As a little girl, I saw Disney’s Cinderella and dreamt that some day I would find and marry my very own Prince Charming. For me, my prince was Matt, but for Valentina, it was a handsome Latvian named Aleksey. And since they followed the Russian traditions of the Vykup Nevesty, which involves finding the Bride who fits the wedding shoe, the analogy is even more “fitting” for this beautiful couple.
It was a very old world meets new world day, with Valentina’s grandma watching all the proceedings on skype from Russia. Aleksey followed the traditions to a T. Upon arriving at Valentina’s house, he had her bouquet as a gift for her and money to give to her parents as ransom for the bride that they were keeping “captive”. He then had to answer a series of questions about the bride to prove he was a suitable husband to be. Upon passing this series tests, Valentina’s parents promised to bring her out. But instead they brought out a doll in a bride’s outfit and demanded a bigger ransom be paid. He paid the requested amount and then he was allowed to see his bride in all her finery for the first time. The comical pageantry really built up the big reveal.
But wait, one element of the finery was missing. One of her shoes! Aleksey was then led to a pile of bunches of shoe boxes. He had to find the missing shoe and make sure it fit his bride to be truly sure it was his betrothed. Luckily, Aleksey found the missing shoe and it fit as perfectly as Cinderella’s glass slipper.
After the Vykup Nevesty was completed, I got my own personal dream come true. It is also tradition for the couple to take a tour of the city with their close friends. To my surprise, the sites for the tour were left completely up to my discretion. So a few days prior to the wedding, I went with Mia Buckland, a photography student who grew up in the area, to scout out possible locations and to time how long it would take to get from one spot to another. We settled on a view of Rowe’s Wharf, the Boston Public Library’s Atrium, Christopher Columbus Park, the Boston Harbor Hotel, and Beacon Hill’s Acorn Street. I was in total heaven getting to shoot at so many wonderful locations all in one day, while being ferried around in a stretch limo no less!
After the tour of the city, the civil ceremony and reception took place at the St. Petersburg restaurant in Newton. Not too far into the reception, once again, Valentina’s shoe went missing. So Aleksey was sent on a search for the shoe again with his best man. This time around the best man had to give one of Valentina’s friends a giant box of chocolates as ransom to get the shoe back and had to drink a shot of vodka from the bride’s shoe as well. Very few of the guests at the reception spoke English, and none of my research on Russian weddings mentioned anything about this. Mia and I just stood there and snapped away with our mouths totally agog at what we were seeing.
In the end everyone had a fabulous time, even the best man who had to drink vodka out of a shoe. Rather than only hearing toasts from the best man and maid of honor, almost every guest got a chance to tell a funny story about Aleksey and Valentina that ended with a toast. According to Russian tradition, after each toast, Aleksey and Valentina would have to take a drink and then kiss until the bitter taste of the drink was gone. The crowd would yell out “Gorko! Gorko!” which means bitter, and then would count the number of seconds the couple kissed. The longer the kiss, the louder the shouts would get. By the end of the night, Mia and I found ourselves yelling out “Gorko! Gorko!” as well. New school traditions were incorporated as well, with Aleksey’s mom bringing bubbles for the guests to blow during the first dance, which added to the fairytale atmosphere as well.
Photography notes: Valentina’s bedroom had beautiful natural light coming in, so I didn’t even need to use flash one bit while she was getting ready. If you want to achieve this natural look in your photos, make sure to look around your house or hotel room for great natural light and get ready there. Sometimes it’s in a location you might not think of like your living room, but that shouldn’t stop you from turning that into your own personal dressing room on your wedding day.
That fabulous red background is actually the back of the crab shack. Bold colored backgrounds can really make your shots pop. Sometimes these can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
To try to put the couple and their families at ease during the posed shots, I learned to say 1-2-3, smile, and thank you in Russian. My pronunciation was horrible, but it gave them a good laugh each time, eliciting great smiles.
Mia did a wonderful job for her first time working a wedding and using bounce flash. KUDOS MIA! You may have quite a future in wedding photography ahead of you!
And I got to use my brand new canon 135mm f/2.0 L lens. I find myself now saying, “Oh 135mm L, where have you been all my life?!!” I LOVE IT!!! The bokeh, it’s smooth like buttah! It’s ability to focus in low light, AMAZING! Just WOW!