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Tara Lilly and Steve Stemmler win International Wedding Photo competition

The Whistler-based photographers captured a whisky jack landing on a bride’s head on Blackcomb Mountain
This image, captured at 7th Heaven, won top prize at the 2023 International Wedding Photographer of the Year contest.

Tara Lilly and her husband Steve Stemmler have documented more than 600 weddings around the world since launching their first business, Tara Lilly Photography, in 2010. Last year, the local shooters added quite an accolade to their resume: grand prize at the International Wedding Photographer of the Year (IWPOTY) contest. 

The crowning moment occurred on the day two folks named Mitch and Mikaela planned to tie the knot. They booked a date through Lilly and Stemmler’s sister company, Whistler Elopements, and were ferried up into the Blackcomb alpine by Canadian Wilderness Adventures. As the couple began to exchange vows in the meadows of 7th Heaven, an inquisitive whisky jack decided to check things out, landing directly on Mikaela’s head. 

“While she was definitely surprised, Mikaela loved it, allowing the bird to remain on its perch,” Lilly recalls. “Shortly after it flew away, Mikaela exclaimed that she felt like Snow White!” 

Lilly and Stemmler decided to submit the Disney-esque moment for consideration at IWPOTY, which draws material from hundreds of photographers across the globe. Judges were impressed enough to award the Whistlerites top spot—as well as finalist berths for six other shots—and they’ve received lots of recognition since. 

“With more than 1,700 images submitted, it is incredible to be recognized amongst some of the best wedding photographers in the world,” says Lilly. “Since the award announcement, we have garnered international recognition, with features in several magazines such as People, Business Insider, Yahoo, and Daily Mail. I love being able to showcase Whistler weddings on a world stage. Hopefully, it inspires other couples to come elope in our beautiful backyard.” 

Lilly thinks the Sea to Sky corridor boasts a uniquely stunning natural landscape—and who could blame her? She and Stemmler have been able to offer couples all kinds of adventures to mark their special day, from intimate ocean-side ceremonies to heli-elopements. They work to make mountain weddings accessible to all, in a place that combines natural splendour with five-star resort amenities. 

Lilly and Stemmler have lived quite the love story themselves. The two began dating at 17 years of age and have spent much of the ensuing two decades building their business together. Whistler Elopements first launched in January 2020, and endured the pandemic to become a thriving operation that leverages the complementary dispositions of its frontpeople. 

“As a couple we are the epitome of ‘opposites attract,’ and our business skill sets are complementary,” Lilly explains. “On a wedding day, Steve has a big personality; he loves to give direction and be the centre of attention, while I thrive in capturing the more intimate moments. I do love that as different as we are, our values align. 

“In 2019, Steve became an ordained wedding celebrant so that we could create Whistler Elopements as an inclusive and accessible way for couples to elope in the mountains, with intersectional environmentalism at its core.” 

Lilly’s interest in photography was sparked in high school, when her dad taught her to shoot film on a Nikon FE camera during a family ski trip to Whistler. She and Stemmler—both Ontario natives—put down roots in the Sea to Sky in 2016 and haven’t looked back. 

“What I enjoy most about photographing weddings is the mix of candid imagery and creative portraits of the couple,” reveals Lilly. “Capturing those fleeting moments—a touch, a laugh—can transport someone back to how they felt, allowing them to relive their wedding day. I believe the value of photographs increases over time, especially as our memories of events start to fade.

“When it comes to elopements, I love when our couples are willing to venture out in inclement weather. Some of my favourite images have come from a thick fog nestled in the trees, the peak of a mountain breaking though the cloud cover, or the vibrancy of a mossy forest after a heavy rain. I love being able to share some of our favourite locations in Whistler with our couples on their wedding day.”