When most brides talk about "braving" the weather on their big day, they usually are referring to wind, rain, and possibly a bit of snow. But, when you're in Hawaii, it's a totally different ballgame. Case in point: One incredibly brave Hawaiian couple, Lauren and Alex Michaels, and wedding photographer Jenna Lee braved insanely hot temperatures and actually stood next to a volcano spewing molten hot lava for their bridal portraits.
A month after her June wedding, Hawaiian wedding planner Lauren Michaels and her husband, Alex Michaels, told Jenna of Jenna Lee Pictures that they wanted to do something "different" to capture a few more shots of themselves as bride and groom. So after their nuptials at a private residence in Kauai, they planned an adventurous bridal portrait session (think: trash the dress on the ultimate level) with wedding photographer Jenna Lee on Kalapana on the Big Island. But an adventure photographer at heart, Lee had bigger plans for the Hawaiian natives: a bridal portrait session on top of an actively flowing volcano, complete with hot lava flowing in the shot. "I am obsessed with adventure wedding photography—taking couples on incredible adventures and capturing wedding photos of a lifetime. I'm pretty much down for anything," Lee explained.
Excited about the idea, Lauren and Alex agreed to shoot with Lee on July 23, but unfortunately, they had to reschedule the shoot due to a major tropical storm (which closed the side of the island with the active volcano). Instead, the couple ended up hiking 5.5 miles into a secluded black sand beach with wild horses, which was an amazing shoot in itself.
Still, Lee wanted to make the lava wedding portraits happen while the lava was flowing and active, which is a very unpredictable and sporadic occurrence.
Finally, on August 11, the day came. The trio hiked out at 3:30 in the morning—several miles through a lava field (complete with headlamps to navigate the pitch-black darkness at that hour of the morning!). As if it were fate, there was also a meteor shower that night, adding to the intense skies and setting.
Once they reached the flowing lava, the couple posed for what now appears to be bridal portraits that have never been done before in the history of wedding photography—but not without a bit of danger mixed in. Says Lee, "As you walk across the ground, you can see the magma glowing from cracks beneath your feet — with each crunch you feel like you could fall through the solid ground and get swallowed by the lava at a moment's notice. But luckily we survived to talk about it!" And if most pictures speak a thousand words, these wedding portraits speak about a million.
Says Lee, "It becomes unbearably hot if you're downwind and too close," (just a casual 1600 degrees Fahrenheit). We had to move away from the lava river after a few frames because the heat became too intense. But they were actually barefoot!" she shared in astonishment. "I really wanted them to connect with the earth, be grounded for the shoot, and when we felt the earth's surface, it was cool to the touch—absolutely bizarre as there's molten lava just below the surface." Turns out, however, that it was easier to gauge with their feet the stability of the ground and how close to the surface the lava was. A win-win in the photography world.
While many would say these photos are one-of-a-kind, Lee shares that they were more than just the ultimate photo op. "Lauren and Alex's love blossomed in Hawaii so this was a very special way to capture that." The couple actually began talking during their first meeting because they both knew sign language; Lauren is hard of hearing and wears a hearing aid, and Alex is the child of a deaf adult. "During the shoot, they could actually communicate with each other from across the beach by signing, which was really beautiful," she shared.
As far as her dress, the bride was totally down with getting a little lava soot "And being the adventurous beauty that she is, she [the bride] wasn't worried [about her wedding dress] at all! We had already taken the dress on a 6-mile hike in a tropical storm to a secluded black sand beach and her AMAZING dress held up wrinkle-free!" They packed it in a backpack. ... And when she put it on for this shoot, it still looked absolutely perfect!
The bride held a protea bouquet with ferns and tropical accents created by Grace Flowers Hawaii, and on her head, she wore a flower crown of the same aesthetic. Says Lee, "Pele the Hawaiian goddess of fire, was honored with gifts at the end of our shoot, and she consumed all flowers, the lava consuming her haku [flower head piece]."
While Pele definitely received some great gifts, it seems that the true gift was seeing this bride and groom's love for one another amidst the most stunning and jaw-dropping background ever.