There might be wolves

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There was a time, not too long ago, when unpaid wedding editorials were a thing. And when I say, they were a thing, I mean, it was almost a must that you did them to boost your portfolio, especially if you were new in the industry. They were used for networking, showing off crazy expensive designs, and above all, getting published no matter what the publication was. It could have had the smallest viewership, but by George, you were going to make that editorial good enough to go somewhere, anywhere that had a button you could put on your website to say “look at me, I am published”. This last reason was ridiculous and still is. Getting published, in my opinion, shouldn’t be something that happens for everyone. I won’t go into that entire tirade right now.

Putting together an unpaid editorial in the best circumstances is a daunting task. Even if your location is easy for unloading props, not a huge hike, and it’s sunny and warm outside, there are still so many moving pieces that things can fall apart quite easily. There’s a whole process of designing the editorial then finding vendors who are willing to give their services, wholeheartedly to the shoot. They have to be willing to do it for free or you have to be willing to pay. Typically, when you’re starting out, trying to network or seriously starved for content, you end up either paying out the nose, working with friends or getting half thought through left over centerpieces you can’t possibly make look pretty. Your job, or I should say my job, as a photographer, was to make weddings creative. Which is almost impossible as an editorial. Weddings are creative because of the individuality of the couple. So when your friend who also happens to be your hairdresser and a wedding and editorial hair and makeup artist says, “I really want to do a shoot in the snow,” you jump at it. And it turns out to be a complete disaster.

In January 2016, we did a shoot in the snow. I got together with Jen Lagers and Angela Wilson to create something that I thought would be absolutely heavenly. We got a beautiful dress from a shop in Portland that the model (who agreed to model for free with her boyfriend) was set to pick up on her way up to Washington. We had a stunning location that my husband and I had scouted in December with the most perfect pink sunset you’ve ever seen. We had dusty rose satin lingerie for getting ready photos, a cozy table set up, and a crystal headpiece for the bride that gave the perfect snow queen vibes. I had even painted my own backdrop to do “getting ready” photos in front of.  And then the storm came. The night before our shoot, Portland was hit hard. The models were asking if we could move the shoot, but I had already rented the dress for that day, the flowers were already delivered to the florist, and she’d already processed them. We had no way to get ahold of the dress bouquet at 10 pm on a Saturday, and I was stressing out. I remember texting the models, asking them about road conditions, being stressed and anxious one minute and feeling chill the next. I’d say, “it doesn’t matter, it’s just a free editorial for personal work,” and then I’d have a borderline panic attack thinking about all the coordinating, all the design work we’d already put into this damn thing.  Portland was so frozen over; the models almost didn’t make it to us. They arrived late, but even if they’d come on time, it wouldn’t have mattered. My apartment, where we were set to start shooting, usually has amazing light. I can shoot on film at 1/30th at f2.0 on the worst of days with nothing but window light. But not this day. This day, it was so dark that even with a tripod and a video light, I could barely shoot at an 8th. Maybe it was slower than that. I honestly can’t remember now, but what I do remember is that we had lamps on in another part of the apartment (rookie mistake), and the camera picked up on all that yellow “warm” light, and the shots were all underexposed anyways.  By the time we got done with the indoor shots, of which I got no notable photos of the lent lingerie, the beautifully draped, dusty rose slip, we then had to drive to the mountains. It was an hour drive up to the location where we had planned to shoot, with wind threatening to throw our car off the highway if Ben even thought about letting go of the wheel for a second. The florist and her husband had gotten there hours before we left in order to set up the table and the centerpieces. I had high hopes that the sky would brighten once we arrived, but as we were already late, the sun had begun to set. It might have been 2 pm at this point, not to mention that the clouds hung so low in the sky. There was really no hope. Once we got to the location, we found that the snowdrifts on the drive up the parking lot were so high that we couldn’t drive to it. We had to walk the half mile. It doesn’t sound like much, but with the snow pelting us, the bride model in a wedding dress and rain boots and hardly any layers underneath, not to mention the dress was backless, it was a long walk. Here are the things we had to lug with us to the pond: A Contax 645 with Zeiss 80mm 2.0 lens (which is such a heavy camera) and backup digital camera with lenses, one light meter, a gas fueled camping heater, an LED video light, a blanket to keep the model warm, so much film, an umbrella to keep the camera from getting wet.

It was 21 degrees F at the pond, with high winds, snow pelting us sideways, and almost zero visibility. All I could think of was getting to the pond as fast as possible, shooting everything in sight and then drinking cocoa, lots and lots of cocoa. Ben and I were both wearing ski gear, but by the time we arrived at the pond, I already couldn’t feel my fingers. I was already exhausted from trudging through the snow at snail speed. The scene at the pond was even worse. Ang was frozen solid, she had no gloves on as they had gotten wet trying to pull three loads worth of props from their car to the pond and unfold the folding table. That’s as far as they had gotten when we arrived. Ang was almost delirious from the cold. The flowers were frozen and were breaking. The light was going down behind the mountains. Ben immediately lit the pilot light on the heater, and we put Ang in front of it to warm her hands. She sat there, in the snow, and almost didn’t say anything while she tried to get warm. Every five minutes the pilot light on the heater would go out, and Ben would have to light it again. I decided to start shooting the models, but Kylie’s mascara had begun to run down her face. Jen set to fixing it under the umbrella while I stood trying to decide how to be helpful and how to speed things along. I shot maybe one roll of film on the models before Kylie was an ice block.

“Who wants a sip of whisky to get warm?” I shouted over the howling wind. Kylie gladly took a swig. We’d taken a bottle of 12 year Balvenie whisky Ben had purchased in Scotland to look pretty on the table, but we were using Fireball whisky to pour into glasses instead of wasting the good stuff. That’s what I gave Kylie. After a few seconds I hear, “was there cinnamon in this?” There was. Of course. It was Fireball whisky. Turns out, Kylie is allergic to cinnamon. I wildly started asking if she had an epipen, did we need to call an ambulance. I was trying to figure out if an ambulance would even make it to us. Snoqualmie Summit was just down the road, maybe they’d send someone over. But at this point, none of us even had phone service with the weather picking up and getting worse. Kylie’s allergy turned out to be itching, if I remember correctly, so we got lucky with that one. I felt relief, but it was now so cold, she couldn’t bear to be out by the pond with us anymore. We sent the models to go sit in the car within fifteen minutes of having made it to the pond. Jen was the next person to leave. The cold was that kind that chills you to the bone and no matter how many layers you have on or how many times you light the heater, you just can’t get warm.

Finally, I turned to shoot what I could of the table. The marble cheese board was covered in snow and stuck to the table linen that was flapping about in the air like a kite at the end of Mary Poppins. You couldn’t even see the pond at this point. We’d lost the light completely. I pulled out my video light, determined to make the most of this shoot, but it was so harsh against the black night sky that it was useless. Ang and I decided that we would get together another day and shoot the table inside my apartment against that backdrop I had painted. Ben, me, Ang, and Aaron (Ang’s then husband) packed up the props we didn’t get to shoot and the ones I very poorly did and put them on the underside of the folding table. Aaron had rigged the table to be a sled by turning it upside down and tying a rope to the front legs. Between the four of us, I thought we’d be able to manage getting everything back to the cars in one trip rather than the four it had taken to get us all to the pond. Ben and Aaron traded off dragging the table, I held my video light in the air. It’s usually a pretty light piece of equipment, but that night it felt like 20 pounds. My arms ached as I switched it back and forth between them. By this time, the snow had stopped coming down, but the chill was immeasurable. Okay, maybe not, but it was the coldest I think I’ve ever been in my whole life. And I was scared. This is a part of the country where wildlife is something people actually come across. I kept thinking “bears hibernate, deer are too scared to come across people”, and then Aaron mentioned wolves. Crap. Wolves. I hadn’t thought about that. Aaron was a boy scout, and in that moment, I found myself putting all my faith in his ability to get us back to the car. As if being a boy scout would change the fact that there were possibly wolves in the forest surrounding us or that we could possibly run out of battery and be stuck without light.  We didn’t even have food with us. There were a few Cliff bars in the car that I had told the models they were welcome to. I hadn’t even thought to bring the water to the pond. I hadn’t thought this through. When we’d scouted the location, it had been so perfect. Ang, Aaron, Ben, and I chatted the entire walk back to the car, maybe more out of nerves than out of any kind of need to socialize. And when we finally made it back, I was sure it was 10 pm. It was 6. That was single handedly the hardest shoot I’ve ever done. Ang and I did eventually set the table up and get it photographed on another horribly dark day. The photos were fine. The photos of the models ended up looking extraordinarily bright for how horrible the day had gone, and we ended up getting the shoot published. To this day, those photos are always a huge hit on Instagram. I still love them, and I will never ever do a shoot in the snow without a lodge or house or hotel five feet from where I’m shooting ever again.

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