What is a non-traditional wedding? 

There’s so much more potential for weddings than what is traditionally done. A wedding is an event where two people promise their lives to one another and a non-traditional wedding includes new or unique elements into that process. Weddings are usually considered “non traditional” when they go against traditional expectations. Non-traditional elements are developed during planning and can include things as big as having a self-uniting ceremony or as small as incorporating a unique unity ceremony during the main ceremony. 

Realistically what a couple needs and wants is not likely to follow tradition unless tradition is what they specifically want. The problem is that tradition is so expected by families and the wedding industry that many couples who would be better suited to a unique wedding style get railroaded into tradition. 

Let’s look at the different aspects of a wedding and see how they can be done uniquely and authentically. 

  • Planning: traditionally a couple hires a wedding planner to help them sort through details and to style or coordinate. However, planners are not always needed or the best option. Weddings are often best in their most simple form without the weight of a lot of details. A minimal approach is definitely non-traditional as the wedding industry has, over the years, standardized more complex plans. Details can be nice and if the money is available however the artistry of the details are often lost on the type of people the profession of wedding planning attracts. Most wedding planners are not artists and they are usually just concerned with making the event happen and making their percentage cut. An alternative to hiring a planner is to hire a stylist or having the photographer help conceptualize the event. A photographer realistically knows best when it comes to how a wedding day should flow and be designed for the best pictures so they are actually a really great resource for the planning of a wedding.
  • Number of ceremonies: traditionally in the “western world” there is one ceremony and then a reception that falls directly afterward. Only having one ceremony can actually add stress because couples feel like they only have one chance to make things perfect. People think they can only afford one ceremony but the fact is that ceremonies are only as expensive as they are made to be. Perhaps instead, a couple can have two or more ceremonies. They could have one where it’s just close family and then a less formal one for friends and extended family. Or perhaps they have a ceremony for just them like an elopement in an exotic destination and then have a giant party with a tongue-in-cheek ceremony or just show pictures of the first ceremony. By breaking up a wedding over different days couples can relieve the stress of an “only one chance” mindset. 
  • Etiquette: over the years books have amassed on wedding etiquette however all of these rules people are supposed to follow can be extremely stressful. Wedding etiquette also takes away the focus from the promise a couple is making to focusing on the feelings of their guests. Each couple should be able to asses the social situations around their wedding and make decisions based on their own mental health and what additional tasks / stresses they are willing to take on. The most important thing is that they are able to focus on each other so any extra expectations can be foregone. 
  • Ceremony site: in the western past it was expected for a couple to get married in a church. Now, even outdoor events often take the form of a church with an aisle and archway despite the fact that they have many other options available to them. Guests can be seated in a circle, a spiral, or even just be spread out in an organic way. Couples can have their ceremony (or parts of it) far away from guests as well. The set up of a ceremony can capitalize on the artistic opportunity that seating arrangement could offer. The ground as well is an often overlooked area for decoration. Ceremony circles where the ground is decorated with a circle of flowers or arrangements are just the beginning of what is possible when the ground is considered an area for decoration. 
  • Entrance of the couple: the tradition of a woman having her father walk her down an aisle is so engrained within the cultural mindset that I think most daughters and fathers have thought of it at some point. Unfortunately, this sentimental tradition is based in patriarchy and the treatment of women as property. Especially now that same-sex and alternative gender identity marriages are becoming more common that tradition is becoming less and less relevant. As a society we are holding a higher value for equality and doing away with this tradition of walking down the aisle is a meaningful way of showing that. Parents can still be involved in different ways or perhaps all parents can be involved in the entrance of their children at their wedding. There are a few options for a couple’s entrance: they can both walk in together from the same direction, one can walk ahead of the other or they can walk in at the same time from different directions. Personally I like the last one because couples can see each other for the first time as the both, equally, walk towards each other. The guests can be centered where the couple meets and everything is symmetrical and equal. 
  • Officiation: tradition says that you need one person to direct the ceremony and speak. However, that’s completely not the case. There are a lot of different ways you can have a wedding officiated. Couples can self-officiate which means they do all the directing and speaking themselves. There are a few professionals available that specialize in self-uniting/non-traditional ceremonies (like me!) that can help couples plan, prepare and direct their ceremony. Couples can also chose to have more than one person speak and move a ceremony along. This can be very meaningful to involve guests into the process. There are so many reasons to ditch the officiant and perform a ceremony with just those involved in the relationship. You can check some of those reasons here:
  • Photography: Weddings have been around for a lot longer than photography has so it makes sense that when photography was introduced to weddings it was strictly for documentary purposes. Traditionally, there has been a large creative disconnect between the creation of a wedding and the creation of the photos of that wedding. For a large part, the two happen independently of one another. It doesn't have to be that way however. Photography can be an integrated and important part of a wedding and the wedding can be designed with the process of the photography that captures it in mind. There are a lot of officiants and wedding planners that expect photographers to follow their lead even when it means sacrificing the beauty of images. By either doing away with officiants and planners or opting for an alternative to those roles, couples can ensure that their photographer's voice is prioritized in the planning process and on the day of the event. Also, artful ideas to create and capture during the ceremony can be thought of before the wedding date.
  • Reception: In my experience a low key wedding reception is just as much fun (and photogenic) as a reception that is full of place settings and covered tables. Traditionally, couples are expected to provide their guests with the latter (probably because the reception is usually the most profitable part of a wedding), but it's not usually the most efficient for fun or for looks. A non-traditional approach really looks at what the priorities are for couples and stays true to them. Couples seem to have the best time when their wedding reception is low key which means keeping a relaxed time line by not including a lot of reception events (bouquet toss, formal cake cutting, scheduled speeches and dances, etc...) and by not trying to spread details thin over large groups. Guests are by and large the most expensive and chaotic part of a wedding. The larger a group is the harder and harder they are to make look good so details become less and less relevant. They become harder and harder to control as well so schedules become stressful to enforce. In my experience larger groups are best suited for casual vibes and more decorated, fashionable vibes are best suited for small groups (unless there is a budget of over 100k for the entire event).
  • Reception events: We are all familiar with the reception traditions of the first dance, cutting the cake, speeches from the parent etc.. However, those things can not only be forgone or modified, but they can also be a part of the actual ceremony.

These aspects are just parts of the bigger picture which is the art of a wedding. Each wedding is like a little work of -for lack of a better word- performance art that is an experience for the couple and their guests. The more we see weddings for what they are, as works of art, we can create unique weddings that are truly meaningful to those involved (particularly those who are promising their lives to one another!)

Let me help you make your non-traditional dream into reality

After 10 years of photographing weddings in a traditional style I came to realize there were much better ways of going about things. I became ordained so that couples could have self-uniting ceremonies and I started to help couples plan weddings so that they could be more surreal experiences. I help choose them locations that have spiritual, photogenic qualities while maintaining a budget, vendors that are open-minded and down to earth, styling that reflects both trends and timeless sacred qualities. I am available in all 50 states at no additional cost because I want to make this service available to as many people as possible. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about what I do or weddings in general. It's my purpose to serve anyone who is looking outside of the traditional model of weddings. I hope to hear from you soon!

non-traditional wedding photographer Erin Paris