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Wedding Planning Tips From a Photographer's Experience

Wedding Planners
Planners are very helpful to make your day go smoothly even if they are only a “day of “ planner. They are familiar with the problems you can run into and they can help you avoid them. They can be key to taking much of the stress off of you during your day. I have never had a client who was sorry they hired a planner. At least delegate this to a trusted family member or friend who is capable of managing people and keeping them happy while doing so.

Sparkler Exits

Check with your venue before you plan to use sparklers or anything else for a send off. Some venues will allow sparklers but with certain cautions or limitations. If you buy sparklers, avoid ones you find at roadside fireworks stands or Walmart because they burn out so quickly that it is almost impossible to have them all lit before some start to burn out. There are several places online where you can order “wedding sparklers” that are nearly as thick as a #2 pencil and 20”-30” long. Those usually last 2-3 minutes and produce more light for photos of your send off. Be sure to have plenty of lighters around for guests so many sparklers can be lit at once and those that are already lit are not burning too long while others are being lit.

If you have any kind of send off, consider doing it before guests start to leave. You can still go back and dance some more. Many of your older guests will start to leave after the cake is cut or dinner is served. Just consider the timing and who might be left to cheer for you.

Immediately After the Ceremony

Some couples find it really nice when they can sneak off for a few minutes of privacy right when they walk out of the ceremony. Others are more interested in all of the congratulatory hugs and handshakes the wedding party and others pour over them. It's a wonderful and special moment to soak up what you just did. Unless you want a receiving line, sneaking off helps prevent one from forming. When you have plans for photos between the ceremony and reception, a spontaneously forming receiving line can significantly change those plans. Many of your friends and relatives will want to congratulate you and love on you a minute, especially if they aren't planning to stay for a reception. Once there are a few people waiting in line to do that, it's very hard to tell the rest of them no. Some planners even have a predesignated location for the wedding party and/or family to sneak off to for this purpose right when they walk away from the ceremony. It's your decision to make and easy to do either way when you are prepared.

First look vs. Traditional no look
A first look with your fiance allows more group photos to be made prior to the ceremony so that you get to your reception sooner. If you have a first look, you may only have a few family formal photos to make after your ceremony like grandparents or family that weren't able to be there before the ceremony. That way you don't keep guests waiting long to start the reception.

The downside to a first look is that it significantly reduces the emotional impact and excitement between the couple when the bride walks down the aisle. Some people prefer having that meeting happen in a more private setting though and a first look might be preferred just for that reason. I used to vote for a first look just so we could get more photos completed before the ceremony. Now I vote for the traditional arrangement of keeping the couple from seeing each other until the ceremony.

Really large bouquets can be fairly heavy and you will be holding yours a long time, often with just one hand. I have handled some that weighed about the same as a gallon of milk and the brides they belonged to suffered from that. Very large bouquets also block much of you and your dress in photos but they are beautiful.

Bouquets are usually delivered with their stems in water so they need to be removed from the water 5-10 minutes before your they are handled by your bridesmaids. If they are dripping they will leave spots on the dresses.

Wedding Day Schedule

If you aren't using a professional planner, be sure to add a little cushion of time for each segment of your day when you make a schedule. Many things can cause delays on a wedding day and you never know which thing it will be. Adding extra time for any required driving is especially important. I think it's a good idea to plan for 30 minutes of down time immediately before the ceremony. This gives you time to collect your thoughts and get in the right frame of mind for the ceremony. That 30 minutes can also provide one last margin to make sure that your ceremony starts on time. If you aren't using a professional wedding planner or “day of “ please let your photographer know early in your planning how you think you will schedule your day. It is very easy for the inexperienced to create a plan that includes hidden problems. Your photographer may be able to spot those problems and help you develop a schedule that will be less stressful for you. A good written and workable schedule is one of the most important things required to make your wedding day go smoothly. Everyone in the wedding party and anyone else who will have some part in the day needs to get a copy of the schedule before wedding day so they can be aware of what they need to do and when.

Bridal Makeup
Sometimes it takes some refinement to get the bride's makeup just like she wants it on wedding day if it is being done a new way for her or by someone she hasn't worked with before.  This is another reason to leave plenty of time in your schedule for each segment of your day. Planning a comfortable schedule can really reduce your stress and help you better enjoy the day.

Get  Help

When friends or family offer to help with preparations and you work well with them, let them help or even consider asking some of them to help. You will have more to do in the last couple of weeks than you think you will. The majority of the brides I have worked with will attest to how busy they were during the last days before the wedding. Anything that can be done early and set aside should be. Wedding plans have a way of growing in the last few months and each detail usually consumes more of your time that you expect. Getting things ready when there is plenty of time will help keep your work fun and make it less stressful. Having someone to help with all of the details on your wedding day is even more important. Your only concern on the day should involve you. So consider who you can delegate the other details to like setting out decorations, picking up things, steaming the dress if needed, picking up someone at the airport, etc. Contrary to popular belief, grooms can help too:)

The most important tip I have for you is to start early so you can work a little at a time. You'll have more fun that way and be in a better position when you're just a couple of weeks away from your ceremony.

Choosing the Dress
I have overhead the same exact words from two different brides after they had their dress on for a few minutes; “This is too much”! They were looking down at themselves and second guessing their decision to wear such a revealing dress. This may be even more true if your dress is significantly more revealing than what you normally wear. Even when my clients haven't voiced that concern so clearly, it has shown in their behavior throughout the day. I have seem some pulling up their dress or cupping themselves attempting to rearrange their dress and how they are situated in it. You will also likely be leaning over to talk to guests at their tables or reaching for things at dinner and a wardrobe malfunction is a very real concern with some designs. In my humble opinion, you want to keep the fit and comfort of the dress  at the top of your list of its features. When you feel confident about how you look it shows.

When you try on prospective dresses at the bridal shop, have a friend take a photo of you from the back and include that view in your decision as well as the view you see in the mirror in front of you. It's common to try on a wedding gown that's a little larger than your size and have it clipped together in the back. Just consider how it will close when you get the correct size. Some styles like those that lace up can be adjusted more for a custom fit under your shoulder blades but may not have a look you like once they are closed.

Some people advise taking no more than three trusted friends or family with you when you go dress shopping so the noise of their opinions doesn't make the process confusing. Be sure to ask those with you what they don't like about each of the dresses you try on as well as what they do like. Tell them you are as interested in hearing the negative things as well as the positives. You may get more honest feedback that way instead of simply asking “do you like this one"?  Ultimately, your dream dress choice is up to you but sometimes your closest and most trusted friends are a valuable resource when making this decision.

Ordering and Sizing Tuxedos
The guys above were looking great but that's not always the case. Get the guys measured and the tuxes ordered early enough so they can be returned in time for a different size if they don't fit if that's possible. If left to themselves, all of the guys may not be very critical of how their tuxes fit so you may want to have someone other than the rental staff to help them with this. And check reviews on your vendor. I estimate that about half of the tuxes I see do not fit well at all. More often than not, the jackets are not large enough leaving the front pulling at the button and the lapels curving out away from the chest. The guys should be able to comfortably bend over too without splitting their pants. It's happened.

Location of the Cake Cutting
You want to ensure that the cake is positioned so that there is at least a little room behind the table for you to stand so your guests can see you. Never place the cake table against a wall where your back will be toward your guests. We want photos of your smiling and laughing faces and hopefully your hands too when you cut your cake!

Location of Group Photos 
At some venues, there is really only one indoor space suitable for taking group photos. If weather forces you inside, photos may have to be taken in the same space that your guests are waiting in. Then it is a little anti-climactic to be announced into the same room you were just taking photos in. This can also create a problematic situation for photos taken prior to the ceremony. It is not unusual for some guests to arrive 30-60 minutes prior to the ceremony. So it can become impossible to take photos of the wedding party or couple and keep the bride hidden from guests if there is only one space available. Keep this in mind as you plan the schedule for your day at your chosen venue.

Confetti Canons

If your ceremony is outdoors, confetti canons might be a fun option for the end of your ceremony or a send off from your reception. They are fairly inexpensive and can be purchased with biodegradable rice paper confetti. They can be a fun way to exit your ceremony when a handful of guests seated by the aisle shoot them off over your heads. Check with your venue before ordering. See

Choosing a Time of Day
Many things go into the decision of when your ceremony will be held during the day and not just the light that's present. I do want you to be informed though. You should know that the best light is in the late afternoon. In the middle of the day, the sun is more directly overhead and even on an overcast day this leads to dark eye sockets and squinting for some people. For group portraits, additional lighting can sometimes be used to improve this situation some but using additional lighting during the ceremony is generally not recommended. When the sun is harsh, you'll usually find photographers searching for open shade to make portraits in. That's often the best solution at midday but other times of the day are still better if your schedule allows.

Makeup Touch Up

The bride should have a plan to touch up her makeup right after a first look and the ceremony. If her wedding gown has a pocket, which is not unheard of, that's a good place to stash lipstick. If not, your maid of honor may be able to help out. There's that little kissing moment during the ceremony that often causes lipstick to need a little work for photos after the ceremony. Like Devin shown above, the groom might need a handkerchief to remove it from him as well. Sometimes makeup can end up on the shoulder or chest of the groom's jacket too. A clean microfiber cloth is as good as you can hope for to resolve that.

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