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WPPI Grand Master

I have sat down to write this several times, and the only words that keep coming to mind are “Holy sh*t. I did this.  I finally, finally DID THIS.”

WPPI GRAND MASTER.

To explain to the muggles out there (that’s non-photography folk), WPPI is “the largest show for professional, amateur and emerging wedding and portrait photographers and filmmakers, drawing attendees from all over the world for 4 days of conference, content and business building interaction.”* It’s a convention that I’ve been attending for eighteen years. It’s a place where I’ve met friends, friends who became loves, loves who became family. It’s a hectic, batshit crazy adrenaline rush of a week with classes, parties, meet-ups, competitions, camaraderie, trade show wanderings, and so very much more.

In short, it’s one of the best weeks of the year.

I went to WPPI for the first time when I was a brand new photographer. I knew maybe two people attending, had no idea who any of the speakers were, didn’t even know what the classes were all about, but I hopped that plane to Vegas from Florida ready to learn it all. I went back the next year, when I was pregnant. I went back the next year, and the year after that, and the years after that. I learned. I made friends. I met my husband in a hallway en route to some social event or another. I met contacts at the trade show that are dear collaborators and supporters of my business to this day.  Every industry friend that I have can be traced somehow  back to WPPI.

I began speaking and teaching there. First small classes, then to larger ballrooms. I stepped foot on a demo stage at the trade show for the first time at WPPI, graduating to bigger stages, culminating in being a speaker for Canon USA. I fumbled with my words, my keynotes, my ability to translate technical ability into tangible takeaways for class attendees.

I also started entering print competition.

What is that? Well, to also borrow words from WPPI’s website , “WPPI’s The Annual: 16×20 Print, Album and Filmmaking competition is the most prestigious wedding, portrait and print competition in the world, and the capstone event of the WPPI Conference + Show, with an awards ceremony honoring the most illustrious photographers of the year, many of whom spend their entire year preparing for this competition. The competition culminates with live judging at WPPI’s yearly conference and a gallery exhibition at the show taking place in Las Vegas. Prizes include the Grand Awards and crystal trophies.”

Every year I took the time to sort through my images from the year prior, culling and culling again to get that final dozen or so of the best of the best. The images that made my heart sing. The images that depicted the decisive moment. The best light, best pose, best examples of my technical and artistic ability. I had them printed, packed them with gentle hands into their shipping cases, sent them to Vegas, crossed my fingers, and lived and died over the two days of judging until I saw how I did.

Sometimes I did well. My scores were great, I won awards, I managed to get two coveted Grand Awards, I gave some speeches, my trophy case grew. Sometimes I did terribly, and I’d find myself hiding in a Vegas bathroom stall angrily wiping at my eyes with tissues until the hurt of a bad score stopped stinging. Sometimes the yearly glass of champagne post-awards ceremony that I shared with my friend Justine was a glass of celebration, sometimes a “we blew it this year” drink of misery.

But you know what? Every good score, every bad score, every lovingly assembled print case – it all made me better. A better photographer, year after year. A better teacher and educator, as I balanced between entrant and judge. A better human being. A more sympathetic creator of images. A more careful holder of the frantically beating hearts of every other entrant who put their feelings and their work on the line when they dared to share their work with a panel of judges.

There is an Honors of Excellence point system with the WPPI competition. Your top four scoring entries (no matter how many you enter) go towards your Honors of Excellence point total. I could tell you about how the point system works, or you could just read it here – their site describes it better than I ever could.  Your points and “wins” help you rise up through the WPPI Titles and Designations, which are:

  • 

5 points = Associate of WPPI title.
  • 15 additional points (for a total of 20+ points) = Master of WPPI title.
  • 15 additional points (for a total of 35+ points) = Double Master of WPPI title.
  • 15 additional points (for a total of 50+ points accumulated) = Triple Master of WPPI title.
  • 15 additional points (for a total of 65+ points accumulated) = Grand Master of WPPI title. NOTE: In order to actually receive the Grand Master of WPPI, the member must have also received 5 gold awards or above and at least 1 Grand Award from The Annual: 16×20 Print, Album and Filmmaking Competition (past Premiere Grand Awards don’t count) at some point during their time in the program. The Grand Master of WPPI title holds a lot of prestige. It will be difficult to obtain because of the amount of skill and longevity that is needed to achieve it. But it is still attainable enough to encourage members to work towards that title. No one who earns this award will be unworthy of it—they will have earned it over a number of years and with consistently highest scoring prints.

I have been entering The Annual: 16×20 Print, Album and Filmmaking Competition since 2007. I have entered a total of 107 prints. I have lived, died, breathed, cried, rage-screamed, and cartwheeled over my cases of images every single year.

And this year, I became a Grand Master.

I am only the seventh person in WPPI history to do this. The second woman. And the first and only female wedding photographer.

To say I am overwhelmed is a vast understatement.

Here are some of the 107 images over the years that have helped me reach this point:

When the award was given to me at the Awards Ceremony on one of the final nights of the convention, I completely blacked out once I got up out of my chair to accept it.  You see, my dear friend Melissa is the one who reads out the designations, and she’d crafted a speech that I had not been prepared to hear.  It was eloquent and beautiful, spoke of me so kindly, and reduced me to a mess of tears.

Here is the aforementioned choke-crying that I was doing at this point – thank you to Gerardo Soto for capturing this so sweetly:

I am a very, very private person.  My personal life is just that – personal, mine, quiet.  I have tried for a long time to separate my personal life from my professional life, and I am aware that sometimes that can make me appear a little cold, a little apart, a little hard to get to know.  I keep my husband and my children in a quiet place, because they’re mine-all-mine, and I don’t open up very often outside my social circle.  I keep my heart to myself, it’s been kicked too many times in this difficult industry, so I hold it tight and share it infrequently.   I value my reputation too much to let too much out, and as an unfortunate result, I also don’t let too much in.

It’s a long standing joke at WPPI that I don’t go to parties – and if I do?  I can usually be found in a corner trying to read a book, or as an example from this year, hiding literally on the floor behind a bar.  As in, tucked under a friend’s arm on the floor just away.  And when there were too many people, I bolted for the quiet of a nearly empty restaurant and the dear sweetness of conversation with close friends.

However?  Even though I spend a lot of time running from large gatherings,  the love that I have for this industry and the people in it is so huge that sometimes it cracks me open and pours out of my eyes.

And sometimes, not often but sometimes, I am at a loss for words.  I didn’t prepare a speech on awards night when that huge crazy trophy was put into my hands, I stumbled through a huge knot in my throat and a burning desire to fall into the arms of those I love and cry it out.  Therefore, I left out a lot of people who needed thanking, and I wanted to take some time to put it all into words so those words will live on a lot longer than a grainy iphone video of me mumbling at a microphone ever could.

So here we go.  From the beginning.  With all the thanks this heart can humanly hold:

  • My parents, Bill and Joyce.  For sending me off to theatre school without once asking “How will you make money from this?”  For saying “That sounds like a good idea” when I started a photography business.  For being the actual best parents that anyone has ever had – go ahead and try to fight me on this, you’ll lose.
  • Mitch Stripling, who made my first website and told me to go.  To do it already.  Who held up our family when I didn’t have a real job.  Who let me turn our garage into a studio.  For this and a thousand other reasons, always.
  • My daughters, Emma and Olivia.  Who are everything.  EVERYTHING.  My beautiful stepdaughters, Samantha and Alison.  I celebrate the four of you, the amazing women you are becoming, the incredible forces you are.
  • Bill Hurter, Arlene Evans, and George Varanakis.  Who gave me a stage, put me in my place when I needed it, held me when I cried in the hallway over one particular print that scored badly, gave me opportunities, took a chance on me, and gave me more than you could ever, ever imagine.  Bill, you are so missed.  Arlene and George, you are my family forever.
  • Tony Hewitt, who taught me to judge.  Not just with my brain and my heart, but with the kindness and love in my words and my manner.  Pete Wright, who guided our panel so beautifully this year.  The kind hearts that I have judged with over the years – the love and care that you so passionately feel for every single image is palpable, and it’s been an honor to work by your side for the good of the prints and the love we all have for our industry.
  • Dan Neri and the team at Canon USA, who have given me the most inexplicably enormous honor of my career.  Being an Explorer of Light is a literal dream come true, and I cannot thank you for how you’ve quite literally changed my life.  I hope I do you proud.
  • My fellow Explorers of Light.  You awe me on the daily.
  • Aaron, George, and Craig who helped The Wedding School become what it is today.  Thank you, thank you.
  • The photographers I have taken workshops from, admired from afar, learned from online, and respected for years.  From my very first time in the studio of Dina Ivory in Tallahassee to reveling in the mastery of the likes of Ben Shirk and Lola Melani, you have all raised me up.  I hope that I have been able to do a fraction of that for other photographers.  You all mean so much.
  • Rocco Ancora, the glorious joy of a human who has printed my images for the past many, many competitions.  Not only does he inspire me to be a better photographer, he continually reminds me what it is to be a gracious, good-hearted human.  And by extension, the exquisite Tanya.  Who is, quite literally, a ray of sunshine.
  • Sandra Krauss, the loveliest friend and studio manager in the world.  She holds Susan Stripling Photography together, and has quite literally held me together for over a decade.
  • The vendors that have transcended vendor-ship to become friends.  Fundy, Tave, Cloudspot, Finao, Good Gallery, and far too many more to count.  You’ve trusted me with your business and I’ve trusted you with mine, and we’ve become family along the way.
  • The Grand Masters who have come before me, and taught me so many, many ridiculously incredible things.  Being on a list with you – Jennifer, Jerry, Rocco, everyone – it’s hilarious that anyone would rank my name next to yours.  Jerry, you’ve been a dear friend from the beginning and I’ll snuggle on a beanbag with you any day of the week.  Ryan, you’re my favorite person to awkwardly share a wedding with, and seeing your images forces me to raise my own bar every time I pick up a camera.
  • My friends.  The people who have come and gone.  The people who have been there from the beginning. The table of lunatics who exploded in screams and cried and forgot to take video on awards night, the ones who screamed and danced from afar, you know who you are.  I’ve eaten mochi with you, cried in your arms, shopped with you, hidden from parties with you, danced in weird bars with you at 2am and then fled when we recognized people, eaten pizza in our pajamas while wearing a Hogwarts robe, laughed hysterically in hallways, stayed in your homes, had you stay in mine, argued with you, collaborated with you, and texted with you late into the night.  You know how dearly I love you, trust you with my heart, and love you for all the amazingness you put into the world, all you do to raise up women, to do the work, to be pioneers for change, to be trustworthy beautiful people.  I love you, I love you.
  • And lastly, at the very end, when all of my words are never enough – my husband, Cliff Mautner.  In the overwhelming fear of sounding foolish while crying and speaking at the awards ceremony, I omitted his name from my list of thanks.  As I’ve said before, I’m private to a fault with my personal life, and my fear of embarrassment while stumbling over my words led way to not mentioning my own husband.  Cliff was an inspiration to me as a photographer before he was anything more on a personal level.  We met when I was a very young photographer who couldn’t master backlight or one single speedlite off camera, stumbling to make my visions a reality.  He helped me become the photographer I am today, and there is no way that I’d be the human that I am without him by my side.  We make each other better in so many ways, and the heart-shattering thanks that I have to him for being my partner, my love, and my confidant is simply impossible to convey in words other than I love you.  And I do, and I will.  Every day.  The end.

Thank you all for reading this far, I know it’s a lot.  But receiving this Grand Master distinction is about more than just entering print competition and racking up scores.  It’s about the family that has surrounded me for years, that family that WPPI has brought me, the loves and heart-explosions and surprises along the way.  It’s about over a decade of my career spent chasing a goal that has bettered me in thousands of ways.

I’ve been told that I’m an inspiration to female photographers, to photographers in general, to business owners, to people trying to navigate this difficult industry.  If I am, it’s only because of everyone mentioned above, this blindingly beautiful community, this gorgeous world.

Thank you.  Thank you.

Game of Thrones Location Photos : Jon Snow + Ygritte Cave

Go ahead and be super surprised, but I’d never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones until August of 2017.  Yes.  I KNOW.  But with a title like “Game of Thrones Location Photos : Jon Snow + Ygritte Cave” you know this blog post will be a worthy (and humorous) read…

I am not sure why I avoided GoT for so long.    I’m super busy with weddings and running The Wedding School.  I spend time with my kids.  I hang out with my husband. When I turn to TV, it’s to turn off my brain, not try to figure out the tangled relationships of the approx. nine thousand Game of Thrones characters.

(Also, the same people who told me I’d love The Walking Dead simply INSISTED that I would love Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead is terrible, so I promptly ignored their other suggestion.)

After being pestered by enough friends to get started, I downloaded the first book onto my Kindle, fired up my HBO GO, and it was off to the races.  And that, my friends, is how I lost about a week of my life.

One episode led into another, into another, into another.  “Who is that person?” led to “WHY HAS THAT PERSON NOT KILLED THAT OTHER PERSON YET?” and “OH MY GOD DO NOT DO THAT THING!” and too many hours spent watching and re-watching Joffrey’s wedding to figure out whodunnit.

Game of Thrones and my fall vacation

It was around this time that fall wedding season loomed near.  For those of you in our wonderful wedding industry, you know that we have “on seasons” and “off seasons”.  In the northeast, the “off” season is July, January, February, March, and the first part of April.

The “on” season is every single other month, with a special concentration on May, June, August, September, and October.  Fall wedding season is a marvelous rush towards the winter, an exhilarating time full of weddings, engagement sessions, portraits, and celebration after celebration.

With those days getting closer, I decided it was time to take my last precious week of quiet time and head off to Iceland with my oldest daughter.  We’ve been in love with this marvelous country for a few years now, visiting it twice in the winter.

This was to be our first late-summer excursion, and we were so happy and excited.  We meticulously planned a trip that would take us around the famed Ring Road in a week, booking AirBnB stays and guesthouse visits along the way.

Game of Thrones filming locations Iceland
Iceland is meant to be photographed in color, black and white, digital, film, who cares. Get there, and bring your camera.

While researching this much-needed vacation, I stumbled across the best Google search of all time.  You guessed it, Game of Thrones filming locations.  

WHAT IS THIS, YOU SAY?  I fell hard into that Google search, realizing that several pivotal Game of Thrones filming locations were right in Iceland.  Namely:

  • Þórufoss Waterfall, Thingvellir national park, situated right on the Laxá í Kjós River.  Featured in season 4, episode 6 “The Laws of Gods and Men.”
  • Hengilssvæðið.  Featured in season 4, episode 10 “The Children.”
  • Þingvellir National Park/Thingvellir National Park.  Found in Bláskógabyggð municipality, in the southwestern area of Iceland. Featured in season 4, episode 5 “First of His Name” and also in season 4, episode 8 “The Mountain and the Viper.”
  • Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng.  Featured in season 4, episode 3 “Breaker of Chains”
  • Kirkjufellsfoss/Kirkjufell.  Featured in season 6, episode 5 “The Door” and also in season 7, episode 6 “Beyond the Wall”
  • Höfðabrekkuheiði hiking area in Vik/Frostfangs.  Used for some “beyond the wall” footage.  Featured in season 7, episode 5 “Eastwatch”
  • Vatnajokull National Park.  Also used for some “beyond the wall” footage.
  • Dimmuborgir and Myvatn, site of Castle Black, the wildling camp in season 3.

I tried to figure out which ones would fall along our specific driving route, which ones would be easy to get to, and which ones wouldn’t bore my daughter to tears.  I settled on one location, the cave where Jon Snow proved to Ygritte that he actually knew some stuff after all…

Game of Thrones Location Photos : Jon Snow + Ygritte Cave

Grjótagjá is a tiny lava cave situated close to Iceland’s lake Mývatn.  There is a beautiful thermal spring inside Grjótagjá, but don’t get too excited – unlike Jon Snow and Ygritte, you cannot swim in it.

Grjótagjá is best known in pop culture as where Jon Snow and Ygritte, um, consummated their relationship in season 3, episode 5, “Kissed by Fire.”

Obviously, I had to see this.

The cave itself was surprisingly easy to find, despite how difficult it was to keep my Icelandic GPS properly programmed.

Look for for Grjótagjá in your Google maps before heading out for the day, and you’ll see how close it is to the main road (Highway 1). As you drive west towards Reykjalid, you’ll turn onto road 860, which is a crescent shaped road that connects the main highway to the road just to the east side of the lake.

After turning onto 860, you cannot possibly miss Grjótagjá – you’ll see a parking lot, a sign, and probably a small crowd. Hop out, grab your camera, leave your coat (it’s HOT in there), and crawl in between the rocks.

Game of Thrones Location Photos : Jon Snow + Ygritte Cave
Where are the wildlings? Where is Jon Snow? Why does it smell like eggs?

Tragically, there was no waterfall and barely any room to stand up – to take this picture I was pressed all the way against the rocky back wall of the grotto, laying on a sulfur-reeking rock with my camera perilously close to the steaming hot water.

It leads me to believe that while this is clearly the right cave, some (or all) of the real interior photography had to have been filmed on a soundstage. (There is no waterfall, for example).

Was seeing this thrilling?  It was.  I always love seeing movie locations in a behind-the-scenes manner.  I love looking up places in books when I travel to them in real life.

I’ll never forget, for example, dragging my husband to a remote square in Rome on our honeymoon because a book I’d read one time had a scene that took place there.  Seeing it made that scene come to life in my head in a new way.

What I learned from this Game of Thrones filming locations quest

Okay, so Grjótagjá wasn’t really what I expected.  But I’m so glad I went, and I loved the experience of shouting THIS IS WHERE A CHARACTER ON A SHOW I WATCH DID THINGS I CAN’T TALK TO YOU ABOUT to my mortified sixteen year old daughter.

I also learned that sometimes you just have to get away and chase down the love caves, to step off the beaten path and look for Game of Thrones location photos, to scout for scenes from your favorite books, and to get away from life for awhile.

Sometimes you have to pack up your family, or one family member, or just yourself and go away.  It’s important for your mind, it’s important for your creative spirit, it’s important.

I love taking my children to see the world.  I love seeing the world myself.  And even though there was no *Jon Snow, I loved how excited finding Grjótagjá made me.

I hope to find that excitement on every trip I take, every time.

Game of Thrones Locations filmed in iceland
The light in Iceland is a crazy thing. It shifts from razor-sharp jewel tones to a misty pastel wonderland seemingly in seconds. Cross a mountain, it’s bright like autumn. Sink into the valley near a tiny Nordic church, and it’s a dreamy pastel wonderland.

Ring Road Traveling Itinerary

A few fellow photographers asked about my itinerary while traveling the Ring Road, so here it is!  Be advised that this trip was taken the last week of August/first week of September.  I’d never attempt this trip in the winter!

Day One:

  • Flew into Keflavík International Airport.  Exhausted.  The flight from JFK is only five hours, but it’s at night and I never can sleep on planes.
  • Rented a SUV from Dollar/Thrifty.  You’ll take a shuttle to the rental car facilities, but it’s a very short ride.  I highly recommend a SUV if you’re wanting to go off the road at all.  In the winter, a SUV is an absolute must.
  • Drove into Reykjavík.  Grabbed some coffee at the Stofan Kaffihús (Location :Aðalstræti, 101 Reykjavík), and picked up some groceries from the local Krónan grocery store (Location : Fiskislóð 15-21, 101 Reykjavík)
  • Hit the road and visited Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall (and you know it’s a waterfall, because Icelandic waterfalls are always called foss) is a bit extra-special because you can walk behind it.  It’s wet and misty, and totally worth it.  Make sure you are wearing good hiking boots with strong tread.  Iceland is great in the late summer, but still very wet and slippery.
  • Took the ferry from Landeyjahöfn to Vestmannaeyjar.  It’s a super easy 35-minute ferry that takes you from the mainland to the Westlands.  You can buy a ticket to bring your car on board the ferry, but you don’t need to – you’re heading somewhere that you can easily walk!  We left our car in the free parking lot next to the ferry terminal, and it was waiting for us just fine the next day!
  • Stayed in a charming AirBnB in the middle of Vestmannaeyjabær.  If you’re looking for luxury living, you’ve come to the wrong country.  Everywhere we stayed was meticulously, immaculately clean, but it’s certainly not a Four Seasons.  This tiny apartment was perfectly located and super comfortable.  Highly recommend, and would stay here again.  Get out and hike around the town.  You won’t regret it.  We ate a great dinner at Tanginn (Location : Basaskersbryggja 8, Vestmannaeyjar 900), and came back the next morning for coffee and pastries.
icelandic sheep
The sheep really like to stare. They’re not scared of cars, or you. At all.

Day Two:

  • Woke up and took the ferry from Vestmannaeyjar to Landeyjahöfn.  We picked up our car from the overnight parking lot safe and sound, and hit Highway 1 towards Vik.
  • Stopped at Skógafoss, which is my daughter’s favorite place in southern Iceland.  Take the time to climb the almost four hundred steps to get to the top.  The observatory deck at the top isn’t a great view, but the walk at the top is exceptional.  I recommend it even in the coldest winter months.
  • Had a great hamburger at the bistro at the Hotel Skogafoss.  We have stopped at this charming bistro three times now, and there is something oddly spectacular about their burgers.  I also quite like their lattes and Skyr cake!
  • Walked to the plane crash at Sólheimasandur.  This popular tourist spot is actually pretty easy to find.  The walk to the crash is between Skógafoss and the coastal town of Vik. To get there, drive past Skógafoss going East on Highway 1. Before too long, you’ll cross over a bridge that has distinctive blinking yellow lights.  You’ll see a dirt road to Sólheimajökull Glacier on the left.  Do not turn here!  Two kilometers after passing that turnoff, you’ll see a dirt road and parking area on your right.  There are usually plenty of cars in the lot, but no signs telling you where you’re at. Get out and follow the line of walking tourists towards the beach.  You can’t miss it.  You’ll see the beach in the distance…just walk towards it.  You won’t see the crash until you’re practically right upon it, as you walk over the very last dune.
  • Looked over the town of Vik.  The first two times we went to Iceland, Vik was our destination.  We had previously stayed twice at this charming AirBnB location, which we highly recommend.  We also spent a lot of time at Reynisfjara beach, which is amazing even in the winter months.  This time, Vik was just a pass-through for us on our way east!  We stopped at the top of the town to look out from the Vik i Myrdal Church, which is where we saw the Northern Lights for the first time two years ago.
  • Got gas for the SUV in Vik.  Um, great, but why are you telling us that you got gas?  Well, gas stations in Iceland are few and far between, and you need to gas up when you can!  I never let myself get below half a tank of gas, since I had no idea if the next gas station was one mile or three hours away.  Since none of my US-based credit cards worked at the pump, I had to buy a couple of gas cards throughout our trip.  It’s easy to do.  Just go inside, ask the attendant, and pay at the register.  If you’re confused (which I was, a lot), just ask.
  • Drove south and east on Highway 1, stopping at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.  Don’t ask if you should go here.  Just go.  It’s a super simple drive in the summer, but earlier this year we were sent back to Vik when a complete whiteout forced us off the road and back to town.  It was the scariest driving situation I’ve ever encountered, so just be very careful if you attempt this drive during the winter months.  In the summer, it’s a gorgeous drive down the coast culminating in the most spectacular glacier lagoon you could ever imagine.  Don’t forget to cross under the bridge and look out towards the ocean.  The glacier fragments wash up onto the coastline, and it’s spectacular…especially at sunset.
  • Ate at Pakkhus in Hofn (Location : Krosseyjarvegi 3, 780 Höfn í Hornafirði).  I cannot rave about this restaurant enough.  The vegetarian pie was one of the best things I have ever eaten.
  • Stayed at the utterly darling Milk Factory (Location : Dalbraut 2, 780 Höfn).  This is basically a guesthouse, but you have your own bathroom.  Clean, very modern, very bright and meticulously cared for.  Great room and excellent breakfast!
Skogafoss
My gorgeous daughter on the DC-3 wreckage on Sólheimasandur beach. This popular tourist destination is located on the southern coast. It’s between the famous Skógafoss waterfall and the charming coastal town of Vik.

Day Three:

  • Woke up in Hofn, and hit the road!  Grabbed a bit more gas before we headed out of town, as the drive that day was long and gas stations infrequent.
  • Drove, drove, drove!  We stopped frequently along the eastern coast just outside of Hofn, as the cliffs and beaches were exceptionally beautiful.  Remember that you’re following Highway 1 the entire time, and that is virtually the only main road, so it’s almost impossible to get lost.
  • Visited Borgarfjörður Eystri.  Again, we drove, drove, and drove some more.  This was a very car-heavy day, which we didn’t mind.  We stopped constantly to get out, hike around, read informational signs, wander up tall hills, get up close and personal with waterfalls, and to take photograph after photograph of our surroundings.
  • Stayed at the Blabjorg Guesthouse. (Location : Gamla Frystihusid, 720 Borgarfjörður Eystri)  This is a remarkably charming guesthouse.  Bonus points for the killer hot tubs, spectacular food, and sweetly-situated location.  I highly recommend eating here as much as you can!  The food is all homemade, and the menu small and perfectly curated.  Breakfasts here are also exceptional.  Get out and walk around, look at the Dyrfjöll mountains, and take a stroll by the coastline.  It’s a tiny town and can be seen in a day!  (Quick note : If you stay at the guesthouse, know that you’re sharing a bathrooom!  Bring shower sandals for easy walking around in the shared areas.  Also, request a bedroom with a window.  We were in a room with no window, and it was great, but we’d have loved to have been across the hall with the water view and big window.)
Hverir Поле Гейзеров
Hverir Поле Гейзеров is not to be missed. Located just minutes from Grjótagjá, it’s a stinky, muddy, disgusting masterpiece. I especially love how little Iceland cares for your safety. There is a small sign with a message that equates to “Don’t touch this, idiots, it’s hot”. Then there are some rope strands lazily looped around each pool and fumarole. Iceland seems to think that if you’re dumb enough to touch a wildly steaming pile of rocks that you must deserve your punishment. Harsh, Iceland, I like it.

Day Four:

  • Woke up and had a fantastic breakfast at the Guesthouse.
  • Hit the road for the jaw-clenchingly unnerving drive out of Bakkagerði.  Think hairpin turns, steep cliffside gravel roads, and stressfully high cliffside paths!
  • Visited Hverir Поле Гейзеров (Location : NE-2 660, 660 Grand Island.)  This weirdly otherworldly land of boiling mud pools, creepy hissing piles of rocks, and hot springs is like something out of a dystopian fairy tale.  Enjoy the phenomenal reek of rotten eggs and take in the crazy colors, bizarre landscape, and exceptional photographic opportunities!
  • Stopped at Grjótagjá, extensively and excitedly detailed above…
  • Swam at the Myvantn Nature Baths.  I highly recommend this!  Situated in the Lake Mývatn geothermal area,  these man-made pools are a must-see.  The water in the lagoon comes from the National Power Company´s bore hole, which is located in nearby Bjarnarflag. The mistily blue water is strangely slippery, smells vaguely sulfuric, and will turn your sterling silver jewelry black.  The hours that we spent in these baths remain among my favorites from our trip.  Forgot your bathing suit and towel?  No worries – you can rent them there!
  • Drove around Myvantn, and stopped for lunch at Gamli Bærinn (Location : Myvatn and Krafla).  I highly recommend eating here!  The food in Iceland is fresh, simple, and spectacular.  Bonus points for all of the dairy and bread!  Double bonus points for the incredible drinking water!
  • Continued the drive to Akureyri.  The drive to northern Iceland is spectacular, winding from paved roads to gravel roads, through mountains and beside lakes.  Highly recommended!
  • Stayed at an amazing AirBnB in Akureyri.  The host is remarkably organized, and the apartment is beyond utterly charming.  The location is a five minute drive to downtown Akureyri, which is a bustling small town with lots to do.  Located at the base of Eyjafjörður Fjord, this town is right on the water.  You can take whale-watching trips from here, as you’re close to one of the best whale-watching places in the world : Húsavík.
Mývatn photos
Mývatn in the late summer months is not to be missed. The flies were a bit annoying, but I also learned that Iceland has no mosquitos. Which means I’m moving here immediately. (Not really, but a land with no mosquitos is MAGICAL).

Day Five:

  • Slept in, slept some more, slept again.  We were officially tired from all the driving, hiking, walking, picture-taking, and navigating!
  • Visited the Skjaldarvík Guesthouse (Location : 601 Akureyri) for the fantastic Buggy-n-Bite excursion.  This was the only excursion that we booked and paid for on the entire trip and it was worth every single penny.  I cannot properly tell you how hilariously horribly wonderful this excursion was.  It was pouring rain, we were hooked into four-point harnesses, I was wearing thick gloves and a rain-smeared helmet, and we were rocketing around in a THIS IS CLEARLY DANGEROUS “buggy.”  This “buggy” was a mud-spattered machine, and we careened wildly through a forest and then up and down some wicked ski-slope jumps.  Despite sliding off the road and ending up stuck on a tree, then having to be freed by our patient guide, the rest of the trip went remarkably well.  We then cleaned all the mud off of ourselves and had a great dinner at the Guesthouse with a fantastic dessert.
jon snow ygritte cave
I love taking pictures of people taking pictures. Iceland makes it especially easy.

Day Six and Seven : COMING SOON

I hope this itinerary helps you if you find yourself driving the Ring Road for a week in the late summer!  Iceland holds a hugely special place in my heart, as well as in my daughters’ hearts, and I’m sure you will find it as magical as we do!

Goðafoss
Goðafoss is an incredible waterfall. I was utterly hypnotized by it’s enormosity, yet fascinated by how something so huge and terrifying can also be so delightfully peaceful.

 

 

 

*For the record, Jon Snow knows nothing.  Tyrion Lannister is the best part of the show.  The end.

 

 

Front and Palmer Wedding : Susan + Cliff

It’s not every day that I get to blog about something both beautifully personal to me and yet also related to wedding photography but if ever there is a chance to do so it’s now. I was married last week to my incredible husband and becoming his wife is, besides becoming a mother, the most intensely humbling, joyous and staggeringly brilliant thing to ever happen to me. He has brought a beauty and joy to my life and the lives of my daughters that is simply luminous and I’m honored to be his wife and the stepmother to his magnificent daughters. 
 
This is my husband. He is the greatest man I know. 

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(He is also very gorgeous.)

I cannot even begin to express the extraordinary thanks that I (and we) have to those who helped make this day what it was. Our wedding was held at Front and Palmer, a wondrous industrial space in Philadelphia and home to the brilliant catering team at Feast Your Eyes. Lynn Buono walked us through the entire process and was a joy to work with. Front and Palmer is a quiet gem of a venue in Philadelphia and the perfect site for the wedding. 
 
My greatest thanks goes to Brian Kappra of Evantine Design. I don’t use the word “genius” often but there is just no other word to describe this man. He is a great person and a great talent and what he did in that room was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. He took the simple vision that I had and breathed a life into it that I didn’t know was possible. There is no way to thank him without an outpouring of tears and words that I can’t string together to show him how grateful that I am that he took the time to work with us and make the experience transcendent.  
 
Of course you know how I (and my lovely husband) love good light and there would have been NO light in the day without Brian Toner of Eventions Productions. If you’re ever doubting whether you need that lighting package or that lighting designer for your wedding then Brian will wipe away all of those doubts. His subtle touch and incredible skill set the mood for the entire night and for that I am deeply thankful. 
 
And El! The leader of Carnivale, he sang me down the aisle and continued to amaze us throughout the entire reception. They truly ARE the “baddest band on the planet” and Carnivale’s rendition of “Falling Slowly” is the best thing that I have ever heard at a wedding – ever. 
 
Eddie Bruce, thank you for your words, your gentle calm, and your luminous friendship. Thank you for beginning our ceremony and stating the words that started our married life. I can’t think of a single soul more perfect for the job and it was an honor to stand up there with you. Having you sing to us was a moment so purely sweet and I will never forget it. 
 
Beke Beau was responsible for making me look presentable and Josie Sanchez from New York’s Dop Dop Salon sculpted my massive head of hair into not one but two extraordinary styles. 
 
As far as the rest of the details – my dress, my dress! It was the Monique Lhuillier candy dress in blush. Debbie Walp from The Bridal Garden helped me find my dress and was a dream to work with. My hair stars were from Rodarte and my custom shrug was from Carol Hannah. My shoes were the Christian Louboutin Pigalove flats. My clutch was an Alexander McQueen.

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All I asked for at the Bridal Garden was “Not strapless.” And look at what I ended up with.

Our gorgeous paper suite was designed by Two Paper Dolls and the custom calligraphy on the table settings and seating chart were by Charmaine Al-Mulaifi of Everly Calligraphy. Cliff’s suit was from Tom James and our daughters dresses were from Watters, Jim Hjelm, and Amsale.
 
My engagement ring and Cliff’s band were from Wiseley Jewelers and my two wedding bands were a Cathy Waterman via Ylang 23 and a custom piece from Amir Chokr of The Diamond Vault in Sarasota.

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Shooting my own ring, after having shot rings for twelve years, was a wee bit surreal.
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Did I set up my gear and shoot my details the day before my own wedding? You bet I did. I’m just weird that way.

As a wedding photographer it’s hard to imagine what it’s like on the “other side”, so to speak. I can approach a day with a photographers’ eye and suggest to you the best way to time the schedule, when is best to do your portraits, why a first look is a good or a bad idea for your day, and all of those small details with a detached eye. Being the client is a completely different story and it’s given me a new appreciation of the day itself and what is and isn’t important. As a client, I know we must have been ridiculous – what other wedding photographer shows up to be told that her client has already shot her own details and oh, the groom has shot his own room? What other client pulls out professional gear and insists on shooting alongside the hired professional during their day-after session?  We did. and for that, Daniel and Mary Beth, our intrepid photographers, we thank you. We thank you for going above and beyond anything we could ever imagine and dealing with our awful-in-front-of-the-camera selves the whole way. We thank you for understanding how we wanted the day covered, for respecting us as clients, and for being incredibly kind to us. Each of your phenomenal, insane talents are so rare and beautiful and we thank you, we thank you, we thank you. 
 
And our cinematographer, Ray Roman, isn’t half bad either. In fact, he’s so talented and skilled that he’s practically a force of nature.

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True story – if you carry a McQueen clutch through airport security they will think you have a weapon.
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They hurt my feet. I might never wear them again. And they were worth every penny because seriously, you guys, the toes spell the word LOVE.

Besides the team of professionals that helped assemble the day I have to thank our friends and our families. My precious parents who taught me what love is. My brother who urges me to run, run, run. Cliff’s mother and father who I pray know how much I love their son. And our friends, our friends. you incredible people, many of who have carried me body and soul through some trying times. You who have Shibuya-ed with us in Vegas, been with us since the beginning, held our hands, and will forever have my heart. My Napa girls, Cliff’s childhood friends, golf buddies, my beautiful Sandra – all of you make us who we are and we are better people with you in our lives. My stepdaughters, you incredible girls who let me into your lives and let me love you. And my daughters, my hearts. You are my life.

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Baby girls, I love you.

This also isn’t just a thank you to all I have mentioned already. This is a thank you to you who have trusted me to capture your weddings for you. A thank you to those I have documented, those to come, and those who are here for the first time. Thank you for working with me. Thank you for retaining me to document your day. I promise to you that I will always strive to give to you what was given to me on April 17, 2013. A deep appreciation of your family and your friends. A strong understanding of the love that you share with those around you. A kind approach to the scheduling of your day with great thought given to the elements that are and are not important to you. And most of all, a heartfelt promise to create images for you that will live in your family for generations to come the way ours will for our children and our children’s children. 
 
I thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

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So many pretty things! All at once!
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I loved these earrings. But not so much that I didn’t toss them quickly aside when my husband gifted me with extraordinary earrings just before our ceremony.
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I fell into the Etsy and Pinterest trap right before the wedding. Please don’t think badly of me. I couldn’t help it. I was blinded by pre-wedding insanity.