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Mark & Melissa | Lakefront Wedding in Mandeville, Louisiana

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“I don’t want any posed pictures,” he said.

“Well, I don’t know if that is really up to you.” I replied with a smirk.

My uncle Mark, the groom, was sipping on a cocktail from a tall, crystal glass. He was wearing a pair of Ray Bans; the glasses, plus his trim navy suit and bright orange tie, made him look younger than his years. We were standing on the upstairs balcony, knowing that soon the bride, Melissa, and her 4 kids would arrive. He seemed calm and collected, though obviously there was a vibrant undertone of excitement.

We were at the Lakehouse, a beautiful restaurant that sits on the northern edge of Lake Pontchartrain on the Mandeville lakefront. Shortly before we had arrived, restaurant guests had lounged at outdoor tables and in the swing in the lush garden. Painted white and with vintage typography, one might assume that only Frank Sinatra, Etta James or Nat King Cole melodies were allowed inside.

Though not a typical, cool November afternoon, the Louisiana fall had gifted Mandeville a beautiful day for this lakefront marriage . A slight breeze was coming over Lake Pontchartrain, and cartoon-like fluffy clouds took the edge off of an early afternoon sun. People, with their dogs on leashes and their kids in strollers, meandered down the busy sidewalk.

Wedding photography can stir up images of incredible, isolated venues, far removed from the general public… but not this lakefront wedding. It was a perfect addition to the bustle of the day; the soft conversations of everyone, both here at the wedding and down below on the street, hummed in a communal liveliness.

The wedding was to take place on the porch of the second floor. White chairs in neat rows were lined on the sides of the porch, making a quasi-stage in the middle for the ceremony. People began to trickle in, grabbing drinks and making small talk as we waited for the bridal party. Guests lined the balcony, taking pictures and looking onto the calm water some 50 yards ahead.

A few minutes later, a white limo rounded the corner, and any guests who had been lingering inside came to the balcony perimeter to catch a glimpse as Melissa emerged. Wearing a short white dress and carrying a beautiful bouquet mixed with orange lilies and yellow daisies, Melissa stepped out beaming. Close on her heels were her daughters wearing purple dresses and her sons in suits to match Mark’s. Folks above cheered as she made her way up the stairs, stopping every step and a half to greet family. While there were only about 20 people there, love filled all corners of the venue.

Both Mark and Melissa wanted a wedding that was intimate. Later when they exchanged vows, they would both admit that each had known on their first date what their future held together. They did not want a lengthy engagement, nor a lavish wedding. There was no tight schedule to stay on, no list of wedding pictures that they wanted, no organized first look. That being said, when Melissa entered the room, Mark’s eyes lit up, his mouth completely agape, nearly grazing the floor. She made her way over to him, with him clearly amazed at every step she took.

When they finally embraced, it felt as though time stood still for just a brief moment. With the vibrant energy in the room, their hug seemed to say, “Whew, we made it.”

Music has always been a big factor in the families of both Mark and Melissa. It was fitting that as the ceremony began, Melissa’s youngest daughter, Sarah, who sings and plays the ukulele, opened with “Hallelujah”. The officiant wasted no time working through the ceremony and took some playful heckling from both Mark and Melissa who came ready to jump to the end.

Then it came time for the vows. Opting for personalized vows, Mark and Melissa each pulled out their writings – Mark’s typed and printed on a folded piece of white paper and Melissa’s handwritten from a yellow, legal pad.

This is the part that really got me. I normally am a crier. Puppy videos, sweet commercials, proposals (even when I’m the one photographing them) – all of them can get the water works going. Love simply overwhelms me.

That being said, I’ve never had a chance to document anyone from my family in this way until now. Tears, that fall watching the people who have helped you grow find love, have a sweeter texture. Even as they said their vows, they flirted and laughed and cried. In the freshness of their love, there hung an energy of understanding, one that seemed to say, “It has taken me some time, but finally I have found the one.”

After the final confirmation, Sarah played us one more song, a soft rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” Other attendants listened on to her angelic voice with smiles. The softness of her song rounded out the ceremony and symbolized the love to which we had all been called to bear witness.

The rest of the afternoon went by quickly. We stuffed our bellies with yummy food, talked, and listened to Melissa’s son, Ryan, play a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”, which prompted tears from both the bride and groom. Melissa’s eldest daughter, Morgan, delivered a beautiful and emotional toast. Glasses of champagne (or in some cases, Shirley Temples) clinked and clanked across the long table.

Just as the sun was setting, I grabbed the newlyweds (and strapped my younger cousin with my older camera) for a few wedding portraits before light fully dipped behind the water.

It was not hard to elicit candid laughs from these two. They barely stopped laughing the whole time. They even tolerated me getting in close (probably too close) for a few shots of them kissing. It was an awesome end to an incredible day

If you’ve made it this far, let me leave you with one final note. Love is not reserved just for the young. It’s not reserved for people who “get it right” the first, the second, or even the third time. We spend our whole lives getting better than we were before, and our love reflects that growth, too. Love can be found over decades or across miles… or sometimes right under your nose. But it is always there, ready to sweep you away once you let it in.

Thank you guys for letting me be a part of your special day!!!