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Hudson Valley, Catskills + beyond

Party People: A Conversation with Caitlinn Mahar-Daniels

Today’s guest has a special place in my heart – she’s been a big part of the New York chapter of my life. When I first moved to New York and worked as a venue manager while I was getting to know the area, Caitlinn shot one of the first weddings I worked on in that space. And on the New Year’s Eve before I decided to get back into the planning game as Canvas Weddings…I was with Caitlinn. You’ll never leave an interaction with Caitlinn without feeling more energized – she’s incredibly infectious and super genuine, and I’m so pumped to have you all get to know her a bit more.

Caitlinn’s first camera came from a department store – it was a $10 pink point-and-shoot camera that her mother got her for Christmas, along with some 35mm film. She got more into photography in high school, and ultimately ended up studying photography in college. 

She first dipped her toes into the wedding pool in 2011 – with her brother’s wedding, where she was both photographer and maid of honor (all while being 5 months pregnant). “I definitely neglected my maid of honor duties,” she says of that day. Since then, she’s added hundreds of weddings to her roster, growing her business with blood, sweat and tears. “Stubbornness is my superpower,” she says. “Failure was never an option.”

Caitlinn describes her style as “true to life – realism with an extra oomph and a (nice) punch in the face.” Ultimately, she wants her couples to focus on being together more than they’re focusing on being photographed. “I don’t want to desaturate you,” she says, “and I want you to see yourself more clearly in my photos.” She also understands that, for many couples, being in front of the camera is an anxiety-inducing thing. “I totally sympathize with how weird and scary being photographed is,” she says. Her solution? Being a little weird herself.

Having witnessed Caitlinn at work, it’s a bit hard to describe her energy when she’s shooting a couple. “I look like a crazy person,” Caitlinn says. Which (in the best way possible) is true. On a wedding day you’ll generally find her gushing about how pretty the couple is  in a little bit of a gruff voice, crouching down and climbing on things to get angles and just generally being – a little weird. I think the best way that I can describe it is odd, but very disarming and comforting. “I want you to feel good, and if you feel good and happy and silly around me, it’s not going to be so bad,” she says.

But it’s not just her own antics that contribute to her success photographing people who are uneasy. “I’m going to direct you and give you tasks to do with one another so you can focus on loving each other – not on being photographed.”

She loves shooting couple’s portraits. “[Portraits] are my favorite thing to shoot, forever and ever,” she says. But her favorite part of the wedding day? “100% the ceremony – especially when the couple writes their own vows,” she says. “I always want to leave the wedding day learning more about the couple I’m shooting.”

Caitlinn is a BIG fan of weddings. The best ones, she says “are like Thanksgiving dinner on crack AND you don’t have to clean or cook.” However, she also recognizes that, just like Thanksgiving dinner, weddings can come with a WHOLE lot of extra stress, like family dynamics and deadlines and logistics. “That’s the hardest part for sure – navigating family dynamics as an outsider,” she says, “but I’m SUPER protective of my couples, and I do my best to get to know the dynamic and structure the family photos and group photos times in way that will shield them from triggering situations or stressors.” One of the ways she accomplishes that is a detailed questionnaire, where her couples can fill her in on any situations or challenges that might come up on the day. “Awareness is key, she says, “the more I know, the more I can help you navigate the tides on your wedding day.”

Photographing weddings for Caitlinn is an exercise, not just physically, but also mentally. Her post-wedding routine is sometimes nearly as long as the wedding itself. “I get my dogs from the dog sitter, bring my big ole’ camera bag up the stairs, upload the photos into my system, run the backups, unload my giant backpack, shower, get into my PJs with a glass of red wine….and realize every time that I can’t fall asleep for AWHILE,” she says. 

The weekdays between events have their rhythm, too. “I’m doing a lot of ‘mom stuff’ during the week,” she says, “and that’s a part of everything.” During the week she’s up by 5:30am, getting the kids to school, fitting in a workout, and then getting to her computer for emails, curling photos, editing photos and more. She’ll take a break for a bit when the kids get home, and finish the day with a few emails, some more editing and trying to close the day between 6pm and 9pm. “It’s a lot of midnights and a lot of early,” she says of her life.

Like so many in the wedding industry, finding balance between running a business and nurturing a personal life can be tough for Caitlinn. “I just learned how not to be a workaholic,” she says,” it took me therapy to learn that I was using work to distract myself from things that were not good and to prove my worth to the people around me. Work was my identity, but I’m learning every day that it’s OK to do nothing, and sometimes I really NEED to do nothing.” 

It took COVID, Caitlinn said, to really fully accept what she needs. “It was a hectic, scary and chaotic time,” she says. “I had just bought my house and was super proud of that, but then I’m thinking about how I’m going to pay my mortgage, and how am I going to do this by myself?” For Caitlinn, it was another exercise in grit, in picking up the pieces and carrying on, for the sake of herself and her kids. “It sucked, but I got through it. I put myself first and my kids first, and I summoned my strength and I kept the ship afloat. And I’m really proud of that,” she says. 

These days, Caitlinn has a pretty exciting support system – her fiance, Louie. “He’s just the best,” she says, “and he just knows me and supports me so well.” They’re planning their wedding for August of 2024. When asked what’s so great about him, she points to a recent Christmas gift he gave her – a waterfall shower head that she “just always wanted…he knows me so well and knows what makes me happy and he just does those things. It’s so special and so good and so different.”

To be transparent, Caitlinn and I did this interview before she got engaged and was planning her own wedding, so I’m going to take this opportunity to reflect her own wedding planning advice for couples back to her. “Allow yourself to be as in the moment as possible, hire people you trust, don’t lose track of your priorities (making your marriage!) during the process, and take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt.”

For Caitlinn, the future is really bright. “I feel like I’m coming home to myself,” she says of the last few years, and that person is “kind, determined, up for challenges and just…happy.” Honestly, I can’t think of anyone more deserving of that happiness than Caitlinn.

Rapid Fire With Caitlinn Mahar-Daniels

  • What is your Enneagram? 8 wing 7
  • Spring or Fall? Spring
  • Guilty Pleasure TV Show? Nailed It! “I love Nicole Byer….and it’s not a guilty pleasure. Just a pleasure.”
  • Ability to read minds or see the future: Neither!
  • Biggest Pet Peeve: People with no self-discipline
  • Desert Island Food: Falafel or French Fries
  • What’s on when you edit photos? “Taylor Swift – with her on I just can’t stay sad for long.”
  • If you could teleport anywhere right now, where would you go? Moab, Utah

Thanks, Caitlinn, for spending some time with us! You can find Caitlinn on her website and on Instagram.

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