A Bible, guitar, a cookbook, even Jenga game blocks! Brides and grooms are coming up with unique and creative ways to remember their wedding day by asking guests to forego signing a typical guest book in favor of something more personal to them. My good friends at The Sonnet House, one of my favorite wedding and event venues (located in Leeds, Alabama) have shared some wonderful and personal variations on the traditional wedding guest book. Here are some of my favorites...

Photo by Alisha Crossley Photography at  The Sonnet House Leeds, Alabama

Photo by Alisha Crossley Photography at The Sonnet House Leeds, Alabama

This bride and groom asked their wedding guests to highlight a favorite bible verse in a family Bible and sign it. Each time they look through the Bible over the years of their marriage, they will be reminded of their wedding day and the family and friends assembled to wish them well.

Photo by Amy Carson Photography taken at  The Sonnet House, Leeds, Alabama

Photo by Amy Carson Photography taken at The Sonnet House, Leeds, Alabama

This couple had their wedding guests sign a guitar which they will hang on a wall in their new home as a reminder of their wedding day.

Photo by LaShay Photography taken at  The Sonnet House, Leeds, Alabama

Photo by LaShay Photography taken at The Sonnet House, Leeds, Alabama

In keeping with the selfie station trend you find at many events these days, using a Fujifilm instax™ Mini 8 camera and smartphone wireless printer, this couple had family and friends take a selfie which was printed on the spot and clothespined to a rustic board for the wedding. Later, the couple will assemble the photos into a keepsake wedding guest album. Find the camera at Michael's, Wal-Mart, Amazon, etc. From $70.

Photos by Rob and Wynter Photography taken at The Sonnet House, Leeds, Alabama

This creative couple will be able to relive their wedding day each time they pull out the Jenga blocks! If you have a large guest list, you may need to provide several games to accommodate all your guests good wishes. Afterwards, these wooden blocks can be fixed to a frame and hung as a piece of art.

Photo by SCB Photography taken at The Sonnet House, Leeds, Alabama

One of my favorite wedding guest book ideas for foodies, cooks and food lovers: have wedding guests sign pages in a favorite cookbook! Love this! Maybe one day, a bride and groom will have guests sign MY cookbook!

Many thanks to Ellen, Jared & Corey at The Sonnet House and all of the couples and photographers for the inspiration.


It’s wedding season! Many of us have friends getting married right now and we’re faced with the impossible task of planning a fun, unique, and appropriate shower to celebrate the occasion. What kind of party you ultimately decide to throw for your bride-to-be should depend on her personality, your budget, and what type of gifts the couple really wants or needs.

Gather the girls to host a bridal shower completely customized to your bride-to-be!

Gather the girls to host a bridal shower completely customized to your bride-to-be!

Since our friends already had what they needed to set up their home, we decided to host a Honeymoon Travel Shower for them with food and decorations evocative of the Mexican beach honeymoon they were in the process of planning. A beach theme, Mexican cuisine, and margaritas made for a perfect pre-wedding fiesta.  

Aqua blue and sea green along with coral and shells inspire this Mexican Riviera theme for our bride's honeymoon shower.

Aqua blue and sea green along with coral and shells inspire this Mexican Riviera theme for our bride's honeymoon shower.

honeymoon shower ideas Martie Duncan

If your friends are into cooking, a “Top Chef” style kitchen shower could be fun. Ask each guest to bring a favorite dish with the recipe and a utensil necessary to complete the dish. Every bride (and groom) loves a lingerie shower so how about hosting a “Sex in the City” themed party complete with Cosmopolitans and plenty of girl talk? With the popularity of couples’ showers, consider a tool and gadget shower. The guys won’t complain when they can test drive the latest gadget innovations. If the couple is renovating their home, a do-it-yourself (DIY) shower for their home or patio could help them prepare for future entertaining. Guests come armed with everything necessary to paint a room or make-over the outdoor space. You do the work, they reap the benefits!

No matter what kind of shower you host for the happy couple, here’s a guide to help you plan.        

Setting the Scene

Decorations and music are two essential elements in setting the tone for any event. You don’t have to go over the top with your decorations, but do put some thought into them. Many hostesses will stop by the party supply store and pick up uninspired decorations which can be expensive. A better idea? Use items you have or can borrow and add a few key decorative objects like we did for this party. Start by selecting a color scheme. For a chic seaside tone, I used aqua and soft blue as my color palette. Adding shells to a row of candles on a hammered silver tray anchored the beach theme. Two brightly colored glass fish seemed to swim over variegated blue sea glass in a round vase filled with water, making a whimsical yet elegant centerpiece. Travel posters, luggage tags, and suitcases with travel stickers borrowed from a travel agent completed the décor. Throw on a compilation CD of “margarita” music and you’ve set the mood for a perfect party. If you prefer a traditional Mexican color palette, there are hundreds of fiesta supplies readily available.

This couple likes to dive so we wanted to create a water element that was affordable. We filled glass fish bowls with sea glass in party colors and found glass fish to replicate the ocean.

This couple likes to dive so we wanted to create a water element that was affordable. We filled glass fish bowls with sea glass in party colors and found glass fish to replicate the ocean.

Planning the Menu

Creating the menu for a party is often the most difficult task—especially when you’re inexperienced in the kitchen or don’t have a lot of parties under your belt. Nothing creates a party mood like good food and a refreshing cold beverage. Since we were working with a Mexican beach theme, this menu was easy to create---there are tons of easy Mexican recipes or good Mexican take-out if you’re not up to cooking. I decided on sure-fire party favorites like fresh guacamole, warm tortilla chips, and a variety of salsas as starters. Easy fiery grilled shrimp skewers over rice with store bought pineapple mango salsa looked festive presented on a Mariposa shell platter. Build your bar around a selection of margaritas. Add salt, limes, mint iced tea, and sparkling water and you’re all set. A large frozen margarita maker comes in handy for a big crowd. Serve drinks in any pretty glassware that coordinates with your décor or a margarita pitcher and glass set.

Games and Entertainment

I admit it. I am not a big fan of shower games. (Is hate too strong a word?) While a wedding tradition, they can be soooo boring! Smart hostesses incorporate creative activities into their party plans instead of stale games. The wedding gown game---using toilet paper, tissue paper, newspaper or paper towels to design a wedding dress is always fun and it gives guests a chance to mingle and chat. Another fun activity is to create a memory album. Guests bring copies of their favorite photos of the bride or couple and make a scrapbook or photo album together. You can even have a printed and bound copy sent to the bride using an online service. Have guests send images via email or scan them into your computer at the party.

Don’t stress out trying to come up with the perfect shower plan—just stick to the recipe for any good party. Good food, plenty of drinks, a good cake, a fun theme, and good mix of people make any party successful. The fact that presents are involved is icing on the party cake!

Photos by Arden Ward, Arden Photography


Photography: Arden Photography 

September 21, 2013


Real Wedding Arden Photography


As the saying goes… love will find a way. When there is a true connection between two people; time, distance, neither culture nor circumstance will prevent them from eventually finding their way to one another. On a cold and very early morning in 2010, Birmingham photographer and wedding industry veteran Arden Ward walked into William Upton’s show-jumping barn at Windwood Equestrian for a magazine photo shoot that would change her life. Not only did she capture a cover image that day, she captured William’s attention and ultimately, his heart. He began renovations to turn Windwood into a gorgeous European inspired wedding estate and when it was complete, he married Arden in the same spot where they first met. Their wedding- from planning to the big day was captured for the upcoming Bravo television series, Jersey Belle, debuting August 2014.

Arden Photography Real Wedding Arden and William

Read their wedding story:


Arden, being the night owl she is, was truly irritated at the 5:00 AM call time for her Alabama Weddings magazine photo shoot that cold morning. She got up, brushed her teeth, pulled her hair back into a low ponytail, threw on some clothes and made the drive out to the venue. The shoot was taking place at a barn called Windwood Equestrian. Having acquired a love of horses from her grandmother, Arden was looking forward to incorporating the barn’s residents into the wedding scenes that day but even that did not make her very happy about the early morning schedule. When she knocked on the door, William answered. Thinking him rather adorable, she admonished herself for not taking time to put on a little makeup. The two now admit to being intrigued by each other. They became friends; he was curious about her career in weddings and she found his career in show jumping and horses fascinating. Arden began riding lessons and occasionally turned to William for advice. Seeing that Windwood was perfectly suited to host weddings, William looked to Arden for industry insight. After more than three years of friendship, Arden called William one day to talk about riding lessons and he invited her to come over that afternoon to see renovations on the barn. That afternoon became their first date when William suggested a motorcycle ride around the countryside. That motorcycle ride turned into an evening, which turned into a weekend and the couple soon became inseparable. A few short months later, William planned an epic proposal in one of the most romantic places on earth.   

Arden Ward William Upton Arden Photography Paris


Arden and William had instantly become immersed in each other’s lives and spent all of their time together. They both realized it was something serious very early on. The couple took several trips together; from weekend horse shows in the Hamptons and Palm Beach to photo shoots and football games in New York and their two worlds turned into one. They talked about marriage and both knew that it was simply a matter of a diamond ring and a proposal. William wanted Arden to come with him to an International Show Jumping event in France. He planned a romantic getaway for them including stops in Paris and the South of France. Arden suspected a proposal and began dropping hints….but William promised her they were not getting engaged in Paris. With the excitement of the trip and all of the activities William had planned, Arden had completely forgotten about a proposal. William had not. He had the ring in his pocket as they strolled along the water’s edge in the South of France at Saint Jean-Cap Ferrat in the French Riviera one particularly beautiful, moonlight night. When the moment was right, William took out the ring and proposed. When they arrived in Paris, William had an engagement session set up at some of the world’s most famous sights. Even though they had not officially told anyone of their plans, friends and family noticed the ring on Arden’s finger when they posted photos from their trip to Facebook and Instagram. A swell of good wishes, congratulations and talk of a fantasy wedding started even before they returned home.

William and Arden Ward Upton Paris


One would think that planning a wedding as a wedding professional would be easy. Well, that is true to some degree. You know what to do. Imagine if many of your friendships have evolved from working relationships that have spanned over a decade. How do you choose from your many friends and colleagues who to hire for your own wedding? That was the dilemma facing Arden and William. As it turned out, their schedules only permitted one Saturday to marry in the remaining days of 2013 so selecting a date was easy.  Since the date was only a few months away, many wedding vendor friends were already booked. Here’s the team Arden assembled to help her create her fairytale wedding to William, complete with miniature pony, magnificent photographic elements, two receptions and a helicopter flyaway!

Arden Ward Marries William Upton Sept 2013 Arden Photography Image

Arden turned to the wedding designer who was responsible for the photo shoot the day she first met William, Christopher Confero, to help coordinate the details. Arden’s friend, legendary Birmingham caterer Kathy Mezrano of Kathy G & Company created the menu for both the private, family reception immediately following the ceremony and also for the big celebration with more than 300 friends and family. Guests dined on a farm inspired menu featuring Steak & Cake: Steak with Kathy’s signature Crab Cakes plus Risotto, Local Greens and Tomato Salad and Individual Peach Cobbler for dessert. William’s favorite drink, Tennessee Lemonade was the signature cocktail.

Event Rentals Unlimited (ERU) was invaluable in helping the couple set the tone for the evening with the perfect tablesetting and chairs.

Another longtime friend, Melissa Hill of Weddings Etc created the entire wedding stationery suite including invitation, thank you notes, and placecards, and menus.  

Sybil Sylvester of Wildflower Designs created the ceremony flowers. Carole Sullivan of Lagniappe designed the reception flowers using roses in every hue and shade of pink. A massive wall of roses and flowers was constructed for a photography element.

Arden’s team of photographers handled the task of capturing the wedding of a photographer who has photographed hundreds of weddings over the years. Arden has long been one of Birmingham’s favorite wedding photographers and her work is found within the pages of many local, regional and national publications and her work often graces the cover of Alabama Weddings magazine. Arden’s good friend and frequent collaborator Lance Holloway of Holloway Productions captured the moment with on video which Arden absolutely loves. “He really managed to get the emotion and sentiment – which is not always that easy to accomplish,”

Having your own wedding venue complete with beautiful horses certainly comes in handy when planning a wedding. William included Windwood’s prized show jumpers in wedding photos including L’ami Noir, decked out in full wedding regalia, sporting a rose garland. Phoenix, the mini horse who rules the farm at Windwood was everyone’s favorite.

Since Arden is lucky enough to have several friends with wedding gown boutiques, she selected two gowns for her big day. For the ceremony, Arden wore a Lela Rose Couture gown from her next door neighbors at Ivory & White in Crestline Village. She changed into a Jenny Packham gown from the Carriage House for the reception. A strand of opera length pearls from Bromberg’s given to her by William as a wedding gift was her only accessory.

Arden’s attendants were the children of her best friends. Alaya, Brooklyn, Brody, Annabelle and Lily all wore custom designed outfits for the occasion.

If you know Arden, you know she loves cake and dessert so the wedding cakes were of particular importance to her. Gia’s Cakes of Crestline Village designed her wedding cake with sugar paste roses and flowers that looked authentic and perfectly mirrored the wedding flowers. William’s chocolate groom’s cake from Diane Olexa featured elegant chocolate show jumpers etched into the cake’s icing.

William coordinated beautiful tuxedos for the wait staff from Arden’s friends at Mr. Burch Formal Wear in Mountain Brook.  

Arden Ward Upton Wedding reception Arden Photography image
Arden Ward Upton Wedding First Dance

The courtyard was draped with tiny white Italian lights and looked like a scene from a movie, especially when the world’s #1 Michael Jackson impersonator took the stage. Arden hired him to surprise William and their guests since the King of Pop was one of their favorite performers. “Michael” had everyone dancing the Moonwalk to his classic hits. This was just one of many surprises the night held. William’s uncle David surprised the couple when a helicopter landed in the middle of the farm as the reception came to an end and they were whisked away on a private midnight tour of Magic City landmarks.

Arden Ward Upton Wedding Getaway Car

After a wedding trip to Maya Koba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, the couple is at home in Birmingham and enjoying life together.

I’ve known Arden for several years now; she’s responsible for many of the beautiful images on this site. Not only is Arden an amazing photographer, she’s also a good friend. I wish her all the happiness she deserves.