I Am Collingswood: Eli and Sarah Brambilla
Eli and Sarah Brambilla work full-time in special education, are raising two boys—and still fall in love at the altar when they shoot weddings together.
Eli and Sarah Brambilla's love story is perpetually renewed by documenting those of their clients. The couple—parents to Aidan, 11, and Noah, 9—have been professional wedding photographers for 80 percent of their 10-year marriage. The Brambillas tell Patch that taking pictures of happy couples makes them fall in love all over again.
Collingswood Patch: When did you both discover your love for photography? Did you come to it separately, or as a couple?
Eli Brambilla: Both. I think that it was a big part of our courtship because we met my junior year in high school, and then in my senior year—Sarah's junior year—we started out in separate photo classes and then after a couple of weeks we had our classes switched so we could be together. I think it was really neat because it was almost like my passion for photography blossomed at the same time as our relationship was forming. I think that there's a really strong association between photography and us.
I think it's really wonderful that now we're able to go out and do this together. We just did a wedding on the day of our 10-year wedding anniversary! It was just incredible, being there and thinking back about being teenagers and being in the darkroom together; you know, having all that teenage stuff going on.
Sarah Brambilla: I've personally been into photography for as long as I can remember. When I was really little, my mom had this really old little point-and-shoot camera, and I would just take pictures of any and everything. But it was just a whole other thing when I started taking photography classes and learning about all the mechanics of it and working in the darkroom. So I was learning those things at the same time Eli was.
Patch: When did you make the jump to doing photography professionally?
Sarah: A friend of ours was getting married and she didn't have a photographer. So, it just fell into place that we would do her pictures because we both just had this love of photography. We had never done anything professional with it, but it just was sort of a "Eureka!" moment.
Eli had a 35mm and I had a little point-and-shoot Canon that we borrowed from somebody that wasn't even ours. And we had such a blast doing it and it just seemed stupid that we hadn't done any thing like it before.
Patch: Tell me about that first wedding. Was there a learning curve?
Sarah: Oh, absolutely there was a learning curve. There still is a learning curve!
For the most part, with every wedding we do we get better. We get more familiar with what we're doing, we have more of a groove; yeah, there's definitely a learning curve. I mean, the first wedding we did, we were so young that I hadn't even been to that many weddings. I wasn't that familiar yet with all the routine of a wedding.
Eli: For our first wedding we shot everything. Everything. EVERYTHING. Every single aspect of the day. Every table. Every person at every table taking every bite of food. You know, after a while, you learn what you need to emphasize.
Sarah: (Laughs) You learn that people don't really like to see pictures of themselves when they're eating.
Patch: What's the most important shot to get at a wedding?
Sarah: One that comes to mind is when the groom sees the bride for the first time. That's a pretty powerful moment, right there.
Eli: The groom putting his shoes on, man! It's not just about the actual shoes, though. I mean, my favorite thing is taking pictures of the guy getting ready.
Patch: What shot do you think is often overlooked or underestimated?
Sarah: It seems like the highest emotions happen behind the scenes, ironically Eli and I didn't have a photographer at our wedding; that's the one regret I have about our wedding day. But what I always think about is how cool it would be as a bride, to look at pictures of my groom getting ready and to see what he was doing while I was getting ready. I think that's really cool, being able to look and see what you missed on the other side.
Patch: Having been to so many weddings, do you feel jaded about them now, or are you still moved by the ceremonies?
Eli: I still have moments where somebody will say something and it gets me choked up. I think the best thing that we can do as photographers is to get caught up in the moment. If we can cue into what's happening in that moment and the emotion of it, the emotion that we're feeling gets channeled into our cameras, and it has an actual, physical result. There are certain moments when I'm at a wedding and everything around me slows down and I'm totally engaged in the moment. I feel like that happens a lot.
Patch: What makes a good photographer—technical knowledge, an eye for composition, something more?
Sarah: I think it's a little bit of everything. I think that it's certain talent that you either have or you don't, but that learning the technical side of things can absolutely improve your work.
I think you can learn technically and work up to being a good photographer, but I think you can tell the difference between somebody who just has a touch for it and somebody who doesn't.
Patch: What makes your style distinctive?
Sarah: Our goal is to tell a story. We want you to be able to look at the pictures of the day and have them evoke the feeling of the day. If you don't look at the images and feel moved in some way, then we haven't succeeded. But I think we do usually succeed.
Eli: Once at a school where I was working, I brought an album into my classroom and one of my students, a little kid, he said, “Oh my gosh, it's like a story without words.” I was like, “Yes!” That's exactly what we're looking for. To tell the story of your day so that you can look back and remember it how it actually happened.
Patch: Does your own marriage inform your photography at all?
Eli: Absolutely. I think that that's the coolest thing about being a couple and doing this. Not only does it enhance our work, but it builds our relationship. It keeps it fresh.
One of the things I love to do, is when you get a really great rabbi or priest or officiant that gives a really killer sermon. I mean, I have to remind myself to keep taking pictures because I get so into what he's saying and it reminds me how blessed we are. We put a lot of work into our relationship, and I feel so lucky and blessed that I have Sarah and that I have the relationship with her that I do.
But still, when we're at a wedding and we're listening to people talk about love and commitment, it's almost like we're getting married all over again.
Sarah: A big part of that, too, is that we're both with the bride and the groom, respectively, while they're getting ready for the ceremony. And, when you're in that with them, you feel that same tension that they feel. You feel all the emotions; it's such an emotional time. And then when we come together and we see each other as the bride and groom see each other for the first time...
Eli: ...we usually give each other a little wave. I'm usually up at the altar and I wave to her and it brings me back to our wedding day. It's kind of a symbiotic thing: the emotion that we feel, it benefits our photography, but it benefits our relationship too.