Here are my top 5 (or more) wedding planning tips from me, Courtney Lively, your devoted wedding photographer. I am by no means a wedding planner, nor do I want to be – that’s one tough job! However, after photographing over 80 weddings, it turns out that I’ve acquired some knowledge that I think might be helpful to brides and grooms who are planning that big day. So, if you’re interested in my humble thoughts on all of this, dive in, because I think I actually have some good things to say on the topic.

5 (or more) Wedding Planning Tips from Your Devoted Wedding Photographer

  1. Money and Priorities. First let’s talk money. Because it’s such a dreaded topic. Let’s be honest, everyone hates it. Except for maybe my husband, he’s one of those weird left-brain folk who loves to talk about numbers and budgets. For most of us, it makes us cringe. But here’s my two-cents on it. Ha, pun totally intended. 😉 Your budget, is so important! Stick-to-it. But also, sit down with your partner and prioritize. This is a big day and it’s so important to know where your priorities lie. Before you start throwing money around it’s best to figure out what parts of the day are most important to you. For me and my hubby, it was, 1. great venue 2. great music 3. great photographer 4. good food 5. good drinks 6. attire 7. flowers 8. details…. and so the list went on. I found my wedding dress in my sisters closet, and I could care less about what my bouquet and cake looked like – BUT that’s just me. The point is, I had a budget, like all of us, and I knew where I wanted to do my best to save money, and where I wanted to go above and beyond to ensure that I was getting the best of the best. This is totally a personal decision, but it should be well thought out with you and your partner long before you start writing checks. In my opinion, wedding photography is most-definitely an investment. This is one part of your day, that you will literally get to keep forever – and over time, those photos will only continue to become more and more valuable to you and your family.
  2. Who to include in decisions? Darn it. We’re going to have to talk about money again. But this is a big one! You will find quickly that a lot of people have opinions about YOUR big day. And frankly, some people have good things to say, and some people have too much to say. But whose opinions do you HAVE to consider? Well, it’s complicated. Here’s what I do know… you know your families best. You know who will give sound advice, and who you need to keep at arms length. But that being said, it’s always important to think about who is writing the checks. If you don’t want to know the opinion of someone who is flipping a large bill for you, then you might want to reconsider letting them pay. Because I also know that when someone pays for something, they automatically take ownership over it. And sometimes, that’s great if their vision is in line with your vision, but sometimes it just makes for a hot mess when your visions are worlds apart. Tears. Arguments. Frustration. Misunderstandings. Ug, no one wants this. So have these tough conversations early on with your partner and your family, and have a deep understanding of who is responsible for what. It’s definitely not fair to leave it up to your vendors to try and figure out who their boss is! As my wonderfully successful big sister has always said to me, “make the decision, and make it the right one. ” It’s great advice for life in general, and wonderful advice for all of the questions you have before you. I clarify in my contracts who the ‘final decision makers’ are, that way, I know that my clients have had this conversation with their family members, and I know who to go to when I have questions. Lastly,  I always encourage my clients to never forget that it is in-fact THEIR day — So please, make your needs the priority. Remember, this is the day you are marrying the one you love – That’s what all of this about. Marriage. Beautiful, magical, marriage. This will be the first day of the rest of your life. It should be fun, and exciting. Perspective will be so important in this process!
  3. What’s Normal? Nothing!!! These days, when it comes to weddings, literally, nothing is “normal.” And it’s wonderful. Modern day weddings are simply mixtures of old traditions and new, and that’s fun because it means you can make your day whatever you want it to be. There literally are no rules on what a wedding day should look like today. Oh, that’s great you say! But wait, now I’m confused. Where do I start? Well, you can start by thinking about how you visualize your wedding day. And then, prioritize again, this time about how you see the day playing out. What’s most important to you? A casual celebration? Being able to read your vows privately to one another? Gorgeous details? Beautiful sunset photos? An intimate ceremony with a larger-then-life party? Again, it’s so personal, but it’s important to take the time to think it through. Then, ask questions. Ask your photographers questions, ask your venue coordinators questions, and heck, if it’s in the budget, hire someone to do all of this for you. A wedding planner is a great investment for busy-confused-overwhelmed, brides and grooms.
  4. Timeline! Again, another complicated topic, but such an important one. It’s kind-of like that old joke, what came first, the chicken or the egg? I don’t know the answer, do you? But here’s what I mean… It’s important to have an idea of what your timeline might look like when choosing your venue, but that being said, you often can’t know what your timeline will look like until you solidify your date, and your venue. I know, I’m so helpful. 😉 But here is why it’s important to think this through. Sunset! Sunset has a large effect on how your day will play out. It’s important to know what time sunset will be on the day of your wedding so that you can time everything just right around it. You would think that all venues think this through but some of them actually don’t. And then you find yourself standing at your ceremony with the sun completely blasting you and half of your guests as it sets directly behind you. This, in actuality makes for very difficult photos, as well as uncomfortable guests. Sometimes, by the time I am brought into the conversation, the venue, date, and major timeline decisions have already been made, so that’s why I am saying this now. If you want a sunset ceremony and you don’t want to do a “first-look” (more on “first-looks” in a later post), then that means there will not be any time for sunset photos – and it also means that all of your couple portraits, as well as your group bridal party images, and family portraits will all be done after the sun has gone down. Again, it comes down to priorities. If the sunset ceremony is the priority, then maybe consider doing a first-look. If a first-look is out of the question then maybe consider moving up the ceremony time. If you don’t want to budge on either, then it means that you must be cool with indoor/or nighttime portraits. So most importantly, as your picking your venue and date, have an idea of when sunset will be on that date, where it will be as you stand at your ceremony, and how you want to incorporate the sunset into your day. If you’re asking me, I always love an opportunity to photograph portraits of the couple during the golden hour. The golden hour is the hour of the day before the sun sets and literally, it’s magical.
  5. Take a deep breath. Go on a date with your baby. Drink some wine. Laugh. Flirt. Eat delicious food. Heck, cook that delicious food, together! And DO NOT talk about the wedding. Please, please, please, make time for your relationship that doesn’t consist of conversations about lily’s vs daisy’s, or ties vs suspenders. Remember, this is just one day. It’s a big one, but it’s only one. It will come and go before you know it and I can promise you, I have never had a bride say to me, “Darn it Courtney, I wish I chose lily’s instead” But what I have heard, time and time again is, “I can’t believe it’s over.” Remember how I mentioned perspective earlier? I mean it. Life’s short guys. Yea, I just went there. Stay with me. Don’t waste your energy, and sweet precious time with the ones you love on minute details that won’t matter in the end. And if you’re not following me on this one, then I am certain we are not a good match. And please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that the little details are not important, but I am saying that it’s important to keep it all in perspective. When this beautiful day is over, your new life will begin. And that’s freaking exciting! It is so important that you and your partner are investing your time and energy into THAT life, not just that one, single day. If I can give you one last tip, it would be to give yourselves things to be excited about after the wedding is over. Whether you plan to redecorate your home, start a new venture together, or maybe even consider getting a pet… Things like this will give you both something to be excited about when the hoopla of your wedding day and honeymoon are over. These are great conversation topics for those date nights when you’re NOT talking about the wedding. 😉 And since you’ve already talked about these things, it will make that grand exit from your wedding that much more exciting. You and your partner for life, will be able to walk confidently away from your wedding day hand in hand, ready to take on the world together. Because, remember? That’s what this is all about! 😉

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