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I'm a fine art film photographer living in the mountains and traveling to tell beautiful stories





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Chautauqua Wedding

A Chautauqua wedding is stunning not matter the size. Karen and Walker pivoted to host the most amazing micro wedding at this historic American retreat.

What was most important to these two was getting married. Deciding to celebrate on their original date, a larger celebration at the same time next year is still planned. It was not an easy decision at first, but I think looking through these images you will be convinced this is the best of both worlds.

View Mary Dougherty’s Portfolio | See our recent feature on Martha Stewart Weddings | Inquire to start planning your photos

Karen and Walker met at Sewanee. It is no surprise that after many adventures they moved to London to attend school together again. While planning their wedding from across the pond the inspiration stayed the same. The color palette for this fall wedding was filled with rich blue, green and creamy whites. In the end, this Chautauqua wedding looks elevated and different from those that have come before.

A ceremony at The Hall of Philosophy was originally planned. An open air pavilion and famed place to gather at Chautauqua, it was also down the block from their house. They envisioned a walking cocktail hour (stopping by their house, below, for drinks) before going to the Athenaeum for the reception.

One of the more personal touches to their day was the canoe restored by a family friend. Fully restored, they took it out on Chautauqua lake for a quick paddle before the reception.

I love a flower petal exit. If I could recommend it to everyone, I would.

Chautauqua wedding day schedule

Now that we have introduced you to the brilliance of this day, let’s start at the beginning and look at how it unfolded. As always, I started off with location scouting and checking in with set up. Chautauqua is a familiar place for me, where we have hosted family reunions, but no matter how familiar I like to ensure we use the best light and locations.

  • 2:00 pictures start – getting ready + details
  • 4:30 ceremony
  • 4:45 family photos
  • 5:30 portraits
  • 6:00-7:00 cocktail hour
  • 7:00 reception
  • 8:00 dances + cake cutting

The whole schedule was flexible to some degree since the group was small. In the end we had the perfect amount of time and so many stunning images.

Getting Ready for a Chautauqua Wedding

Preparing for the day happened at home. Beautiful light surrounded us for this perfect fall day. I started off with details and moved in to photographing the candid moments all around me. The girls had a champagne toast and talked during hair and makeup. The guys tied their Brackish bowties and toasted as well.

The welcome baskets were full of Pittsburgh treats from their home in Fox Chapel. Combined with some western New York goodies it was the perfect mix of what to include.

Also, dying over these hand painted cookies.

Bridesmaids looked chic in their lake pajamas. Sitting on the porch swing drinking champagne is the best was to start a wedding day.

Karen’s mom wore a vintage dress that her mom had made. The floral print fit beautifully into the day and she complimented her look with a bracelet Karen made for her out of buttons as a child. Is that not the sweetest thing ever?

After getting dressed Karen was helped by her mom and sister with the finishing touches. She had a first look with them and her dad so that everyone could be surprised and take in the stunning dress she wore. Do you love the embroidery like I do? Such a stunning back!

So chic and bridal!

The Episcopal church on the Chautauqua campus is small. With a stunning red door it greets you to come in, but just a few people. It was perfect for a small wedding and felt so intimate.

Chautauqua Wedding Photos

After the ceremony we used our time to take photos. Family photos were important to Karen and Walker and we prioritized those by shooting in a few different places. Portraits were mixed in as we made out way from the church to the Bell Tower. It was a stunning fall day in October and the leaves were yellow, orange and green.

I love to find locations that are a little less noticed, in addition to the popular ones a venue may be known for. I think this natural scene by the water and the bell tower reception room fit Karen and Walker so well.

Canoeing on Chautauqua Lake

In the beautifully restored canoe Karen and Walker paddled out on the lake during sunset. Since we talked over their schedule multiple times, it was easy for me to anticipate where we should use their time for photos. I love getting on the water and that they have the memory of doing so to share for years.

Buffalo luxury wedding vendors

After a paddle, the group moved in to cocktail hour and the finishing touches were made inside for the reception. An amazing team was assembled from Buffalo (the closest city to Chautauqua) and all over the country to make this day happen.

the bride and groom seeing their reception at Chautauqua

Fun was had by all. Which is saying a lot in a year like 2020. We need it this year. Dancing, cake, cigars and paper lanterns marked the end of the night.

It was so wonderful celebrate with you, Karen and Walker. Thank you again for inviting me to document your stunning day and create the images you will look back on forever. If you enjoyed these pictures, reach out or leave me a message. I would love to hear from you if you are planning a wedding of your own or interested in heirloom portraits. Most of all, thanks for making it all the way through this post!

Mary Dougherty is a New York based photographer who has been featured on Martha Stewart, Style Me Pretty, Today.com and more. Traveling throughout the country, she creates timeless images for modern people so that life is art and fleeting moments are remembered. She lives in the mountains of the Adirondacks with her husband and three kids – and they are giving their kids a dog for Christmas.



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