Planning the Wedding Day
Updated: Jun 4, 2018
So you just got engaged and started the process of looking for all the people you need to hire for your wedding. It can be overwhelming with so many choices, and price differences, how do you even get started. While I can't help with all aspects of the day I can definitely share my backstage experiences as a photographer shooting weddings over the years. Hopefully helping you make some educated decisions when planning your day.
Picking a date. Finding a great date for your wedding can be challenging. The questions you should be asking yourself are generally, which season do I prefer, what day of the week do I want my wedding to be, and are there any special dates that are important to me. Make sure you pick several days ranging a couple of months to make sure venues and vendors that you're interested in will have an opening. If you're set on a particular date, make sure you are open to different venue and vendor options in case your favorites are booked already.
Traditionally weddings have been held during the summer, but I've been seeing a big trend towards Fall. The weather is cooler and the leaves are a beautiful color so pictures tend to come out amazing. Early Spring isn't common since things are still growing and everything still looks dead similar to late fall but without the colorful leaves on the ground. Winter can be a great time for a wedding as well if you're ok with the cold and as long as there's snow on the ground. That clean look can be magical. Personally I prefer mid fall when the leaves are still on the trees but just changing colors and the weather is nice and cool.
Having said that, weather can be the unpredictable equalizer. I've experienced a spring wedding with a hot, muggy summer day feel, or a winter wedding with a late fall look, or even a summer wedding with tornado like rains and winds. It's important to remember the weather trends of each season but not to choose a date based solely on that knowledge, things can easily change. Hope for the best, but roll with whatever the day gives you.
Picking a venue. This is a pretty important part of the wedding. It's where you will come with your guests to celebrate the day and have fun and/or get married at as well. The venue is one of the first items that a new couple will think about when they plan their day. They will even change their wedding date to secure a venue of choice. While I
agree that securing a venue is important I would suggest contacting some of the vendors first. Vendors such as photographers, florists and wedding coordinators have worked in many of the popular locations as well as places that you may not even have known about. Keep in mind, a vendor may sometimes be getting kickbacks from a venue for referrals so always do your own research in conjunction with referrals. The real information you want, does the venue have the options you want, can you take pictures where you want, etc. Don't forget that locations such as a backyard or a relatives home can make for an excellent venue as well. Some of the most charming and amazing weddings have happened in someones backyard or a barn. Just because you spend a lot doesn't make a place special.
Photography wise, any decent photographer should be able to work with most locations, although some are definitely better than others. A great example would be certain country clubs. The idea of beautifully manicured grass, trees, streams and open spaces sound appealing. Most of them have been fine, but there have been a few where photographing has been difficult because of restrictions on time of day or where shooting can occur. Another example would be a downtown venue. People pick a downtown location because they want to take beautiful pictures in the city or have that city ambience, but they're not happy about the premium that they have to pay. The truth is, if you want images downtown you can plan extra time then pay your photographer to travel in to the city, take some images then you can travel out to your venue. If you want to see the cityscape during your reception make sure you find a location that actually has a nice view. The last thing you want is to pay a premium for a downtown location just to have the windows face a side of another building.
Finding your vendors. There are several key professionals you'll need to find. The main ones will be photographer, florist/event decor, baker, caterer, DJ/Band. Additional vendors can be videographer, wedding coordinator, graphic designer, special entertainment, etc.
There are a lot of options when it comes to picking a vendor. You'll need to narrow down your choices by deciding exactly what you're looking for in each. Are you looking for a band or DJ. If you pick a band do they have someone who can handle the master of ceremony role. Can they handle the music choice you want, etc. It's important to make sure you sit down and figure out all the options you want at your wedding and talk to each professional about what they can and can't do. You'll find that each vendor also recommends others who they have worked with and like. It can be useful, I personally recommend a few vendors since the entire wedding experience can work out better when you have people who can work together without issue and understand the timing and needs of each other. For example I've been to a wedding where the DJ started the intros before the bride and groom arrived. We were rushing back after taking pictures and imagine our surprise when the DJ was already announcing people.
In the photography perspective, you'll want to know a few things before beginning your search. How much is your budget? Figure out what average you'd like to spend and the maximum you'll go. This will help in picking out options when you have a consultation. It's important to be realistic here. We would all love to have something fantastic for close to nothing, but that's not reality. A great example would be someone looking for a 10 hour day with 2 locations, album and a few prints for under 500 dollars. Their reasoning behind this was paying an hourly fee of 30 dollars then paying 200 for an album and prints. Believe me this is common and some people actually want to pay less. For those that don't understand why this is insulting at best, let me elaborate. I'm guessing you work for a company, that company pays you a salary or hourly wage but that's not all they give you. They either pay for your insurance or heavily subsidize it, they give you benefits like retirement plans, discounts on service plans, products, etc. If all that is provided then photographers may discuss that lower hourly fee, but until then we need to run a business and charge the appropriate fee for our time and skill.
Once the budget is set, a style of photography will need to be chosen. There are several to choose from and there are many photographers who mix styles. It's very important to have a consultation with the photographer of choice, look at their images and have a conversation with them. This person will be with you most of the day, you want someone you can get along with. After you make the choice in style, don't forget all the ancillaries such as albums, wall displays, prints. These all add to the overall price so make sure you have some extra budgeted for this.
A note on albums. A good album will easily cost above a thousand dollars, usually closer to the 2 thousand range. The reasoning behind this is the quality of the album and the time it takes to design one. A great quality album isn't cheap for the photographer to purchase. I know many look at prices at cheaper consumer printers and think they're being cheated, but this is far from the truth. When you compare the two you'll immediately see what you're paying for, the crisp color and print quality, the feel of the paper, the binding and cover material. Combine that with the skill and time it takes to create a design and you'll understand why the charge is what it is. If you're looking for an album that will last and is of quality work then don't forget to budget for one. If you're not looking for an album then by all means don't feel pressured into buying one.
Budget for the Wedding. This brings us to budgeting for your wedding. Here's what I have told all my couples. Try to stay within your budget. There's no need to go into heavy debt for your wedding. If you absolutely want something for your wedding you'll need to sacrifice in others areas. Having said that I'd recommend a couple areas where you may want to spend more. The photography and the food. A great wedding is usually remembered for it's food and the memories that are recorded by the photography. I'm not saying this because I'm a photographer, and definitely don't take my word for it. I've had multiple people tell me, "We should have spent more on getting a better photographer like you." It's a regret that you can't change. The wedding only happens once, it's unique and will never happen in that manner again. Do you want a subpar photographer to capture that for you? In the same sense most weddings are remembered for the food. Imagine guests at the end of the nite eating terrible food, what's going through their heads, "I'm hungry", "My stomach hurts", "We should leave early and get a bite". Think about all the fantastic food that you've eaten. I'm sure you remember those experiences as well as the not so great ones. Memory is a powerful thing, don't remember your nite with bad food or bad photography.
Again, don't stretch your budget to the point of breaking. A huge debt is no way to start a new life. It's important to remember that a wedding is a luxury. While you have to pay premiums for such luxuries, you don't need to have a huge fancy wedding to get married, and a big wedding is in no way a showcase for how much you love someone. I've been to very large and fancy weddings where I felt the atmosphere was cold, yet there have been smaller more quaint weddings where I had to fight not to tear up. The day is ultimately about sharing your love with your close friends and family. If you let things get out of hand you'll forget why you're having the wedding in the first place.
I hope this all help you in planning for you day. Please note this hasn't been a comprehensive list for planning a wedding, but just guidance from the perspective of an experienced photographer who's been around. The best and final advice I can give you is, No day is perfect. Even with great planning there will be bumps in the road. Roll with things and just have fun, it's a day to celebrate and not worry about small details. While I no longer dedicate most of my time to weddings, if you have any questions or would like my recommendations for vendors and venues, please feel free to contact me. I'll be happy to provide any information or guidance I can.