Hopelands Gardens Engagement Session|Aiken, SC|Rachel+Xander

I can’t even tell you how special it was that these two chose me to do their engagement session and that I will be able to do their wedding next May as well! Normally I will probably wait to tell a couple’s story until their wedding post, but the beauty of a long engagement is that I can tell you a little bit right now and you will forget it by the time the wedding rolls around. The reason this session is so special to me is because Rachel and I were the best of friends in elementary school. She and her mom Renee (Reenie! I’ll never forget that nickname given to her by a telemarketer) were always there for me. I went home from school with her when my grandmother died, I made her countdown to the exact minute I turned 8 years old with me, we had all the friendship bracelets Claire’s had to offer, and I was heartbroken when she moved away. I knew her secret crushes. Well, not so secret, 1. because I did not keep them very well and 2. because she would always chase them around the playground until her cheeks were rosy. The teachers would make her sit down and drink some water because they didn’t know that’s just how her cheeks are. Now she has the biggest crush of all and it has turned to love and soon to be marriage! Seeing these two together reminded me of the joyful 2nd grader in Rachel and it felt just like old times. Xander felt like a part of our little friend group playing the Tangle game together at recess…though he might be too tall for that now.

We started out at Hopelands Gardens in Aiken, SC. I underestimated Xander’s height immediately and had to move him from the side of this pergola to the center because vines were covering his face.


So I promptly had them sit down to be closer to my level. With the tiny heart that we found right between them! These two are naturals. I didn’t even tell them to talk to each other…they just did it! It was the cutest thing!


Have you ever seen a happier girl? I am so happy for Rachel!


I never fully appreciated Hopelands Gardens when I was younger. It is incredibly beautiful.


Rachel and Xander were always giggling during the photos and it was adorable but it was troublesome for me because it made me giggle too and it is not easy to take photos while giggling. Needless to say I didn’t really mind!


I do love this peaceful moment between the two of them, though. Their couple-personality is just the perfect mix of romance and fun!


And the &! What can I say, Hobby Lobby rocks. Rachel picked the best prop. Look at those boots, too! So Rachel.


Did I mention these two are troopers? Not only did Xander carry the surprisingly heavy ampersand around for us the whole time, but he and Rachel also got on the ground for me for this cute shot, and I have to say I am quite glad they trusted me!


This next shot is technically terrible lighting-wise, but something about it just gets to me. I appreciate the koi in the background, partially because they are the only part of the gardens that I remember from my childhood, and partially because I just have a thing for animals in photos. I like Rachel’s smile here and the way she might be blinking but might also be laughing. I think the harsh shadows give a sparkliness to the moment that I rather enjoy, even though they kill the photography student in me. Forgive me, Mr. Smith.


Speaking of sparkly things, here’s Rachel’s ring. It is perfect…


As was this moment…


And this one. Hooray for more animals in pictures! I am not necessarily an animal lover but they add a certain quaintness to photos. It’s my favorite.


Enter the ampersand again! And the cuteness!


I love when the groom is excited and has ideas, so when Xander said he liked the gazebo we did a gazebo picture! It proved to be a great idea, but I stepped in an ant bed and got 24 ant bites on my left foot at the moment this photo was taken, so that proved that it was time to move on to our second location!


The Aiken Training Track was SO cool! And Rachel is the coolest person ever for coming here on a regular basis!  I bet it’s so peaceful watching the horses practice early in the morning. I got to climb up into the building where the people watch their horses and I felt like a millionaire, not because it was a nice building, but because millionaire sit there sometimes. And look at the view! These cuties were right at home here, because it’s home to Rachel and Rachel is Xander’s home.


THAT RING again!! This time with those super fun, funky nails. And happy rosy Rachel!


Even more boots! What a session! Xander *made* Rachel wear these and we made sure to get a nice shot of them as Xander supports the Florida Gators and his family lives in Florida. Can I also take a moment to talk about that sand? Million dollar sand, folks. I chose to go barefoot here to avoid getting sand in my sandals (and to avoid having to cut my sandals off as my foot swelled from all those ant bites). But it was the best choice I could have made. This stuff was even better than beach sand. It was like that sand you buy at Brookstone that feels amazing in your hands but doesn’t stick to you. Those horses are very lucky to run in that sand. I could go on.


Anyway, check out how Xander is checking Rachel out. He was totally supposed to be looking at me, but how much better is this?!


And I think it’s safe to say that Rachel looks at him the same way! #relationshipgoals for my future clients!


Here’s the thing. Rachel and Xander were always doing cute things BEHIND MY BACK. Not that they weren’t adorable in front of the camera, but whenever I would take a moment to check on an image or adjust my camera, they would actually start smooching…or dancing! While they knew I wasn’t looking! Can you believe that? By the time we were at the Training Track I knew the drill, so I caught this moment before it ended. Sneaky McSneakersons: 4537842. Emily: 1.


And then I made them do it again because it was just so darn precious.


This is where the horses start the race. Here Xander is demonstrating how the men stand up there and press the button to open the gates. I think. Something like that. You learn something new every day but sometimes you forget it. Maybe if we had been allowed to flip those little light switches I would have remembered.


Here Rachel and Xander are demonstrating how the horses run holding hands. Just kidding! They thought the starting line was a great metaphor about how they are beginning the race/journey of life together and I agree!


I couldn’t let them one-up me in the symbolism-game, so I came up with one (like all good literary and artistic heroes) afterwards. My little quip to go with this image is that these TWO are going to become ONE…get it?!


I hope all of you one day get to see a love like this! So fun and genuine!


And this is where we pan out. Like the end of a movie! What a wonderful day I had with these two friends–one old and one new.


Rachel and Xander, thank you for trusting me to capture what you have together. It is so special and I am honored! I had a blast with you two and can’t wait til May 28th! Let the race begin!

P.S. My wedding hashtag for these two is #RxforLove. I am on a roll with the whole cleverness thing.


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