Molly + Nooch's Laid-Back, Outdoorsy Indiana PA Wedding - Planned from Across the Country
 @Jill Gearhart Photography |

Would you ever plan your wedding at venue across the country that you’ve never seen and book vendors that you’ve never met all based on the trust you have in your husband to be and his connections? That’s exactly what Molly did. This super-busy and ever-so lovely pediatric physical therapist contacted me months ago from Texas where she and her fiancé Nooch (Dom) were planning their late August wedding. Nooch hand picked their officiant, Nate, a long-time friend from his high-school years. Nate just happened to have some beautiful farm property where the couple planned to have their super laid-back, mountains and adventure themed wedding. The ceremony was private to a few dozen family members, and then the newlyweds were joined by 250 friends and family at The Backyard event hall just a few minutes away.

Dom likes to spent a lot of time in the woods, so the theme seemed really fitting. In fact, sometimes when Dom is out in the woods, he will put a turtle in his pocket and carry it home for Molly to see. He always prefaces this with "I brought you a present!" Even though they tried to stay true to themselves, Molly shared that she actually wanted the wedding to be WAY more laid back and casual than what it turned into, but having their families there turned out to be a bigger priority than some of the other details they originally wanted. Molly said that “It was stressful planning a wedding all the way from Texas! I promised my mom I would wait for her to go dress shopping, so when she visited for Christmas we went and picked it out together. It was my first official wedding purchase.” She was actually so excited about the dress that she showed it to her future hubby (in the bag, at least!) as soon as she got home!

When I asked how they met, Molly shared that they met on a (surprise) blind date. (Surprise because she didn't know it was happening, she thought she was just going to a friend's house to hang out.) Her family actually didn’t know Dom existed until 3 months later when she totaled her car leaving his house late one night and her parents had to come pick her up. Talk about an awkward conversation!

“Getting the ring and getting engaged was a whole saga”, she said. “He told me when he bought the ring because he was too excited to keep it a secret, but I didn't know *when* he would propose. Then the ring was held at customs and the government called saying it was under investigation, which is a whole story in itself. Then Dom was going to ask for my hand from my Dad while they were working on the car but my Dad's hand got accidentally was a whole fiasco. In July 2018 when I was waiting for a ride to the airport I texted him that I just really wanted to be engaged to him, so he drove home on his lunch break and proposed in the living room. I left for the airport to fly home 10 minutes later. Dom doesn't like our engagement story - I guess he had big plans that didn't work out and thinks the real way it happened is ‘blah’, but I'm glad he proposed when he did.” I think their story, just like their day, was absolutely perfect and so “them.” Hope you enjoy some of the highlights!

Ceremony: Wood Crest Point

Reception: The Backyard

Gown: Melissa Sweet from David's Bridal

Hair: Main Street Hair Design

Rings: His- Renaissance Jewlery Hers- Doron Merav 

Invitations: Hobby Lobby DIY

Florals: Michaels DIY

DJ: Maximum Music DJs 

WEDDINGSJill StifflerComment
Brian + Elizabeth | Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall Wedding in Pittsburgh, PA
 @Jill Gearhart Photography |

Brian and Liz’s elegant wedding at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh offered some of the most stress-free and accommodating benefits that an upscale wedding couple could hope for. The wedding coordinators made everything effortless for not only the vendors but the bridal party and guests as well. With it’s incredible architecture and dynamic, flippable rooms for large groups, it truly was one of the best venues I had the pleasure of working in.

The day started with the girls getting ready in the Board Room on the 3rd floor, right next to the ballroom where the reception was. The big benefit of this was that the bridal party could leave their things in this room for the day and easily retrieve them when they were ready to leave for the night because it was right beside the reception area. The Board room was also stunning in itself for some great portraits. The rich browns and leather furniture gave everything a painterly look, and the stained glass made for a great backdrop against Liz’a beautiful dress. Besides her exceptional strapless lace ball gown, Liz also wore pearl earrings that her husband-to-be bought her, her grandmother’s pearl necklace, and a very special bracelet. A few months into Brian and Liz’s relationship, he bought each of them matching anchor bracelets when they knew things were getting serious. Functioning as a promise ring of sorts, the anchors symbolized their loyalty to one another as well as their foundation in their faith and their God that anchored their journey from the beginning.

Their beautiful ceremony, held in the first floor auditorium, featured meaningful scripture readings, the sweetest hand-written vows to one another, and a special time of worship songs. From the very first time I met Brian and Liz, I knew their faith played a very important role in their lives, their relationship with each other, and happily, also played an important in their wedding ceremony.

Other than their steadfast faith in the Lord, when first meeting Brian and Liz, the interesting fact that Brian is Canadian is sure to come up shortly after! Brian was born in Canada and Liz grew up in Pittsburgh. Brian ended up moving to Pittsburgh just as Liz was leaving for college, so it would still be some time before they met. Liz had dreams of teaching internationally, but God had other plans. After some time traveling, Liz eventually moved back to Pittsburgh and started teaching at a local school, where one day her coworker told her about “this cute, kind Canadian” she needed to meet. So it ended up the international came to her, instead!

When I asked them about the early days of their relationship, Liz shared that for Brian, it was love at first sight. For her, though, it took a little longer. Brian was certain she was going to fall in love with him, and after a while into our relationship he even told her so! She told him she'd just have to wait and see... but then about 6 months in, told him he was right. :) Since then, Brian and Liz enjoy time together between their busy schedules and always tend to end up grocery shopping when they are together. Or eating chips and salsa, Liz says!

I hope you enjoy the highlights of this amazing day at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial hall!


Lead Photographer: Jill Gearhart Photography

Second Photographer: Becca Dietrich

Venue: Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall

Gown: Beloved by Casablanca Bridal  at The White Orchid

Hair + Makeup: Caruso Hair & Esthetics

Bridesmaids Dresses: David's Bridal

Tuxes: Men's Warehouse

Rings: Trinity Jewelers

Invitations: Minted

Florals: Pete Donati Florist

Cake: The Pie Place

Caterer: The Chef and I Catering

Favors: Etsy - A Gift with a Smile

DJ: Royal Heir DJ

Videographer: Dylan White

Pittsburgh Zoo Wedding with Elephants | Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer
Jill Gearhart Photography-21.jpg

It might sound like a very untraditional place to have a wedding, but Pittsburgh zoo weddings can easily hang with the best reception venues. I was so impressed by the amusement spot’s ability to blend upscale romance with family-friendly experiences, all the while being a place that unapologetically loves and features its animals. Zoo weddings, I learned, offer animal encounters, which is a delightful and unique feature you won’t get at your traditional country club wedding. Alex and Patrick’s reception featured an adorable black and white long eared rabbit, and a tiny Tenrec, which I mistakenly thought was a hedgehog! Apparently Tenrecs are related to elephants, believe it or not! As you’ll see by their tiny eyes, they have very poor eyesight, but their whiskers are extremely sensitive, helping them to “see” their surroundings through other senses.

The Pittsburgh zoo has three great spaces and options for planning your wedding, and all three options come with a phenomenal wedding coordinator that takes care of literally all the details. For our particular experience, the zoo even offered to do all of the set up and clean up. Alex and Patrick were able to drop off decor on Friday to be set up entirely by the staff for Sunday!

If you want something of a more “traditional” wedding feel, the Garden Tent is the perfect option. Alex and Patrick transformed this area into something magical with minimal, but extremely thoughtful decor. It was so simple for guests to walk into the zoo through the main gates and take the first right up a private path, right to the tent. The lush tropical plants surrounding the tent provide privacy, and because there is no other attractions on this path, the only folks wandering around are your wedding guests! Other options include the PPG Aquarium, where tables are literally set up beside the lush tropical greenhouse plants and huge tanks of exotic fish! The third option is their Water’s Edge venue, where they boast that couples can “Begin the night on Pier Town, a coastal village complete with sea lions, polar bears, sea otters, and rescued northern elephant seals, and end with an underwater experience like no other at this exquisite Water’s Edge venue.” Read more about each of these options (with pricing!) here!

No doubt that the venue is cool, but what about the food? We weren’t expecting to be blown away by a meal prepared at a zoo, but we were proved wrong in the most delightful way. We enjoyed a wedding brunch with incredible mini quiches, fresh fruit, breakfast potatoes, and pulled chicken and pork carnitas for tacos with all the fancy toppings like cholula cream and cilantro lime slaw! Topped only by the cookie table - it is a Pittsburgh wedding, after all - that featured French macarons, creme horns, elephant ear cookies (naturally!), buckeyes, and many other favorites that guests enjoyed! I particularly enjoyed the drink selection that included water infused with strawberry, pineapple, and basil, and my favorite beer (and apparently Alex and Patrick’s too!), a pineapple shandy from a local Pittsburgh brewery, Rivertowne.

I was so blessed to be able to work with this amazing couple. I met them in 2018 when they were thinking about going the direction of a barn wedding - and I’m so glad they changed their mind! Alex is a flight attendant, so from the start, it was important to them to be able to incorporate their love of travel into the wedding theme and decor. They were engaged at a castle in Germany, had engagement photos in Rome, celebrated Patrick’s birthday in Tokyo, and traveled to many other amazing places thanks to Alex’s job! They incorporated their adventure spots with Patrick’s love of literature, pairing each city/country themed table with vintage looking books from author’s that lived there, or stories that took place there.

A week before the wedding, Patrick called me and clued me in on a secret elephant experience he was planning for his bride (and me by proxy! yay! hahaha) where we would be able to be up close and personal with the elephants, lending itself to some amazing photo opportunities that I definitely won’t forget! I hope you enjoy the highlights of this amazing wedding reception, I know I can confidently say it was one of the best moments of my career!

Disney Fairytale Wedding in the Grande Hall, Johnstown PA Wedding Photographer
 @Jill Gearhart Photography |

If you love Disney and donuts, puppies and popcorn, macarons and movies, fairytale venues, and believe that everyone deserves to have the wedding of their dreams, then buckle up and hold on for this amazing Johnstown wedding! I met Eden and Rochelle in a fun twist of fate when I walked into a local distillery and was introduced to these amazingly down-to-earth and kind women that were planning one heck of a wedding. Through several meetings, lots of emails and texts, and a super cute engagement session, I got to know these two amazing people and call them friends!

Eden and Ro met 8 years ago during a complicated time for the both of them, and Eden became a light during a dark time for Rochelle. They've been together ever since. Eden always begged Ro to propose to her in Disney World, and it was always a joke of how amazing it would be. The two took a trip to Florida with Eden’s family in October of 2017, and they shared that one of the best parts was going to Animal Kingdom. Little did Eden know, Rochelle had the ring.... but it was back at the hotel! She waited until the next day at their favorite beach in Clearwater. Ro knew she wanted to ask the big question at sunset, but Eden decided she needed pizza right as the sun was setting! So with a slight delay, they sat in the sand and Ro told her that she had a letter for her to read. When she opened the envelope it was her beautiful ring. She paused for what seemed like forever, and then said, “WAIT. Did you ask my dad?!?!?” (of course she did!) Another long pause... then Ro just had to ask, “so is that a yes?” …YES! She said yes! Later on that evening Rochelle distinctly remembers Eden saying, “Wait, you couldn't have done this yesterday at DISNEY?!?!” Either way, she said yes! …and then FaceTimed every human imaginable that entire night to tell them!

Their favorite thing to do together is travel. They’ve done some amazing things: hiked the Smoky Mountains, watched dolphins migrate up the coast in Cape May New Jersey, been to Florida so many times, enjoying sunsets, Disney, and Harry Potter World. The very first vacation they went on, Eden surprised Rochelle with an experience of holding a baby tiger (her favorite animal)! They have always loved traveling together, and long car rides don't bother them, it gives them time to always connect and fall even more in love with every adventure!

And what an adventure this wedding was! The day started at the Hampton Inn where everyone in their 16 person bridal party got ready for the big day, all in the same hallway! I snuck in some shots of their incredibly fun and thoughtful details, like the grape soda cap pins from “Up”, Ro’s Gryffindor socks and Harry Potter handkerchief, and their something old, new, borrowed, and blue which were special gifts from their grandmothers, aunts. and mothers. Eden shared a beautiful first look with her dad, where he placed a penny in her shoe and then put it on her foot (how Cinderella-like!), then the two women shared their first look together in some peace and calm and quiet before hopping on the trolley!

The decor at the Grande Hall was spectacular, each table having a unique vignette of the couple’s favorite Disney movies, sprinkled with macaron’s under mini glass domes (hello, Beauty and the Beast!). All these nestled next to hot tea bags with “drink me” on the tag to match the “eat me” tag on the macs! Guests enjoyed a snack PRE ceremony, too, from a vintage popcorn machine, allowing them to munch through a 17 minute slideshow of the couples most treasured photos together to start off the ceremony. The couple exchanged their first “kiss” as married women by gifting each other necklaces with an acorn and a thimble pendant, reminiscent of the kiss exchange between Wendy and Peter in the Peter Pan movie.

After post-ceremony photos at the gorgeous Forest Lawn Cemetery, we returned via trolley to the Grande Hall where guests had been busy enjoying a dozen adoptable puppies from A Darrah Bull Bully Rescue, and of course breaking the internet with the cuteness and kisses and all the pup-selfies! We snapped some quick photos with the adorable pups before grand entrances, and then DJ Jack Labarko started off the night with an awesomely curated Disney dinner music playlist, and then the best mix of dance music through the ages all night! My favorite was the cloud machine expertly used to make Eden and Ro’s very special choreographed first dance to “A Million Dreams” from the Greatest Showman look like there were literally dancing on a cloud!

Enjoy some of my favorite highlights from this extremely well-produced and insanely unique wedding!

Photography: Jill Gearhart Photography assisted by Rachel Russel

Venue: The Grand Halle Johnstown PA

Gown: Essence of Australia dress - White Lace Bridal Indiana PA 

Hair: Whitney Helman, Real Deal Salon; .Amber Mertens

Bridesmaids Dresses: White Lace Bridal

Tuxes: White Lace Bridal

Rings: Kay's


Florals: Penna Flower Company @pennaflowercompany Taylor Pascuzzo

Cake: Peace, Love & Little Donuts - Monroeville 

Caterer: Anthony's Restaurant 

Favors: Macaron's from La Gourmandine (Hazelwood location) 

DJ: DJ Jack Labarko Inc.  

Transportation: Rix Limo (Trolley Service)

Puppy Adoption Event: A Darrah Bull Bully Rescue

Things Your Wedding Officiant Won't Tell You Openly
Exchange of Wedding Rings

Would you really believe me if I told you that often the wedding ceremony is the worst part of the day for most everyone involved? A lot (read, LOT) of couples don’t spend nearly enough time thinking through the significance, details, and logistics of the ceremony. I sat down with a local pastor who has officiated many weddings to ask him his real, honest opinion on why the ceremony can be the worst part of the day, things every officiant wants you to know but may not tell you, and some things that you can figure out before meeting up with him or her to make everyone’s life easier (also check out the freebie below!)

Wedding Ceremony Planning Checklist

click to download and share with your officiant!

Why do you think people don’t plan out their ceremony like the rest of their wedding day?

In comparison, the amount of money put into the ceremony is less than most any other wedding expense. People tend to treat the ceremony less valuable because there is less monetary value tied to it. With current wedding trends, there’s less emphasis on the ceremony and more emphasis on the reception and the fashion. I think some of it, too, is that people don’t have a high view of marriage anymore and don’t see it as a sacred covenant between both of you and the Lord.

What’s something you wish couples knew about planning their ceremony?

You have to actually plan it. Most people don’t really even think about it. You should definitely at least have a coordinator for the ceremony, otherwise the officiant often has to coordinate, or it ends up being someone in the wedding party or family member that does it, and often none of those people are really great at it. It’s important for you as a couple to specify the expectations on the officiant, because in cases like this it becomes much more than just conducting the ceremony.

What’s your biggest pet peeve when someone asks you to officiate?

When I don’t know the couples at all. I always urge people to be plugged into a local church or meet up with your officiant at least once before your rehearsal. If the officiant knows you, it’s easier for the ceremony to be meaningful because it can be more customized to you, your relationship, your personalities, your family, etc. If I don’t know you and I officiate your wedding, I can only bring so much to the table. In my opinion, it’s actually better to pay for a friend to become ordained online than to hire a pastor you don’t know. 

What kinds of questions do you ask couples that come to you to officiate?

First off, have a plan when you meet your officiant. Don’t put more time into thinking about the music than the actual vows. Some questions I like to ask are:

  • How long do you want the ceremony to be?

  • Do you want it to be a Christian ceremony?

  • What’s the feel? Light? Solemn? Emotional?

  • Are there special elements like communion, feet washing, candle lighting, sand ceremony, etc.?

  • Who will set the stage/altar with decor, flowers, or anything needed for special elements mentioned above? 

  • Do you want to do your own vows? Traditional vows?" “Repeat after me” vows?

  • Can the officiant write the vows for you if you don’t? 

  • Do you want to exchange rings during vows, or after?

How do you coordinate a wedding ceremony?

It’s basically coming up with answers to a bunch of logistic questions BEFORE your rehearsal such as:

  • Where are people going to enter from?

  • Who is on stage at the beginning of the ceremony?

  • Who is walking in and when?

  • Is the dad giving away the bride? Will he be down front?

  • Where do you want bridal party and family to stand? Sit?

  • Do the ring bearer or flower girl stand or sit?

  • What is the speed of professional? Is there music?

  • Is there a stage with stairs? Who is on that stage or stairs?

  • Where does bride and groom stand in relation to officiant? 

What does it mean to have a “Christian” wedding ceremony?

To me, it means that the Pastor is allowed to use the Bible and biblical terms of marriage. Some things to think about that would make it a “christian” ceremony would be”

  • Do you want an “altar call”?

  • Do you want the officiant’s message to have a “counseling” feel with advice?

  •  Do you have verses picked out?

Popular wedding ceremony verses:

  • 1 Corinthians 13

  • Ecclesiastes 4:12

  • Song of Solomon 2.10-13; 8.6,7

  • Genesis 2:24

  • Ephesians 5:22-33

  • 1 John 4:8; 18

  • John 3:16

  • Proverbs 5:18-23

  • Proverbs 31

Why is the ceremony the most important part of the day?

That’s the moment that the commitment is made. It’s way better to remember a special ceremony than to remember a special night dancing with your friends. Because we don’t put much thought into the ceremony, it it’s easy to forget the details of it years later. You can have a marriage without having a reception and a dress and flowers and rings. You can have a marriage without all of those things because it’s most importantly a covenant to one another and the Lord.

Brandon + Jenna at Graystone Church | Indiana, PA Wedding Photographer
 @Jill Gearhart Photography |

Brandon and Jenna are one of those beautiful couples that every photographer dreams of: sweet, easy going, attractive, adventurous, and genuinely pleasant to be around! I’ve known Brandon’s family for a few years, but never had the pleasure of getting to know him (and his beautiful bride) better until the wedding planning process started! Brandon and Jenna met online (more and more of my couples are meeting online and I think it’s SO inspiring!), and while Jenna finished up her degree and Brandon jumped into a career in police work, they both planned their June wedding. Talk about super heroes! I was happy to provide any help and insight I could over our few meetings at the Commonplace, but these two truly had everything covered. What I appreciated most about their big day is that they budgeted for the “big things” (like awesome photos and an awesome DJ!) and were able to make efficient decisions on a lot of other things. The result was a beautiful and financially smart day that their guests loved, and that they will have beautiful memories of forever!

The entire day took place at Graystone church in Indiana, PA. I was told multiple times before and during the wedding day by folks that live in town that Graystone is a notoriously hard venue to shoot in because of the beautiful, but DARK, architecture on the inside. Luckily, my awesome second shooter Nathan and I were well-equipped to get the job done and do justice to the gorgeous interior of the church. As the girls got ready in the family room downstairs and the guys got ready in the library, we snapped candids and details, eagerly waiting for the time to come when Jenna’s dad AND grandpa would walk her down the aisle! It was such a special moment and the first time I had seen that done during a ceremony!

Brandon’s brothers, best man, and Jenna’s best friend and MOH were able to honor and serenade the couple by leading the congregation in some awesome worship songs mid-ceremony. The couple also chose a traditional unity candle and traditional vows. After the ceremony was over, the guests headed downstairs for refreshments while the bridal party and family went outside for formal photos, then bridal party photos, then finally, my favorite part - the bride and groom portraits!

Jenna and Brandon made portraits truly effortless by being willing to sit, be lifted, walk, laugh, and climb through bushes. It was so easy to capture their sweet love because they weren’t worried about the time, the dress, guests, or the million other things that go through a bride or groom’s head on wedding day. They just enjoyed the process, trusted their photographers, and ended up with some amazing images! I hope you enjoy some of my favorites from their beautiful day!

Small Town City Feel Anniversary Session | Indiana PA Family Photographer
 @Jill Gearhart Photography |

You may remember a previous post about what to do with your wedding dress after your wedding (read that here!), and I’m thrilled to bring you MORE amazing examples of post-wedding romps around town in your gorgeous gown. A big advantage of anniversary sessions (in your gown!) is that you aren’t bound by a timeline or a certain location, so if you want some super-unique and out-of-the-box images, this is a great way to do just that!

Dan and Beth had a very small, private ceremony over 2 years ago at Blue Spruce Park, and even though she had a gorgeous Maggie Sottero gown in preparation for a big party-style wedding, their intimate vows in the park were just what they wanted and needed at the time. 2 years and a BEAUTIFUL baby girl later, Beth is still slaying the make-up game (she’s my go-to recommended MUA to brides!) and she finally got to rock that gorgeous pink gown.

We started our session on the rooftop of the church she and her adorable husband Daniel serve at. Danny Beats kills it on the drum set while Beth sings on the front line of our worship team, and as if that weren’t enough, these two are incredible (and founding!) youth leaders in their Celebrate Youth group. They poured so many hours into renovating a space to call their own for youth, and even though they have a newborn, they are still investing in the community by hosting youth get-togethers, attending graduations, and running internship programs for the local high school. They are such special people and absolutely deserved to have their beautiful souls captured in beautiful photos!

They were even sweet enough to oblige in my off-the-wall ideas ad portrait locations after the rooftop session. To the tune of 5 million cicadas, we then ended the session at the spot where they said their “I do’s” two years prior, lakeside at Blue Spruce park in Indiana. I hope you love these photos just as much as I do, and to Dan and Beth, I’m so blessed to get to finally give you wedding photos you deserve!

Summer + Dane at College Lodge | Indiana PA Wedding Photographer
 @Jill Gearhart Photography |

Summer and Dane have that kind of love that you hear about in every Colbie Callait song - the kind of love that “makes me crinkle my nose” with every smile and glance. These two were so adorable, I couldn’t help but squealing after nearly every portrait of the two of them. I’m sure that got annoying, hahahaha!!

The day was super easy and stress free (for the girls at least!), and even though the guys were dealing with some wardrobe malfunctions of their own, we were still able to get some great prep shots and pull everything off according to Summer’s perfectly timed time-line. Speaking of the timeline, I have never met a bridal party or family that was more organized, on-time, detail oriented, and respectful as this crew. I’m sure most of that flowed down from the beautiful professor-bride herself, but I appreciated everyone cooperation and enthusiasm! The best man, Tyler, even hiked up that giant hill everyone sled rides down just to bring us (yes US, me too!) some water bottles after the bridal party was done and the bride and groom portraits were about to start! As if that weren’t enough, I even had a name card and a chair at the reception! I definitely don’t take that for granted. (Thank you Summer!)

There were so many special details to this wedding. The groomsmen opted for “real” bow-ties because the best man, (clearly the MVP of the day) not only knew how to tie them, but gladly wanted to serve both Dane and his dad by making them look their best and tying the bowties! Summer’s details included a cameo pin from her great grandma, and makeup done by her extremely talented cousin! At the reception, Summer and Dane both shared their parent dances to songs that their parents sang to them growing up. Summer’s dad used to sing “Summer Breeze” to her, so it was a very sweet and fitting dance for them! Dane and his mom used to sing “I Remember You” by Frank Ifield while he stood on her feet and danced around the house! Lastly, there were homemade cookies for the cookie table that featured the signature recipes from their friends and family! How can you go wrong with a cookie with “grandma’s” in the title?!

Enjoy some of my favorite shots of this sweet at whimsical wedding at College Lodge!

Vendor Team:

Venue: Ceremony Venue - First Christian Church

Reception Venue - IUP College Lodge

Gown: This Magic Moment Bridal Studio

Hair: Indiana Hair Designers

Makeup: Kristyn Dorr

Bridesmaids Dresses: David's Bridal
Rings: Lorelli's

Invitations: Handmade
Florals: The Flower Gallery

Cake: Homemade
Caterer: Joey Del's 2001 Caterers
DJ: Royal Heir DJ