Get to know Stephanie for just a few minutes and a couple of things will become readily apparent: she loves to laugh, she loves her husband Ryan and she really, really loves shooting weddings.
Since shooting her first wedding in 2009, Stephanie’s shot more than 150 weddings in the past eight years. In 2012, after spending time in tech, doing marketing operations and design for a startup, she made the decision to pursue wedding photography full-time, working solely for herself.
In 2012, Ryan joined the studio as a secondary shooter, providing another perspective and creative eye to the team. “I felt like the universe kept sending me signals and nudging me in this direction, that I needed to take a leap,” she says. “Being able to focus all of my energy on what I love, waking up in the morning and being genuinely excited to work – it’s a remarkable feeling.”
Simply put: Stephanie loves shooting love. She knew this was something she could do for a living before the final dance of the first wedding she shot – Angela and Nate. “Being surrounded by love and laughter and a bottomless well of happiness, knowing there’s nowhere else I’d rather be…” she pauses for a second. “Being a wedding photographer is free therapy,” she finally says, a small smile on her face. “It’s impossible to not get caught up in the moments.”
It’s capturing those moments that form the heart and soul of Stephanie’s work. Her shooting philosophy is simple: love, happiness, and fun. She lives to capture those tiny snapshots of life – realism, hope, happiness, faith – and capture it in a way that is open and transparent.
Developed as a result of her newsroom experience, Stephanie’s wedding photography philosophy is deeply rooted in the idea of true photojournalism: documenting the events without inserting yourself into the situation. Stephanie spent four years at Humboldt State University, six hours north of San Francisco along the Northern California coast among the Redwoods and Pacific Ocean.
She switched majors three times – art, archaeology and finally journalism. She planned out her semester schedules six-to-eight weeks in advance, color-coding blocks of time and maximizing her working hours in between classes, student government and the newspaper.
“I was definitely channeling a little Hermione Granger there,” she says, laughing.
Stephanie’s time as photo editor, art director and finally editor-in-chief are reflected in the highly candid approach she takes to her work. “Shooting sports and breaking news really challenged me as a photographer. Shooting news is like shooting a wedding in many ways – it’s unpredictable and you have to tell the story. There is always ‘something interesting’ happening."
"There is always something to be told. A relationship. A belief. An honor. Being able to showcase events honestly and transport the reader visually and emotionally through a series of pictures is an incredibly vital skill to have as a wedding photographer.”
“I would be a completely different photographer if I had never stepped foot in a newsroom.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY
“From start to finish, we spend at least 60 hours with each couple, from talking to emailing to helping plan, to the day of, to processing all of your images lovingly by hand, crafting your wedding album. There is no other wedding vendor that your relationship with them is as vital as it is with your wedding photographer." Long after your wedding day has faded, there are few tangible memories of your day - each other, your wedding dress, wedding rings and your wedding photographs.
"Knowing the importance of what you're asking for, and knowing that you're not just hiring a photographer for yourself - you're hiring one for your family members, your grandparents. Your children that haven't been born. Their children and your grandchildren. Fifty years from now, you will have your love and your photographs. Wedding Photography is one of the most precious gifts you can give yourself."
THE DAY OF
You can see her journalism background play out in her attention to detail at a wedding: if possible, she’s early and is constantly moving throughout the day, watching the crowd, anticipating moments, and looking for the hidden story. Nothing’s more important than her couple and making sure everything goes smoothly. If it doesn’t, she’s there to take charge.
“I’m there to make sure you take care of yourself and do what I can to minimize your stress.” Just what does that entail? “That can range from providing more posing guidance, cracking jokes, setting up tables, dropping F-bombs, making sure you shaved your armpits, fixing your dress and taking the hair tie off your wrist,” she says wryly. She’s seen – and done – it all.
“There are so many ways a wedding can go wrong – but there are many more ways it can go right,” she says.
When she’s not editing sessions or designing new cards and invitations, she can usually be found doing one of a few things: bargain hunting, Thrift Shopping, reading & relaxing, or playing video games. The first racks she hits while shopping are usually “clearance or the perimeter,” where sale items can be found. “I’ve found some really awesome things on Target endcaps,” she says, smiling. "Endcaps always have the good stuff."
She’s a big shoe lover, an addiction that wasn’t helped when they lived in Manhattan. “Only in New York do you learn the importance of a fantastic pair of heels that can take you comfortably more than 20 blocks.” She’s a voracious reader and has quite a few favorite series, including Harry Potter and Song of Fire and Ice. She’s kept all her old anthropology textbooks and has re-read Jurassic Park so many times, the binding is starting to fall apart.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
“I don’t want clients,” she says. “I want friends. When I can build a friendship with a couple, and get to know them both individually and together, there’s an emotional line thats crossed and the quality of the work changes.”
“I cry at every single wedding I shoot. I’ve stood there with a father, listening to him reminisce about his beautiful daughter growing up, a proud smile on his face and a catch in his throat as he watches her dance with her new husband. Having a grandmother grab my hand and give me a hug and a kiss, thanking me for everything I've done..feeling those nerves every single time the music swells and the bride begins to walk down the aisle."
"Having a bride grab my hands and tell me how thankful she is that I'm there with her because she knows she's being taken care of. Watching a grandfather see his granddaughter be given away and seeing so much emotion flash across his face in the span of a second. Feeling all of that - being made a part of the day - that’s an honor."
"Feeling that love, being emotionally invested, means I’m there. I’m not checked out. It’s not ‘just another gig.”
It is this emotional attachment that Stephanie thinks is one of the traits that sets her apart from other wedding photographers. “When I don’t cry anymore – when I just go through the motions – there’s something missing. Something’s changed. If I ever get to the point where I’m not feeling that happiness, I’ll know that I shouldn’t shoot anymore. Because you deserve better.”
She says when you become part of the SHP/Ahava family, "you become part of the family. We take care of our own."
"Knowing my couples allows me to capture the day unlike anyone else. We have a great time and you trust in me that I’ll deliver my best performance, not just because I have to, but because I want to. That’s why I do this.”