Photographer Deanna Sammons turns on her car radio, listening anxiously for the weather forecast. She’s driving to Diamond, Missouri, to photograph an outdoor wedding. Storms have been passing though the area, and now she hears the newscaster talking about a tornado warning. She looks up at the threatening skies and says a prayer.
Thinking back five months, she remembers the sunnier day when she meets Ashley Moore, the happy bride-to-be. Ashley has known her fiancé Bryan since third grade and dated him in seventh and eighth grades. They attended each other’s first weddings and found each other again after their divorces. At 27, she’s ready to start anew.
Deanna is delighted when she hears about Ashley’s plans to get married on her dad’s Christmas tree farm. “There’s a certain wedding you’re always looking forward to,” she says. As they share ideas, the girls instantly connect. “She was so excited for me,” says Ashley, “We just talked like we’d been friends for a long time.” On the spot, she puts down her deposit for the October 2012 date.
Between May and October, however, a hot, dry summer ensues. Ignoring a burn ban, a neighbor burns trash on his property. The fire rages out of control and engulfs Ashley’s dad’s farm. It torches all the trees except for one. Too late and too expensive to make another plan, Ashley decides to have the wedding on the farm anyway.
When Deanna arrives, she sees that they’ve thrown down new sod and thrown up a white tent. She focuses on the one surviving tree and other emotional details. In the end, the winds die down and the photos turn out beautifully. She admires Ashley and Bryan’s determination to have a happy event, no matter what the circumstances. “See what perseverance can do,” she thinks.
Experiences like these come immediately to mind when Deanna talks about her photography. When she started her business in 2006, she wanted to lead a more purposeful life. Originally from Henry, Illinois, she got married at a young age and moved around the Midwest as her husband pursued a career in sales. She took various jobs in administration and marketing while raising their daughter, Megan. This seemed to be the American dream, as they enjoyed a beautiful house, a second lakefront home in Springfield, Missouri, a boat and all the perks of a comfortable life. Then things started going awry. Both of her parents died within five years of each other, her marriage ended, and her daughter moved to Florida with her ex-husband. At 42, she needed to start over.
Photography always interested her. When she quit her real estate marketing job to focus solely on this craft, she thought she might have a modest career. It has become a gift, a way for her to rebuild a life and make a meaningful difference for people during their most important moments. Like Ashley, other clients often talk about Deanna’s personal concern for their happiness. She shares her heart with them.
When she meets Sarah McAlister and her fiancé Chad, she discovers that they have all lost parents. Sarah and Chad know each other from high school. He remembers that she wrote him a very thoughtful note when his parents passed away within three months of each other. When he hears that Sarah's father died shockingly – killed instantly when a car rear-ended his motorcycle -- he reaches out to comfort her. Sarah hasn’t seen him in 12 years when he arrives unexpectedly at the funeral. “I could tell by the way he hugged me that he understood my feelings better than anyone else,” Sarah says. Both divorced, they begin dating a month later.
Emotions run high at their May wedding. Deanna captures the extraordinary moment when Sarah enters the church. Without her father there to do it, Sarah’s six-year-old son walks her up the aisle. Everyone weeps at the sight of the handsome little boy fulfilling this traditional role. By the time the wedding singer performs “I Love the Way You Love Me,” Deanna is shooting pictures through her tears. As she witnesses a happy new family coming together, she thinks, “Look what love can do.”
Like many clients, Chad found Deanna on the internet. But as her reputation grows, Deanna receives more and more referrals. Ashley heard about Deanna through a friend of a colleague. In June, Deanna is shooting a wedding planned by a friend she met through a women’s gathering at her church.
Deidra Waggoner happens to sit down at Deanna’s table at that event last year. Immediately, Deanna notices Deidra’s many stacked bangles. As Deidra introduces Deanna to the world of Brighton accessories, they also bond over their similar life experiences. Deidra, too, has been divorced and lost loved ones. Just as Deanna is in a new relationship, Deidra recently remarried. When her step-daughter, Rita, gets engaged, Deidra recommends Deanna to shoot the engagement pictures and June wedding.
That event falls in the middle of a busy wedding season for Deanna. She marvels at how full her life and schedule have become. As her journey continues on a fulfilling path, she feels blessed. Look what can happen by focusing on what’s important and shooting for happiness. “Look what life can do.”