Dear friends, family, and loved ones: on June 11, 2016 I just married the love of my life, Cindy. It was (one of) my favorite days with her, and also one of the most stressful days to prepare for. It was a celebration of love, friendship, and shared experiences.
Needless to say, being one of my most personally meaningful days, I wanted to document the process (up to the wedding), the wedding day itself, and the aftermath of the wedding.
Why did I want to photograph my own wedding?
Before I get you confused, I did have an official wedding photographer (my friend and manager Neil Ta). At first I wanted to have him as a guest and to just enjoy the ceremony, but he graciously offered to photograph my wedding as a gift. I also had another good friend Brandon Phan who offered to be a second shooter, and my cousin Regina who shot video.
For me, actively documenting personally meaningful events in my life makes me feel more connected and present. Of course, the balance is crucial. Knowing when to put away the camera and not take photos is key.
I decided that I wouldn’t take photos during the church ceremony, while I was dancing with Cindy during the first dance, visiting tables, or any other time when I needed to have both my hands free, and to give her my full attention. I wanted to shoot more “behind the scenes” photos during our downtime, and let the other photographers document when I was in “action”.
I also got the idea of documenting my own wedding from my friend Robbie Larson, who shared his experiences being a groom/wedding photographer.
I also liked the idea or documenting my own wedding day because I wished to create some images that showed the wedding experience from the perspective of the couple (from the inside out). Often wedding day photos are extremely posed, polished, and show little of the couple’s personal voices.
As seen in Cindy’s culturally conscious and feminist reflections on weddings and wedding planning, we wanted the wedding to show our personality and individuality.
How does Cindy feel about it?
Before I decided I wanted to photograph my own wedding I needed to have the support of Cindy. Initially she was hesitant because she wanted me to be present in the actual day of the wedding, rather than just running around and taking photos.
However upon taking photos of the preparation of the wedding, she was really grateful that I took those photographs. She told me how much she appreciated the unposed, documentary-style photographs of wedding preparations—from the stress of table arrangements to the little joys of practicing our wedding dances.
I decided the best camera to use to document the preparation of the wedding and the actual wedding day was a point and shoot digital Ricoh GR II camera. It fit into my inside jacket pocket, and I knew that I would only take “behind the scene photos” when it wasn’t obtrusive. Also having a small compact camera made it easy for me to just point and click and take photos in “P” (program) mode.
Documenting before the day of the wedding
One thing I learned about the wedding process— 90% of the work for the wedding is before the actual wedding day.
I wanted to take a lot of photos of the wedding preparation— including us choosing the wedding dress, wedding suit, as well as all the logistical details (sending emails, coordinating with the brides women and groomsmen, and choosing the wedding venue, etc).
What I loved about our wedding process— we worked on it together as a team. I think the stereotype is that the groom is supposed to be the unattached second-party who simply lets his wife-to-be take care of all the details.
However in our case, we both wanted the wedding-day to be ours. We wanted it to show our personality (from the wedding save-the-dates, invitation, and decorations at the venue). We chose a travel-theme, and integrated photography as well (on the wedding day, we had disposable ILFORD XP2 point-and-shoot black-and-white film cameras on each table.
Don’t get me wrong— the process was also quite stressful. Being able to collaborate with Cindy was challenging at times. She pays a lot more attention to details, planning, scheduling, and optimization. I’m more of the “go with the flow” type of person — and I am glad that I had Cindy light a fire up my ass during a lot of the planning (nothing would have gotten done without her).
But I’m also glad that we were able to design the wedding together (me using my Photoshop skills and Cindy her design sense and direction) for the RSVPS, invitations, menu cards, and mass booklet.
Honestly there were times when I questioned myself, “Is all this work really worth just for one day of our life?” I knew that the wedding day was an extremely important and memorable day— but not necessarily the most important day. But looking back at the wedding preparation process— it was certainly a team effort (not just me and Cindy, but our friends, family, and loved ones). And it is a stressful process that brought us all closer together. And all the hard work truly paid off— the wedding day went smooth like butter (will talk more about that later).
How to know what to photograph?
On the actual wedding day, I took a lot of photographs. Around 600. I took a lot of photos in the morning when our family was getting dressed, putting on makeup, and getting prepared. I also took a lot of photos of “details”; like my suit hanging up, my shoes, and even selfies of myself.
I took photographs which stirred my heart. Cindy wrote me a sweet “first look” letter, which was in the shape of a book. As I wrote her sweet words, I awaited her patiently in her backyard gazebo:
I took photographs when we were waiting in the bridal room of the church, ready to walk down the aisle. I took photos when we were on the way to the venue, and also inside the couples changing room. And when convenient, I shot selfies with Cindy, did closeup macro shots of our rings, and some group shots with friends.
How was the actual wedding day?
The day before the wedding, we had a practice run-through at the church we were getting married, and had a reception dinner. Afterwards, we did the best thing ever: get a massage (to relax and de-stress before the day of the wedding). It was great, because we were actually able to sleep at a reasonable time before the wedding.
On the actual day of the wedding, we all woke up early (5am) and surprisingly I didn’t feel anxious, tired, or nervous at all. We put all the work and effort (assigning people tasks and logistical roles) so everything went smooth like butter. For the most part, everyone showed up on time, had all the details on-point, and Cindy and I were able to just relax and just be fully-present on our wedding day. Also another big thing— we decided not to have our cell phones on us on the day of the wedding (we left our phones at home) so we wouldn’t be stressed, distracted, or making last-minute calls.
So the entire day we were fully-present. We cherished all of the time we had at the church during our Catholic mass (we had a friend play a solo violin, which added so much beauty to the religiosity of the place), during our cultural ceremonies (both the Korean “Paebaek” and Vietnamese Tea Ceremony), as well as our introduction dance (first to Beyonce’s “Formation”, then our formal dance was Ella Fitzgerald’s/Louie Armstrong’s “Dream a little dream”, to our greeting of the tables, catching up with friends and family, and the final dancing at the end.
The entire day went by so quickly— and seemed like a blur. It took us about a week or so (during our honeymoon in Mexico city) to finally have some time to reflect on the actual wedding day (our favorite moments and memories). And we are still reviewing our wedding photos and videos shot by friends and family— and enjoying reliving the moment and joys.
What did I learn photographing my own wedding?
Surprisingly, nobody noticed me taking any photos during the wedding day (good sign). I think it is because I restricted my shooting to mostly when me and Cindy were alone. I also didn’t want to make my photo taking the focus of my wedding day.
First and foremost, I wanted to enjoy my wedding day, enjoy the embraces and laughter of my friends and family, the dancing, the chance to catch up with people, and exchange cultural ceremonies. I wanted my photography to simply be a supplement; a secondary concern.
I am so happy and grateful that I made the images I did. It helped me relive the day and also appreciate all the help we had to make our day possible. Furthermore, also I learned that the wedding day isn’t everything; it was all a process. The months, weeks, and days before the wedding were as crucial as the wedding day itself. And I’m currently typing this out with Cindy at a hipster coffee shop in Mexico City during our honeymoon; giving us valuable time to reflect on the entire wedding process (it went by so quickly).
I know that the wedding day is simply another day and experience in my life with Cindy. The wedding day is not the only important day in our lives together. Our future living and working together, traveling together, being patient and compassionate with one another, one day raising children together, growing old together, and dying together—this is what our life is about.
In terms of thanks, I have so many people to be grateful for. Our parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, and those who donated their time, money, and advice to help us build our life together.
A couple (and especially married couple) wouldn’t be possible without the love and support from the community. Cindy and I are simply an amalgamation of all the connections we’ve had with meaningful people in our lives. We’ve shared so many wonderful life experiences with our loved ones, learned much from our mentors and teachers, and have also received a lot of couple-advice from our close friends.
I am personally excited to continue to help Cindy become the best possible version of herself, and helping serve and honor her in any way that I can— until death does us part.
Cindy just got a bunch of scholarships for her research; this is what the next 2 years of our life looks like:
- June-August 30, 2016: OC/LA
- September 2016- April 2017: Hanoi, Vietnam
- May-October 2017: Saigon, Vietnam
- November 2017-April 2018: Paris, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, France
- May-August 2018: France? Europe?
- August 2018: Back in Berkeley/LA/OC, California
Thank you so much for always supporting me through reading this blog, to your words of encouragement, and sharing this passion of life and photography with me. My heart always goes out to you— thank you so much for everything.