Photographing a destination wedding on the island of Oahu in Hawaii is a dream for many wedding photographers. This past Memorial Day weekend, Jake and I boarded an airplane and took the five-hour flight over the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles to Oahu to photograph one of the most beautiful weddings we’ve witnessed. Even without the breath-taking views and tropical Hawaiian Island backdrop, this particular wedding had extra-special meaning for us because the bride was my little sister.
This blog post will come from a unique perspective too…Not only did we photograph the wedding, I was also the Maid of Honor. It has been an amazingly emotional rollercoaster ride…and yet, I am still blown away that I am about to write my little sister’s love story!
Kristen and Kevin met a little over two years ago in the aisles of a Whole Foods grocery store in Kailua, Hawaii. Kristen, a physical therapist, had recently relocated for a job opportunity. Kevin, a Navy engineer, was stationed in Oahu. It was an instant connection and Kevin asked Kristen to join him for a Deschutes Chainbreaker beer at the Windward Bar, located inside Whole Foods. She agreed and so their story begins with.. “It all started with a beer!”
The next two years were spent around an endless supply of scenic beauty; adventuring the island of Oahu together. From its highest points and trails, to the island’s white-sand beaches and clear warm ocean waters…Kristen and Kevin fell in love in absolute paradise!
It was a family trip to Oregon that changed the shape of Kristen and Kevin’s relationship forever; Kristen just didn’t know it….. yet! During a hike with our Dad in Ashland Oregon, Kevin revealed he wanted to live his life with Kristen. Kevin asked for our father’s blessing and approval for Kristen’s hand in marriage!
On August 21, 2016, Kevin planned a sunrise walk on Waimanalo Beach to propose to Kristen as the sun came up, stretching golden light on one of their favorite sunrise spots! Without hesitation, Kristen said YES!
“I knew I was crazy about him by the second date. Knew I wanted to marry him around the time he went on deployment a few months later,” says Kristen.
Although Kristen and Kevin were both raised on the mainland, they knew they wanted to get married in Hawaii. Their date was set for May 26, 2017…to be held at Kualoa Ranch – a 4,000 acre, private nature reserve on the windward side of the island. The Kualoa Private Nature Reserve is legendary to ancient Hawaiians as well as the Hollywood film industry, and is also a working cattle ranch and farm! Jurassic Park, Skull Island, Jurassic World and Godzilla were all filmed at Kualoa Ranch. How cool is that?!
THE BIG DAY
Sometimes called “The Gathering Place,” Oahu certainly lived up to its name as Kristen and Kevin’s guests started arriving from the mainland the week leading up to the wedding. Guests were greeted by the island with partly cloudy skies, lower-than-normal humidity, and a week of scattered showers—cooling us off JUST when it started to get too hot. Most of their quests had never been to Hawaii before, including Jake, so everyone showed up more than ready to meet, socialize and celebrate the big event. It was going to be a beautiful wedding…As long as it didn’t rain on the wedding day! (cue Alanis Morissette!)
The morning of May 26, 2017, the sun rose on the windward side of the island with more elegant golden light, but also with some threatening storm clouds where the venue was getting prepped and setup for the wedding. The weather forecast called for light showers, Kristen panicked, and we spent the next few hours anxiously checking our iPhones weather apps until they told us what we wanted to hear. As Kristen’s nerves began to settle, so did the chances of rain blessing them with “good luck” on their wedding day. Everything was falling into place!
Kristen’s best friends from college arrived at our parents’ rental house to get ready and splurge on brunch and signature drinks prepared by our mom. The boys headed out early and went to help setup Paliku Gardens before getting dressed themselves.
Hair and makeup arrived, and before long I found myself getting my hair done with my camera in my lap. This was no ordinary wedding, to say the least! A new twist to a client wedding…pamper and work. I’ll take it! My time in the chair gave the sun time to splash the balcony windows with some epic backlight, right as my sister’s hairstylist was setting her veil. (Cue sister tears.) There she was, my baby sister, draped with a halo of angelic light…smiling at our mother from ear to ear. She was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen, and absolutely glowing with the promise of happily ever after. What a moment! We were ready to get Kristen hitched! Just one short drive to the North Shore and Kualoa Ranch!
Dressed in our floral silk kimonos and Kate Spade glitter Keds, we piled into the van and headed to the venue. As we followed the windy coastline to Kualoa Ranch, I remember looking at my Dad as he drove. Even though we got closer and closer to the ranch, I knew he wanted to drive in the opposite direction and refuse to “giveaway” his baby girl. Kristen was surprisingly calm…a sign of certainty and comfort I’ve only seen in my sister since she met Kevin.
We turned into the driveway of Kualoa Ranch and I was instantly blown away by the spectacular view. Paliku Gardens is nestled 1,000 feet above Kualoa Ranch on the base of the Kualoa cliffs. It’s surrounded by tropical gardens and features panoramic ocean views; providing guests with beautiful sight lines of Kane’ohe Bay, rolling pastures, green gardens, and the iconic “Chinaman’s Hat” island just off the coast. I was seeing amazing photo opportunities everywhere!
As we arrived, the florist, Debbie Hemingway, was setting up the arch for the ultimate WOW factor. The boys were hanging a strand of exposed vintage bulbs under the open pavilion, casting a warm and inviting glow to the reception area. Each table featured the most divine DIY, FRESH, golden pineapple center pieces, adding a touch of tropical fruit to the air. It wouldn’t be long until the ceremony began.
Now here comes the tricky part. Double duty. At a normal wedding, Jake and I split the coverage from side-to-side, take front and back duties, come together for the kiss shot, and then one of us photographs the front of the couple as they exit the ceremony and the other photographs from the back. Together, we came up with a strategy for Jake to capture Kristen and Kevin’s ceremony, alone, without sacrificing the added shots of two-shooter coverage. It was NO easy feat..but of course, Jake slayed.
A camera was waiting for me on the ground where I was standing next to my sister. I captured her walking down the aisle from the front, as well as an photo of Kevin waiting for Kristen as my dad walked her down the aisle. Other than quick moments, this destination wedding photographer had to set the camera down and watch my partner work the hardest in our career….in absolute paradise. As I watched my sister and Kevin exchanging vows, absolutely glowing with happiness, I found my trigger finger taking invisible photos. I would glance at Jake, hoping he was there to capture the shot I saw, too…of course he was there and already smiling at me with a big thumbs up to let me know he had already nailed the shot.
Kevin took his place under the floral arch and turned to eagerly capture a glance of his perfect bride. The wedding party was directed down the aisle, signaling to the guests that the Bride was about to make her entrance. Everybody rose to their feet as Kristen and our dad stood above the ceremony from the back stone steps. Watching my dad walk my sister down the aisle was a beautiful moment for our family…with only his majestic beard rivaling the scenic view.
As Kristen and our dad arrived at the arch, you could see the emotion building as Kevin’s eyes began to tear up at the sight of his bride. My dad reached out to Kevin and gave him a handshake. It was a small action, but a huge gesture. Don’t let him hear you say this, but in that moment, he was giving away his baby girl to the man of her dreams…and acknowledging to him, and the world, that it felt right. It was a significant moment in both of their lives, and it was not lost on either of them. After shaking hands, my dad found his way to his seat and joined the rest of the guests to witness this special wedding.
The ceremony was sweet, pointed and heart-felt, with Kristen and Kevin reciting vows they had prepared for each other before the wedding. Kristen and Kevin came together in the presence of their family and friends, exchanged their special vows under the floral arch overlooking Kane’ohe Bay, and the iconic “Chinaman’s Hat”.
It started with a beer. Strengthened with distance of deployment. They began their happily-ever-after with this promise:
“I will love you deeper than the ocean, stronger than quicksand, the long way. Every single day. Forever”
View the entire collection of photos from Kristen & Kevin’s Kualoa Ranch Wedding:
Thank you for your service, Kevin!
Erin & Jake proudly support the men and women serving in the U.S Military!
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Photography: Erin & Jake Wedding Photography
Hair & Makeup for the Bride: Cheryl Hazelgrove
Hair for the Bridesmaids: Creative SOL – Luxury Hair & Makeup, Katie Rezantes
Day of Coordinator: Tropical Moon Events, Dania S. Weinberg
Florist: Designs by Hemingway, Debbie Hemingway
Venue: Kualoa Ranch, Paliku Gardens
DJ: Spectrum Entertainment, Toshi Nakasone
Officiant: Liz Leavitt
Rings: Blue Nile
Jewelry: The Pearl Shop
Cake & Cupcakes: Harmony Cakes
Catering: Kualoa Ranch Catering
Table & Chair Rental: Accel Party Rentals & Design