Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Blending the Family Together... A Pigeon Forge Wedding Story

It's hard enough finding your soul mate.  It's even harder to blend two families together, no matter how perfect your relationship may be.  This is a short love story about Michelle and Sam, who touched our hearts with their visit to Honeysuckle Hills for a couples only wedding.

Yes... I said couples "only," even though Michelle and Sam brought along their four children (plus a boyfriend.)  We always allow the children to come for the couples only wedding packages, because we feel that by including them it strengthens the marriage bond.  The children need to feel important, and by giving them simple duties in the wedding ceremony, they feel as if they are part of this sacred covenant.

I think one major mistake couples make prior to marriage is not allowing their children to get to know each other long enough.  Introducing them to a potential spouse too soon can also be detrimental to the child and the relationship.  I was most impressed to hear that Sam and Michelle waited an entire year before letting the kids meet each other.  (I am not saying everyone should wait that long, but this speaks volumes about this couple's maturity level and the fact they placed the children's needs before their own.)  Three years later, "Mr. Sam" brought Michelle some flowers, and Ben decided that he was his mother's boyfriend.  When asked how he felt about that, he quickly replied, "Oh I think it's great!"

Seven years later, that's where the Honeysuckle Hills wedding venue in Pigeon Forge came in.  We're the ones responsible for the official bonding of all present... Sam, Michelle, Ben, Katie, Tori, and Sarah.  Leslie had to keep a hanky close by at all times, because I teared up more than once.  It started right after the wedding ceremony outside in our pavilion by the creek during their first dance.  Sam and Michelle wanted a first dance even though they weren't having a larger wedding with reception, so we arranged it to occur right after they were pronounced husband and wife.  The chemistry between this couple was noted immediately!

It's important to mention at this point that when you come to Honeysuckle Hills, how long you reserve your wedding is pretty important.  First, we have a lot of outdoor wedding backgrounds, scenes, and props spread over 25 acres.  The photograph at the top of this blog was taken with one of our props, a simple picture frame (quite popular on Pinterest at the moment.)  The second thing requiring a little more time is the way we go about our photography.  Believe it or not, two different lights were used in that top family photograph, and a little overlay added later during the artwork process.

Tori is most definitely, assuredly a "Daddy's girl."  How do we know this?  Because she asked for only one wedding picture.  She asked her Daddy to make sure we photographed him pushing her in our swing hanging from the sycamore tree.  Tori found the swing during their visit the day before the wedding.  We always schedule a tour so everyone knows where to go, and our couples can choose their wedding ceremony location on our farm.  When children are involved, this helps breaks the ice and makes them feel more comfortable on the actually wedding day, too.

Four little monkeys sittin on a bed... one fell off and ....  I guess you know how the rest of the song goes.  We took a brief detour on the walk down to our old 1950 Ford truck for a little hop on the hay in our 1900 antique bed prop.

We photographed more family photographs during Michelle and Sam's wedding than we usually do. This is always different... some couples prefer more of the two of them alone, and some want to make sure the children are photographed as much as possible.  This is why it's so very important for us to get to know our families or wedding couples as much as possible before wedding day.  We were pretty lucky... Michelle sent TONS of written information to us by email.  Most of our couples are from out of town, so email and text is one of our best tools to get to know our brides.

Just because Sam and Michelle had more family photographs than a lot of our other wedding guests, this doesn't mean we didn't send the kids to play in the creek for a while so that we could get those steamy, "I love you to the moon and back" wedding photographs.  The horse field in between our barn and the old truck had gorgeous fall flowers growing.  Early October is one of the best times for a destination wedding in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.  The weather is usually pleasantly warm, and even though the leaves haven't turned much yet, there's still fall beauty provided by golden rods, asters, and tall grasses.

On this particular October day, we missed a good rain shower during the entire length of their wedding reservation.  Cloudy days are always coveted by photographers, because the lighting is easier and the colors are more saturated, too.  But Leslie and I love those beautiful rays of the setting sun in the evening, too.  What to do?  We add a little light here and there to give more depth and emotion.

Leslie always reminds me when we get a little "lopsided" on how many wedding photographs are done of one thing over another.  It's a good thing, too!  I'd like to say I wouldn't have forgotten to photograph Michelle with her own children by themselves just like I did Sam and Tori, but what if I had?  That's why I wouldn't take a million dollars for Leslie... It would be so much harder without her!   (And ever so much more boring, too!)

Blended family or not, grab all your children this very second and squeeze them even harder than what you see Michelle's clan doing in this heart-warming wedding family photograph.  Life is short, and children grow faster than the weeds in our flower beds at our wedding venue!  Don't take a single second for granted...

Every now and then we get a bride who says, "I only need something basic," or "I only want one or two wedding pictures, nothing fancy."  To us, that's kind of like asking a race car driver to "only go about 35mph" because "I don't need to be thrilled off the edge of my seat."  It's also like telling a hunting guide, "I don't need the trophy buck; any old deer will do."  How crazy is that?  You can no more tell a race car driver not to give it all he's got in the car he's invested so much time and money in than you can tell the hunting guide to leave out the emergency gear or forget everything all the old-timer's taught him about how to track game.  It's the same way with us.  We're in it WIN it, and we're in it for your trophy buck...  We just don't have the ability to do it any other way.

I hope we get to see your own smiling face at Honeysuckle Hills soon.  Whether it's a couples only wedding like this one, or if you have 100 of your closest family and friends for a huge wedding celebration and reception... you're welcome here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wedding Checklist and Commonly asked Questions for Venues in Pigeon Forge

Leslie is always telling me that we don't say enough about everything our brides have at Honeysuckle Hills that they don't have to buy on their own, add on to a wedding package, or haul the great distance they're traveling to be with us.  I guess I take her wedding planning skills for granted sometimes.

First, we get a LOT of questions like, "Do you have dressing rooms?"  This is usually the very first thing our couples only wedding clients will ask when they're planning their elopement to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.  Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  You'd be shocked to learn just how many wedding photographers and wedding planners in our area don't have a place for you to get ready.  We have two separate dressing rooms, each with its own private restroom.

The second question we get asked is, "Do you have a back up plan in case it rains?"  Absolutely!  We have a wedding chapel upstairs that seats up to 70 guests, a pavilion downstairs alongside our creek that will seat up to 30, and a reception area that seats up to 100 guests.

The third question, which is kind of strange to me, is "Will any other weddings be going on while we are on property?"  Holy cow... NO.  Your time is sacred at Honeysuckle Hills and therefore we will do no other weddings, tours, or allow nosy tourists to drop in and say hello.  (Try keeping the tourists out if you reserve a wedding in the National Park!  Sorry... public wedding venues are exactly that... open to the public.)

Number four always gets me, too.  "Can my family use their cameras?"  Absolutely YES!  We are not selfish, and welcome everyone with their cameras.  We have learned how to manage the crowd and work with everyone who wants that special photograph of you.  The only time we don't allow your guests to follow us around is when we are photographing the two of you together.  This prevents us from stepping on your guests as we use our lighting equipment and have our bursts of excitement.   It also gives you a chance to relax and breathe... no bride wants to feel like she's being followed by the paparazzi.  And yes, if you prefer to have an "unplugged" wedding which is increasingly popular, we'll make sure you don't have to take the heat.  Just tell them Leslie and Regina said no.

Question five is a difficult one for us to get our brides to understand the answer to.  "How many wedding pictures will I get?"  Everyone is so accustomed to "snapshot shooters" these days that we unfortunately get grouped in with them.  Just because we have a camera doesn't mean we use it like everyone else does, however.  We have a lighting, artistic design, prop, and production team.  This takes extra time.  Add all the different locations on our farm that require walking to, and some of the images that require extensive prop and lighting set up...  The result is jaw-dropping results that we guarantee NONE of your other friends have right now.  You may not have 3,000 images, but the ones you DO have are gonna rock to the moon and back!

Leslie keeps adding more and more questions to the wedding checklist as I type today, so unfortunately we'll have to continue on next week.   Be sure to follow our blog and especially the Facebook fan page!  You'll get a clear picture why Honeysuckle Hills is the wedding venue of choice for brides all over the U. S.

In the meantime, enjoy what we're best known for... Our wedding photography.  And be sure to check out the links for all the vendors we partner with.  They'll put you first just like we do!  You're at the very TOP of our wedding checklist!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Theme Peacock... Leslie's Commission for a Bride's Destination Wedding in the Smokies

At Honeysuckle Hills, we try to have everything our brides need set up and ready to go.  Leslie works diligently every day (and night as she researches,) to make sure our barn is decorated in a theme that will cause our brides and their guests to smile from ear to ear when they enter our wedding venue.  I have heard our brides say more than once,"Wow.. I think I will just use your decorations and take mine back!"

Occasionally our brides have a specific wedding theme in mind, and this makes Leslie light up with joy!  Yes, it's a lot of hard work, but especially worth it for the bride traveling from out of state who wants her very own wedding colors and decor.  The bride (and in this case her mother,) can commission Leslie to do as much or as little as they need.  They can pay a deposit and allow Leslie to acquire the decorations, materials, and team decorating members... and any part of the funds unused will be refunded or the credit card can be charged as the project expands.  Or, as in this spring wedding, the bride can supply the materials herself and tell Leslie and her team members what to do with them.  Leslie will give a price based on the hours required to complete the project.  All the bride, groom, and guests have to do is show up and enjoy.

We already have seating, tables, and white table cloths for up to 100 of your closest family and friends. (We have both round and rectangular tables, along with seasonal decor, a few antiques, burlap, and old window panes.) Amber and John were right in the middle with 50 wedding guests who were delighted as they entered the grounds, writing cards and signing the guest book as they went.  Our primroses had just begun to bloom in earnest, pretty in pink to accent the gorgeous blues in Amber's peacock wedding theme.

Let's go ahead and show off several of the little vignettes and stations that Amber's mother requested...from the scrumptious candy table to all the little things that the guests admired during Amber's wedding day at Honeysuckle Hills.  

The overall view of the reception area... bows on the wedding chairs by our very own Aunt Sharon

How could you possibly turn down candy when even the containers are so lovely?

The sparklers awaiting the send off of the bride and groom later in the evening...

Chef Tony Catering... I simply can't give enough praise to Tony McClanahan and his wonderful staff!  Chef Tony is likely your second contact once you call or email us at Honeysuckle Hills, especially if you choose one of our all-inclusive wedding packages.  He is as dedicated to our brides' happiness as we are, and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to planning your meal and even the wedding cake. And of course, Amber's cake was a peacock!  (I swear I don't think there's anything Chef Tony can't do!)  Do you have several children attending your wedding?  Just look at one of the smiles he put on these darlings faces with the chicken nugget table...

Chef Tony and the "happy table" for the children, complete with chicken nuggets!

Chef Tony's wedding cakes taste even better than they look!  (Trust me, I got two slices myself...)

The adults at Amber's wedding enjoyed their tasty home-made meal by Chef Tony Catering, too!

Amber's mother, Janice, put a lot of thought and hard work into this wedding herself, because she wanted to be as much a part of her daughter's wedding as she could.  This meant gathering all the supplies and then dictating her thoughts to our wedding coordinator, Leslie.  She and Leslie texted  and talked frequently, and one day Leslie realized that this day was going to be such a grand display that without a DJ, it would be like a present without a bow.  (Leslie and I often announce wedding events ourselves, but with all this splendor we would simply not do it justice!)  

Turn up the sound, turn up the fun, turn up the emotion... with Scott and KnoxVegas DJ's!

 As with most of our all-inclusive Smoky Mountain weddings at Honeysuckle Hills, DJ Scott Goebel is more "behind the scenes" as he guides the wedding mood with his music and soothing voice.  During such intimate moments as the father-daughter dance, all the emphasis should be focused on the bride and her father.  When the time comes, Scott can turn it up a notch or two or three... and keep everyone's feet moving and entertained the entire afternoon!  He always has up-to-date technology, a convenient on-line form to plan your announcements and music (plus personal contact any time you like in between.)  Scott has been a Honeysuckle Hills team member for over three years now, putting that finishing touch (the bow) on all the pretty wedding packages!

Last but not least... Amber's photography.  At Honeysuckle Hills, we have come to realize over the years that this is still the most important aspect of the wedding, because it leaves a tangible, lasting smile or tear every time you view your images.  And yes, we know your guests love photography, too, even though they may not go about it the same way we do.  That's why we allow cameras on our property and encourage your guests to use them.  The only time we don't allow them to follow us around is when we are photographing the bride and groom alone.  (It would be too difficult to guide and elicit the emotion from our couples, and to execute the professional techniques we have learned over the past 14 years.) 

Just like Amber's wedding theme, her photography pulled out all the stops... complete with "trash the dress" at the end in our cool, mountain stream that runs through the Honeysuckle Hills farm.  

This "Signature Art" wedding photograph was created with one of Amber's images in our creek at Honeysuckle Hills, along with a photograph of the mountain stream at Starkeytown Cove (our newest, ultra-private, primitive mountain wedding venue.)

Leslie's duties are endless... wedding coordinator, lighting and photography assistant, and here..."lifeguard"

Another touch of art added to a barn wedding scene at our wedding venue in Pigeon Forge...

The swing beneath our sycamore tree is still one of the most popular requests we get for a wedding photograph.  This is also a great example of the reason we don't allow guests to follow us with their own cameras during this part of the wedding photography...It would be extremely difficult to get our couples to relax enough to show this much emotion and passion with too much "paparazzi."

Whether you use all the decorations already set up along with natural beauty of our landscape... or if you commission Leslie to fully re-decorate and re-invent our wedding venue to suit your own theme... you're going to become part of the Honeysuckle Hills family in the process!  Brides come to us because of our vintage barn atmosphere, and they also come because of the fresh, mountain air appeal.  We've had brides on a budget and we've had brides with unlimited resources... the only thing that matters to us is that you're happy when it's all said and done.  YOU are important to us!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Honeysuckle Hills Visits... Candler Budget Bridal Shop in North Carolina!

One of my Utopian fantasies would be the ability to visit each and every one of our Honeysuckle Hills brides in their home…  The last time we were able to do this was probably in 2008 when we took a deep south adventure to Mississippi to visit Mooney and Jay.  The cotton and pumpkin fields were so beautiful that fall, and I think that’s when I developed my addiction to boiled peanuts!

Erin stole our heart when she and Justin toured with us back in December.  Leslie and I relate to the down-home country girl, because really that’s all we are.  After scheduling her May wedding for this spring, we asked about her wedding dress.  After all, it’s the core of the wedding!  Normally we get the “Oh, I finally dug through corporate so and so store and found IT.”  Erin’s story was more colorful.  Apparently one of her friends told her about what I now swear is the “dress whisperer.”   When we found out she’s from just over the mountain in Candler, North Carolina, we immediately thought, “Road Trip!” 

After many attempts thwarted by snowstorm after snowstorm this winter,  yesterday Leslie and I loaded up in the Tacoma with Uncle Bill and headed over the mountain to visit with Erin and her mother.  I was so excited I didn’t even take time to stop and photograph the frosty frozen limbs on the Foothills Parkway. 

When we arrived, we were greeted by the “baby,” Rosco, who of course is in the wedding party!

Erin’s home was scattered with… you guessed it… wedding preparations!  Our favorite was the cans that spell “guest book.”  Remove the label of a veggie can, freeze water in it, hammer in the holes… paint, put a candle in it… magic! 

But on to the dress store… Before you start expecting something extravagant and exclusive, stop.  Just STOP.  And truly there’s nothing wrong with the big dress stores, because all of us are different and have our own tastes.  So please STOP again if you think I’m talking them down. 

This store is for the bride who wants an experience.  She wants to feel like she matters, not for how much money is in her purse, but for how important that moment is when she walks down the aisle.  We’re talking a culmination of a twenty year dream for Carol, who owns Candler Budget Bridal!  Can you imagine waiting on your sweetheart to propose for twenty years?  Now that her dream is a reality, she pours her very heart and soul into finding your perfect dress .   Don’t worry about your size, and certainly don’t worry about your budget.  No dress is over $300!  We’re talking both new and gently worn dresses, with a price tag well over $800 at most stores. 

Here’s the sweetest part… Once Carol helps select what you believe is “the one that tugs at your heart,” she places you in front of her mirror in a private room (so you’re not overwhelmed with strangers.)   With your eyes closed, she speaks softly, describing your loving family present, your walk down the aisle, and your handsome fiancĂ© standing right before you… only then does she ask you to open your eyes to view yourself in the dress in the mirror.  Most brides cry at this point.  If they don’t… well, it’s not the right dress (which I believe just doesn’t happen at this place!) 

So, if you’re like a lot of us who know the best restaurants are found in little “holes in the wall,” or some of the most unique and precious treasures are found off the beaten path, Candler Budget Bridal in North Carolina is definitely worth your time!   I so wanted to try on a dress myself while I was there, but alas… I haven’t been proposed to yet, so let’s not put the cart before the horse.

No…I can’t post Erin in her beautiful dress yet!  But check back later… I promise she will model it for you!

To inquire with Carol, call 828-670-1871 or visit  She won’t disappoint you…

Friday, February 07, 2014

A Summer wedding in the Smokies (Red Barn Theme)

This post will have plenty of wedding photographs to make your imagination sparkle like the lights that dance in a bride's blue eyes!

On July 27th, 2013, a team of women descended upon our Little Red Barn.  Some of them were professional decorators with years of experience creating a wedding celebration to remember.  I will never forget the reds and blues incorporated in their summer theme, because they went perfectly with the flowers in bloom on our farm!  They brought everything from burlap roses to a couch made from hay bales... a saddle on a stand for the kids... and even a nice little white tent for a little added shade.

The key to this grand scheme is making sure the entire day is reserved with us at Honeysuckle Hills.  Access is available from 8:00am until dark, giving plenty of time to bring any extra decor and props that we don't already have.  Our own decorator actually worked out a deal to keep many of the decorations you see in these photographs (which is common with weddings on this scale.)

This wedding is also the very reason we will now have some round tables for your reception in 2014... Kendra's mother brought in round tables of their own for this particular wedding in 2013.  Leslie fell in love with them... and what Leslie wants, Leslie gets.  (Hurray for all you 2014 brides!)  Uncle Bill is putting them all together even as I write... (and probably worried about what us women will beg him for next!)

The day prior to the rehearsal, I talked with Kendra and Brad to find out a little about them.  Get this... he thought she was not redneck enough to suit him... maybe a little too "prissy." I think by the time you see their wedding photographs with the big truck you'll figure out, as Brad did, that ain't the case!

This entire family was the most courteous, southern hospitality oriented, kick back and have fun bunch of people we've ever met.  Well... actually that's usually the kind of folks we get out here ALL the time, but we particularly want to stress that point about the McConnells and Sturgills!  FINE bunch of country people.  That's what we love about weddings at Honeysuckle Hills!

If you're planning a summer wedding, it's never too late to get started.  Remember we book well in advance... but if you're running a little behind then a little flexibility with the wedding date helps.  We'll work with you if you can work with us.  It's in our heart to make certain your wedding is as beautiful as Kendra and Brad's, if not more so!  We'll make it special for just the two of you, or if you have all 100 like the McConnell / Sturgill shindig!