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Sammi and Joey’s wedding at Highland Springs was something special. Little pieces of their story was inserted into the wedding details, like Sammi’s dress made from the lace of her mamas’, bouquet charms with photos of their grandparents, and a basketball cake to commemorate how they met. They read their vows under the shade of a 1,000 year old oak tree. The air was still and happy tears were shed as Joey and Sammi finally received the names husband and wife. Then the rest of the day was a whirlwind of popsicles, old friends, and heartfelt toasts, as the smell of lavender lingered everywhere they went. We found some time to sneak away to watch the sunset in a field of lavender and it was the most beautifully peaceful moment.

Photography: Jessica Hickerson Photography
Venue: Highland Springs Ranch
Coordinator: Kayla Ewing
Flowers: Above the Stem
Dress: Custom
Hair & Makeup: Megan Lenton
Marquee Sign: Marquee Inland Empire
Catering: Highland Springs Ranch
Popsicles: Front Porch Pops

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The symbolism of a wedding dress is such a beautiful thing. We gather the most important women in our life, take them to a store (maybe three) filled with white dresses, and with the help of champagne and squeals of encouragement you hunt down “the one.” The one you will say your vows in. The one that all your friends and family will compliment. The one you will dance in until your feet are black and you’re too tired to take another step.

I never had an ah-ha moment when I bought my dress, so at the time I wasn’t aware of how much it would mean to me. For a while I even thought I would sell it afterwards… But now that dress holds an array of beautiful memories, and I love my dirty wedding dress even more now than the day I bought it.

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My wedding was my favorite day. That may sound cliche but I honestly find myself dreaming about it frequently and wishing I could go back in time to do it all again. Thank goodness for our beautiful photos that I look through on the REGULAR (bless you, Michelle, for that gift).

The entire day was quite the adventure. The second I stepped in to my wedding dress, someone stepped on the dress and there was that indistinguishable ripping sound. I laughed! I was on my way to see my future husband, who cares! While I walked across the property to our First Look location, my skirt dragged behind me gathering leaves. I picked them out one by one and then Sam turned around to see me in my dress for the first time. He said I was beautiful over and over again, and for once I actually believed it. By the time we finished taking pictures I had somehow gathered even more leaves, flowers, dirt, sticks and stones, and even a 3 foot BRANCH- seriously!! We had a little break before the ceremony and I found myself surrounded by family trying to clean my dress. I laughed again and told them not to worry about it, “just call me Mother Nature!”

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By the end of the night I had been stepped and spilled on, hugged by 100 people, I walked barefoot across a literal campground in the mountains, and I sat in the middle of the old wooden dance floor in a semi-drunken whirlwind of “wow this is the best day ever.”  Believe me when I say my dress was DIR-TY.

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Today is our one year anniversary. It has been an incredible year filled with ups & downs and falling more in love with my husband each passing day despite how many arguments we have over doing the dishes and letting the dogs up on the bed. I may have disliked wedding planning but like I said before I would do it all over again to get that feeling back. Every once in a while, I peek at my dress in our spare closet. All of the rips, broken pieces, stains and dirt are still there (along with a few dried leaves). Running my hands across it I feel a little piece of that day.

I will never clean my wedding dress. It has a story to tell, and that story doesn’t deserve to be stuck in a box for the next 10 years. I look at the rips and remember the crowded dance floor and all of my favorite people in the world within arms reach. I can see a little splash of where some foreign alcohol coated my knee. I find the leaves at the bottom of the dress bag and remember the beautiful weather and walking hand and hand with my husband through the forest. The once-white skirt is full of memories and joy that I could never wash away.

As our life moves forward, this dress will stay with the same. It will travel from our current home to our next. I plan to put it on every year, even if it won’t fit over a baby bump or hips that have widened over time. I’ll dance in my kitchen in that dirty dress and maybe even wear it for a vow renewal someday. When my future daughter asks about our wedding day, I’ll pull it out for her to try on, sticky kid fingers and all, and we’ll look through our wedding album together.

So brides, embrace the fact that your dress will get dirty. Mine did within minutes of putting it on! If your uncle spills a glass of wine on you or a bridesmaid hugs her makeup on to your sleeve, laugh it off because it is all part of your wedding story. And when the day is over and your mom is sending you reminder texts to get your dress professional cleaned and sealed, consider letting that dress continue to exist as a part of your every day life. Through the ups and downs, that physical memory can stay with you. WEAR IT. Let it remind you why you bought it in the first place and wore it down the aisle toward your best friend. Live your wedding day over and over again. Who says you can only be a bride once?

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Molly and Chad’s engagement session at El Matador was such a fun-filled evening. When we arrived in Malibu, we discovered the tide was unusually high which scared away the majority of the tourists. In between running away from rouge waves, we chatted about their upcoming wedding. Molly told me how they met at a local bar, how she flirted until he had no choice but to ask her out, and their proposal story; both of their smiles seemed to grow with each story. Here are just a few favorites from our time together:

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Holly and Butch happened to meet 5 years ago after growing up in homes a few miles apart. They were both living in Utah and Butch was about to leave to work on a small little island off the coast of Southern California. Even though they were just friends, they stayed in touch as much as possible, which led to Holly getting a summer job on the island. She fell for him the moment she arrived. After moving back home and a year of long distance, Holly decided to join him on the island full time. They currently live on a very rural part of Catalina with only 50 full-time residents. Holly says it has its challenges but is also so rewarding. When Butch decided to propose last Valentines Day, he dropped to one knee with one of the most beautiful views behind him as their “island family” hid in the bushes taking pictures.

The day of their engagement session started with my husband Sam and I taking the boat over to Catalina. We spent a couple hours doing tourist things around the city of Avalon while we waited for Holly and Butch to arrive. They live closer to Twin Harbors, the other “big” city on the island, which is about an hour and a half away.  From the moment they picked us up, we knew we were in for an adventure! Parts of the Catalina require passes to get into so we were able to explore the most secluded parts of the island. Our goal was to drive across to the beach on the opposite end and stop wherever looked interesting along the way. I had to stop myself from saying “STOP HERE!!” every 5 minutes… We were able to see some of the highest peaks of the island and then hike down to completely private beaches. One hike required us to go off-trail so we didn’t disturb the BISON (!!) in our path (see if you can find him in the background of a few photos!) The entire time Holly and Butch were full of so much joy and giddy anticipation of their wedding day. And while they claimed to be awkward in front of the camera, I didn’t believe them for a second. Just our few hours shooting together (plus an ice cream stop before our boat ride back to the “main land”) left me absolutely obsessed with them and their amazing island life. I can’t wait for our next adventure out there for their wedding weekend this December!

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See that brown spot to the left of Butch? That’s the Bison!

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And another bison friend to end our adventure. This was taken from the window of the car!

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Photographers in California all obsess over one thing: “that LIGHT!” And while the sun is a huge asset to making our images warm and golden, it can also be a hinderance. Many times photographers will find themselves in a situation where there is no where to hide- literally! No trees to borrow shade from or tall obstructions to place in front of the sun, and that pesky light is just exploding straight into your lens. This has happened to me when the wedding day portraits need to take place during a less-than-ideal time and even more frequently when I shoot beach sessions. 90% of the time I have my subjects backlit which can mean shooting directly into the sun. At times my camera is not even able to focus because there is too much light, and the resulting image is hazy and not at all sharp.

So let me introduce you to a little trick I made up to help in these situations. I’ll call it “The Disappearing Hand Method!” There are two ways to do it, so stick with me as I try to explain.

#1: Hold up your hand in front of your lens to block the sun. Grab your focus, then then remove your hand. The sun will still be very strong but your subject will be in focus. In editing you will need to up the contrast more than usual but this can be a fun way to add some artistic flare (literally!) to your image set.

In this example I help up my hand and toggled my focus point to the groom, then removed my hand and captured this:

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35mm | ISO 320 | f/2.2 | 1/2000

At this engagement session location, I used to couple as a shield from the sun in the majority of my images. I wanted some diversity so I took the shot on the left using my  hand as a shield to grab the focus, took the shot, and then moved slightly to the left to grab the second shot where Colton is blocking the sun.

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35mm | ISO 100 | f/2.0 | 1/200

This next example was from an elopement in Joshua Tree. I had Patti and Nolan walk alone so they could be in the moment and shot them at 85mm. They started out in beautiful light (left image) and then their kiss took place in direct sunlight. The middle image is the RAW and the right image is the edit with some contrast and blacks brought back into it. Personally I LOVE images where they feel like they are lost in the light… But that an artistic preference!

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85mm | ISO 200 | f/2.0 | 1/640

 

#2: Hold up your hand in front of your lens to block the sun and LEAVE IT THERE. (This works best if your hand is “floating” in open sky.) In editing you will be removing your hand.  I use this method when it is almost impossible to even see what I am shooting but I cannot change my position.

The following image had the sun at the very top of the frame. If I were taller I might have been able to shoot down on my subject and still maintain even lighting without needing my hand. But I decided to block the sun with my hand and remove it later, achieving even colors and a backlit subject!

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35mm | ISO 200 | f/2.2 | 1/1250

In the next two images I was standing on a dock and shooting the bridal party on the next dock. The sun was setting but we didn’t have time to wait for it to hide behind the rock jetty. The image on the left is RAW and on the right is edited. You can see in the first image the subjects are not as sharp and the bridesmaids on the right are almost completely lost in the haze. And in the second image they are all in focus and there is less haze.

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Both images: 35mm | ISO 320 | f/2.5 | 1/1000

I hope my little trick helps you to have some fun and learn to control that crazy California sunlight a bit better! As usual, feel free to leave questions in the comments.

 

Want to learn more from Jessica? Click here for more information about her Coaching Program!

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