Cody + Faith: A Sweet Southern Wedding at the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway, Texas
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Cody and Faith's sweet southern wedding at the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway Texas was everything you've dreamed about how Texas would be - warm, beautiful, easy, and peaceful. Everyone warned me that the Texas heat would be a shock for this Pennsylvania gal (we say "PA" in conversation like it's normal, but we quickly learned that it's not lol!), but believe me when I say it's all about humidity! 

I was blessed to meet Cody, and later Faith, when he was assigned to my hometown of Indiana for work. Cody was a rockstar volunteer at our church, and I could not wait to meet his sweet southern belle! Both Cody and Faith gave my husband and I an incredible kind gift of a mini-vacation to Texas, where I was honored to capture their amazing wedding day. Cody and Faith's family and friends planned a super fun fiesta-themed rehearsal dinner complete with sombreros, some bomb Mexican food, and a game of corn hole in the yard, pick up trucks and tailgates parked around for seating. It was one of those surreal moments where I felt like I was in a movie, and instantly hit so hard with gratitude for this experience. 

The wedding day was so relaxed and peaceful, and the bride just exuded quiet grace and sweetness. I especially loved the foot washing ceremony that the bride and groom took part in before they said their vows. Other adorable moments included the best man speech given by Cody's teenage nephew (he crushed it!), and the "secret dance" shared by the bride and groom in an empty ballroom as guests waited outside for the sendoff! Please take a moment to slowly scroll through all of the amazing moments from this totally gorgeous destination wedding!

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The Most Fun Bridal Party | Stratigos Banquet Center Wedding, North Huntington PA
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Every wedding may not have a strong "theme", but every wedding definitely has a "feel" to it - and most people, surrounded by their friends and family, want that feel to be a fun, relaxed, and stress free one! Morgan and Daniel's gorgeous wedding at Stratigos Banquet Center in North Huntington was by far one of the most relaxed and fun weddings I've been a part of, largely in part to their super fun bridal party. It may seem silly to say, but choose your bridal party based on how they support you, if they are happily willing to participate in whatever is needed, and how they make you FEEL! If someone stresses you out, think carefully about having them in your inner circle for your big day!

Morgan and Daniel's bridal party was more than willing to venture out into the heat, tackle any pose I could come up with, (the groom even happily did a backflip for me!), and brought plenty of fun ideas of their own, too! A great way to grow camaraderie with your bridal party to ensure everyone is having a great time day of is to all spend time together before the wedding. Go camping together, definitely have some great activities planned for a bachelor/bachelorette party, and just help your friends get to know each other and realize why YOU love them in the first place! It might be a challenge coordinating schedules, but when the whole bridal party knows each other and is friends with each other, it sets the atmosphere for the whole day, and definitely shows up in photos!

Hope you enjoy the super fun (and beautiful!) highlights from this lighthearted and personality-filled wedding!

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How To Make Your Personality Shine at Your DIY Wedding | Pop Culture Themed Wedding at the Indiana Country Club | Indiana, PA Wedding Photographer
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Are you planning a wedding that is full of personal details, DIY centerpieces, or make it yourself decor, but need some major advice so the end result doesn't leave guests saying, "what the...?" Meet Brittney and Alex. This super fun couple loves all things Disney, superhero, Netflix, and pop culture - just to name a few - and were determined to have a wedding that felt like a party but was still infused with personality! Everything about their day, down to choosing the venue, was carefully curated to be totally "them." Even their dogs were a part of the ceremony! Dexter the ringpupper and Hazel the flower dog totally stole the show (and the awesome ceremony was literally a show, complete with choreography, stage lighting, and theater curtains)! 

So how can you learn from their months of planning, crafting, and creating their pop culture themed wedding and make it fit YOUR theme? Brittney and Alex were kind enough to answer some questions about the entire process, including sharing some helpful resources, and got honest about the big questions they had to ask themselves when deciding what direction to go! I hope you find her wisdom invaluable as you plan your own totally unique wedding!

Q: How did you incorporate your personality into your details?

A: Alex and I both love our pop culture references, getting down to a funky beat, and entertaining. We truly believe a wedding should be a celebration of who the couple is, both together and separately. When we took on the idea of having a pop culture wedding, many ideas flowed through our minds (Pinterest didn't hurt either!) and when realized we had so many TV Shows, Movies, Games, and Characters we loved, why not feature them at their own table? We took that idea one step further and tried to match our family and friends to the themes they would enjoy and it couldn't have worked out any better. Hours upon hours were spent scouring flea markets, garage sales, the internet, and my parents attic crawl space to find old toys and games. The outcome was everything we wanted, and more. As for our ceremony, this was going to be the happiest day of our lives and we wanted our music and surprise movie trailer to showcase that! Don't be afraid to think outside the box! When your groomsmen take it upon themselves to sway back and forth on the stage like N*Sync backup dancers to the processional, you know you've done a good job. 

Q: How did you choose what interests of yours were important enough to incorporate?

A: The two of us sat down together and made a list of our interests, both common and otherwise. Upon determining what size wedding we wanted, we were able to decide how many tables and in turn, what themes would make the cut! We knew right away the themes that were most important to us, Disney, Batman, Harry Potter, and Marvel were priority and from there we chose based off of our guests. This day was about them too! Everyone joining us in one way or another has shaped us into who we are and we wanted to celebrate them as well. What a joy it was to see the reactions as our guests walked around to see the other themes. It also helped the guests who didn't know each other to mingle a little more. 

Q: What was the biggest challenge for making DIY elements?

A: First things first... Pinterest at some point in your life will do you dirty. You will think you're Martha Stewart. Some of you may be. I'm a pretty good crafter but Martha I am not. Alex and I wanted to incorporate wine bottles as vases because they're a super affordable option, aka free from friends and family who like a little wine in the evening. We thought we were doing a good thing by painting them months in advance and an article on Pinterest told us how to store them. A few weeks out from the wedding we unpacked them to take a peek. Surprise! Most of them had pretty decent scuffs and paint chips - enough that they would need to be painted all over again. So much time down the drain! But, here comes my dad out of nowhere to the rescue with custom wine bottle labels he designed himself! We covered some of the scuffs with the labels, turned the good sides facing out on the rest and just like that, no wasted time. Another DIY challenge was the fact that we wanted to have actual toys or trinkets at each table. While this made our theme really shine and our guests had some props to play with (you know who you are) I don't know if either of us will ever get the grime off from sticking our arms elbow deep in totes of old McDonald toys at flea markets. 

Q: What were some helpful resources you discovered while creating your details?

A: As I mentioned earlier, think outside the box. Like far outside the box. I'm pretty sure the two of us took a high speed train from the box and never looked back. Point is, make the wedding about the two of you. We have never been fans of "normal wedding food" so we decided on a gourmet burger bar. We've received dozens of compliments on how great our food was already!  Alex and his groomsmen are all pretty big super hero/comic nerds so their boutonnieres featured their favorite lego characters. The two of us we so set on our name being on a movie theater marquee and because of that, we made amazing friendships through Amplify Church. It was a chance meeting after I googled "Indiana movie theater" and found out there was already a church where we wanted to get married! Also, don't be afraid to showcase the things you love. You will get odd looks if you choose to have a unique wedding. Try explaining to people that you're having a Game of Thrones table and you need 300 thumbtacks to make a dragon egg or that somehow purchasing the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter makes sense for your wedding. They won't see your vision until they walk into the room. But they also won't soon forget your wedding

Q: What advice do you have for brides to encourage them to be as unique as they want?

A: Above all, enjoy the process! We had a longer engagement than most couples and it allowed us to get every detail just the way we wanted and also allowed us the time to get everything accomplished without too much stress. There. Will. Always. Be. Stress. It's just a matter of managing it. There will be things that go wrong, there will be people that will disappoint, there will be ideas that fall short of expectation, and there will be the one thing you "couldn't live without" that you forget about until the week of your wedding. Pick the things that are important to you and build your budget around that. Flowers aren't your thing? Don't spend money on them!  We realized photos and video would last forever so we made sure to budget accordingly!  Our day was everything we wanted and more and that was largely because we stayed true to ourselves. We couldn't be happier with the outcome. 

Can't wait to see how it turned out? You will definitely not want to miss the highlights of this amazing day! Scroll on to see the "highlight reel"!

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Ceremony: Amplify Church @ The Indiana Theater | Reception/CateringIndiana Country Club  

Gown/Bridesmaid Dresses: Stella York from White Lace Bridal   | Hair/Makeup: Fringe Salon Co  

Rings: Lorelli's in Indiana Engagement Ring  Invitations: Vistaprint  

Florals: DIY silk flowers from Amazon | Cake: Jordan Hirak

Favors: Pittsburgh Popcorn Company | DJ: Royal Heir DJ Services

Videographer: Dylan | Photographer: Jill Gearhart Photography

Decor: DIY | Other Rentals/Vendors: Pittsburgh Wedding Flea Market


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How to Prepare for an Out of State Wedding | Indiana, PA Wedding Photographer at Blue Spruce Park
 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com

Are you thinking about eloping, or at least getting married in another state and are dreading the process of figuring out licenses, picking vendors, and choosing locations? This past week I had the honor of photographing a sweet couple from Arkansas who eloped here in Indiana, PA! 

Tara and Cliff have been together 8 years, and tour the county together in a motorhome, traveling to whatever city Cliff's job takes them. Luckily for me, they ended up in Indiana and our good friend Google brought us together! Tara was sweet enough to share some advice from her experience of planning a small, low-key elopement in another town! Here's what she had to say:

What's The First Step?

I would start out by saying search for an officiant first! (Interestingly enough, this proved to be the hardest part for Tara and Cliff, and luckily my pastor at church was available!) If there is something you can’t seem to find just ask everyone you encounter on a daily basis. The checkout girl at the grocery store, your neighbors, the UPS delivery guy or your photographer!

What Documents are Needed?

There were no special documents needed. Just the bride and groom and their drivers licenses. Some states have a waiting period after the marriage license is issued and some don’t. So check on that pretty early in the game!

How Do You Find a Vendor?

Facebook reviews were my best friend when it came to dress alterations and flower shops. I’m not sure what I would have done without the internet and a whole lot of luck! 

I hope you enjoy some highlights from their super sweet elopement - the bridal party was certainly the cutest I've ever seen!

  • Venue: Blue Spruce Lodge
  • Dress: Altar'd State
  • Cake: Giant Eagle
  • Dress Alterations: Holliday Alterations
  • Photographer: Jill Gearhart Photography
  • Hair and Makeup: bride
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How to Get (almost) Effortless Pictures of Your Toddler | Indiana, PA Family Photographer at Yellowcreek
 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com

Throughout the years, I've worked in both photography studios and on-location, and I assure you there IS a way to get (almost) effortless photos of your toddler. It doesn't involve bribing, yelling, or giving up either. Developmentally, toddlers, or kids ages 1 to 3, love to explore their environment and play. They simply just don't understand us when we want them to stand still and smile at a stranger with really interesting looking cameras and lights all around them! They aren't being bad - they are just being themselves! As a mommy, you'll want to do everything you can before your session to make things go as smoothly as possible, meaning if your kid is sick, reschedule; if your kid is hungry, give them a snack; if your kid usually naps during your session, bump it back. The mom of the sweetie featured in this post had some extra time in the car to drive around while the baby napped, making for a VERY pleasant little girl in front of the camera! Here's two things that this mom totally "got", and that I want to tell every mom that feels stressed out, panicked, or defeated when their three-nager is due for a photoshoot:

Change Your Mindset

You have to know your kid, and what they usually behave like, BEFORE you set your photo expectations. If your little one loves to run around and explore and touch everything, chances are they will NOT sit/stand/pose for a photoshoot. If you absolutely have your heart set on a studio style session with a perfect little outfit, let me know your vision before the shoot. I like to plan props to bring along that they can play and interact with that will still fit your vision. For example, oversized shiny Christmas tree balls work wonders for kiddos in the studio at Christmas time!

Let Them Play

The most successful shoots, in my opinion, are the ones where the parents understand that kids just want to play and trust that I'm up for the task of outrunning them! A great family photographer will choose a location that's beautiful, safe, and interesting for the child. This way, he or she can explore the environment and I can stay a few steps ahead of them, documenting their child-like wonder and effortless cuteness! For this session, we literally took a family walk around the lake, and Eliana was happy to look up at the goofy lady making funny noises! This method doesn't mean that you never pose them, but posing is more of a "check out what over there" and guide them to stand at the place of your choosing - the rest is up to their curiosity and how much you can make them laugh! One of the most crucial things about photographic toddlers, though, is that you have to be fast. You camera has to be fast, your legs have to be fast, and the experience has to be fast. Toddlers get bored in literally 2 seconds, so shooting in a location where you can walk and constantly change your surroundings makes it (almost) effortless! 

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Is a Tattoo Right for your Wedding?
 Hands in pinky promise against a yellow background with wedding ring tattoos of anchors on ring fingers

I'm sure by now you have seen or at least heard of the new trend to skip the wedding bands and get a wedding ring tattoo. While it's certainly a cheaper alternative to shelling out $$$$ for a sparkly stunner, there are definitely some things you want to consider before getting inked. How do I know? I'm in the "ring of black" club myself. (It's not actually a club. I just made that up. I'm lame sometimes.)

 Black and white photo of four hands with wedding ring tattoos of diamonds, anchors, and intials

There are actually quite a few of our friends that have wedding ring tattoos. You can see Brian's diamond on the left, Brandon and I have the anchors, and our friend Dom has an "E" for his wife Emily. 

DECIDING ON A TATTOO

So why did we take the plunge? When we got married, Brandon and I were both about 50lbs heavier, and while I could get my beautiful rings (pic below) adjusted as the weight came off, his Tungsten Carbide ring was not able to be resized. (Did you know that TC rings can't be resized?! Because we didn't when we bought it! Don't say I never warned you!) For our 4 year anniversary, I rallied for tattoos instead of a hubby with a naked finger.

 

 Tungsten Carbide ring with abalone inlay and moissanite wedding ring set on the beach with seashells

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GET A TATTOO

I am obviously not a tattoo artist, so I preface this with a "Call and ask your tattoo artist first!"

  • What does it cost? I called a LOT of tattoo shops and most told me that finger tattoos would be charged "shop minimum" (to my understanding, it's the baseline fee that covers your needle, the time, etc.). It depends on the shop of course, but ours were $60 each at Ikonic Ink.
  • Did it hurt? Yep. But it's over so fast that it's no big deal. I have tattoos on my wrist and feet, and this one was the worst.
  • How well does it heal? My tattoo artist warned me about this (and some shops won't even do finger tattoos because of this), but finger tattoos often won't stand the test of time. Between hand washing, friction from gloves/rings/etc., and other ways we abuse our hands, finger tats often wear more quickly than other tattoos and will need to be touched up.

WHAT TATTOO SHOULD I GET

Of course that's entirely up to you, but something my artist told me, and I totally see why because of the healing process mentioned above, is to get something simple. We chose anchors to symbolize that we were there for each other to keep our marriage steady through the storms. Everyone say "awwwwww!!" Diamonds, crowns, initials, keys and locks, and anniversary dates are popular too. 
 

 engagement ring balanced between pink sparkly high heels worn by a bride on her wedding day

I LOVE SHOWING OFF MY ENGAGEMENT RING!

Cool. Me too. Getting a tat doesn't mean you have to give up your rings. In fact, I still wear mine over top of my tattoo. Plus, it is a precious family heirloom that can be passed on to your children (and rings are REALLY fun to photograph!) 

 close up photo of engaged couple holding hands in a fiend of wheat
 cushion cut engagement ring on top of a mini pumpkin in the fall with leaves
 engagement ring with orange camaro and silhouette of couple in car paint
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Wedding Expenses You Might Have Forgotten
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Weddings are definitely an investment, and you might not even realize some of the expenses that contribute to your overall wedding cost right away. So guess what?! I'm here to help! Through planning my own wedding and being around hundreds of them professionally, I have seen lots of logistical details that get overlooked and under-budgeted. Read on to see a great list of things you can add to the "budget" page in your cute wedding planner you got at TJ Maxx and get ahead of the game! 

POSTAGE

Your amazingly bespoke, gorgeous, sparkly invites are done and in hand, but uh oh! You forgot to budget for the postage! Did you know stamps are now $0.50?!?!?! Your guest list of 300 just cost you another $150 to get your invites in front of them! I totally forgot to budget for this one too so don't feel bad!

MS. TO MRS.

List of things you will deal with to change your name, all of which cost money: changing your drivers license, marriage license, social security card, insurance cards, bank accounts, switching your utilities, finding a spotless lamb, erecting a golden shrine, giving up your birthrights, etc. Luckily, there's lots of online services that can help you with this, but surprise! They aren't free either. bummer. 

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SNACKS

A well fed bridal party is a happy bridal party! Food, amazingly enough, can be an annoying nuisance on a day when you are crazy busy, but if you have everything prepared ahead of time (including how to pay for it!), you can just sit back and enjoy! If you are getting ready early at a salon, plan to have some things on hand like muffins, fruit, and of course everyone's fav - mimosas! Fast forward to lunch where it's always a good idea to have some snacks hanging out in the rooms where folks are getting ready (I did a few subs cut into 3" pieces). Don't forget to pack a cooler and lots of ice for some beverages - especially if you are taking a party bus from the ceremony to the reception! 

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PAPER PRODUCTS

Most brides are more than excited to design their invites - but what about the other paper products you will need like escort cards, programs, menus, etc? It's also tradition, and a nice gesture, to send thank you cards out to your guests as well - which means, you guessed it, MORE postage!

TIP$

Although not necessary, you may want to budget in some money to tip your vendors providing a service for your actual wedding event, including your bartenders, DJ, videographer, photographer, limo driver and catering wait staff. Remember that song that came out in 2004 where everybody in the club was getting tips? It WAS tips there were getting, right? Everyone wants to get tips.

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MEETINGS

I loooove to treat my brides to coffee, ice cream, or a bite to eat when I meet up with them! But, not everyone is super awesome like that, so be sure to budget some money for when you meet with your other wedding vendors!

DRESS

I don't mean the actual dress - I'm talking about your bustle and alterations! Even if you don't think you need alterations, you probably do. Your dress was not MADE for your body, so budget just a bit more to get it to look absolutely perfect. And if you have a train, you WILL want a bustle. Pro tip: take along a bridesmaid or a mom to your last fitting and have them learn how to secure the bustle. Nearly every wedding I photograph, no one knows how to secure the bustle and it inevitably ends up looking sloppy, falling out, ripping, or some other not so fun thing.

Pollock Bridal Shower-60.jpg

PRE-WEDDING FUN

Rehearsal dinners can be as fancy or as informal as you want them, but there WILL be an expense with it, whether its renting a room at a venue, tips or parking at a restaurant, paper products for a pot-luck style shin-dig, figure out your plan early and think through the details so nothing is a surprise expense! This also goes for your bach parties and showers!!

PERMITS

Sadly, not everywhere in the world is open for you to occupy, inhabit, trespass on, play in, walk through, or photograph in front of. I've learned this lesson (have I? lol) many, many times. If you have your heart set on a location for photos, the next step is to find out who owns or controls that location and see if they require a permit. If it's privately owned, chances are the want a permit and yup, you're gunna pay.

Pollock Bridal Shower-144.jpg

FAVORS

Let's agree to not do the metal boxes of butter mints on each place setting, ok? I love butter mints, and I've repurposed those boxes into magnetic spice containers, but spend your money on something that people will be excited about! Favors have taken an interesting turn in weddings as of late. Some fun ones I've seen include: baby succulents, mini bottles of wine/champagne, custom printed paper bags for the sweets table, or my fav: a piece of paper indicating that a donation to a charity chosen by the couple has been made in the guest's honor. Where to start? With a budget, and then see what fits!

PARKING

It's likely that your venue will have a parking lot, but have you thought about any stops along the way in between the ceremony and reception? I encounter this a LOT when we travel from location to location for photos. If you are using a limo service, it's likely that they have special parking permissions - but you definitely want to check! If your bridal party is going to be driving their own cars to your photo locations, do them a favor and make sure everyone has quarters at your rehearsal dinner! 

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Timing Your Spring Senior Session
 high school senior model with denim jacket in front of flowering dogwood tree

If you want jaw-dropping senior photos, start planning right now! The trees are starting to blossom and nights are coming later, which means that you can get the same color-injected, gorgeous backdrops featured here! Ever wonder how photographers get that warm, deliciously amazing light that makes their photos glow? I certainly did. After lots of soul searching this month, this webinar watching, cash-dropping light chaser vowed to stop saying to myself "I'll just fix it in (computer software of choice)", and decided to get. that. glow.

It all starts with paying attention. If you are planning a shoot, look up when sunset is, and plan your shoot an hour or two before that. Carrie was graciously flexible and patient and we adjusted our start time to make sure her photos would be kick-you-in-the-face gorgeous. Usually somewhere between 5pm and 7pm is a good place to start!

HOW $20 DRASTICALLY CHANGED MY PHOTOS

Photography is expensive. Gear is pricey. Time is valuable. The cost of both is critical is this business, but some simple, good decisions can help you reap major benefits! I bought this $20 reflector in keeping with my vow to never "fix it in (computer software)" again. It makes a HUGE difference in lighting your portrait subject's face, and gives you the freedom to position your new friend in front of those beautiful golden backgrounds and still make sure the light is just right. Plus now you can call yourself a light bender and that sounds kind of cool.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these shots of Carrie's senior session! She is quite an amazing lady - manager of a baseball team at school, a solid member of the volleyball team for years, an advocate for MS, exchange program participant, AP class all-star, and lover of ice cream! Meadows, anyone?
 

 high school senior model behind volleyball net with Westchester University college shirt
 high school senior model posed with purple volleyball wearing a west chester university college hat
 high school senior model with off the shoulder yellow lace top posing in front of arches at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania
 high school senior model with yellow lace off the shoulder top holding melting ice cream with rainbow sprinkles in front of the meadows ice cream store in Indiana, PA
 high school senior model with denim jacket in front of flowering dogwood tree
 high school senior model standing in front of covered bridge wearing a floral summer dress
 high school senior model twirling floral summer dress on a back country raos with trees
 high school senior model wearing light blue shift dress and blue floral heels looking over shoulder and laughing on top of a parking garage in the city
 high school senior model in light blue shift dress standing on top of parking garage overlooking city of Indiana PA
 headshot using reflector of high school senior model in light blue shift dress standing on top of parking garage overlooking city of Indiana PA
 top down shot of high school senior model laughing in light blue shift dress standing on top of parking garage overlooking city of Indiana PA
 
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The Perfect Font for your Treasured Photo Collages

Are you putting together a collage or scrapbook of your favorite wedding photos? Making a keepsake gift with some family photos? This post explains how to create a font as unique and meaningful as the photos you already love!

Brandon and I were just getting back from our honeymoon when I got a call from my mom with some pretty horrific news. My beautiful wedding gown, AND my mom's lace veil, were both destroyed in a fire. She had taken it to get preserved and the structure went up in a blaze, taking my "something old" and "something new" up with it. 

It's never easy to recover from a tragedy like that. It makes the photos even more important, and my job as a photographer even more meaningful. Here's some shots of my wedding day pretties of past, taken by the lovely Jessica Oh! Photography

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Visuals like these photos have so much impact, so much significance in the process of remembering. I have been very blessed by an amazing husband who probably cried over this more than I did. It sort of set the tone for our marriage, really. Him being so deeply, genuinely caring with his gentle love and willingness to help.

CHOOSING A BUSINESS NAME

We have weathered many storms since the fire, including the death of both of our fathers in 2015 and 2016, just 8 months apart. I get a lot of people ask me why I don't change my business name to my married name, Stiffler. Maybe up until now it was just the laziness of a total overhaul, but now my maiden name, my dad's name, is more special to me than ever.
 

MAKE YOUR OWN CUSTOM FONT

A few weeks ago when I was home visiting mom, cognitive wheels spinning about the new website and branding, I asked her for as many samples of dad's writing as she could find. He had a very unique script. He was an absolutely brilliant man, but sometimes mixed his capital letters and had a tough time spelling. We found lots of samples on old e-bay  printouts, part numbers and product names scrawled on the receipts from whatever engine he was rebuilding that month.
 

With the help of calligraphr.com, I was able to take these samples and trace them onto a template and make a FONT - yes a font! - of my dad's handwriting. The process is super simple. First you create an account (it's free, for this purpose anyway), then you download a template to print out. The template is just a bunch of blocks where you write your characters. Then you scan the template, click "upload" and just like magic, you have a font! You can then download your font (a .ttf file), double click the file, and hit "install." Done.

CREATING A LEGACY

My "Kevin" font about knocked the wind out of me when I saw it for the first time. You may also notice that I have his handwriting tattooed on my wrist as well, paired with a green cancer ribbon.  I never realized how much of an impact a person's handwriting can have on your memories. If there is someone significant in your life, I encourage you to take a few moments and make their handwriting into a font. It's a really powerful memory that can evoke emotions much like a photograph. 

As a lasting legacy to my dad, not only have I decided to stick with Jill Gearhart Photography, I have used his handwriting in my new logo and various places throughout my website. I've provided a download below of my dad's font, if you would like to use it, too :)

10 Lessons You Can Learn from Mary's 11 Trips Down the Aisle
tips for bridesmaids

Are you a bridesmaid? Do you have friends that are girls? Chances are, you will be in or involved in a wedding at some point in your life, and there's no better way to support your bestie than by being the most kick-butt bridesmaid or friend you can be on the wedding day. In this first ever guest blog post, the beautiful Mary Kuehn shares 10 lessons that bridesmaids can learn from her vast experience - 11 I do's and counting! Mary was a great sport as I drug her around town to capture all of these dresses, toting a literal box of them, changing in cars, venturing down locked stairwells, climbing on landscaping, twirling like a fool in view of band camp students... she's really quite amazing!

Without further ado.... here's Mary!

Hello!  No, I haven't gotten married eleven times--not even once, in fact!  I've just stood to the left with flowers in my hands a bunch of times while other people did.  I'm no Katherine Heigl, but hopefully I've learned something from these dresses, and I'm excited to get to share that with you.  As a bridesmaid, you are not the point, and there's a lot to do.  But, cheesy as it sounds, it also really is an honor to stand up and support your friend/relative/future in-law as she gets married, so make sure you enjoy it too!  The less stressed you are, the more you will enjoy it, so here are a few tips to make things a little easier.

P.S. One thing I didn't learn from being in weddings is how to wrap a sari, much as I loved wearing one!  My apologies to those of you that know what it really should look like and recognize that I can't dress myself.

 Bridesmaid in two piece bridesmaid dress with a periwinkle or sky blue skirt and grey spaghetti strap crop top standing in front of an ivy wall
 Bridesmaid in two piece bridesmaid dress with a periwinkle or sky blue skirt and grey spaghetti strap crop top standing in front of an ivy wall

Communicate

You, the bride, and the other bridesmaids are on the same team! Talk to them, and be nice to each other. If you're in different geographies, start an email thread or a group text and introduce yourselves.  You'll be glad!  You don't have to be BFFs with them all, but it will be so much more fun to collaborate if you know each other's names.  And who knows, maybe you'll even find a new friend.  The only reason I know the lovely Jill Stiffler is because we were both bridesmaids in a wedding last year, and now I can't imagine not knowing her!

More specifically, talk about duties and costs for the shower, bachelorette party, etc.  Costs add up quickly, and no one wants to be caught off guard having to suddenly pay for something they can't afford, so it helps to be sensitive to this and plan together.  Here's a spreadsheet template I used to keep shower costs organized and split them evenly, and the rest of the bridal party really appreciated it!  You can customize the formulas (don't worry, they're super simple!) with your bridesmaids' names and then just toss in anything anyone pays for.  You can also use an app like Splitwise to do the same sort of thing.

 purple and gold Indian sari floating in the breeze worn by model in front of a black garage door in an urban setting
 dark haired model wearing a purple and gold sari for a bridesmaid dress looking confused on how to tie a sari
 purple and gold Indian sari floating in the breeze worn by model in front of a black garage door in an urban setting

Plan Early

Your biggest job when it comes to planning will be putting together the bridal shower and bachelorette party, if the bride wants them.  The maid of honor is in charge, but she can't do it alone.  Start planning as soon as you can so you don't wind up rushing to throw things together, and don't be afraid to ask for help!  Find out what the bride would like since these parties are for her, after all, and don't forget to involve her mom in the shower if she wants that.  Moms always like to be thought of, even if they don't want to help with planning!

Another part of planning early is to start saving money for your dress, shoes, shower costs, hair appointment, etc.  Unfortunately, being in a wedding can be expensive, and that can be frustrating.  Even if you're doing things as cheaply as possible, you'll be glad if you set some money aside as soon as you know you'll be a bridesmaid.

 bridesmaid in a long silver sequin gown in front of city-scape
 bridesmaid in a long silver sequin gown in front of city-scape

Get Your Dress ASAP

Don't leave dresses until the last minute!  A lot of this depends on the bride deciding what she wants you to wear (and remember, that's ultimately up to her! don't be a dress bully), but the earlier you can get this worked out, the better.  Depending on where you get them, dresses can take several weeks or even months to come in, and you may need alterations.  Hopefully your friends have good taste like mine do, but even a hideous dress will look way better if it fits you properly.  

     Bridesmaid in orange dress with mint green peep toe pumps and turquoise accent jewelry
     Bridesmaid in orange dress with mint green peep toe pumps and turquoise accent jewelry

    Don't Forget Your Feet

    Break your shoes in a bit before the day of the wedding!  You'll feel (and look) so much more comfortable walking down the aisle if you've already walked around in your shoes.  Wear them to the rehearsal, so you'll know how they feel on the actual floor/grass/stone path you'll be walking on.  Besides, you'll spare yourself the horror of realizing as you're stepping into the aisle that your shoes are too big and literally flopping off your feet, when at that point there is nothing you can do but smile and desperately try not to trip.  Trust me and those gorgeous mint green peep toes on this one...seriously.  And bring some flats for the reception!

     Bridesmaid standing in front of white doors beside a column wearing crimson red satin floor length dress with red elbow length gloves
     Bridesmaid standing in front of white doors beside a column wearing crimson red satin floor length dress with red elbow length gloves

    Make an Emergency Kit

    This is for the day of the wedding.  I once had a dress split up the side just moments before I had to walk down the aisle!  No one noticed.  There are always a few little last minute fixes that someone in the bridal party needs, so it's helpful to bring a few things with you, such as:

    • Makeup--even if you're getting it done by someone else, you usually have to bring your own foundation and mascara, plus anything you'll need for touchups at the last minute
    • Tissues
    • Bobby pins
    • Safety pins, and maybe even a sewing kit
    • Hairspray
    • Deodorant
    • Dental floss, mouthwash
    • A razor--why does someone always forget to shave their pits?!
    • Clear tape--for sudden dress or shoe emergencies
    • Steamer--not as crucial, but slightly miraculous if anyone's dress is wrinkled
    • A non-messy snack--see below
    tips for bridesmaids

    Be a Problem Solver

    This is always a good thing to be, but I'm specifically referring to the morning of the wedding.  Remember, you're part of the bride's team.  Make her day less stressful, and protect her sanity in any way you can.  If people are peppering her with questions you can answer, answer them.  If someone wants her to solve a problem you can take care of, solve it.  Just do what needs to be done.  She has plenty to think about, and part of your job is to make hers easier so she can fully enjoy her wedding day!  

    tips for bridesmaids
    tips for bridesmaids

    Know What's Expected

    Pitch in, stay afterward, and help clean up.  The bride and groom's families will be SO grateful for this.  Bring a change of shoes, or even a full change of clothes if you want, so that this is easier.  Random last minute things will come up in the few days leading up to the wedding, so be prepared to help the bride out with whatever she needs (both practical needs and emotional support) that week.  Again, just do what needs to be done, and when everyone does that, things go pretty fast!  This day is not about you, and remembering that will make you so much happier about serving your friends and helping out.  

    tips for bridesmaids
    tips for bridesmaids

    Don't Get Hangry

    It took me a few weddings to remember this one.  While the guests are snacking on appetizers before the reception, you will be taking lots of pictures.  Breakfast, if you even ate it, was a while ago by now.  You will definitely get hungry.  Anyone who thinks to bring snacks (or commissions a guest to bring them a tray of appetizers) will be a bridal party hero!  Also, make sure the bride eats at least a little bit on her wedding day.  She will forget, and even if she remembers, she'll find she's too busy and has too many people to talk to.  Be a dear and just bring her some food.

    tips for bridesmaids
    tips for bridesmaids

    Have Grace for Yourself

    Things will go wrong.  It's okay.  They will probably be tiny things that no one will notice, but even if they're not, just look for where you can help, and do what needs to be done.  As long as the bride and groom wind up married to each other, it's been a successful day!  This leads us into:

    Remember the Why

    Even though yeah, we already know this and it sounds trite, it's way too easy to lose sight of the most important thing of all when the details are overwhelming.  Remember the reason you are here, and help the bride remember it too. You love the bride and groom, they love each other, and they are about to commit their lives to one another.  Wow!  At the heart of all this, your most important job is not to avert disaster, plan a shower, look pretty, or smooth the train of a dress. You're here to support two friends in their marriage, not just in the details of their wedding day.  Marriage is a big deal!  It is exciting and serious and life-changing!  The bride and groom are building a life together, not just planning a party, and if you or they forget that, none of the wedding details matter.  

    Stop for a minute and let that really sink in!  Their marriage matters the most.  Remind the bride of this when she gets overwhelmed, too.  Pray for them, for their relationship and their marriage, and let the little planning details fall into perspective.  Make sure you remember it again when the ceremony is about to begin.  Give her one last hug as a single lady, smile down the aisle, enjoy your front row view of their vows, and have fun celebrating your friends!