YOU'RE GETTING FREAKING MARRIED!
I’ve compiled a big list of tips and good-to-know’s for you to help your planning and help you get the best wedding experience and photos possible! Take it from me, someone who not only has had a wedding but also someone who has been to hundreds of weddings! I want you to have the best wedding experience and photos possible, so here’s my top tips I’ve gathered over the years that are useful for any couple.
I highly reccomend an engagment shoot prior to the wedding for several reasons! First off it's nice to have photos with each other where you're just being yourselves, bnot all dressed up fancy in a tight dress and suit, dressed more casual and comfortable like you are in day to day life. These photos often end up beinf the couples favorite photos from their entire wedding experience! Seondly, it's good to be able to hang and shoot with your photographer beforehand so you can get to know them and feel more comfortable in front of them by the time the wedding day comes so you can feel more yourself and I can get better photos of all the feels of the wedding day weather it be your mom wiping tears from your face, you busting up laughing at each other, praying with your father before the ceremony, etc. I know it can feel awkward as heck getting your photos taken so having a shoot beforehand to be able to loosen up and realize that getting photos taken can be really fun will help you not be so worried on your wedding day so you can be as relaxed as possible!
Intimacy + Guest Count
Every couple I’ve talked to right before their wedding says they wish they would have eloped or downsized their guest list. To avoid spending your day (and a lot of extra money) on acquaintances and random extended family members or your parents old high school buddies, decide on a number for your guest count and stick to it, whether that be 8, 80, or 180. Downsizing your guest list means I can better photograph the people that mean the most to you, rather than acquaintances, as well as keeping your marriage more about the getting married part rather than putting on an event.
Finding the Perfect Venue
Venues can be freaking expensive, so if you’re looking to save money and do something unique and personal to the two of you,
I would recommend checking out different options like these :
National parks are an awesome option if you are lovers of the outdoors and want to make nature an important part of your day. I love outdoor weddings in big wide open spaces like this so you can feel truly present, connected, and surrounded by beauty! Some national parks require you to attain a permit, but they’re typically pretty cheap if they have one at all ($400 or less, way cheaper than a venue!) so make sure you double check on any permits you need to get in advance. Also make sure you are prepared to leave no trace behind to keep our beautiful lands protected.
(Airbnb or VRBO is a good option if you’re looking to host your guests in the location you’ll marry in! They are way more intimate and comfortable settings than hotel rooms because everyone can feel at home and be together rather than separated by floors and elevators and room card keys.)
Check different wedding blogs like The Venue Report, Green Wedding Shoes, Junebug Weddings, Hey Hey Hello May, Rocky Mountain Bride, and local wedding blogs (the list goes on and on) for ideas on location and venue options because they usually have lots of info on the venue/better photos of spaces/setup inspiration options for the venues.
Bars, backyards and campsites are some of the funnest weddings I’ve ever shot because they’re such comfortable laid back spaces that everyone can just chill and hang out rather than feel formal. They’re usually a lot cheaper, too!
Public lands. There are tons of amazing beautiful outdoor spaces you could use but just make sure you check on usage info and permits and leave no trace behind!
Just remember you can make any space work. A place doesn’t cater? Call your favorite food truck to come cater for everyone (which usually saves lots of $). You need to find chairs for everyone for the ceremony? If your ceremony is going to be short and sweet, standing is usually not an issue and you can do more interesting intimate setups with where people stand surrounding you, or you can find a rental chair company that will deliver and pickup.
Find a location that can accommodate everyone, like a cabin or lodge or campsite or airbnbs. This makes everything feel more intimate and you can be surrounded by one another and make more memories rather than being separated!
Wedding weekends are an awesome way to be able to create more memories and a longer experience rather than just a half day shindig. I’ve seen weddings that instead of doing a rehearsal dinner, they’ll do beach volleyball, or a barbecue, or a game night, or swimming at the lake followed by burritos and drinks. There's seriously no rules on what you can or cant do, just do whatever you love to do with your friends and family! I’ve also seen lots of people do a big brunch with everyone the morning after the wedding followed by a little hike, or laying out at the beach together, bar hopping, a boat ride, or going sledding together with hot cocoa. This just adds to the experience and its fun to have it all captured so your family can have photos of the candid unposed moments of memories that will last for ever! Remember, this is all about being surrounded by the ones you love and making memories.
Don’t cram in too many things into a tight schedule, because guess what? There is always something that will go wrong on your wedding day. That's just how it goes. I haven’t been to one wedding (and I’ve been to hundreds!) where everything goes according to plan. Plan for things to take longer than you think for this reason, as well as making sure everyone can feel relaxed and not rushed all day long. A fast paced tight schedule will always result in stress! Here is a little sample timeline I’ve put together with timing tips for each part of the day.
Getting ready together is such an amazing part of the wedding day that is often overlooked. Some of my favorite photos of wedding days come before the ceremony even happens, as everyone is typically really emotional, anxious, and excited! Here are a few things that will help the time before your ceremony be more meaningful and help the quality of the photos:
Don't care about the tradition of not seeing each other on your day until the ceremony? Spend your morning together. Go on a walk through the woods with your pup, pick out an heirloom in a record shop you met at, grab coffee at your favorite local cafe, make waffles and eggs together at home in your sweats, snuggle your cats and have brunch in bed, help one another get ready. Do whatever it is that will make you enjoy your day more and make it more “you”.
Be intentional about getting ready spaces, it can define your mood for the rest of the day. For example, if you choose to get ready in a hotel bathroom surrounded by everyone’s luggage and ugly furniture and having to worry about packing up all your stuff last minute, you might feel stressed and overstimulated with so much clutter and stuff around you (plus hotel rooms usually have really ugly lighting, restricting colors and creativity in photos). Compare that to a room with soft natural light streaming into a cleaner space with your thoughtful wedding details (shoes, jewelry, hair pieces, etc) laid out and your pretty dress hung up in the window, or outside on a porch where you can get fresh air and not feel cramped, you’ll probably feel more at peace and in touch with your emotions rather than thinking about where the hell you left your glue on lashes and your “something blue.” AirBnb's are a great way to find homes with nice open spaces to get ready in!
Keep spaces clear of clutter as much as you can! I will help with this, but if you can have a designated “clean area” near a window space where you do your getting ready photos, this will make for much better photos focused on the moment rather than the bright pink Victoria’s secret bag in the corner.
Good light. I swear I’ll have you a master of noticing light by the end of all this haha! Try and get ready near a window with natural light coming in, it is much prettier for details and your skin than yellow-ish overhead lighting. Like I mentioned before, keep indoor lights off during getting ready photos so you don't get mixed colors in your photos (don't worry, I’ll switch them off if you forget!).
Bring a pretty hanger for your dress! It can be as simple as a wooden one, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, as long as it’s not an ugly plastic crap one that you got when your mom bought you a sweater last year.
Ceremony + Reception Lighting
When choosing your ceremony location, people typically only think about the backdrop and forget to think about the light at the time of day that your ceremony will take place, which is way more important for you and your guests’ comfort and for the quality of the photos! Here is a breakdown on what to know about each lighting situation:
Backlit : great for photos because it creates a very dreamy yummy look, typically in the evening or early morning as the sun is low in the sky. But they can sometimes be distracting for guests if they are facing directly into it (which is fine if they have sunglasses!). If you’re having your ceremony in the evening when the sun will still be shining on your ceremony location, I would highly recommend angling the set up a little bit to the side of where the sun will set so that it is still dreamy and comfortable for guest’s eyes! If the sun will be low in the sky but light won’t be hitting your ceremony, I would recommend facing your ceremony so that the sun (where it should be) is at your guest’s backs! This creates a gorgeous gradient in the sky with lots of pastel colors and is really really beautiful. Remember that if you’re checking out a ceremony site in the winter, the sun will set in a different location on the horizon in the summer, so plan accordingly! You can check exactly where the sun will be in the sky and where it will be shining with the app Sun Seeker on any day of any year, so you can plan around it!
Uneven : I would have to say this is the worst lighting for photos, always resulting in really bright blown out patches of the photo and super dark faces which causes the photos to lose a lot of details like people’s faces, decor, colors, etc. It also is uncomfortable for guests at times if its during a hot part of the day, because everyone will be trying to sit in the shade and everyone else is sweating their faces off. It doesn't have a soft dreamy look and makes photos look pretty awful. If you cant avoid the uneven light no matter what, angle your ceremony so that it will at least be backlit if possible to help with the quality of photos.
Shaded or Overcast: Probably the best case scenario for photos and comfort! Shaded means there will be even light from start to finish and preserves all details in photos like colors, your dress, and it makes your skin look great!
Indoor : Natural light coming from a window is ideal for indoor ceremonies, avoid mixed lighting by turning off indoor lights if possible so that the ceremony doesn't look like a mix of lots of blue and yellow! If you cant use natural light only, make sure the indoor lights are bright so that the photos can have the best quality possible!
High Noon/Midday : Unless you get some cloud coverage, it will be really bright out and can result in lots of squinty eyes and funny shadows, but not the worst thing for photos! One good thing about it is that the lighting will stay consistent longer than it would during sunset. I LOVE shooting with a mixture of shade and that bright white midday sun, ceremonies are beautiful midday in the shade speckled with some light leaking through!
Reception Lighting : I cant stress to you enough how important lots of string lights can be for your reception! Think about it this way, the brighter you can make your reception space with string lights and candles, the better your photos will turn out. Low lit receptions end up making the photos poor quality, super grainy losing lots of detail, and usually have to be edited as black and whites to be able to make them look decent. If you have tons of string lights and candles I’ll be able to edit the photos in color, they’ll look better, your skin will look better, and I won’t have to use flash over photos that should have a soft dreamy look. You can get a great deal on string lights at Costco and on Amazon.
An unplugged wedding basically means you ask your guests to be truly present in the moment with you two during your ceremony by turning off their phones and cameras and waiting to take photos once the entire ceremony and following hugs are over. A lot of people don't think about this aspect of their ceremony until they get their photos back and they regret not having an “unplugged” wedding because there are stupid iPads and phones and cameras cluttering and distracting the viewer from the real moment happening, your wedding! It not only straight up ruins photos, but it can ruin the experience for a lot of your guests as well. Do you really want your grandma to be focused on trying to figure out how to make the zoom work when you’re wiping your tears and your significant other says their vows to you? Do you want your groom to have to lean around people’s iPhones in the aisle to catch his first glimpse of his bride? Or your best friends having to peek through the hands of anyone in front of them with their cameras up in the air? There is nothing wrong with asking people to turn their phones off and be present in the moment with you during the most amazing 15 minutes of your life. Ask whoever is marrying you to announce this while they are asking everyone to take their seats before the ceremony even begins (letting them know that they will be free to take as many photos as they want once the ceremony is over), there is a reason you are paying a photographer thousands of dollars to capture these precious memories for you, and we live in a digital age where everyone can access all the photos I take! I promise to send you sneaks of your ceremony to share with all your friends and family right after the wedding day so they can share it as well! Another idea to make sure people get all the photos they want of the day is to have a Photo Booth for guests to hop in and get photos together to remember your day. Everyone will be happy to comply, and this usually results in a much more emotional connected experience.
Let things unfold naturally.
Embrace whatever moments or craziness come! You shouldnt be stressing on your wedding day, especially over something you dont have control over. Nothing is ever “perfect” and that is just how life goes, there’s no reason to exhaust yourself over making everything seem “perfect.” Remember to laugh a lot and you’ll be just fine!
Its totally unnecessary to give me a “photo checklist” because like I’ve said, I’ve shot hundreds of weddings and know what I’m doing. Trust me, I’ll get photos of basically everything and more that you think is important and that you’ll want to remember! The only times I need a list of photos to get is the family groupings that you would like to get formal shots of and if there are extremely small details that I could be oblivious to such as your grandmas pin on your bouquet or your dad’s funny socks you gave him. The only other situation is if you have a certain cousin or friend that flew in or group of high school friends for example that you want a photo with that I wouldn’t know of! Also be sure to let me know if there are any tensions, divorces, or deaths in the family I should be aware of so I don’t accidentally create any awkwardness during group photos haha!
Do whatever the heck you want.
Don't want some random pastor marrying you? Have your dad or best friend or sister or whoever get ordained! Follow these steps on how to get anyone ordained to be able to marry the two of you. Being married by someone who is close to you and knows you both and your relationship well will be way more meaningful and emotional and special to the two of you rather than someone that comes in that you pay to say the same crap they say to everyone else. Make it personal!
You wanna elope but your family wants a big wedding? Do both. Elope and do your vows in a location that is beautiful and meaningful to you both that you can feel the most connected to each other in, you could even take your closest family members and friends. Then head back home a month later and throw a big party or BBQ or bonfire to have all your fave people surrounding you eating tacos and roasting marshmallows and dancing the night away (Trust me, it's what Cody and I did!). This way you can get the best of both worlds and have it be no stress!
Do you want to do vows but don't want to share them in front of a bunch of people you don't totally know (aka your mom’s cousin or your dad’s high school buddy)? Sneak off after the first look before the ceremony and read your vows to one another privately. This way, it can still be documented and private and emotional while still sharing your ring exchange and “I do’s” with everyone!
Feel free to break traditions. Are you not a formal kind of person? Totally fine. Don't follow tradition. Do a buffet style dinner where people can sit wherever the crap they want. Don't like cake but love churros? Have a big pile of churros instead of a nasty white cake. Don’t want to spend your wedding night shaking hands and hugging random people you’re meeting for the first time? Don’t do a receiving line and float around the reception chatting to the people you actually care about. Don’t want to do bridesmaids and groomsmen? That's a million percent fine. Don’t want to do your first dance to a slow song? Do it to a fast loud dirty-word-filled reggae song. Traditions are meant to be broken and there’s no reason you should do something on your wedding day just because it’s expected!
This is your day. Yeah, it’s important to honor your family members by doing certain things on your day or including them in different things, but just remember this is ultimately your day and you should be doing it for yourselves and making it as meaningful as you possibly can. So often brides will get too caught up in trying to make their mom happy and they realize their wedding is something that is more meaningful only to her parents rather than her. This will be the day you remember for the rest of your life and you should make it as comfortable and fun for you two as much as you can!
remember to have fun and do whatever it is that makes your day yours. So many people get so wrapped up in caring so much about the decor, the perfect details, who’s sitting where, color schemes, and other things that in the long run, don’t really matter. Remember that you’re not putting on an event for your guests, they’re coming to give love and feel your love. What matters most is the tender moments between you and your person, the extra tight hugs your siblings that never hug give you, your grandparents kissing your cheeks, and the connection you feel to everything and everyone around you. It’s all about the love.