Dangling out the open door of an aircraft might not seem like the job description for a wedding photographer. But that’s what Lauren McCormick recently did when one of her elopement couples were married on a tarmac and exited the ceremony via biplane.
“I actually got into a second aircraft that followed them in the air,” she explains. “So we shot this elopement air to air.” Over the roar of the engine, McCormick communicated with the pilot of her aircraft to get the plane into position to capture photos of the couple in the biplane as well as the city of Ottawa, Ontario, in the background. This meant her aircraft had to fly slightly above the bi-plane. She’d never made photos of an aircraft from an aircraft, so it took a lot of research on her part to, for example, select the proper lens and plan what she needed from the pilots in advance of the big day.
“One of the things I didn’t expect was they removed the door of the aircraft,” she says, so she could belt in and lean out the aircraft to photograph in any direction. That meant putting a lot of trust in a seatbelt, which is one thing when you’re on the tarmac and another thing when you’re in the air, she notes.
Still, “It was the highlight of my career,” she says.
McCormick’s passion for photography developed in college when she studied abroad in Taiwan and purchased an SLR to capture the experience. But it wasn’t until she photographed her first wedding that she knew her career calling. “I was always so terrified of shooting weddings,” she says. “There is a lot of pressure on one day.” She didn’t allow herself to accept the challenge until she’d further developed her skills, and when she finally did, it was life changing. “I still remember it was a 16-hour day and one of the busiest days of my life and I came out of that completely energized.” She knew she wanted to make a career out of that feeling.
In fact, “feeling” is the operative word, the crux of McCormick’s business. Her clients don’t necessarily seem similar, she says, as they host all kinds of different weddings. But they have one important element in common: They value the wedding experience and human connection over material items.
“They are super different weddings from each other, but every client fits that bill of looking forward to a great experience on their wedding day and valuing those personal connections with the people celebrating with them,” she says.
She describes her style as unconventional and driven by the unique traits of the couple rather than trends. “I could shoot in one distinct style, and copy and paste that to every wedding I shoot, but it wouldn’t necessarily reflect who my clients are in the best way,” she says. To home in on what her clients value, she makes it a priority to get to know them, which begins with the first phone call. “I really go into every interaction as an old friend,” she says. “Of course, there is a level of professionalism that needs to be adhered to because I am a business, but at the same time I try to drop those barriers so our interactions aren’t too stuffy and they can really feel like they can be themselves around me.” In meetings, she encourages them to open up and be vulnerable, to share stories about the moments that are most important to them. “There is no such thing as too much information,” she tells them. “The more I know, the better your photos will be.”
On her website, McCormick makes it clear that her role as wedding photographer goes well beyond the photography, referring to herself as an “everything girl” who can help guide couples through their day. When a couple doesn’t have a wedding coordinator, she steps into that role, putting out little fires along the way that might add tension to the day. A common example: It’s a small thing, but groomsmen at weddings almost never know how to put on a boutonniere, so she directs them. Parents are often emotional at weddings, and she’s been known to act as pseudo therapist when Mom or Dad is having a tough time. In fact, she’s had moms email her after weddings to thank her for helping them through a difficult moment. “It’s not really part of my job description,” she says, but it contributes to a better experience for clients, so it’s worth it. “The smoother my clients’ day goes, the happier they are going to be, and that really shows up in the photos.”
The best marketing for her business is something very simple, says McCormick: being kind. “Which is kind of weird to say,” she adds, “but it’s really a skill that not many people focus on.” But they should because you never know who you’re going to make an impression on, and people are more likely to refer a person who’s nice. “If there are two wedding photographers in the running for a couple to book and one is coming with an excellent referral from someone they know, then that goes a long way,” she says.
Her second marketing tip is to take advantage of social media, as it’s a resource that’s free, powerful, and readily available. And her third tip is to put community over competition by making connections with other local photographers and collaborating with other vendors. Instead of thinking of fellow photographers as competition, think of them as your allies, she advises. “Just being able to help each other out and share referrals and share resources, it can really take your business a lot further than if you’re trying to work as a lone wolf,” she says.
With social media marketing, McCormick’s approach is in line with her approach to the rest of her business—she follows her inuition rather than trends. “I don’t really follow a pattern per se with my Instagram posts,” she says. “I write them [as if] I am having a conversation with my best friend.” Rather than posting a Throwback Thursday, for example, she keeps it personal because that’s the best reflection of her business and a voice that will speak to the clients she attracts. By showcasing the emotional moments of her clients, she sets an example that it’s OK to be vulnerable on your wedding day. And those types of posts attract clients who want to embrace that vulnerability themselves.
One of the biggest challenges McCormick has faced as a wedding photographer was the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic in the last few years has disrupted, for better or worse, the industry and shuffled things around in a way that threw us all off,” she says. In 2020, she booked 50% of the weddings she normally works and was scrambling to salvage revenue and keep the business alive.
But out of that panic grew a spinoff business that continues to thrive today: Ottawa Elopements. She teamed up with an officiant who has a background in wedding planning, and the two of them guide clients in planning and executing intimate weddings that McCormick photographs. It’s the perfect side business, as it ties into McCormick’s focus on human connection and personalized service. Since both she and her elopement business partner are now busy with their own larger wedding events on the weekends, they book elopements Monday through Thursday.
McCormick loves the adventure-seeking clients this side business attracts and the unique experiences they request for elopements—hiking, yachting, dog sledding, hot air ballooning. “In Ottawa, we don’t have huge mountains and extravagant landscapes,” she says. So, the challenge is to create memorable and exciting experiences in a space that people don’t necessarily consider exciting.
Cue the biplanes.
Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.