- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A bride. A groom. An Airstream trailer.

That’s about it all takes for a wedding in Emily Alt’s book.

Through her “pop-up wedding” service, Alt arranges ceremonies for couples who want to tie the knot without getting tied up in knots over all those little details involved in a big wedding, The Grand Rapids Press (https://bit.ly/1JueBJf ) reported.

The goal is short, sweet - and relatively low cost, says Alt, a high school English teacher and photographer.

She parks her Airstream trailer in an orchard, on a beach or in some other scenic spot as a staging area. The bride and groom arrive with up to 10 guests. Beneath the open sky, they say “I do.” They pose for photos as husband and wife.

It is all done in an hour. The cost: $2,000.

“It’s very much the idea that weddings should not be stressful,” Alt said. “They should be focused on your love, not your table settings.”

In many cases, the couple holds an after-party at a nearby home or restaurant.

Alt, a 34-year-old who runs Watassa Wedding Photography, said she came up with idea for a “rolling elopement” package last year. She and her husband, Ian DeGraaf, both East Grand Rapids natives, were living in Chicago but ready for a change.

They decided to set out on a five-month road trip, traveling the country in their 31-foot Airstream trailer. Alt began booking photography jobs through an online service to earn money along the way. She noticed that a number of people wanted small weddings or elopements.

She created a “pop up” Airstream wedding package and received great response.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “We did quite a few last year all around the country.”

They held pop-up weddings in four locations: New Orleans; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; and northern Michigan. She set up shop for a day or two and conducted three to four weddings in a day.


For Katie Reed and Kenn Rodriguez, the pop-up approach was the perfect fit for their relationship (not to mention their budget).

The couple, who live near Albuquerque, New Mexico, initially planned a more involved, pricier wedding in Houston. Reed was starting to panic over the arrangements, including lodging for family and close friends, when she came across Alt’s pop-up package online. It didn’t take long for the couple to switch plans.

“It just seemed really cool and really us,” Rodriguez said. “It was very much like our relationship, which is not standard.”

They were married April 4, 2014, on a sky-blue day in a scenic spot in the mountains outside Santa Fe. They wrote their own ceremony and had their closest family members and friends in attendance. Afterward, they had a party at a rented house, with a food truck delivering the dinner.

Now, Reed raves about the simple approach.

“I can’t imagine how we could have had a better day,” she said. “It was the perfect accident. We ‘Forrest Gump-ed’ our way into getting married. It was so easy and so stress-free.”

Reed, 44, said she thinks the approach might appeal more to older couples or those who have been married before.

“You realize what marriage is about and that this is about the two of you - that’s what makes it really special,” she said. “It’s not about the frou-frou and the frills.”


This summer, Alt is offering pop-up wedding on several dates but only in northern Michigan. She has weddings planned at a farmhouse in Northport and on a public beach.

Couples write their vows, and Alt takes care of the rest of the details. She helps select a location and lines up any permits needed. She provides the bride’s bouquet and veil, the groom’s boutonniere and a small cake. Her husband, who works in building supply sales and is a licensed officiant, performs the ceremony. The package includes photos taken during the ceremony and a portrait session.

The total cost is far less than just the photos would be in a typical wedding, she said. Her eight-hour wedding photography package costs $3,400.

Alt lets couples know the less-is-more approach involves a certain amount of unpredictability. If the weather is rainy, the wedding might move to an indoor location or be delayed a day.”I say there is a possibility there might be someone down the beach who might want to watch their wedding,” she said.

Some brides use the Airstream trailer to sit and have a drink with friends pre-wedding - so they won’t see the groom before the ceremony. Many want the trailer in their wedding photos.

“It’s kind of amazing how people lose their minds for an Airstream,” Alt said.

For others, the trailer is irrelevant. Alt held a wedding for a couple in New Orleans who had a different backdrop in mind: They held their ceremony beneath the Tree of Life, an ancient oak tree in the city’s Audubon Park.

Playful, joyful, spontaneous, unique - Alt looks for all those elements in a wedding and in her photography. But there is one thing that holds little appeal for her - duplicating staged photos found on Pinterest.

“I really want to emphasize to people when you hire me as a wedding photographer, you are hiring someone to document what you experience that day,” she said.


When Alt and her husband got married July 12, 2008, they didn’t have a pop-up wedding - they had 125 guests. But their big day did have a casual, outdoor vibe. They set up a tent on a Lake Michigan beach near Grand Haven, at the site of their first kiss. They served homemade barbecue and tapped kegs of beer. Her mom made the cake.

“If I had to go back, I might do an even smaller wedding or an elopement,” Alt said. “But all in all, it was exactly what we both wanted.”

After their cross-country jaunt, Alt and DeGraaf moved back to Grand Rapids. She got a job teaching English at Northview High School. They bought an old house in Leelanau County, which they are busy gutting and renovating.

She still shoots weddings, and is looking forward to holding several pop-up weddings this summer. But she wants to keep that job as a part-time and summer gig.

“I love being a wedding photographer,” she said. “But at the end of the day, talking to children about literature is just where I’m meant to be.”


Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, https://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

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