Category Archives: Destination Weddings

Heidi and Molly: A Colorful Same Sex Wedding on California’s North Coast

Tell us your love story!

Heidi: We had several mutual friends from LiveJournal and Twitter communities for fans of a few specific bands (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, etc.), and I kept noticing my friends talking to this smart, interesting person I wanted to know, so I started following them on Twitter. We kept discovering more things we had incommon, having lengthy conversations in private messages, and eventually collaborating on a creative project together that just meant even more talking and discovering. Molly confessed they had feelings for me and I was thrilled! Not long after that I planned a visit (they live in San Francisco and at the time I lived in Vermont), and meeting in person was like meeting someone I’d known my whole life. That visit was in February; in May of the same year I moved across the country to live with them. A wild leap of faith, but I just knew it would work, and I haven’t looked back.

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What about the proposal?

Heidi: I knew Molly was planning to propose around Christmas, so I was getting increasingly excited as it got closer. We travel from San Francisco to visit my family in Vermont every year, which involves a full day of travel and usually a lot of sitting around an airport late at night waiting for our last connection. During that wait, Molly confessed they hadn’t actually gotten a ring and I would have to bring them shopping in the few days before Christmas. It worked out really well, because my sister worked at a jewelry counter at the time so I went to her to help me pick something out, we found my dream ring, and then I sat in a cafe while Molly shopped so I didn’t actually know if they went to my sister or picked something outon their own.

On the day of, when we were mostly finished with presents, I unwrapped my gift from Molly to find a cute, more casual ring they had picked out for me, and then they told me that wasn’t the only ring I was getting. My mother gasped so loudly you could probably hear it states away as Molly got down on one knee – and immediatelygot swarmed by my parents’ dog! – to propose. There was my dream ring, and also my dream person, and in my excitement I almost forgot to actually say yes!

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When did you know that you were meant to be with each other?

Heidi: I don’t know that there was any one moment! There have been a thousand little things that just reaffirm it, over and over since I moved. Being around Molly makes me feel like a better version of myself, and I knew very early on I wanted to be that version forever.

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Going into the wedding planning, what did you definitely know?

Heidi: I knew I wanted to get married in Mendocino County where Molly grew up because both the coast and the inland are gorgeous, and that we wanted to be outdoors. Also a lot of people would be traveling so we wanted our wedding somewhere people could stay, to take some of the planning stress out of it for people who were coming a long way for us!

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What surprised you during planning? What was easy, what was difficult?

Heidi: I was surprised by how little I ended up wanting to do myself. I was out of work and planning the wedding was basically my full-time job, but even then I would find myself staring down the barrel of assembling favors or hand-painting place cards or DIY floral arrangements and nearly always make the call to pay someone else to take care of it. I’m a very crafty person but the time investment, the need to have everything Just Right, and the amount of space it would take up to store materials and finished products in our tiny apartment was just a little too much.

Molly: The vendors all know each other. This helped us out in a few ways, most notably when the DJ we initially hired had to cancel a month out and suggested an excellent alternative. But it also made for an awkward 5 minutes between our back-to-back interviews with florists who turned out to be friends.

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Is there anything you wish you knew while you were planning your wedding thatyou know now?

Heidi: The fewer things that need to be Perfect, the better. I had two things that I wanted to go Perfectly, and many many things that didn’t need precise timing or people to be in exactly the right places or six different moving pieces to line up, and there were many little hiccups throughout the day but the ones that really devastate me were with the two things that needed to be Perfect. The more you can stick to concepts and not details when you build the image of your perfect day, the more relaxing it will be! Do you need your tables to be named with in-jokes perfectly tailored to the people at each table (entirely thrown off by a minor printing error neither of us caught in the proofs) or just cute things that feel like You? Do you need to enter the reception to a precisely-timed piece of music for maximum dramatic effect, or just pick a song you like?

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Any advice for couples planning weddings now? Anything you would have donedifferently or anything you’d like to add?

Heidi: 1. Pick a point person for your wedding and give them more information than they need, more tasks than you think you should, and lean on them hard. Our point person was wonderful, but I only fully utilized her on the day of the ceremony, so the day before when I had a killer migraine I still had to contend with a full list of tasks to either do or delegate when I could barely remember my name. 2. Don’t be afraid to say no to people. I’m a big people pleaser at the best of times, and I was afraid of being branded a “bridezilla”, so I would try to be accommodating of suggestions, ideas, and offers that didn’t work with what we wanted for our day and then I would be stuck with the labor of making them work for us. If you’re accepting money from people, let them have a say in some things, for sure, but there is nothing wrong with knowing what you want and what you don’t and being gentle but firm about it. 3. Budget more than you think you need for everything. Obviously this isn’t always possible! But however much you can do will help take the pressure off. Most budget advice I saw recommended having a specific cushion of some percentage of your total budget, and we did that, but I also did my best to overestimate how much we would need for things so each category (food, apparel, etc) had its own cushion as well.

Molly: The single best thing we did in our planning was a decision we made early on: that for any given decision, the person who cared most would get their way. In the vast majority of cases, this meant we went with what Heidi wanted, because she is much more opinionated about weddings than I am. But there were a few cases where it turned out I had stronger opinions than I realized, and Heidi was great at drawing me out and making sure we had the wedding I wanted, too.

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What was your favorite part of your wedding day?

Heidi: Our ceremony overlooked the ocean, and after our recessional, when people were just beginning to get up to head in for the cocktail hour, whales began breaching right behind our wedding arch! We were facing away, heard most of our crowd of loved ones gasp, and turned to watch whales celebrate our wedding with us. It was truly beautiful; I still can’t think about it without crying.

Molly: for me it was getting to the end of the procession and turning around and seeing the crowd—so many people from different parts of our lives, all together in one place because they cared about us and our happiness together. That was an overwhelming feeling.

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Photography: Katherine Elyse Photography / @lovekephoto
Venue: Heritage House Resort & Spa / @heritagehouseresort
Catering: Heritage House Resort & Spa / @heritagehouseresort
Dessert Table: A Sweet Affair Patisserie / @asweetaffairpatisserie
Flowers: Mendocino Floral Design / @mendocino_floral_design
Hair & Makeup: M Salon / @marianellabrey
DJ: NorCal Pro Sound, Tony Muzzin / @norcalprosounddjservice
Chair & Tent Rental: Matt Rowland Events  / No Instagram
Dress: Wtoo by Watters / @wtoowatters // Purchased from Haute & Co Bridal Salon / @hauteandco
Tailoring: Tailor Maid / @tailormaidsf
Corset: Dark Garden / @darkgardencorsetry
Suit: Kipper Clothiers / @kipperclothiers
Ring: Mendocino Gems / No Instagram

Laurel and Mike’s Zhangjiajie Forest Park Wedding Part 4 – Couple’s Photos

There are very few words to describe the beauty of Zhangjiajie Mountain Forest Park in China. Being a photographer who loves dark and moody weather, I was overjoyed when I saw the fog settling over the gorgeous floating mountains. If this spot looks familiar to you, it’s because it was featured in the 2009 hit Avatar by James Cameron. Wow that Movie made history with CGI and over the top special effects, there’s really no need to enhance this place with the technology. You can feel how old everything is, how come the air and the forest feels. It’s lush, wild, romantic, and expansive; The perfect place to take couples photos after your wedding.

Laurel was an absolute trooper as well, trucking around in her giant red wedding dress and then eventually changing into a more westernized strapless white gown. I was super lucky to have the help of two of Laurel’s assistants, her hair and make up artist and her wedding coordinator, because posing that dress in the wind and the rain would’ve been just about too much for a little old me!

Every time I look at these pictures I’m reminded how lucky I am to be able to do what I do. This unique experience is one that may never be topped. (But of course, if your’re having a destination wedding, feel free to top this one and invite me to be your photographer!)

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Laurel and Mike’s Zhangjiajie Forest Park Wedding Part 3 – The Ceremony

FINALLY. The big day. (Holy sh*it, we were excited!)

After the immacualte welcome BBQ, the rowdy door games, and the amazing breakfast, I was STOKED to get to the main event. Mike and his boys were well into their suits by the time we arrived for photos and were already starting in on their second bottle of wedding wine. If ever there was ever an indication of how awesome this day was going to be, that was it. Their get up gave a nod to traditional Chinese styling and fused the past with the present with slim fitting garments and modern dress shoes. The crazy socks were a must, signaling how wild and wonderful they all felt.

Now, I had heard for months about Laurel’s custom made red wedding dress but NOTHING prepared me for the sheer perfection of it. Her gown looked like something off the MET Gala carpet and I was HERE fot it. Not only did Laurel look stunning, but so did all of her bridesmaids. Their dresses all sported a different cut for each but created from the same gorgeous navy bloe floral pattern. I don’t know about you, but I think this is one of the hottest bridal parties ever!

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The ceremony was held at the Zhangjiajie National Forest park in the Hunan province of China. If this epic backdrop looks familiar, it’s because this is the same spot James Cameron filmed his 2009 epic Avatar. The floating mountains were absolutly breathtaking, I couldn’t believe this was the backdrop for the wedding! Of course, the decor of the aisle and alter matched the stunning neautrals of the fog filled background with an abundance of white flowers, walkways, teraces, and arangements. Watching Laurel stride down the aisle in her electrifying red dress is a sureal and beautiful moment that I will truly never forget. The ceremony was performed in both English and Chinese to accomdate for all the guests and involved traditional Western vows as well as a tea ceremony with the parents of the couple. It was sealed with a kiss, some dancing, and lots of joy!

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Laurel and Mike’s Zhangjiajie Forest Park Wedding Part 2 – Door Games

After recovering from a rowdy late night Welcome BBQ (see the blog post about that HERE) everyone was up bright and early for the Door Games. I had no idea what to expect from this part of the wedding, but Laurel said it was the part she was most looking forward to, so I was definitely stoked to see it all play out.

Door games are a series of challenges that the bride and her bridesmaids put forth to the groom and groomsmen in order to determine if he is, in fact, worthy of his bride. These can range from physical strength competitions to straight up making him pay cash for his bride, as well as anything in between. With Laurel’s insanely fun friends on the stage, I knew the boys were in for trouble. They did an awesome job completing all the challenges and no one died, so that’s a plus! 😉

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THE PRESENTATION OF THE BRIDE (with bridesmaids in matching onesies, no less!)

CHALLENGE #1

There was an attempt at winning the bridesmaids over with cold hard cash but, unfortunately for the boys, they wouldn’t get off that easy.KEC11182KEC11191

CHALLENGE #2

The bridesmaids tried to get the groomsmen to quit by making them wear saucy little headbands and Kardashian level fake butts, but these boys were in it to win it. The next part of the challenge was for the men to show Laurel how much they love her by creating the word LOVE out of their bodies! While it seems like an easy feat, one of the members also had to be inverted throughout. These boys busted out all the stops to impress the girls and give everyone a laugh.KEH20754007Q0579007Q0599007Q0645007Q0640

GAME #3: BALLOON POP

I’ll go ahead and throw this one in under the category of a humiliation ritual (re: hazing). The groomsmen had to tie balloons around their waist and, without using their hands, pop all of the balloons. Needless to say, there was a lot of hilarious physical contact and attempts at smashing in all the wrong places.

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CHALLENGE #5

This challenge was the physical representation of all the feelings of married life: spicy, sweet, bitter, and sour. These boys had to slam some red chilli peppers, whole sweet mandarin oranges, some icky bitter melon, and a shot of black vinegar!

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CHALLENGE #7

This challenge was sort of a two parter. The bridesmaids asked questions about Laurels life, family, favorite things, etc. and Mike had to answer them. He also had to name 8 countries that Laurel planned to visit in the near future. If he got a question or country wrong, he had to hold a Scorpion inversion yoga pose, meant to open the heart, for 60 seconds. Lucky for him, he was able to also ask a groomsman to step up to the plate. One of them even managed to slam a beer while upside down! (And he’s single, ladies!) 😉

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CHALLENGE #8

Where would the fun be if there wasn’t some element that was actually physically painful? The girls wanted to know how tough these boys were, so they busted out the wax strips for a healthy dose of  ‘beauty is pain’. Each one left the game with a fresh bald patch on their leg. Secretly though, I was hoping they’re go for the chest or armpit!

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CHALLENGE #9

This was one of the most fun challenges, of which the boys had been able to practice ahead of time. They did an amazing dance routine to a 90’s boy band song and got everyone to sing and dance along!

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CHALLENGE #10

Last but not least, FEATS OF STRENGTH! The boys were challenged to a pushup contest and a tug’o’war against Laurel’s chosen team of friends. The push up contest consisted of a team of boys doing push ups at the same time with one of Laurel’s friends resting on their back. Laurel’s team kicked butt, groomsmen… not so much. My all time favorite part of this challenge was when, to many people’s surprise, Laurel’s friend Lucia DEMOLISHED Mike’s brother Rich in an arm wrestling contest. I guess all that acro yoga, rock climbing, and aerial silk training pays off!

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And of course, even though the boys got their butts handed to them (real butts and fake rubber ones), Laurel and her bridesmaids approved of the effort and it was time to get ready for the wedding!

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PART 3 – ZHANGJIAJIE NATIONAL FOREST PARK WEDDING – COMING SOON!

Laurel and Mike’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Wedding: Part 1 – Welcome BBQ

Who: Laurel and Mike

Where: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Hunan, China.

When: October 2019

If I had been told 5 years ago that I would be flown all the way to China to shoot a multi-day all expenses paid black tie wedding, I would have called you BANANAS. As much as I love to travel, China was never really on my radar. I didn’t have friends traveling or living there and I had very little knowledge on any of it’s features or history other than the Great Wall and Mulan (I know, I know… typical Westerner). But of course, life has a funny way of pushing your boundaries and opening up doors you never knew existed.

Enter, Laurel.

I met Laurel about 5 years back while shooting a wedding for our mutual friends, Gia and Scott. She was a bridesmaid and as Gia’s day carried on with plenty of drinks and tons of laughter, Laurel and I chatted and realized we had a lot in common. After she freed me from a folding chair acting as a bear trap (that’s a whole other story) she hugged me, drunkenly proclaimed us BFF’s, and told me she wasn’t engaged but was DEFINITELY going to hire me to shoot her wedding one day. As a wedding photographer you hear this quite a bit at events, especially when people have been drinking, so I hugged her, we exchanged numbers, and said I would hold her to it, without giving it a second thought. I never thought that such an innocent exchange would lead to the most insane travel and photography experience of my life!

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Evidence of our first meeting at Gia’s wedding. (Look at the sweet babies!)

Fast forward a few years and Laurel and I had gotten closer while living near each other in the Bay Area. She invites me to come shoot headshots for the women of Docusign and eat ramen, I invite her to eat ramen and participate in some passion projects of mine. (You can see the ovararching theme, no?) Eventually, I got to know her boyfriend turned fiance, Mike. A sweet and light hearted friend to everyone, Mike is always good for a laugh, a drink, or some political banter. He also helps to order authentic and delicious Asian food for me when I’m strugling with a foreign menu! It was pretty much love at first dumpling for Mike and me.

When Laurel and Mike got engaged on a trip to New Zealand everyone was thrilled. It’s always so fun when your friends make bug moves in their lives, and I knew these two were about to truly become the power couple of the century. I was equally as excited when Laurel floated the idea of my shooting their engagement photos and wedding. (That long held drunken promise wasn’t forgotten!) Working with friends is always so much fun and I knew their wedding would be a reuinion of friends, a celebration of her heritage, and a truly epic party. I may have had an inkling it would be great, but I had no idea what Laurel had up her sleeve.

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Roaming the streets of SF to find the perfect photo and food spots. You can see more of their engagement photos on the blog HERE!

Two years of coordinating, engagement sessions, planning, and preparations later and I was off to China in October to capture their incredible multi-day wedding! My faaaaabulous associate shooter and travel companion for the trip was my best friend Da Karai. We were pretty much ready for adventure the moment we got to the airport at 6:00am. Mimosas (lots of mimosas), movies, and munchies got us from SFO to Shanghai and, although I almost got stranded at the Shanghai airport, we eventually made it to Zhangjiajie.

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WE MADE IT! Good to be showered and fresh after nearly 24 hours of travel!

The first of the many amazing wedding festivites was the welcome BBQ. Laurel and Mike are huge international travelers and have lived all over the world. You know a couple is well loved when 200 of their closest friends and family members fly into China from abroad to celebrate their big day! Their guest list was an aclectic mix of friends from every corner of the globe. In order to welcome people and allow everyone to settle in properly the BBQ was full of insane food, bottomless Tsingtao, and some incredible Chinese traditons. The night began with a heart pounding traditional Tang Gu (堂鼓) drum routine and an intricate lion dance (or Wu Shi 舞獅) filled with skillful acrobatics and stunts. It was shockingly beautiful and the perfect opener for many of the guests’ first time in China. After the performance we were greeted by the MC, heard toasts from some of the important people in Laurel and Mike’s lives (including the couple themselves), and were encouraged to eat and drink while mingling with the array of other guests. It was one hell of a party, especially for a first day!

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STAY TUNED FOR A CRAZY PART 2: DOOR GAMES!