I really hate having everyone’s eyes on me. When Kevin and I got married, my two biggest fears were walking down the aisle and eating in front of everyone. I couldn’t get around the aisle walk, but I ditched the head table without question. Our reception venue was set up so that there’s a built in stage where everyone sets a traditional head table; indeed, it was built specifically for wedding head tables. When I said we wouldn’t have a head table, the venue coordinator was confused. “But, what will you put there?” she asked. “I don’t know. I mean, if something has to be up there, then put the cake up there!” I said.
So that’s what happened. The cake sat high above our guests in all of its beautiful, delicious glory while we casually sat around a regular round table with our friends. This was back in the day before Pinterest and Instagram. Facebook was around, but you had to have a college email account in order to be on it. Wedding blogs weren’t a thing and only really fancy, rich people had that first iPhone. I didn’t know we had other options for a head table so I just made it up as we went, knowing only what I didn’t want.
And it turned out to be perfect for us. My one sister (a bridesmaid) had just had a baby + two other young boys so she sat at a table next to us with her husband and my parents so that she could easily attend to my infant nephew, while they all helped with my other nephews. My other sister (also a bridesmaid) sat at our table with her now-husband. Kevin’s two brothers (both groomsmen) sat with us as well as his two ushers and the wife of the one who was married. My personal attendant also joined us, which brought us to exactly 10 people at our table. It was unassuming and relaxing and exactly what we needed.
Now, I get that not everyone wants that same experience. And that’s okay. But you should at least know there are options.
A traditional head table is what you’ve always seen at weddings. Sometimes it’s on a riser or platform, sometimes it’s not. (If you have a choice on the riser/platform, I highly recommend having your head table on ground level so I don’t have to shoot up at you during toasts!) It’s a long table with the bridal party sitting on the back side facing the guests. The bride and groom sit in the center with the ladies on the bride’s side and the gentlemen on the groom’s.
A sweetheart table is a small table set just for the bride & groom to sit at (thus the name). The bridal party is seated at regular tables with family members and significant others.
A harvest table (also called a king’s table) is the last option and, in my opinion, the best. (I’ll tell you why in a minute!) A harvest table is set up similarly to a head table, but the key change is that the table settings are wrapped all the way around the table so that you are all facing each other.
So you might wonder why the harvest table is my favorite? Aside from the fact that it’s sort of what we did at our wedding (the concept at least), here are 5 reasons that I believe the harvest table is the best way to make the most of your reception dinner.
- Eat without an audience. Have you ever watched someone eating? Unless they’re a baby taking their first bites, it’s not something that’s generally cute. You have paid to have a delicious catered meal and you deserve to eat it in peace. Do yourself a favor and enjoy your food without being on display.
- Enjoy dinner conversation. If you’re at a head table, you can only converse with two people, one on each side of you. This applies to every person at the table. They’ve got two conversation choices for the entire meal. And it can’t be a true conversation because the person on your left can’t converse with the person on your right so you spend the whole time going back and forth between the two just as they are doing with you and their other side. In making a case for a harvest table, you suddenly shift everyone around and conversation can flow across and back and forth more freely.
- Cease the magnet effect for a bit. As the one wearing a bridal gown, you transform into something you’ve never quite experienced before, at least to this extreme: a magnet. You are a visual magnet, a conversation magnet, a hugging magnet, and a photo magnet. Everyone wants to look at you, talk to you, congratulate you, and take a photo of or with you. And as wonderful as it all is–truly a part of the day that will make you feel so special–it is also a bit exhausting, especially if you are even a little bit introverted. By being on the same level as the guests and facing in towards your friends, you allow yourself some freedom from The Magnet because guests will look (they always do), notice they can’t see you very well for this time, and return to eating their dinner and conversing with those at their own table.
- Choose your company. I’ve seen harvest tables done many ways, but first you should know that you can pick your company! It’s not limited to groomsmen on one side and bridesmaids on the other. You can invite significant others to join (not yours, obviously he’s already there, but your bridal party’s); your parents & grandparents are welcome; personal attendants, ushers, bring them too! Of course, this will all be limited by the size and how many people you can fit at your table, but think outside of the box and invite the people you want to share this amazing feast with.
- Allow for more interactive photos (specifically during toasts). I had a recent bride who, after seeing her full wedding gallery said to me, “I didn’t expect to be so wowed by the toasts pictures relative to other images, but they are some of my absolute favorites. Love how they show the genuine personalities of our closest family and friends, and love all the laughter. [The image below] makes me sooo happy!” The secret to that was her and her groom had a harvest table. Half of the images I was able to get during their toasts would’ve been impossible to get had they chosen a head table, simply because of how people were arranged and the angles I could shoot from. From a photography standpoint, it makes all the difference.
I have long been looking forward to this wedding. There are many intertwined friendships within this wedding and I got to see three of my former couples as guests (one in the bridal party)! What you should know about me is that I love photographing weddings, but what actually keeps me going when the days are long and my feet are blistering and my back aches is the relationships. I love building relationships with my couples. So seeing former couples at weddings makes it feel like a big reunion and my heart would smile if it were physically possible.
Jenna and Andrew are an incredibly sweet couple who met while playing volleyball in a summer league. She eyed him from a distance, but didn’t have the courage to say anything to him. Thankfully, her friend had no qualms to jump in a get things started on her behalf and in a few days, she was set up as a sub on his team. When he messaged her on Facebook afterwards, she was back at her apartment and shouted to her friend–the same one who had set it all up–“THIS. IS. HAPPENING!” They had their first date not long after that. (Read more of their love story here.)
On the morning of their wedding, Jenna and her ladies were relaxing at the Marriott with a spread of food and mimosas, bare feet sinking into a plush carpet rug while taking their turns getting hair and makeup done. It was a wonderful atmosphere to come into and I always know the day is going to be wonderful when the ladies are having such fun from the start.
Both Jenna and Andrew have suffered similar losses in their lives; her when her mother passed away and him when his father passed away. They made sure to include remembrances and special tokens to their parents during the day, including this pin that was gifted to Jenna that read, “All my love, Mom”.
Jenna & Andrew decided to share a first look and we were able to get all of their photos done beforehand. The day was absolutely delightful, slightly chilly in the shade and comfortably warm in the sun. It was the epitome of Midwest fall at its finest.
Jenna’s Sottero & Midgley wedding gown was a piece of art. Look at all that lace detailing on the back!!
Their ceremony was out on the Marriott terrace overlooking the water. It was a beautiful setting for a wedding!
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Photography: Emily Crall Photography
Ceremony & Reception Venue & Catering: Coralville Marriott
Videographer: Diamond Label Films
Florals: Covington & Company
Cake Artist: Sweet Satisfaction Bakery
DJ: Unique Events of Iowa
Makeup: Lindsey Coblentz
Hair: Skin Deep Salon
Bridal Gown: Sottero & Midgley from Hope’s Bridal
Maids’ Gowns: Hope’s Bridal
Invitations & Paper Goods: Zephyr Weddings
They met among mutual friends at a party. “I was with my buddies,” he says. “And she was with hers and as the night went on, she kept talking to me. I felt cool because a girl was actually talking to me so after trying to ignore her all night, we started talking and it just went from there.”
She adds, “He was the one person who wouldn’t talk to me and I was automatically intrigued so I basically talked to him the whole night and little by little, he started to talk more and crack jokes. His sense of humor won me over.”
Many parts of the beginning of their story make me smile. Her persistence in getting him to talk with her and their first date, where he let her pick the movie and she picked the new James Bond movie because she “didn’t want him to think I was one of those girls who only watched chick flicks.”
About about a year of dating, she started staying at his place all the time and unofficially moving in. He says, “She told me she loved me and I had no answer which made her really mad. But I am the kind of guy who knows if things are good from very early on and, even though I was only 20, I knew in a few years, it would be the right time.”
“We had a big fight,” she told me. “I left to go for a drive to cool off and was thinking about breaking up with him. Then I pictured my future without him and I honestly couldn’t. I have always been very wary of commitment and Drew has been my rock. She has pushed me to be my absolute best and really believes in me succeeding in everything I do. Not to mention, he is absolutely my best friend; no one makes me laugh like he does and I can talk to him for hours about absolutely nothing. It was after I really considered all of that, I accepted to myself what I’m pretty sure I have always known: that Drew is the one.”
These two (particularly Drew) are diehard Iowa State fans so I drove over to Ames for their engagement session. We lucked out with the most gorgeous weather that day and started their session at the Jack Trice Stadium, then proceeded to meander Main Street where I’d stop them every few yards because I’d spot something else great! It has been a joy getting to know them and I absolutely could tell from the first few minutes that they meant it when they both said that they love to have fun together.
Marissa’s smile was SO much fun to photograph. It’s so obvious how happy she is with Drew.
Drew proposed while I vacation. Marissa says, “We were taking a motorcycle trip to South Dakota with his parents. The first day we were there Drew was so insistent to go to Mt. Rushmore before the rain, and when we got there he got out this silly, super girly drawstring backpack. I offered to carry it for him (since he always refuses to hold my purse because it’s too girly) and he very quickly said no. (Little did I know it was because the ring didn’t fit in his pocket.)
“He kept saying how excited he was to go to Mt. Rushmore and I didn’t think to much of it because he has always been super patriotic and loves history. We took the scenic walkway to get a better view of it and at a couple different lookouts Drew kept messing with his GoPro, just hanging out trying to get it to work. I kept wondering why he wouldn’t just take a picture on his phone.
“At the last lookout there weren’t any people around and he was fiddling around with his GoPro and finally asked me if I wanted to take a picture with me. I turned around and he was down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I was speechless and am pretty sure I only said, ‘Oh my god.’ He stood up and I was so excited I didn’t even let him put the ring on for me (oops). He had his parents take pictures and take a video of the whole thing. It was absolutely perfect, and I wish I could relive the whole day over and over.”
Drew adds that he did, in fact, tell her about 2 years before that he would propose to her at Mt. Rushmore. “Of course she didn’t take me seriously. From that day on, little by little, I started saving up for a ring. I made sure we got to Mt. Rushmore before this summer was over. I didn’t really have a plan once we were there, but I figured it would just come to me. I was searching for a quiet place with a great view, but there were people everywhere. At the very end of this trail, there was a little lookout area that was hidden and walked back there. I was wearing a ridiculous backpack and I had the ring in there so as I took it off for the picture, I got on one knee and popped the question. If I remember right, she could barely talk. She said ‘yes’ following by ‘oh my god’ about 30 times and her and my mom cried. Seeing her that happy was very special and made me even more excited for our future.”
I‘ve considered doing mini sessions in the past, but could never line my fall schedule up with an open weekend. Or, if I had an open weekend, it was the only weekend sandwiched between many weekends of weddings and I knew I’d need it reserved to rest. So this year, when I saw that I had two weekends off in a row, combined with peer pressure from my past couples to please take their family photos, I decided to go for it.
As a wedding photographer, I don’t often get the chance to photograph kids as my main subjects. And while I don’t have the desire to switch to family photography full time, I’m so glad I got to step out of my comfort zone and hang out with little humans for a day!
So much of what I do is to photograph people on “the most beautiful, happiest day of their lives”, but after photographing several of my past clients, I think that saying doesn’t apply to weddings. The wedding is the most beautiful and happiest START to the rest of their lives, but this right here? Seeing my couples go from lovers to parents is the most beautiful thing. Seeing their partnership weather some storms and continue digging deeper roots? That’s beauty.
Sure they’re not wearing a designer gown or have professionally applied makeup or hair perfectly curled, but the love that flourishes between them over time is something that no makeup brush can do.
Also, they make beautiful babies.
They met in high school, though she was quite sure that he wouldn’t remember the first time they met. (She was right.) “I was in 8th grade and Nate was a freshman. I was at the local pizza place with my friends when he walked in with his friends. Our first date was a few years later. I was 15 or 16. We went to Amigos, a Mexican restaurant in our hometown. I had never been on a date before and I think I only ordered one taco because I was too nervous to eat in front of him!” She laughs about that now saying that she usually eats more than him.
“I don’t think there was a certain moment when I knew he was the one. It sort of happened gradually,” she says. “Nate and I talked a little bit in high school, but we never were officially together until later on in college even though we never really stopped communicating. In many ways we grew up together. We have been through a lot. I guess if I had to say how I know Nate is the one is no matter what life as thrown at us over the last almost 9 years, our relationship has become stronger and grown from those experiences.”
He adds, “Very early on in our relationship we went through a ton of adversity, more than most would be able to make it out of. We were two young kids and our lives where going to change in a big, big way. Randi told me instantly after the news that I would have her full support going forward and we would make it through everything; together. I just remember thinking to myself how much and how true this love may really be to have such support.
“Little did she know that when she committed to me, I silently committed to her. I knew instantly that I had to do everything I could to convince this girl that I was the one. (Don’t tell her but she could probably do much better.) I knew from that very moment that I had to start making changes and start putting Randi before other activities. Our relationship was tested in such an extreme manner so early that it gave us this whole ‘there’s nothing we can’t overcome together’ type of attitude, which is an amazing quality for us to possess. I know that this girl counts on me, but she doesn’t count on me nearly as much as I count on her! So as it turns out, I was indeed able to convince her I was the one.”
We started their engagement session at one of their favorite local eateries, 30hop. They both grabbed a drink and I told them just to enjoy while I ease them into it. It turned out to be a perfect start of the session and after that, we went over to one of my favorite locations, Kent Park. The leaves are just starting to change over there and the sun was low in the sky; a perfect combination!
“The proposal,” he says. “Ever since Randi was a little girl she’s always thought about two things 1) her proposal and 2) her wedding day. As much as she’s done for me, I knew I had to make the proposal special. So here’s the story. Randi’s aunt Diane has lived in Siesta Key, Florida for the last 15 years. In those 15 years, Siesta Key has quickly become Randi’s ‘favorite place on Earth.’ All that being said, it was pretty clear to me that I had a clear path to making this a spectacular moment. Randi and I went to Siesta Key in March of 2016.
“While visiting with Jim and Diane, Diane made the comment that she was ‘getting tired.’ This was Diane’s way of no longer taking up our time so I could finally pop the question. I’ll admit, I’ve never really been someone who gets nervous, but, boy, were the knees shaking as we left! On one hand, I knew what I was about to do was nothing short of the best decision I’ve ever made. But yet on the other hand, I wanted it to be perfect!
“As we walked out towards the water, my sister slipped me the ring that I had shipped down early that month. Once I had the ring, it really started to get real. The whole plan was to pose for a picture but instead of a picture it would all be on video as I proposed to the only girl I could imagine proposing to.”
Randi was being a bit of a self-proclaimed diva. She continues his story, “They wanted to go for a walk down to the ocean to take a picture, but the day had turned overcast and slightly chilly. So I was admittedly being a bit of a diva and didn’t want to, but they talked me into it and I reluctantly walked down to the beach to take a picture. I picked the green colored lifeguard tower to take a picture by and next thing I knew Nate was down on one knee. I honestly couldn’t tell you a single thing he said to me, except the will you marry me part. I was in complete shock. Nate picked the absolutely perfect place. I grew up going on vacation to this beach every summer and I love Siesta Key so much! We have actually found pictures of me as a little girl by the same lifeguard tower! Which is pretty cool it my opinion! It was extremely special to me to have seen my Aunt Diane that day as well. We actually lost her about 2 months later; she was suffering from pancreatic cancer. Which sounds like it would make the day a little sad, but it made it such a special day that she got to be a part of it.”
I asked both of them what they admire most about the other and Randi said that she loves his “ability to talk to anyone and make friends with pretty much anyone. I can get total social anxiety sometimes and I wish I could just to talk to anyone like he can.” Nate said, “Her drive! Randi is a very driven person, she’s not going to settle for mediocrity. There’s not a single thing Randi couldn’t do if she made it a goal and pursued it.” I love how these two push each other to be the best versions of themselves!
Randi & Nate, I’m so thrilled to be part of your wedding day next year! I can’t wait to see you officially become a family unit and continue loving life together. I’m so happy for you both! Much love, Emily
Almost exactly a year ago, Brooke reached out to me for engagement photos. Her and Zhas were engaged, but not yet decided on a wedding date (or location) so, as unusual as it is for me, I shot their engagement session without having their wedding booked. If you know this couple, you can see why I quickly fell in love with them the moment I met them at the park for their photos and I’ve secretly been holding out hope for this entire past year that I’d get the chance to photograph their wedding, whenever it may happen.
So imagine my absolute delight when I got an email out of the blue from Brooke a couple of months ago wondering if I by any chance was available on September 24th to photograph their wedding in her sister’s backyard in Chicago. It was a miracle, but that date was open and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.
The night before their wedding, we hosted my client appreciation dinner and, after snatching a few hours of sleep, I hopped in the car to head to Chicago on Saturday morning. One of my favorite parts of small weddings is the relaxed calm that comes with them. Typically, the less people involved, the less stress involved and I just adored stepping into Brooke’s room that day to find her and her sister causally watching football and slowly getting ready. I cannot tell you how beautiful it is to see a truly relaxed bride. Brooke had everything laid out for me so they relaxed while I got to work photographing the wedding details.
Brooke’s mom passed away a few years ago and she has since worn her mom’s ring on her right hand. She pinned a brooch with her mom’s photo onto her bouquet.
I always have my couples fill out a questionnaire prior to their wedding with important details like addresses, names of family & bridal party, vendor info, etc. I knew much of it wouldn’t apply to this wedding day, but I sent it out as the standard form regardless. Under the listing for “wedding coordinator”, Brooke wrote, “Hah, my sister?! She owes me for planning her wedding!” I love the bond these two share though and we had many laughs throughout the day. I might’ve secretly pretended to be part of their sisterhood.
Brooke & Zhas shared a first look and this was right before he turned around to see her.
Brooke’s sister, Morgan, had indeed done her homework and scouted out some amazing places for us to photograph. This simple little dock was my absolute favorite. I will always choose light over location and the light here was absolutely stunning. (See all the light flickering through the leaves in the background? It gives so much dimension to a photo!)
Not only do these two sisters get along like best friends, but their husbands are like brothers as well. This foursome is the funniest, most charming group I’ve ever seen and I was just loving getting to see their beautiful bonds. To add to that, each couple got a dog from the same litter earlier this year, a boy and a girl.
After their reception in Kyle & Morgan’s backyard, everyone headed over to Maggiano’s Little Italy for dinner.
Brooke & Zhas, thank you for allowing me to capture your day. It was truly an honor in so many ways. I know that my couples forever cherish their wedding photos, but your makes it even a little sweeter knowing that my images are allowing Zhas’ family to share in the day with you. It has been such a pleasure getting to know you and I’m so excited for what the future holds!
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Photography: Emily Crall Photography
Florals: Eco Flower
Paper Suite: Zazzle
Bridal Gown: BHLDN Dresses
Maid’s Gown: JJ’s House
Suits: Men’s Wearhouse
Ceremony Venue: Private Residence
Reception Venue: Maggiano’s Little Italy
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