News + Features

Groom Saves Drowning Child: The Wedding Photographer’s Account

September 29, 2017

By Jacqueline Tobin

© Hatt Photography

All Photos @ Hatt Photography

By now, most of us have likely seen the photos or heard the news story from earlier this week about a hero groom saved a drowning boy during a photo shoot with newlyweds Clayton and Brittany Cook (above) after their ceremony at Victoria Park in London, Ontario. It's a very uplifting piece, and no doubt the bride is now even more secure in her choice of groom!

But as editors of a wedding and a portrait photography magazine, the Rangefinder staff was curious to hear the photographer's story, in this case Darren Hatt (of London, Ontario) and how despite sudden surprises at a wedding shoot, the show must go on. Even with all the attention and interest following the piece, Hatt responded immediately to our interview request. What follows is the story, and its aftermath, in his own words.

The wedding day started out pretty normal, like any other, and the ceremony was intimate, with only a handful of immediate family present. I had recently bought the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art Nikon lens and was looking forward to using it, as this was only the second wedding I had photographed with it.

After the bridal party photos, we moved on to the bride and groom photos on a nearby bridge and were walking back down the river when my bride asked me to shoot some solo shots of her in her dress. I faced my back to the river and asked Clayton, the groom, to step behind me. It was an unseasonably warm September day, so the park was full of families using the splash pad nearby. Not long into shooting, the bride shouted and pointed to the river. When I spun around, there was Clayton holding a drenched little guy by the arm.

Once I knew Clayton didn't need any help, I immediately started shooting the drama as it unfolded. The first photo I took was the one where Clayton is holding the child by the arm (below). It was over as quickly as I realized what was happening (a testament to how quickly Clayton sprung into action).

Clayton would later tell me that another child had pushed the boy in. The little boy looked a little shocked and in no rush to return to wherever his family was. Eventually, someone I assumed was a sibling came to get him. The three of us shared a look and a chuckle about how strange that was. As we walked back to the shoot, it dawned on us how much more serious the whole thing could have played out.

We continued shooting for a short time, then made our way back to the park's pavilion where the reception was being held. The night continued on, and as I went ahead and showed a couple of people the back of my screen, Clayton's mother and his mother-in-law both beamed.

The wedding was Friday. I posted the picture on Saturday; I really just wanted to give a nod to a good deed done. I thought it may garner a little more attention than usual, but not like this. By Sunday, I was between shoots when I got a call around noon from my local television company (CTV) asking for an interview. I obliged. This was recorded in London, but was intended for broadcast in Kitchener, where the story originated and where I thought the story would stay. The original broadcast never did make it to TV, as was expected because of the return of the NFL season, but we soon discovered that it would be airing later on the National CTV channel for all of Canada.

The reaction has been incredibly surprising. I understand it’s a great story, but I never imagined it would take off in such a way. I’ve had an interesting perspective on the story's growth and spread, as my wife and I have tackled hundreds of incoming media requests. I recall mentioning to her, "It’s sort of like that Plague Inc game we used play," watching it start in one country, then spread to a city in another country (in this case, New York), then spread to another city, then another country—Canada, the U.S. and then South America, on to the UK, Poland, then jumping to Taiwan. All of a sudden I was taking calls from CNN, NBC, ABC, and before long the story was basically covered by every major news network in North America. It was surreal.

Hatt was happy to indulge us with some answers about the equipment he used that day. He says he was shooting with the Nikon D600 and the Sigma 135mm Art 1.8 Nikon mount. "I love my D600," he says. "It has a great low-light sensor, and though it’s a cheaper body then some in the flagship Nikon line, I’ve always felt comfortable taking calculated risks, like strolling into the water or climbing down a cliff knowing that, while tragic, it would only be $2,000 to replace and not $8,500 for something like the D5. The Sigma lens has been wonderful to use as well. I’m certain the photo of the little boy being rescued by Clayton would not have been the same otherwise. Beautiful bokeh and background compression—I’m finding it hard to see any appreciable loss in sharpness or chromatic aberration even at 1.8."