ROAD TO SKYE
On an early May morning I found myself waiting with my camera bag and a take-away coffee on the Wee Red Bus courtesy of Heart of Scotland Tours in Edinburgh.
I was to join them on a three-day tour to the Isle of Skye to take some promotional photographs for their website and brochure.
As usual I was way too early and as I stood there sipping on my long black Americano I noticed some folks approach in broken intervals, among them the family Thomas. Mum and Dad Thomas accompanied by two beautiful blond daughters and what looked like the boyfriend of one of them. A lively bunch of Americans to be sure, all eager with anticipation for their highland adventure with big toothy grins and hearty hellos.
At 8am the boot of the bus was packed to the brim and the boot of our guide, Paul, was slammed to the pedal and we were off, leaving the capital behind, on what was to become three days that none of us will ever forget!
On our lunchtime stopover in Glencoe I became acquainted with the family Thomas. Susan and Griff with their daughters Stacy and Missy, and Jared; Missy’s fiance. To my delight I learnt that the family was very musical (humming choral verses softly in harmony with eachother when they thought they were out of earshot) which was literally music to my ears as my own family does the exact same thing when we all get together.
As a cherry on top of this rather fantastic cake I also discovered that Jared was a photographer in his own right in California; and not just a regular snap-happy Joe at that. He showd me sme of his work and it was rather astonishing!
And so we hit it off; chatting away about music and photography, surrounded by the gorgeous dips and falls of Glencoe valley, and when the time came that I showed Jared some of my own photography work he looked it over for a moment and said: “You know; we should get you over to the states to do ours”
Naturally I was flattered but I laughed it off thinking it was nice of him to say, but that he was probaby just being polite…yet something about the twinkle in his eye suggested I shouldn’t dismiss what he said as mere polite banter so quickly.
And so the road meandered on and we would stop every so often at scenic spots for the enjoyment of the passangers but also for getting some photos of the Wee Red Bus cutting through the gorgeous highland landscape; something I personally can never get enough of.
Jared and I would compare notes and get all technical with photography-jargon (as you do) and before you could say “Fort William” there was a solid bromance developing.
We arrived in Portree on the Isle of Skye that evening and once all were checked into their respective lodgings and had their dinners we rendezvoused for a drink at the trusty Tongadale Hotel; where introductions to fine Single Malt Scotch Whiskey were thoroughly made and illumating knowledge was bestowed upon us by the magnificent Paul, our guide extraodinaire!
The following day we hit the narrow roads of Skye with fresh eagerness and wound our way past the Old Man of Storr. At some point we decided to stop and take a minor trek down to Lealt Falls where Jared treated me to a fine display of his gymnastic skills. I set my camera up to capture his epic backflip at high-speed and it was at that moment that my trusty Sony Alpha A65 made a grunt I never heard before…and ceased to work ever again.
For the remainder of the trip I felt like the warrior who went into battle forgetting his broadsword.
Jared stepped in and offered the use of his Canon – a gesture of such multi-layered complexity that any photographer will find both blasphemous and deeply affectionate.
The sun blazed down on us like never before and the day was filled with jaw-dropping scenery and great company all round.
Our final stop of the day was the lighthouse at Neist Point. Before we set out from Portree I had the impulse to buy a kite and without really knowing exactly how and where we would end up flying it we were all – us adults – brimming with childlike excitement about the possibilties it presented.
Once we arrived we started on the long climb up a very steep hill and soon the only people I could see climbing was Paul and Jared, like agile, quick-footed hobbits set to destroy the One Ring…and then there was Me; trailing like a chubby little Gollum and blowing like the foghorn the lighthouse was sure to house. The unseasonable sun beat down on us with not so much as a whisper of a breeze but soon enough we reached the summit and felt like we conquered Mount Doom!
Hi-fives and backslaps ensued and some of the other members of our party arrived as well. I commenced in the ceremonious unrolling of the kite but to my dismay there was still no wind to speak of.
Jared was recruited to take hold of the kite and make his way further along while I gave line and once he was a good distance away a sudden light breeze came up out of nowhere to meet us as though it was summoned and for a full five minutes that kite of ours soared like an eagle and we felt like kings of the world for miles around.
Over the next day and a half we all got to know each other quite well and by the end of our trip to Skye we felt like a bus full of long lost friends, which made the sudden goodbyes in Edinburgh such an awkward affair – a movie that ended before the ending.
THE EMAIL OF DESTINY
It’s a non-eventful July afternoon and I’m sitting in my car at the red light when I get an email notification. I grab the phone to have a quick scan and catch a line: “Are you free to do our wedding in November”
The driver behind me is not exactly amused that I haven’t moved after he honked at me twice already.
CITY OF ANGELS
My first trip to the United States of America was a thing of legend.
I was welcomed by the whole family the night of my arrival and for three whole days before the wedding they hosted me in spectacular fashion!
I was treated to all things American; from my first softball throwaround in the backyard to true authentic tacos at night.
Jared and I went for long drives through the Southern California hills and we talked for hours about our homes and families and plans (as well as upcoming secret surprises that Missy should know nothing about) for the upcoming Big Day.
I met his parents and more of the extended family and friends and before I knew what hit me the lines of “professional photography service provider” and “member of the family we never knew we had” were beginning to blur at breakneck speed.
THE HOME RUN
The Big Day finally dawned and I arrived with Missy and her bridesmaids at their glorious wedding venue; The Angels Stadium of Anaheim.
The girls went off to their suite to get ready and when the boys eventually arrived it was straight to the dressing rooms to kit up for Pre-Wedding Playoffs!
It was something like I never imagined; These friendly, civilized gentlemen I’ve come to know turning into full blown baseball warriors, complete with their own individual shirts and testosterone enough to even get the likes of me uttering all sorts of alpha male grunts and cheers behind the camera as the home runs were hit!
By the time the game was done and the boys were hitting the showers I was spent to an inch of collapse…and the wedding hadn’t even started yet.
The ceremony loomed ever closer and with every tick of the clock the giggles (both excited and slightly nervous) became ever more audible as Missy and her ladies got ready. I always take a moment to appreciate what must go though the mind of a bride in the few hours before The Plunge. All the sparks of thought and emotion that must criss-cross eachother at lightning speed. “Is everything ok with the boys? Did the cake arrive without collapse? Will I be able to keep it together when my dad sees me the first time? Could someone just top up my glass of champagne again!”
I might not be able to hear them, but it’s a great privilage for any photographer to see them flash over her eyes and catch them as they do. And the bridesmaids! What a joy to be the only guy in the room when they’re around. Good money can be made from journaling all that is said in a suite full of giggly, excited, nervous and fouler-mouthed-than-you-might-expect girls who forget that you’re there! Its a good thing my camera doesn’t have a microphone!
As I left the ladies and made my way back to the pitch I noticed Jared in the dugout and though he wasn’t aware of me being there I was privilaged to observe a quiet moment he took for himself to say a prayer before heading out to meet his destiny. Naturally a picture of Rocky flashed in my mind, and even now I can’t see Sylvester Stallone without thinking of Jared.
The ceremony was an intimate affair. Everyone took their seats in the November morning sun (something that is an unfathomable concept to a man from Scotland), waiting in quiet yet excited anticiaption for the arrival of the bride in a stadium more used to noise.
When she did arrive though you could hear a pin drop in the soft grass and echo through the stalls. I found myself wishing that I knew more of the people there because as I watched them watching her walk in I could see the love they had for her..and it was electrifying. Watching Jared though pulled at my heart and I was grateful that I had my huge, clunky Nikon hiding my face.
They made their vows and exchanged their rings and we were all treated to a beautifully executed duet by Missy and her sister Stacy and if all that has gone before wasn’t enough to make a grown man swallow hard then this just blew the roof off the stadium!
I’ve been fortunate to be at quite a few wedding ceremonies in my time as a photographer and you would be forgiven to assume that I would have developed quite a thick skin for these things, but they get me every time, and every time they do I am again reminded that getting your loved ones together and spending all that money and pulling out all the stops just for the sake of a 30 minute exchange of vows really is a beautiful thing, and is worth every penny and every drop of sweat you’ve put in.
(Have I sold marriage to you yet?)
THAT CALIFORNIA SUNSET
And so the day went on, spinning away from noon into night and tipping that golden California sun over the horizon, and what a joy it was to be a photographer for that day!
True to form; Jared had one more trick up his sleeve before the day was done. In the year leading up to the wedding he made it his mission to recruit the talents of the absolute massive American quartet; Anthem Lights. Not an easy feat as these guys are in high demand with a ginormaous fan base and not exactly touring the wedding party scene.
It certainly wasn’t the easiest of things to arrange, but if you knew Jared you would soon come to realise that once this guy gets hold of an idea he will not let go for the life of him, and so he managed to get these four guys to agree to come out to LA and do their First Dance…all without so much as dropping a whisper of a hint to the very keen-eyed, very perceptive Missy.
In fact; he went as far as to get Anthem Lights to record a little video prior to the wedding, congratulating Missy on her wedding to Jared and to apologize for not being there to wish them well in person. This video was played to Missy at the reheersal dinner to the rage of herself and pretty much all the other female attendants there and that, in itself, was an amazing feat.
Fast forward to the evening of the wedding Jared pulled Missy up to the dancefloor and read her a poem…which turned out to be the announcement of Anthem Lights and of course resulted in an explosion of surprise, applause and flustered disbelief of all the ladies in the room…and I must admit; some guys too!
I can tell you it was a wedding I will never forget. We ate, we drank, we sang and we photographed and by the end of it all we were floated up like a cork to another level of happiness.
Jared and Missy drove off into the night and I watched the light trails of their car vanish around the corner, thinking to myself: “How did I get here again? Did it all really just happen?”
FRIENDS FOR LIFE
It goes without saying that eventhough this was strictly speaking a job; it was a time in my life that I will never forget.
We always read and hear about how important it is to be intentional. How you should plan and prepare for great things and MAKE them happen. Well I could never have planned or imagined that on one crisp May morning in Edinburgh I would meet a couple out of the blue that would change my life and become as close to me as my own family. Sometimes Life comes and throws your plans out the window, but replaces them with things you would never imagine in your wildest fancies!
I can honestly say that we have become friends for life and that I count these two kids along with Stacy and Sue and Griff and all the rest of these fabulous people as family in every way but blood.
It may well not be professional, getting so close with your clients, but I would certainly recommend it! It’s just like taking a photo. Be open to what comes, trigger-finger at the ready. Don’t be scared to make it real. To snap to each other. To connect and to take it deeper.
There is beauty in everyone around every corner. You might just be sitting with your coffee in hand, waiting on the Wee Red Bus but if you don’t look up, if you don’t zoom in, you’ll never know what might have been!