It wasn’t a rain shower. It was a deluge. The mountain valley wedding ceremony had just begun when the Colorado skies gave way. The bride and groom were both photojournalists. “And we’re shooting their wedding, so no pressure, right?” laughs Stacy Gillespie who runs Silverthorne, Colorado-based Gillespie Photography with her husband and business partner, Trent. When the downpour began, it was a full panic, she admits. “Gear is dripping, lenses stop working. But we keep shooting, we keep shooting, and we keep shooting. And seeing the light differently and just looking at each other.” At one point Trent signaled Stacy to sneak behind the couple and backlight the shot. They’d have no idea until after the wedding what an amazing shot they’d made.
“I remember after the ceremony setting up in the reception space and laying out the casualties of what we thought was not working, and looking at each other and thinking, What did we even shoot?” she says. But in the end, it was one of the best weddings they’d ever photographed, and it’s a story that continues to push and inspire them today.
Much of the credit goes to the wedding couple, Stacy says, for happily receiving the rain. “They loved in it, embraced it, karate kicked in it, jumped in it, had fun in it.” What were she and Trent to do but capture those moments? “Yeah, we were panicked. But our job was to document the wedding no matter what, no matter how many lenses went down,” she says. “And we shot through it.”
With a wedding photography business based in mountainous Summit County, Colorado, a popular locale for destination weddings, the Gillespies are well versed in outdoor ceremonies with rapidly changing weather and harsh sunlight. “We’ve had weddings where it has hailed, snowed, rained, and sunshined,” says Stacy—all in one day. Of course they check the weather report before each event, but they never fool themselves into thinking they can count on a particular focal length, piece of equipment, or stylistic approach for a wedding.
“We’ve learned to be dynamic with cameras and our lighting equipment and everything that we use at a wedding,” Trent says. Truth be told, the Gillespies relish an unexpected change in the conditions. “We thrive in the chaos of the weather,” says Stacy. “When the rain comes, it creates moments, diversity, feelings, a complexity in the day that creates more of that story. So we thrive in Mother Nature.”
It’s no surprise the couple enjoys weather drama, given the context of their third date: Trent brought Stacy along to photograph a lightning storm in Northern Colorado. “That was the first time I had ever touched a nice professional camera,” she says. As their relationship blossomed, so did Stacy’s interest in photography. Trent, who’d just begun photographing weddings, soon went full-time with his business, with Stacy assisting on weekends. After dating and working together for five years, they married, which was a pivotal point not just for their personal lives but for their business, too.
“After being on the other side of the camera and having our own story told, we looked at the images and we saw how important that day is—the relationships, the emotions, all of that,” says Stacy. “It’s not just about taking a pretty portrait. It’s about family, history, people who have impacted your life. Every hug matters. Every person at your wedding is there for a reason. And it really put weight behind what we do for a living.”
Ten years ago when Trent began photographing weddings, his focus was portraiture and trying to mold the nuptials into what the industry wanted, he says. “But we realized after we got married that these real moments need to be remembered. So we really transitioned from shooting weddings for us to shooting weddings for our couples.” The Gillespies flipped their focus from portraiture to the in-between moments of the day, they say, which led them down a route of storytelling.
“We love transition times because that’s when weird, funny, crazy things happen,” says Stacy. “An aunt having a meltdown because she doesn’t like her hair. A kid picking his nose in aisle three. Someone stepping on the bride’s veil and it hurts.” When couples see those kinds of photos, they feel the wedding day all over again. “They think, Oh that was when I was so nervous to walk down the aisle. The whole purpose of what we do is to remember emotions and times for years to come. And it isn’t always the pretty portraits that do that. It’s sometimes the hard, sometimes the ugly, sometimes the great moments that trigger that emotion for people.”
More than anything, the Gillespies want their client couples to engage with guests and feel the emotions of the day. So removing them from the party for hours to make the perfect portrait isn’t going to happen. Instead, the Gillespies grab a few portraits of the couple after the ceremony and a few during the reception. In fact, they spend so little time on formal portraits that most of their couples are able to attend their wedding reception cocktail hour. As an added bonus, making portraits at various times throughout the wedding day provides more diversity in the photographs. “They don’t need 75 images with the same lighting and backdrop,” says Stacy.
Since the Gillespies’ pledge to clients is to capture the chaotic and emotional “in-between,” they work best with clients who value those meaningful moments. “Our ideal client is someone who is very comfortable in their own skin and in creating a day that is focused around the two of them and their marriage,” says Stacy. Someone with an expressive energy, who’s excited to get married and have fun with guests, adds Trent. “A lot of the time that leads us to outdoor adventure couples who are willing to push the limits just a little bit further. We don’t generally shoot the super extravagant, detailed weddings.”
As beautiful as the scenery is in Summit County, it’s not the centerpiece of the day. Neither are the actual centerpieces on the reception tables, for that matter. The centerpiece is the couple’s love. “We strongly believe in the power of marriage,” Stacy says. “It sounds cheesy, but we generally love love.”
Many of the ceremonies the Gillespies photograph are destination weddings with couples who live in other states. The Gillespies strongly prefer face-to-face initial consultations, so when a couple inquires about booking them, there’s a follow-up FaceTime call for everyone. The photographers ask tough questions intended to trigger emotions such as, When did you know you wanted to marry each other? This conversation helps the Gillespies get a grasp on the couple’s story. It also helps them sort out which couples are their target clients. Sometimes it’s not the right fit. “We’re not just telling people we don’t want to work with you,” says Stacy. “We want them to find the right photographer, too.”
Posting the right kinds of images to social media and their website is one aspect of attracting the right clients, say the Gillespies. They’ve also found Instagram Stories to be effective for sharing their own personalities through behind-the-scenes images and videos. “We are asking couples to open up, so we just want them to know who Trent and Stacy are,” says Stacy. Some of the couples who contact them mention the Gillespies’ Instagram Stories.
The Gillespies contend that their success in wedding photography is a reflection of the wedding day experience more than the images themselves. “Trent is a quiet, shy guy, but he is always helping,” says Stacy, whether it’s hauling something in from the rain, aiding with the veil, picking up a sign that’s fallen, or making time to get to know and listen to the couple’s parents. Taking those extra steps goes a long way toward exceeding client expectations.
“There are times when we leave the wedding when the mom of the groom, or the bride, or groom says, ‘You guys are the best photographers ever.’ And they haven’t seen a single image yet,” Stacy says. “The reason they’re saying that is because their day-of experience was so good. Because we cared about them, we laughed with them. When they needed a hug, we gave them a hug.”
Adds Trent, “If you help them draw a personal connection to the photos that you produced of their day and you’ve made it meaningful, it doesn’t matter if there are better technically, better visually, or more interesting photos out there. That is their wedding photo that you helped them make.” And nothing can supplant that story.
Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.
Tags: wedding photography