By Kristen Wagner :: Photos Meg Courtney Photography
The best moments in life often come and go so quickly, you barely have a chance to enjoy them. Meg Courtney is making it her mission to capture those moments and turn them into something you can hang on your wall.
The Okanagan-based photographer has only been practicing for two years, but in that time she’s learned what it often takes a whole career to learn: the perfect photo isn’t just about exposure or composition, it’s about the feelings involved and how well those elements shine through in the image.
“The goal is always to tell the story of the day,” explains Meg. “I really want it real and natural—my artistic expressions of what happened on the day instead of me kind of controlling their day.”
Meg avoids putting every couple through the same tried-and-true series of poses, opting instead for “action posing”: she suggests an action—like a walk or a topic of conversation—to create a moment she can capture. “I think that’s how you get authentic images that really show a connection between people,” she says, “because they’re actually interacting when you’re taking the photo.”
This type of photojournalistic wedding photography is new to many people. Meg recently shot a wedding in France, where she found that many European customs are different from those in Canada. The French couple’s main priority was to spend time with their guests, so Meg worked out a timeline that enabled them to do just that. But fortunately, the couple was willing to make time for sunset photos near their venue—a castle, nearly a thousand years old, in the French countryside. “It was like something out of a dream,” Meg says of the experience. “I was just speechless.”
That kind of fairy-tale wedding perfectly aligns with Meg’s style. She specializes in “sun-kissed, spontaneous and enchanted” weddings—the kind of couple for whom a happily ever after is inevitable. She approaches life with unshakeable optimism, and she needs clients who share that outlook.
Meg comes by her rose-coloured glasses honestly. “My dad is always telling us that we have to look to see the magic in everything…that’s kind of the essence of my photography,” she says. “If you look for enchantment you can find it anywhere.” Enchantment can take many forms: the sun peeking through the clouds on a stormy day, a farmer driving by with a bright red Depression-era Ford to use in the shoot, or even common pests. “In Alberta when I shoot there are always a lot of mosquitoes, but at sunset it lights them up and I swear it looks like pixie dust,” she says.
Meg’s desire to share that enchanted mindset is the primary reason she became a photographer. “I really want to inspire people to see the magic in life, and also to believe that living happily ever after is a choice,” she says. “I just happen to use photography to show people that their life can be a fairy tale.”
Still, you can’t leave everything to chance. Meg’s technique also involves a great deal of planning and preparation, and the whole process takes about a year. She shoots every wedding with her husband, Scott, and they each bring a backup set of equipment to ensure the shoot isn’t interrupted in the case of a technical malfunction. They’re also sure to visit the location ahead of time to get the lay of the land and anticipate any challenges the venue may present.
But the most important part of the pre-wedding prep is building a relationship with the client. Meg stresses the importance of a comfortable rapport and puts a great deal of time into developing it. When potential clients first contact her, Meg sets up a dinner date with only one rule: there’s absolutely no talking about the wedding until the end of the meal. “I just really want to get to know them, hear their story, what are they about, what are they passionate about,” she explains.
Most of Meg’s photo packages include an engagement shoot, which presents another opportunity for her and the clients to get to know each other, and a chance for the client to get accustomed to action posing before the wedding. Throughout the year, Meg makes a point of following up and spending as much time with the couple as she can.
Investing in a deeper relationship pays off in the end: when she and the clients are comfortable with one another, the couple is more relaxed, and it shows in the photos. “If they’re not super comfortable and they’re feeling awkward, the photos are going to come across that way,” she says. “That experience [during the shoot] is everything because when you look at the pictures you remember the moment. So if [the photographer] was someone that you didn’t like, and it was a super awkward situation, then they’re not going to love the photos as much.”
When your photographer becomes a friend, it’s much more likely they’ll be able to capture the real you, and that’s what Meg strives for. And it’s more likely that real moments will happen—ones that you’ll want to remember forever.
You never know what shape those moments will take. “It’s really cool just to watch the day unfold and see what kind of crazy things are going to happen,” Meg says, recalling a wedding she shot in the Dominican Republic. The ceremony was beautiful and was going smoothly, until the time came to exchange rings—and the couple realized the rings were still in the hotel room.
After a moment of panic, the groom’s dad stood up and offered his own ring to his son and new daughter-in-law. “They said after it was the best part of the whole day,” Meg says. “[The groom’s] parents are still happily married, and they were married with his dad’s wedding ring, so it was really special.” Thanks to Meg, the couple has a visual reminder of that moment they can keep forever, and show their own children one day.
“That’s what makes it so special,” Meg says. “It’s really neat to be able to give someone that gift of remembering that moment forever.”