For many, a wedding is the stuff that dreams are made of and often the very dream cultivated from childhood. Couples labor over the plans and work hard to make sure every single detail is carried out to create a dreamscape and the flawless execution of a day whose memory will last a lifetime.
But what happens when a global pandemic steals the scene and literally steamrolls your perfect planning?
That's exactly what happened to Gustavo and Victoria Morais, whose dream wedding was slated for late April 2020. But with a little help from some very creative professionals and a picture-perfect setting, what could have been a total pandemic disaster became a smaller, more intimate and ultimately more memorable experience for all involved.
Photographer Tina Fruscella Aligata, the owner of Inner Light Imagery, first met Gustavo and Victoria Morais in March 2020, just after the entire globe went on lockdown and traveling was forbidden.
Originally from Brazil, much of Gustavo Morais' family still lives in South America, and when the borders closed to travel, the hopes of his family being able to attend the couple's nuptials disappeared.
But the bride and groom didn't want the pandemic to delay their wedding, so they contacted Aligata, who helped them come up with a perfect location to meet not only the couple's vision but adhere to the strict guidelines in place during the pandemic lockdown.
Aligata loves a challenge almost as much as she loves becoming an important part of her clients' lives, so she met with the couple and gave them a host of ideas for location. Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens was the final choice, with its airy and open yet intimate feel.
"It was the first wedding that came through after the COVID lockdown," Aligata says. "There was something so special about this couple and the way that Gustavo Morais clearly adored his beloved bride-to-be. I wanted to be able to help them create the wedding of their dreams."
With the location chosen, Aligata rallied a dream team of Sarah Schnitzius of Sarandipity Floral and Kathy Peterson of Vintage Designs to make it happen.
Schnitzius created floral arrangements that only complemented the raw beauty of the botanical garden setting and Peterson designed and built backdrops and arches to help set the tone for early evening nuptials.
Even the number of guests was limited because of the events in the world at the time, and the couple pared down their list of attendees to only 15.
"Because of the travel ban," Aligata says, "Gustavo's family wasn't going to be able to make it in person for the wedding."
Aligata says that streamlining the event and being able to let go of all the minutiae that so often accompanies planning the perfect wedding was a blessing in disguise, not just for the Moraises, but also for so many of the weddings she has shot during the past two years.
"Because of the pandemic," Aligata says, "nearly all of those early events were moved outdoors, and in the early days of the lockdown, even outdoor events were limited to no more than 25 attendees, so people really seemed to let go of the things that would have caused additional stress and just kind of relaxed into embracing the moment."
The Moraises were no different, and eliminating all those details that really didn't matter anyway seemed to allow the couple and their guests to be more present in the special moment.
"As soon as his bride walked down the aisle," says Aligata, "Gustavo gasped and said, 'You are so beautiful and I just love you.' "
Since the groom's family wasn't going to be able to be there in person, Aligata, who also works in collaboration with Eighth Avenue Studios doing video production, was able to capture the moments when the newlyweds connected with the family in Brazil via FaceTime, so everyone could share in the memorable moments.
Aligata says the entire day was filled with so much love and gratitude from the couple and the whole family that it was a beautiful and memorable event even for the photographer, the florist and the designer who had put it all together and helped make it come to fruition.
"I think the simplicity helped make it perfect," she says.
So many similar scenarios have played out for couples during the past two years that Aligata says around 80 percent of the weddings she books are held outside, and many are smaller, more intimate affairs, too.
"It's always so nice to be able to shoot an outdoor wedding because it gives you a chance to be so much more creative," she says, though she is quick to point out that even most couples who choose outdoor venues are opting for locations that also provide a 'Plan B' in case of inclement weather.
"There are so many beautiful settings on the Treasure Coast, and I really love them all," she says.
For Aligata, shooting a wedding, garden or otherwise, is all about the relationship she develops with her clients.
"I love being able to grow with my clients," she says, "From engagement photos to weddings to pregnancy and baby photos, and so on, it seems it's all about trust. Once we get to know one another, I can capture their inner light, I can see their heart smile. They trust me, and I trust them, and that makes all the difference."
Feb. 25, 2022