outdoor ceremony

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

Stephanie and Tim | Monte Rio Wedding

Documenting Stephanie and Tim’s wedding was such a treat. I began my day with photographing them getting ready together in a tucked away AirBnB surrounded by trees and greenery. They made tea together, wrote out the vows they would say to each other just a few moments later, and then Tim helped Stephanie get into her wedding dress.

Also, holy cow, can we take a moment to appreciate how much work went into the handmade paper bouquet and floral wall pieces?

Venue: Monte Rio Community Center
Wedding Planner: Weddings on the Vine
Caterer and Desserts: Sally Tomatoes

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!

Oceano Hotel & Spa Half Moon Bay Wedding | Grace & Gabe

About a month before a wedding, I send out a questionnaire to my couple asking them for details about logistics and pertinent information. For my own curiosity, I also have a question that asks “What part of the day is most important to you photographically?” Most couples say portraits or ceremony. Grace and Gabe’s answer? “Reception Dancing” Heck yeah! I knew this was going to be fun.

Grace had made us sous vide salmon and rice as we chatted in her home about the wedding, which was coming up in just a few short weeks. Besides the usual advice I gave about timing and reception events, Grace and Gabe asked me how I could make the dance party even better. Most people choose glow sticks, I told them, but photographically speaking they don’t always make as big of an impact. So I told her about these light up foam sticks I saw once at a Las Vegas night club. Get a bunch of those, I told her, and they will definitely help make more of an impact.

Needless to say, their dance party was one of the craziest, most memorable wedding dancing I’ve experienced. (Also big shout out to my one of my favorite DJ companies Big Fun DJ with their amazing lights!)

Venue: Oceano Hotel & Spa Half Moon Bay
Florist: Alena Jean
DJ: Big Fun DJ
Cake: Dianda’s Bakery
Hair & Makeup: The Traveling Stylist

Natalie & Nick | White Arbor Wedding in Elk Grove

Wow, Natalie and Nick’s wedding. I’m always a fan of everything-in-one-location wedding days, and at this beautiful yet unassuming venue, having that little extra peace of mind and extra time was welcomed. Natalie was able to have a small “first look” with her grandmother (whose expression I’ll never forget!) before sharing a first look with Nick.

A few of my favorite moments:

  • After the ceremony, the wedding party snuck back upstairs to sign the marriage license and have a little joyous “Now it’s REALLY official and we’re the only ones to see!” celebration.

  • Looking back at Natalie and Nick’s wedding guests in their own romantic cuddle watching their first dance.

  • Witnessing and capturing the tiny moments of love between family - such as Natalie’s mom wrapping the grandparents together with a blanket.

Though their guest count was around 150, somehow it still felt so intimate!

Venue: White Arbor Weddings
DJ: DJ Eli Freshmode
Caterer: American River College
Flowers: American River College
Bridal Gown: BHLDN

Nadia & Joe | Outdoor Art Club in Mill Valley

I’m finally getting around to posting this gorgeous wedding from a while ago! I actually went to the same University with Nadia and Joe, and seeing so many familiar faces among the guests made the event even more welcoming - people who have seen me from the very beginning of my photography journey, starting with being the set photographer / camera assistant on film and music video productions to finding my way to being a full time photographer.

I’ve photographed at the Outdoor Art Club several times now, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite venues!

Venue: Outdoor Art Club
DJ: Ryan Ealum
Florist: Mill Valley Flowers
Caterer: Il Davide Restaurant
Cake: The Cakemaker