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Keely & Ralen’s Wedding

Keely & Ralen’s wedding day was the art of adaptation in wedding photography. Meeting the couple for the first time on their wedding day was a departure from our usual process, but a well-devised plan made sure that the lack of an engagement session didn’t impact the quality of the photos. This wedding, which took place at The Barns at Hamilton Station—a venue we’re very well acquainted with, was filled with new challenges unique to this wedding. In this story, we’ll talk about how we overcame a hiccup with daylight saving time that could have disrupted the photography schedule, but with flexibility on our side, we captured some stunning images against the venue’s beautiful backdrops. We’ll also talk about how under the right circumstances and old tradition, like a receiving line, can spontaneously spring back to life and add a special charm to the experience on a wedding day. Plus, we’ll talk about how the collaboration with my second photographer, Felipe, and the debutant wedding planner, Marina, was key to navigating the day seamlessly. This wedding reinforced a valuable lesson: the ability to swiftly adapt to unforeseen circumstances is essential, ensuring that every important memory is captured with authenticity and beauty. Read on for the full story and to see more than 150 images from the big day.

Want to skip the story and jump straight into the photos? Go for it.

The first time I would properly meet Keely & Ralen was on their wedding day. Under most circumstances, I have the chance to get to know my clients a bit through an engagement session, as well as several phone calls throughout the course of planning the wedding photography coverage. But in Keely & Ralen’s case, that wasn’t possible because Ralen was out of state and Keely was very busy, so an engagement session was out of the question. I would be lying if I said meeting a client for the first time on such an important day was something I am entirely comfortable with, but I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I knew that we would come up with a solid plan. As long as we stuck to that plan, we’d got tons of great shots. Of course, there are always some question marks.

We have been to The Barns a lot over the years — it’s not exactly right in our back yard, but it’s one of our favorite venues, even if it’s a little out of the way. One of the things we like about shooting at The Barns at Hamilton Station is that we know the flow. It’s an unusual floor plan for a wedding venue, which typically involves multiple changeovers throughout the course of a wedding day. Having done it so many times though, we’re comfortable with the constantly shifting setting, and the unique challenges of the different spaces. Keely & Ralen’s wedding though would toss us some curveballs that kept the experience fresh.

For starters, these two would be sourcing some of their own vendors for the entertainment and planning activities. Having worked with The Barn’s usual planning and florist team before, things at this venue can get hectic if you don’t have someone knowing what minutia needs to be thought about. Being one of the only veteran’s of this venue, along with Market 93, I was prepared to fill some shoes for Marina, a friend of Keely’s who would be taking on the role of the wedding planner that day. As you’ll soon come to learn though, Marina filled her own shoes spectacularly.

Preparing for the wedding photography coverage started about 6 weeks out, once the biggest parts of Keely & Ralen’s plan had already taken shape. Once I gathered a lot of little details about what they were planning, who would be involved, where, and when, I put together our standard wedding photography timeline — a document that we use internally to make sure know where to be and what we should be focused on. It was in this process that we discovered a hiccup. Their mid-November wedding would come just one week after the clocks were set to fall back an hour, and the typical flow of activities were basically going to nix our opportunities to use The Barn’s beautiful scenery in portraits.

With a draft of this timeline in hand, I got on the phone with Keely & Ralen to talk through the details and see if we could find a solution that would give them everything they were hoping for. The main challenge we had to overcome was finding time before the wedding to take care of the portraits with the wedding party — the part of the wedding day when we’d really get to show off the venue’s landscape. Although they had initially envisioned coverage starting at St. John The Apostle church where the ceremony would take place, the solution was to bump their coverage from 7 hours to 8 hours and begin coverage at The Barns where we could capture their portraits as the sun was starting to set.

Portraits at the Barns

With a solution to the only significant challenge, and a solid plan to set in motion, we arrived on the wedding day to near perfect weather about 20 minutes early. Felipe and I would be shooting this wedding together, mainly because the church had very little room to move about, and because later in the evening dancing would become a major component of the event and multiple photographers create so much more diversity in those sorts of images.

Keely & Ralen made the decision to do their own first look entirely in private — no friends, no family, no cameras. Just the two of them. As we milled about before getting started, Keely’s dad arrived having not yet seen her in her dress. So we capitalized on that moment to capture a quick first look with her father instead.

Since Keely & Ralen had already seen each other, we could get started right away. Normally when we have more than one of us working a camera, we’ll divide the portraits up between us to create greater variety and cover more ground, but since we had limited time before we’d have to jet our way over to the church, it would be more efficient to keep Felipe in a supporting role and move fluidly and rapidly through all the wedding party portraits at once.

This fluid, almost organic process, in this case, worked splendidly. Felipe acted as my spotter, fluffing the dress, noticing details, and identifying the next spot while I worked with various groups and subjects. I love and hate how this guy is so good at that. We started with a couple rounds of warm-up shots with each wedding party against one of The Barn’s rustic utility buildings, and then rotated around 180 degrees for a couple of formal and less-formal shots of the whole group with The Barn’s iconic silo in the back — a feature Keely had identified early as one of her favorite features.


From there, we moved closer to the tasting room for some shots with Ralen’s party facing the farm house, and Keely’s party facing the silo. When the light landed just right and a shot would catch my eye, we’d capture a shot of Keely or Ralen on their own or together. These fleeting in-between shots really highlighted Poetically Brushed’s gorgeous work with the hair and makeup. We also took the opportunity in the middle of the portraits for a shot of Abigail’s Flowers‘ stunning floral arrangement, as well as Keely’s rhinestone emblazoned boots.

The clock was really starting to tick loudly at this point, but I wanted to step away with Keely for a few more shots of her by herself. So, as the rest of the party and family members made their way to their cars to head over to the church, Keely and I snuck around the corner of the large barn off to the side of the tasting room. We captured a few more portraits of Keely by herself with the low-angled sun cutting through some tall grass and lighting up her hair. And one particularly notably shot that showed off the back of her gorgeous understated dress.

The Ceremony

The time had come to go now — well, really the time had come about 3 minutes earlier — so we high tailed it back to the car and followed our GPS to the church. We managed to arrive a few minutes ahead of the wedding party, and found guests funneling their way into the church. We caught the deacon outside speaking with one of the laypeople and we pulled him aside for our usual quick chat to ask about unique restrictions, and of course, his perspective on the church’s best features

The historic chapel was small, lacking side aisles that would have allowed us to move around without much disruption during the ceremony. This meant Felipe and I would have to choose where we wanted to camp out for the duration of the ceremony. Felipe chose an area of pews off to the left side off the alter which offered very limited mobility, and I, with a long lens, stuck to the back of the church which had access to a balcony that I could move between while also allowing me to occasionally slink up toward the alter for key shots.

As far as catholic wedding ceremonies are concerned, Keely & Ralen’s ceremony was a rather brisk 30 minutes. Two of the couple’s family members delivered readings from the pulpit, and the deacon delivered a touching and, at times, humorous address to the congregation. At one point, Ralen was ready to kiss his bride and the deacon interjected with a jovial, “hey, not yet”, which garnered a lot of laughter from the guests in their seats. I captured a very cute photo of Ralen’s expression that really embodies the moment.

As the ceremony was drawing to a close, I snuck up toward the alter for some shots of the couple exchanging rings, and readied myself to capture their first kiss. In addition to a proper first-kiss photo, I also ended up with a really nice black and white of the calm and satisfaction that hung in the air in the seconds following that kiss.As the couple was coming back down the aisle, I quickly swapped to my other camera body which was already equipped with a flash unit so that I could capture a shot of the two of them kissing in the aisle with most of the guests in the background. The shot turned out beautifully.

The Receiving Line

Following the ceremony, Keely & Ralen did something which has become somewhat unusual in modern weddings — a receiving line. Receiving lines have fallen out of favor, largely because of the tight timelines most modern weddings need to adhere to. But in Keely & Ralen’s case, they actually needed to help their guests kill some time before The Barns would be ready for their arrival. So, I had suggested that they bring back this old tradition, and give their guests a chance to fill that time giving them their congratulations. It would also serve as a good substitute for the couple needing to spend their meal time visiting each table during dinner. A receiving line can be an unwieldy thing though and it’s hard to tell just how long it will last. But if you know you have the time, it’s a beautiful tradition, and makes for some very nice photo opportunities.

Family Portraits

When the receiving line finally wound down after about 25 minutes, we had just little daylight left in the blue hour, so we took the largest family photos outside in front of the church — which was a nice homage to a place that was important to them and they weren’t sure they’d really get to use in this way. Taking our largest family group outside first also helped us get photos that included little kids out of the way before their patience wore too thin.

We finished the remainder of the family portraits inside the church. The small space made it possible to bounce light off the large white wall to my right, without having to set up any additional lighting. It helped us keep our pace up and prevented the need for much fussing with lighting technicalities. We tore through a couple dozen family portraits before finally hopping back in the car, now in the dark, on the way back to The Barns.

Night Portraits Among the Vines

When we arrived, the first order of business was to make our way into the vineyards, now cloaked in pretty much total darkness, save for some light from the parking lot drifting in. The dark was okay, though, because I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to come up with something that uses The Barn’s unique setting, entirely at night. And let me tell you, it is dark outside The Barns at night.

So, since Keely & Ralen would want to get inside to meet their guests quickly, for this challenge I would need to come up with something that I could do in less than about 10 minutes. I wouldn’t have time to meticulously light an entire landscape hundreds of feet away, and without a nearby city to illuminate the sky, all of my features would need to be within a couple dozen feet.  The vineyard rows were our best bet.

I ran to the far end of one of the vineyard rows and dropped a light on the ground, meanwhile Felipe threw a light into a soft box on the end of a pole. I positioned Keely & Ralen between the camera and light in the back, and then had Felipe in the next row over holding the soft box at about a 45 degree angle. For the arrangement and composition itself, I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. I went with something simple and dramatic: a traditional nose to nose position, followed by a classic dip.

The pressure of the moment lead me to stumble over a couple of silly technical mistakes with my light, which cost me about 3 minutes, but once we had them ironed out, the results came to life and produced a handful of gorgeous hero shots for the day. Feeling really good, and ready to move onto the reception, Keely & Ralen headed inside for the end of the cocktail hour, while Felipe and I gathered the remainder of the gear and went in to quickly set up some lights in the tasting room upstairs in anticipation of lots, and lots of dancing.

The Reception

With about 10 minutes before dinner, we got a few candid shots of guests milling about the end of the cocktail hour before everyone started to shuffle downstairs for dinner. Remember how I mentioned I was hesitant about Marina, the couple’s first-time wedding planner who was organizing a wedding in a venue that I know is more complex than is typical of these sorts of spaces? Well it was at this point that my hesitations were officially and entirely assuaged.

Marina had done a beautiful job conceptualizing and executing the decorations, and was completely on top of where guests needed to be and when. She had guests moving through the flow flawlessly — checking their table numbers on the beautiful DIY seating chart, then finding their seats among the long family style tables Market 93 had set up. Marina was new at this, but was knocking it out of the park and I already know wouldn’t hesitate to work with her again.

The floral arrangements from Abigail’s Flowers were beautifully mixed in among seasonal gourds on the tables, and really nice swoopy table numbers on the ends of tall wooden stalks. Keely & Ralen entered from the stairs, as is typical of a Barn’s introduction. They went straight to their seats and guests heard toasts from the maid of honor and best man, and the Deacon who had officiated their wedding gave a blessing over the meal.

Felipe and I teamed up to capture photos of guests at their seats, a tradition we try to incorporate at every wedding as a way of being sure to capture at least one photo of everyone in attendance. A delicious meal was served by Market 93. Comfort food, buffet style. At one point in the evening, they handed Felipe and I some to-go containers and told us to go nuts. I was eating some insanely delicious homestyle Mac and cheese for three days after that.

With everyone satiated from a good meal, the evening’s MC directed the guests to return to the upstairs tasting room where everyone would spend the rest of the evening dancing. Keely & Ralen, and a significant portion of their guest list, are dancers. It’s actually how these two met each other. Line dancing, ballroom dancing, freestyle dancing, in this case all cloaked in a country aesthetic that matched The Barns native style perfectly. We could tell guests couldn’t wait for that dance floor to open.

The reception opened with a short dance shared between Keely and her father, and then a semi-choreographed dance with Ralen and his mother, followed by a very sweet, impressive even, freestyle dance between Keely & Ralen. These two had been friendly and engaged all day, but once they hit the dance floor, they really came to life.

With traditional dances done, the floor opened up and the diversity of skills and talent among their guests poured out. Dips, and swings, and loops — look, I’m a photographer, I don’t know what these dance moves are called — were everywhere, all the time. The dance floor remained lively for hours, mixed occasionally with some guided dances with the help of a friend of the couple, a professional MC.

Somewhere midway through the reception, I stepped outside to get some fresh air, and noticed some of Keely & Ralen’s friends secretly snickering and laughing as they filled the couple’s car with balloons. I meandered over and caught some of those smiles and the silliness while it was fresh. Toward the end of the evening, Keely & Ralen cut into one of the most delicious, and non-traditional snickerdoodle bundt cakes I’ve ever tasted, and then it was back to the dance floor.

As the 11 o’clock hour approached, and the rain which had been spotting the ground on and off for the last few hours began to pick up, Keely & Ralen prepared to wind things down with a sparkler exit — a favorite tradition of couple’s celebrating their wedding at The Barns. Outside the tasting room, guests lined the curved pathway toward the parking lot, huddled under umbrellas, and some, unencumbered by the freely flowing wine, tossed caution to the wind and got wet.

Felipe and I repurposed the lights on stands we had used during the dancing and brought them outside as backlights to help the rain drops pop and emphasize the smoke coming off the sparklers. The exit was fast and enthusiastic. The couple kissed at the end of the path, with their guests celebrating in the background. And just like that, the wedding day was over. Keely & Ralen were married. Everyone’s feet were sore, and it was time to go home.

It’s interesting to shoot in a familiar place when everything becomes new again. The Barns is a stomping ground we’re very familiar with, but toss in some usual qualities — an offsite ceremony, after-dark portraits, a whole different team of associate vendors — and all of a sudden it feels brand new. We loved every minute of it, and the challenges and uncertainties inherent in changing up the formula. It was a genuine pleasure to get to know Keely & Ralen over the course of a very important 8 hours of their life, and the results in their photos are something special.

Please enjoy exploring the images!