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Courtney’s Family | Gemini Springs State Park

Family photography session gemini springs park debary florida whole family holiday image

I love taking family portraits, especially during this time of year. No, Florida isn’t known for its snowy evenings or colorful autumn leaves, but the season changes nonetheless. Mostly, the season changes in our big box stores. It might be 100* outside, but they’re going to sell that ugly Christmas sweater no matter what. Family portraits can really be done at anytime here in the south, but there is something nostalgic about doing it during the last few months of the year.

Family photography session gemini springs park debary florida whole family holiday image

Doing a family portrait fundraiser for my daughter’s school is something new I’m trying this year as a way to give back to the community. Her teacher, Miss Courtney, was one of my first family portraits. She and her lovely family joined me down at Gemini Springs State Park, a gorgeous local park based around a spring and river. It has the true “Old Florida” feeling. Tall oak trees with long tendrils of Spanish moss, palm trees, clear blue waters, and historic buildings. We didn’t see any gators…this time.

The weather was perfectly overcast (thank you Hurricane Eta) which kept all of us from overheating. It had rained that morning, but we had nothing more than a fresh breeze while we wandered around the park.

Family photography session gemini springs park debary florida whole family holiday image

Courtney has been in Florida for over 25 years! She knew exactly what warm family portraits she wanted that held the true vibe of the south in November. With family in Kentucky, New York and Indiana, she’ll be able to show off her holiday cards and rub it in a little bit while they’re defrosting their car windows. Her favorite thing about living in Florida? Our small town community and, of course, Disney World!

It was an incredible pleasure to see Courtney and her family in their natural Florida environment, and I’m so glad I got to capture it for them.

Courtney and Khaled, thank you for letting me tag along for our walk in the park and family pictures!

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The 7 Essential Tips For Wedding Planning

Photographer? Yes. Married woman? Also, yes. So that means I have been through the planning stages of a wedding and successfully pulled it off! I was extremely lucky to be a wedding photographer while planning my own wedding because I got to see all of my brides’ mistakes and make sure I didn’t repeat them. I also got to see what they did right. So not only do I have my own wedding planning experience to draw on, I also have a lot of wedding day stories to learn from. So, with that said, here are my top seven tips for your wedding planning adventure:

Wedding ring photography ideas in gold and sparkly

1. GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO PLAN: You are planning an event. An extremely important event that you will no doubt treasure for years to come. To make it go off without a hitch, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to plan. I took almost 18 months to plan my wedding and I needed every single day of that. Between DIY favors, invitations, the guest list, the venue, the catering…it was a lot. There was no way I could have done it in less time. Mind you, my wedding had about 125 guests plus the bridal party. Fewer guests may mean you need less time to plan and vice versa.

wedding planning tips hints photography ideas

2. HAVE A WEDDING PLANNING BOOK: Use just one book to keep track of everything! I used one of those 5-subject notebooks you can find in office supply stores. Not only did it have those manila pockets so I could keep hold of business cards, brochures, and whatnot, but it helped me divide the notebook into different sections. One section was devoted to a working guest list. Another was entirely consumed by vendor contact information. Another, the honeymoon information. Having this ONE book meant that I could go anywhere, meet any vendor, and everything would be right there. I kept contracts in it. I kept contact information in it. I even kept color samples in it which leads me to my next tip…

3. BUY RIBBON IN YOUR WEDDING COLORS: If you’re trying to explain to the baker what color frosting you want, you had better have a good example. Go to a craft store that sells ribbon. Buy a spool of each color that’s going to be in your wedding. For example, I bought a spool each of navy, ivory, and gold satin ribbon. I kept a long bit in the wedding notebook and just cut off a one-inch piece for vendors to reference. That made sure that they knew EXACTLY what color I wanted. This is especially true if your color is versatile, like a green or pink, which have so many shades that a lot could go wrong. Ribbon is easy, cheap, and keeps everyone on the same color page.

Wedding planning hints tricks tips ideas

4. FIGURE OUT WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU AND WHAT ISN’T: Even with all the time in the world, you can’t do everything by yourself for a big wedding. A small wedding? Probably. But a BIG one? You need to prioritize what is and what is not important to you. Example? I did not care about my flowers or floral arrangements. So when we met with the florist, I gave him one direction: the flowers had to be off-white. I didn’t care what kind of flowers, what kind of greenery, the flowers just couldn’t be bright white. I wanted ivory. So long as he followed that and stayed within my budget, I simply didn’t care what my florals looked like. That saved me A LOT of stress. On the other hand, I was completely engrossed in my invitation suite and designed the entire thing myself with minimal vendor help. I was so particular about the font, the layout, and the colors that I essentially created the entire thing myself and just had help printing and assembling them. So, make sure you prioritize what you NEED to do and what someone else can do for you.

5. HIRE A DAY-OF COORDINATOR: This is not the same as a wedding planner, mind you. A day-of coordinator is just there for that ONE special day. They have every vendor’s contact information, know exactly where everything needs to be set up, and handle problems for you so you’re not stressed out. You have enough on your plate: make-up, hair, dress, vows, rings, etc.. Let the day-of coordinator run interference. If you communicate well with them, they know where the programs go, where the table arrangements go, where the cake is set up, ALL OF IT. The only time my day-of coordinator asked me about something was when it started raining about 30 minutes before the ceremony was about to start. She gave me two options and I was able to pick one and go about my prep without fear.

Wedding venue layout ideas navy gold ivory

6. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR FUTURE SPOUSE: This one may seem kind of obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. Communication is absolutely vital to your wedding day being successful and enjoyable. After Jake proposed to me, he was very clear: he wanted NOTHING to do with wedding planning. His only requests were to have steak and potatoes for dinner and a few cigars that he and some of his close friends could smoke on the patio. That conversation saved me from going back and forth and worrying that he hated what I was designing. The fact that he didn’t care didn’t bother me one bit. I had a vision and I chased it and he sure as heck got exactly what he wanted on our wedding day. He had no idea what anything looked like until the wedding day itself and he was fine with that. On a side note: do not be offended if your future spouse isn’t that into planning your big day. Some people just aren’t that particular. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. I promise.

7. HAVE A LAST DANCE: This one is pretty unique. Everyone knows about a “first dance” where the whole crowd watches you. That was sooooo awkward for Jake and me. We basically did the middle school sway. Nothing spectacular and although the song was meaningful, the dance itself was lackluster. Now, the “last dance” was something entirely different. At the end of the night, before we made our exit from the reception, everyone was cleared out. They all waited outside with sparklers for us to leave. The DJ started a song and then he left. The photographers left. It was just us. No one watched us sway. No one made any sound. We were able to talk in amazement about what we’d just accomplished. It was one of the most romantic parts of the day. Private, special, and unique. And that song is just between us.

Wedding photography planning ideas

Guys and gals, when it comes down to it, your wedding day is as unique as you are. There is no right or wrong here. I’m simply sharing what helped me plan our wedding so it went smoothly. I know that some people have smaller or larger weddings than we did and that is perfectly fine! Adjust these tips to fit your needs. They still come in handy when you’re trying to start this whole process. Getting everything together in the beginning saves you A LOT of chaos at the end.

HAPPY PLANNING!

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Nikki and Kevin | Ormond Beach Wedding

Another of my earliest weddings when I opened DeeLee Photography, Nikki and Kevin hold a special place in my heart. Not just because I was already their friend, both their engagement and wedding photographer, but also because I videotaped the proposal! They got married on a refreshing Florida “winter” day at The Casements in Ormond Beach and it was SPECTACULAR.

Nikki and Kevin met back in 2008 when they both were attending a Daytona Cubs baseball game over at Jackie Robinson Field. They started randomly chatting, so you KNOW it was just meant to be. Even more incredible, Kevin proposed at the famous Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine. Now, he didn’t just propose all willy-nilly. He was a volunteer at the Castillo and snuck the proposal into one of the cannon firing demonstrations! While the entire garrison of volunteers and crowds looked on, Kevin got down on one knee and asked Nikki to spend the rest of her life with him. And she obviously said YES! They celebrated by firing the cannons. Epic, right?

At the Casements, Nikki got ready in the beautiful upstairs living rooms along with her bridesmaids. Her dress was simple and elegant, gorgeous on her. Kevin looked fashionable too in his formal coat {complete with tails} and top hat. When she was walking down to the riverside gazebo, Kevin got to see his bride for the first time and it was sweetly emotional. They even had Scottish bagpipers as their musicians for the ceremony! There was so much happiness between them. It was infectious! Everyone, including me, couldn’t help but smile through the entire ceremony. Their first dance was in the grand ballroom with a small group of family and friends watching.

I was so fortunate to be there for so much of their life together and I’m blessed that we still keep in touch. Nikki and Kevin, thank you for letting me be a part of your day!

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I Must Be Crazy

The other night, I’m laying in bed unable to sleep. It’s almost 4 o’clock in the morning and not a wink of dreamland. My mind is racing, thinking about way too many things. I think I’m crazy! Restarting my business? In a new part of Florida? With two children? AND WITH COVID? I must be a glutton for punishment to try to do all of this now. People are rescheduling weddings left and right!

But then I look over at my sleeping husband {his snoring isn’t helping me fall asleep, by the way} and I suddenly feel a bit relaxed. Not all the way relaxed, but just a bit. Just enough for me to remind myself WHY I chose to become a wedding photographer. Yeah, I get to work for myself and be creative, but there’s more to it than that:

I remember my own wedding and how blissful I was that day. It was fantastic. Something I treasure. It was us and our love and perfect. How we met was a crazy story {I’ll touch on that some other day, I’m sure}. It was kind of like an origin story. And, when we got married, it was a second origin story. The story of our love and our commitment to each other. That’s a pretty big deal no matter how you slice it.

Everyone’s relationship has TWO origin stories. When they meet, and when they marry. Those two moments require the stars to align perfectly. So many moving pieces came together to create that unique relationship, which made me think…

EVERY RELATIONSHIP IS UNIQUE, AND VALID, AND DESERVES ITS TURN TO SHINE.

It dawned on me while I was trying to sleep. That was it. The reason I do this. To give people a chance to highlight their origin stories, their relationships. It’s a honor. These people invite me into their lives to capture moments that can’t be repeated. How incredible is that?

So, having this epiphany, I suddenly felt completely, wholly relaxed. I don’t take pictures because I like clicking buttons and editing. I take pictures because they deserve to be taken. These couples deserve a day when everything is all about them and their love. And that is something I can do.

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Jill and Chris | Washington Oaks Anniversary

In gorgeous Palm Coast, there is a hidden oasis known as Washington Oaks State Park. That’s where I caught up with Jill and Chris for their adorable anniversary photoshoot. It was their wedding venue ten years ago and was the perfect place to celebrate such a milestone anniversary. Boasting ponds, fountains, a rose garden, and an ocean view, Washington Oaks is a real hidden gem in Palm Coast.

Washington oaks state park florida anniversary session

These two met at the Castillo de San Marcos in Saint Augustine just like Jake and I did. And when Chris proposed, he made sure to plan it out. He laid Hershey’s kisses all along the floor leading to the shower full of roses {just wait for it} where a little note was waiting for Jill. The note read “If I kiss the ground you walk on and shower you with roses…” and had a beautiful ring attached. With such a punny proposal, Jill couldn’t say no! Even more unique is that, only four days after my first date with Jake, Jill and Chris tied the knot. Jake almost brought me as his plus-one, but Jill gave him some sound advice:

A wedding might be a bit much for a second date.

Jill – a genius

So, unfortunately, I never got to see their wedding. However, I’ve been able to see everything since! They won me over with their charm and utter nerdiness that completely synced with my own. We all loved history, we all had our nerd-flags flying high, and we became a tight-knit group. Double dates were pretty common for a while.

Washington oaks state park anniversary session in florida

With all of this friendship flying around through the past ten years, I decided they deserved some new, updated pictures for their anniversary; as such, this session was my little gift to them. I drove to meet them on a hot October day {aren’t all days in Florida hot?} and we had perfect weather. Happy blue skies with puffy white clouds…Bob Ross himself couldn’t have asked for better. We even got to recreate some of their original wedding poses!

The rose garden was perhaps my favorite location. Honeybees, butterflies, a happily married couple…complete perfection.

Jill and Chris, you two have become like a part of our family {known as Auntie Jill and Uncle Chris to our girls} and I am so blessed to have captured this important milestone for you. I can’t wait to see what the future brings. Happy anniversary!

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My 3 Biggest Wedding Regrets

Planning a wedding is a HUGE deal. Things are bound to be overlooked, forgotten, or even dismissed. When I planned my 2013 wedding, there was a lot I did right, but just a few things I did WRONG. I made mistakes which means you don’t have to. So, here is my wisdom for anyone planning their own wedding:

Debary wedding photography 3 biggest wedding regrets ceremony videographer

1.HIRE A VIDEOGRAPHER FOR THE CEREMONY! I had photographers, so I thought that would be enough. WRONG! For the ceremony, I had hired a harpist and a violinist to play music while I walked down the aisle. Do I remember it? NOT AT ALL. I was so hyper-focused on my future husband that nothing else registered. Nothing. I don’t remember hearing the music. I don’t remember who was in the seats. I don’t remember the jokes that happened during the ceremony. None of it. I was so in love and so happy that I had tunnel vision. To this day, I regret that. It would be incredible to see footage of our ceremony. Alas, I don’t have it and that makes for a sad Diana.

Debary wedding photography first look on wedding day also have pictures after the ceremony

2. HAVE PORTRAITS DONE AFTER THE CEREMONY! Jake and I had a first look, so {at the time} I didn’t care if we had portraits of just us after the ceremony was over. WRONG! Those first look pictures are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but having just been officially married? I can almost guarantee that our expressions would have been different. There would have been another level of emotion that just wasn’t there during the first look. And I kick myself because we had the time to do it. My photographers were super-efficient with family formals, so we had the time to get pictures of just us again. Nope. Didn’t do it. And that can’t be repeated. I lost out on preserving those emotional moments. Again, sad Diana.

3. HAVE A SECOND DRESS FOR THE RECEPTION! I had a lovely ballgown with intricate beadwork and a complicated bustle and I loved it so much I just wanted it to stay on forever. WRONG! That sucker was HOT. It was heavy and awkward. I was terrified of eating dinner lest I spill something on it. I could barely dance! If I had chosen a second dress, something especially for the reception, I would have chosen a loose, flowy, white maxi dress {or something like it}. Nothing expensive and definitely not something labeled as a wedding dress because that would have jacked up the price. I really mean it. Just a white casual dress. Dancing would have been a breeze. I wouldn’t have sweated my butt off. And if it got a little stained from dinner? Meh. Who cares? My real wedding dress would have been safe and sound, already in it’s plastic bag. Side note: Jake had a REALLY hard time helping me out of the big dress. Once again, sad Diana.

There it is: the three things I most regret about my wedding day. Considering the size of our wedding, I’m lucky that’s all I really regret. I remind myself of everything I did right: I married the man I love. No matter what else had happened that day, that would have been enough.

My last word to the wise? Your wedding is not your marriage. Even if everything goes wrong on the wedding day, it doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. Event planning isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean anything. If your dream comes true and you marry the person you love? That’s enough.

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Jennifer and John | Sanibel Island Wedding

Beach wedding in Sanibel Island Florida by DeeLee Photography with Ceremony at Casa Ybel

So, this one is REALLY special to me. Jennifer was my very first, official, completely legit DeeLee Bride. Her wedding holds a truly unique place in my heart. And not just because it was beautiful and romantic and beachy, but because she and I have kept in touch. She knew me when I was engaged, before I had daughters… and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her family grow, too.

Beach wedding in Sanibel Island Florida by DeeLee Photography with Ceremony at Casa Ybel

Jennifer and John traveled all the way from the Minnesota to get married at Casa Ybel on Sanibel Island, which is on the west coast of Florida. To give you an idea of the sheer beauty of this place, imagine baby powder soft white sand, calm blue waters and the perfect temperature of an October day.

These two met in high school! John had galantly chased Jennifer since 8th grade but she didn’t return the love until after they had graduated. They’ve been together ever since. Marriage wasn’t really on their plate since they were both so in love anyways and it was just a legal hoop to jump through. Despite that, John surprised her and he proposed on their 10th anniversary. A dinner at their favorite Thai restaurant saw Jennifer say ‘yes’ when he popped that question.

Beach wedding in Sanibel Island Florida by DeeLee Photography with Ceremony at Casa Ybel

Jennifer and John have incredible chemistry and you can just tell that they’re best friends as well as man and wife. The wedding day was so easy and relaxed because of their laid back personalities. It was so easy to slip in as a photographer and capture Jennifer getting ready with her bridal party. After she’d made herself even more beautiful, we ducked away from friends and family to get some fabulous first look pictures. It was full of giggles and gentle kisses.

After those first look shots, the wedding ceremony took place at sunset right on the beach. I even jumped into the Gulf of Mexico to get some pictures! The bottom of my pants were wet the rest of the night but it was completely worth it! Those golden-hour pictures are some of my personal favorites.

Jennifer and John, I was so blessed to have your wedding be my first official DeeLee Wedding. I’m even more blessed to still be a part of your life and I cannot wait until we get the chance to meet up again on one of your Florida-bound vacations!

Beach wedding in Sanibel Island Florida by DeeLee Photography with Ceremony at Casa Ybel
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5 Reasons to Have a First Look

While some people still believe that it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding, I think having a first look makes for the most incredible wedding portraits. When I was planning my own wedding, I knew I wanted that little slice of time for Jake and I to just enjoy each other’s company. No crowds, no pressure, just the two of us. Well, the two of us and our photographers. No lie, those portraits from the first look are the ones that hang up in our home. I walk by those canvas prints and smile every time because they just capture us so perfectly.

Still unsure about having your own first look? Here are five good – no, GREAT – reasons why that slice of time should be a part of your day, coming from a bride who did it and a photographer who loves it!

1. Practicality. It gives you a buffer. By having portraits BEFORE the ceremony, you get more time to do family portraits AFTER the ceremony. That means things STAY ON SCHEDULE. Your time after the ceremony isn’t torn between getting pinterest-worthy portraits and formal family groups. Jake and I had an hour to do bridal portraits during our first look. After the ceremony, family portraits were a breeze AND we got done ahead of schedule. Which worked out perfect because storms started rolling in. Since we had the time before the reception started, we relaxed out of sight and just enjoyed being newlyweds. There was ZERO stressing out about being on schedule.

2. You get privacy. This is no joke! Your wedding day isn’t private at all. You’re in front of family, friends, vendors… the list goes on! This one hour gives you a break before everyone gets to intrude on your privacy. You’ll probably be doing hair and makeup {with a crowd}. Your groom is probably hanging out with his groomsmen. The vendor is making last minute arrangements. All of this is happening before the ceremony even starts. GIVE YOURSELF A MOMENT TO BREATHE. Step away from the bridal party, the vendors, the in-laws, step away from everyone! Find that special spot where no one can find the two of you and just enjoy it.

3. You get to be yourselves in the pictures. This is a HUGE deal. Great-Aunt-Susie isn’t judging you when you nuzzle in close for a lingering hug. Your little nephew isn’t making “eeewwww” sounds when you kiss. Your pictures will show a relaxed, in-love couple and that’s kinda the WHOLE point of this exercise. {I love making faces at Jake, so that’s what I did without reservation!} When you two are able to relax, your pictures will become works of art. Plus, any silly little moments that happen stay between you. Those inside jokes, the funny faces, the stray tear, all of that happens in a judgement-free zone.

4. That big reveal creates emotion and when it’s private, those emotions aren’t hidden or stifled because of stage fright. I teared up seeing Jake in his tuxedo. I got butterflies sneaking up behind him. And when he turned around and his jaw dropped when he saw me? That was worth it. The world just stopped and he and I were able to be in love and remember why we were about to go through with this huge moment in our lives. We had time to chat between poses, compliment each other, and remind one another that this was OUR day. A wedding is a huge ordeal. Having that hour meant we were doing it as a team.

5. Pictures, pictures, pictures. This is where your photographer can truly work magic. We have time to find the flattering light, to find the perfect backdrop, to arrange the perfect pose. This time means that the pictures you WANT are the pictures you GET. These are the pictures that’ll be on your wall for decades to come. These are the pictures that you’ll show off to anyone who will pay attention. This is it, guys and gals. You hired a professional and this is giving them every tool they need to take care of you.

That first look is important. Can you have a wedding day without one? Of course you can! It’s your wedding!! But having that extra time built in to be a schedule buffer, a stress-free zone, a creativity arena? That can really help make your day magical. Your pictures are going to show that. I know I remember more about our first look than I do my own wedding ceremony. I don’t know if that’s just silly or romantic, but it’s true.

Bottom line? You do you. That’s what weddings are all about. Correction: that’s what YOUR wedding is all about.

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Why DeeLee?

My first name’s Diana. Middle name is Lee. During my time as a paper-pusher in real estate, people just started calling me “Dee”. Probably because they always forgot whether my name was Diana or Diane. Also because one syllable is shorter than two or three. Who knows why they did it but they did. I grew so accustomed to it that it just kind stuck with me outside of work, too.

You probably thought this post would be about why you should hire me, but that’s not it at all! It’s about who I am and why “DeeLee Photography” made more sense to me than “Diana Lee Photography”. Pretty straightforward.

I’ve always loved my middle name. I was lucky that my parents never used my middle name when I was in trouble, so I didn’t grow up dreading the sound of it. I don’t actually know why my mom chose “Lee”, but I’m glad she did. Also, “Lee” and “Photography” rhyme so that’s another great reason!

When I started this business in 2012, the thought of using my real first name never even occurred to me: that’s how used I was to hearing my nickname. Originally, I was “DeeLee Productions” because I did some website work and some graphic design alongside the photography. Now, I focus solely on photography because that’s what really drives me. My brand changed and I’m a little surprised at how much I’ve changed since then, too.

I got married. Bought a home. Had children {two daughters, in fact}. And all of that changed me.

My first business logo was bright and bold and modern. Just like me. In my first home, there were statement walls that jumped out at you. Navy blue or crimson red. I shudder to think of my decorating style back then! {Really, it was kinda tacky}.

My second home, the one my husband and I bought together, started out the same way. But, things changed when my first daughter was born. I started gravitating towards softer colors. I still loved the color blue. I still loved color in general. It just wasn’t so harsh and in-your-face. The fact that I fell in love with “Fixer Upper” definitely had an impact, too. {But that’s a whole other story}

So now, I use dusty blues and traditional fonts. I stick with timeless and gentle instead of contemporary and fierce. As I changed, so did my brand. Who knows what changes may happen in the future, but this is where I am right now. The only thing I have left from the younger me is “DeeLee”.

I’m ok with that. I needed to be in that place to come to where I am now. Everything happens for a reason and I truly believe that each season in my life will help me evolve and grow. So that’s why I held onto that nickname. To remind myself that I’m growing, but that I’m still me.

That’s why “DeeLee”.

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Jonathan and Walbert

same sex couple wedding session lake mary central park rainbow pride bouquet

This styled wedding session in Lake Mary, Central Park, was an absolute first for me, and I loved every minute of it. This styled session helped recreate the wedding day that the grooms adored. Walbert and Jonathan were so in love that it was easy to capture their chemistry.

The couple met 10 years ago when a group text got sent to the wrong people, and these two lovebirds unknowingly started texting each other instead of the group! Their first date was romantic in all the right ways – a movie and dinner in Times Square, NYC.

After 5 years of dating, Walbert surprised Jonathan with a surprise trip to Jamaica where the tables were suddenly turned: Jonathan surprised Walbert with a proposal!

Walbert and Jonathan are super down-to-earth, madly in love, and bubbly. Every chance I had to make them smile, I took, because their smiles lit up the park even more than the bright summer sun. This styled session was all about re-creating their wedding day and they nailed it.

Walbert and Jonathan, I can’t wait to see you again and just want to thank you. No one deserves this boundless love and friendship more than the two of you. Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this romantic day!

same sex couple grooms wedding styled session lake mary central park
same sex grooms lake mary central park wedding session

VENDORS:
Groom’s Outfits: All Brides 2 Be
Wedding Cake: Sweet Miss V’s
Flowers: Novelties by Nadia
Hair & Makeup: Faces by Shannon
Host: POP the Vows