My nomadic desires were born early on in life when I left Central Illinois and visited Colorado for the first time. I found myself consumed with exploring somewhere I had never seen before. The West Coast was a world apart from Illinois, and I was addicted to it. While my parents enjoy visiting me at my house on the Central California Coast, I know they must think “Damn, we HAD to show our boys the West, didn’t we?!”
Studying in New Zealand in 2008 didn’t help cure my wanderlust. I would spend countless hours daydreaming of exploring new places, meeting the locals, chatting with like-minded folks cruising through the same locations, eating the foods and indulging in the spirits. Now looking back, these moments have led to some of the most meaningful relationships in my life.
But you don’t forget where you’re from and the friends that stuck by your side during all your awkward and tough times. The friends and family that continue to go out of their way to stay in touch when you live so very far away.
With my photography focused on landscape and concerts, weddings never used to interest me. Many inquiries would come in, but I couldn’t fathom using my camera for anything but capturing the tranquility of nature and the dynamic moments created by live music. I only wanted to shoot what I wanted to shoot with no real direction other than my own vision.
This changed when my friend, Shannon McMillen of Town Country Studios invited me to second shoot weddings on the gorgeous Central California Coast. Her guidance inspired me to capture moments so much more memorable than the “postcard” landscapes to which I’d grown so accustomed.
However, when my dear friend Lindsay Langer approached me about being the photographer at her upcoming wedding I was still a bit hesitant. I’d turned down shooting my friends’ weddings many times, but she sweetened the deal. Langer and her fiance John DeRosa really wanted a destination wedding but with such large families it just wasn’t a possibility. So they offered that if I photographed the wedding in a church in Central Illinois, they would take me out to a post-wedding celebration shoot in Alaska. The decision was easy to make. I couldn’t turn this offer down. Plus I knew the three of us would just have a total blast traveling together.
Your immediate thought could be, “So, you went on their honeymoon?”
Sure. The first leg. After Alaska, the couple took their trip to the Pacific Northwest and we parted ways. The newlyweds considered that taking a photographer along was the perfect opportunity to capture unique moments. To capture photographs documenting a once-in-a-lifetime experience that showcased more than the wedding ceremony, but their happiness in marriage that highlighted the bond of two kindred, travel-hungry spirits whose matrimony was officially initiated by a proposal on glorious Na Pali Coast.
While this may not work for some, it was exactly what Langer and DeRosa desired. So there we were, in our secluded base – a spacious cabin in Trapper’s Creek, right on the peaceful Amber Lake. The simple, environmental mindset shared by the couple and myself took us a half hour up the road to Talkeetna, the ultimate hub for worldwide climbers seeking to experience Denali National Park. I’ve always loved little mountain towns and Talkeetna might now be at the top of my list. A perfect backdrop for wedding photos, a number of fantastic restaurants and quality beers galore. This was also our launching point to hop on a 12-seat plane via Talkeetna Air Taxi around the backside of Mount McKinley where we had a picturesque glacial landing for shots of the happy couple in paradise.
The scenery was larger than life, and it was nearly impossible to grasp any sense of scale when flying over the magnificent peaks and glacial valleys. Our pilot pointed out, “You folks might think we’re about to hit McKinley but we’re nearly a mile from it…”
With a fairly decent amount of experience shooting from helicopters and a Pacer plane I’d never been on anything equipped to land in snow. Smoothly gliding over the powder on the glacier was almost as exciting as the flight itself. We had about 30 minutes on the glacier, so with our big snow boots we ran out to a little clearing away from our flight companions. I think it was fate that not only were we able to see Mount McKinley, as it’s usually covered in clouds, but also have it serve as a dramatic backdrop of the beauty of Denali National Park. All of a sudden, the moment registered with all of us. We all realized how lucky we were to be standing somewhere so remote while looking so dapper. And that no doubt led to me walking away with plenty of meaningful photographs.
The Alaskan landscape was truly enough to keep me coming back for years and years. Short of Kauai, Hawaii, I’d prefer visiting Alaska more than any other location I’ve been to so far in my life. But this trip was about so much more. It was about capturing an old friend and a new friend celebrating the happiest times of their lives in one of the most spectacular places on earth.
The wedding and trip were emotional for me in the best way possible. During the reception, the bride’s father delivered a wonderful speech, touching on how lucky we are to have Lindsay with us today. An accident several years back almost took her from us. Her father passionately pointed out how her courage and determination during her difficult rehabilitation molded her into the strong, beautiful woman you see in these photos. As my mind flashed back through the years I couldn’t hold back the tears, even while photographing the speech. I was still smiling as the tears of joy rolled down my cheeks, and during our adventure, every single time Lindsay commented on how pretty the Alaskan scenery was, I couldn’t help but continue that smile and be thankful that my friend was still here, and that I was able to document and share this special experience with her.