I could feel the icy water pouring in.
I’m standing at the base of a mountain waterfall, up to my chest in good-grief-it’s-cold, and my waders have a sizeable gash in them. My leg is starting to get numb, which concerns me because I am holding a $3,000 camera and lens in my hands, and if I were to lose my balance, it could be really bad. But I’m actually not the person in the worst shape in this scene. My model, the gorgeous Shannan, has already lost feeling in her toes from standing in this frigidness.
For what earthly reason would we be doing this? A “Trash the Dress” shoot, of course.
“Trash the Dress” is a relatively new photographic concept. The idea is to take a woman wearing glamorous clothes — a wedding dress, prom dress or other formal wear — and put them in a decidedly unglamorous setting: a creek in the woods, a mud hole, a state fair, a construction site, the desert, etc. If you can get the dress all mucked up, so much the better. Saying that it is popular right now is a serious understatement. Google it and you’ll see what I mean.
I have been wanting to do one of these shoots for a long time, and finally decided to put out the word a few weeks ago on Facebook for volunteers. Shannan was one of the first to speak up, so we set things in motion.
When we talked about what she wanted to do, she expressed a willingness to get in mud or get dirty in her wedding dress. She and her husband Ryan have been married almost 10 years and have two beautiful boys. Not knowing if she will ever have a daughter and not expecting that she would want to wear her mom’s dress if she does, Shannan decided if her wedding dress got ruined for the sake of the shoot, so be it. The only problem now was to find a place.
Some friends recommended a spot in Grainger County here in Tennessee, a waterfall near a cold water spring. We scouted the location almost two weeks ago and it was love at first sight. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see it was being in a South American Rainforest. Truly a place made to be photographed.
With a model and a location, we could make the shoot happen. Once there, we spent about 30 minutes or so taking regular “bridal” type shots. Shannan’s feet wouldn’t show in a lot of them, so she could wear rubber boots when standing in the shallow areas.
Eventually, though, it was time. I knew that I wanted to get into the water with Shannan for at least some of the shots, so I borrowed a set of chest waders from friends, sight unseen. Big mistake. The gash was near the bottom of one leg and quite large. No amount of duct tape could seal it off. Oh, and did I mention that they were so stiff from lack of use that I couldn’t bend my knees all the way? I had to walk like Frankenstein.
The shoot, though, must go on, so into the water I went. I could get about four minutes of shooting before I had to get out, drain the leg and could get back in. My assistant, Wayne, who was wearing hip waders (which were leaking, too, by the way) would shoot for me while I drained and attempted repairs. Honestly don’t know what I would have done without him and LaDonna there to help.
But as I said, I didn’t have it as bad as Shannan, who spent close to an hour in the iciness. God Bless her, though, she was a trooper. Did everything we asked and more. You can’t tell it from looking at the pictures, but with the air temperature in the 60s during the shoot, it was taking a lot of willpower to keep her teeth from chattering. Couldn’t have asked for a more willing model, though.
Or a more beautiful one. It was honestly hard to concentrate on the the next shot, because I kept wanting to stare at the viewfinder at the one I just took. Virtually every shot was breathtaking. Basically all I had to do was not screw up.
Hopefully, I managed pretty well. Check out the shots below, and if a Trash the Dress shoot sounds like something you might want to do, let us know. We’d love to wade into freezing cold water for you, too. With better waders, of course.
Oh, and by the way, Shannan’s dress? Just fine. All the mud and dirt washed right out.
Does that make my first Trash the Dress shoot a failure? Just askin’.