In my experience as a Southern California Wedding Photographer, I’ve seen a lot of different situations. Some good. Some not so good. I’ve yet to see a complete disaster of a wedding (praying it’ll stay that way!), but I can give you some tips that I’ve noticed to help your wedding day go more smoothly!
1. SET YOUR BUDGET RIGHT AWAY
Talk with your parents (or your fiancé) about your budget. Try to wrap your head around this early on in your planning. I know we don’t like to limit ourselves, especially on a day that will be one of the most important days of our lives, but for the most part everyone has a budget of some sort. Some large, some small. At least once you have yours set, you’ll know where you stand.
2. DECIDE WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT
Decide what is most important is the next step for you. For some people, the venue trumps all. For others, it’s a particular gown. For some it’s the florals & other décor. For others it’s the food and entertainment. But how will you remember ANY of that without a photographer to capture it? For some, living in the day may seem to be enough. But I’ve never yet heard someone complain & say, “Oh darn! We spent too much money on that photographer & have all these amazing photos to look at from our wedding day.” ;) However, I HAVE heard many sad stories of those who have trusted their photography to that “friend with a good camera” & unfortunately, those stories are often very sad. Too many times, that friend with the camera doesn’t know how to shoot in low light or doesn’t have the equipment they need for particular situations. They may not know how to shoot in harsh light or how to use flash/off-camera lighting when necessary. They may not have the proper storage & software for post-processing your images. I’ve heard SO many stories of sad brides/grooms who don’t have beautiful photos of their big day. Okay, so that MAY have been a shameless plug for photographers, but it is a valid point nonetheless. You’ll want to decide what is most important to you & your significant other & budget accordingly.
3. CHOOSING A PHOTOGRAPHER
I’m putting this item next because, you guessed it, I’m a wedding photographer. But it’s important. Before even checking into price, you should look around for photographers that speak to your personal style as a couple. Some people prefer very light & airy images (ahem…pick me!) with lots of sunlight & some sunflare. Others prefer more architectural images that have strong lines & perhaps some buildings & staircases (or whatever the surrounding architecture is). Others yet prefer a very editorial (think magazine) style of shooting. There are classic photographers, kitschy photographers, modern photographers, romantic photographers…all will produce a different style for your day! Most will encompass a few key characteristics. After looking for a photography style that resonates with you, then start looking for the one who will fit your budget or perhaps create a payment plan (note: most payment plans will still be due before the wedding. Photographers love to shoot, but as a business, they need to be profitable.).
4. CHOOSING A WEDDING COORDINATOR & OTHER VENDORS
Often times, brides choose to hire a wedding coordinator to a) help with the basic planning and/or timeline of the wedding or b) help plan & carry out all of the wedding details, which may include the hiring of vendors. Anytime you hire a coordinator, it’s good to hear him/her out, but also do your own homework & see if the vendors they are referring are a good fit for you! One nice thing about coordinators is that they have oftentimes worked with these vendors in the past & would like to work with them again (trust me…they will not refer someone they’ve had a bad experience with!). Also, if a coordinator is not in your budget, talk to other friends who’ve gotten married around the same time as you & see what their experiences were with certain vendors!
5. DON’T LET EVERYONE CREATE YOUR WEDDING FOR YOU! IT’S YOUR DAY!
Remember that, even though there are lots of people who want to help with your day, in the end it’s YOUR day. You should have a day that makes you happy. If you want something small & intimate, do NOT feel like you have to invite your parents’ 200 co-workers! Or all 3,000 cousins, 2nd cousins-twice-removed, etc. Showcase details that really showcase you and your fiancé as a couple…not what makes everyone else happy. It is not your mom’s day. It is not your grandma’s day. You can say no in a loving way and still honor the family in other ways.
6. HAVE A TECH-FREE CEREMONY
I think this is such a big thing these days. When I got married, there were people that brought cameras (I think?), but nothing obtrusive. I don’t even think I saw a camera being held up in my photographer’s photos of the guests! My point is, is that nowadays it’s a HUGE trend that everyone & their mother (and grandmother, grandfather, neighbor, you get my point) brings their smart phone, camera, DSLR, or a favorite, the iPad! I COMPLETELY understand the desire to snap some shots of the wedding…after all, you probably wouldn’t be there if these weren’t people you cared about! BUT, it IS sad to look back at photos where all the bride & groom see are a sea of devices instead of the elated faces of all of their loved ones watching every moment without a distraction! It’s sad. In addition, and another SERIOUS matter, is that you now tend to see a lot of what our industry would call “Uncle Bobs,” those relatives or friends who are not photographers by trade, but are passionate about it. Unfortunately, they often have no regard for the photographer you paid GOOD MONEY FOR, and they get in front of the paid photographer, or even worse, up in the altar area. So they either ruin the shot from behind or they are in the shot of the first kiss with you (awwww, how sweet? Right?). I say it with a bit of sarcasm, but no bride & groom wants Uncle Bob or Aunt Sally in their first kiss photo with a camera pointed directly at them in the shot. I don’t mean to be rude, but I feel so bad for brides & grooms sometimes. Their family wants to do something kind & “gift” them some photos. But instead they are potentially ruining shots & on occasion, are quite rude to the paid photographer in the process. I often advise clients to at least send a special note in their invitation suite that asks for a a tech-free wedding ceremony! Then, your ceremony photos will be less tech-centered & more people-centered.
7. REMEMBER WHAT THIS DAY IS REALLY ABOUT!!
So, back to the actual wedding day, I want you to realize NOW that there WILL be things that will go wrong. Sometimes the florist thinks the wedding is the next day & doesn’t deliver on-time (yes, it happens!), maybe someone in your family is driving you crazy, or possibly the limo air conditioner isn’t working, maybe you’re running 2 hours late… You get what I’m saying. It may be something little or something big. But in the end, I try to help my brides remember WHY they are there & just to BREATHE! Don’t sweat the small (or big) stuff! You are there to marry this person who you love & adore & want to spend forever with! This is the day that you become a Mrs. Dreamboat! ;) When you are having a stressful moment, I’ll do whatever I can to help put you at ease & feel like the beautiful bride you are & capture your day that is perfect, in spite of the mishaps!
8. ASK YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TIMELINE
You’d be surprised at how helpful your photographer can be in helping create your wedding day timeline! Deciding on whether or not you’ll do a first look will help determine the schedule of your day! It is so important to figure this out in advance so your photographer can take advantage of the best light so YOU get the best portraits! It is also so important because we know how long it will take to photography your 4,327 cousins/aunts/uncles/brothers/sisters/parents/etc! We are used to finding time to do all the necessary shots, the couples’ portraits, the details, the bridal party, the family, etc.
9. DESIGNATE PEOPLE TO TAKE CARE OF IMPORTANT DETAILS
Have your MOH make a Wedding Day Emergency Kit, including things like Super Glue, bobby pins, safety pins, Q-Tips, hydrogen peroxide (it’s gets blood out of flower girls’ dresses…trust me! lol), and other random things that are somehow always necessary on a wedding day! Also, make sure she includes items such as Tylenol or other painkillers, Tums, and/or other necessary medications. Also put her in charge of your extra lipstick & touch-up items, etc. Have someone put your getaway bags/luggage in the getaway car (if you’re not taking your own car). Place someone in charge of gathering family for the family portraits. In essence, have someone take care of all these details that you will be too busy to think about the day-of.
10. EAT SOMETHING!
Plan to have food for you & your groom & bridal party. You may feel too nervous to eat, but even just getting a little food in your tummy will do wonders (especially if you’re have a glass of champagne or wine while you get ready)! Whether it’s sandwiches, fruit, pasta, crackers & cheese, it doesn’t really matter. Just make sure you have plenty of food AND water close-by.
11. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A WRITTEN LIST OF ALL YOUR VENDOR NAMES/NUMBERS
In addition to having the numbers in your cell phone, it’s important to have the names & numbers of all your wedding day vendors on a written list. That way, others can make calls to vendors if needed. Also, you should have a copy of your contracts in case some sort of problem comes up.
12. FIND TIME FOR A QUIET MOMENT TOGETHER
These days, many couples are opting for a FIRST LOOK, which means that they see each other before the ceremony & take their couples’ portraits at that time. It’s amazing for several reasons. Firstly, it can help settle nerves. Some brides & grooms feel so nervous before the ceremony, that it just helps settle them when they see their significant other. Secondly, it’s such a sweet, private & tender moment on an otherwise chaotic day! A quiet moment for you to just breathe before this huge event! Thirdly, it can help free up a lot of time for photos when the rest of your day is really full.
But even if you don’t choose to do a first look, I can help set your timeline to find time to spend a few minutes with your new SPOUSE directly after the ceremony! After all…isn’t this day about YOU two? Take a few minutes (even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes) to relish in the glory of this event! You’ll be so happy that you did!