It sounds like something from a dream.
You rent out a summer camp in the middle of the forest, invite all of your friends and loved ones, eat delicious food, play games and — oh yeah — then you get married.
That’s exactly what Lauren and Joseph did in the summer of 2019 at Prince William Forest Park — a national park just a hop, skip, and a jump from Washington D.C. which features over 16,000 acres of lush forest, sprinkled with adorable vintage camps, hiking trails, and — wait for it — a waterfall.
A wedding at Prince William Forest Park, or any park or camp for that matter, is not going to be your typical wedding day. When you make nature such an important part of your wedding plans, you have to be prepared to roll with the punches.
Lauren and Joseph had planned for a sunny weekend full of hiking and lawn games and sitting around bonfires, but a classic Virginia summer thunderstorm rolled in that weekend with some plans of its own.
Miraculously, the storm lifted and the sun came out just in time for their ceremony. Guests hiked from the camp’s rustic cabins and bunkhouses nearly a mile through the woods and down a trail to the ceremony site — a magical little amphitheater in the middle of the forest with wooden benches built into the hillside.
The fire circle at the center of the amphitheater had been transformed into a small stage, with an arbor made of foraged sticks and branches and decorated with flowers. The ceremony began with everyone singing, “What a Wonderful World,” followed by a performance of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets by Lauren and Joseph’s grad school friends.
After the ceremony, everyone danced and skipped back down the trail toward camp, and I stole the couple away for some portraits before the rain inevitably returned. As we hiked down the trail toward the awesome location I had scouted the night before, I wondered if Lauren and Joseph would be as stoked on the spot as I was.
When we arrived at the lush green marsh, I glanced at their faces, trying to read their reactions and much to my delight, they seemed totally unfazed and happily squelched and leapt into the marsh to a (relatively) solid place where they could stand.
I could happily have stayed and photographed those two lovebirds together all evening, but before long it started to drizzle and we made our way back to camp for the reception. As we arrived at the camp’s dining hall, the drizzle became a downpour and everyone made their way inside to find the sparse dining hall transformed into a proper fairytale banquet.
The reception began with all of the guests helping to light the countless candles in beautiful brass candlesticks and candelabras that lined the long banquet tables.
As a side note, I am a total sucker for the magic of people lighting candles together, and this moment still gives me goosebumps.
After dinner, Lauren and Joseph continued the “medieval banquet” vibe by cutting their wedding cake with a sword. Yes, you read that right, a sword. Soon, everyone was dancing. At one point dancing became lightsaber dueling, which I must say is an *excellent* activity for May 4th weddings. 😉
We had planned to do a “wreck the dress” session in one of the streams in Prince William Forest Park the following morning, but we woke up to a torrential downpour.
After having breakfast and waiting it out for a while, we decided to just do it. Lauren and Joseph went to change back into their wedding clothes, I grabbed my hiking shoes and my plastic “camera poncho” and we headed out.
Lauren had told me that there was a dammed-up stream in the park that made a little waterfall but to tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting much. We hiked through the woods in the pouring rain, followed by a jaunty little crowd of wedding guests who were up for an adventure, and we eventually arrived at the stream.
Never have I ever been so happy to be wrong about something! Not only was the dam not small, but the days of rain had also transformed the stream into a roaring little river. We were all soaked to the bone long before we arrived at the stream, and so Lauren and Joseph climbed right in without hesitation.
What followed was one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had as a photographer.