Like many viewers, wedding photographer Karen Rainier quickly became enthralled by "This Is Us," the tearjerker hit drama on NBC.
"I am a bit of a TV junkie and I have been obsessed with the show 'This Is Us' since the first episode premiered," said Rainier, who is based in Westminster.
Rainier channeled her love of the show into the inspiration behind a bridal shoot styled around the show's first season episode titled "I Call Marriage," in which characters Jack and Rebecca Pearson have a bohemian-themed wedding seen in flashbacks. Rainier knew that re-creating the episode through a photo shoot was just what she needed to get her creative juices flowing.
"It seems like a lot of the wedding blogs have been publishing the same styles over and over again, so instead of drawing inspiration from colors or popular wedding trends, I decided to look outside my industry for inspiration," she said.
Rainier found a real-life married couple who reminded her of the characters. She also assembled a team of local wedding vendors for a series of images, which have the same soft, cheerful, natural elegance of the show's wedding and capture the carefree warmth of the characters portrayed by Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia.
The photos soon went viral, when the shoot caught the attention of the Today show in early May. Since then, more than 20 news outlets — Martha Stewart Weddings, Bride, Entertainment Weekly, People and Huffington Post — have contacted or featured Rainier.
"I think it's because of the wedding angle and the popularity of the show," she said. "It's been awesome. I'm not a person that really loves attention like this. It was overwhelming at first. But it's been so cool for everyone to see my work and see me show my creativity."
The series of images — there are eight scenes and more than 170 photographs in the set — includes the couple posing next to a vintage car; the couple shooting dice; and a joyous picture of the pair standing amid a spray of confetti.
"Sometimes it is good to stretch your creative wings, and I had been trying to come up with a completely unique wedding inspiration shoot that hadn't been done yet," said Rainier, a former second-grade teacher in Carroll County who switched careers four years ago after discovering an affinity for photography.
Leah Carlyle, owner of LeahLetters, the calligrapher who created the wedding invitations featured in the shoot, jumped at the chance to work on the project with other small-business vendors.
"I love the show because it feels like a very real display of what American home life looks like — the different dynamics and diversity of it all. It's a real show," she said.
Carlyle has loved the response to the shoot.
"That's been really overwhelming actually," she said. "I've had people come out of the woodwork to say things about it. It's been a topic of conversation everywhere I've gone."
A big part of the shoot's success was finding models who captured the young love and passion of the show's characters.
"I thought to myself, that if I didn't have a couple who looked a little like them, it wouldn't have as much of an impact," Rainier recalled.
Two weeks after sending out a query on Facebook looking for models for the project, a friend of a friend sent her a side-by-side photo of Richmond, Va., resident Peter DiSalvo, comparing him to Ventimiglia. DiSalvo's wife, Emily, favors Moore. Rainier immediately contacted them and assured them that she wasn't "catfishing" them. Within weeks, she photographed the couple in and around their apartment.
Peter DiSalvo, 29, a doctor of physical therapy at Richmond Veterans Affairs Medical Center, has been shocked by the response.
"I wasn't expecting it to get that big," he said. "I was so pleased what it did for Karen's business. It was a really cool idea. And she's so genuine and a consummate professional."
DiSalvo said he's been contacted by friends from all over the country.
"One said: 'Why is your ugly mug all over my Facebook feed?'" he said with a chuckle.
DiSalvo said he's contemplating hanging the photos in his home.
The only problem?
His wife "hates the long hair," he said with a laugh.
Rainier said this is only the beginning of pop culture-infused shoots.
"I love decades. I love television and I love music. I want to shoot anything that is inspired by those things," said Rainier, who also styles creative senior portraits in everything from a 1970s road trip to a backyard picnic dripping with '50s Americana symbols. "Basically I would love to do more pop culture."
That means a possibility of channeling some of her favorite shows, including "Orange Is The New Black" and "Game of Thrones."
She added: "For me I'd rather look outside of the box. If it hasn't been done yet, I'm all about it."