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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Photographer's Top 10 Wedding Planning Tips | Maris Ehlers Photography

For many, planning a wedding can be a very daunting task.  All of the joy, excitement and anticipation can often be overshadowed by the complex puzzle that wedding planning can be.  

I've been shooting weddings of all shapes and sizes here in the Twin Cities for over five years, and have pretty much seen it all, and we've learned a lot along the way. 

Here are our top ten wedding planning tips from a photographer's point of view: 

10.  First step - create a budget.  Simply put, your budget dictates everything. The venue, number of guests, the vendors you choose, and the level of detail you can plan.  The risk in not sitting down with your fiance and any other financially responsible parties (i.e. parents), is that you will start to research, plan and window shop and fall in love with ideas you can't afford.  This leads to frustration and disappointment, so our advice:  Don't go there.  According to The Wedding Report, the average cost of weddings in 2011 was down 3.4% from 2010.  That seems like great news, until you realize that the average cost in 2011 was still a whopping $25,631.  A big part of creating your budget is understanding how you will be financing it.  Hopefully you will be paying for it with money that has already been set aside.  Please do not borrow money that has an interest rate attached to it to pay for your wedding.  You are financing your future, and it is such a bad idea.  Modify, delay, get a second job if you must, but do NOT go into debt for one day of your life.  

9.  The second thing I tell my clients to do is to prioritize the various aspects of your wedding. This may seem silly at first, but it really is a valuable step.  Here's why:  If, for example, you believe that your wedding photography is one of the most important aspects of your day (and oh, by the way, we tend to agree with you on that one), then you might allocate more funds to this bucket than say someone else who thinks that any old picture will do.  One of the best rejections I ever got from a bride was after we had chatted several times.  Unexpectedly, she came back and said "Look.  I don't mean to be rude or anything, but when I really sit and think about it, I don't care that much about the photography.  It's just not my thing, and so I'm going to go with a much cheaper photographer."  I was thrilled that we didn't end up working together.  I had no idea that was how she felt about this portion of her wedding day, and we would not have been a good fit.  So kudos to her for being really honest with herself and with me.  I do, however, wonder if after the wedding if she still felt the same way.


8.  Once you've prioritized your wedding day activities, you should start to allocate "buckets" of what can be spent in each category based on your overall budget.  Only then are you really ready to start to search out various vendors.   Here's how this step works:   Say you want to invite 200 people, and you want to host the reception at a swanky downtown location with an open bar before dinner.  Your overall budget is $16,000.  By the estimated averages in the report listed above, you'd be spending approximately $12,790 for your reception, and that's an "average" cost.  Certainly not a swanky one.  So, unless you can get everything else for $3,000 (including rings, dress, photography, flowers, etc), it doesn't work.  This prioritization can help you realize the need to do one of two things:  

A.  Modify your expectations and keep your budget intact, or 
B.  Increase your budget.  

If you cannot or do not want to do B, then you need to revisit A.

7.  With your allocated budget in hand, it is time to start interviewing vendors.  This may come as a surprise to you, but I recommend starting to look at your major vendors before finalizing a date, especially when it comes to venues.  If you know without a doubt that you want to have your reception at a specific location, then find out their availability before you commit to a date.  If, on the other hand, the date is the most important, then realize that you may have to be more than flexible when it comes to finalizing a venue.  After you you finalize your ceremony and reception venue, typically the next vendor is your photographer.  We typically book out 9-18 months, so it's good to get moving on making your selections, especially if you are choosy about who you use.  After photography typically comes florists, and then you can breathe in a huge sigh of relief, because the other vendors (other than musicians if you are hiring them), aren't so dependent upon availability for a specific date.  

Other tips for choosing vendors:  When you do your research, whether it be online or at a bridal fair, for example, know what your budget range is and select a final list of vendors for each category based on services that meet your criteria.  We recommend 3 per category.  If you like what you see and feel you can make selection amongst your choices, prepare a list of questions and reach out to them.  If you don't like the caliber of vendor for the price point you have set aside, see #8 above.  

6.  This tip goes along with choosing your major vendors, and that is selecting a style for your wedding day.  One way I recommend that clients do this is to sit down and create a list of words that describe how they imagine their wedding day, or how they want it to look and feel.  An example list might look like this: 


Don't worry if the words on the list don't match up well or contradict each other.  That's not the point.  The point is to start to articulate what you want your wedding to feel and look like, and yes, you can have a rustic and yet lush wedding reception.  Once you have a list that conveys the tone, this will help you choose the appropriate venues and major vendors that are a great match with your new-found sense of style. 

5.   Pick a theme, any theme!  For some reason I just had to write that.  Seriously though, you should pick a theme, and no, I don't mean like you would for a children's birthday party.  Your theme should at a minimum tie into one or more of the words on your list above, but can be more specific as well.  A theme is great because it will help you be consistent in your planning, and can serve as a filter to help you stay focused when you see all sorts of random goodies and "must haves".  If your theme, for example, is rustic, and you found these really fun over the top frilly centerpieces, something probably isn't going to look quite right.  Now, normally, I'm all for breaking the rules, and that applies here, too.  If it's something you really, really love, go ahead and use it.  But keep that rule-breaking for a few special things, not everything on your list! 

4.  COLORS not COLOR.  As a photographer, this is a really important one.  For several years we have been encouraging our clients to pick a palette of colors instead of just one wedding color.  A color palette will give your day a completed look, versus turning the reception hall into a sea of lavender.  Your color palette should be created around your focal color, and should include a neutral shade (ivory, or another light tone, for example), an accent color that plays off of your main color, as well as some shade of green (to represent your florals, etc).  I recommend going to a paint store and creating your palette out of paint chips!  Then paste the chips on card stock and give to your various vendors.  The great thing here is that your vendors will respond with more creativity and innovative ideas for you when they know they have a variety of shades / hues to work with.  

My last few tips are random ones that we have decided are important, for a variety of reasons: 

3.  Personal attendants. Most of our weddings have personal attendants, and to be honest, many fall short of living up to what is expected of them (at least from our point of view).   Picking a friend that didn't "make" the bridesmaid list is not the best way to go about this selection, ladies.  You want to pick  someone that is good under pressure, thinks of everything and knows how to get the job done.  She should be able to handle anything from a ripped dress to an uncooperative groomsmen (and yes, they do exist). A delightful person to consider for this significant responsibility is one of your mother's best friends, not yours.   In the weddings we've photographed where a friend of the MOB was the personal attendant, things got done.  Emergencies were handled, people were corralled, and they just understood what they needed to do and how to do it, often without being asked. Plus, the mother of the bride AND the bride can relax knowing that this person is more than capable of the job, and sees it as such.  

2.  Toasts - encourage your toast givers to keep their speeches to a certain amount of time.  I have witnessed more than one awkward reception where the speech giver just kept going, going and going, well after the eyes of the guests and wedding party had glazed over and boredom had set in.  Toasts should be witty, a tad bit emotional or sentimental, encouraging and uplifting.  A great quote is always a wonderful way to start, but please don't get lost in stories about partying in college or reminiscing about her many boyfriends before "the one".  That falls into the category of TMI (too much information).  

1.  At the end of the day, your guests won't remember as much about your wedding day as you think they will, but they will remember how you made them feel. Decide early on who your wedding is for.  Is it for you, for your guests, or both?  Remember that your guests are giving you a large part of their day because they care for you and want to celebrate this milestone with you, so keep that in mind as you plan the festivities.  Top things to consider for your guests are:  comfort (this includes facilities, seating and not making them wait hours for food), entertainment, and of course, the ability to connect with you during the day so that you can thank them personally for coming and they can share their good wishes with you!  

Maris Ehlers is the owner of Maris Ehlers Photography, and has been photographing families in the Twin Cities for well over ten years.  Known for her intimate style, Maris believes that creating meaningful connections and relationships with her clients, and telling their stories through imagery is really at the heart of what she does.  


event planner vancovuer said...

Planning a wedding is a big challenge, as well as a learning experience, for the couple, especially if they would like to have a dream wedding with financial freedom. The art of living well is the wisdom of smart wedding planning for financial freedom.

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Planning a wedding can be a very stressful task. It is great that there are information such as this that provide useful tips to make this task easier. Thanks for sharing.

wedding planning education said...

awesome photos ... such an adorable wedding dress. love it.Thanks for sharing all these blogs and phots are very useful to every one

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Foldable Flats by After Flats said...

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing these tips!

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