Pittsburgh Wedding Photographers » One of the "50 Top US Wedding Photographers" - weddzilla.com

It’s been a busy, busy fall. Which is kind of par for the course when it comes to wedding photography. So while I had every intention to post this a couple of weeks ago, I’m happy to have finally gotten a chance to talk a little bit about my experience of speaking at the recent Fearless Conference in Charleston, SC. Even though I make an effort to talk with newer photographers when asked, the role of photography educator is kind of a new one for me. I’ve been a part of the community behind the Fearless Conference and the Foundation Workshop for several years. As a result I’ve made some of my best friends and my career has flourished from the commitment to improvement that is in the DNA of this group. So it was in a sense of gratitude for all I’ve benefitted from that I submitted a proposal to speak at this year’s conference.

Photography Educator Joe Appel on stage at the recent Fearless Conference in Charleston, SC


It was a thrill when Huy Nguyen accepted my proposal and asked me to speak, but that feeling was quickly followed by a little panic and anxiety. The realization was that I’d be speaking in front of 150 of the most talented and accomplished wedding photographers in the country and really from around the world. GULP! What could I bring to the stage that would be worth hearing? What could I add to the wisdom provided by the other speakers at the conference, but also the speakers who came before me that I benefitted so much from?

What I finally decided is that my experience in photography, life, and business was unique to me. But as varying as our experiences are, a defining principle in my life is that we’re all more alike than we are different. We can learn from each other no matter our background if we keep an open mind. So I decided to focus my talk on three related points:

  1. Finding Your Voice
  2. Finding Your Tribe
  3. Remaining Teachable

All three are central to how I stay fresh and even grow after a long career as a photographer. Finding Your Voice describes the process of figuring out what your viewpoint and strengths are and how to develop that into a vision that separates you from all of the other photographers out there. What fun is it if your photos look like everybody else’s? How does that serve your clients? The answer is that it isn’t and it doesn’t.

Finding Your Tribe is all about building a community that will help you to grow, to support you when times get tough, and who will call you on your BS when it’s necessary. “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” comes to mind. You know, the old African proverb that Al Gore says he made up in an episode of 30 Rock 😀

Joe Appel speaking at a photography conference in front of a photo of Al Gore


Remaining Teachable speaks to an essential element of growth: Recognizing that one doesn’t know all that there is to know, no matter how long your career has been.

It was a wonderful experience. I got to see so many old friends and to make some new ones, too. The level of openness and sharing from the outstanding lineup of speakers as well as the folks attending makes the Fearless Conference unique and a must-go event – I haven’t missed one yet!

Finally, thanks very much to my friends Kate McElwee and Crystal Stokes for the photos. You’ll see what I mean about this conference attracting talented and accomplished photographers when you check out their websites.


photography educator

Photos from Stacey and EJ’s Wyndham Grand Wedding in downtown Pittsburgh:

College sweethearts, Stacey and EJ got married at their neighborhood church – the beautiful St. Mary of the Mount – and had their reception at the Wyndham Grand hotel near Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. That’s the overview. The details are where it gets really good. Both Stacey and EJ are the types of people who care way more about how other folks are feeling or are doing than their own selves. It’s so great to see, and it also shows just how wonderful it was to be around their friends and families because good people are surrounded by other good people. The weather wasn’t the greatest – actually it was a pretty typical late summer/early fall day in Pittsburgh that ranged from hot and muggy to rainy. But that didn’t slow them down at all. Check out the photos:

Shiloh St. is in their neighborhood, so Stacey and EJ wanted a photo there. Traffic was light, so they walked out into the center of the street for a brief kiss:

A groom dips his bride in the middle of Shiloh Street on Mount Washington in Pittsburgh.

Stacey gets a high-five from one of her bridesmaids as she checks out the results of her hair and makeup at the Wyndham Grand:

Bride high-fives a bridesmaid while looking in the mirror after putting her makeup on before her Wyndham Grand Wedding

Down in the relative quiet of her suite, Stacey takes a moment to straighten out the bottom of her wedding dress as it hangs on the wall:

A bride kneels down to straighten out the hem of her wedding dress hanging in her hotel room.

Meanwhile, EJ was getting ready at home (Lisa’s photo):

A groom rests his foot on the end of his bed as he ties his shoelaces.

Stacey’s super blingy wedding shoes:

Closeup photo of a bride holding her silver wedding shoes decorated with crystal flowers.

A bridesmaid holds the chandelier out of the way so Stacey can watch as her hairdresser puts the veil on for her:

A bride looks in the mirror as her hairdresser puts on her veil. The other women in the room smile and one holds aside the chandelier so the bride can see in the mirror.

There was no sitting in that dress on the way to the church, so Stacey stood as her bridesmaids made sure that she didn’t fall:

Bride stands up in the limo bus on her way to the church. Her bridesmaids keep her steady.

Flower girls and ring bearers wait for the procession to begin:

A young flower girl holds her hand in the air as she waits to go down the aisle with a ring bearer.

Stacey’s bouquet had a touching tribute to her late father:

Closeup of a bride

Stacey’s uncle walked her down the aisle. They were silhouetted in the doorway of the church (Lisa’s photo):

Silhouette of a bride and her uncle in the back of St. Mary of the Mount as they wait to walk down the aisle.Bride is all smiles as she walks down the aisle of St. Mary of the Mount.

A flower girl shushes a younger flower girl (Lisa’s photo):

A flower girl holds her finger to her lips as she shushes another flower girl.

EJ gives his bride a wink:

Groom winks at his bride as they sit on the altar during their wedding ceremony.

The lovely bride smiles as she looks out at her guests:

Smiling bride in the foreground and a colorful stained glass window in the background.

Like I said, it was hot in that church.

A flower girl cools herself in the breeze of a fan and a woman in the pews fans herself with a program during a wedding at St. Mary of the Mount in Pittsburgh.A bride and groom hold their hands up in triumph at the end of their wedding ceremony at St. Mary of the Mount in Pittsburgh.

Shots of Fireball were passed around on the limo bus. Now that song is going to be stuck in my head 😀

A woman in a purple dress makes a face after taking a swig of whiskey in the back of a limousine.

Rainclouds approached over top of the buildings of downtown Pittsburgh as we made our way back down Grandview Avenue from the photo session on Shiloh St.

Dramatic storm skies above downtown Pittsburgh as a bride walks in front of her groom who holds her dress up.

The rain meant that outdoor photos were out of the question, so we improvised a photo studio in Stacey and EJ’s suite. We moved some furniture around and found a nice background:

A bride smiles as her groom kisses her on the cheek.

Teenaged Stacey seems to approve as the couple shares their first dance:

Bride and groom share their first dance as a video screen shows a photo of the bride as a young girl.

EJ and his sister and brother-in-law look on as Stacey and her mom dance together:

Three people embrace as they watch the bride and her mother dance.

EJ resisted the temptation to smash cake into Stacey’s face. Stacey did not reciprocate:

A bride smears icing on her groom


A bride

Lisa’s photo:

A woman and her daughter laugh as they dance at a wedding reception.

Guests of all ages filled the dance floor:

A little, old lady dances with a much larger man who wears a vest and a white shirt during a reception at the Wyndham Grand Wedding.A long-haired groomsman crawls along the dancefloor as the bride laughs and claps at a Wyndham Grand Wedding.A bride and groom dance during their Wyndham Grand Wedding in Pittsburgh.

Photos from Maria and Jonathan’s University Club at Pitt Wedding:

With a planter filled with hydrangeas in the foreground, a bride and groom embrace and share a laugh on the rooftop of the University Club at the University of Pittsburgh.

Labor Day weekend is upon us and school has started. That means summer is winding down. I love this time of the year and it was the perfect setting for Maria and Jonathan’s wedding at the University Club at Pitt. Here are some of my favorite photos from their lovely wedding:

Maria checks her hair in a mirror:

A black and white image of a beautiful bride checking her hair in the mirror of a room at the University Club at Pitt that is illuminated by dramatic window light.

It was a hot one, but thankfully a helpful bridesmaid came to the rescue with a cold bottle of water:

A woman laughs as she holds a cold bottle of water on the back of the neck of her friend in order to cool her down. The friend is a bride who has a sun and moon tattoo on her shoulder.

Jonathan’s brother helps him out by adjusting his yarmulke:

The face of a handsome young man is framed by his arm as he adjusts the yarmulke on his brother

The first look took place on the rooftop patio:

A groom smiles as he stands with his hands crossed in front of him just as his bride touches his shoulder during their first look prior to their wedding at the University Club at Pitt.

A bride smiles at her groom (seen from behind) as she shows him how beautiful she looks in her dress as they have their first look on the room of the University Club at Pitt before their wedding.

A bride and groom embrace on the roof of the University Club at Pitt prior to their late summer wedding.

After the formal photos, the bridal party and families gathered to sign the ketubah:

A groom signs the ketubah at the left of the photo while his bride looks over his shoulder. Family members stand in the background at right as they watch what

Maria’s parents both walked her down the aisle:

A view from behind as the parents of a bride walk her down the aisle during her wedding at the University Club at Pitt. The mother has her arm around her daughter and the daughter links her arm around her father

A bride and groom stand beneath a light colored chuppah as they exchange vows during their wedding ceremony. The officiant looks on at right.

Lighting the unity candle:

Illuminated by candle light, a bride and a groom use smaller candles to light a unity candle during their wedding ceremony in Ballroom A at the University Club at Pitt.

Jonathan makes sure that the glass is broken:

Framed by a chuppah, a bride looks on as her husband stomps on a glass to end their wedding ceremony at the University Club at Pitt.

After the ceremony, I found their handwritten vows on the table by the unity candle. They were elegant and meaningful promises:

Three candles, two small and one large, illuminate a table where a bride and groom

We walked over to the nearby Cathedral of Learning for some portraits while the guests enjoyed the cocktail hour:

A bride holds a bouquet of white and pink flowers in her left hand as she holds her groom

The low-scooped back and short train of a beautiful bride

A bride and groom look at each other while standing in the middle of a paved courtyard. Their shadows are cast on to the patio by the evening sun.

The first dance:

A bride and groom are framed in silhouette as they share their first dance during their wedding reception in Ballroom B at the University Club at Pitt.

The speeches were funny and moving:

In a black and white photo, a young best man smiles as he offers a toast to a bride and groom seated to his left. Another groomsman smiles as he looks on.

A black and white photo of a bride and groom laughing heartily at comments made during a toast at their wedding reception in Ballroom B of the University Club at Pitt.

A bridesmaid raises her hand above her head and points at a second bridesmaid as they toast a married couple seated in front of them at the University Club at Pitt.


A bride sings as she dances with her hands in the air in the middle of a circle of smiling wedding guests.

Wedding guests on the dance floor at a reception in Ballroom B of the University Club at Pitt are dramatically lit by a spotlight projecting the bride and groom

While the dance floor is filled with guests a bride and groom dance close together, the bride with her hand on top of her groom

A groom dances with his younger brother, who was the best man at his wedding at the University Club at Pitt.

A wedding guest on the dance floor at a wedding reception smiles and raises his hands shoulder high.

The hora! (Lisa’s photo):

Seen from above, men raise a couple up on chairs in the middle of a crowd of people as they dance the hora at a wedding reception at the University Club at Pitt.

A low angle view of a couple dancing during their wedding reception at the University Club at Pitt. They lean back as they join hands and swing each other around.

A woman in a bright red dress raises her hand in the air and sings along with the music during a wedding at the University Club at Pitt.

Jonathan’s dad owning the dance floor:

An older man takes a knee and raises his fist as he holds the hand of a woman while they dance during a wedding reception at the University Club at Pitt.

A portrait at the end of a lovely evening:

A silhouette profile of a bride and groom in front of a magenta light cast on the wall of Ballroom B at the University Club at Pitt during their wedding reception.

Photos from Allie and Dan’s Stonewall Resort Wedding in West Virginia:

A young married couple smiles and laughs in the lobby of Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

Folks, this is an extra big post. Really, it’s two weddings so there’s a lot of material to work with here. Allie and Dan are terrific people and I was so glad to have been a part of both weddings. My kids still talk about the sushi dinner after the ceremony at St. Louise de Marillac 🙂 I met them while photographing her big sister Kate’s wedding to Drew a few years ago. It’s been wonderful to have remained in touch and to have been friends with the whole family.

Both Allie and Dan were very close with their grandmothers, so knowing that her grandmother probably wouldn’t be able to make the trip to the destination wedding at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, WV, they had a family ceremony at St. Louise de Marillac so she could attend. These are the photos from that event:

Allie holds hands with her mom Marsha and sister Kate before the ceremony:

A bride holds hands with her sister and her mother at St. Louise de Marillac catholic church.

While Dan shakes hands with his dad back in the sacristy:

A groom shakes hands with his father as his brother looks on at St. Louise de Marillac catholic church.

Peter and Marsha share a hug before their youngest daughter, Allie’s wedding:


Allie and Kate share a laugh while waiting for the ceremony to begin:

A bride and her matron of honor share a moment before a wedding at St. Louise de Marrilac catholic church.

Peter gives Allie a kiss on the forehead before they walk down the aisle:

Father of the bride kisses his daughter on the forehead before her wedding at St. Louise de Marillac catholic church.Bride and groom kneel before the priest during their wedding at St. Louise de Marillac catholic church.Bride and groom exchange rings before their wedding at St. Louise de Marillac church.

Peter tears up during the ceremony. I love it when dads show their emotions! Kate’s husband Drew stands next to him.

Father of the bride cries during the wedding of his daughter at St. Louise de Marillac church.Bride and groom share a kiss during their wedding at St. Louise de Marillac catholic church.

Hugs afterwards:

Bride and groom embrace the bride

Kate and Allie get a big hug from their grandmother after the wedding. What a smile 🙂

Bride and matron of honor are embraced by their elderly grandmother after a wedding at St. Louise de Marillac church.

On to Stonewall Resort a few days later:

Kate and her bridesmaids have their hair done in a suite at the resort:Bride has her hair and makeup done before her wedding at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

Beautiful bride with bright red lips has her hair done before her wedding at Stonewall Resort in West VirginiaBride

Dan concentrates as he puts his tie on in the next room. Another special thing for me was that my dear friend Sherry Pickerell came down from New York to shoot this wedding with me. I’m grateful to be close friends with some of the best photographers in the business:

Groom peers into the mirror with concentration as he ties his tie before a wedding at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Groom and groomsmen get ready for a wedding in a dark hotel room lit by a window Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

Kate gets some help getting into her dress:

Bride has help getting into her dress as light streams through the windows of her room Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Women work with great concentration  as they button up a bride

Some photo fun with mirrors in the room 🙂

Bride is reflected in a mirror as her bridesmaids look on Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

Such a beautiful bride!

Beautiful bride lit from her right side looks into the camera for a portrait before her wedding at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

Even though they’d had a ceremony a few days prior, Allie and Dan decided to do a first look. Allie had held some surprises in reserve, so it was totally worth it:

Groom and groomsmen walk to meet the bride. Bride and her bridesmaids walk to meet the groom before their wedding ceremony.Bride taps groom on the back before their first look Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Bride and groom hold hands and look at each other before their wedding at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

Peter gives Allie a kiss on the forehead as she pins the boutonniere on his jacket:

Father of the bride kisses his daughter on the head before her wedding ceremony at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Father of the bride holds his hand over his heart as he walks his daughter to her wedding ceremony at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Groom watches as his bride approaches during their ceremony at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

It was a fantastic summer day in the mountains of West Virginia:

Blue skies and trees are the setting for an outdoor wedding at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Bride and groom exchange rings beneath an arbor at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

I think I scared the reverend when I got under the arbor to get a shot of their first kiss. But you gotta do what you gotta do 🙂

Closeup of a married couple sharing their first kiss.Bride and groom look at each other as they walk from their wedding ceremony at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

On to the reception. This wonderful pier is in the lake outside of the lodge at Stonewall. I just had to photograph the couple on it:

A bride and groom walk along an s-shaped pier in the lake at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

First dance:

Bride and groom hold hands as they share their first dance as man and wife during their wedding reception at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Groom lifts bride into the air at the end of their first dance.

Dan’s mom gives him a big squeeze during their dance:


Peter spins Allie during their dance:

Father of the bride spins his daughter during their dance together.

Dan’s friends offered him a toast:

Groom sits beneath the outstretched arms of his friends as they toast during his wedding at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

Dan gets a kiss from his grandmother as they share a dance:

Groom shares a dance with his grandmother.

Kate and Drew – these guys just keep on getting better looking as the years go on:

A young couple shares a dance during a wedding reception at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.An attractive woman in a yellow dress dances during a wedding at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

Bouquet toss:

Bride holds a bouquet in front of her as her single friends wait for the toss.

And the garter:

Bride points at her groom as he holds her garter.

They’re singing “Country Roads” – a must if your wedding is in West Virginia:

Friends hold hands as they dance together during a wedding reception at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia

Dan and his buddies were on the dance floor the entire night:

Groom is framed through the outstretched arms of his friends as he dances during his wedding reception at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Colorful purple and gold lights illuminate the dancers during a wedding reception at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Black and white photo of wedding guests reveling and holding their hands in the air while dancing.

Peter’s signature move, the “Dead Bug.” He did it at Kate’s wedding, too. Take a look:

Father of the bride lays on the ground as he holds his arms and legs into the air during a wedding reception at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Bride squats low on the dance floor and looks up at her guests while they all dance during a wedding reception at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.Bride and groom share a kiss at the end of their wedding reception at Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.

So there you have it. A couple of wonderful weddings over the span of a few days. Thanks again to my lovely friends Allie and Dan 🙂


Heather and Dana – Two Brides’ Summer Wedding in Butler County.

two women smile and embrace during their wedding

Heather and Dana started planning their wedding before their home state of Texas allowed same-sex weddings. Heather grew up in the Pittsburgh area so they decided to tie the knot here, where it would be recognized. This was one of those events that was a vivid reflection of the personalities of the people involved and they’ve become such dear friends that it makes me happy every time I look at these photos. It was a good old-fashioned country 4th of July picnic with family, friends, and lots of kids. Enjoy!

Heather has her ‘do set with hairspray:

a woman covers her face as she has hairspray applied in a bright room

Dana laughs as Heather helps her get her tartan sash on:

two brides laugh before their wedding as one pins a sash on the other

The wedding party gets their flowers on:

a man smiles and laughs as he has his boutonniere pinned on

The kids from the wedding party get high fives from Heather before heading outside to the ceremony:

a bride wearing a flower crown high fives a group of children who have come to see her

First look:

a bride walks down the stairs of a house for a first look with her bride

The plans were posted on the bulletin board:

a diagram showing where everyone in the bridal party is to stand is pinned on a bulletin board next to a wedding invitation

The wedding party starts the procession from the house. No shoes, no problem 🙂

a line of children walk along a path on their way to a wedding ceremony

Pastor Keith, a family friend, greeted the guests:

two brides laugh as the officiant greets their guests during their weddinga bride has a big smile on her face as she places a wedding band on her bridebrides hold hands as they say their vows

I love this photo. What I like best is the reaction from Dana’s brother John:

two brides share a kiss during their wedding ceremony as onlookers smilechildren hold up signs calling for cheers and applause at the end of the wedding ceremony for two brides

Heather was so happy!

bride lifts her arms in triumph at the end of the wedding ceremony

They had a toast with TX Blended Whiskey from Firestone & Robertson Distilling in Texas. The ceramic mugs were custom made with glazes from minerals derived from the mine drainage remediation systems designed and installed by the company that their host Tim owns. So a little bit of Texas and a little bit of Pennsylvania:

a table full of bourbon and handmade ceramic shot glasses

Tim toasts the happy couple:

a man gives a toast to two brides during their wedding receptiontwo brides share big tears and hugs after a toasttwo brides laugh as they stand in field of wildflowers after their wedding

Their custom, hand-forged rings:

detail shot of handmade wedding bands and a cute dog

The cookie table was terrific! The family photos – old and recent – provided a nice bit of context:

western pennsylvania cookie table at a wedding

Woman overboard 😀

a sign with misspelled words and a little person falling out of a canoefriends share a hug and a kiss during an outdoor wedding reception

Dinner included a pig roast. Which kind of shocked one of the young members of the bridal party:

a little girl looks aghast at the head of a roasted pig

There was a massive water battle that included buckets, hoses, and balloons. It was great!

a bride runs away from a dousing from a bucket of water during her wedding reception.a little girl laughs as she is held upside down by a bride during a wedding reception

Dana was quicker than Tim on the draw:

water balloons explode during a wedding receptiona little boy is dowsed by the bride with a balloon full of water during a wedding receptionwater balloon fight between a tall boy with a fuzzy head of hair and a woman wearing a Scottish kilt.

After everyone was good and wet, the next activity was to wrap a watermelon with rubber bands until it exploded.

kids place rubber bands around a watermelon in an effort to make it explode

Which it did – all over Tim:

the watermelon exploded all over a man as he lays on the ground. Kids dig into the melon.

Cutting the wedding apple pie:

two brides cut a pie and then feed each other a piece during their wedding reception.

Something you don’t see at many weddings – a bride on a zip line!

a bride laughs as she swings on a zipline through a forest during her wedding receptiontwo brides embrace as they stand in a field of horses

Post script: I was one of the teachers at the Foundation First workshop in Fort Worth, TX this past January. I stayed an extra day so that I could visit with Heather and Dana, who live there. It was great to see them again, and I had a wonderful time seeing a bit of the area with Heather as my tour guide. Thanks y’all!

Two women and their dogs sit on the porch of a brick house in Texas

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