As with anything you've never done before, planning your wedding can be a stressful endeavour.
Where do you even start?
In this post, I break down the key areas for you to consider first and foremost, and these are usually what we call 'Date Sensitive', because without these being locked down, nothing else will stick!
1. The Guest List
It's a bit odd to start with the guest list don't you think? But hear me out. When you start planning a wedding, you need to consider how many friends and family you think you will be inviting. Without this, you won't be able to decide how big (or small) a venue you're going to need.
You could decide to have a small'ish wedding, then book a venue that's too large, then feel compelled to fill it with even more friends, which is obviously going to have massive impact on your budget.
Be realistic here, when you try and plan for a small wedding, with the best will in the world, the numbers will start creeping up. Will your venue be big enough? Does it have enough accommodation to cater for all your guests, or will some have to make arrangements in nearby hotels? How handy is that? Will you organise a bus to shuttle your guests from one location to another, or are you choosing to let them fend for themselves?
This can strike off two key points depending if you're having a religious service or a civil ceremony. If you're having a church or chapel wedding, their availability is usually decided by the clergy who will be holding the wedding ceremony. If they're available, then typically, so is the venue. If you're a regular visitor to church services, then there shouldn't be anything to worry about. However, if 'faith' isn't your thing, you'll need to make yourself known to the priest or vicar, and they usually like to see you rock up to a few services in the weeks (even months) before your big day.
They may even ask you to go through a marriage course, just to make sure you fully understand what you're both letting yourself in for. Remember, once the wedding bills have been paid, you've to start working on your marriage, as dynamics will change once you've put a ring on it.
Civil Services are slightly different. You'll need to check that the venue is free and can actually host a wedding service. There's a process a council goes through to ensure venues are compliant with certain Health & Safety rules so that they can host a wedding service. Most hotels will already have this sorted, but if you're after a Barn type venue, check they're cleared to host a wedding first. Once you've got a date in mind, you need to speak to the Civil Registrar to see if they're available that day, and at what time. Pencil that in with them, then get back on the phone with your venue to see if they can accommodate those timings, get those synchronized and you're ready to move on to looking for a reception venue.
If it's a civil ceremony, it makes sense to stay at the hotel you're having your wedding vows, if indeed you are using a hotel. Do they have an area within the grounds for wedding photos?
Start pricing early. Go to the wedding shows that hotels run throughout the year, you'll find most of them occur in January and October. January is the busiest time for bookings, as guys use Christmas and New Year to 'pop the question'.
Wedding fairs are great, but not all service providers attend them, so don't rely on just whose who are in the room, use them as a way to get ideas, you don't necessarily have to commit to anything there and then. Hotels will be offering special deals if you book on the day, so if you've your heart set on that venue, make sure you go on their open days.
The theme is usually dicated by the seaons, summer tend to be pastels and lighter shades, and winter weddings strike a bolder colour scheme when faced with lots of grey skies and muted natural foliage, you might want to add strong tones.
The bride's dress is a given (for the most part), white. What about the Bride's Maids? What colours are you going with? How long is it away from your wedding day from this point in time, because it's not unusual for the odd best friend to get pregnant before your chosen date.
As a wedding photographer, it warms my heart to see bride's maids in winter wearing shawls or some form of shoulder cover, because we're going to be outside at some point, and we'll be out there for at least an hour. Brides tend to have shoulder cover taken care of with their choice of dresses, as a good dress retailer will factor that in. The men, it's simple, they're suited and booted already. The girls, they'll be in thin dresses and freezing. So bear a thought to matching accessories when factoring the colder seasons. They don't all have to match in style either, so long as the colours match, which gives your girlfriends a chance to maybe pick out something they can wear again in the future?
Remember to tie in the colours of the dresses with the groom's men's ties (see what I did there?), they'll compliment the photographs.
Carrying those colours through to your reception creates a great flow through from the day to the evening, and really impresses your guests. It could be as simple as chair bow decorations matching your bridal party, or the flowers that adorn your service and top table, it doesn't have to be too extravagant.
You have the date set, the venue is confirmed, and the timings are sorted. Other time sensitive providers can now be booked. As mentioned previously, not all service providers attend wedding fairs, they can be very costly to attend or overly biased towards certain vendors, this can limit your choice. Start asking about, speak to friends and family or do your own searches online.
Think about the dress, can you get in and out of the car easily? I've seen brides struggle to get out of the rear of a flashy sports car because their husband-to-be got a little carried away when left this job to do. You want your day to be elegant!
Will there be enough room for all your bridal party to follow you from the church to your chosen bridal photo location?
Are there any cheeky extras? Like a bottle of shampers for the photos?
If you do bring 'drinks' along for the ride, between the service and bridal photos location, think about the 'call of nature', that's all I'm saying.
Are thinking of having someone play music throughout your service? What about the reception area where people will be just milling about at the hotel waiting for you to come back from your photography session? Then there's the evening's entertainment, will you be having a band and DJ, or just a DJ, or even just a band?
A good tip for band selection is to try and get out to one of their wedding bookings. The bride and groom at that wedding will have probably done what you're about to do, and get a sneak peek of how they're getting on. Trust me, it's worth the effort. Check out any feedback they have on their websites and Facebook pages too! They'll typically have a video or two for you to look at which will give you an idea as to their range and genre.
I don't do wedding videos. I just want to start this section off with that statement. I toyed with the idea of it, but it's a whole load of work that I simply don't have the time for. The amount of editing can literally take weeks if not months in post production before you get to see the full video. These ladies and gentlemen in this profession are highly underpaid in my opinion for the work they do.
The more cinematic the final product, the more it's going to cost you. Some of the videos I've seen are just out of this world. I have a few personal favourites in terms of suppliers, but I won't let that sway yours, it's down to you to watch their show-reels. Again, do your home work, some are simply inspiring!
If they have a drone, make sure they also have the relevant insurance and licenses to fly them commercially. If they hit someone with it, the claim is against you!
Okay, I could be biased somewhat on this, because I'm a wedding photographer, and this is my blog. However, all I will say is, book early. Especially if you're getting married on a Friday or Saturday because they're limited in number. Our wedding season typically runs from March to September, with the odd wedding here and there outside of those dates, so the earlier you book, the better.
Couples tend to go for the summer season so as not to be soaked coming out of the church, which makes sense. What I would say is, if you are thinking of booking your wedding date, consider April to May here in Ireland, as this is sort of our best period, weather wise.
Choose a photographer you feel you can get on with, who will offer you the best choices for you budget and shop around. I even tell my own brides when they're looking to book me to go and have a look at other photographers before they confirm. They always seem to come back to me in the end... Okay, I'm selling myself again, sorry ;-)
What's easiest for you? Getting ready at home (or Mum's) or going to a beauty parlour in the morning, which usually means really early!
A lot of great wedding Make-up Artists (MUA) don't actually have a boutique, they're purely mobile. It keeps their costs down (and yours) and only do wedding make-up. I personally know of a few, and I also know of some amazing boutique owners who do come to the house. It just depends on you and your relationship with the MUA's.
The same can be said of the hairstylists. If you're having your make-up done at home, then it makes sense to get the hair done there too. The MUA and hairstylist can work in partnership, one's doing hair, whilst the other is applying make-up.
Those are the date sensitive suppliers who need to know the date of your wedding so that they can schedule you in and be there with you. The other vendors can plan around you, such as florists, cake suppliers, suit hiring, wedding dress suppliers, etc etc.
So, lets move on to last of my tips number 5, but circle back to that guest list.
5. Child Guests
Are you going to allow them to be at the wedding? If you've children of your own, then you'll probably understand how things are, but if you're not a parent, then you might want to consider how you're going to handle a 3-year-old nephew going full arched back an yelling he wants down!
It's your wedding. Don't feel guilty if you want to have a child free service, it's your wedding. They can always come to the evening function, but bear in mind, those family members who usually look after the younger family members are probably going to be at the wedding also.
If however, you are allowing children to come to the whole days events, make sure you've something to keep them occupied, especially at the reception dinner. There are plenty of child activity professionals out there who do great jobs of keeping them entertained, and not for a lot of money.
Any child under four is more than likely going to be running around the place during the service, let it happen. It's really stressful for a child to be told to be quiet and sit down. To their little minds, this an ideal opportunity to perform. Their perception of the world is completely different to ours, and it's a wonderful thing and should be embraced. My advice would to just let them get on with it.
Another factor you'll need to consider if you have children of your own is, who are you nominating to help out? Mum is likely to be involved with the bridal party photos, so they're a good resource, just make sure they have everything they need for the day, such as treats (that don't spill or stick to anything), spare clothes, coats, toys etc. A photographer will do their best to include them in pictures (again, this isn't about me), but again, don't expect too much from your child, as they're highly stressed and do play up, especially if they're warm and tired.
So there you have it, those are my top 5 tips that I would say will really help you out. If you have any tips you'd like to share, or wish to add comment to on mine, please let me know on the blog page, I'd really like to read them, and other's will surely benefit from your own experiences!