I met Charleton Churchill for the first time at WPPI last year, a couple of months before he was about to embark on the trip of a lifetime—photographing the first-ever Mt. Everest wedding in Nepal. Then a 7.8 earthquake rocked the region and the last thing on anyone’s mind was photographing nuptials. Fortunately, Churchill and his crew, including the bride and groom, survived the worst and managed to go on with the coverage, eventually. (He even wrote up a piece for us on the 8 steps of shooting adventure weddings safely and responsibly.)
Almost a year later and he’s still hard at it, covering breathtaking nuptials taking place with majestic wonders of the world as backdrops. This week, he kindly shares his coverage of couple Adam and Arielle’s Yosemite National Park Wilderness Wedding with us.
“Adam and Arielle told me they wanted an adventure wedding photographer willing to go into the wilderness for some rare and epic wedding photographs,” recalls Churchill, who shot the entire wedding himself. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I do.’ They wanted a large wall canvas that would showcase them against the scenic Yosemite landscape. They told me it would be a smaller, intimate wedding (which is many of my weddings these days) and wanted me to document their wedding day. They booked me and we got to planning.”
“Yosemite is just plain awesome, and one of the most beautiful National Parks in the world,” Churchill exclaims. “Also, my couple shares a common love for the outdoors, which did not require any convincing to hike a few miles to our shoot location (and they hiked in their wedding attire). On top of that, Adam and Arielle were both friendly, which made for good conversation along the trail.”
Originally, after the wedding reception Churchill had planned to drive for an hour and hike by himself to a higher elevation for late night photos of Yosemite, even though it was a full moon (“planning their wedding on a full moon was the intention of the bride and groom,” Churchill says). “Adam and Arielle told me they wanted to tag along, and I asked ‘Are you sure? After all, it’s your wedding and we won’t be back until late night, maybe 1 a.m. in the morning,’ but they really wanted to be part of the adventure, and I loved the idea of them joining me since nothing adds more contrast, beauty, and connection in a landscape than when you introduce a human element into the scene.”
“We drove up together talking about stories of our lives, firefighting and adventure,” he says. “When we arrived at our location, nobody was there—just us, around 11:30p.m. I was trying to figure out where to shoot in the dark. I took a few test shots, didn’t like them, tried to figure out where to shoot, tested the night sky, which lens would be most appropriate. The stars in the sky were completely absent with the moonlight radiating everywhere. We took a few images and then returned to the Ahwahnee hotel where the wedding had taken place. We had an appointment with the wilderness in the morning to finish off the wedding with an epic image we had planned.”
We saw a few black bears on the trail that were harmless,” Charleton says. “I’ve been around bears long enough to know they usually avoid humans unless you’re messing with their cubs or trying to back them in a corner. I captured a few images, but they avoided us and we moved on.
Churchill says the bride hiked in her wedding dress for a few miles on the trail. “Originally, she started the hike in heels, but we chopped that idea down quickly,” he says. “When we arrived at our location, I had to scout out where they were going to stand together and where I was going to shoot. There was no wind, we kept everything safe, and we had our hair and makeup artist behind the couple with the radio so I could give direction. I used my 70-200mm lens for a few images and my 24-70mm for another few. I looked at my screen and saw that we got the shot, and told them, we’re good, let’s go!'”
THE GEAR BAG
Camera: Nikon D750
Lenses: Nikon 35mm f/1.4, Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8
Lighting: Speedlight, Profoto B2
Accessories: Backpack, tripod