As a wedding photographer, we kind of get to see the whole wedding day from the couples perspective as we spend a decent amount of the day with them and we also get to see the behind the scenes as a vendor. I’ve always tried to give my couples advice from my experience as a wedding photographer, but now I feel that I can give a bit more personal advice from being on the other side as a bride myself. I posted on Instagram a poll asking what questions you might want me to answer about my wedding which you will see below. I’ve also added in a bit more advice and tips on how to navigate weddings of all kinds but also some specific advice for smaller weddings like my own. Here we go..
1. How to pick a picturesque wedding venue without breaking the bank?
When Damian and I first talked about getting married, our thoughts were to either rent or buy a home to have the wedding at. Me being a wedding photographer, I knew how much wedding venues can cost ($$$$) and we knew we wanted to be in nature and have something more intimate. We did look at one non-traditional wedding venue before we decided to rent a home on Airbnb but it was too logistically complicated.
When we decided on an AirBnb home, we searched for places in the Catskills that were not only beautiful, but were in nature, had property that we would have access to and that we could stay at for prep/set-up, breakdown and a mini moon. We weren’t sure if our idea would even work out as most listings have rules against events or require additional fees. Since we had a very small guest list, we hoped for the best and were lucky enough to find the most perfect property owned by the most AMAZING hosts who were so kind and helpful from our initial inquiry all the way through and allowed us to have our wedding there.
Think outside of the box- check out state parks, gardens, boutique hotels or restaurants, think of property or homes within your family that might allow you to host a wedding, if you have a home of your own, AirBnb’s. Some of these have restrictions to the number of guests you can have, but you’d be surprised with what you can think of and don’t hesitate to ask people for permission, the worst they say is no and then you think of the next idea.
2. How to pick a special spot for your ceremony?
If you have flexibility to do it anywhere because you’re eloping- think about what’s important to the both of you and your relationship. Do you like to hike and check out cliffs and waterfalls? Do you like to keep things simple and just want to go to the courthouse? Do you want to be near water? Do you want to be in NYC looking at the skyline? Do you want to be in your living room surrounded by the love of your home together? Do you love to travel and want to be in a new place? Do what feels right to you and when you think of this place you associate it with who you are together. If you are at a venue and have options but aren’t totally flexible- transform your space into the space you want it to be. Bring in props, or florals to create a forest, or garden like feel. Maybe you’re into desert vibes and want to bring in some elements of the west. Find some inspiration and see what you have to work with. Try to look at things as a blank canvas and go from there!
3. What made you decide on a small wedding?
My husband, Damian, has a small family, mainly only the immediate family which we invited and I have a large extended family that lives all over and I’m not close with. To us it was important to have the people there that were a part of our lives together and were special to us. We originally thought about eloping alone but decided that those few people were important to be with us on our day. To us, a wedding of 100+ people seemed overwhelming and didn’t feel personal. We wanted to be able to spend time with each person who was there with us and we were really able to do so this way. Of course we also wanted to save money as our main goal is to buy a house in 2020 and we couldn’t justify spending thousands or going into debt for a wedding.
4. How did you decide on a small guest list without offending people?
Here’s the truth.. we did offend people. It was hard at times because we knew in our hearts who we wanted there and of course family members want people that they are close with to share this day too. But at the end of the day it was our choice and that was something we stressed from the beginning. We upset some people, some understood and others didn’t and that was their loss. In the end you can’t please everyone and it can be hard to not be influenced by others but the way we did it was honestly the best way for us and I wouldn’t have done it any differently. The people that truly care for you, understand and support your decision and the rest.. well, that’s their problem!
5. How did you keep it a secret? Who did you tell?
At first we started planning without telling anyone as we were unsure if we could make it work in a shorter period of time and around my wedding schedule as I wanted to be able to take some time off around our wedding but also not affect my ability to tend to my couples. Once we were set, we only told the immediate family that we were inviting and asked them all to keep it a secret too as we didn’t want people finding out who weren’t invited. We figured once they found out, they could be mad all they wanted, but we didn’t want to have extra stress and pressure to invite more people if they found out ahead of time. We eventually told a few friends as the time got closer (sometimes on accident out of excitement or because we knew we would be unavailable during this time). I also told some of my clients, as I knew I would be more or less unavailable for the week of but wouldn’t be making an official announcement about it.
6. How long did it take to plan it?
We decided in January to play with the idea of getting married this year. We knew our goal was to buy a house next year and had thought about buying a house and then having the wedding there. Once we thought about it more, it seemed like it would be super hard to do both of those things back to back so we decided to separate them. We started coming up with ideas, pricing things out, figuring out what was the best month to do it and we came up with June. It was the month between both of our birthdays, we knew we wanted it to be warmer out and we wanted to do it on a Thursday so we ended up picking June 27th. We had about 6 months total but I would say I spent about 4 really planning.
7. What was the hardest part of planning?
So, I like to think that I had it a lot easier because I have so much insight and resources available to me as a wedding photographer, so it was kind of cheating (haha) but I would say some of the hardest parts were managing everyone else’s opinions and sticking to what we wanted. Everyone wants to help you when you’re planning a wedding, which is greatly appreciated but it can be overwhelming and I’m very particular and wanted things a certain way. For me, I photograph so many weddings every year that I knew exactly what I wanted everything to look like, who I wanted to work with vendor wise, and what I wanted/could do on my own. Also, every couple probably says this, but sticking to a budget.
8. What was Chipotle Catering like?
Pretty damn awesome. We had soooo much food and we ate Chipotle for the following days after the wedding for pretty much every meal and it was amazing. It’s a pretty seamless process in terms of ordering and set-up. You select what you want online. At our local location we had to pick up the order, so we had a family member do so. They provide everything from napkins and utensils, which we didn’t realize and everything comes in containers that were easy to store afterwards and were easy to keep heated with a sterno chaffing dish set up that we had for the food. I highly recommend it. I mean who doesn’t want Chipotle to cater their wedding?!
9. Where did you get your dress? How did you decide on a cape?
I got my dress and cape from BHLDN. I had always loved their dresses and I knew that I wanted something simple but different and ended up finding my dress which was actually considered a bridesmaids dress and fell in love with it. I knew that I didn’t want to wear a veil but I wanted a little something extra for the photos (of course) and then decided to wear it for the ceremony also. I got so many compliments on it and it was such an awesome piece to add to my look since I wanted to keep things more simple. I didn’t want a long train or to wear something big and poofy. I wanted to be able to move and I knew I’d be in the woods, literally, and knew it would be getting dirty so something long didn’t make sense for me.
10. Why did I end up booking professional hair and make up artists?
Well, like most brides doing the more low-key type of wedding, I thought I would do my own hair and makeup. I didn’t want anything that was over done, I knew I wanted my hair down and wavy so I thought I could easily pull this off. When I thought about it more, I thought.. when do I ever take the time to get pampered? If this was the one thing that I did for myself on my day it would be worth it. Because in all reality, when you do your own wedding and don’t have a planner to handle things, you’re the one setting up and delegating to family members. If I had to do so while trying to make sure I had a good hair day and that my eye liner matched, I think I would have set myself up for a lot of unnecessary stress.. let’s be real. When I set up my trials and came home with my hair or makeup done, I felt like myself but just a bit more beautiful, I had more confidence and knew it would look better in the photos. On the day of, it was the best way for me to start my day. I got ready alone with Brittany who did my hair and Christina who did my makeup (their info will be down below, they’re amazing you should totally book them!) and I felt like I was just hanging out with my girls. It was super relaxing, and I kind of forgot I was getting married in a few hours. Give yourself that little extra loving on your day. You won’t regret it.
Here’s a few other tips for some overall advice:
Everything really adds up fast whether you’re doing something super small like we did or if you’re doing an all out 200+ guest wedding. We found that because of the size of our guest count of 14 (which included us) it was only a little more expensive for us to buy things like the tableware instead of renting it. We figured we would need a dining set and glassware for our house one day so why rent it once and basically lose out on that money- we’ll have these forever. If you can do it yourself, do it. I am fortunate enough to have a design background so I created all of our stationary and place cards with the help of Photoshop (for the invite) and Etsy (for a place card template that you can use a document program to type in the names and print it out). There’s also awesome online resources like Minted that can create beautiful invitations and they’re now offering things like place cards, seating charts and so much more.
Etsy is your best friend- from the place cards, to our favors, ribbon and wax seals for our invitations, biodegradable confetti for our ceremony, decorative bobby pins for my hair and our cake topper (which was our GOT House name btw)
Tell the people at your wedding ahead of time to not be on their phones. We had a strict policy that we warned everyone of ahead of time that we didn’t want photos taken as we had a photographer and we wanted everyone to really be in the moment with us and to take some time to unplug and just enjoy being together. It really made a difference.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everyone says that but it’s so true. If you can delegate to family members to help out, do so. The day will play out how it’s going to and worrying about if a place setting is set up perfectly or that something is exacty in the place you imagined doesn’t matter at the end of the day. I was lucky enough to set 80% of our set up the morning because I didn’t start hair and makeup until 3pm but the few things I relied on family for, they did a great job and if it wasn’t perfect, that was okay. What mattered to me on my day was that I had my husband, our dog Conor and our family with us celebrating such an incredible moment in Damian and I’s lives and that was so special. Nothing else mattered.
Don’t cut corners in the places that are the most memorable. Our ceremony was very important to us as we knew this would be the start of our marriage. We reached out to the incredible Michele Zipp who took so much time to create a personalized ceremony that told our story and let us be ourselves while also including some beautiful rituals that were personal and felt right for us.
We also knew we wanted everyone to relax, eat and have good food (as did we). So not only having Chipotle cater, Damians mom was awesome enough to make some Italian food too so we had something for everyone. Food is a big factor for guests at a wedding. No one wants to stop at McDonald’s on the way home because the food was bad or there wasn’t enough.
Photographer: Story and Gold Weddings
Hair: Bloom Salon
Makeup: Christina Delfino
Florist: Heart and Soil Flowers
Officiant: Michele Zipp
Dress & Cape: BHLDN
Shoes: Sam Edelman
Groom’s Shoes: Calvin Klein