How Being a Bride Made Me a Better Wedding Photographer

I’ve been a photographer for 20 years professionally; and for several years prior to that as a hobbyist. It all began in high school when I was a senior and took a photography class. I knew at 17 years old what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I loved everything about photography. I loved manipulating the settings to create the perfect exposure, I loved developing film in the darkroom and anxiously awaiting the results to see if I was able to capture on film what I saw with my eyes, I loved smelling of fixer and having stained hands, I loved displaying my work all over my room, I loved dreaming about how one day my photography was going to change the world.

My first part time photography job was between my senior year of high school and college in 1992. I worked for a wedding photography studio in my town. I assisted at weddings by holding lights, carrying equipment and even occasionally shooting the medium format cameras that were being used in the 90’s. No digital or instant gratification back then. I never wanted to be a wedding photographer, I wanted to be a photojournalist. In order to work for the newspaper, I needed 2 years experience so I had to work in the field any way I could in order to even be considered. I continued shooting in college working for the school paper, yearbook and college photographer. My senior year of college I was offered a part-time position at The Trentonian. Finally I got to be a photojournalist! I spent the first decade of my career working for newspapers and magazines. I loved every second of the adrenaline of covering fires and accidents, natural disasters and political rallies. I enjoyed covering sporting events; especially football which was always my favorite (still is). I met celebrities and politicians and everyday families that really changed me during my 20’s. And then I had my daughter and my world changed. That career path just wasn’t conducive to being a mom. I couldn’t just run out when my editor called anymore on a whim or in the middle of the night. I had to think real hard as to what I was going to do with my life at 31 years old. I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do. I wanted, no, I needed to shoot. I was good at it.

I took my love for documenting and decided to capture family life in the only style I knew. I began my portraiture business in 2005 photographing maternity images and babies and families. A few years prior to having my daughter, the “wedding photojournalism” trend got pretty big and a colleague of mine who was a wedding photographer, hired me to shoot with him and document the candids during the weddings. I enjoyed it, it paid well and I began to learn about how a wedding day works. I remembered from my job back in high school about the posing, but times had changed so much in those 10 years. The poses I learned in the 90’s were outdated, as was using a medium format camera. More and more couples liked the idea of “candids” and were moving away from the traditional posed and backdrop images. It was a perfect time for me to explore that area of photography as I would be able to shoot in a style that I was comfortable with. After 2 years of working for my friend, I shot my first wedding alone. It was a cousin of the man I worked for and he just wanted to be a guest and suggested I shoot the day. It was an honor to be trusted. My husband at the time assisted me and I was confident I could handle the day. What I didn’t expect was I had just found out 2 weeks prior that I was pregnant and on the way to the brides house I started to bleed. I began to panic fearing I was having a miscarriage. I called my OBGYN and he said for me to continue with my day because if it was happening there was nothing he could do to stop it. So through my tears and hysteria I worked. I had to tell the bride what was happening as I clearly looked upset. She was thankfully understanding and I assured her I would be there for her day. I got through the getting ready, ceremony, portraits, and all of the first dances and my friend Gary, who was the photographer I worked for, sent me home to rest and he took over shooting the reception for me. Thankfully when I reported to the doctor the next day, my baby was doing just fine and it was just a scare. But what a welcome to the wedding industry that was! That is enough to shake your nerves and I try really hard to have backups and Plan B’s for my clients because you just never know.

Now that you know my career back story, Let me explain how it all completely changed for me almost overnight. Last month I got married for the second time. The only way to describe it is magical. Considering I shoot weddings for a living, somehow I thought mine would be different. I’m in the business so I know how to create timelines, get things done and be prepared for things to change or not go as planned. I knew what photos I wanted and discussed them with my photographer. Of course, the timeline got messed up, the day flew by and was a blur and I don’t remember much of what happened. I do know, as a bride what seeing my first sneak peak that evening meant to me. I normally sneak peak night of the event for my clients as well, and I can totally appreciate the anticipation and excitement and how awesome it was to have images to share with folks we met on our honeymoon. But looking through the images, what photos ended up being important to me are not the ones I thought would be at all. As photographers, we love the portraits; that magnificent time when we get to have the couple all to ourselves and make magic happen. And those are awesome, and often the ones that are hung up in my client’s homes. (and will be in mine) But what ended up happening is that I had the photographer take some quick snapshots with some friends of all walks of my life, and those are so important to me. There is nothing technically brilliant about them, but the people I love are in them. And amid the chaos of the day, I realized I missed having a photo with my 96 year old grandfather that was present. The day just got away from us. It’s funny, I tell my clients this all the time, but to live it is so different. I realize when making photos even if not in the perfect location and the bride and groom want a quick photo with someone, I always take it just in case because with weddings there is no “later.” The day flies and then you forget. So although that photo with your God Parent or best grammar school friend wasn’t taken by the beautiful landscaping, but in the girls bathroom, at least there is a shot from the day, and believe me, you will cherish that shot like it was an award-winning image.

I also realized how looking in the background of photos is important. Looking at the faces of family and friends and really seeing who was present, who was crying, laughing etc. Eventhough those parts of the image are out of focus, I can still see my loved ones and I can’t stop looking at those images and trying to imagine what they were thinking and feeling. I now understand how those can be really important to my clients now as well. And photos, even if not perfectly exposed or perfect moments, can mean the world to a client. They may not make the album, but are so important to have for posterity. I look at my out takes a little differently now, too.

I have a new perspective on my career. I am newly inspired. I appreciate even more how important my timeline is, how important simple snap shots are and having a few images immediately to stare at and reminisce about while on your honeymoon .I don’t think as a photographer I took any of these things for granted, but I’m definitely more sensitive to it and I think my clients are going to appreciate the changes ahead. I always wanted to be a photographer so I can change the world with my photography. What I didn’t know 20 years ago is how I would do that. I thought it would be as a journalist. I still document, I just document important days in ordinary people’s lives. Some would say my photography changed their world; added color and love and emotion. That’s all I ever wanted.

me working 14

My wedding photography is copyright Sachi Villareal Photography

First image is me having fun with one of my brides
Second image is me holding my Garden State Gala Award for “Best Event Photography” 2015 for the wedding of Eric and Kiel

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