As I am approaching 2 years of marriage and 6 years of photographing weddings, I consider myself a marginal expert on the issue. So, in light of 4 more weddings approaching this summer (and the coming season of all things wedding) I wanted to write out all the advice I would give a bride, from a bride's perspective and from a photographer's perspective.
1. Don't skimp on the photographer. You will look back on your engagement, engagement session, and wedding day many many times. The pictures will be plastered all over Facebook and Instagram. As such, don't skimp. These things need to show all the details of that special day, and if you don't have good pictures... well, it just isn't as awesome.
Now marriage is not about the wedding. Seriously people, it's one day in the thousands of days you get to spend together. But have a good photographer.
2. Have a plan, but not the details. Ok, to some, this sounds like dancing on the edge of chaos and total irresponsibility. But let me lay this out for you.
I wanted a wedding dress with lace and tule. I tried on tea-length, strapless, ivory, a gorgeous Vera Wang that would have made me look stunning but not gone with my whole wedding... and I got my gorgeous, fluffy, waltz-length, ivory, lace and comfy gown. I still want to wear that thing every day.
I wanted my bridesmaids in mis-matching a.) Cream lace and b.) brown sandals. It took a bit, but each girl ended up with a dress that had at least some cream lace on it. That was the only stipulation.
I wanted the guys in black pants, black shoes, and some sort of plaid top. We found $3 shirts for all but my husband and the best man, and put them in an assortment of different ties, vests or suspenders, hats, and other strange paraphernalia. The best man wore a tan version of my husband's shirt. Not sure how we decided on it, but it was perfect.
Because I had such muted tones in all the clothes, I wanted multi-colored flowers. So, I told my mother, a florist, to buy whatever she wanted, as long as it had some sunflowers in it. So. Many. Flowers. She took it and ran with it! So each girl had a stunning bouquet, I had flowers for my hair, the tables had excellent arrangements... It was amazing.
All of this (and many other small details) to say: I had a plan, but not the details. I had a giant Pinterest board with all sorts of specifics. I had all sorts of different plans and dreams for each detail, but by keeping my options and preferences open, I was able to achieve a look that wasn't trying to be a cheap version of a magazine wedding. I got my own wedding with personalized bits that were unique and fit my own vision. So. Don't be picky. You will be happier.
3. Do have details– scheduling details! Aha. You thought you could just make a broad schedule of the day and get away with it. Foolishness! Nothing will mess up your planner, your mother, your officiant or (most importantly) your photographer if you do not have a schedule. Start with the rehearsal! Make everyone get there half an hour early. Your groomsmen will be late.
Also, take into consideration that the best times to take photos (particularly outdoors) is an hour or so before sunset, and a few hours in the morning. Shade is excellent, and clouds are even better. However, you can't quite plan for clouds... So plan accordingly. So, if you want to take photos all afternoon, do so in the woods at a park, and then get some stunners at around sunset. Your phone can tell you when that is.
Have time to take a break between pretty much every event. We did one wedding where we had an hour to do the girls, an hour for the boys, and, because the groom saw the bride for the first time walking down the aisle, a little time between ceremony and reception. All of that was cut short though, due to a large amount of irresponsibility on the groomsmen's part. One bought two right shoes. So we rushed and rushed to get stuff done, but not everything got fulfilled. I felt so bad for the couple! But, at the end of the day, they were married and had some pretty stunning photos.
4. Spend the day together. If you are relying on the good luck of seeing the bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle, you probably shouldn't be married, because that is not how marriage lasts. I got ready in the morning at a pleasant pace, did a very cute first look (and I got my tears out then), and then spent the whole afternoon with my husband. We ambled about slowly, taking pictures.. it was a great, simple day.
5. Assign jobs. On the day of, you shouldn't be running around in your robe and fancy hair trying to make sure all the flowers are in the right spot. If you are a DIY Bride, make sure you can hand the reigns off to a multitude of people on that day. Have an organized aunt? Put her in charge. Lots of family and friends who aren't specifically in the wedding? Send them off to do the work. Unless you have some horribly selfish people in your family, they will be happy to help in whatever way they can. And the more, the better. You should not be involved. Tell them all how to do it. Write down some things, and then step away. There are some people out there that can probably figure it out.
Also, have a few floaters. I had some good friends who weren't in the wedding who showed up early. They painted fingernails, cleaned my ring, kept a bag of my personal effects, shook the flying ants out of my dress, ran small errands, and generally made sure my photographer didn't have to do it. It was an honor to have them by my side, and (sometimes taking that role myself) it is an honor to have people ask me to do the same.
Now, as a second shooter for a good number of the weddings, I love to take over some of those jobs. But there are other photographers who won't. So keep lots of people on hand.
6. Feed people. Your ring bearer and groomsmen and photographer will thank you. Have seats for the photographers. They need to sit down. They stand for the majority of the day. And have those seats at the tables. Let them eat first.
7. Feed yourself. Standing up there declaring your love won't fit in with fainting or stomach growling.
8. Venue! If you can, choose a venue that has windows. The more natural light, the better photos and the happier photographers. There are lots of options. I know, your church has sentimental value, but the photos last longer than the day, so get someplace that is conducive to excellent photographs.
9. Let the photographer work. We know how you will look the best. We know how the stage should be arranged. We know where the best lighting will be. We know that that strange idea that you had will be neither flattering nor possible. We know.
10. But have a list! I hate doing weddings where the bride has no opinion. Speak out! Brainstorming together is the best possible thing and you get to voice your ideas with someone who can make the best possible version of that thing happen. And if you have a good old list of shots you want, make it happen. Invite me to like your private Pinterest board! I can whip out my phone the day of and go down that list with you.
11.And have a list of family. The second shooter is usually in charge of getting together family. And they may not know your family at all. So. Give them a comprehensive list of who is on this side, that side, part of the divorce, unable to move around due to a wheelchair, etc. That way, no one steps on toes, the bride doesn't have to worry, and the pictures include everyone.
12. Make the day yours. Yea, you saw that cool idea on Pinterest for the guestbook with that tree and the thumb prints... but is it you? Pinterest for me is a stepping stone. It's a good place to go to get ideas, not to replicate completely. So use it to start new ideas on traditions. My husband and I did a unity plant with dirt from our respective yards and a cute watering can. It was sparked by a single picture online, and we made it personal. My brother carried the rings in a box my late grandpa had made for my grandma. Instead of daddy/daughter dancing, my husband competed with my dad in trivia (more my and my dad's style) with the prize being me. These things were more us, so we did them. Make your wedding yours!
13. Include your husband in the plans. Don't just brush him off and make him wear pink. Seriously. It's not just you getting married. Take the same number of pictures of him as you. Let him choose what to wear. Decide together what the playlist will be. Mine got to take fun pictures with his groomsmen sporting weapons of all kinds. We got married on his grandparent's property. He got to be involved. You aren't the only one getting married that day!
14. Don't worry about the bar. Seriously. First of all, it costs a lot. Second, you will probably have kids at that wedding. Third, you want to be able to remember it! Tell your friends and family ahead of time. That may even narrow down the guest list (and your forever friends) by determining who is only coming to get hammered and who actually wants to spend that special day with you.
15. Thank you cards... those nasty little buggers. Yea, it is good to express thanks to your family and friends in written form (a rarity now!), but don't worry if they aren't done in under 3 months. Personally, a year is probably your best time frame. You have a honeymoon to go on, a dwelling to set up and all sorts of other things. So, have a table at your reception with pens, all the envelopes and very clear instructions. Have your emcee tell all your great-aunts where it is. Have something like this on it:
Write your address,
On the envelope here,
We'll mail it out quickly,
But please be a dear
If it takes any longer than
Three months to a year.
Seriously. Make it apparent. Be sweet about it. Poems help.
16. Marriage License. Have a point in the ceremony when you sign it. Otherwise you'll be signing it on the hood of the getaway car or not at all. True story. Ask me or my sister-in-law.
17. Live music is best! If you can, have that one dude who can play 8 cords on his guitar and that one chick who does an awesome Christina Aguilera impersonation. Choose meaningful songs. And they can probably fade out better than the guy in the sound-booth can fade out that Coldplay piece. You probably know one person who could play a piano prelude.
18. Don't do plastic and paper. If you really want a nice theme and you have scrimped and saved on everything else but you need one thing to set you over the edge, rent your dishes. Even if you have just cake and nuts. Rent cheap glass plates and actual metal forks. Rent those cloth table clothes. And even better, get them so that you can return them dirty so they get cleaned at the distributor. You can go from budget to class in about as much money as you would spend on dishes. And more eco-friendly.
19. Please, no burlap. Unless you have a few mason jars with burlap ribbon. That's fine. But there is a requirement of no more than 15 square feet of burlap. You will look back on your wedding in 20 years with a little remorse. Use softer fabrics (sometimes cheaper too) and something that isn't so overused. You aren't tendy, you're a sheep, diving off the cliff after all the other burlap-swathed sheep.
20. Have a contingency plan. My wedding was outdoors, in the midwest, in July on the hottest day of the year. To be fair, that summer had be mostly 75 degrees and gentle breezes, so the 85 degrees that day were really not that bad. But that meant storms, which wouldn't be held back by our (admittedly massive) tent. Our plan? Sign our Iowa marriage license somewhere in Iowa and perform the actual ceremony at our church in Nebraska. Mercifully, that evening was perfect. Because there were storms rolling in, it was still and cool, no bugs in sight. And because apparently God saw fit, the storms literally split and went around us, offering some fantastic views on our ride home. Also, super moon that night too. Not going to lie, I was pretty spoiled. But have a plan. Your mother will thank you.
21. Get your hair professionally done. The day will probably be unexpectedly windy. That veil might be heavy. So get it done by someone who knows how to make that hair on your head bend to every whim of yours. It'll be a pain to take out, but you won't worry about it during the ceremony.
22. Consider a different approach to your rehearsal. Two weddings I photographed/was involved in had their rehearsal on Thursday night after work and the wedding on Saturday. Why? Well, the bride, groom and immediate family will probably have Friday off anyway. Thursday is a good time to dress nicely, practice the ceremony, and then head out to eat at a restaurant that isn't packed with weekend people. Friday is a chance to decorate and get ready all day without the issue of having to break in the evening to get ready and go to dinner. And, it offers the chance to get to bed earlier.
23. Invite the photographer to the rehearsal. That's when I do my best mapping and mental noting. I know, the day of, how to get into that balcony, who the mother-of-the-groom is, and where I should sit during certain parts of the ceremony so as to get the best shots. Plus, we feel important.
24. Don't worry about the meet-and-greet. Do a simple reception line at the back of the ceremony, or dismiss everyone personally. I like the receiving line because I stood by his parents and he stood by mine and they introduced everyone coming through. Hug, acknowledge everyone's presence, learn a quick name, and then boom. Go sit down and chug some lemonade before the food and cake. You could even have 2 chairs by your head table (if you opt to have one– I didn't!) for people to sit in and talk to you.
25. At the end, you're married. It doesn't matter who walked you down that aisle, if you had your flowers, if that fly got stuck in your dress, if you got that one cheesy shot with the groomsmen, or if you ordered raisins on that salad. At the end of the day, you are married to your best friend. Yea, that's a little cheesy, but if you get yourself into that mindset, you will genuinely have more fun. Don't use it as an excuse to write off the small fire that started (although won't that be a story!) but have it as your attitude. Going through your day will be easier with that end goal in sight. Are you having a wedding to impress that friend with whom you have a passive-egressive relationship? Eh. Probably shouldn't invite her. Or even get married. Marriage is about you and your spouse, devoting yourselves to each other and then to God. It just traditionally comes with a party.