Behind the lens: An interview with a Catholic wedding photographer

The dress, the venue, the band, the food — and the right photographer. These are just a few of the thousands of little details that go into planning a wedding day. For Annie Williams of Annie Theby Photography, photographing weddings isn’t just a job but a spiritual experience where she feels she gets to be an integral part of some of the most important moments of a wedding celebration.

Born outside of St. Louis, Missouri, Annie had a reversion back to the Faith during her time as a student at Loyola University in Chicago. She went on to serve with Lifeteen as a missionary and then to serve her community and diocese in Pensacola, Florida, in many varying roles of mentorship and discipleship. She assisted Michelle Benzinger of the Abiding Together podcast with projects such as Meaningful Market, the Greenhouse Collective and the podcast itself. This eventually led to her starting her own freelance photography and graphic design business.

Annie is a newlywed herself; she and her husband were married this past summer. The couple now lives in Chicago with their two cats. Besides photographing couples and weddings, she loves shooting lifestyle photography and documentary storytelling, playing outside in her bare feet, eating nachos and watching “The Challenge.”

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Through her experiences of shooting weddings, Annie has a unique perspective on the big day many dream about. She spoke with Radiant about what she sees from behind the camera, the many things she’s learned in the weddings she’s been a part of, and how these experiences shaped her own discernment for entering into this beautiful sacrament.

Radiant: Annie, thanks for speaking with us. First question. What got you into the business of wedding photography, specifically Catholic weddings?

Annie WilliamsAnnie: Up until about two years ago, I had only ever photographed families, some couples, engagements and lifestyle/product photography. I had been an assistant photographer for some Catholic weddings but never the primary shooter. It wasn’t until a friend of mine reached out to me about shooting her wedding that I decided to take the plunge and give it a go. After that, I was hooked. I’ve done a number of non-church weddings, and those are beautiful too, but there’s something about photographing Catholic Masses that just feels very second nature.

Radiant: What is it like for you to see a Catholic wedding from behind the lens?

Annie: I see God the Father look at his son and daughter and say, “This is very good,” and bless them. I see Jesus show up on the altar as an example for the new man and wife of how to lay down their life. I see the Spirit overwhelm the hearts of his friends with peace and joy that stretches beyond understanding. I get to see God’s grace make its debut when all the anxiety of waiting and planning is swallowed up by so much joy! Everytime I shoot a wedding, I see a tangible shift from the morning jitters and restlessness when the bride and groom are apart to when they’re at the Mass finally together. They are so relaxed and literally nothing else matters to them.

Radiant: What have you learned from your experiences of shooting weddings about the Sacrament of Marriage itself?

Annie: I’ve learned that at the end of the day — whether you have a huge wedding with 500 guests, or a simple small wedding with 10 family members and a backyard reception — the sacrament is the same because its foundation is Jesus. Whether the food was incredible or so-so, whether there was enough booze or you ran out (that actually happened at mine), whether you had all the boho-vibes or all the classic modern decor, whether you had a 10-piece band or your friend as the DJ — none of these things actually impact your sacrament or make you and your spouse holier, because they don’t last.

Courtesy photos

Radiant: What was it like to be a single woman shooting these beautiful weddings? How did that experience shape and form your own vocational discernment?

Annie: It was beautiful and difficult at the same time. I definitely felt the ache — wondering if that was what the Lord had in store for me, and if so, when? I’m not gonna lie or act pious about it, because I think every woman has experienced this at one time or another. Our ache can sometimes feel ugly, and we wonder “When’s it my turn?”

For a while, I was in a relationship that wasn’t the right fit, but I think being around weddings made me really want it to be the right fit. It was good enough, but the ache got so real that I almost auto-piloted into my own vocation. What I realized through that process (and wise mentors and friends) is that my vocation is one of, if not the, greatest yeses I’ll ever give. And it’s not just saying yes to a day but to a person.

So at the end of shooting a wedding, I pack up my things and go home, and I wake up the next morning to another day of normal life. And that’s how every wedding goes, even when you’re the bride and groom. The next day, when all the hype is over, who do you want to do everyday life with?

All in all, I think I tried to use these times to practice being grateful for getting to be a part of somebody else’s sacrament, because there’s so much grace that’s happening that we aren’t even aware of, and I believe the Lord was working on me even when I didn’t know it.

Radiant: What have been some of your most memorable moments in the weddings you have shot?

WeddingAnnie: When the bridesmaids and groomsmen pray over the bride and groom. I love it so much. It’s so powerful and I usually have to laser beam focus to remember I’m photographing the event, otherwise I can get caught up in the moment! Also capturing the moment after the bride and groom both receive Communion as new husband and wife — it’s so crazy holy. Again, tears are held back so as not to lose focus.

Radiant: How did your experience as a wedding photographer prepare you for your own wedding?

Annie: I think I had a better idea of what mattered, I knew how to communicate with my photographer about what I wanted, and I knew what was most important to me, which was that she jived with both JP and I. Whenever I talk to potential brides, I’m flattered they like my photos and style, but honestly there’s so many talented photographers out there. What really makes or breaks it is if you guys can have fun together because this is going to show up in your photos.

Radiant: What advice would you give to women who are preparing for a wedding, whether single and discerning marriage or engaged and planning a wedding of their own?

Annie: It’s an adventure!

WeddingIf you’re single [or] dating someone [and] discerning marriage with them, I’d say surround yourself with community, or with a few mentors or spiritually mature friends who you can be completely transparent and vulnerable with in life and in prayer. Not just a spiritual director, but someone who knows you both, who’s in your life, and who you’re willing to let speak into your life. I’ve been down the road of complicating my own vocational discernment in a relationship, and what helped me through it was my community that knew me, was patient with me, who prayed for me, and spoke some hard but necessary truths to me.

If you’re engaged and planning your wedding, here’s the truth — stop comparing your wedding to everyone else’s wedding day and let go of your idea of perfection. Use Pinterest and Instagram insofar as they’re helpful. Many images you see online are actually styled shoots where many professionals had a lot of time to put them together for their portfolios to make them perfect. We’ve all heard, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If comparison is happening, it’s okay, because it’s going to, but then just choose to put down your phone, put the wedding planning on pause, and pick up your life. Don’t let it steal your peace.

The other reason to uproot comparison is that what is about to happen has never been done before! God is doing a new thing through you and your fiancé! Let this reality soak in. It’s not meant to look like anyone else’s, and this should set you free.

Lastly, what fruits do you want to be known for during your engagement and in your marriage? You can’t sow seeds of comparison, anxiety and bitterness and grow fruits of peace, joy, patience, kindness, etc. What you’re growing now is what you’ll harvest later to feed yourself and your future spouse.

Radiant: Last thing, Annie. If someone wanted to contact you about booking or check out your work, how could they do that?

Annie: The best thing to do is shoot me an email at! I have an Instagram as well, @annietheby. You can also check out my website.

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