The Birthday Gift: Elizabeth + Ryan Sentinel Hotel

Regardless of whether you believe in Karma or God or the Universe or Fate or signs or just good ‘ol happy accidents it’s hard for me to feel anything other than that I was MEANT to be a part of this little celebration.

Now, what Elizabeth, Ryan and their families don’t know is that this last Sunday, the day of their wedding, was also my birthday. This is specifically important because when I first got the notification from the website, Thumbtack, just 2 weeks ago that there was a request for someone looking for a wedding photographer on my birthday I ignored it. The request form doesn’t give you much information; just a first name, a date and time and a budget. But then I got another email notification from the site about their request. And another. And another. This had never happened before and I passed it off as a glitch with the site notifications but by the time the NINTH notification rang through, my curiosity was running wild and I clicked the link just to take a look at the request.

A busy holiday season followed by a series of snow storms which shut down the city for days at a time meant that I still hadn’t thought about birthday plans even though in the past it’s always been a day-long event of adventures planned by my husband weeks in advance. So, I’m not sure if it was the notification glitch or the exceptionally short time frame before the wedding was to take place that caught my attention most, but even with so little information to go on and even though it was on my birthday I felt really compelled to send in a response.

When I talked on the phone with Ryan and Elizabeth I was relieved to find that they were so sweet. Elizabeth mentioned that it was going to just be their immediate family and that her dad was sick so they were still working out the final details. I thought that was going to be a very interesting change of pace from the big party weddings I often shoot and I think a little part of me imagined the universe brought us together because I should try something new. I was about to find out there was much more to it than that.

When I arrived at the hotel suite on Sunday, Elizabeth and her parents welcomed me warmly, as if we were old family friends. I set down my bags, took out my camera and while Elizabeth was in the other room her mom mentioned that Elizabeth was an only child and told me that her dad’s cancer had returned so they had moved up the wedding because of it. I don’t know if she could tell I was fighting back tears, but I got chills as I realized why god/fate/universe had drawn me to this wedding. My husband is also an only child and about 4 years ago his dad also found out his cancer had returned. While I had decided long ago that I didn’t feel the need to get married, this news had made me realize how important being a part of their son’s wedding would be to them so I proposed and we got married.

I was still willing the tears to absorb back into my eyes instead of spilling out when Elizabeth came out of the other room and asked if she’d mentioned that everyone calls her by her full first name except her dad who calls her Beth. “It’s the reason I knew we had to work with you!” she joked. All I could think about was how in the previous week I had been at Mystic Seminars, an amazing photographer’s conference here in Portland, where the unintentional theme between speakers had been all about being present with your couples. Over and over again speakers talked about shooting for them and not for yourself (or awards or your portfolio) but staying in the moment with them to document those little looks and touches and smiles that might not seem that important to an outsider but that the family would cherish especially when their loved ones were gone.

They had a place for me at the dinner table. I listened to them share stories and we laughed and drank and ate and laughed some more. At the end of the night the three of us went outside to wander the streets for a few last photos. While I was testing the light to take a portrait of Ryan I noticed he got very somber and looked like he might tear up. I turned around expecting to see Elizabeth standing next to me tearing up as well but instead realized she had sprinted off into the street amid traffic in her full wedding gown and veil to help a tiny, old homeless woman cross the street. I stood with a few passers-by who had stopped to witness this act of kindness. With tears in our eyes one man said, “I think my faith in humanity has just been restored”, before walking away with his companions. After all these uncanny little coincidences falling into place and sharing this moment with them, I really grasped for the first time the true importance of what this work means to me. In that moment, watching Ryan watch his new wife being the loving person I’m sure he’s always known her to be, I felt like I’d just received the most precious birthday gift a person could wish for.

Thank you to Elizabeth and Ryan for trusting me to capture this incredibly special day and thank you to your families for being so welcoming and wonderful.


6 thoughts on “The Birthday Gift: Elizabeth + Ryan Sentinel Hotel

  1. Absolutely beautiful! I’m so glad God brought you together to photograph Elizabeth and Ryan’s wedding. What you wrote made me cry! Love. love. love.

    • Alisha,
      I’m so happy that it moved you the way it did me. Such a wonderful experience to be a part of this with them and the families but also to capture some of the moments for the loved ones who could not be there. <3

  2. Beth, your pictures of Elizabeth and Ryan’s wedding are beautiful. God blessed you with opportunity to witness his love at work and Ryan and Elizabeth’s love for each other. Thank you so much if your story.

  3. Thank you for capturing the essence of the Ackerman family and their warm welcome to the Marn family. I’m writing from Dubai, UAE and have known Elizabeth since she was born. She grew up here and has always been a remarkable young lady, following in the footsteps of exceptional parents. It seems you were meant to witness and document more than a wedding on your birthday; it’s a birthday you won’t forget.

  4. Laurie Steinke

    Dear Beth,

    I am seeing these photographs on the same day I learned of Bob’s passing. You have eloquently captured a beautiful family, and I thank you for this.

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