A self-described “biased historian,” wedding photographer Pepper Nix captures memories in their most ideal form. Between adjusting cakes to find just the right lighting to orchestrating intimate first looks, Nix is a perfectionist in the way you’d hope your wedding photographer would be. During her 20 years in the industry she has risen to the top of the industry as a decorated photographer and has been named Utah’s Best Wedding Photographer since 2012. Her work is regularly featured in Utah Bride and Groom, and other publications including The Luxe Pearl, Every Last Detail and Ruffled.
To celebrate her career and showcase her work in this year’s issue, we spoke with Nix about her intricate preparation process, her dedication to the craft and the evolving wedding photography industry.
All photos are by Pepper Nix.
Utah Bride & Groom: Tell us about how you got started in photography. What sparked your passion?
I had done photography in high school and in college, and I just had fun with it. I enjoyed having a perspective, I enjoyed being able to create art by pushing a button. I just remember being in college and someone asked me to shoot their wedding. He and his fiancee came and both proposed, they got down on their knees and said “‘please be our photographer!” The night before, I was so stressed out. I mean, this is a really big deal. If I screw this one up, like, this is really, really bad. But then I did it. And it was so great.
It was so wonderful to capture real emotion. I thought to myself, “this is what I want to do.” Maybe it just feeds my ego, because they are going to keep these photos for the rest of their life. They are going to be passed down to their grandchildren and become part of family lore. It’s very meaningful, if that makes sense.
UBG: Of course! Capturing joy is so special. Apart from maybe newborn photography, there is really not a lot that captures real, pure happiness.
Well thank you! I feel the same way.
UBG:You once dreamed of being a National Geographic photographer. What changed? And do you pursue nature photography in your free time?
Well, the National Geographic shots that I loved were never of birds and trees; they were always of people, like the famous portrait of an Afghani refugee with green eyes that just show everything she’s been through. And so everything I wanted to do with National Geographic had to do with documenting people. But what changed was when I started learning about the photographers themselves, and what it takes to get an image. They all lived in other parts of the world for years at a time and they didn’t get to see their family.
So after that first wedding photography gig, I realized I wanted to do something meaningful, and I could do that with weddings. I had this moment in college where I had to pick a discipline, and I made this declaration one day to the universe: “I am a professional wedding photographer!” It was an interesting decision, because at the time there wasn’t a place for that specific type of photography in education.
UBG: What do you mean by that?
There were no classes on wedding photography. It was all commercial based,like here’s how to photograph a tennis shoe and here’s how to photograph a watch. But I didn’t care about making a piece of steak look appetizing, I wanted to do something that was meaningful.
UBG: That’s an interesting observation, that there was really no traditional pathway. Is that something you’ve seen a shift in throughout your years in the industry?
The barrier to entry is much lower. I started in 2001, and everyone who was in the industry at the time was in their 40s, 50s or 60s and they were pretty much all men. Part of what changed is that cameras are so much lighter. Taking away that physical barrier brought so many women into the industry. Also, going digital meant that you don’t have to have professional experience or go to school for photography. With technology now, you can look at a picture that didn’t turn out so well, and examine the settings to make it better next time. And so the industry now, I think, is mostly women—young women.”
UBG: Between passionate moments shared during weddings to an up-close flower feature, you truly shoot every detail associated in a wedding. How does your approach and process differ depending on what you are shooting?
The way I’m going to approach something is always considering how the person or object will appear flattering. When it comes to brides I’m thinking “okay, the lights coming through here, I’m going to have her turn this way.” When it comes to cakes or flowers, it’s just the same thing. I’m forever rearranging things and being very hands on.
I like to think of myself as a biased historian. I don’t know what kind of drama was going on during your wedding day. I don’t know if your maid of honor was getting high in the bathroom and someone had to carry her out. Whatever’s going on that’s crazy, I don’t have to show that. I’m not a strict photojournalist, because no one really wants that—they want to have the best, most wonderful version of their wedding day, right? And when you show your great grandchildren who weren’t there, all they have to know is that everything was perfect and you were in love.
UBG: Take us through what steps you take on a typical shoot. How do you prepare beforehand? Is there a normal routine you follow on the day of?
Weddings and funerals are the time where everyone’s emotions are really heightened. And one thing I’ve found is that group family photos at these events are not a time for creativity. So before the wedding, I work with the bride and together we prepare a list of the exact family shots that she wants. I never want to have someone say “Oh, did you get a picture of me and my grandma?” and I’m like, “Who? What? You had a grandma?” So whatever is on the list I make sure to get, and the same goes for what isn’t. For example, I can work out beforehand if the bride is estranged from their dad and this is the first time they’re seeing him in 15 years, so I don’t force a photo.
UBG: I never thought about the intimate family relationships you have to navigate as a wedding photographer!
Yes, and sometimes brides will accidentally leave things off when making a shot list. So I look very closely at relationships and family dynamics. Like, maybe the bride has a second mother figure that we should plan a shot around. It’s something quite important that I’ve learned over the past two decades I’ve spent in the industry. If someone is accidentally left out of a picture, or they didn’t get a picture they wanted,it causes some hurt and resentment that just festers. So, anything I can do to make people feel loved and not feel awkward.
UBG: Do you have a favorite or most memorable project?
I gotta tell you, I love the first looks. It’s something I orchestrate, thinking about location, lighting, privacy. And wow, that moment where he sees her for the first time, it always makes me cry. It is an honor and a privilege to be there to witness this very intimate, private moment between two people who are going to be facing life together. There’s going to be layoffs and moves and all of these horrible, heartbreaking things that they are going to be facing together but they’re so ready to do it.
UBG: What piece of advice would you offer for brides to be?
Know it’s not going to be perfect. No matter how much planning you do, something’s not going to be perfect, and how you respond to that will set the tone for the day. As long as you go into it with the attitude of “hey we’re gonna try and make this a perfect day, but something will go wrong and we are going to laugh when it does.” Like maybe you forget the bride’s shoes and she has to walk down the aisle barefoot. That’s hilarious!
UBG: What about advice for new photographers?
For photographers starting out, I’d say just do it. There is no degree you have to have. I mean, I was rejected several times from programs at the University,and looking back, I am the only person in my class who is a professional photographer. So when someone tells you no, do some creative thinking and get it done. Also, make friends with everyone! The people who were servers when I started are now the general managers and event coordinators. Most importantly, if you’re going to be a wedding photographer, have fun. Because you’re getting paid to go to a party!