I've worked closely with some wedding clients, and I've worked with them from a distance. I've been a bride, and been the sister of a groom. I've even been a bridesmaid *only once*
One thing I know for sure, is that wedding planning can - and should - be placed on a very wide emotional spectrum. There are no two people who handle it the same. And, so, there isn't really a planning guide that can speak to each and every couple. But I'll do the best that I can - and try to stick to the basics.

Weddings have been known to cause sticker shock. SURPRISE! They're expensive. With 2.5 million weddings per year, couples are spending $28,000 on average. This is a huge industry, and there is certainly no lack of vendors ready and willing to service newlyweds-to-be. Myself included.

So how do you make the decision of a lifetime? How do you choose!

Ultimately, I can't answer that for you, but I can certainly try to offer some help.

Budget.  Plan to spend an average of $200/guest. So, your guest list is 150? That's about $30,000 for your wedding. You can absolutely cut corners, but I want you to be realistic going into this.

Pick a season. Unless a specific date is super important to you - you'll be better off being okay with a season, and going from there. Because once you start vetting venues - you might be disappointed in their lack of availability.
Now that you know how much, and when - start looking for the where.
You want your guests to be comfortable. Happy and entertained. Your venue should be able to accommodate that. If you can find a location that does both the ceremony & reception - bonus. If you want a church wedding & and reception elsewhere - great. You'll just have to make sure both can accommodate a date that will fall within your chosen season.

Food. You'll have to feed all these people, and the best place to start for that is your reception venue. Most places have in house catering. If not, they'll be able to point you in the right direction with recommended catering companies.

Photography.  I'm definitely opinionated on this. Among the top complaints of unhappy newlyweds, is they wish they had better photos. Hiring a professional is a sure way to prevent that. What constitutes professional? Well, unfortunately there isn't really an industry requirement for that title. View their portfolio - ask to see a full wedding. Google them, and read all the client reviews. (in fact - do this for ALL potential vendors). Then speak or meet with them in person. Make sure your personalities mesh, and you like their body of work. Make sure you trust them, and you can envision yourself spending your entire wedding day with them basically in arms reach of you.

Entertainment. Do you want them to provide ceremony music? Someone needs to orchestrate that - depending on where you will be getting married. So don't forget that! A DJ may offer this service for you, but they'll definitely provide the dance party at the reception! Ask them about a photobooth or uplighting too!

Decorations, flowers, cake, stationery & attire. These are so variable, that I can't even touch it with a broad brush. You might have a theme - or a color scheme - or a vision. Whatever it is - adding personal touches to each of these elements will link the entire picture together into one cohesive event. The main idea is to not stress over it too much.

Here is an overview of a general wedding day.....

  • Wake up - with probably little to no sleep. Or maybe you slept awesome and you're ready to rock!!
  • Bride & her maids are off to the salon for hair & make-up. This will go over in estimated time. I promise you. And if it doesn't BONUS - but please plan on it going over about an hour.
  • Guys will likely be much more chill than the girls .... and question why they need to be dressed and ready more than an hour before the ceremony! 🙂
  • EAT BREAKFAST AND LUNCH. Please eat. Pack snacks, water, beer, sandwiches, order subs. Whatever you'd like. Just make sure that there is food, because nobody needs to faint.
  • Plan ahead. Write out checks, thank you cards and gifts for key people in your wedding day a week ahead of time. Pack a wedding day bin/bag. Anything you think you might need on the day of, should go in that bin/bag right when you think of it. Just don't forget to put it in the car/limo when you leave the house. Or - bring it with you the night before when you drop off all the decorations. Don't forget a copy of all your stationery for photos!
  • Getting ready - you'll want a nice, clean, well lit space. When each wedding party member has a 'go bag' it's a big help. This way, they can keep all their items in one place, which is easily moved when it comes time for photos.
  • Flowers should be delivered to the ceremony location an hour to two hours before the ceremony itself. Magnetic boutonnieres are a huge hit, as are elastic wrist corsages for the mothers.
  • Prior to the ceremony - you should take the time to cherish each moment. I've seen couples exchange gifts and cards the morning of. It's a great moment to be captured on camera, and a sentimental touch to the reason you're both making this promise to each other. Setting aside 5 minutes for each of you to share with your parents is also important. This is a big day for them too, and as a photographer, I LOVE capturing the tender moments between parents and their son &/or daughter before they're about to embark on a journey of their own.
  • When it comes to the ceremony, talk to your officiate about what's important to you. I've seen Pastors ask the couple to turn and face the guests so that they can really get a good look at all their loved ones. This day is meant to be celebrated - and it goes by so quickly, that it's easy to get caught up in the 'what's next' rather than enjoying the 'right now' Another awesome touch, is the telling of your story as a couple.
  • Family photos. This is where things can easily get sidetracked if you're not prepared. Personally - I take over as a photographer to make sure this time is properly used. Be it immediate family only, or multiple groupings of extended family. Communicate your wants with your photographer, and be prepared with a list and someone to call out names. All the requested members should be told well in advance that they're expected to be there for photos - and another reminder announcement by the officiate helps too.
  • Transportation - if you're travelling from the ceremony to alternate locations - you'll need to be sure you have a means to get there. Bus, limo, or car pooling - either way, plan this important part!
  • Time for photos. This is something people typically underestimate. By the time you finish the ceremony - and perhaps have a receiving line (10 seconds per person) - then get through family photos - you could have already gone through an entire hour! You still need to pack up your getting ready room, load up the bus, maybe have a bathroom break. Take a second to hug and talk to a few stragglers - and then finally get into a vehicle and travel to the park for photos. All of this eats up time. Plan for an additional hour (or more) for wedding party and your couple photos. Don't forget additional travel to the reception and a few minutes of prep time before you're announced into the party.
  • Speeches, blessings and food. You're going to be ready to eat...but there might still be some formalities to get through. Having a grand announcement of the wedding party into the reception is common - as is a blessing before dinner. Speeches, can go at any time, but I find that it's best to do so after salads, or dinner has been served. That way, nobody has to get too hangry.
  • Cake cutting has traditionally occurred after dinner - but more often than not, I've seen it take place prior to dinner, immediately following the grand announcement. It only takes a minute, and it's not interrupting anything since everyone is already seated and attentive.
  • First dances. You don't want to wait too long to start this. Guests have been known to start dancing to dinner music because they're ready, but the couple is still mingling at tables. It's such a struggle when there are hundreds of people there to see you, and you can't give each one of them the attention you want. Setting aside the time for a receiving line, or even enjoying cocktail hour, is a great idea to help you feel a little more satisfied with this. But if you get out there and get your first dances taken care of, you'll free yourself from formalities - and also give everyone else the permission they need to get the party started!
  • And a little something else I've learned - nobody will let you dance alone. So as long as you're on the dance floor - your guests will be right there with you.

Over all - I can achieve a storytelling gallery in 8 hours. I've done it in less, and I've been commissioned for more time. I hope that this has helped you on the path of planning, and wish you the best on this journey!