Ostrich-style …



At some point in your life, odds are you’re going to have to take engagement photos. You and your partner are going to have to throw on matching outfits, head down to the park or beach, and let a stranger photograph you holding hands or with your partners’ arms around your waist.

It’s probably going to be highly awkward–unless you’re the type of person who’s comfortable in front of a camera, in which case you might have a total blast. I know I’m not painting a pretty picture of the experience, but nine out of ten times I find myself looking at these pictures and wondering what happened to the funny, creative people I know. The people with opinions and ideas and, well, personalities.

What is it about weddings and engagement photos that strips people of the things that make them who they are? Okay, I’ll acknowledge that may be something of a strong statement. I know there are crazy cool couples and engagement photos out there. I’ve met some of them, and I’ve read about others on Offbeat Bride, which I’ve been stalking in my efforts to help two of my friends plan their wedding.

In fact, I watched and helped facilitate one crazy cool couple’s engagement photos at Ostrichland USA in Solvang, California this past weekend. Maeva Considine and Aileen Manley–whose ceremony I will be performing in September–expressed interest in shooting their engagement photos at Ostrichland, which is apparently Aileen’s favorite plane on earth. Since Colin was going to be shooting the photos, I figured I would secure the location and help work out wardrobe.

I called Ostrichland and while they initially seemed befuddled by the request, leading me to conclude that no one had ever bothered shooting engagement photos there before, the manager, Nicole, ultimately concluded that it would be fine. For a very reasonable fee, we would receive a bucket of food to lure the ostriches over as well as full access to the facilities which included the opportunity to go into the emu pen and feed them strawberries as well as marvel at the cute, fluffy butts of baby ostriches in their pen. I tried to downplay all the stuff we might get to do when talking with Maeva and Aileen because Aileen was already as excited as a little kid on Christmas and I didn’t want to run the risk that she might be disappointed during her engagement photo session.

The week before the shoot, I went through my costume collection and loaned them anything they thought they might like to wear.

Then, the day of the shoot, we piled into Maeva’s car with bags of costumes, tons of photography equipment–Colin rented a really fancy lens from Lumoid–and I think he had purchased about 30 sets of batteries in case any piece of equipment gave out during the shoot. He’s never shot engagement photos or a wedding before, so he’s taking this new responsibility very seriously and has been watching Photoshop videos pretty much every night and brushing up on his portraiture, as well as researching every possible piece of equipment he might find useful.

We arrived around 5 p.m. hoping to take advantage of that glorious gold sunset haze, and wanting to make sure that we had enough time to shoot at multiple locations around the venue. Nicole met us at the front desk, gave us an orange bucket of feed and two feeding trays, and told us to let her know when we needed something.

We started with the more traditional Ostrichland activity–feeding the adult ostriches. I learned that it’s necessary to hold the Afterfeeding trays with both hands because they tend to get very aggressive when pecking at the food, and you don’t want to spill your tray. Of course, they were fairly curious about the people with the bags and tripods and fluffy skirts, and even expressed their curiosity by attempting to take off with Colin’s camera bag at one point when our backs were turned. At first I was disappointed to learn we couldn’t climb into the enclosure with the ostriches, but after actually meeting them, I realized this was definitely for the best. As much as I would love an action shot of the two brides in gorgeous attire running from a pack of ostriches, I didn’t particularly fancy a trip to the emergency room. And I don’t think the costumes would ever be the same either.

The first shots were a little bit stiff as Colin and I adjusted to directing an engagement shoot and Maeva and Aileen adjusted to having a giant camera pointed at them documenting the fact that they were in love. (At least, Maeva was trying to adjust; Aileen was so happy to be at Ostrichland, I don’t think anything else registered or mattered.)

But once we moved on to the baby ostriches–only two weeks old and adorable!–everything changed. Nicole handed Aileen a _MG_2445_1baby ostrich and Aileen’s face lit up. It was Christmas and Disneyland and her wedding day all wrapped into one. We settled into the enclosure, sitting down to give ourselves better access to the babies, and trying to ignore our guilt when families walked by and little kids asked why they couldn’t hold the babies as well. Colin photographed Aileen and Maeva holding and interacting with the babies, which felt bristly on their backs but soft on their necks. They ran around in a little pack and we had to station the food bowl in front of ourselves to get the good shots. But it was incredible. Everyone was grinning. No one was awkward, even when we realized the pen was full of baby ostrich crap (which should have been obvious from the very beginning, given that they’re animals).

I was worried that nothing would compare to the experience of playing with the babies, but Nicole showed up outside the emu _MG_2719_1 _MG_2731_1enclosure with a flat of strawberries, which they apparently go bonkers over. We walked through the gate and were instantly swarmed with friendly, curious emus trying to gobble down a bright red strawberry. Nicole and another employee directed the emus toward Aileen and Maeva and we shot as they petted the emus and spun one another, holding hands and doing all the cliche stuff that couples do in engaged photos but with emus.

By the time we were finished in the emu enclosure, we had definitely lost the best of the light, so we went out front and took the last of our ostrich-feeding photos and then headed out to the sign by the side of the road for some silly jumping up and down, holding each other shots. It’s funny because the latter shots were not the best of the day–the light was wrong and they just weren’t as dramatic–but they’re some of my favorites in terms of how accurately they capture the goofiness and fondness Maeva and Aileen feel for one another.

Colin put all the photos together in a quick video which captures the mood and hilarity of the entire shoot, and though he’s still working on spit-polishing the rough images in Photoshop, I got permission from the couple to share a little of what we accomplished on Saturday. (And if you’re the type of person who gags at the idea of weddings and romance, you might want to avoid this blog for the next couple of months because I’ll probably be posting about their crazy-cool wedding as well as my friend Kristi’s crazy-cool wedding the following month in Indiana. That’s right, I’m beset by romance, and in fact helping to facilitate it, after which I will go back to being a curmudgeon who rants about couples who dress alike). Also, if you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Ostrichland, both because the experience of watching ostriches gulp down food fills you with respect and fear for nature and because they were insanely accommodating of our efforts, which Aileen now refers to as her best day ever.

Ashley_Ostrich_2 After1

Everyone’s happy holding baby ostriches …


Maeva mean-mugging a young emu …


There’s never enough food to satisfy an ostrich …


Maeva finds it difficult convincing Aileen to leave Ostrichland, even after several hours.



  1. Oh my god, I WANT A BABY OSTRICH!!! Congratulations to your friends! They look beautiful and happy and hilarious!


  1. […] married Maeva and Aileen last fall, and Colin shot the photos, after we shot engagement pictures at Ostrichland, of course. So you could say there’s a history there. And that REALLY means something, […]

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