It’s not your mother’s or grandmother’s wedding, maybe not even your big sister’s wedding. Brides today have more choices than ever and increasingly want their wedding to be a day that meets all of their expectations and reflects their unique personalities. For instance, in years past the phrase “bridesmaid dress” has elicited groans and the rolling of eyes. These shiny satin sheaths were a dreaded purchase not only because of their bright hues, but also because the styles were not particularly flattering on anyone. Today, however, wedding wear designers have expanded their lines of separates, allowing a bridal party to look unified while still wearing a style that is flattering for each member. Modern brides often select a specific color and designer for their bridesmaids and then leave it up to the bridesmaids to pick the top and skirt they like best. Even wedding cakes have changed with the times. Remember when the customary plastic bride and groom figurine stood proudly atop a four tiered white cake separated by plastic columns? Those days are gone. Modern wedding cakes can be both visual and culinary extravaganzas. Cake designs have become more like edible art and no longer need be round, stacked tiers. Innovative cakes may look like flower baskets, ships, musical instruments, city landmarks, square shapes, heart shapes — the list is practically endless. Similarly, groom’s cakes have changed and now allow the husband-to-be a chance to showcase his personality. Cake decorator Jeanna Gibson of Sweet Boutique Bakery already has orders in for summer weddings. She said most decisions are made through cake tastings and consults but some brides bring in pictures with something in mind. “Fondant cakes are always popular, humorous cake toppers, like the bride dragging the groom are big sellers,” said Gibson. “Classy cakes of updated elegance that boast simple pearl candies are also popular. As far as flavors go, our white chocolate lemon cake and red velvet cake are top picks”. But no area of the wedding planning process has seen as much change as the photography. Gone are the days of stiff bridal portraits and wedding party members lined up like dominos, and with good reason. Many brides claim that, after weeks of painstaking planning to make the day perfect, they don’t even remember their own weddings. Today’s wedding photographers aim to document each aspect of the big day. A quick flip through your parents’ wedding album is sure to reveal the requisite shots — Dad standing at the front of the church with his groomsmen; Mom lined up with the bridesmaids, and the whole family organized like a gospel choir. There’s sure to be one of Mom and Dad awkwardly wielding a cake cutter as they smile for the camera and another taken of them moments later, politely holding cake squares in front of their newlywed grins. While these shots focus on tradition, modern wedding photography’s focus is on capturing individual personalities. Fayetteville Photographer Candace Arnold shoots the customary photos, but mostly aims her lens at the more intimate moments in-between. “I don’t make them do anything other than act themselves. I don’t tell them to slow down or do anything over,” Arnold says. “I go with the flow.” It helps that film is a thing of the past. Digital cameras allow photographers to take more pictures, which means they have more room to be playful. Arnold’s own wedding nine years ago was marked by 40 images in a small proof book. “Photographers had to shoot a certain way to make sure they got everyone in the pictures,” Arnold says. “It’s easier to take chances on a shot when it’s digital.” The modern style is more about adding to tradition than taking away from it. Photographers like Arnold still snap a group shot of the bridal party, but their desire to tell a unique story sends them looking for fresh images. If a bride is up for it, Arnold is there. One trend is to take bridal shots in non-traditional settings, like a golf course or a grittier urban setting. One of the hottest trends is the first look photograph, where the bride and groom are whisked away and revealed to each other before the ceremony. Arnold is a fan. It’s been slower to catch on in the south, where brides are still superstitious about seeing the groom too early. “When brides trust me to do a first look picture, they never regret it,” Arnold says. Instead of being overwhelmed by the flood of guests and flowers once the church doors swing open, brides who opt for the first look picture can soak up the sight of their husband-to-be and relish the look on his face, too. “It usually ends up being their favorite because you really capture the true emotion of the day.” Establishing a good timeline is the key for getting relaxed, natural photography. If the photographer knows what is happening where and when, she can be ready without being intrusive. “It’s such a compliment to me when someone says they barely saw me,” Arnold says. For a recent wedding, Arnold traveled to four locations and spent eleven hours capturing the day, from the groomsmen’s morning romp at Carolina Ale House to the hustle and bustle at the bride’s house before the limo arrived. Afterward, she condensed several thousand images into a custom, coffee table-style album for her bride. “It’s what is left after all of the planning,” Arnold says. “The program gets thrown away, the food gets eaten and the dress goes in the closet.” But just like a marriage, the pictures — and the memories — can last a lifetime.