As a first foray into wedding photography goes, I couldn't have asked for a better introduction than to be asked to be the main photographer at my brother and sister's wedding in May. And having the opportunity to embark on a glorious extended family holiday at the Pacific Resort in Rarotonga at the same time was the icing on an already sweet cake.
In the week leading up to the wedding, the entire family had spent quality time together relaxing by the pool and on the beach. I was also keeping an eye on the weather forecast each day with my fingers crossed. Originally there had been thunder showers forecast for the big day, so I was a tad nervous. But when the day dawned, it was pretty clear that we would have nothing much to worry about.
After another relaxing morning spent with the family drinking coffee and eating pastries at a local cafe, I arrived to Alesha's room late morning to find her in the early stages of preparation - her bridal accessories already laid out on the bed and her dress hanging ready in the doorway as if eager to begin the day.
I took the time while Alesha was with the make up artist to linger over the smaller details - firstly capturing their wedding rings together framed by the greatest love chapter of them all - 1 Corinthians 13.
Alesha was looking decidedly relaxed and was certainly enjoying the opportunity to be pampered a little before the big day ahead.
Whilst Alesha was busy in her room, Sam was enjoying a date with the resort pool, spending time with family and friends who were also taking advantage of the time to cool off in the already humid temperatures.
My other lovely brother Nic (who by the way was the one who got me interested in photography in the first place) did an amazing job as my second photographer for the day and was in charge of capturing Sam's preparations. He also did an outstanding job capturing many of the detail shots you see in the post here throughout the day - we made a great team!
Like most grooms, the getting ready bit was a little simpler for the groom than it was for the bride.
A slap of after shave here, a bit of hair gel there, shirt, trousers, belt and shoes and Sam was ready to rock-n-roll.
It was then time to head over to the Pacific Resort reception area to get the all important wedding speech printed out - there were a still a few tweaks he wanted to make before presenting it that night.
Back in Alesha's room, Alesha's mum was now helping her with the last, finishing touches - doing up the many beautiful pearl buttons on the back of her wedding dress and helping her with her earrings.
And when she was ready, the soft, natural light coming into the room was the perfect chance to capture the bride in a three-way reflection.
I know it might be said that brides are always beautiful on their wedding day - but I have never before had the opportunity to capture the striking beautiful glow that so clearly emanates from within - it was truly an honour.
It was about now that there was a knock on the door. Sam had arrived, and it was clear from the look on his face when he saw the bride that he was just as captivated by Alesha's beauty as I was.
The way Sam and Alesha had planned their wedding day meant that we had a few hours to go out and have some fun exploring the island for their couple shots before the official 4pm ceremony.
One of the most appealing things about Rarotonga is that the island is small enough (30km round) to drive right around it in a relatively short space of time - although you can usually only go 50km/hr at most.
Heading anti-clockwise from Muri beach, our first stop was the derelict, abandoned Sheraton hotel on the south-eastern side of the island. When Sam and Alesha had described the hotel to me as a preferred location for their photography, I must admit it didn't immediately fill me with a huge degree of enthusiasm.
And on our arrival after squelching over fairly boggy ground to get these first shots below I didn't have high hopes for anything more, plus I was a bit worried how Alesha's dress was going to hold up.
We made the wise decision at that moment to ditch her beautiful wedding slippers and Nic kindly loaned her his jandals and went barefoot as we hopped back in the car and drove around the back of the hotel in search of another suitable location.
But as we walked into what would have been the grand reception area, my hopes were lifted. This place definitely had promise.
From the oily old barrels to the colourful graffiti covering the walls, this place was retro-urban-coolness personified.
And whilst Sam and Alesha acknowledged that older generations mightn't understand this as a choice of location, I don't believe we could have found anywhere quirkier or cooler even if I'd spent a week searching the island myself. It certainly helped that they had been to Rarotonga on another holiday before the wedding, and so had great ideas themselves about how they saw their photo shoot playing out.
Although I love the colourful graffiti shots, the broken down shell of the building also added to the grittiness of the black and white shots we took while there.
I'd brought a colourful rainbow umbrella a few weeks earlier back in NZ wondering if we might have the chance to use it on the wedding shoot, I had to hold my breath though when packing as it only just fitted in the suitcase! One of my favourite shots from the wedding was the one I put on the cover of the photobook - the black and white shot below with the only colour in it being the rainbow umbrella - so it was definitely worth the effort to bring it along. We even got the chance to use it as a proper brolly when there were a few spots of light rain falling on the way back to the car.
Our next stop was the beach. Luckily the few drops of rain that fell between getting in the car at the old hotel and our drive to the beach didn't come to much. We stepped onto the beach an were immediately dazzled by the brilliant white of the sand. It was sticky and almost unbearable standing on the beach in the midday sun but Sam and Alesha were troopers - allowing us to get the shots we wanted.
And when the sun beating down got too much for us all we retreated back under the shade of the palm trees for a little respite.
There was just enough time to capture some stone skipping action before we moved onto our next location.
It's almost impossible to pick a favourite spot from the photo shoot as they all held their own unique appeal - but this next one was definitely a favourite of mine - I loved the stark contrast of the concrete slab walls against the purity of Alesha's white dress and the lush greenery surrounding the scene.
By this stage, Sam and Alesha were well and truly past any jitters or awkwardness they might have had in front of the camera, and I think you can see just how in fine form they were when it came to the shots we took here - cute candid kiss captured below and all!
Just like the sand in an hourglass, time was really beginning to slip away now and we needed to be back at the resort by 3pm to allow the bride and groom time to freshen up before the 4pm ceremony - so we squeezed out 3 more stops in quick succession - the first stop capturing the essence of the tropical island with its craggy inland peaks and palm trees.
The next stop a nod to the devout Christian background of many of the locals here at the Cook Islands Christian church.
And the last stop was almost opposite our starting point at the Pacific resort - a gorgeous brightly coloured local house painted in vivid sky blue. I'd admired the house on many a morning walk past it down to the local cafe for coffee and had wondered if we might just be able to sneak ib a few photos there with the owner's permission.
I was duly nominated to be the one to go and knock on the door. There was no answer but the windows were open and I could hear music playing. I called out hello a few times and then went around the corner of the house. Eventually a lovely Rarotongan woman walked slowly around from the back of the house followed by a young boy. I explained what we wanted to do and she happily agreed - even the little guy wanted in on the shots so we obliged him - it was the least we could do for the use of their beautiful frontage.
We returned to the resort and let the bride and groom go their separate ways one last time. The next they would see each other would be to be joined in matrimony.
Down on the beach the guests gradually wandered up in their colourful wedding finery from about 3.30pm onwards - a few cold beers proving a welcome relief for the waiting groom and a few of the guys.
Maia, the flower girl had the very important task of throwing petals before the bride and her father as they arrived onto the beach - but I couldn't look past her super cute jandals and the matching flower in her hair.
Right on time and fighting back the tears, Alesha approached the altar and let her father give her away.
I'll admit that it was a little hard to keep my eye on the ball (of being photographer that is) when I felt quite choked up listening to two of my favourite people in the world pledging to love each other till death do us part.
And then - the moment we had been waiting for. The kiss sealing the newlyweds new lives together.
There were hugs and kisses all round and the delight and happiness on the guests' part was apparent too.
Once everyone had their opportunity to congratulate Sam and Alesha, we adjourned for a group shot on the beach - and for once even Nic and I managed to slip out from behind the cameras to be included in the shot.
We retired to the resort garden for group shots - first up the parents.
Followed by shots with our side of the family.
And then the same for Alesha's.
And lastly the friends of both the bride and groom.
By this time, everyone was enjoying the drinks and canapes being offered in the resort garden and the conversation flowed.
With one eye on the skies and the other on the time, I decided we should steal Sam and Alesha away back down to the beach to catch the last of the dying light.
Whilst we weren't on the right side of the island to have the sun actually setting in our shots, the sky still put on a glorious display for us in the day's dying moments.
Afterwards, the groom gallantly carried the bride back across the stream and into the waiting reception.
A glorious island buffet awaited us, followed by a moving speeches from the bride and groom.
Despite this being my little brother who was giving the speech, there were still a few tales told in the speech that were even new to me.
And as the speeches drew to a close, an expected announcement gave us all cause for even greater celebration learning that there would be an addition to their new family early in the new year.
Then there was just one last formality to round out the day - the cutting of this incredibly decadent looking wedding cake topped with gorgeous tropical island flowers.
And then there was a surprise in store for the guests - local fire dancers showing us their bravery and co-ordination in a dazzling performance. The three who performed were mere children and at most in their early to mid teens but they handled themselves with confidence and skill as they put on a captivating show to the tune of the local drums.
After this we were free to mix and mingle and dance and drink to our heart's content - some more than others - till the night officially ended at a respectable hour in deference to the fact the Pacific resort is a family resort after all.
It hardly seems possible now looking back that these photos were shot over the course of just one day. But oh what a day, what a night and what an impossibly beautiful place to have witnessed Sam and Alesha's special day and the even greater honour of capturing it for all time.
Congratulations Sam and Alesha on your marriage and a big thank you for the awesome opportunity to have been able to showcase your special day.
With love from your big sister xx
N.B: the photos in this post are digital screenshots of the printed photo book created and given to Sam and Alesha as part of their photography package and are shown at much lower resolution compared to the printed book.