Intimate gatherings replace large weddings for famous photographer
When movie star Dennis Quaid and his beautiful bride Laura eloped June 2 at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, the only other person attending the ceremony was Elizabeth Messina.
Which was no surprise, since Ms. Messina, who grew up in the Santa Barbara area and graduated from Santa Barbara High School, is one of the top wedding photographers in the country.
She was named one of the top 10 wedding photographers of 2010 by Adorama, one of the top 10 wedding photographers of 2008 by Pop Photo and American PHOTO, and one of the 25 trendsetters of 2008 by Modern Bride.
Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Martha Stewart Weddings have named her one of the best photographers in the world.
Her images have graced the covers of Us Weekly, OK, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style and Professional Photographer magazines.
“My exclusive photos of the ceremony held in the late afternoon at the ranch and afterward at Miramar Beach were published in a recent issue of People magazine,” Ms. Messina told the News-Press by phone from her home studio.
The appreciative newlyweds sent the following note: “It was an absolute pleasure to work with Elizabeth for our intimate Montecito elopement. From the start, we felt completely comfortable with Elizabeth. She captured every special moment, and we couldn’t be happier with the photos. Since we had to cancel our previously planned wedding due to COVID-19 and chose to elope instead, it means even more to have these beautiful images to share with family and friends on our special day in the years to come.
“Laura & Dennis Quaid”
Ms. Messina, who is married to Lee Moore and has three children — Mykela, 22; Malik, 16; and Jasmine, 13 — said she became interested in the camera world while taking a photography class at UCSB and then transferring to the San Francisco Art Institute, where she majored in photography and graduated with honors in 1991.
“My mother had given me a camera for my 12th birthday, but I never realized I could have a career taking pictures,” said Ms. Messina, the daughter of Jo Wideman, a longtime Santa Barbaran, and Michael Messina of Albuquerque.
A cross-country bicycle trip after graduation ended in Burlington, Vt., where she became a photojournalist for the Vermont Times in nearby Shelburne, Vt., until a fire in the middle of the night caused her to flee from her apartment.
“I barely got out with my camera. Everything else was lost, including all my photos,” said Ms. Messina.
Shaken by the trauma, she took an extended trip to India, traveling six months by herself taking pictures. In 1997, she returned to Santa Barbara, had some gallery shows and then photographed a friend’s wedding, never realizing it would be a major turning point in her life.
“My experiences in Vermont and India helped prepare me for wedding photography,” Ms. Messina said. “I had to show up in unfamiliar places where I didn’t know the people and be ready to take photographs which people will treasure throughout their lives. They become family heirlooms.”
Over the years, she has photographed celebrity clients such as Tori Spelling, Christina Aguilera, Jason Bateman, Jessica Simpson, Lisa Ling, Lauren Conrad, Hilary Duff and Jenna Dewan.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Messina is not doing large weddings because 90% of them have been postponed.
“Instead, I’m doing more elopements and a lot more maternity and newborn photos along with small family groups. I find that as large gatherings diminish, people really want to honor and capture those they love in small intimate shoots,” said Ms. Messina. “I love the personal connection. I’m thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to create art in a more personal setting, which may be smaller physically but more meaningful emotionally.”
She is also photographing lifestyle subjects like cookbooks and various kinds of food.
While photographing at her home studio or on location, she pays close attention to safety measures during the pandemic by disinfecting her cameras, wearing a mask and washing her hands frequently.
“I’m also staying at home as much as possible,” Ms. Messina said. “I feel very blessed to be able to continue to work at something I love during this surreal time.”