at posing. Amber is a genuinely beautiful person inside and out, I really felt honored to be able to photograph her. She was also a great sport when I had to quickly hide her in a bathroom so that Tatum didn’t see her when he arrived at the venue!
It had been a stressful day for Tatum too who was working hard to make sure all of the guests caught their shuttles to the venue. I was happy when it was time for their First Look- I hoped that being able to spend some time with each other would help the couple relax and realize that even though things weren’t going as planned it didn’t matter. They had each other and soon they would be Mr. and Mrs. And that’s exactly what happened. I can barely write about it without tearing up! My second shooter, Patrick, said that Tatum completley lit up as soon as he heard Amber’s voice. She got to the location and asked if Tatum was there. I told her yes and she flashed the biggest, brightest, most excited smile I’ve ever seen on a bride! These two were so in love and not afraid to show it. Their First Look was every bit as emotional and lovely as I expected even though it was 90 degrees in the shade! The candid portraits that followed are some of my favorite shots from the whole day.
When it was time to seat the guests, I made the call. The sun was still WAY too bright and WAY too hot for anyone to enjoy themselves. The couple would melt and the guests would be sweaty and blind. So I asked the Bride and Groom if they minded opening up the bar for their guests and waiting until 5:15 to seat them instead of 4:15. They agreed and it was incredibly heart warming how much trust they put in me. The end result was an absolutely stunning, golden wedding with 85 very happy guests and one extremely happy couple. Their Officiant (and friend!), Brad, delivered an incredibly touching ceremony. Even though the rings had accidentally been forgotten in the bridal suite, nobody seemed to mind as Brad left not one eye dry in the house. Not even mine! It was a beautiful ceremony and we then raced the clock to get all of their portraits done before the sun completely set. And boy, did we ever nail it! I was drenched in sweat, running around like a madman, but the guests were cheering me on. It was such a crazy fun experience and I loved that I was creating these images for such a fantastic couple.
At the reception, Patrick and I were more than just photographers, we were treated as guests. They set places for us at dinner and encouraged us to enjoy ourselves. I got to know the really amazing friends and family that traveled so far to celebrate with Amber and Tatum. The love in the room was as thick and heady as the tropical air blowing off the ocean and I was completely enamored. The couple took the time to talk to each and every one of their guests and it made for a plethora of fantastic candid photos. When Amber’s dad played a few songs, guests were singing along through tears. It was incredibly touching. The night ended with a fireworks display over the ocean and I honestly found myself wishing the night didn’t have to end- even though I had sweat more than I think I ever have in my entire life and was every bit as beat-up and tired as I always am at the end of a long wedding. It’s possible that I enjoyed reliving the moments through the photos as much as the couple did. It was a wedding story every bit as beautiful and unique and Amber and Tatum’s love story.