Island photographer travels world, snapping weddings

Lauren McCormick often gets chances to take her photography to new heights, such as this mountaintop photoshoot in Austria.

Lauren McCormick has, so far, covered nuptuals in 15 countries

MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA—Lauren McCormick never got a monetary allowance as a child. Instead, her mother gave her disposable cameras—an action that sparked a passion for photography that has only grown since then.

“She used to think of creative ways to get me to think about life,” says Ms. McCormick. “I didn’t know it was such a strong passion until I was a bit older in university—that’s when it really started.”

Six years ago, a couple insisted that Lauren McCormick shoot their wedding, despite her reluctance since she had never photographed such an important occasion before. Since then, she has worked as a professional photographer in 12 countries including Jamaica, the Netherlands, Austria, Romania and Italy—in 2018 alone. She has plans to add at least four more to that list in the next two years.

“It was terrifying. I did so much research and prep work before the wedding, which was a 14-hour day. It was a pure adrenaline rush the entire time and I came out of that day feeling that this is what I want to do. No doubt, this was where I needed to be in life,” says Ms. McCormick through a Skype interview from her winter home in Medellín, Colombia.

Living in unique places is nothing new for Ms. McCormick. She moved to Manitoulin Island with her mother Dana Biernacki when she was 10 years old and stayed here through high school. Before that, they had lived in Webequie First Nation north of Thunder Bay and Bella Bella, British Columbia. 

Following a degree in politics at Queen’s University, she moved to Ottawa where she was working part-time jobs as a hostel manager and a bartender, in addition to shooting photos for a clothing designer. 

“My schedule was insane. Photography was my passion so I was doing that as a third thing, but I eventually started weeding out the other jobs to focus on that,” says Ms. McCormick.

Ottawa was also where she met her partner Erik—the two relocated to Denmark three years ago following his work and have since relocated with his job to Colombia. However, Ms. McCormick still spends her summers in the Ottawa area.

“We always gravitated towards islands for some reason. I’ve spent more of my life on islands than not; even when we were in Denmark we were on an island,” she says with a laugh, adding that she still considers Manitoulin to be her home.

Pursuing photography as a full-time job was born out of necessity for Ms. McCormick. She couldn’t find work overseas because she did not speak Danish, so she elected to try photography full-time. With her partner’s financial support, she was able to direct all her time toward that goal.

“I put in a lot of time, worked my butt off and did everything I could to hustle and make it work for myself, because I knew I had to do it to pay my bills to survive. That’s pretty good motivation,” said Ms. McCormick. “Erik really supported me. I don’t know if I would have had the guts to do it on my own.”

Ms. McCormick specializes in wedding and elopement photography. She says the latter often carries certain misconceptions because traditionally, elopement has referred to people running off to get married in secret. While that can still be the case, the term is now used to describe intimate, personal ceremonies.

“In this day and age, it can be so overwhelming to plan a wedding for so many people. They have to think about so much on their wedding day so people choose to forego that,” she says. “It can be on a mountaintop, in their backyard, anything they want.”

Ms. McCormick contends that this style of celebration gets to the heart of what marriage is all about.

“It allows people the chance to spend time together and express how they feel and what their sentiments are for the person that they’re marrying, without the pressure of a big wedding day,” she says. “It has a special place in my heart. I love being able to document them; they’re very relaxed, very personalized and very ‘about them’.”

Regardless of whether the ceremony takes the form of a grand celebration or an intimate elopement, Ms. McCormick says she brings a personal and caring mindset to every shoot.

“I really get to know my clients. They become family to me. It’s not conventional but I find that works for the people I attract and the couples I’m attracted to,” she says. “I treat them like family and get to know them so when I show up to the wedding, I know what they will want to see in their photos. Because it’s more than just pictures, it’s their memories of the experience that goes beyond the physical.”

She adds that creating such a friendly dynamic makes the process smoother for both her and the clients and the couples will often start asking for her opinions on non-photography-related topics about their wedding day.

“Growing up on Manitoulin was a huge influence because of the small-town hospitality and getting to know people more than just saying ‘hi, bye.’ We really get to know our neighbours and I think that fostered something in me that I wanted to carry into my business,” Ms. McCormick says.

Part of her work centres on trying to decrease the intimidation factor that a big milestone like a wedding can carry.

“It doesn’t have to be scary. I approach it like I’m hanging out with my friends, paparazzi-ing them and being like the third wheel,” she says. “I get comments all the time from people saying they didn’t realize I had taken a picture, or didn’t realize what was happening in that moment. There can be such a difference in the way a photo looks versus the way they thought it was happening.”

Being behind the lens is offering Ms. McCormick a unique perspective on photography as a whole and provides lessons as to what she would look for if she were hiring a photographer some day.

“Good photography should make you feel something. It should transport you back in time and make you remember exactly how you felt in that moment,” she says.

As a small business owner, she recognizes the need for ensuring her clients are happy. However, she also has to focus on developing her company while recognizing the small accomplishments she reaches on a daily basis.

“Erik, being a business guy, is helping me set targets every year,” she says. “It’s not one big triumph or one big success; there’s no moment when you’d say ‘this is it, we’ve made it.’ It’s more just an accumulation of the small, everyday victories.”

Ms. McCormick says she adjusts and recalculates her goals every year but one constant she doesn’t see changing is living in different places around the world.

“It’s exciting to imagine where we’ll be next; I think I can just imagine extending the business gradually over time,” she says.

She has recently brought on associates in other locations to work as sub-contractors, with the intent that they could shoot weddings nearer to them and expand the brand.

Ultimately, Ms. McCormick says receiving feedback after a shoot is her favourite part of the job.

“At the end of the day, I’m trying to deliver the best photos of one of the best days of their lives. If I get that excited message or call when the couple sees their photos, that means I’ve succeeded. It’s the best news I could ever get and it’s what keeps me going,” Ms. McCormick says.