In 2013, Heidi Zherelyev and her husband, Val, married in a private California ceremony–a sentimental moment that was only shared between the spouses. At the time, the intimate ceremony was a sweet commitment between the young pair, who’ve since endured several deployments and a move back to their native Phoenix, Arizona.
The pair always knew they wanted to share their story by hosting an actual wedding back home with beloved family members and friends, and that day ultimately arrived in late June at the Gathering Place, a venue nestled along the White Mountains of Arizona. The couple’s wedding day, or specifically their first look session, has since gone viral—due to one particular twist on tradition.
On the day of the wedding, the bride noticed that her husband was a bundle of nerves. The photographer, family friend Nichole Cline, observed it too. “He was super jittery and super nervous,” Cline of KevinChole Photography tells The Knot in an interview. So the bride came up with a master plan to delight her husband to alleviate the pressure.
“The bride’s best friend, who’s divorced, had her old wedding dress laying around,” Cline explains. “Two hours before the ceremony, her brother Eric was at work, and she told him: ‘I want you to go and wear a wedding dress and go down in my place for the first look.’ At first, he was skeptical.”
Eventually, Eric caved to the pressure. “He was perfect,” Cline says. In fact, the brother of the bride was so intent on maintaining the surprise that he piled on his sister’s perfume and deodorant to mimic her signature scent. “He wanted to smell like her,” she adds. “And he just came from work at a restaurant.”
Rather than the bride walking out in her wedding dress to surprise the groom from behind, the brother of the bride—clad in another bridesmaid’s old wedding gown—tapped Val on the shoulder instead. The result was sheer delight.
“I was laughing hysterically underneath my breath,” Cline says of documenting the adorable moment. “That part was the most challenging.”
It’s especially meaningful for Cline to document moments between family members after she lost her own father 14 years ago. “I have combined my name together with my dad’s name, Kevin, so my photography business is called KevinChole Photography,” she says.
Cline’s father struggled with a lung disease throughout her life, so her childhood was different from what many of her peers experienced with their fathers. “He never lifted me up on his shoulders on an airplane… or we didn’t get to roll down a grass hill. I’m okay with that,” she muses. “I connected with my dad on something that was so much better. And it was sitting down and taking pictures.”
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