Rachel and Branon
How We Met
BRANON’S ACCOUNT: Rachel was definitely the most gorgeous girl on campus.
As a headstrong freshman, I swore to all my friends I would ask her out by the end of the year, for which they hyped me up with encouragement (as true “bros” would do). Of course, at this point she had almost no clue I existed, and had much less of a clue that I was remotely interested. I finally made my impression on the dance-floor at a school-sponsored event, after I jumped into a big dance circle, popped-and-locked it, and ended by locking eyes with her in the crowd and… wait for it – shooting her finger guns and a wink. I wish I could tell you all about my smooth first encounter, but yes – this is the first impression I chose to leave on the woman of my dreams.
We met officially through a mutual friend not too long after that “incident” (what else would you call it?), but because my friend was interested in her I chose to pursue a friendship with her out of respect, in adherence to “bro-code”. Rachel and I remained friends for several years, and enjoyed occasional beach days, bonfires, and good times.
Rachel had been a dancer her entire life, and she naturally found her way into being the president of the college’s Hip Hop dance crew, N’step. After witnessing my embarrassing dance moves (that she swore were legitimately impressive), she had worked hard to convince me to join the crew each year, for which I always declined with some excuse, ashamed of my moves.
Eventually I couldn’t resist her charm, and I decided to try out. After making the team and spending a ton of time with her at practices, it took about a week or two for those dreaded feelings to pop back up – I was crushing super hard.
At a beach bonfire that weekend she lost a bet to run into the freezing water in the dark, and I told her I’d join her so she would at least have some company. After we had made our way well into the bone-chilling Pacific under the bright stars and glow of the distant bonfire, I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: let me take you ocean kayaking sometime, and we’ll get acai bowls after!
She said yes, the date was awesome, and every minute since that day has been increasingly more awesome. I never would have thought the girl I winked and shot finger guns at after busting horrific dance moves would become the best thing that’s ever happened to me (much less date me for even 5 minutes), but life is a mystery.
I love her with every bit of me – she is my best friend and my life-partner, and I have a feeling she always will be.
RACHEL’S ACCOUNT: Bran first caught my attention at a Westmont dance. I was busy dancing in my own world when I noticed a crowd gathering around someone. Sure enough, a freshman I had seen around campus was free-styling some VERY impressive break-dancing moves. As I edged into the crowd, Bran suddenly turned around, struck a pose, and winked….at me? I looked around to see who was winking back but everyone else seemed completely oblivious to what had just occurred. “Did this freshman just try to hit on me?” I was shocked by his confidence but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little impressed too. That first encounter was true to Bran’s style as I would come to learn, he does everything with charm and bravado.
Bran and I became good friends in the following years, and surprisingly, we both never mentioned the dance floor “incident”. We hung out sporadically in the midst of our crazy college schedules, but no matter how short the encounter, Bran never failed to make me laugh. Even when I was studying abroad in Ireland, he found a way to comment on my pictures with witty, hilarious things that made me crack up 5000 miles away. He was the most outgoing person I had ever met, and me being a bit more quiet natured, I was surprised how easily our friendship developed.
My senior year, I began recruiting dancers for Westmont’s Hip Hop team. I had failed to convince Branon to join the team the previous year so I used as much charm and smiles as I could and…it worked! I maybe should have taken that as a hint but if I’m being completely honest, I was totally unaware of any crush he had at this point (I know! I know! SO OBLIVIOUS).
We started spending a lot more time together and that’s when I began to notice some crazy chemistry between us. At one point, Bran grabbed my hand to “look at my nail polish” but then he wouldn’t really let go of it… and I didn’t want him to. Multiply that by 100 more confusing and wonderful moments between the two of us and I was a goner. I really couldn’t help it…Bran was the kindest, most unique man I had ever met and he was making me fall in love with him before I even knew what hit me.
Fast forward a month, and he officially asked me out while we were standing in the ocean under the stars, on the pretense of a dare that I think was adorably thought out haha. That was just the beginning of us and it all started because an overly confident freshman had the audacity to wink at me 5 years ago. Bran is my best friend and my fiercest supporter. I have felt loved an impossible amount every day since he first said, “I love you” and no matter what lies ahead for us, that will be all I’ll ever need.
How He Asked
As a couple of hobbyist and professional photographers, it’s not uncommon for us to plan fun little shoots when we get time between our full-time jobs, school, photography projects, work, and other adulty obligations. On July 7th, 2018, we planned to dress Rachel up and do a beautiful shoot at Hammonds Beach in Montecito, CA – a shoot that would inevitably take the top spot on our list of favorites.
After I picked out Rachel’s outfit, we gathered our gear and headed down to the spot. As a product photographer, I have almost always had products in need of shooting, so I hid the ring in an empty Original Grain watch box to prevent suspicion.
The trek to the beach is never more beautiful than this time of year – where the flowers in the lengthy walkways between multimillion dollar homes bloom brilliantly. Rachel looked as stunning as ever and managed to make the inherently-gorgeous scene even MORE gorgeous, so I made so sure to snap as many shots as possible (also further playing this afternoon off as any other normal shoot).
I grew more and more nervous with each step toward our destination, although overall I felt far more collected than I’d have imagined I would. Full disclosure – I had a vague plan but left many of the details to improvisation. It worked out just fine for me as you’ll see soon, but I recommend not doing this gentlemen (LOL)!
We made our way to the bridge that connects the flowery tunnel to the actual beach access, and Rachel continued to work the limelight. As she struck her poses she lit up the scene and my Fuji XT20 shutter sang. We were super lucky to have very few bi-standers, given that this was the Saturday after July 4th. Since our family members were traveling from far and wide (in secrecy) to celebrate with us, I pushed for an earlier time of day. Photographers know why this makes you nervous – pre-golden hour isn’t always quite as beautiful as golden hour, especially in beach settings!
As you can see, it somehow turned out perfectly! The lighting was divine and Rachel’s outfit complemented the earthy tones of the scene perfectly. Aside from the excitement of this objectively beautiful shoot, I began to realize that next time we cross this bridge Rachel could be my fiancé! Cue internal freakout!
We finally made it to the beach, and although the thought hadn’t crossed Rachel’s mind, I chose this location very intentionally. I asked Rachel out on our first date about three years ago at a bonfire here at Hammonds. I was so lucky she said yes on that night – will I really get that lucky twice? We’ll see..
As we walked out to the beach we talked about random things. Per usual, Rachel gawked over the dogs running around the beach sloshing through the water to catch sticks, begging me to buy her a golden retriever. I tried to maintain our banter, but I was a bit more internally focused on spotting the exact spot I wanted to ask her to be mine. Coincidentally, in just about the exact spot where I asked her out three years ago, the skeleton of a tree rested invitingly upon a mass of sea stones. I knew that was it, and I suggested she climb on for some pictures.
It’s a long-standing joke that Rachel and I have no pictures of us together, since one or both of us is usually the one manning the camera of course! Thus, it was pretty easy to suggest that we get some pictures of us together posing on the log. What WASN’T easy was figuring out how in the world I’d get this ring out of the watch box and in my possession as the ring box was inconveniently large – surely she’d see the giant box in my pocket. On a whim I decided to give Rach one of my old vintage Nikon lenses and told her to try and look through it, adjust the aperture, and see if she can get it into focus. I told her to try it out on the surfers catching waves behind us. This proved itself an ample distraction, and I quickly snuck the ring out of the watch box and sat it under the log, on a rock, right beneath where she was seated. We were all set to go!
I set my camera up on the tripod and put it on a time-lapse after adjusting settings. We sat and talked about our future as the camera shot one frame per second. We spoke about our plans – and poor oblivious Rach questioned our timeline as we’d like to start nursing school in the next year. “If we can’t get married in nursing school, and there’s no way we’d be able to get married prior since we’re not even engaged, will we be waiting a few years?” she asked, with undertones of disappointment.
After playing it off and acting as if I didn’t know how it’d all work out, she pushed the same question once or twice. After pondering the question further, I said, “Well what about getting married next summer, before we start school?”. I could tell she was frustrated and asked once again, “How will that work if we’re not even engaged?”
At this point, the tide was working its way up the beach, crashing into the rocks where the ring was resting in secrecy. I knew I had to hurry it up!
I said, “Let’s just do it! The timing will work. Here, let me make this a little easier -”
I reached under, grabbed the ring, got on one knee….
… and asked her to marry me. I nervously fumbled the box, rotating it about three times trying to open the correct side, and when I finally got it open she replied with a resounding “YES!”
I removed the ring from the box and placed it on her finger. The woman of my dreams was officially my fiancé!!!
We sat on that log, gawked over the ring, and she expressed her surprise to me. We talked for a while and basked in the tranquility of our first moments of forever. I then set up the camera, changed settings, and we posed for some of our favorite images ever!
AND – just like that, we committed to forever. We are so excited to see what future God has in store for us, and we are confident that whatever lies ahead will be far better alongside one another.