Better than a wedding day: a new idea for bridal portraits

A lot of us have been planning our wedding day since we were little, the dream of a forever love fueling our ideas and plans. When the big day finally arrives, though, the reality of the speed of time hits like a runaway train.

"I cannot believe it is almost over."

"I barely remember what happened that day."

"I wish we had more time for pictures."

These are things real clients of mine have said to me, as we crash through a wedding day schedule. People run late. Things go "wrong" (I have to put that in quotes because it is usually not a big deal in hindsight). Relatives leave without you talking to them.

What if there was a different way? What if we could do photography for your wedding day AND a separate day for your bridal portraits? Hear me out...

This past week, I put together my first stylized shoot. The goal was to keep it real and showcase a new Milwaukee venue, The Ivy House, in the Fifth Ward. The shoot was inspired by the venue and my literary background, and carried a light theme of a modern-industrial Gatsby.

As I enlisted vendors I loved to work with, as well as a real-life couple to model, and the day approached, my nerves got to me. On a typical Wisconsin wedding day, I am calm as a cucumber because there is a pattern, and expectation, and I have done it so many times that I don't have to really think about what I am doing anymore. For this shoot, though, it was different. There was a loose schedule. No one could technically run late. We didn't have to worry about Aunt Karen and her tablet blocking the view of the first kiss (damnit Karen, leave your camera at home). The couple was already married and nerves weren't an issue.

I was so nervous and yet, it was so...calm.

I met Ariane at A Trio Jewelry to borrow some unique, modern pieces that would not only compliment Ariane's figure and the dress, but also break the mold of typical bridal jewelry, and be more on-trend with the coasts. Amy is amazing to work with and helped us guide our vision for the shoot. We selected two sets, but ended up using a yellow-gold based group of sliced raw diamond jewelry, complimented by a beautiful ring with halo band.

After that, we went to see the space at Ivy House. Neither I, nor Ariane, had been inside.

We. Were. Floored.

For years I have been digging barn venues and could argue that there was no better place to have a cozy, comfortable wedding, but the owners at Ivy House have completely annihilated that idea. The venue is filled with industrial components, but maintains a level of intimacy and nature. From the use of wood paneling on the walls, to the cream city brick, to the elaborate wallpaper (and ladies, the full-length mirror in the bathroom will make you envious), the whole venue is unique and different, yet makes you feel at home.

As a photographer, the incorporation of natural lighting made my spidey senses tingle. Large skylights frame a beautiful Edison-bulb-laced chandelier in the middle of the room. Tall windows laid into the cream city brick on the South wall, above the stage, breath drama and modernity into the room. The large garage door available gives the feeling of an open-air space. And then, there are the plants. Tucked into every corner (with more to come, it sounds like), the greenery brings the outside in.

The bar is what really got me, and I made sure to integrate it into the shoot, considering Fitzgerald was a known partyer during prohibition. The bar extends along the entire North wall of the main space. Bar stools made of wood and metal tie in the industrial and modern vibe perfectly.

One of the owners, Ramsey (an old friend of mine), led Ariane and I through the space. The outdoor patio space makes you feel like you are out of the city. There is lush greenery and a beautiful, natural-wood bar. By this time, Marisa, our hairstylist for the day, had arrived.

When we went up to the bridal suite, we were again speechless. It felt like we were transported back to an era of secret lairs for hushed parties. The stairs leading up to the suite are raw and perfect. The leather sofas and speaker wall give you the vibe of eras gone by. Large mirrors and big windows, bring in excellent lighting. In addition to the lounge space, there is a full kitchen (still in progress), a bathroom, and a separate dressing room with a great barn door. The crew at Ivy House had a clear vision for this property and are executing it perfectly.

We were already running 30 minutes late at this point, but there was no sense of urgency as Marisa started on Ariane's hair. An inspiration picture from Pinterest had given us the vibe for the shoot, but I left the creation and final details to the professionals. Marisa concocted a beautiful side-do, complete with subtle finger-waves and pin-curls (for just a little bit of that Gatsby vibe). Accented by a jeweled headpiece (Elegance by Kate), the 'do felt nostalgic, but modern.

Now, Ariane and Jim, who arrived just as make-up started, were married four years ago - their actual anniversary was the day after the shoot (as was their oldest's birthday). Sharing their anniversary with their daughter, they recognize that they probably won't get to do anything elaborate until she is a bit older.

On top of that, Ariane and Jim eloped. They invited their close family and friends to Mason Street Grille for an engagement party, but surprised everyone by eloping to the courthouse earlier that afternoon, and arriving to the dinner, married. While neither regrets their decision - and let's face is totally romantic - Ariane did mention that they never got to have that real wedding experience. This made me so happy that I chose these friends as our models for the day. Plus, Jim already owns a custom navy tux. They were made for this!

As Courtney with Dazzle Make-Up and Beauty Lounge applied Ariane's make-up in the dressing-room area of the bridal suite, Jim chilled in the lounge area. Since Ariane was loving the bride experience, we decided to do a first look for the two, to simulate the wedding-day feel.

A week before the shoot, I had stopped by Miss Ruby's in the Third Ward to pick out a dress for the shoot. There were two I loved, so I made Marisa come with to help me make the final pick. Two wedding-industry people in a dress shop instantly elicits oooohs and aaaahs and "I want thats." The initial thought for a dress was a simple cami-top, laser-cut floral chiffon ballgown with tiered layers on the skirt. We felt it was whimsical and tied in the garden aspect of the venue.

However, seeing the second dress again, with it's sleek lines and simplicity, was met with an instant "that one" by both of us.

We returned with the dress. I was a little nervous that Ariane would hate it, but was wrong. Everyone in the room (except Jim, poor guy, was just chilling) was in a chorus of agreement that it was perfect.

As we put on the final details for both Ariane and Jim, and got ready for the first look, the nerves I had about the shoot finally dissipated. This was the normal routine for me.

But it was different. We were running really late by this time, but I was not trying to coordinate the wedding party and family, or clear out all the stuff people bring with for flawless pictures. We were just a bunch of people, hanging out. As we made our way to the bar for the first look, if my creative eye saw a photo opportunity, we took it. There was no pressure, no worries.

The first look was worth it for the smiles on Ariane and Jim's faces.

The pictures were fun and easy.

So here is my idea: let's start scheduling weddings without that huge lag between the ceremony and reception - just enough time during the cocktail hour for family pictures and wedding party pictures. Let's start making our weddings smaller and more intimate so we can have these moments of no-pressure and ENJOY the love we came to celebrate. Then, let's spend a day together - just the two of you and my camera, to capture the creative portraits we all really want.

A huge shoutout to all the vendors who participated!

Full mini-gallery can be viewed here: The Ivy House Shoot. More pictures being added in September 2018!

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