Philbrick Photography's Literal Cliff-Hanging Wedding Photos

Philbrick Photography's Literal Cliff-Hanging Wedding Photos

Forget "shotgun wedding," Jay Philbrick brings us literal cliff-hanging wedding photos that take more than a little preparation. Jay knew about the Cathedral Ledge at Echo Lake State Park in North Conway, New Hampshire because of his many years as a climbing guide there. Jay says that only two of their couples have been climbers, and this couple was not one of them.

To catch this particular sunrise shot, they started at 2:30 a.m. “It's a real leap of faith going over that overhanging edge in the pre-dawn darkness!” said Jay of his couples. It took a bit of convincing to get the bride to arch back over the void, but she pulled it off beautifully.

Jay's wife, Vicki Philbrick, usually catches these behind-the-scenes shots from the top of another part of the cliff. The images above are from a recent shoot this past July 19, 2017, but Philbrick Photography has been at this for a while.

Safety and Logistics

I showed this recent session to a few photographer friends of mine who immediately wanted to know how any photographer's insurance plan could cover such an adventure. Jay said that his insurance coverage is "no better than anyone else's" and would never cover a scenario where something went wrong here. For these sessions, Jay says the couples hire a mountain guide whose liability release and insurance are covering them.

They start this cliff side process by lowering the couple down without the bride's dress on and then anchoring them in, no climbing by the couple required. The gown is then brought down in a huge pack and the bride puts it on while on the ledge. Once the couple is anchored in at 400 feet above the valley, the dress is adorned and shooting begins. The way back up is simply an exact reverse of the process where they are securely anchored or belayed with backups during all transitions. As you could imagine, there are lots of safety precautions and back-ups each step of the way. Everyone is always anchored to the rock, or, while they are getting them into place, tied into multiple ropes.

Tech Specs

To capture these moments, Jay's usual suspended setup consists of a Nikon D3S24-70mm lens, and some off-camera lighting from an SB-800. Since they are 400 feet above the valley floor, they enlist some lighting assistance from their guide as well. For this shot for example (above and below), the guide is hanging in the middle and holding the strobe on a monopod.

If you'd like to see more cliff-side work by Philbrick Photography, check out this gallery on their website.

All images used with permission of Philbrick Photography.

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Andrew Ashley's picture

Oh yea, well I photographed a couple being eaten by a great white shark. The contrast between the black suit, white dress and grey'ish white'ish flesh of the man eater made for some really stunning shots... until the first bite, and then we go greyscale baby!

Great shots... it's all fun and games until the bride loses her groom on the descent (or vice versa, or worse yet, the photographer). What is with all of these extreme wedding shots? I mean great for our industry, but... oh whatever, if they are willing to pay for it, go for it!

Paul Seiler's picture

I literally just laughed out loud at this. I feel ya! I love the grandiose shots we're able to accomplish these days. Forces me to think differently and push myself. Albeit, not off a cliff ;)

Mark Davidson's picture

"The gown is then brought down in a huge pack and the bride puts it on while on the ledge."
She is the freakin' hero of this story!

Paul Seiler's picture

You got that right!

Motti Bembaron's picture

Call me a party pooper but no heroes here, just some...well, I won't say it. Last year in Montreal a bride drawn after falling into a raging river while the photographer was attempting to take "trash the gown" photos of the couple of a ledge.

Apparently she was a good swimmer but the weight of wet dress and the fast moving waters did her in.

Those are accidents waiting to happen. Just to have bragging rights...

Paul Seiler's picture

I think we can all agree that there is on obvious risk with these types of photos, which is largely a reason I made it a point to clarify the safety precautions Jay takes in conjunction with his own experience as a guide on this mountain. When it comes down to it, while I can agree that there are some photographers out there looking for 'bragging rights', I'd like to believe that most are just trying to push the limits in finding their own flavor of creativity in a saturated market. I think Jay has a firm grasp on what he's doing here.

The Trash the Dress session you mentioned, I would ask what security precautions were in place. In all events such as these you MUST hold safety in high regard with fault tolerant backups in place. There is an argument to be made with some 'shoulda/coulda/woulda' language about what could have been done in that session you mentioned, but in the end we as artists should all be taking responsibility to ensure the safety of our clients no matter what dangerous situation they may agree to. Example here being: Jay doesn't rely on his years of experience alone, but rather he requires his couples hire a guide who is regularly practicing and who is less likely to forget any steps, and also who has the appropriate insurance coverage to address any accidents.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I believe that it is our own, not too clear perception that creates the feel of a "saturated market". We are being assaulted by dozens of videos practically dare us to push the envelope and find our own niche.

We often forget that for a couple who gets married, it is the first time. Do a good job, make them feel good, deliver photos in a timely manner and they will be ecstatic. Well, most will anyway.

On the other hand, we all wished we met a couple who has some crazy ideas for their wedding day AND are willing to pay for it. We can't stop imagining the thousands of likes we will get on when we release the photos. Not to mention the phone ringing off the hook people asking us to be their wedding photographer.

Now, I do not put it down as a stupid stunt or anything, not at all. He obviously knows what he is doing and no kidding he needed an expert coming with him, he needed to take care of his own gear, someone else had to take care of the couple's gear.

However, in my opinion, it is a bit foolish to go that far for a wedding photo. Even with all the security precautions. My opinion...

Personally and I believe many would feel the same, the photos that inspire me most are not those with lengthy planning and 'Cliffhanger' feel (would that be a pun?).

In any case, he did a great job and kudos to the couple for doing it.

Paul Seiler's picture

This is a wonderful clarification. I can appreciate the difference in opinion here and most definitely agree to some of these extents. For instance I completely agree on the topic of our own narrowly perceived "saturated market". Sure, there are plenty of kids out there with cameras and maybe even an overload with expensive gear, but it doesn't take long to separate those who have had good fortune in their opportunities from those who are working hand over fist to hone their craft and create progressive art.

phu hau's picture

Hey Paul, I saw this picture years ago and was always very drawn to it for its beauty and the amount of work that took place to capture such a stunning photo. I recently came across a quote of Nick Vujicic: "The place between your comfort zone and your dream is where life takes place." I thought this quote fits the picture perfectly. I operate a large AirBnB with large wedding groups coming through regularly to attend the function. I would like to print out this picture with the quote and hang it up in the place. I can put a credit in the picture also to properly acknowledge your work. What is the proper action to take?