Oct 18, 2011 | Weddings

Sophy + Richard’s magnificent two-day multicultural wedding started over two and a half weeks ago (back when it was still summer) on a Friday at Sophy’s aunt’s home. It was my first ever Cambodian wedding and I was both nervous and excited to photograph it. I had no idea quite how involved, nor how beautiful, the day would be. It was both exhausting and hugely satisfying to photograph, and I’ve been itching to share some teaser photos ever since.

I had originally planned to do just the one post for the Cambodian celebration, with another post or two covering Saturday’s western wedding. Ha! How foolish I was thinking that might be possible. 😉 So instead, here is the first of two Cambodian wedding blog posts, with the second part coming later this week. And of course if you’re arriving late to the party, you can see Rich and Sophy’s photobooth photos over here.

I started the day upstairs where Sophy was finishing up getting ready in the first of her four outfits:

I will rely heavily on Sophy’s program while explaining how the day unfolded. A traditional Khmer wedding is one of the most joyous occasions for a Khmer family and typically lasts from three days to an entire week. It is a grand affair, full of color and festivity, as well as steeped in tradition. Family and friends come together to share in the celebration. Musicians play throughout the day on traditional instruments, and the couple is dressed like royalty.

At the beginning of the day, the bride customarily waits at her parent’s home while the groom gathers a procession of his family and friends. The procession symbolizes the journey of Prince Preah Thong to meet his bride the princess Neang Neak. The groom’s procession approaches the bride’s home bearing wrapped platters of gifts, usually fruits and Khmer desserts, and is led by a band of musicians and singers.

Traditionally, the mai ba (the bridal family’s representative) comes out to greet the procession. The different number of fruits and desserts are counted – the more, the better. If found to be satisfactory, the mai ba and ma ha (representative for the groom’s party) run through a humorous verbal parlay which ends with the groom and the rest of the procession being invited into the bride’s home.

I was quite taken with the spread of food that was presented, and I was of course especially fascinated by the whole roast suckling pig and roasted duck; pieces from both animals were cut for the offering plate.

It was complete madness in the living room; although a large room, it was absolutely packed with musicians, family members, videographers and throngs of friends and family watching the entire event. It made for some great people watching …

The second ceremony, the KatKhanslar, was both brief and solemn. In Khmer culture, family bonds are the ones that are the most important, and a marriage is the inclusion of the couple into their new families. This ceremony calls forth for those who have passed away, both family and friends, to offer their blessings and observe the wedding, if not in body, in spirit. It is a time to reflect on those near and dear to our hearts and remember to include them in our happiness.

Following the Call to Ancestors, the Bride will shelter her parents in the Katkhanslar Ceremony under an umbrella while the Mai Ba performs an emotional tribute song. This is to symbolize the bride giving thanks to her parents for caring for her from infancy to her wedding day.

The third ceremony was perhaps my favorite of the day; the hair cutting ceremony. I was in love with Sophy’s outfit for this part of the day:

Rich looked pretty good too:

Before the bride and groom are officially married in the Khmer tradition, they must be properly prepared through an elaborate cleansing ceremony. The singers are visiting devada (deities who watch over the mortal realms) that dance around the bride and groom. Their songs represent their enchantment with the beauty of the new couple, and they agree to personally cleanse and purify the bride and groom to bring them good fortune, beauty, and grace for the rest of their lives.

The devada cuts the hair of the couple and shaves the groom, throwing away any excesses and misfortune that may have lingered. The new couple is also perfumed. Guests also participate in this ceremony by mimicking the devada’s rituals.

I was so happy to have some many fun, colorful details to photograph throughout the day:

Audience participation seems to be an incredibly important part of Cambodian ceremonies, and I loved how eager guests were to become involved. The atmosphere was fantastic!

Part two of this amazing day will be along on Thursday! And ff you’re a newly engaged couple wanting some kick-ass wedding and engagement photos, view my portfolio here; if you’re more interested in kids and pets, click here; follow me on Facebook here … or contact me here!


  1. A travelogue through happiness. Loved following the journey Kate.

  2. where is my parent ? haha

  3. Seriously awesome wedding! Amazing stuff Kate.

  4. That is great to follow Khmer Marriage Customs everywhere…….

  5. Love all

  6. Beautiful 🙂


  8. amazing …and beautiful pictures
    Who dressed the Bride I have never seen Soooo beautiful Khmer dresses



  2. Press: Seacoast Weddings Magazine 2013 » Boston Wedding Photographer Kate McElwee - [...] my favorite weddings from 2011 featured in the magazine – Sophy and Rich’s spectacular Cambodian ceremony and western wedding…

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