The bride and groom wore masks.

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MARIANNA – Kelsey and Brian Lovering have spent the past year planning their dream wedding at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Apalachicola.


The one they had April 25 looked nothing like it.


When the coronavirus outbreak caused closings in Apalachicola, the Dothan, Alabama, couple quickly assembled an unconventional ceremony for their unconventional circumstances. Instead of a traditional Catholic ceremony, they held a dockside ceremony where Kelsey grew up, at Merritt’s Mill Pond in Marianna, followed with an underwater photo shoot at Jackson Blue Springs. Guests attended via boat to accommodate for social distancing guidelines.


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"It was absolutely perfect," Kelsey said. "It was so us. We both love the water – we love kayaking. It was very personal to us."


The two plan to host a larger ceremony next year.


Save the date


The outfits, music, food, flowers – everything about their wedding changed.


"It was very upsetting after spending countless hours planning everything," Kelsey said. "I’d made it very personalized, stayed up many nights making ornaments for the favors, scrubbing oyster shells. It was upsetting, but I feel like it was out of our control. Everybody was going through it together."


Despite the obstacles, the Loverings were determined to save their date. The two have been together six years since they met online and didn’t want to wait any longer.


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"I literally had our date on everything – our champagne flutes, our wedding cake cutter," Kelsey said. "We weren’t really sure if that was gonna happen."


Brian works for an offshore oil rig out of Houston, Texas, and his hours were changed because of the coronavirus. The two didn’t know until two weeks before the date if he would even be able to come.


The details of their new wedding quickly fell into place.


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Kelsey’s friend, Jake Vickery, offered his backyard on Merritt’s Mill Pond as the venue. Kelsey spent her childhood summers at Blue Springs Park, the source of the pond.


"I love freshwater springs and free diving," Kelsey said. "To me, Merritt’s Mill Pond is the most beautiful place in the world and we Jackson County-ans are very proud to have it in our area."


Kelsey and Brian were married on the dock aside a limited number of people: their parents, the groom’s brother, the minister and a stand-in for Kelsey’s brother, who wore a mask of her brother’s face.


A dozen boats gathered to watch. Long-distance friends watched via the Zoom video conferencing app.


"I like that I had my closest friends out there in kayaks and boats at the end of the dock floating around," Brian said. "I’m glad they were able to make it – didn’t have to dress up."


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Underwater Lovering


Jackson Blue Springs are gin clear, said John Starrett.


When the photographer found out about his friend Kelsey’s wedding plans, he knew an underwater photo shoot was the perfect complement to her nontraditional ceremony. While Starrett has done many underwater portraits for professionals, this marked his first underwater wedding shoot.


"That’s my niche," Starrett said. "I always enjoy underwater photos. They’re extremely difficult for most people. Not everyone can do it as far as modeling. Not everyone can grab a camera, hop in the water and shoot. It’s very technical. There’s also the element of you gotta be safe."


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Starrett is free dive-certified. He and his subjects don’t rely on scuba gear to breathe underwater, only their lungs.


"A 30-minute underwater shoot, a typical person would feel like they just spent an hour-and-a-half in the gym," Starrett said. "It is physically exhausting, but worth all the hype because the pictures are so unique."


As a photographer, it’s Starrett’s job to find the perfect composition, he said. He wears three-foot-long carbon fiber fins so he can move quickly in the water.


"I tell them what to do, and they’ll get it by the second or third time," Starrett said. "I don’t really tell them to pose, I say, ‘Go out and hold each other. Go out and act like you’re dancing and then come up for air.’"


Jackson Blue Springs is not only clear, but cold – running about 68 degrees year round, Starrett said. The Loverings handled it well.


It was difficult though, Kelsey said.


"Your clothes get heavy and you have to hold your breath," Kelsey said. "Then you want to make sure you’re not blowing your cheeks up underwater or having bubbles coming out of your nose."


The pictures were worth it. Everybody loved them, she said.


"I’ve gotten so many messages and comments from people saying how beautiful and unique it was and it was such a good idea to have the underwater pictures," Kelsey said. "I feel like those are pictures we’re going to be able to share and remember for years."