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.”

Margaret and Dan | A Nontraditional Golden Gate Bridge View and Thee Parkside Wedding

When Margaret and Dan first reached out to me about shooting their wedding, they told me that it wasn’t going to be your normal wedding. First off, there was no real “ceremony venue” because they would be taking their guests on a tour bus around San Francisco and somewhere along the stops, they would do a super quick, 2 minute ceremony. They also weren’t going to do a typical sit-down dinner, instead they would have a taco bar for everyone!

How am I so lucky?

Tour Bus: San Francisco Bus Tours
Wedding Ceremony: Golden Gate Bridge View
Reception Venue / Catering: Thee Parkside
Band: Uke-Hunt
DJ: Jackie Sugarlumps

Words from Margaret:

1. Your wedding was definitely unique! Could you tell us how you came up with the Big Bus Tour idea and having the wedding ceremony as part of the quick stop?
Many of our guests were traveling from out of state to be at our wedding, so we wanted to offer them something more than just a party, which they could get anywhere. Taking them to a couple of tourist attractions and seeing more of the city was our way to thank them for traveling so far. 

As for the wedding ceremony, we knew that the reception was the most important part of the wedding for us, so we wanted the ceremony to be quick and inexpensive. We didn’t really know if it would work or not, but we figured we could make it work with sheer numbers. It was so fun bringing 70 guests to a tourist spot and making our own space for the quick ceremony.

2. What was the most memorable part of the day?
The ceremony was definitely the most memorable part of the day. Even though it was cold, it felt magical getting married with the Golden Gate Bridge right beside us.

3. What unique detail was the most important for you to include and why?
We both really enjoyed dressing up our maid of honor and best man! We bought each of them a bright sequins jacket to wear at the wedding. They are both important people in our lives, so we wanted them to show off and be seen, and we knew they would be game for looking a little silly. It turns out they can really pull off the look! 

4. What came most as a surprise to you about the day?
We knew the live band was risky, but they ended up being fantastic. Their energy was contagious, and even though they were a little corny, it was hard not to like them. They set the tone for the rest of the night.

5. If you could give one piece of advice for a couple who also wants a nontraditional wedding, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to cut or rearrange parts of a traditional wedding. By eliminating some things (like a separate ceremony or a sit-down dinner), we were able to save a lot of money. You also realize how much a wedding still feels like a wedding even without the typical fixtures. Your guests will appreciate you being yourselves!

Laura and Gabe | A Unique San Francisco Wedding - Alamo Square Park, Absinthe, Cafe du Nord

Heck. Yes.

Dear couples, a wedding can be whatever you want it to be. As long as the two of you get married, all the other details are just the icing on top of the cake.

When Laura first approached me about photographing her wedding, she described it as nontraditional, with no/few flowers, no aisle, and a dark blue sweetheart lace fit & flare dress. “I feel like this is coming across as negative,” she said, “but we are just focusing on the things that are most important to us :)”

Hear hear! Laura and Gabe got married with their closest group of friends and family surrounding them at Alamo Square Park with the cityscape behind them, had an intimate dinner at Absinthe, then joined the larger group for donuts and dancing at Cafe du Nord.

Ceremony: Alamo Square Park, San Francisco
Dress: Self-Portrait
Suit: Billy Reid
Restaurant: Absinthe
After Party: Cafe du Nord
Donuts: Dynamo Donut
Custom Poster: Matthew J. Fleming

{ From Laura )

  1. What was the most memorable part of the day?
    Though our ceremony was short, that time in the park was the most memorable part of the day for me. It felt incredibly vulnerable, sharing what we normally just say to one another, in front of our friends and family. Looking around to everyone, I could feel the love and joy surround us. It was so powerful, and I felt so present in the moment.

  2. What unique detail was the most important for you to include and why?
    This is the hardest question to answer! The unique detail that I love the most is the custom poster by Matthew J. Fleming, that I commissioned as a wedding gift. The design includes so many details about our relationship and the day, from our favorite records, to the ceremony and reception venues. Music is so important to us, and we have posters from dozens of shows we've seen ourselves and together. Using the back of it as our guest book means that everyone who was there is a part of our commitment to one another. It's hanging in a prime location in our new home.

  3. What came most as a surprise to you about the day?
    How time flew by! I would have loved to have hours more with friends and loved ones, and more time to connect one on one with everyone there.