I couldn’t stop smiling out of shear nervous excitement and joy, that I was about to be married to the man I loved. I remember watching all of the wedding party head into the White Ballroom at Nottoway Plantation on March 18, 2006 and for few moments I was alone. Then the bridal assistant fluffed my dress and I joined my parents in the room and we walked down the aisle to get me married. I am lucky to have a photo of that moment, one of my favorites of the day. I have no memory of her taking it, but Syndey Byrd was a master at getting into the places she needed to be. Here is that shot:
10 years, it seems like an eternity when we were first married. Even 5 years seemed far. And yet we have arrived here and it is hard to believe so much time has passed! When I was married I wasn’t a wedding photographer. So now after 10 years of marriage and 6 years as a wedding photographer, I have a different perspective on weddings, wedding photography and it’s meaning to me. So on my 10th anniversary, I write this for the newly engaged.
Above all, the most important thing to remember about a wedding is that it isn’t all about the bride and groom. (Unless you are choosing to make it solely about that, and there is nothing wrong with that either. More on elopements later!) That is what marriage is about, the two of you traveling through time together. A wedding is about the very beginning of that (in a legal and often spiritual sense) and honoring all of the people who were there with you on the journey that got you to this milestone in your life. Especially your parents, grandparents, siblings, close friends etc. It is the probably a once in a life time chance where all of your favorite people in the world come together in happiness to eat, drink and dance in your honor. I like to imagine that if heaven exists, it would be one endless wedding day surrounded by those people with unlimited food, drink, and fun.
That is what our wedding was like. If only we could hold on to that feeling and those people forever.
Everything else is just the details. Repeat: Everything else is just details. That goal of “heaven” can be accomplished with proper planning from a city hall ceremony followed by an intimate lunch to a lavish affair at the Plaza. It is all how you look at it, but the goal should be the same and the setting determined by your budget and personal style, appropriate for the season and location of course. :) However, I do believe that years later these things that are SO important at the time you marry, will be less so as you age. The entire wedding industry is built on selling you these details. Trust me, while they are pretty to photograph, they aren’t 100% necessary. Really think about details in terms of meaningfulness. If you think it will still be meaningful in 10, 20, 30 years, then go for it. If isn’t a 10 on the meaningfulness scale, then spend your money else ware. A beautiful location and anything that makes your day easier, like a wedding coordinator, are worth their weight in gold and are much more important.
There are times when I lament not getting all the details right at my wedding because we had to rush things and I was not living in Louisiana at the time. I even borrowed a dress from my mom’s cousin. And then I remember WHY we planned our wedding in 2 months. Had we waited, my father-in-law would not have gotten to see his youngest son get married. Our wedding was one of the last fun things he got to do before he died of cancer two months after our wedding. And even at our wedding he was unable to smile due to Bells Palsy and had to use a cane, yet I know he was smiling. My favorite story of him from the wedding was that he stayed up late telling stories at the after party in the main house. (our venue is a bed and breakfast) Early the next morning he got locked out of his room with my MIL and they had to call the night watchman to let them in! I know they had a great time despite that mishap.
The important detail was that he was there.
My mother who has been happily married 40 years recently discarded many of her formal wedding photos because she finally felt she could. She hated her flowers and they included some cheesy 70s styling shots, like the couple floating in the wine glass. The hard part is knowing what will appear trendy in the future and if you even want to avoid that. I know there are people who love the fact that the styling was “of the moment or era” and if that is you, then go for it and you won’t regret it! However for most people, since it is a better investment to create images you can relate to and love for the rest of your life (and trust me, tastes change as you age!) and won’t one day toss out, I do believe wedding photos should err on the classic and timeless side. Once again, it is about the people and the moments. Focus on creating an environment and timeline where moments can happen, people can interact with your and your new mate, and where you can really see the location and utilize it. Less on small details that other than “detail” photos, don’t have as much of an impact in the photos and in the experience of the guests. (Seriously, no one NEEDS a wedding favor. In the South, people use to just give out slices of extra cake. And generations of lucky young girls grew up getting to taste wedding cake for breakfast the next morning.)
And it should go without saying; hire wedding professionals who get your general vision, style and who can take the ideas you have and help you refine them. You want a collaborator, neither of you should be a dictator because someone will be unhappy in the end. (and it will likely be you…) In terms of photography, avoid trying to recreate photos you see on Pinterest and wedding blogs. Many of those are taken during photo shoots, not actual weddings or are simply lucky shots with clients who look like models. Seriously. Unless it is a photo of a specific location at your venue you want to use, you should be looking for signs your photographer already takes photos in the style of the ones you want before you hire them, not specific shots. Trust that they will make the most of the location, light and capture real moments that flatter you. (or at least only show you those!)
I had a friend photograph my wedding who was a professional photographer, which was a wonderful thing because she was a great photographer. She just wasn't an experienced wedding photographer. There were numerous issues I could have avoided if I had hired someone who shot weddings frequently. Back-up equipment is a must! Bear in mind I wasn't a professional wedding photographer at the time. I didn't really have a full understanding or appreciation of the special gifts and things wedding pros know to do. I do now, and not just for photography, but for everything from flowers to catering to the venue. That is why experience should be part of your hiring decision. Also spending time discussing the coverage and specific photo requests is very important. Speaking of that.....
Weddings are amazing opportunities to document the important people in your life, if you take the time to think about these in advance. (Not that some spontaneous moments don’t arise, a good wedding photographer will capture that.) It is all about the relationships and the possibilities of capturing groups and people rarely all in the same place at the same time. Is someone in town from a far away place? Is someone in the family sick or dying? These might be tough things to speak about, but your photographer should know and make sure to capture these people. You might forget and it would be a shame. Don't assume your photographer will capture everyone. That is really hard unless you do table shots and have an extra photographer on hand. It is a balance act between posed and organic photos. But you have to tell your photographer who is most important.
Might seem old fashioned, but weddings still are a great opportunity to get all the family together for a group photo by of professional quality. A professional wedding photographer knows what questions to ask and how to arrange this so that it happens quickly and properly. While I had a great photographer at my wedding, she wasn’t a wedding photographer. I missed getting formal photos with my Granny because I didn’t bother to make a list. (My clients always make a list and I arrange it to flow nicely and ask if I see something missing.) In the moment, a bride or groom is too distracted to be expected to remember what photos need to be taken. It is important not only to make a list, but to let everyone know in advance and have a bridesmaid whose knows everyone to find missing people. And if you can, do the family formals before the ceremony. I highly recommend that! If not, a well thought out list is a must, as is making sure no one slips off to the bar…..
I know it sounds old fashioned and time consuming, but those are often the photos that become the most valuable over time. In the 10 years since my wedding, not only has my father in law passed away, but my photographer, and also several friend's of my grandmother who were the representatives of her at my wedding. (She died two months before my wedding, and I believe her passing is what made me decide to marry quickly so my father in law could be there.) There is one camera aware shot with her friends that I cherish. It isn’t the greatest photo, but it is unlikely there would have been enough time to get candids with them. If the people are important to you, make a list of informal portraits you’d like to have. School groups, friend groups who rarely see each other any more. Just a handful and you won’t regret it. And remember, it is a photographer’s job to make sure those images happen. Friends can promise to take them, but guests are easily distracted and professional gear is more important than ever when in dark rooms or with large groups.
I’m off to dinner and a movie with my husband of now 10 years. :) And tomorrow I’ll photograph a wedding for a couple just beginning their journey. And I’ll capture every second of it for them.
All the Best-