Advice From a Bride About Having a Nontraditional Wedding

So excited to share this one! As more and more couples opt to have less traditional weddings by including only the traditions that are meaningful to them or changing existing ones to reflect who they are, I’m find it so helpful to ask the couples directly about their experience.

Mattie and Jared share their experience with planning a nontraditional wedding at El Rio, a bar in the Mission in San Francisco.

I met up with them at Proper Hotel for a some family portraits and quick couples portraits.


While we waited for our ride to El Rio, Mattie and Jared transferred their vows from phone / head to paper.


We didn’t want to be limited by a guest count and we wanted a great party. We were discouraged that most traditional options didn’t deliver this in what we believed was a ‘reasonable’ cost and get the personal experience we wanted. We assumed our ‘non traditional’ approach meant simple and inexpensive but that’s not true, designing an experience that feels like you is in fact custom. It takes just as much if not more thought and vision than a more traditional, generic wedding. What worked for us was to focus on moments and then deliberately build structure from there. What did we want to feel like at each interaction and how did we want others to feel?
— Mattie and Jared
We designed the ceremony in a way that would make us (and our guests comfortable) so we could really lean into the seriousness and personal nature of this moment. We saw everyone before the ceremony (no aisle walking) in hopes to combat any nerves (especially for our vows) and it was true, being greeted by our loved ones gave us so much energy and love that any anxiety slipped away. We had our parents gather everyone (setting the tone) and each shared their wishes for us. We had our friends officiate (a couple who’s marriage we admire and friendship adore) and they wrote an incredibly touching ceremony for us. We stripped out formal call and responses and built the ceremony script using our language so it felt natural and truthful and ultimately so that we and our guests felt connected in this deeply vulnerable moment. And because El Rio has such an amazing back patio, everyone stood, huddling around us creating closeness and we loved the ability to see everyone’s face.
— Mattie and Jared

What was the most memorable part of the day?

M&J: “Our ceremony. We don’t often stop and lock eyes with our partners and tell them how deeply we love them. This is a moment not to miss and the vulnerability it requires is worth it. Sharing our vows was intimate, sweet and irreplaceable.”


MJ’s Brass Boppers played immediately following their ceremony for a loud New Orleans party that eventually ended up with a parade down Mission Street, stopping traffic (for just a few seconds).

There is no other experience where ALL of your friends and family are in the same place. You hear this time and again from other people when you tell tell them you’re planning a wedding but can’t decide how big it will be. We understood this in concept - and opted for a large wedding - but you can’t quite grasp just how special and meaningful it will be to see everyone from all stages of your life there, showing up specifically for you, until you’re in the midst of it. The significance of that feeling, the truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s an incredible surprise.
— Mattie and Jared

Mattie and Jared also included the cutting of the cake with the family sword!

M&J: “We created the environment and our friends and family brought the love, the words, and the energy that made our wedding so special.

People have remarked that the wedding felt like "us." This means the world to us and proves that you can do what you want for a wedding, it just takes some intentional decisions.”

Roger and Alexa - A Malibu West Beach Club Wedding

Fun fact! I first met Roger many years ago during our freshman year at UCSB. He taught me the foundations of weight training at the gym (something I unfortunately didn’t carry with me after graduating), and we’d eat meals at the dining commons after training. I was thrilled to be asked to photograph their engagement session, their wedding portraits at San Francisco City Hall, along with their wedding at the Malibu West Beach Club in Southern California.

Venue: Malibu West Beach Club
Coordinator: Sabrina Downing
Caterer: Silver Service Catering
DJ: Cullen Martinez of VoxDJs
Videographer: ESC Media
Florist: Colour Classics
Cake: JaimeCakes
Officiant: Officiant Guy
Hair and Makeup: Beauty in Motion

Vina Enoteca Wedding in Palo Alto

It was that weekend that rained, randomly! I thought April showers were supposed to bring May flowers, but May decided to go ahead and bring a little weeping that weekend. Thankfully the rain stopped a bit for a couple portraits at Stanford Campus, where the couple met, and brought with it a beautiful atmosphere.

(Words from Natalie)
What was the most memorable part of the day?
There were so many throughout the day that it's hard to pinpoint a particular moment as being the most memorable. There were the classic ones (the vows, the toasts, the post-ceremony hugs) and the innocuous ones (the last minute hairstyle debates, the pre-ceremony pizza, the questionable dance moves), all of them important but also fleeting. That's why we are so grateful to have such wonderful photos -- they make those moments last a little longer.

What unique detail was the most important for you to include and why?
Neither of us are big on cake and didn't care about any cake-cutting tradition, so we knew we would serve ice cream and cookies from day one. It was a big hit with everyone -- turns out a gelato cart beats wedding cake, hands down.

What came most as a surprise to you about the day?
It's not really a surprise because everyone says it, but the whole day does go by fast. It is so special to have all your friends and family in the same place; one day is not enough.

And one piece of advice to another couple?
In case of unseasonable and unexpected rain, clear plastic umbrellas ordered via Amazon Prime are a lifesaver :)

Venue: Vina Enoteca
Wedding Planner: Kristine Tsai
Florist: Henry’s Place
DJ: Jamie Tibbets
Cellist: Charles Wang
Makeup: Maddie & Blush
Hair: Jana Davies, Julian Chase Salon

A Casual San Francisco Engagement Session | Michael & Alex

Excited to photograph these silly, fun-loving lovebirds’ wedding this summer. Throughout this session I honestly didn’t have to tell them to do anything, just where to stand or sit. And they did the rest themselves. We started off in the Yerba Buena Gardens, explored the Union Square area a bit, and ended up in Bernal Heights before they had to jet off back home.

Erin and AJ | Foreign Cinema Ceremony and Wedding Reception in San Francisco

I think it was raining the day before this wedding. We’ve been in what seems like the rainiest season in years, but it luckily ended up being a beautiful, sunny day. We hit up a few classic San Francisco locations for a few portraits before the ceremony and reception at the always beautiful Foreign Cinema.

(Words from AJ and Erin)

What was the most memorable part of the day?
Most memorable part I think was the moment of quiet time we got to spend alone right after the ceremony. As we were eating the appetizers saved for us and looking at all the different people who came from all the different parts of our lives to celebrate, it really hit us that we had done something that we would remember for the rest of our lives.

What unique detail was the most important for you to include and why?
Capturing the wine capsule in a photo-journalistic way was really nice for us. Neither of us is religious, so it was important that we had a unique, but still symbolically ceremonial aspect to the ceremony. We were afraid that the capsule wouldn't make sense, especially in pictures, but it turned out great since we could clearly see the progression from empty box, to placing the wines, and finally to holding up the sealed capsule.


What came most as a surprise to you about the day?

How fast the actual wedding flew by! We planned this event for over 8 months, with the last 3 months being really intense on our end. We were making all the DIY items, like the wedding arch, the table decorations, and the place cards, while making final plans with every single vendor. It was exhausting and felt like a second job. However, when the day finally arrived, everything went pretty much perfectly and according to plan. We were glad to have done all the work, but for as much as we had to do, it seemed like the day was over just as quickly as it started. Our friends had warned us that this would be the general feeling and advised us to make sure to soak in the little moments, which definitely helped us in our day!


And if you could give one piece of advice to another couple about the wedding, what would it be?
Make sure you get the best vendors that you can find. Everyone who was involved from the venue's events coordinator (with whom we must have exchanged a hundred emails over the course of a year) to the DJ (who pulled double duty as coordinating when she saw things were getting hectic) and especially the photographer (of course!) was extremely professional, talented, and clearly committed to making sure that we had the best and most memorable experience possible. 


Venue: Foreign Cinema
Florist: Bell & Trunk
DJ: Heart of Gold DJs