Sycamore Springs is a beautiful location in Bethpage, TN. But if you think you’re going to just call them up out of the blue and have your wedding there, you’d be mistaken. This secluded jewel of a location sits off the highway, far from most people’s cell phone service areas, and is accessible only by covered bridge through a (locked) iron gate. Its a bit tough to get ahold of the people who own and run it, but once you do, you’ll find a magnificent country estate awaits you. This is just what my couple Mandy and Charlie found when they arrived. Its all-natural, western-themed lodge has several stories and plenty of room for a large bridal party to get ready for the big day, as well as a patio, upper balcony deck, and lower “man cave” level with huge windows overlooking the serene view.
The first time I saw this place was when I met Mandy there for her bridal shoot. Bad directions had put me an hour out of the way, and while I certainly don’t condone lateness on any shoot (I was SO frustrated and stressing to get there while not getting a speeding ticket) I do actually have to admit that it worked out in our favor. Because starting later meant ending later, when we were reaching the end of the shoot, the sun had just dipped behind the distant hills, lighting up the sky with an amazing array of pinks and purples and oranges that I could not have scripted better myself.
Wearing her gorgeous gown from the White Room in Lebanon, TN, Mandy danced and swirled and played and posed for close to two hours as we traipsed over field and farmland to get to each spot. Her look was loosely based on the Taylor Swift “Love Story” video (which is funny, because that is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I had JUST watched a special on how they made the video only a few days before this shoot!) with the headband in place of a tiara, and two long ribbons down the back in place of a veil. The image on the right was shot in the middle of the field before they had cut the grass for hay. I set my light up to camera left, way up high so as not to cast shadows from the grass onto her dress. We had several of this particular pose, but I liked her smile and the framing of the grass stems the best in this one. The image on the left, funny enough, was taken once it had gotten relatively dark. The 580 EX II strobe wasn’t going to be enough, so I parked my car “just so”, allowing the headlights to skim her from the side. The 5D I was shooting allowed me to jack up the ISO to 800 without any major loss of quality. I shot at 1/50 sec at f2.8.
This image was actually my personal favorite from the shoot. The movement of the dress, lighting, and sunset, plus the angle of composition and the lowered saturation of the grass I thought made for a great combination. I liked it so much that I actually used it as my entry for the 2009 PPA magazine cover contest. We also had it displayed at the wedding, so everyone was able to enjoy it as well.
Almost exactly one month after the bridal shoot, the wedding was upon us. This happened to be the fourth wedding this family had hosted, so they had everything down and running like a well oiled machine. All of the decorations, tent, lights…everything…was done themselves. They also took on the task of putting the bouquets and arranging all the flowers themselves, and it all looked amazing. The girls were upstairs getting ready when I arrived, and the guys were downstairs figuring out how to work their suspenders. As agreed ahead of time, Mandy and Charlie got ready to see each other before the ceremony so that we could spend several hours shooting. Unfortunately, clouds were looming overhead and rain seemed inevitable. And it was. Just as Charlie, Mandy, Rob and myself arrived down to the covered bridge, it let go!
But, we made it work, and luckily the monsoon subsided just enough to let me run out onto the embankment (camera covered in a cloth) next to the highway, while the bridal party climbed up onto the side portions of the bridge, looking out towards me.
The bridal party was very large (18 not including the 3 flower girls), so finding space to take a group shot with enough space, where they wouldn’t get wet became important. The opening on the sides of the bridge served as a perfect frame, and we had enough people to stretch from one side to the other without any gaps.
Not long after, however, the rain let up, and we made our way back towards the cabin, taking advantage of other spots along the way.
When I met with the couple to view their images, we laughed about how fast the time flew by trying to get in all the ideas we had for photos. Even with two hours, moving that many people from point to point and dealing with the weather took up a lot of time.
On that note, let me take a detour here for a second….A word of advice for people getting married and spending any amount of money on photography. If you want to get the most out of your photographer’s time and expertise, and take advantage of all your location has to offer in terms of scenery, props, and natural beauty, do yourselves a favor and SEE EACH OTHER BEFORE THE CEREMONY!!!! Yes I know “its tradition” and yes I know its “bad luck” and yes I know your “grandmother won’t approve” or whatever the reasoning is. But this is probably the most money, time, and energy you’re going to spend on any single event in your life, right? In terms of photography, is it really worth the value lost by not capitalizing on all of these things at your disposal? Unless you are having a photographer strictly for record-keeping purposes and not for any major creativity or artwork, you are literally just throwing perfectly good shooting opportunities right out the window. I can assure you that after the ceremony is over, you won’t have time to do all that could have been done beforehand. People will be waiting to see you, you’ll feel rushed, you’ll be starving, and your feet will probably hurt. Why put yourself through all of that? Yes I understand its tradition and all that, and if you absolutely must adhere, then I respect that decision. But let me tell you, its one costly tradition you’re upholding there! Just plan a special “first look” where the two of you can be together for a few moments alone. That way you still get the “moment” but without sacrificing so much else
So enough of that. Back to Mandy and Charlie. The ceremony was held in a grassy area overlooking the beautiful hills. They hung some pretty fabric from two bamboo poles as an archway, and the surrounding trees held up hanging mason jars filled with yellow candles. Sadly the candles didn’t make it all the way through the ceremony, since the rain had come down after they’d already been hung and lit. They were, however, very pretty ornaments of yellow melted wax!The funniest part, though, was as the bridal party receded back down the aisle, the groomsmen donned pirate patches over their left eye, commemmorating Charlie’s recent eye injury that had healed just enough so he didn’t have to wear a patch of his own for the wedding!
As the reception got underway, Mandy and her father cut a rug together with a custom dance they had come up with, combining an emotional slow “father daughter” song, and portions of an oldies dance song mixed in. When I talked with Mandy afterwards, she confessed to being so sidetracked watching her dad get into it that half the time she forgot she was supposed to be dancing too. It was really sweet and dad did a great job!
Spangler Entertainment provided the music. While this was my first time working with Spangler, the family has been using them for a while, and I can see why. They did a great job. The DJ was so energetic and got everybody out on the dance floor. It was great watching people get into formations, not really knowing what they were supposed to be doing, then the music would start and they’d realize a need to summon their inner Las Vegas showgirl – high leg kicks and all!
Just as the sun was setting, I grabbed Mandy and Charlie to see if they wanted to head back down the hill for a few quick photos by the barn with the sunset in the background. Gladly, they agreed, and we told the DJ we’d be back in about ten minutes. He kept the party entertained while the bride and groom were MIA.
The hay bales served as perfect props, and the hay tiller (? not sure if that’s really what its called?) had these wild round yellow attachments with curved tines that contrasted with the deep blue sky. We were losing daylight fast, so it was rush, rush, rush the whole time. I think I got about four images off in front of this machine, and happily this one turned out to be one of my favorite bride and groom shots I’ve done in a while. I like it because its different and offers you something you don’t see everyday.
The barn was equally cool, conjuring up memories (for me) of the “red wall” talked about in a Sallee seminar I attended in Nashville last year. (The comment was that photographers would lament to JB and DeEtte “But we don’t have a red wall in our town” since one of their famous images is of a wedding party dancing against a red wall, and their reply was you’d be surprised what you can use as an interesting background…and he was right. Ever since then, I see cool “backdrops” everywhere I go!).
The evening went on with plenty of dancing, mingling, and enjoying the beautiful cake by The French Confection. It was an amazing work of art with fondant icing and an array of teal blue flowers made (I think) of either gum paste or fondant. The flavors were also as interesting as they were delicious..key lime…coconut…Mmmmm!! Mandy’s mom was nice enough to give us two big slices to take home with us at the end of the evening. It was a perfect distraction from our aching feet on the drive home!
As the evening drew to a close, we photographed the couple’s “getaway” amid a fiery flurry of sparklers as they ran to their awaiting golf cart, duly decorated by their diligent bridal party. Before we left, however, we had to do one last image, with dad serving as our pyro-technic. I have done lots of timed-exposure work over the years, and self assigned “light painting” work so was familiar and comfortable with the technique, but until now had never something like this for a wedding client. Usually its a matter of trial and error with the shutter speed, since you can set it too fast and not allow enough time to get the patterns drawn, or you can set it too long and then get too much motion or have parts that are blown out. Happily, it only took two tries, and we landed on a 2 second exposure (bumped up a half-stop in Camera Raw during post) at f5.6 at ISO 320. The trick to this is to do it in an area with no spill-off light from any other source, as it can leak into the frame and contaminate your image. We certainly got that part down, finding the darkest area under some trees. I did a “1, 2, 3, GO”, Mandy and Charlie gave a big smooch, and dad drew out a perfect heart using two lit sparklers. Bravo!
Rob and I would like to sincerely thank both the Upton and the Belote families for including us in such an amazing event with two amazing people. Mandy and Charlie are such a great couple, and we could not be more appreciative of being chosen as their photographers. Especially after finding out that this was the family’s fourth wedding they’ve put on, I know that they know what they are doing and what they want in a photographer. The fact that they saw that in Karrie Porter Photography gives me some pride that we must be doing something right!
Best wishes to the newlyweds. Stop back by in a few weeks to check out their coffee table book design, which I will undoubtedly post in a new “Albums” section here on the blog!
Karrie Porter Bond