Photographer? Yes. Married woman? Also, yes. So that means I have been through the planning stages of a wedding and successfully pulled it off! I was extremely lucky to be a wedding photographer while planning my own wedding because I got to see all of my brides’ mistakes and make sure I didn’t repeat them. I also got to see what they did right. So not only do I have my own wedding planning experience to draw on, I also have a lot of wedding day stories to learn from. So, with that said, here are my top seven tips for your wedding planning adventure:

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1. GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO PLAN: You are planning an event. An extremely important event that you will no doubt treasure for years to come. To make it go off without a hitch, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to plan. I took almost 18 months to plan my wedding and I needed every single day of that. Between DIY favors, invitations, the guest list, the venue, the catering…it was a lot. There was no way I could have done it in less time. Mind you, my wedding had about 125 guests plus the bridal party. Fewer guests may mean you need less time to plan and vice versa.

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2. HAVE A WEDDING PLANNING BOOK: Use just one book to keep track of everything! I used one of those 5-subject notebooks you can find in office supply stores. Not only did it have those manila pockets so I could keep hold of business cards, brochures, and whatnot, but it helped me divide the notebook into different sections. One section was devoted to a working guest list. Another was entirely consumed by vendor contact information. Another, the honeymoon information. Having this ONE book meant that I could go anywhere, meet any vendor, and everything would be right there. I kept contracts in it. I kept contact information in it. I even kept color samples in it which leads me to my next tip…

3. BUY RIBBON IN YOUR WEDDING COLORS: If you’re trying to explain to the baker what color frosting you want, you had better have a good example. Go to a craft store that sells ribbon. Buy a spool of each color that’s going to be in your wedding. For example, I bought a spool each of navy, ivory, and gold satin ribbon. I kept a long bit in the wedding notebook and just cut off a one-inch piece for vendors to reference. That made sure that they knew EXACTLY what color I wanted. This is especially true if your color is versatile, like a green or pink, which have so many shades that a lot could go wrong. Ribbon is easy, cheap, and keeps everyone on the same color page.

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4. FIGURE OUT WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU AND WHAT ISN’T: Even with all the time in the world, you can’t do everything by yourself for a big wedding. A small wedding? Probably. But a BIG one? You need to prioritize what is and what is not important to you. Example? I did not care about my flowers or floral arrangements. So when we met with the florist, I gave him one direction: the flowers had to be off-white. I didn’t care what kind of flowers, what kind of greenery, the flowers just couldn’t be bright white. I wanted ivory. So long as he followed that and stayed within my budget, I simply didn’t care what my florals looked like. That saved me A LOT of stress. On the other hand, I was completely engrossed in my invitation suite and designed the entire thing myself with minimal vendor help. I was so particular about the font, the layout, and the colors that I essentially created the entire thing myself and just had help printing and assembling them. So, make sure you prioritize what you NEED to do and what someone else can do for you.

5. HIRE A DAY-OF COORDINATOR: This is not the same as a wedding planner, mind you. A day-of coordinator is just there for that ONE special day. They have every vendor’s contact information, know exactly where everything needs to be set up, and handle problems for you so you’re not stressed out. You have enough on your plate: make-up, hair, dress, vows, rings, etc.. Let the day-of coordinator run interference. If you communicate well with them, they know where the programs go, where the table arrangements go, where the cake is set up, ALL OF IT. The only time my day-of coordinator asked me about something was when it started raining about 30 minutes before the ceremony was about to start. She gave me two options and I was able to pick one and go about my prep without fear.

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6. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR FUTURE SPOUSE: This one may seem kind of obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. Communication is absolutely vital to your wedding day being successful and enjoyable. After Jake proposed to me, he was very clear: he wanted NOTHING to do with wedding planning. His only requests were to have steak and potatoes for dinner and a few cigars that he and some of his close friends could smoke on the patio. That conversation saved me from going back and forth and worrying that he hated what I was designing. The fact that he didn’t care didn’t bother me one bit. I had a vision and I chased it and he sure as heck got exactly what he wanted on our wedding day. He had no idea what anything looked like until the wedding day itself and he was fine with that. On a side note: do not be offended if your future spouse isn’t that into planning your big day. Some people just aren’t that particular. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. I promise.

7. HAVE A LAST DANCE: This one is pretty unique. Everyone knows about a “first dance” where the whole crowd watches you. That was sooooo awkward for Jake and me. We basically did the middle school sway. Nothing spectacular and although the song was meaningful, the dance itself was lackluster. Now, the “last dance” was something entirely different. At the end of the night, before we made our exit from the reception, everyone was cleared out. They all waited outside with sparklers for us to leave. The DJ started a song and then he left. The photographers left. It was just us. No one watched us sway. No one made any sound. We were able to talk in amazement about what we’d just accomplished. It was one of the most romantic parts of the day. Private, special, and unique. And that song is just between us.

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Guys and gals, when it comes down to it, your wedding day is as unique as you are. There is no right or wrong here. I’m simply sharing what helped me plan our wedding so it went smoothly. I know that some people have smaller or larger weddings than we did and that is perfectly fine! Adjust these tips to fit your needs. They still come in handy when you’re trying to start this whole process. Getting everything together in the beginning saves you A LOT of chaos at the end.

HAPPY PLANNING!

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