What is love?

(Baby, don’t hurt me.)

Before this year, I hadn’t attended a single wedding. I’ve just returned home from attending wedding #4 of the year. It always seemed like everyone else had attended a million weddings and I hadn’t, especially at autocrosses when people would be bemoaning the fact that they had a wedding to go to instead of driving their car around a parking lot full of cones for five minutes. As a result, I had always wondered, what’s the big deal about weddings that… make them better than driving around a parking lot?

I kid, of course.

Four couples, four very different weddings

Congratulations to Matt and Chris, whose wedding I shot as the primary along with Michael as my secondary. Their wedding was my very first wedding experience, so to speak, and what better way to make sure I’m in over my head than to ask me to shoot their wedding? Technically, I shot their Wedding Workshop and Exchange (WWEX), which just happened to have a wedding ceremony attached to it on Friday. This way, I can weasel my way out of saying that I’m a wedding photographer and (somewhat) rightfully claim that I was just little ol’ me, a dance photographer.

Matt and Chris during the no-shoes ceremony in the yoga studio.

But you can imagine what it’s like for two dance photographers without any wedding shooting experience to go in to something like this. Both fortunately and unfortunately, this wasn’t quite your conventional wedding, so all of wedding knowledge that I had gleaned from what little I remember of Wedding Crashers did me no good.

For one, the wedding ceremony took place at a Yoga studio. We were all wearing simple clothes, with the entire wedding party (and the photographers) wearing a white shirt and black tie and pants. And, because we were in a yoga studio, we were all barefoot or just wearing socks.

Matt and Chris have their first dance during the Friday evening dance of the WWEX.

There were no chairs; it was standing room only. Michael and I were free to roam around the room snapping away pictures. Two photographers was almost overkill in that tiny room, as I could have covered everybody by standing along the wall and a 24-70mm midrange zoom lens. But it was nice having Michael around, as — damn! — I definitely missed a shot or two and he was able to fill in the misses in my photo stream.

After the ceremony, I directed the portraits and group shots. Then it was on to dinner at a restaurant, followed by the reception, which was actually the Friday night kickoff dance for the WWEX.

I knew how to shoot dance pictures, so it was all easy going from there on out.

And as usual, I’m embarrassed to say this, but the swing dancers know that it’s par for the course, it took me forever to finally finish post-processing the pictures and get them to Matt and Chris. The wedding was in March, and I delivered the pictures of the ceremony and the Friday night reception just last week. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Congratulations to John and Sarah, whose wedding I attended as John’s best man. Once again, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, something that Google was able to help out with yet I certainly didn’t nail the execution.

John and Sarah at the rehearsal dinner, as shot on my own personal Sony RX100 point-and-shoot camera.

I didn’t realize until it was way too late that the best man was supposed to plan the bachelor party. Also, I don’t know what one does for a bachelor party. I remembered reading somewhere that some guys rented out a race track and had their own private track day and thinking that was pretty cool, but that’s probably not a typical bachelor party at all. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I don’t want to enter any strip club that is willing to let me in. And John, having been uncorrupted by business school like I was, did not drink.

So the bachelor party ended up being the two of us tagging along with Sarah and her maids of honor to the high ropes course. After that, John and I went off to the bratwurst festival for some brats, and then off to the movie theater to watch Fast & Furious 6. Lame? Actually, that night was kind of a continuation of what we would have been doing anyway back in college. Yeah, we were pretty straight edge back then.

John and Sarah showing off one of their gifts at their wedding shower. I shot this picture on my SUPER FANCY medium format film camera. John, it’s all your fault that I have this camera…

What I didn’t mess up was the best man’s speech. Of course I didn’t, as I wrote and rehearsed the damn thing for a week. Thanks to the Googles, I hit what I think are the necessary high points: congratulating the parents and families of the bride and groom, how John and I met, a fun story involving a pair of pet rats, and concluding with the quip that “marriage is not about finding the one you can live with, it’s about finding the one you can’t live without.” Throw in some flowery language chock full of Chinese-isms at the end for good measure, and you’ve got a kick ass speech that I’ve now all but forgotten. But it was good, I think. Several people told me during the reception that it was the best they’d ever heard. Finally! Nailed at least one thing right.

Actually, make it two things. Wedding registries confuse me, because people seem to ask for things that make no sense to me. Perhaps it’s because my family never used fancy dishes or silverware, nor did we have a fancy coffee machine or anything else remotely special in the kitchen. Hell, the Chinese chef’s knife (i.e. a meat cleaver that also murders lots of vegetables) that my mother had was a 20 year old piece of Communist steel that had been sharpened over and over again until it looked fit for use in a Saw movie.

I think that if I had a wedding registry, I’d ask for useful things instead, like wheels, film, camera lenses, tools, and barbeque things. Does Adorama do wedding registries?

Unfortunately, John and Sarah’s wedding registry was boring. So I didn’t buy them anything on it. I figured, John is the sole reason that I started down this path to collecting over a dozen cameras, so it only made sense for me to buy them a really expensive point-and-shoot camera, a Sony RX100. 20 megapixels of goodness in a compact form that would be perfect for their many, many travels. John and Sarah deserved only the very best.

Congratulations to Jason and Sam, whose wedding I shot as a secondary with Wills shooting as the primary. Jason and Sam are colleagues from work, and in fact, there was a small army of us folks from work who were there in attendance, most notably Wills, a guy that I had never shot with before.

Jason gives his vows and gets a nice reaction from his bride as he peppers his vows with some good light-heartedness.

Fortunately, we both shot Nikon, so we shared lenses and flashes. (And by sharing, I mean giving Wills all of my super fancy new glass and my most powerful flash while I made do with my older glass and my old SB-600 flash.) Also, he’s a damn good shooter, so I didn’t feel all that much pressure in getting shots myself. That’s not to say I didn’t work to get shots, but I could hang back and find… more interesting shots without having the put a homing beacon on the bride and groom and always training my lens on them.

So I took some wide angle shots, some telephoto shots, lots of shots of guests and of the adorable little kids. All of this while burning my bare feet up on the hot sand, because we were shooting on a beach. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that bit. We were on this nice little beach in a nice little town on the shore of Lake Michigan.

After the ceremony and getting our fill of portraits on the beach, Wills and I and the rest of the wedding party crowded onto a bus that would take us into downtown Traverse City for some more wedding portraits. Damn, Jason and Sam had their game down to a T. They knew exactly at which locations they wanted their photo taken, and the order in which they’d hop from spot to spot. I brought my camera with me and some extra glass, but I didn’t shoot a single picture out in downtown — Wills did all of the shooting.

Yeah, Jason and Sam were a lot of fun to photograph.

My only job, and it was a very easy one, was to carry along an Alien Bee studio strobe sitting atop a collapsed light stand and plugged into a lithium ion battery for use in lightning-fast-ninja off-camera lighting. I think we used that strobe for only about a dozen shots. We were blessed with overcast skies, rendering the need for the strobe mostly unnecessary. It did come in handy for a couple of shots, though, so I wasn’t all dead weight.

Not surprisingly, I came into my forte at the wedding reception. After shooting the toasts, the dinner, and the cutting of the wedding cake, it was time to shoot the action on the dance floor, and damn right I nailed that. Up until the point where I completely filled up my memory card. Whoops.

Not a problem, just grab Jason’s Nikon D3000 and keep shooting. It’s no Nikon D700, but I can make even a cheap DSLR pump out some fantastic dance pictures with enough juice from my flashes.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. I had a wonderful drive up to Traverse City in my classic Mustang, had fun drinking with the groomsmen the night before the wedding, shot the easy parts of the ceremony and reception, and was well fed.

And another happy couple that made everyone’s moods that weekend much brighter.

Congratulations to Kyle and Carol, whose wedding I attended as a simple guest. This was perhaps my favorite wedding of all, as I didn’t have to prepare a single thing or do any sort of work whatsoever. All I had to do was show up.

A shot of Kyle and Carol dancing during the Bubble City Saturday evening dance.

Which I nearly failed at. I had forgotten my wedding invitation at home, so I didn’t know the location of the wedding 3 hours before it was supposed to start. So I sent Carol a text message asking where the ceremony was. Good thing Carol also corrected me on what I thought the time the ceremony started was, or I would have walked 30 minutes into the ceremony.

After the ceremony, Carol’s twin sister and Maid of Honor Catherine gave me the verbal smack down for committing such a faux pas. Yes, guilty as charged. Sorry.

While Kyle and Carol and the rest of their wedding party were getting their portraits taken, I spent the two hours hanging out with friend and former neighbor Tom playing with his Nintendo Super Scope on his NES. After spending some quality time with the toys I wish I had as a kid, the evening had rolled around and it was time to get to the reception.

I was seated at Table 2, where I was joined by all of the other swing dancers. Swing dancers? Ah yes, I probably should have mentioned that part. Kyle and Carol met as swing dancers. In fact, I met Kyle and Carol at the same time that they met each other. You see, we all started swing dancing at the exact same time, in the same beginner swing class.

As such, they are very special friends to me. It’s amazing how far we’ve progressed as dancers, as I still remember those super awkward East Coast Swing dances way back when I had no rhythm and no sense of musicality. (Back then, you could have grabbed a drummer and just hammered out a beat and I would have tried “dancing” to that, and failing miserably to stay on time.)

It’s also amazing that it just so happens that Kyle and Carol would find out that they were perfect for each another. Just one more thing that amazes me to no end, and one that makes me very happy, as it almost fits a fairy tale, if said fairy tale contained much pain in figuring out how to do a swing out and plenty of soybeans and maths.

Carol and I dance during my first and only judged swing dance contest. A print of this picture sits on my desk at work.

So yes, there was a table filled solely with swing dancers. Among us were Bradley, Kevin, Andrea, Kelly, Marcus and his friend Dana, David, and Tom. Another swing dancer, Raimy, was present as one of Carol’s bridesmaids, so she was too good for us and sat at the table where all the important people sat.

This was by far the fanciest wedding I’ve attended to date. The ceremony actually took place inside a church, and a pretty fancy one at that. The reception had an open alcohol bar, a candy bar on the opposite side of the room, and even an ice sculpture. Wow!

And of course, a decent dance floor dead center of the banquet room, in front of the DJ who was told that there were swing dancers present and that some swing music should be played. We held our breath hoping that it would be, you know, classic swing and not Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

The DJ did deliver on good swing music, and we swing dancers took to the floor and showed off our Lindy Hop prowess. There were also your standard wedding reception fare with modern-day love ballads and club dance songs, many of which we still danced to, both in your more typical modern club dance circles as well as some unusual partner dancing. I’ll admit that the fusion dancer in me was at full tilt by the end of the night.

I was very happy to dance with some people that I haven’t had a chance to dance with for a very long time. Oh, and I guess I’m very happy that Kyle and Carol are together, too. Swing dancers will be swing dancers, right?

So, what is love?

Ah yes, the question that I’ve been asking myself lately. I’ve never been in a relationship, though I was involved in a fling a little while ago that I suppose almost made it to that stage. Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know what love looks like or what it feels like.

This struck me when I was shooting weddings. When you’ve got a camera trained on a bride or groom’s face, it’s hard not to see the emotion in their faces. And then, when I go through my pictures, I see that emotion again. Tears running down checks, smiles so bright that you’d need sunglasses to keep your vision intact, and hugs that are among the huggiest hugs ever hugged. And I’m a swing dance photographer, and I’ve photographed some damn good hugs in the past couple of years.

I know, technically, why the emotion is there. But I can’t imagine it, at all.

The photographer in me was just watching Kyle and Carol’s faces throughout their wedding ceremony, and damn. I’m very happy for them, and for all of the folks whom I had the pleasure watching get hitched, but at the same time I’ll admit to a little bit of jealousy.

My parents are absolutely convinced that when I turn 28, I’ll no longer be attractive to the opposite sex as I’ll be too old. On one hand, it’s a laughably cute way of thinking that I’ve brushed aside as just one of those anachronistic philosophies that somehow made their way out of southern China into the States. On the other hand, I’m starting to see my parent’s point in that… my current path has me headed towards permanent bachelor-ism.

I mean, I have more brake pads for my cars than I have good pairs of shoes for myself right now. Not to mention the stacks of tires lining the garage, or the fact that I have three cars with a total worth of $40k sitting in the garage and the driveway. I’ve got 12 cameras on display in the living room, and an entire display case of Hot Wheels cars. Not that any one of these things damn me to the single lifestyle, but all together… hmm.

I haven’t been looking for a special someone at all. But, you might say, you’re a swing/blues dancer and dance with lots of women all the time! Yeah, but I don’t dance to go pick up girls, as much as non-dancers like to imagine that swing dancing has anything in common with “swingers.” I go dancing because it’s fun, and for the adventure of sleeping on people’s floors, staying up way too late, and eating delicious food at midnight with friends after exhausting ourselves with much physical exertion and before going to exhaust ourselves again with slightly slower physical exertion. Most non-dancers will never understand the mindset of traveling swing dancers or appreciate the bond that we traveling swing dancers have for each other unless they experience it firsthand.

And I suppose, such is the same with love. You can’t really explain it in words, so no one bothers to try. Seriously, love is something that every single Hollywood movie shoehorns in — a very cartoony romance that we all know is as realistic as the exploding cars and buildings — but I’ve rarely heard it being discussed in real life. Probably, the “duh” reason is just “what the hell is there to talk about” in the same vein that talking about how the Cubbies will finally win the World Series is futile and only for the bored and idle.

Maybe I haven’t been on this earth long enough to get to that point. I’m sure the older folks reading this are laughing and thinking to themselves, “you foolish young whippersnapper, just you wait!”

The closest analogy that I can draw to love, and this is going to make me sound like a massive doofus, is that of driving on the limit. Driving a car right on the limit of adhesion of its four tires is an extremely difficult act, one that takes years to master. The car is on the verge of spinning out of control yet you’re not, and the sensation of driving on that knife’s edge is an adrenaline rush that is absolutely intoxicating. Folks who compete in motorsports can relate, yet most normal people will have no idea what it’s like unless I strap them into the passenger seat of my Miata and take them out for an autocross run or a lap around the race track and they experience it.

And hell, even at 6 years of autocrossing and counting, I haven’t mastered the art of driving on limit yet. At this point in time, I merely flirt with the limit now and then. (Context appropriate puns!) I can’t drive a car on the limit anywhere close to 100% of the time. Who’s to say that love wouldn’t take the same trajectory?

I work the camera during Matt and Chris’s wedding.

Anyway, if I don’t find love, I could always find it behind the lens of a camera. I know I’ve said that I’m not a wedding photographer, and that it will be a cold day in hell if I ever do become one, but I’ve got to admit that I truly enjoyed shooting the two weddings I did this year. You can’t not be happy shooting some of the happiest people in that moment on that day.

Wedding photography is a Happy Profession. That’s not to say there are times that suck, like post-processing photos (oh boy, does that ever suck), but on the day of the wedding, you can’t not be a Happy Photographer photographing Happy People. It’s a little bubble of respite from a world where lots of things suck and people will bitch and moan to no end.

It’s almost enough to make me think about shooting weddings in the future. Almost.

And now I can see why a wedding might be viable alternative to driving around a parking lot full of cones.

Don’t ask me to shoot your wedding.