Styled shoots are my thang. They are – I love them!… buuuut I might have hit a new level of “crazy with this one”. They say, “Go big, or go home”, and this is something I’ve adopted as my motto for years. This Alice In Wonderland wedding shoot is exactly that. I love getting to design them, pick out the details, hunt for fun little bonuses that “make” the shoot, and see it all come together in front of my camera. I love shooting weddings for my clients, but these let my creativity come out (and take over). I literally OBSESS about them for months, sometimes years before I can get them out of my head. This shoot was no different.
Every Spring, I head to St. Louis from Denver to teach at a photography convention called Shutterfest (it’s the best one out there, you can look it up). My classes are “Rock Your Styled Shoots” – the ins and outs of it all. I do one in-classroom lecture style on the how to come up with a concept – get vendors to work with you – staying organized – getting published – etc. The other is an actual, complete styled shoot I put together for my students to shoot, giving them something they can use to build their portfolio. SO, my shoot had a specific day and location that could not be rescheduled, no matter what. This year, I knew I wanted to shoot in the courtyard at the amazing Union Station Hotel, where the conference is held every year. This would not only give me a very specific look, but also give me the opportunity to control the class a little bit (in years past, it can get hectic depending on the location). This courtyard is in the middle of the complex, surrounded by hotel rooms, and doors on two ends. I have always wanted to do an “Alice In Wonderland” theme. Of course, this has been done, but I wanted – needed – it to be different – better – classier – more luxury – more bridal. I wanted to stay away from bright colors and kitchy details. I have always loved the old illustrations from the original Lewis Carroll novel, and wanted that to be what it was built around = vintage and classic. Keeping it “blushy” and soft with the color palate was a must, and why not throw a French undertone in there (it seemed to fit)?
So then I started “marinating” in it, as I call it. I lay awake in bed at night thinking of what the details would look like, envisioning them together in the space, the garden of the courtyard. I gotta admit, I came up with some pretty cool ideas! Next comes Pinterest for the visual and then I start reaching out to my people. Our color palate ended up being blushy pinks, cream, and white with a pop of gold and a hint of black. Of course, here in Denver, styled shoots are a total thing. Everyone does them – they’re great for so many reasons! I can reach out to a plethora of talented folks in any category and get what I need in just a few emails. In St. Louis, maybe not so much?
In year’s past, it has been a challenge getting the team and the necessary items together. This could be simply because they don’t know me – I don’t have the reputation there like I do here… it could just come down to timing. It’s all good, but I need stuff! I have found that it’s just easier for me to get what I need here and figure out how to get it there. I have sent stuff with other photographers who drive there and back, and that has worked well …until this year. Remember I said, “go big or go home”? I really wanted to pull out all the stops this year (I had to top last year’s shoot!)! I really wanted a ceremony set up, long tablescape (obviously), a lounge set, dessert display, and some other fun little things. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be able to get everything I needed in a couple mini vans and my Tahoe. Therefore, I needed a trailer. Yes, I decided to pull a trailer all the way to St. Louis, and back. As I said, I might be nuts….
Almost every Vendor (I call them “Friendors”) I reached out to was completely on-board almost immediately… “whatever you want” they said. So of course, I went big… and way out of budget, yikes. It was not without its challenges however… Budget – out the window. Logistics – how in the H am I going to get everything I want there and back? I needed to PULL A TRAILER. Rent one? Borrow one? Who do I know with a trailer?! Jenni and Andrew with Wallflower Rentals and Décor…they have a trailer! I knew it was a long-shot, but I asked them if I could borrow theirs to haul all this stuff to St. Louis, and back (seems like a normal thing to ask someone, right!?). She actually said, “Okay”!? Talk about trust… Oh, and btw – “I also need 2 kings chairs, a couch, some pillows, a couple of side tables, 2 side chairs, a coffee table, and ceremony arch, kay? …and I need them for a week…” done. I couldn’t believe it! So then, I needed all the tablescape stuff – the dishes – the linens – the chairs. Christy from Allwell Rents (who doesn’t accept every styled shoot that comes across her desk), was a DOLL to work with. I was very specific with what I wanted and she never said NO. I got 16 black chiavari chairs, 16 place settings, complete with flatware, chargers, glassware, mix & matched teacup sets, and all the linens to go with them. Throw them in the trailer! Flowers – my girl from last year was too busy, and I shuttered at the thought of trying to find someone out there. I certainly wasn’t going to try and do them myself once I got there (even though it was a decent plan B). SO my go-to would be the incredibly talented team at Compass Rose Floral. They specialize in rented real-touch flowers that look just like the real thing, but they’re fake. BINGO. I had coffee with the girls and they loved the concept. I wanted a bouquet & bout, two large arrangements for the table, some little ones to place around the space, and a big-ass spray for the ceremony arch. In the trailer they go! Of course for our Bride/Alice, she HAD to be in a light-blue wedding dress. I just couldn’t, I wouldn’t compromise on that one piece. It was a bit of a challenge as some shops don’t carry that color, or they were apprehensive about letting me have it for a full week during this time of year… I get it. Thankfully my girl Jordan at The Bridal Collection had this beautiful Justin Alexander in platinum/silver/blueish number that was STUNNING. She also let me take some jewelry and everything needed to get our model fitted in it perfectly! I wasn’t even going to have a Groom, …but added him in last minute. He was more of a prop for our Bride anyway since I didn’t really want to go with him as the Mad Hatter or the White Rabbit…that just seemed cheesy. I put him in light grey with just the right pop of black…
The biggest stressor was the dang weather! Being that the courtyard was outside obviously, and in the Springtime in the mid-west, weather was definitely a factor. At the 10-Day mark, I started watching it like a hawk, checking multiple times a day. It came and went whether there were going to be storms that day, and I considered options… I can’t move it inside anywhere as the entire hotel was taken over with expo, other classes, etc…literally the entire hotel. I couldn’t move it to an off-site location – that really would have been a logistical nightmare! How about a tent? Okay, but not one of those ugly-ass white ones. A clear one would work! So I started reaching out to companies in St. Louis. It was frustrating. Of the 4 I found that had clear tents, I connected with one of them. They gave me a small discount, but even then it was going to cost me $1200! Not only do I not have that kind of money, but holy cow, talk about over-budget!? I begged and pleaded with them to re-consider to see if they could do any better. I know the labor on those things is a lot – I get it – I was hoping they could discount the rental fee a little (or a lot) more, or waive it completely. Now we were getting down to the wire as we were heading into the weekend and I had to get ready to head out! I was still praying that the weather would hold out… I found some really great details for this – not something I could borrow from any vendor, and this is where my budget comes in.
I typically don’t try to spend more than $200 on a shoot. I usually buy cufflinks and a few little trinket things that add to the theme. Well, this year I found so many great little things that made it awesome! I love scouring thrift stores, antique malls, etsy, amazon, and Hobby Lobby for things… White rabbit cufflinks of the White Rabbit in his Queen of Hearts outfit, A vintage copy of the actual “Alice in Wonderland” book, An ADORABLE tea set featuring the characters with “drink me” and “eat me”, Pink flamingos (of course), Over-sized peony flowers, A black hookah, A white top hat, Old books, little topiary bunnies, and some clocks, A guest book and feather pen, Crochet doilies, Hand-blown glass bottles containing pink palomas for “drink me” and Key shaped bottle openers for “favors”.
For the rings – I really wanted a local designer I have been working with to let me borrow some things, but April was their “Bridal and Diamond” event, and couldn’t let me take them for a week – bummer! Plan B – my own wedding ring, which is an art-deco style with two pale blue princess cut aquamarines in the top, and a cheapie men’s ring from Amazon. Done. Desserts – the cake came from the incredibly talented Rachel at Intricate Icings, and happen to have a pale blue one that kind of matched the dress perfectly! It was a show cake in that the interior is Styrofoam and is able to travel when packed properly. Going with the French thing, I got some pink and black macaroons with gold from the Macaroon Shoppe here in Denver (they were delicious)! I wanted a little spread, so I reached out to The Sweet Divine in St. Louis to see if they would work with me again (as they had in years previous). Mike was all over it and gave us some little cupcakes, chocolate covered strawberries, and the cutest little pies you ever did see (they were all super delicious too)! Invitations and printed things – Cristy from Lucky Onion was all over this. She was excited about the concept and she NAILED IT. I absolutely LOVE the suite she did and everything looked just perfect… absolutely perfect! She even used the names of real people that pertained to the story, such as Alice Liddell! I love that kind of attention to detail! I hit up my email friend Joe with Groovy Guy Gifts and Bridesmaids Gift Boutique for a few more personalized details. I love it when you can include those as most couples get those for their wedding parties. I chose the Bridesmaid gift box with tumbler and flowered robe, all customized. Of course the perfect “gift” for any Groomsman in an Alice In Wonderland wedding, is a black pocket watch engraved with their initials! The quality of all of these items is fabulous and I love including them in my shoots! I wanted some shabby chic type side tables to display the desserts on, but Wallflower didn’t have anything like that! A quick stop at Hobby Lobby helped make that happen and I threw those in the trailer too. All the cute little signs and the wooden directional sign came from my talented friend Meredith with Chalk & Nail – I love that I can send her a few ideas and nails it, every. single. time. Throw in a few things from my personal stash… such as a white faux fur thing, and a white parasol I picked up at an antique mall for another shoot, a couple of models, and we have ourselves a shoot!
Executing this was exhausting. I spent a few days organizing things and picking up everything from my peeps around town on Friday and Saturday, all while coordinating my kids and a few shoots… but I tried scheduling them for the utmost efficiency. In the madness I didn’t realize I didn’t have the bouquet and boutonniere at pick up, and didn’t figure it out until I was laying in bed in St. Louis the first night! Sunday morning at 4:00 am, I met my friend Sunshine and we hit the road. Driving to St. Louis was an adventure to say the least! We caravanned with another photographer and friend and had a blast with walkie-talkies. Driving through Kansas kind of sucked because of the wind and the trailer, and apparently, the A/C in my Tahoe was on “Auto” and we didn’t realize it was sucking our gas down to dangerous levels…in the middle of Kansas. Google maps failed us and we ran out of gas, while attempting to go up a hill. Thankfully our friend in the mini-van ran to the nearest gas station and got us some gas… which was just on the other side of said hill. After we gassed up, we celebrated with ice-cream. Moving on…. We made it to St. Louis just before dusk and were ready to rock! The next day was load in and we got the trailer unloaded and the cargo securely stashed in position so we could set up Wednesday morning. I was GIDDY arriving in the courtyard – it was so much more beautiful than I had remembered. Coincidentally, the dogwood trees were in bloom, and THEY MATCHED THE SHOOT!!! BONUS! One girl during class asked me if I had painted the tree to match!? I also had Compass Rose over-night the bouquet and boutonniere to me at the hotel…had to have it! My favorite part of the bouquet was adding a portrait of Lewis Carroll himself as a memorial token…see, it’s those little details… The forecast definitely said RAIN…ugh! I hadn’t heard back from the rental company, so I called the day before and just said, “let’s do it”. I was willing to pony up for it… they called back an hour later and said they couldn’t do it = the warehouse manager said there was no way they could make it happen with such short notice. Dang it! BUT… I just saved $1200… rain it is!
I was also supposed to get a car to shoot with – they always make for such a sweet prop and add to the uniqueness of the shoot. I have a guy – in St. Louis who owns a company who resells classics. We have worked together 2 years before, and of course I hit him up. He had this rad little French Panhard in light blue that would have been SO PERFECT. However, I cancelled him due to the rain ? The next morning – it was go time. Thankfully I had a couple of AWESOME friends helping me – my friend Sunshine and my Assistant Adam. We got it all unpacked and started setting up in drizzle (my nizzle). We had to keep all the paper items inside, but set up by a window so at least we could have the best light. We brought tarps just in case and kept things covered till we got closer to the actual shoot time. Stupid rain! The dress fit the model Brynn perfectly and she was an absolute DOLL to work with! My girl Abbi with Vanity Noir killed it on the hair & makeup, and it lasted even through some sprinkles… Brynn’s mom Heather was there helping and I am so thankful she was! Just another set of hands was invaluable! We ended up with two outfits for her, so we had her change half way through. I wasn’t sure getting a light-blue wedding dress was going to happen, so I ordered a skirt from Etsy and found a cute little crop top to go with it. I added some black and white striped tights for a little touch of edgy in there and had her bring her own shoes for comfort. Our Groom Andy was so sweet, and made everything super easy…he looked great…and he even put up with some of my “abuse” (I tease). Since we were working around the rain, some things had droplets on them but they couldn’t be avoided. I didn’t get to shoot the models ahead of the class as I really wanted to, so I had to fly by the seat of my pants. Class was getting ready to start and we actually got a break in the rain! Since I didn’t want things to get chaotic, I broke up the sold-out class of 50 into groups of ten and had them wear colored wrist bands. This was the easiest way I could come up with to stay organized. I gave everyone the 411 on the rain and thanked them profusely for their patience. We gave each group 10 minutes and placed the models in each set for a few for them to get their shots. It was a little of a whirlwind, but they did great! I promised them that if it still wasn’t raining at the end, we would all go back out and shoot more until it started. Well, it didn’t start! Everyone was able to get their shots, including me, and I even busted out some smoke bombs for an extra level of awesome. It was a total “in the moment” decision, and it made for some truly magical images!! I had this class be a double-session based on feedback from the year prior. People needed more time and more people wanted to take the class. So, we started all over again and did it some more… After teaching, there were a few shots I still wanted that I wasn’t able to get prior to the class. I took Brynn and Andy up to this killer spot in the hotel that has some “hedge wall”, and it reminded me of the part in the story of the Queen of Hearts”. I shot some high-fashion type portraits that (I think) are portfolio-worthy! Now comes the worst part – packing it up. It took a few hours to pull everything inside, organize it, pack it, and get it to the trailer. By the end, I could barely walk. It was a 14 hour day! The next morning, time to drive back to Denver… another 14 hours, but we did not run out of gas haha… The day after that was spent returning the rentals, the flowers, the dress, the suit, the signage, the furniture, the trailer… completely exhausted. Now for the back end – downloading, culling, and editing the images. The fun never ends! I absolutely LOVE the edit on these… the coloring adds to the fairy-tale feel of it, and the whole thing came together in a beautiful, soft, magical story… I couldn’t be more proud. It was totally worth it.