Damn, heavy title, am I right?


Recently, I was in an establishment (getting my eyebrows tamed) and as I was leaving, an employee stopped me to tell me she overheard that I was a wedding photographer. As I was getting my brows done, I had been chatting with the stylist – and the stylist knew I was widowed suddenly when I was 27 and married just three years.

The employee asked for my best pieces of wedding advice as her son was getting married soon. I’m all about the wedding advice when it’s solicited – I love to give my opinion (don’t we all?) on all practical matters including timeline, logistics, etc. I even have a 90 page guide that I give to my booked clients.

But the employee was also asking for my best advice given my situation, as a young widow. And that’s some heavy, weighty stuff that I don’t bring up in consults or in my wedding guide – because it isn’t based on best practices in photography reasoning or rooted in my experiences shooting 250+ weddings.

It’s rooted in just one wedding, mine, and it’s deeply personal.  Is the advice valuable to all brides and grooms, 99.999% of whom will not be widowed at a young age, fortunately? I think it is. So these are the 3 quick thoughts I gave that employee.

These are lessons learned and things I am so glad I did on my wedding day. My experience as a young widow influences how I photograph a wedding, just as some of my photographer friends who are parents themselves have that naturally influence their coverage on a wedding day in terms of photos. (That’s not to say we all won’t tailor our coverage – I absolutely do listen to what elements are important to you – but this is the natural way my coverage gravitates – to the bride and groom (or bride and bride or groom and groom) together as more important than anything else)

I think the couple themselves, together, to be the most important thing – more important than superstitions (can’t see the bride before the ceremony), more important than fun dancing with friends, more important than bridal party shenanigans, more important than the ceremony, more important than shots of shoes and rings and flowers and the “look” of the day, more important than the guests, more important than other family. (I like and love all of these things too, but the couple together are #1 for me)

So given my background, here’s some advice that’s not photographically related for your big day:

1. Let NOTHING bother you.

When I was in high school, I had a white prom dress. (Stop me if you’ve heard this story before because I tell it a lot and it’s in my advice booklet). I got mud on my white prom dress because it’s Pittsburgh and rains all the time and the ground is always wet. I was upset about it because I was a kid and not adept at handling my emotions well. I remember snapping at someone instead of letting it roll off my shoulders. I have felt bad about this incident for FIFTEEN years. And worse? Others still remember it and have brought it up to me from time to time. Ugh, shame. One of the worst emotions to have. So remember others will remember how you act and treat them on this special day. And they’ll probably bring it up for the next 30 years. No pressure or anything. 😉

So when it came time to get married, I remembered that rainy May day in 2003. I told myself over and over again “the dress is going to get dirty/the dress is going to get dirty” – it’s hard if you are a perfectionist. Prepare a little kit to get stains out, but for the most part, just accept it will be dirty and just aim for “not totally filthy.”

I told myself that no matter WHAT happened on my wedding day, I would not let it bother me. Play the part of an actress if you have to and fake it til you make it to change your mindset.

I can think of little things my brides and grooms have told me happened over the years: they forgot to wear lipstick, the limo broke down, it poured sideways, the dress ripped, the dress got stained, a fire alarm went off and the entire venue had to be evacuated, a relative says something unkind/weird, etc. On my own wedding day, I remember lots of little snafus – a few guests that didn’t make it, a parking lot that wasn’t open even though we had made arrangements, lighting that burnt out, drinks that weren’t as strong as they should be, black icing on my white dress – lots of teensy, tiny little things that despite my proper preparation – things go wrong.

These things happen – play the part of a gracious hostess and let it roll off your back. Don’t let others bring you down! It’s going to be impossible to act perfectly all day, but try not to be too upset – let your joy shine through! Because people will bring it up to you years and years later – they will only remember your emotions and not the dress you wore, the food, etc.

Years after I got married, my videographer told me he remembered how I just smiled all day long. And I really truly felt that in my heart. My cake baker mentioned she thought we were a special couple and she could really tell the love we had for each other.

2. Be NICE to each other that day and all the days. Give in to the one who wants something and not the absence of something.

When I got married, I was already in the wedding industry as a photography assistant for five years – I had probably already been to 100 weddings. Therefore, I really made our wedding about what my husband wanted – because I didn’t really have too many strong opinions on the aesthetic of things since this is what I do for a career and I see a lot of weddings.

My late husband really loved the Steelers, and Heinz Field seemed fine to me as a more casual fan – so we had it there. Some people really dislike the idea of a black and gold wedding, but I was totally fine with it – so that’s what we had. Guys, it is so much fun to see your partner LOVING certain things you made happen for the big day. I remember calling my late husband to tell him that I got the venue we wanted!

I’m not saying big surprises or expecting a big reaction – but knowing you did this all for them – it’s really cool.

Let them get the tux they want, even if it’s not a perfect match to the wedding day you envisioned. (I recently had a groom with a camo tie – and the bride was 100% good with it and they looked great together!)

Go to Hawaii (or whatever other dream location you are thinking about) for the honeymoon if you can swing it. My husband and I were on a tight budget and we were talking about honeymoons one night. We both said, on the count of 3, that “Hawaii” would be our dream if money was no object. A few days later, I went and found a way to do it economically. We decided to do it and I put the money down one Monday. The very next day, he said “I’ve been thinking maybe we shouldn’t…”

I blurted out “I put the money down” – he immediately said “Good. Good – no that’s perfect, so we don’t waffle or change our minds.” You always think you’ll have time to take that honeymoon someday and I hope you will of course. But I’m glad we went.

So give in to the positive thing if you can. And don’t default to the negative – or the absence of something. It breaks my heart to hear “Well, I wanted video but Bob said we’d never watch it” or “Sally said we didn’t need to do cupcakes – it didn’t go with her plan” or whathaveyou. Reach decisions mutually.

This of COURSE goes for photos – even if they’re not something you like, if she/he likes them – do them without complaining (or go the extra mile and even do them happily). For them.

3. It’s your wedding day – spend it TOGETHER.

I’m a big fan of the first look of course. But even if you’re not doing that – spend time together. Help your wife carry her train into the limo – don’t run ahead with your boys and leave her to fend for herself. Wait with him while he gets his individual photos done.

Dance together or greet tables together – and if one of you isn’t the biggest dancer, that’s okay – just check in with each other every so often.

Focus on photo time together as most important. If we have limited time, make couple photos the priority, not the fun and silly bridal party shots. Now that you’re getting married, “the girls” or “the boys” will take a lower priority in your life.

Ask many married people – how many members of your bridal party do you still talk to? It’s so weird to say this, but yes, for some people – the wedding day is the last time you will really see that bridesmaid or groomsman as your lives evolve and change. I love taking photos of the wedding party, but remember that these people don’t all typically know each other and these photos are not usually as meaningful as the couple together. (And your bridesmaid Susie would rather have a photo of you and her together than a few where she’s paired up with your groom’s cousin and there are 15 other faces in the shot)

So spend your wedding day together – carve out those moments. It goes by so quickly and you can never get enough time together.

I don’t often share my emotions on my blog (there used to be a time back in 2010 when this was all the rage – when you had to write long and personal stories on your blog all the time – thank goodness those days are over in the industry!) and I don’t play the “widow card” in my life and business because it feels yucky to me. But I’ll just say this – my wedding to my late husband was almost ten years ago and I can still remember we were lined up to go down the aisle for the ceremony.

He was at the front of the line and I was with my dad at the back. I kind of “broke away” from my spot in line and I rushed up to him and kissed him before we went out there to get married. I’m not an impulsive/passionate person but I just had to see him and kiss him and tell him I loved him before this huge moment. I remember we were both emotional (he was tearing up, I was full on crying). My dad said “okay okay calm down, you’re okay” – not wanting me to be a mess before I walked down the aisle. But that’s one of the best memories of my life – to be overcome with emotion and love and to know someone else is feeling it too on this day you planned just for them to enjoy.

(This photo provided by Mark May Photography)

So – therapy and advice session over. You do you. But you know – you do them too. Because you’re a team now – let nothing bother you and smile all day, be KIND to each other always, and spend time together. That’s my wedding advice. And maybe a little life advice too.

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