Last week, I got word that a close friend of ours had lost her father in a tragic accident. Nicole was my very first client (my fourth wedding) and one of my biggest advocates. Sadly, last weekend her dad was struck down while riding his motorcycle through Pennsylvania on his way to another club member’s funeral. The accident was horrible and I won’t spare you the details (you can read the tragic story here). What matters is that a life was lost way too young in a senseless act of stupidity and I can help but be both sad and angry at the same time.

Allison and I spent Tuesday evening standing in line with nearly a thousand family members, friends, and fellow motorcyclists that came to pay homage to Keith Michaelson at his wake. The outpouring of love and support was incredible and it was amazing seeing must how many people one man touched throughout his short life.

I was blown away when we got inside. Nicole and her family had spent the previous day creating a series of massive photo murals of her dad spanning his entire life. Hundreds of 4×6 photos commemorated a great father and husband. My heart jumped when I saw his casket—amidst the dozens of flowers, standing center stage was a portrait I made of Keith moments after he saw Nicole on her wedding day for the first time (top left photo below). I can never forget taking that photo. I remember him strolling into the contained chaos of the bridal suite, making a b-line towards his beautiful daughter, and just marveling at how stunning she looked. Neither said a word. They both looked at each other and just starting crying and hugging. It was the most touching moments I had ever witnessed, and those few shots made me realize why I loved being a wedding photographer.

Other photographers often jest that wedding photography is the bottom of the barrel for photojournalism and creativity, but I never let them get to me. I know that we create memories that last far beyond our generation. We are capturing fleeting moments that few people witness, but that touch everyone that sees them. I make it a point to create a portrait of every parent and grandparent at a wedding, not because I want to bolster my portfolio, but because I know that they won’t be with us forever, and these photos might be some of the few memories that will remain after they pass om.

As I walked by Nicole and her husband Jared in the receiving line at the wake, I held back tears and mentioned how it blew me away when I saw my portrait of her dad on display. She told me that it was one of the best photos of him and it meant the world to her. I smiled and hugged her and moved on to let the hundreds of people behind me through. There are few moments in my life that I consider deep or moving, but this was definitely one of them. I went ahead and pulled my favorite photos of Keith and Nicole from my archive and posted them below to honor a great man who helped a ton of people during his life. I didn’t know him well, but I do know that he left behind a legacy that will last forever. Rest in peace.