Nicole + Lucas | Intimate Forest of Nisene Marks redwood wedding ceremony Santa Cruz

May 6, 2019
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“[We are] a couple that has dug deep and fought hard to quell the fears of trauma and surrender to the vulnerabilities of love (most of the time)”.

Sometimes weddings are best done simply, intentionally and guerrilla style 😉 like Nicole + Lucas’ which took place in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, Aptos CA in January. Despite the off-season timing of the wedding, it was not a cold or particularly dark day by any means – it was bright, sunny and happy.

The couple knew they wanted to do something different for their wedding. Something small, for sure. An elopement was their first idea that they shared with me during their initial inquiry and Skype call.

As the planning progressed, they decided to include some of the closest people to them, but kept the total number to just 13 including themselves, and the vibe low-key and relaxed. It turned out to be a good decision because it meant that Nicole’s dad, who had a heart transplant 7 years ago, was able to give her away.

The nature of planning a wedding in, well, nature is that things often change and don’t quite go according to plan. Which is fair enough I suppose – you are foregoing the stability of a typical venue and with it the luxury that allows for conceptualizing and complete control of the day’s proceedings.

Guerrilla weddings are not for the micro-planners

Guerrilla weddings are not for the micro-planners or the anxious at heart, that’s for sure! You hold your plans lightly, both in the run-up to the day and the day itself.

Because of the early January timing, this wedding was planned right around Christmas time, and the planning, venue scouting, vendor search etc had to fit around a family trip to NC and countless other seasonal obligations.

Nicole and Lucas, who live in nearby Pacifica, had previously scouted the Creeping Forest Trail in Big Basin Redwoods State Park and were hoping to sneak in there for the ceremony. They decided to switch to the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park because on doing a “hike through” of the trail, it was more strenuous than Nicole remembered.

A flatter hike was found that would be easier on parents and actually much closer to the Airbnb they’d already rented to party in that weekend in Aptos – only 5 miles away!

But on the day of the wedding at the Forest of Nisene Marks, the couple, er, lost the particular grove and trail they’d previously scouted, so the actual ceremony location ended up being an impromptu one, and a delicious compromise.

Donna, Nicole and Lucas’ officiant, conducted the spiritual-but-not-religious ceremony. Nicole described Donna as “so warm and loving and has a bond with the redwoods! She’s like a fairy godmother!” Donna told me she “falls in love with each other her couples”. The tenderness and emotion of the ceremony was palpable.

the shifting of mud & mulch underfoot, the occasional voice of a passerby

It was an incredibly poignant and special ceremony with tears, silence, laughter, the crunching of leaves, the shifting of mud & mulch underfoot, the occasional voice of a passerby, the scents and swaying of the redwoods, and a beam of sunlight.

After the ceremony, we went through the formal group portraits and the rest of the group departed to set up the Airbnb ready for toasting and later, spaghetti.

Nicole and Lucas wanted to head down to the creek for some pictures there, which we did, via some beautiful stops in dark, deep groves of redwood trees, and precious shafts of light streaming through the odd tree.

Shooting by bodies of water is my favorite thing and I encourage all couples to incorporate some water into their shoot. The light can be amazing and is very flattering as it reflects light back up and acts as a giant softbox.

We had the gift of stepping stones so this was a fun activity to photograph as they waded across the shallow but fast-moving water. Nicole’s hiking boots were perfect for the task.

Speaking of hiking, after making our way back to our cars we headed to the Airbnb for toasting and cake-cutting! Incorporating some traditional elements into your wedding photos can be so fun. And the beauty is, you can choose exactly what! (Read more about why intimate weddings rock with my free ebook here!)

We set up for my final photos of the day, candid coverage of the newlyweds’ shenanigans, and soon I bid the merry troupe goodbye and left them to party into the night over their spaghetti dinner 😉

Are you looking for an experienced wedding photographer specializing in intimate celebrations of all kinds, and with a love and adoration for open-air ceremonies in nature? I have a wealth of information to help you plan and to direct you to unusual venues all over Northern California that are a little off the beaten path. You are welcome to receive my free resources and help you plan your not-so-traditional wedding!

Vendor love //

Ceremony Venue Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Reception & Accommodation Sand Rock Farm Bed and Breakfast via VRBO

Florals Bloominous

Nicole’s outfit JJs House

Lucas’ outfit Bonobos / J Crew

Nicole’s boots Kodiak Boots

Lucas’ boots Lowa Boots

Jewelry Lauren O Jewels

Officiant Donna Rose Gardner

Cake Mazetti’s Bakery


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Zoe Larkin is a San Francisco-based wedding photographer & fine art graduate originally from London. She specializes in photographing intimate weddings for joyful, free-thinking couples all over California. Zoe creates raw, personal images that evoke a range of emotions, combining documentary photography with a stylized edge. Her work has been published on Offbeat Bride, Equally Wed, Catalyst Wed Co, Love Inc Mag among others. She adores simplicity, kindness & Earl Grey. Zoe is an equality-minded vendor that celebrates diversity in all its forms. Read more about Zoe here