Advice from a Wedding Photographer
Look, I get it. Your wedding day is a big deal! It is a once-in-a-lifetime event that you have been dreaming about for years. You have planned so many details, and you’re worried that something will go wrong. You just want it to go well. Those feelings are so valid! But I don’t want you to stress. Your wedding day is meant to be joyful. It is a celebration!
As a wedding photographer, I have watched countless brides on their wedding day, and I’ve seen what helps and what doesn’t. I want you to have the time of your life! Let me share with you my top ten tips to have a stress-free wedding day. Some of these tips are going to be practical, and others are going to be mindset. Both are important!
1. Hire a wedding planner or day-of-coordinator.
This one is huge! Even if you have a super-planned type A personality, I bet you don’t want to spend your wedding day making sure the every detail is going right. A wedding planner or coordinator will keep track of your timeline, tell you where to be when, and put out any fires (usually without even telling you something went wrong!)
I have photographed a few weddings that did not use a planner, and it was much more difficult. Sure, the day turned out fine in the end, but the bride and her family were constantly bugged for questions, and the order of events fell really behind. Guests and vendors had to check in the bride and her family to see what to do next. I’m guessing you prefer not to be approached with issues throughout the day!
If you want help throughout the whole planning process, then I would recommend hiring a planner. If you feel comfortable doing most of the planning on your own and just need help the day-of, then go with a day-of-coordinator. Most wedding planning companies provide both services!
If you’re planning a wedding in the Raleigh-Durham area, then I recommend Something Fabulous Weddings, who worked the wedding see above, or Harmony Weddings who did my own! These are some of the best in the area! If you are planning your wedding elsewhere, try the Knot, or even better, ask another vendor that you will be working with for recommendations, such as your venue or photographer. Many keep a recommended vendors list.
2. Make sure all you’ve hired reliable vendors
Since we’re already talking about vendors, here is another tip: make sure you’ve hired reliable vendors. Thankfully in Raleigh we have an abundance of wonderful wedding professionals! However, you want to be sure that you pick carefully. Often you get what you pay for in this industry. There are a few who are just starting out who will do a good job on a budget, but be careful with this. Ask to see their portfolio. Check their reviews.
Right now I’m in the process of putting together a welcome guide for couples who book with me. The guide will have local vendor recommendations along with other wedding planning tips! Brides who book with me in early 2023 and beyond should expect to receive one!
3. Do as much in one location as possible
I’m talking about getting ready, portraits, ceremony, and reception. Most wedding venues have space for both the wedding ceremony and reception, plus at least one getting ready room. Some venues even have two separate rooms, so that the groom and groomsmen can get ready there too! The nice thing about keeping it all in one location is streamlining. Travel takes up a lot of time, especially when you have to gather your belongings. Plus, travel is just one more thing to have to think about! I recommend doing the whole day in one location to keep it simpler.
The wedding you see pictured above was at the Graham Mill, which is perfect for this kind of day! You can see the highlights of that wedding here. In Downtown Raleigh the Stockroom at 230 is a great venue that partners with a beautiful getting ready space called the Glass Box. Here you can check out a wedding I captured there to see what I mean!
I totally understand and respect if it’s important for you to have your wedding in a church. Personally, my own church meets in a non-traditional building and doesn’t even do on-site weddings! But I know that the tradition and sanctity is important for many. If you choose to have your ceremony in a church, see if you can get ready there as well. That way it is a quick and easy transition to the ceremony, especially if hair and make-up runs a bit behind.
I do want to point out, the only downside to getting ready at the church is lighting for photography. Church rooms don’t tend to have the best light for getting ready portraits and bridesmaid pajama pics. You can absolutely have these pictures there, but they just might not have the aesthetic you were hoping for. You’ll have to weigh out for yourself whether you value timeline efficiency or photo aesthetic more!
4. Add buffer time into your timeline
Speaking of timeline, I recommend you add a little bit of buffer time, particularly before the ceremony. Hair and make-up is notorious for running behind. I like to add an extra 15-30 minutes into the portraits or a half hour rest-period before the ceremony. That way, if things run behind, you won’t keep your guests waiting for the ceremony to start. Your planner or coordinator will help you craft the timeline, and usually they add some buffer time in for you. (Another great reason to have a planner!)
5. Make a family shot list
This tip is big from a wedding photographer’s standpoint. I always ask my couples to email me a family shot list before the wedding day. This is a list of family member groupings that you want photographed for formal family portraits. Here is an example:
- Bride, groom, bride’s parents
- Bride, groom, groom’s parents
- Bride, groom, both sets of parents
- Bride, groom, bride’s extended family (Aunt Sally, Uncle Joe, John, Cole)
To be on the safe side, I tell my couples that each group takes 3-5 minutes to photograph. If you have 30 minutes for family photos, then you can plan for 6-10 groupings. I recommend prioritizing who you really want in these. Just pick the most important. We can always take a a less formal picture with distant relatives during the reception!
Also, please tell each family member that they will be in a photo ahead of time. Tell them when and where too. I can’t tell you the number of times that Uncle Joe has wandered off to grab a cocktail just when we need him for the photo, because he didn’t know he was needed!
6. Practice bustling your dress
Between portraits and the reception you’re going to want to bustle the train on your dress. Otherwise you’d be stepping on it all night long! Some bustles are a bit tricky, so try to practice it beforehand. Have your mom or maid-of-honor be your go-to person to practice with! I recommend trying it at the dress fitting, as your tailor will need to show you how it’s done. Also practice just after you’ve put on the dress on your wedding day, just as a refresher!
7. Keep all your details in one place
This is another tip to help with photography! Most photographers capture your details soon after they arrive. These details can include: engagement rings, bride and groom wedding bands, other jewelry, vow books, the invitation suite, perfume, veil, shoes, or whatever else you’d like photographed! The bridal suite will likely be a mess when your photographers arrive. Instead of running around trying to find everything with half your hair done, put all these details in one location the night before. I recommend having a nice box to keep it all safe!
8. Don’t forget to eat and drink water.
Sounds simple, right? But it’s amazing how easy it is to forget food and water! Brides often get caught up with all the activities and neglect this basic daily need. Small problems often seem worse on an empty stomach, and headaches set in when dehydrated. I recommend keeping a water bottle at your side and a few snacks close by. You could even appoint a bridesmaid to remind you throughout the morning and afternoon.
I have seen some couples skip dinner during the reception because they get distracted by their guests. Please don’t let this happen to you! You might not think it’s a big deal in the moment, but you need to be fueled. Your body spends a ton of calories between all the adrenaline and the dance floor. When I got married a few years ago, my planner made a point that my husband and I ate first. Only after that did we go around table to table to greet our guests.
9. Don’t worry about what guests are thinking.
Okay now we’re moving to mindset. So many sweet brides have the best intentions. They want to be sure all of their guests are happy and enjoying the day, but in doing so, they don’t live in the moment. Does this sound like you? The only problem with trying so hard to please your guests is that there are too many of them. Say you have anywhere from 70-200 guests. That is a lot of different personalities and preferences! It’s impossible to please everyone. You will worry your day away trying to do the impossible. Just try to relax and remember that the day isn’t really about them.
10. Remember what truly matters.
One more mindset tip here, and this is the biggest–remember what truly matters. Your wedding day is about marrying your best friend. It is about celebrating the love you share. At the end of the day, as long as you’ve gotten married, it was a success! Everything else–the décor, the food, the music–it is all just extra. I love a big wedding, but so often we lose sight of the big picture. All you need is to marry the one you love, and that’s it!
Any other tips for a stress-free wedding day? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to share in the comments below!