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TAKING PHOTOS IS NO PIECE OF CAKE

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Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to see the groom keel over in a dead faint, watch the bride's gauzy veil go up in flames, congratulate the canine best man with a pat on his furry head and duck for cover when the loving cake-feeding ritual becomes a take-no-prisoners food fight.

Hollywood bloopers? Not exactly.The serene smiles and perfect poses in a wedding album don't always tell the whole story, photographers say. Real weddings, like real life, are filled with unscripted, unpredictable and some-times ungainly moments.

Like the time the bride decided to have a group of small children trail behind her down the aisle and carry her train.

"One of the children got a foot tangled in the train, then it was a whole leg, and before anyone could do anything, the child was all wrapped up in the train," said Los Angeles photographer Debbie Walton.

"They had to stop the whole wedding to untangle the train and get the child out."

Walton saw a bride's veils catch fire in the ceremonial "unity candle," watched the aforementioned candle refuse to ignite at numerous outdoor weddings, saw at least two elaborate wedding cakes collapse and helped retrieve garters from punch bowls and ceilings.

A moment filled with pratfall potential is "when the groom takes the garter off the bride," she said. "I've had someone go under the bride's dress and pull out a mousetrap. A doctor pulled out a stethoscope, and a policeman came up with a pair of handcuffs."

The joke was on the bride and groom when, after their first matrimonial kiss, they turned and found all the guests had donned bright pink sunglasses.

The highlight at another wedding came when the groomsmen all mounted tricycles and posed, straightfaced, for formal portraits.

"Photographers get to see a lot," Walton said, laughing. "Some things are funny, some are kind of awful. But when things go wrong, it's often up to the photographer to help. I find that I do a lot of coordinating."

Not all the mishaps happen to the bridal party.

Photographer Willy Leon was shooting a group photo at a backyard wedding.

"More people kept coming into the group, (which means) you have to go farther back to get the shot," he said. "Suddenly, without realizing it, I took one more step back and fell right in the pool with the camera and everything, and everyone started cheering."

Camera and film were undamaged, unlike Leon's clothes.

"They put my clothes in the dryer and gave me a (terry cloth) robe," Leon said. "You can imagine what it was like, taking pictures in a robe. It wasn't very funny at that moment."

Sometimes, the center of attraction at a wedding isn't the bride.

At a wedding shot by Mark Lee, the couple's dog took center stage.

"During the engagement sittings, they had the dog along because the dog was best man," Lee said. "He had a little tuxedo jacket and came down the aisle with the groom. The groom was pretty laid back, though. He wore a black tux top and a pair of shorts."

Bride, groom and best dog all enjoyed the reception, Lee said.

At a Jewish wedding, where tradition calls for the bride to be carried around the room while sitting on a chair, the exuberant guests hoisted her directly into a low-hanging chandelier.

"It was funny and everyone laughed, but it looked painful," Lee said.

A food fight made photographer James Hickey fear for his equipment.

"The groom dug his hand into the cake, grabbed a handful and just unleashed on the bride," he said. "That cake was flying everywhere. It was so bad, I hid my camera. They had agreed to do it really nice, but the bride gave the groom a little push, and that was enough. People left the room for that fight."

Hickey has seen more than one irate boyfriend appear at the ceremony. He dropped his camera and ran interference when a chain reaction caused dozens of elaborate and expensive flower arrangements to topple as the bride made her way to the altar.

Acting as liaison where divorce and remarriage have rendered the politics of a wedding party more complicated than a summit meeting is all in a day's work to most photographers, he said.

"We're the on-site coordinators," Hickey said. "If something isn't happening that should be, we make it happen. If something happens that shouldn't, we're asked to stop it. I call it being assertively diplomatic."