“This is my first time ever getting married so I don’t know what to expect.”

I’ve been told this many times and feel like after photographing over 300 weddings in the last 10 years I’ve gotten to witness the good and the bad.  Everyone has their own taste so my advice is to make your wedding your own and not for anyone else. Nobody’s wedding is going to be perfect. However you don’t want to say “I knew I should have…,” just because you refused to listen to your gut.

Do you write your own vows or not? This is something you should agree on, since you don’t want to do vows from the Internet while the other one does this heartfelt vow. Both can work and it all depends on you both as a couple. I’ve heard some of the greatest vows and honestly those are the one’s written from the heart. Some others I’ve loved are one’s with some humor in them. We all have that funny story or unique memory of our partner over the years. Then there are some weddings that just the person marrying them speaks and just “I Do,” is spoken from the couple. This is mostly about you two as a couple, since most people won’t remember your vows but yourselves. 

Do you have a receiving line?  This all depends on your timeline, since I’ve seen some couple’s that make time to go to each table after eating.  I’ve seen others that have this receiving line at their church wedding or as they are entering their reception. It’s a quick congratulation hug, which to some couples can be overwhelming if they have a ton of guests. Everybody is different and to some this is very important to mingle with their guests, and some do that at cocktail hour, by doing some formal pictures before the ceremony.

Do you buy a new wedding dress or a used one?  I’ve had many brides spend a lot of money on a brand new dress while others spent less on a similar preowned dress.  It’s completely up to what type of dress you want, what your budget is, and where you’re getting married. Also you want a dress that looks good with your body type. I’ve seen quite a few dresses that I wished the store had told them it didn’t fit their body type.  Also people lose and gain weight depending on how far out your wedding is planned. Some people look better in sleeveless or off the shoulder, while others look better with a high neck dress or with sleeves. There are so many choices and all you can do is try on as many as you can till you find just the right one, regardless if it’s used or not.  Preowned dresses are typically cleaned and you can’t even tell it was worn.  

Do you drink before the ceremony or do you drink at all?  I’ve seen quite a few couples get too tipsy to barely stand at the altar while I’ve seen others where they end up passed out at the reception. You know yourself the best when it comes to what you can handle alcohol wise. Always remember to drink water and eat.  Some wedding coordinators help with bringing appetizers over right after the ceremony. If you don’t have a wedding planner/coordinator make sure you have a person appointed to be sure you have enough water and food in your system. Also remember if you get married in the mountains, since the altitude has less oxygen and you get tipser easier if you are not from Colorado.

Do you hire a professional photographer? I highly recommend this and not just because I’m a photographer myself.  When I first started out ten years ago cellphone’s weren’t so popular and cameras weren’t that affordable.  Now people tend to think they can just rely on cellphone images and the “Average Joe,” out of college to take pictures.  This isn’t a good idea for a number of reasons. First of all it takes a lot more than people think to become a wedding photographer.  If somebody is doing photography as a hobby, it doesn’t mean they understand all that goes into a wedding day. Second, cellphone images hardly ever look great blown up, and a lot of people that own a professional camera don’t know how to use all the settings.  Thirdly, a professional photographer has the experience and extra cameras, lenses, batteries, a backup photographer and is quite aware of what happens throughout the wedding day.

Do you hire a professional videographer? I’ve been at many weddings with videographers and I highly recommend it, rather than your “Uncle Bob.”  The reason I say this is because there is a lot more that goes into just holding the camera. There is audio equipment that has to be hooked up for the vows, speeches, etc that your friends with a cell phone won’t be able to capture. Also the editing of the video is a long and lengthy process. You also have to think that your uncle Bob may not know everything that goes into a wedding and might not be up for all that it takes to capture it. You don’t want to look back and regret not getting a video of your special day, since once the day is done,  it’s done. Don’t get me wrong I see guest’s videoing with their cellphone’s all the time but I feel like the couple never gets to see that or it’s not for sure they won’t lose the video.

Do you hire a professional DJ? I’ve worked with many DJ’s over the years and I’ve learned that they can really set the mood for the reception.  It’s their responsibility to keep the party going and keeping people dancing. Just bringing a microphone, an I-pod and speakers won’t always cut it. It’s hard to have a friend or family member dedicated to keeping the music playing. Also the toasts can be a little awkward if there isn’t a DJ their to keep the wedding on it’s scheduled timeline. DJ’s also help you pick songs for the first dance, bouquet toss, cake cutting, etc. What you might think is a good dance song might not be the case. I’ve seen so many people change on the dance floor and have the time of their life because of the right song.  It’s so fun to see people let loose, forget their daily stresses and celebrate with the wedding couple on the dance floor.

Do you have a big wedding or a small wedding? This all depends on what you want.  Some people have big families and or lots of friends. I’ve photographed both small intimate weddings of just the wedding couple and a few witnesses but also big weddings of 300 to 500 guests.  Both had a different vibe to it. I honestly believe this is the one time in your life that you get to see all your family members and friends in one room. Some people love having a smaller wedding so they can save money and enjoy a nicer honeymoon.  Other’s just wanted a more intimate ceremony and bigger reception afterwards. Also bigger weddings can be amazing since you get to see family from out of state or out of the country. This day will go by so fast and sometimes I notice the wedding can be more for your loved one’s then yourself.

Do you do a First Look?  It’s up to you if you want to see your Groom before the ceremony or not. I recommend it if you want to have more of an intimate moment before the wedding. Also I suggest if you are short on time, since the sun will almost be set by the time your ceremony ends. Some Bride’s still like the look on their groom’s face as they are walking down the aisle. I’ve witnessed many groom’s cry when they see their bride for the first time walking down the aisle and it can be more moving. Also Bride’s like to do a first look with their Dad instead of their Groom, which is always amazing to witness.

Do you get married inside or outside?  The big thing here, is where you’re getting married and what season it is.  I’ve photographed a wedding on the top of a mountain in the middle of winter as the sun was setting and it was cold for everyone but was gorgeous. I’ve also done many weddings outside in pure sunlight in the middle of June with over 100 degree weather.  The thing people have to remember is the time of day and how it can cast shadows on people’s faces and not so flattering. I always recommend not getting married from 10am to 2pm for many reasons. However sometimes the couple doesn’t have a choice. If you do get married during the hottest time of day then make sure you supply plenty of water, sunscreen, hand fans, and access to shade for people that can’t handle the heat. I always recommend outdoor ceremonies but have a backup plan for indoors in case of rain or snow. Indoor weddings such as church weddings are just as gorgeous though.  Every venue looks different at different times of day so you might want to do a walk through for the exact time you are getting married. If you do end up getting married indoors you want to make sure your photographer is good with the lighting.

Do you have an unplugged ceremony (having guests with no cellphone)?  I highly recommend to have an unplugged ceremony, since you pay good money to have a professional photographer.  Also some people with cellphones can be very distracting for your guests, the wedding couple themselves and especially the photographer.  I’ve had to tell many people to move out from the center of the aisle and or nicely move them out of the way. Some aisles are tight and a guest trying to get a cellphone picture can stop the photographer from getting their shot, and some of those shots are gone within seconds (the bride walking down the aisle, the groom’s 1st look, the first kiss, etc.). Looking back at the images it can be disappointing seeing all your guests glued to their cellphone’s.  It’s also nice for your guests to be “in the moment.”

Do you have a buffet or plated meal? This is something you want to talk to your venue about, since it depends on their staff and costs. A buffet can give your guests more options, while plated meals you choose before hand (example: chicken, beef, or fish).  A plated dinner can save you money on food cost but you pay more for service, since it’s usually 2 to 3 dishes. The amount you spend also depends on how many guests that attend your wedding. The buffet tends to be quicker for your guests but the plated is more intimate. My biggest thing is to not have the buffet set up near the sweetheart table. I’ve seen this happen and the couple tend to not want to eat while their guests are standing right in front of them asking them questions.

Do you have people do toasts?  The majority of the weddings I’ve photographed the maid of honor and best man have done the toasts.  However, I’ve seen the parent’s of the couple say some sweet words about their children. Sometimes it can turn to a roast and that seems more of a recent thing. I highly suggest the couple to say a few words, at least thanking their guests for coming. Lastly I would say Not to have an open mic because by the time your guests have had a few drinks it can really set the timeline off.  Also kids can think it’s a game and want to hear their voice echo throughout the venue. 

Do you have a cake or cupcakes? Both are super delicious, but it all depends on if you want to cut the cake or not.  Some have gotten a smaller cake to cut and then cupcakes for their guests. I’ve also seen other things like cake pops, pies, a smore station, a candy station, parfaits, donuts, chocolate covered fruit, etc.  I’ve seen all different varieties. Not everyone has a sweet tooth though and your guests may have an allergy and or diet restriction. Honestly my favorite part of the wedding is the desert since I love sweets.

Do you have a grand exit? This all depends on if you are leaving before your guests or not.  However I’ve had wedding couple’s do a grand exit and then join their guests at another location.  A grand exit can be with bubbles, sparklers, glow sticks, ribbon wands, flower petals, bird seeds, etc. This is something that you want to discuss with your venue, since they have regulations.  Some of those can consist of a fire band, so no sparklers, and others have to be biodegradable flowers.