On Stephen Norregaard’s photography website there is a close-up picture of a young couple just finishing their wedding vows while the groom’s best man (also his grandfather) hugs them tightly so that all of their heads seem joined together. They are all crying with happiness. It is just one of many moments the talented Grand Rapids photographer has displayed on his site. Picture after picture in his portfolio, he continues to capture deeply profound shots of his clients’ most important day in their lives. Norregaard understands the weight of that responsibility and wants to make sure he is not just taking posed shots of the day. Rather, he is on standby, waiting for those special instances that take place between family and friends. There is a trust in knowing that these moments will happen, and he typically finds them.
"I think a lot of it is just having a heart of openness,” Norregaard says. “Being open to what could happen instead of overly dictating what is happening. Trusting that it will be there, and you’ll be ready for it and you’ll see the magic in the moment happening … [You’re] anticipating when something might happen and doing your best to capture it the most beautiful way you can.”
Norregaard hadn’t really intended to pursue photography when he decided to major in communication at Calvin University. In fact, the Chicago-area native and now Grand Rapids resident had no idea what his future would hold. Growing up, he loved electronics and tinkering with machines. Like a lot of kids, he took photos recreationally with his parents’ point-and-shoot and video cameras. While at Calvin, he began taking photos for the university: events, concerts, and portraits. Then one day while he was getting his hair cut, he was making small talk with his stylist about a few of his hobbies, and he mentioned that he liked taking pictures. Ironically, she was going to get married soon but didn’t have a photographer. She wondered if he’d be interested. He sent her his Tumblr blog with his photos; she liked what she saw and he was hired to photograph his first wedding of his career. He was sort of amazed at how things took off from there.
“People saw those images and shared them, and then more people started reaching out,” said Norregaard. “Over the course of a few years, it kind of snowballed. After graduating I decided to go into weddings full time. I kind of dove right in. I said ‘I’m young. I’m going to make mistakes. I might not make a ton of money right away and see where it takes me.’”
It has taken him far in many ways, including to Egypt to photograph a couple’s symbolic ceremony.
A unique upbringing
Norregaard credits his philosophy and artistic vision to many things but mostly to his family upbringing. He grew up in a biracial family — his mother is Taiwanese and his father is Caucasian from New York City. Being biracial was difficult at times in his youth but as he got older, he began to see that he had actually been given a gift.
“For a long time I didn’t know what to identify with,” said Norregaard. “When I was at school, I was the Asian American kid and when I was at church, I was the Caucasian kid. I always felt a little outside of things as a child, but I think now looking back on it, oh my gosh, I can see all the ways it impacted me and things I learned and how amazing it is and how celebrated I feel in my background in a unique upbringing.”
He grew up speaking different languages and was a part of different cultures all the time and yet somehow it all came together. The same goes for the weddings he photographs.
“I work for different personalities, cultures, backgrounds, traditions, trying to honor their stories and their histories and their legacy through documentation of their wedding days,” Norregaard says.
It is this natural connection he has with people that allows Norregaard to stand out among other photographers. He genuinely enjoys sharing his vision with each couple when they are seeking a photographer. It is a competitive business, especially in this day and age when it is so easy to take photos with the high-level technology that most people possess right in their very own pocket.
“You can hire anyone to take great photos these days especially with the technology,” Norregaard says. “It’s the philosophy of how you capture, why you capture and what lends you and your eye to be suited and make a couple resonate with you.”
More than weddings
Norregaard not only makes a living photographing weddings, but he has recently begun earning work directing music videos. The recent release of “Bad Mother,” a music video he directed for West Michigan musician Kait Rose
, shows that he has the skills and vision for video too, even though it is a medium that transcends a simple still image. In fact, when we spoke last week, he was in Nashville shooting a music video for a former Michigan resident now Nashville-based musician Jordan Ellis Mobely. In the future, he is hoping to work as a director, cinematographer or director of photography as he really enjoys the sensory nature of the form.
“With video, you’re weaving audio, visuals, storytelling, pacing, plot, structure, music and all these different things that go into this beautiful concoction of things I think that can form deep connections in a piece of work. Think of the sensory nature of watching a video. Video has a way of putting you in a moment.”
Whether it is working with photographs or video, Norregaard thoroughly enjoys the process of it all. Both are powerful media that capture time, emotion and relationships.
“I think we often don’t know the significance when we take the image until years down the line,” Norregaard says. “There might be a photograph that I take of a grandparent on the dance floor at a wedding, and it’s just a fun moment, and then years later I’ll get a message from the couple thanking me for that image because their grandparent passed away, and that’s a fond memory that they can share. I think that is a cool thing. The passing of time and how lasting these images are even if we don’t realize what we have in the moment.”
Although he doesn’t know what his future holds, he is excited for it and hopes it will involve more video directing and cinematography. He loves connecting on a deeper level with people and navigating the different expectations and communication styles. In the end he wants to make something special for his clients and viewers, something they will always remember.
The last line of his website really says it all — “My name is Stephen and I am honored to be a caretaker of your memories. Through my lens, I get to give what it is that I too seek — Something to hold dear, to reflect on, and to aid in love and meaning. Your soul souvenirs.”
Find out more about Stephen Norregaard on his website
Bill Lee is a journalist and freelance writer who lives in Lowell, Michigan. He enjoys sharing his fiction, family humor columns and stories about real people. You can contact him at [email protected] or find more of his writing at https://medium.com/@bisbeelee