Wedding days are so special. I’m not just talking about the ceremony filled with love, families coming together or the memories made. Those parts are amazing, but I also love the small things. At weddings, each person usually has a place they need to be, whether it’s with the bride, with the groom, greeting guests or helping people find their seats. But as a wedding photographer, I get the opportunity to be everywhere. I get to be the proverbial fly on the wall and take in all of the details that might otherwise be easy to miss. Take, for example, the groom and groomsmen as they get ready for the ceremony.
I know that a wedding is traditionally thought of as the bride’s day. Many times, the groom just wants his future bride to be happy (happy wife, happy life, right?!), so he tends to minimize his own wants. After all, the groom likely hasn’t spent hours pouring over Pinterest for the best inspiration shots. The men sometimes act like they don’t really care about the details, and maybe they don’t, but they’re still important.
If you think about your wedding day in terms of telling a story, each part has meaning. The groom and groomsmen getting ready — that’s the beginning of the story. While the guys might not take as long getting ready, watching them and capturing those moments can be so cool. The groom chose each of those people to stand by his side for one of the most important days of his life.
The groomsmen have known the groom, often times, longer than the bride. They grew up together, went to school together and crossed all the major bridges in life together. They have been there for the relationships that came before — the good, the bad and the ugly. These friends have watched the groom grow into the man that they are.
Groom’s Day Too
In the dressing room, along with the groom and groomsmen, you might also find his parents and siblings. You’ll see handshakes and hugs, tears, fist bumps, high fives and everything in between. You’ll hear jokes and advice. You might see a dad tieing his son’s tie and hear a mom telling him how proud she is. Guys will be hanging out and being guys. All of that is worth documenting.
While the day is the bride’s day, it’s not just the bride that makes the wedding. It’s a couple, that is, two people, celebrating their love. You can’t have a wedding with just one person. And along those lines, you chose the people closest to you to celebrate the day with you. Include them. Show them you love them, appreciate them and value them as your friends or your future spouse’s friends. Welcome them into the fold.
Just like each wedding is different, each party and celebration are different. The groomsmen add pizazz to the wedding. They take the edge off the groom by making him laugh and be himself. They help him relax and revel in what really matters most, and for that, that are with their value in gold!
In 2017, one of my goals has been to think outside of the box for portrait sessions. I want to make sure I’m not getting too comfortable with locations and spice things up. My goal is to add new, exciting and different places to take couples that they might not traditionally think of on their own. I also have been trying to up my steps to 20,000 each day. So I use my daily walks to scout cool and fun locations to bring people.
Here are three of my favorite stl portrait locations for unique, yet amazing shots.
There’s an old, abandoned church near the Fox Theatre in St. Louis (460 N. Spring Avenue) that’s perfect for portraits. The church has been ripped from it’s foundation and all that’s left is three walls with vines and vegetation growing up them. It’s beautiful.
According to Preservation Research, the National Memorial Church of God in Christ was built in 1884. It was destroyed by a fire in 2001. The church was bought to be made into an urban sculpture garden and in 2003 crews began removing debris, but the project was abandoned in 2004.
The church is nestled in the theater district, which means it’s surrounded by the Fox Theatre, the contemporary art museum and St. Louis University — all perfect spots to get great portraits.
That’s right. Our second borderline crazy portrait location is a haunted house. The Lemp Mansion, located near Cherokee Street in St. Louis, is said to be haunted. The mansion was built in the early 1860s as a home and brewery and has a sordid past. Now, it’s used as a restaurant and inn that draws many paranormal enthusiasts year round.
From the outside, it looks abandoned, but not in a decrepit way. Because it’s used as a wedding venue and inn, it’s well-maintained. I would describe the mansion as dark, moody and just plain cool. There aren’t many people who live nearby (unless you count the ghosts). Being right by Cherokee Street is a plus, because there has a hipster vibe to it, complete with artsy shops and the perfect streetscape for portraits.
Old Town St. Charles
Often, when people think of portraits in St. Charles, they think of Main Street. I love Main Street! But if you get just a little off the beaten path, about a mile away, you get to Old Town. It’s really similar to Main Street except there’s less traffic and fewer people. There are cobblestone roads, vintage shops and the vibe is chill. The area offers so many vibrant, fun colors that make the perfect background.
Old Town also near the river, which is a cool spot in itself. But if that’s not great enough, there’s this huge tree that has fallen in the river and looks as if it were placed there as a photo prop. There’s no other word for it except picturesque. Old Town has the amazing river view and everything else Main Street offers in a more secluded space.
It’s always fun and rewarding to step out of my comfort zone and put a unique spin on portraits.
I love my job, my religion and my life.
I’m Muslim and currently observing the holy month of Ramadan, and one of the main principles of Islam is fasting. During Ramadan, from sunrise to sunset, nothing is supposed to touch your lips — food, drink or anything else. Ramadan is a time for straightening ones religion, reflecting on your life, and be better in all aspects of life. It is beautiful and I love it with my whole heart.
We also reflect on our privileges as a person during the month. No matter where we are in the world, we all enjoy some sort of privilege. One privilege is being able to eat and drink. Here in America, we can eat freely, whether it’s from a restaurant or something we purchase from the grocery store. There are many who can’t just walk into a store , let alone have the ability to purchase food. And it’s not just food, but we can buy literally anything and everything we need or want. We are so lucky if we can nourish ourselves, have a roof over our head and clothes to wear. It’s definitely easy to forget, which is another reason we practice self-restraint from worldly things during this time.
Fasting is Tough!
No matter how many times a person fasts, I’m not sure it becomes “easy.” Your head is pounding, you become exhausted more easily and can lack energy to keep moving. But while I’m a Muslim, this isn’t something I broadcast. And while Ramadan can be at any time of the year, this year is lines up perfectly with wedding season.
To be honest, as a photographer, it’s difficult to work during Ramadan. It is especially challenging during the hot summer months when you can’t drink during the day. But I still give it my all, perform to the best of my abilities and work extra hard to make sure nothing is lacking in my performance. Though I may be suffering from hunger or thirst, or both, my clients getting married during Ramadan get the same Sofi Seck Photography fierceness as those getting married any other time.
And actually, as your body goes through ketosis (When your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates from food for your cells to burn for energy, so it burns fat instead), things become more clear. I’ve found that once I’m dialed in, I’m dialed in. Over the years, I’ve learned to push myself beyond what I think is possible. I am focused and I have a clarity that is difficult to pin down sometimes.
At the end of Ramadan, you’re supposed to be a better person — and I can honestly say: I think I am. I want to make sure that all of my obligations are met and met to the fullest extent. I love being dedicated to every part of my life and continually improving as both a Muslim and wedding photographer.
I know I’ve said this before, but part of what I love about weddings is the many traditions and their deep roots in a couple’s culture. I love shooting different types of ceremonies and I especially love a great celebration. That’s why shooting Indian/Pakistani mehndi’s are so much fun!
A Mehndi is One of Many South Asian Traditions
Mehndi is a pre-wedding ceremony, usually the night before the wedding, that varies from tribe to tribe. It symbolizes the strength of the union between the couple and is used to wish the couple prosperity, luck and other blessings. In South Asia, the ritual dates back as early as the 15th century. Per tradition, someone mixes powder from the mehndi plant to create a paste. The substance is used to draw intricate designs on a bride’s hands and feet for her wedding day. Once it dries, it leaves behind a deep red color. Often, the powder is mixed with clove, lemon and eucalyptus oil, which are calming and used to help keep the bride stress-free before the big day. The bride’s family traditionally hosts the ceremony.
Celebrations Vary Widely
The mehndi is part of not only Hindu weddings, but also in Indian Muslim weddings. Couples from many countries observe the ritual. For many Indian couples, though, the mehndi is a party similar to U.S. couple’s traditions of bridal showers and bachelor(ette) parties. It’s hard to define a mehndi ceremony because it really does vary. Traditions and meanings vary from couple to couple and by region and religion. It’s definitely an integral part of the wedding that helps prepare the couple and families for a new life together.
I recently had the great fortune to shoot the ceremony of Niaz and Juveria. I met Niaz in college and his beautiful bride at her cousin’s wedding. Niaz has this amazing gift in that he radiates love. You can see it in his eyes, his smile and the way he treats Juveria, his friends and family. I love that about him! Juveria is as fun and full of heart as she is beautiful. I love that about her. The couple wanted their mehndi to be amazing day of fun with family and friends — and that’s exactly what it was.
Shooting STL family photos is a blast!
What I love the most about families is that each member has their own personality that shines on photo day. Within a family there might be someone who is a little on the shy side, someone who is super outgoing, talkative, funny, silly, serious, or all of the above.
I recently had a chance to shoot an amazing family: Audi, Ari, Desi, & Luca. They were gorgeous and amazing to work with! I’m so happy to have had them in front of my camera. It got me thinking about families and how they’re like a well-worn dress, woven together from many individual pieces to create something whole and beautiful. Each smile, each phase that one passes through and each memory contributes to the family and shapes it in some way.
Documenting Your Family’s Journey
While I usually photograph the beginning chapters of a family (weddings), I love to revisit that family as they continue in their life journey together. As families grow, they don’t only grow in number. They grow in personality, stories, lessons, appearance. I am continually amazed at how quickly things can change. That’s why I think it’s so important to document your family with photos. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — photos are your time machine back to this very moment in your life. They are great for us, but even better for future generations, who will get to look at and ask you you about for years to come.
What I’m saying is that even if you hate being in front of a camera, even if you’re shy, or self-conscious or can only focus on your flaws, it’s important to document your family anyway. In doing that, you’re saying “This is my family, right now. We may not be perfect, but our love is perfect.” Let’s face it, Desi and Luca won’t stay little forever. But I have no doubt that when thier parents look back on these photos, they’ll do it with a smile. Audi and Ari will remember how much joy their children brought them and how perfect life was at that very moment.
Stay fierce, my friends!