Catherine Abegg » wedding & portrait photographer from seattle, wa... specializing in lifestyle, travel, and film photography.

brian & mackenzie’s surprise wedding // seattle, wa

Just in case you have the idea to have the raddest surprise wedding ever… take a few lessons from the Canlis crew.


1. Have everyone over for a dinner party to celebrate your engagement.
2. Tell everyone to go outside for the elaborate lawn game that your brother made up.
3. While everyone is preoccupied on the lawn, have a three piece orchestra begin to play.
4. While everyone is surprisingly looking up at this mysterious orchestra that has started playing,
have a wedding canopy placed down on the lawn. Guests turn around… cue more surprised looks.
5. Couple walks out of house at this time, and surprise! They are in wedding outfits!
6. Commence tears, laughter, hugging, whooping, more laughter, and more tears.

Sounds easy, right?! I think the key factor on this wedding was that the Canlis family is really into having dinner parties… and apparently they are reeeeally into playing yard games. And I only say that because if I were to announce to my family that we were going out to play a yard game, everyone would just roll their eyes at me & whisper amongst themselves about how weird I am; am I alone in this? So that’s the first & very important key to successfully & completely shocking everyone with a surprise wedding ceremony.

What I loved about the ceremony though, that was even more of a surprise, is that Brian & Mackenzie involved everyone who was in attendance (all close family and friends), even while keeping it a surprise. For instance, they rallied their nieces to come up & carry pre-made baskets full of flower petals right as they were walking down the aisle, and they had secretly tucked their wedding rings into the jackets of their best friends, who had the most hilarious looks on their face when they realized how they’d unknowingly been involved in the ceremony. And the “game” that they had been playing before, had put in the hands of everyone a sealed envelope, which when opened had their vows written on them… so that anyone & everyone could take part in their nuptials by taking turns reading Brian & Mackenzie’s marriage vows allowed. It was genius, it was beautiful, and if you think about it, those are special touches that could actually be used in anyone’s wedding ceremony, with or without the surprise factor.

The best thing about having a surprise ceremony, however, was how present everyone was. I guess there’s nothing like being taken completely by surprise to bring everyone together in delight and with full displays of emotion. I think most of their guests were even too shocked to take out their phones (insider note: phone cameras have become a real problem at weddings these days!)… and instead, everyone just stood together on that breezy lake shore, holding each other and being absolutely taken over by this wonderful gesture of love that involved the whole family. This surprise wedding was pure magic.

Oh, and very last detail–last but definitely not least–hire a photographer & make sure she’s fully ready for the surprise!


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  • July 24, 2015 - 10:18 pm

    hannah - catherine!! these are so beautiful. holy moly. the feel to these is thick with magic and love. fantastic job. xxoReplyCancel

  • July 25, 2015 - 1:59 am

    Donna Alexander-Morrison - What a wonderful idea. How special to be part of that. And of course fab photographs!ReplyCancel

  • July 25, 2015 - 7:30 am

    Kristi Wright - These are incredible. I wish more couples did stuff like this. An intimate wedding is a hundred times better than the big fancy ordeals.

    Love the shot of them running on the dock at the end.ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2016 - 3:13 am

    Jane Ackerman - I think this is the coolest idea ever. Wish I could get married (to my husband!) all over again to do it this way! Genius!ReplyCancel

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