Stylish Story Telling with Raw Emotion
The thing about photographing in and around San Francisco is that no matter how much you’ve scouted or what you think you’ll come away from the shoot with, you’ll always be surprised…if you leave yourself open to it.
Chris and I met Carah and Michael at Java Beach in the city’s Sunset/Parkside neighborhood – which I love for it’s welcoming, neighborly feel and afternoon light. Just behind the cafe, I saw this interesting car parked on the sidewalk in front of this home so we decided to start the shoot there. On our way to the car, we got sidetracked (which is pretty standard) by this great wall/door, so we moved in a bit closer when – from inside the building – came a chorus of bagpipes. That’s the kind of thing you can’t really plan for, but puts a smile on your face when it happens.
Carah and Michael had traveled to San Francisco from Maine to get the final details sorted before their wedding this fall. We thought it’d be a nice change for them to see the sun setting rather than rising over the ocean so we brought them down to China Beach, a beautiful little cove I’ve always wanted to shoot at. As the light grew warmer and eventually sank behind a distant fog bank, we explored around the beach and the weathered structure that serves as sunbathing deck and equipment station for the lifeguards. It was a mild and mellow afternoon with such a perfect ratio of all the elements you’d expect to find in a San Francisco beach scene, it’s as if we’d cast them as extras: a bodysurfer battling the surf, a couple of kids making out, a stoner tripping out on the scenery, a fisherman on the rocks, a girl and her dog checking in on Facebook, a squadron of Pelican’s investigating dinner options… and us fulfilling our role as photographers making the most of the day’s best light.
Mike and Carah are incredibly good people and we can’t wait to shoot their wedding this fall at the Asian Art Museum!
Before reading any further, grab your favorite cup of tea and settle in because the wedding of Shivani and Saurabh was one of epic proportions. My personal choice would be Chai Masala – black tea slowly infused with fresh ginger, cardamom pods, whole cinnamon, fennel seeds, and black peppercorns – sweetened to taste.
Shivani and Saurabh’s relationship began with a long conversation on his terrace one March night several years ago. It was Saurabh’s birthday and Shivani was there as a guest of his cousin whom she attended UCLA with. Her only expectation was that of a “dorky fobby cousin” so she was taken aback at how “handsome, fun, and awesome” he was upon their introduction. The fact that they both have the same last name probably served as a perfectly awkward ice-breaker as well.
Despite the immediate chemistry on their first meeting, it would be a few years (2 years and 6 parties later to be exact) before the two would formally reconnect. Time, however, did nothing to dilute those original feelings and when they finally did have their first date, it evolved quickly into a year of adventures. Saurabh is a well traveled, adventure-seeker and Shivani was all-in as his willing accomplice. Their first year together, they travelled the globe and had so much fun – it was only a matter of time now before they took things to the next level. That following spring – on April fool’s day to be exact – Saurabh asked the most important question of his life and despite his wit, she knew this was no joke. And of course… she said yes!
Indian weddings are revered celebrations, where friends and family come together to frolic and celebrate the joining of the couple and their families. The celebrations are intentionally spread out over several days culminating with the marriage on the final day. Shivani adores Bollywood films and Saurabh loves Game of Thrones so you knew that their wedding day was going to be visually dramatic. What could be more incredible than having your wedding on the lawn at the 18th hole of an iconic resort overlooking the Pacific, arriving on horseback brandishing a mighty saber? Well, nothing really.
Arriving at the ceremony site, overlooking a slice of the American west with unsurpassed raw beauty in all directions, guests took a few minutes to enjoy some light food and find their seats. Saurabh had a bit of fun unsheathing his shiny saber. It’s not every day you get to even use the word saber, let alone unsheathe one, so he was well within his rights. After the saber was re-sheathed he and his family moved under the mandap in anticipation of Shivani’s arrive. A pinnacle of emotion for Shivani who recalls: “The most emotional part was walking down the aisle having our first look. When Saurabh and I made eye contact I was beaming from ear to ear and so excited to marry him!”
The ceremony was full of rituals and some unlikely humor. The couple took the seven steps (saptapadi) around the sacred fire and made a binding pledge to one another with vows following each encirclement. I think they’re quite meaningful so I’ve including a description of each below the gallery. (I highly recommend reading them)! At some point in the exchange of vows , Shivani had what was certainly one of history’s cutest Freudian slips when she referred to Saurabh as “her lord”. That provided a bit of lightness to the gravity of the ceremony and instantly connected guests and the bride, groom, and the family on the stage. There was an immediate disarming of the formality and re-focusing on the pure and silly love these two have for each other.
As all these events unfolded, across the world in India, Shivani’s 95-year-old grandfather watched the whole ceremony, streamed through her aunt’s phone in the front row. Even at 3 AM local time for him, he wasn’t going to miss it and he gave his blessings throughout the entire ceremony.
After the ceremony, we took Shivani and Saurabh down to the cliffs overlooking Stillwater Cove when Saurabh thought it would be funny for them to quickly run onto the 18th hole for a quick photo opportunity before the next set of golfers came into range and put their lives at risk. On a day full of great little moments, that was the highlight for me. Shivani and Saurabh are the best of both worlds and our type of favorite people; they are serious when they need to be and not serious when it’s unnecessary. It’s rare that someone catches me outside my comfort zone, but I was concerned about getting kicked out…they were not. Thank you both for that and I’m just happy I kept shooting!
The time between the ceremony and reception offered some time for the couple to regroup and change outfits as we made our way to the Lodge at Pebble Beach where the rest of the evenings festivities would play out. Just before heading in for their grand entrance, we took Saurabh to the boat dock at the edge of Stillwater Cove for first look number two of the day, as he had no idea what Shivani had in store with her outfit change. All I can say is that her dress should be preserved and put on display in their home for their kids and future generations to appreciate. Absolutely incredible and it had to have weighed 30 pounds (although she made it look so effortless). Despite a bit of drizzle, we enjoyed the last of the twilight alongside the Hoo Films crew before setting them free to enjoy the rest of the evening with their loved ones.
As the ocean and horizon blended into a common darkness outside the dining-room windows, dinner was served and speeches began to paint some colorful pictures of the bride and groom’s past escapades. No speech ever got too scathing, there was definitely a lot of love for them individually, and as a couple. The brother of the groom gave one of the best speeches ever and a group of Shivani’s best friends gave a poignant recount of their early days when sparks were first igniting.
After so many days in high gear, it’s incredible that at 11PM on the day of their wedding, the dance floor was packed and…that we were in no hurry to get to bed! A testament to what incredible people Shivani and Saurabh are and the dedicated family and friends that brought such great energy to their time along that special part of the California coast.
The Seven Vows:
You will offer me food and be helpful in every way. I will cherish you and provide welfare and happiness for you and our children.
I am responsible for the home and all household responsibilities.
Together we will protect our house and children.
I will be by your side as your courage and strength. I will rejoice in your happiness. In return, you will love me solely.
May we grow wealthy and prosperous and strive for the education of our children. May our children live long.
I will love you solely for the rest of my life, as you are my husband. Every other man in my life will be secondary. I vow to remain chaste.
You have brought sacredness into my life, and have completed me. May we be blessed with noble and obedient children.
I will shower you with joy, from head to toe. I will strive to please you in every way I can.
Groom: You are my best friend, and staunchest well-wisher. You have come into my life, enriching it. God bless you.
I promise to love and cherish you for as long as I live. Your happiness is my happiness, and your sorrow is my sorrow. I will trust and honor you, and will strive to fulfill all your wishes.
May you be filled with joy and peace.
I will always be by your side.
We are now husband and wife, and are one. You are mine and I am yours for eternity.
As God is witness, I am now your wife. We will love, honor and cherish each other forever.
Ilana and Vishal are wonderfully sincere and so in tune with one another. They come from quite different cultural backgrounds, but their wedding day celebration(s) at the Hummingbird Nest Ranch were an amalgamation of them both. The parents wished for a traditional Hindu ceremony, and they got it…with a classy, clean, and modern touch à la the bride and groom. Tucked away in the foothills of the Santa Susana mountains northeast of Los Angeles, the Hummingbird Nest Ranch is a peaceful counterpoint to the frenetic pace of the city below. With it’s spanish renaissance architecture, succulent gardens, and nestled amongst granite mountains, it was perfectly suited to their desert oasis theme.
The formal events of the day began with the grooms horseback Baraat up the road leading to the Villa, where the ceremony and reception would take place. Off the horse and ready to be married, Vishal along with siblings, and both sets of parents waited as Ilana appeared through the archway, with the traditional chunar over her head. Vishal met his to-be-bride and the ceremony began – an hour of traditional rituals followed – and the two were then married!
Just before the sun descended over the western hills, the couple changed into western attire and we took the opportunity for a few photos with friends in the waning evening light. True to their reticence over the spotlight, the couple situated their table amongst the guest’s tables rather than in a main or head-table position. Speeches were made and a desert table was set up in lieu of the tradtional cake cutting and then general dancing began. There were no prescribed formal dances so everyone took the opportunity to promptly hit the floor as their band Jump Start got things rolling. What a great band… they all seemed to connect well musically and were even able to perfectly pull off California Love – which, as it happens is their wedding hashtag – #californialove2015
For such an event packed day, it seemed to be over way too soon, but as is always the case – time flies when you’re having fun!
In closing, we like to ask the couple some advice they wouldn’t mind sharing with future bride and grooms, so here’s Ilana’s:
Stay strong…it’s a marathon!
Nearly six years ago to the day, a girl and a boy walked into a bar for happy hour with some friends in New York City. Not looking for anything, they found something nonetheless. She was drawn to his radiant eyes. He couldn’t get her smile out of his head. They liked each others sense of humor. They honestly just liked everything about each other. The two kept in touch on a daily basis over all the little details that made their lives so fulfilling and interesting to each other; things like staying up late, waking up early, their ambitions, music, reading books in the park, and life in general. They eventually saw each other again (and again), and shared heaps of laughter and adventures as they were falling in love. Halcyon days were coming to an end, however, as M was accepted into graduate school on the west coast. S adored New York City and couldn’t imagine her life anywhere else, but then, life without M wasn’t a very good life, so they made the decision and packed up their lives and moved to Los Angeles. Once the amalgamation into their new surroundings was complete, they adopted a sweet little floppy-eared rescue puppy they named Ziggy Stardust. Their shared love for Ziggy (and David Bowie) enhanced their love for each other, and their adventures continued as a family.
The next adventure was going to be a memorable one; a luxurious wedding to inspire at an historical Los Angeles mansion. With such voracious appetites for art and culture, M & S chose a venue that is iconic in both categories. Greystone Mansion is a national historic landmark that was built in 1927 by oil tycoon, Edward Doheny, as a residence for his son and son’s family. Designed by architect, Gordon Kaufmann, Greystone Mansion is a Tudor Revival mansion on a landscaped estate with distinctive formal English gardens. The mansion spans 46,000 square feet, has 55 rooms, and is situated on 16 acres of land. At the time it was built, it cost over $3 million and was the most expensive home in California. As a true crime buff, S appreciates the murder-mystery aspect of the home and being a film buff, M appreciates all of the movies filmed at Greystone, including Ghostbusters II, The Big Lebowski, and There Will Be Blood, which was based on Doheny’s life and features the infamous bowling alley inside the mansion.
Weaving elements of eastern and western tradition amidst the palatial setting, the wedding day was a magnificent feast for the senses. M and S cut no corners ensuring that their wedding day would be fun, extremely memorable, and represent them completely. The wedding’s decor borrowed inspiration from the gardens and the grounds of the venue, with lots of florals and springtime colors. S’s mother made all the elements of the sofreh and M’s mother donated many of the antique pieces used throughout the day. The ceremony was held in the Formal Garden where the couple sat at the sofreh surrounded by blooming roses and loved ones. After they were pronounced husband and wife, guests were then encouraged to explore the grounds, as we took M and S to some of their personal favorite spots (the Cypress Walk and the Reflection Pond) for their portraits. Departing from a common grand entrance into dinner, M and S instead, entered the cocktail hour for their first dance and then mingled with the guests as the sun set over Los Angeles. The extended course menu for the dinner in the Inner Courtyard was perfectly selected and beautifully presented by the team at Wolfgang Puck as speakers shared their fondest memories of the couple.
And with that, they succeeded 200 percent and we’re so happy we were there to documents such a gorgeous wedding for two incredible people (and one very sweet little dog).
If you like Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain…then Clearwater, Florida is your place! No, seriously. Although we didn’t get caught in any rain on this trip, we did find it pretty easy to track down a Piña Colada; and when it’s sunny, 95 degrees, and you have a few hours of free time…that’s a no-brainer.
This was our first wedding in Florida and my first time to the Gulf Coast since I was a kid, so we were even more excited than usual to be shooting somewhere completely new to us. Especially so because we were catching back up with two incredible people whom we couldn’t wait to photograph. Our clients are a lot smarter than I am but fortunately, most are quite camera reticent so it helps level the playing field a bit. With an acceptance rate of just 14%, Cornell University is not an easy school to get into; it’s discerning of the intelligence and the character of its student body. Fortunately, Whitney and Terry made the cut, because during their time there, through intersecting paths and mutual friends, the spark had ignited. Although the two weren’t exactly “friends” during their time at Cornell, Whitney left an impression that Terry couldn’t put in the rear-view. So…when Terry caught word from a mutual friend that Whitney was moving to the (New York) city, he asked her out before she even had a chance to unpack her boxes. She delayed for a while – wanting to be a single woman in the city – but a few months later, they had their first date and…well now we’re all in Florida to celebrate their big day!
Whitney describes the time leading up to their wedding day as “such an easy, breezy relationship filled with so much laughter and goofing off. Were really perfect for each other.”
Their wedding was held at the Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach, not far from where Whitney grew up. The preparations, ceremony, and reception were all held onsite and the beachside ceremony was officiated by Whitney’s brother Scott. We met Scott in 2011 when we photographed his wedding at the Hermitage Inn in Vermont, and got our first taste of the Valins family and their incredible shows of affection for each other. They’re a colorful family and we couldn’t wait to be there for the families final, wedding-day “mazel-tov!” as their youngest was about to marry her perfect partner. Alongside the couple, under the chuppah were their parents and siblings. Terry’s brother was the best man, and Scott’s wife Robyn was Whitney’s maid of honor. The ceremony incorporated both Jewish and Filipino traditions.
I’m certain that every tear duct in the crowd was ready to spill over by the time Terry and Whitney reached the exchange of vows. In front of 250 friends and family members, they spoke to each other from the heart as if they were the last two patrons in the back of an all-night coffee house in Tribeca, promising to look after each other and thanking each other for choosing to be there with them at that moment, and for the rest of their life together. I can’t remember exactly what was said but this will be the pinnacle of emotion in their wedding film for sure, and Jaime was in tears.
We just love these two completely and couldn’t be happier to see them begin their life together. They took a moment as the sun went down to walk the beach together and breathe in the last of the day’s sea breeze before heading into their crazy reception. And by crazy, I mean awesome. Between the speeches, the hora, the dancing, the band, more dancing, and the stolen moments between Whitney and Terry throughout the night, it was everything a wedding should be.
We like to pass on wisdom from a new bride to a future one, so on the topic of advice for couples still at the planning stage, this is what Whitney had to say: “As everyone says – do not sweat the small stuff; it either goes wrong anyway, doesn’t matter, or isn’t noticed. And it’s still perfect!
Well said, Whitney. We love you guys…