When Bethany & Mike pictured their Radiant Unique Session I’m pretty sure the image in their heads did not consist of giant tarantulas, hundreds of bats, enormous stinging ants, or naked old ladies swimming in the water around them… but that’s what they got.
I guess you never know what’s going to happen when you opt in for Radiant Unique session!
When Bethany first told me they wanted to do a Unique Session in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico (where their wedding was held), we knew immediately that we wanted to get some shots near, around, or in the cenotes that surround the area.
A cenote is a fresh, ground water sinkhole and the parts of it that peak out are usually covered by cool cavern walls made of limestone. In short… these areas are paradise for photographers (or for anyone really… they’re beautiful)!
But what we didn’t know was the stroke of luck that would find us and lead us to one of the best cenote areas in the world…
…which also happens to be deep in the Mexican jungle…
…which happens to be tarantula infested, snake inhabited, and generally filled with things that most beautiful brides are not looking forward to seeing the day after the wedding (or that any girl on any day wants to see for that matter).
The place where these particularly unbelievable cenotes are is in a little eco-community outside of Playa Del Carmen called “Pueblo Sacbe“. Sacbe is out in the middle of the jungle and populated mostly with expatriates who have built eco friendly houses using natural materials and solar panels.
Playa Del Carmen has tons of cenotes, but they are usually full of people. The cenotes in Sacbe are not only private (requiring a pass to get in… which a friend we made in Playa has) but they are particularly stunning ones! We were told that there are lots of photographers who live in that area who are dying to get in there, so we consider ourselves very lucky that we had the opportunity!
The reason we got so lucky is that towards the beginning of our 3 week stay in Mexico we met Nico (the man with the pass) and Tom who run Ah Cult TV in Playa Del Carmen… and they happen to be awesome. Tom is originally from Canada and Nico is from Spain and they both moved to Playa after going there for vacations and never being able to leave (which is actually the same story we heard from every non-Mexican resident that we met there… I guess it’s the kind of place that unexpectedly sucks you in!). Nico has been doing video for many years and when he met Tom in Playa, he found an excellent new business partner. Now they work together making videos about interesting people, places, and events in their area. And apparently they considered our photo time with Bethany and Mike to be one of these video worthy events, because they came along on our session and made a “making of” video of it for us!! Keep a look out on our Facebook page for the video which is coming soon!
We became quick friends with Tom and Nico which I think really happened during our first trip out to Pueblo Sacbe with them. We wanted to tour the place before we took Bethany and Mike there so we could get a feel for the location and plan out the details of our session.
We hopped on a bus and about 30 minutes later, found ourselves wandering through the jungle… passing by a combination of little huts and mansions made out everything from sticks and old coke bottles, to marble and 400 year old Indian wood… that’s how things go in Sacbe.
We saw not only the cenotes, but Mexican hairless dogs, snakes, trees with huge spikes covering the entire trunk, other trees known as “gringo” trees (because the bark turns red and then peels off), and of course all the same creep crawly things I already mentioned that we saw again later on when we brought Bethany and Mike back. If I ever wrote a book called “a day in the lives of Scottie and Breanna” I would seriously consider making it about this day! Sacbe is quite an interesting place to say the least!
The next time we went to Sacbe was with our cameras and Bethany and Mike… who were all dressed up in their wedding clothes and ready for some adventure! Every other sentence out of my mouth the first time we went there was something like “I hope Bethany’s up for this!”. And when we arrived in Sacbe that day, I was very happy to find that she was very brave and ready for anything!
I’ve mentioned the tarantulas a couple of times now but what I haven’t mentioned is that one of Bethany’s big fears is… you guessed it, spiders. She told me that on our ride out there and I started praying immediately that we wouldn’t see any of the tarantulas that day (and I definitely didn’t ever mention to her that we did see one… I didn’t want to freak her out before we even got there!). But lo and behold, what was one of the first things she saw as we were posing for her very first shot… the biggest freaking tarantula I have ever seen in my life who was about a foot away from her.
Seriously, that sucker was huge. I grabbed Bethany and headed over to a different area, just in time to miss Tom saying “watch out, those things jump like a bastard!” (which remained the running joke throughout the rest of the session).
Bethany did amazing and calmed down surprisingly quickly so I took a few shots in another area to distract her from the mayhem that was ensuing while the guys did there best to move the terrifying, jumping bastard out of the way. We didn’t get any pictures of it because of all the chaos of us trying to get away from it and then of trying to get it away from us, but it’s on the video!
Oh well, Bethany held it together magnificently and it makes for a great story! What’s a story about a jungle photo session if it doesn’t involve facing your fears a little bit right?!
Tom and Nico brought along a little something called “copal” which is a traditional Mayan incense (it smells great!) that produces a ton of smoke so the effect is similar to dry ice.
It looks amazing and it gave us a small taste of a true Mayan experience (and surprisingly, airport security let it through so we have some at home now!).
Now we get to the part where Scottie’s lighting genius really shines through (no pun intended!). I was laughing at him as he was stressing out because he was about to put a bride into the water in her wedding dress (with God knows what swimming around her!) to get one shot that you can’t re-do another day, that needs to be good enough to make it worth her getting her dress wet… all while attempting to light up an entire black cave where the groom was going to stand with hundreds of bats skimming the top of his head.
Not to mention, Scottie was going to have to swim out and place his light stand (expensive flash included) into the middle of the water and hope it was placed right the first time because each time he went out, he kicked up the mud from the bottom of the water and we couldn’t wait for it to settle twice before taking the picture.
Basically a huge feat had to be accomplished as quickly as possible, and Scottie was feeling the pressure! He always talks about lighting as being more like an art form that needs guessing and finesse, but in this situation he only had time to make it an exact science and hope that his hypothesis was right!
He set it all up and we all silently appealed to the Mayan gods to not let the clouds shift and change the lighting (since that would require starting over, just in time to finish and have the clouds move again so we’d need to change back!). Well it worked… whatever it was, science, art, prayer, mother nature, Scottie’s quick thinking brain… all of it came together and made this….
…. spectacular. Good job Scottie, you’re my favorite.
After all of our time in the jungle, alas our photos were taken and our adventure was coming to an end. And as it is at the end of any adventure…. we were all starving. Luckily, Tom and Nico had planned for this. They had brought all the necessary ingredients to prepare a feast at their friend Bill’s house (which is one of the houses in the eco community we were shooting in). Bill is a guy from Oregon who left his corporate life in America to move out into the jungle to sell solar panels and homemade pizza to his neighbors. Bill has a new brick oven so he spent the morning prepping it while we were shooting so that for lunch he could make us the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.
Seriously, it was unbelievable pizza and it was a great, relaxing ending to our big adventure. We just sat on his porch with jungle all around us, drinking mango juice, eating fresh pizza, talking with friends, and watching the rain. It was just as perfect as it sounds! Thanks Bill for welcoming us into your home, letting us wander around attempting to capture all the beauty that is on your property, and for being an all round nice guy who we heartily enjoyed eating pizza with.
Thank you Nico and Tom for not only being a huge part of what made our trip to Mexico so fun, but also for the many MANY generous things you did for us. Everything from introducing us to other cool people like Bill, to giving us tips on where to eat, to making an entire freaking cool video of us!!! I don’t know if you guys will ever know how much your generosity has blessed us.
We feel truly grateful that we ran into such wonderful people as you and that we’ve had such a great example of how to reach out to new people because we now feel better educated on how to make others feel welcome in our own hometown. You guys taught us a lot about how to love and care for people selflessly… we thank you from the bottom of our toes to the tops of our little photographer heads. You guys are awesome.
And thank you Bethany and Mike for bringing us to Mexico and inviting us to take part in this adventure with you.
Thank you for abandoning your dreams for a wedding on 10/10/10 (since we were already booked), and changing your date just so we could shoot your wedding. Thanks for being so incredibly brave and for trusting us to take you somewhere so far outside of your comfort zone. Thanks for all the participation you’ve had in our business (following our photos, attending our classes, etc.)… you guys have been a great encouragement to us. Thanks for being such wonderfully kind people who are a total joy to work with… we couldn’t have asked for a better to couple to experience all of this with. We’re so glad it was you guys. We love you both and we’re are much more than just a little excited to see where you guys go from here! Congratulations.
Click to see the rest of the photos from Mike and Bethany’s “Mexican Jungle Adventure” Unique session. And click here to read about their wedding in case you missed it!