Tying the knot is a major emotional high — but a series of unique cliffside wedding portraits by one New Hampshire husband-and-wife duo take it to a whole new level.
Jay and Vicki Philbrick have been in the photography business for over 15 years, and have been snapping newlyweds at great heights since 2008. And though the sky-high portrait sessions last just an hour or less, the memories will surely be cherished for a lifetime.
The North Conway pair, who have been married for 35 years, rise before dawn to capture the one-of-a-kind images. To that end, Jay, a professional climbing guide, told Fox News Lifestyle just what the “magical” experience is really like.
“A trend that we have seen in the 10 years … is that it is always the bride’s idea, and if anyone is more uncomfortable it is always the groom!” he joked.
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FOX NEWS: When did you begin photographing couples cliffside?
JP: My wife Vicki and I began our photography business about 15 years ago. It’s our full-time business and it’s all that we do. We did our first cliffside session in 2008. Before going full-time into photography, I was a professional climbing guide. That ledge that we use so often is a ledge known to me from my climbing and guiding days.
Ever since we began our photography business I had always wanted to put a couple on that ledge for some photos. I thought that the juxtaposition of a couple against the stark granite cliffs would make for an interesting and unique image. We managed to find our first couple when one of our wedding couples happened to mention that they were rock climbers. I asked them if they would be up for doing the shot and they agreed — that started it all.
What is it like to work side by side – and cliffside – with Vicki?
JP: Vicki shoots all the images from a couple angles as well as the behind-the-scenes shots, while I get images from the top and hanging down the cliff alongside the couple. It works out really well because after having worked together for so long we pretty much know what the other one will be doing and should be doing. This really makes the job, especially at weddings, easier.
We start well before sunrise for one of the cliffside sessions. Our goal is to have the couple in place on the ledge, dressed and ready to go a half hour before the sun comes up. This gives us about a half-hour before and after the actual sunrise to capture photos. It gives us two distinctly different kinds of light and looks to capture.
What’s a typical cliffside photo shoot like?
JP: This time of year we would typically start at around 3:30 in the morning. The mountain guide we usually use, Marc Chauvin of Chauvin Guides International, and I are out at the cliff setting up anchors and putting the ropes in the positions we need them to be in.
Ropes are in place for the photos and for the lowering and raising of the couples. The couple and my wife show up a half-hour to an hour later to prepare for the session. We lower both the bride and the groom down to the ledge from the top of the cliff. This is always in the dark and is probably the most exciting moment for the couple! The groom is usually dressed but the bride usually dresses on the ledge.
The couples are always either tied into a rope or anchored to the cliff. They are never just standing there.
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All the ropes, harnesses and anchors are hidden from view by wardrobe and camera angle. There is no Photoshop. What is seen in the photos is exactly what I see through the viewfinder in my camera. Once we are done with the photos, which is usually a half-hour to an hour or so after sunrise, we haul the couple back up to the top from the ledge and we are done.
Throughout the session, I’m going up and down the cliff in various positions, hanging off of ropes to get different shots. Marc sometimes rappels down to provide supplemental lighting if the couple is backlit by the rising sun. Vicki is usually off to the side in one of two places getting some different looks from over there. We use a variety of cameras and focal lengths to get all kinds of different looks for the couple.
Each session is a new and exciting adventure and no two are ever the same. The biggest variable is the weather. The best sessions are when we have a great sunrise coupled with valley fog down below the couple. Some of the images we can get on these days approach magical!
Anything else you would like to share?
JP: We are often asked about two things. The first is why we even do these cliffside sessions, since, to the average person, they seem to be so unsafe. They are not unsafe, not the way we do them. We’re not crazy or reckless, and I don’t have a death wish! I used to be a climbing guide and Marc is a world-class mountain guide. The techniques we use are as advanced and as safe as they can be. Everything is thoroughly thought out.
Statistically, couples are more at risk driving to and from the session than they are on the side of the cliff during one of our sessions. Really.
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We are also often asked why we don’t just Photoshop the couples onto the cliff — It would be so much easier. Well, that wouldn’t be any fun, and anyone could do that! And how much meaning would such a Photoshopped image have to a couple? Not much, I think. These images would not have gone viral if they were fake.
We do these sessions because we are trying to give our clients not only unique and fabulous images, but also an experience that is just as exciting and impressive. It’s a guarantee that the sunrise each couple witnesses from that ledge is something they will never forget for as long as they live!