When Chelsea first approached me about her elopement, she explained that her and Justin had decided against a big wedding in favor of a courthouse ceremony, but they still wanted great wedding photos to commemorate tying the knot! Currently, the couple resides in a town in Texas that Chelsea refers to as “quite unremarkable” (which I have to say, made me laugh) so she wanted, or probably a better word would be, craved, a location that was beautiful and epic!
Originally, she mentioned possibly flying to Arizona, no specific time frame or season mentioned, but added if I had any other ideas to throw them her way. Immediately I thought of a place we had visited last fall … the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The only caveat - my specific vision lined up with a winter wonderland themed shoot. To my surprise, Chelsea was all for the idea. I explained in no uncertain terms that winter temperatures in the Tetons are brutal and she was still all for the idea. With that we quickly settled on mid-February for the photo shoot. Little did we know that the one week we chose would be the coldest temperatures Jackson Hole has and probably will see all season – by far!
There is a back story to Chelsea and me. She is the youngest of four sisters and three brothers. She comes from a very large, close family. Over twenty years ago, while I was in college in the photography program, I met Chelsea’s oldest sister, Aubrey. We quickly became good friends and I met her wonderful family. At the time, Chelsea was just a little girl, around 5 or 6 years old. Over the years I grew close to all the sisters, eventually photographing all their weddings. That initial friendship turned into much more to me. They have always been there for during my highs and lows and every one of them treats me like part of the family and their collective friendship means the world to me!
Sadly, Aubrey couldn’t make it to Jackson Hole to hang out with Chelsea and Justin, but her sister, Brittany, was able to come along. Can’t say how much of a blessing that was for Kevin and I as we employed her help numerous times over the course of the shoot and she was great! She also participated in the shoot, putting on an awesome red dress and doing some photos with her sister.
As I mentioned earlier, we could have no idea when we planned the dates of the elopement session how brutal that week would be. Temperatures were mild, relatively speaking, through Sunday, but with the passing of a strong winter storm came a blast of cold arctic air that would plunge temperatures the rest of the week well below normal, just in time for their arrival on Wednesday. The following is no exaggeration. Morning temperatures all week landed between 25-35 below zero. Daytime highs rarely got above 9 below zero. More average would be lows in the teens to single digits with highs in the twenties to thirties which would be much more manageable for a shoot where your subjects are wearing next to nothing.
This shoot took three days to complete due to the extreme conditions. The first morning we got up at 4:45 in the morning and drove an hour to a shooting location with a special view of the Teton Range so we could get Chelsea and Justin at first light, meaning we arrived in pre-dawn light. The temperature was 25 below zero and the first thing Kevin and I noticed when we got out of the car was that there was a stiff wind blowing. This meant wind chills of about 35-40 below zero. Even with all of heavy clothing and coats, gloves, scarves, hand-warmers and anything else we could find to keep us warm, it was unbearable for us. I had no idea how we were going to have them do this. Knowing that it would be cold, our original idea was to wait until the light was right and then have them walk a short distance down the road and back up and that would be a wrap. We didn’t however, account for the wind and even this shoot, one that was only planned to last a few minutes, now seemed impossible. When the time came, the winds had subsided a bit, though not completely, but that was our saving grace. To my amazement, they did what I asked and though they were beyond cold and already in pain by the time they got back in the car after only a few minutes of exposure, they never looked cold in the photos. This would be repeated over-and-over again and never once did either of them complain.
This shoot was the most challenging we have ever done. In these extreme temperatures our cameras started malfunctioning at times, our zoom lenses would barely move and our bare hands touching cold metal became unbearably painful. Posing the couple was another challenge we weren’t expecting with some shooting sessions literally only lasting a few minutes and then there was the snow. Most of the snow was at least waist deep and when it wasn’t, it was still very slick, making it almost impossible to do some of the more “active” poses we might normally do.
Through all that, we were still constantly amazed by Chelsea and Justin and their willingness to do anything to get the shot! At times the cold was so brutal, their hands would ache for up to 30 minutes after getting in a warm car, despite only having been exposed to the cold for a few minutes. In the end it paid off in spades with beautifully unique conditions and a shoot like no other. They had the backdrop of one of the world’s most beautiful mountain ranges blanketed in white, hoarfrost coating the trees in sparkling white, diamond dust glittering in the clear air and even a family of buffalo posing in the background. This shoot was pure magic in every way!