How To Plan A Wedding (The Simple Way)

Wedding Planning Tips from a Photographer

There are two ways to plan a wedding: the way a photographer would plan it, and the way everybody else would plan it.


The difference is that photographers see in terms of how it will look in pictures, and most everybody else make things that look good in person.  Unfortunately, not all things that look good in person look good in photos. So, that's why I've created a wedding planning list to outline the best way to plan a wedding if you want to make sure it's photogenic.

So, without further delay, here is Mayan Photography's Ultimate all-in-one-place Wedding Planning Tips and Checklist

Step 1. Create Your Guest List

This is the very first step because you can't really pick a venue until you know approximately how many people you are going to invite. There are so many different types of venues you could consider, not just for your ceremony, but also for your reception and for your formal photos. Many of these will have completely different maximum capacities. For example, maybe you want to get married in a large church and have your formal photos in a park, so there is a lot of space for everyone. Then you find a rooftop penthouse in a high-end hotel that is the perfect style and atmosphere for your reception, but they only have capacity for 60 guests. Rather than look into a bunch of places that won't work out, start with the guest list and then you'll know what venues will work for the size of your wedding.

Considerations when creating your guest list:

  • who do you absolutely need to have at your wedding no matter what?
  • who do you NOT want at your wedding? (Ex-es, business acquaintances etc.)
  • who do you have to invite, that you don't really want to? (like immediate family that you're not really close to, but your parents are)
  • how many people can you afford? (feeding all these people is the most expensive part of your day)
  • do you want to allow single guests to invite a date?
  • are you going to invite children?

  Ok, add 'em up and see what your approximate guest list count is.


Step 2. Create A Budget

A couple of suggestions: don't go into huge debt over this. Budget only what you can afford now or can afford to pay off fully in 6 months. If you're lucky enough to have someone else pay (like your parents), then stick within whatever budget they have offered to help you out with. You want to start your marriage on a good foot, not in debt or with your mother-in-law mad at you for splurging way over budget.

  • Who pays for what?
    Traditionally, the groom's family paid for the marriage license, the bride's rings, the groom's outfit, the bride's bouquet and corsages and the honeymoon while the bride's family paid for everything else. Nowadays, most families pay for what they are comfortable with and the bride and groom also may pay for some or all of their wedding.
  • How much should things cost?
  • Favors: 1 %
    Transportation: 2 %
    Cake: 2 %
    Ceremony music: 2 %
    Invitations: 2 %
    Hair/makeup: 2 %
    Grooms suit: 3 %
    Reception music: 4 %
    Videography: 5 %
    Dress: 5 %
    Rehearsal dinner: 6 %
    Flowers: 6 %
    Photography: 8 %
    Rings: 8 %
    Reception (site, food, drink):
    42 %
    Buffer: (if you can) 2-10 %

Step 3. Set Your Date and Location

The busiest wedding months are May and June followed by July, August and September. Saturdays are the busiest day of the week, followed by Sunday and Friday (and holidays). If you have the flexibility for a weekday wedding, you usually can save money with many of your vendors.  Also, choosing a slower month can sometimes cut costs too.

Considerations for locations:

  • church, restaurant, hotel, home, outdoor/indoor or destination?
  • Your wedding venue is one of the decisions that will most affect the look of your photographs. Choose a location with plenty of light and plenty of space.  Big windows are best, as natural light is more flattering than overhead fluorescent lighting. (For a COMPLETE guidebook on how to plan a photogenic wedding, including how to pick the best location, check out my eBook.
  • Send out Save the date cards, followed by invitations once you have all your details planned

Step 4. Plan Your Ceremony

Seating - Traditionally, there was a “bride's side” and “groom's side” when it came to seating the guests. If you have a fairly even split of guests you might want to do this for tradition's sake. If you have way more guests on one side than the other it might be better to allow people to sit where ever they like so the seats get filled up more evenly. Photos will look more balanced if you have the seats evenly filled.

The parts of a ceremony you might want to think about:

  • Wedding processional or entrance of the bride and groom, and wedding party. (Do you want music as you walk down the aisle? Is someone going to “give you away”?)
  • The “service”  - Literature, poetry, or religious wedding readings
  • Wedding Vows  (will you write your own?)
  • Exchange of wedding rings or gifts
  • Unity ceremony (unity candle, sand ceremony or other ceremony)
  • Attendants or witnesses to sign the wedding certificate, or marriage license (who will you ask?)
  • A blessing, benediction, community commitment to support the marriage, and/or officiant's sanction of the marriage
  • A first kiss as a married couple
  • Announcement of “May I present Mr. and Mrs. ___ )
  • A recessional (the wedding couple and wedding party exit)

During your ceremony, make sure you relax and breathe! Try not to rush things as this will make it hard for your photographer to capture the moments. Keep your eyes up, not down at the floor and always smile. This will help you look your best in your photos.

Step 5. Find a photographer and videographer

You want to do this early because many good photographers and videographers get booked 6 months to a year in advance.

Considerations when looking for a photographer:

  • What kind of photographer are they?
    A more traditional photographer will shoot mostly posed and formal photos. These are the ones that tend to provide prints and proofbooks. They also might be shooting film and may have many years experience shooting weddings. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the documentary style photographers. They will shoot mostly candid photos of you throughout the day, rarely (if ever) interrupting you and telling you to look at the camera. The look and feel of the images you will get from them is very different than with traditional photographers. These  photographers will likely shoot digitally and may be newer in the business.
  • Do you like their work and their personality?
    You should ask to see an entire wedding album from one wedding. If they have one, it is a better indication of the type of work they do than a portfolio with only a few photos from several different weddings.  Do you feel comfortable asking them questions? You should not feel uneasy around them because they are probably going to be with you all day!
  • Do they offer the services you are looking for (and are they within your budget)?
    Some photographers offer prints and albums while other will burn the images onto a Cd for you. Make sure you find someone that delivers the final images in the way you want to receive them. Also, find out if they charge extra to give you the Cd or if its included in the package.

Step 6. Plan Your Reception

Receptions come in all shapes and sizes. Big and lavish to small and quaint. This will be your largest expense of your entire wedding, likely costing nearly half your entire budget.

Considerations when planning your reception:

  • What type of meal with you serve? A sit-down served meal is the most expensive, followed by a buffet style dinner. The least expensive is a standing reception serving appetizers only or a lunch reception.  Another option is to have your reception in a restaurant instead of at a wedding venue. This is usually cheaper than renting a space and hiring caterers.
  • Plan the Party! Will you have music and dancing?
    What about a first dance? Are you good dancers, or might you want to take a few dance lessons so you can wow your family and friends with your first dance?
    Three ways to get music to your wedding are: hire a DJ, hire a live band or rent speakers and get a tech saavy friend to do it themselves with their own music collection.
  • To Serve or Not To Serve - Do you want alcohol at your wedding? Who is paying for it, you or your guests?
    Some common options are: give each person a certain number of drink tickets, have an open bar (you front the bill) or have a cash bar (your guests pay for their own drinks)

Step 7. Making Your Wedding Picture Perfect

Now you've covered all the nitty-gritty, it's time to plan the fun stuff! This is when your choices most affect the look of your photos.

Picking your colors:

  • Colors that look best in pictures are either bright and bold, or soft and muted but not both. The exception is with white. It will look good with bold or subdued colors. When choosing a color palette the colors should look good in real life too. Colors that closely match your skin tone should be avoided, such as pale peach or pale pink for Caucasians and browns and tans for darker skinned people. They can make you look washed out in the photos.

Choosing your dress:

  • Think about your dress in terms of what you will see in head and shoulders photos, not just in full length photos. The top part is very important, and if it is a strapless dress with a low neckline, you may not even see it in the photos. Different dresslines and silhouettes fit different body types. There are many resources for finding your perfect dressline on the web.

Flowers and arrangements:

  • In-season flowers will be cheaper as will going to a grocer rather than a florist. This can be a little risky though if you really want to have a certain type of  flowers that may not be in stock on your wedding day. All flowers can look beautiful in your photos, so the main thing to consider is the color and how they look with the rest of your color theme.

Make-up and Hair:

  • Good make-up is extremely important. If you have too much make up on, it can look aweful in the photos and is harder to “Photoshop” out than if you had no make up at all. If you have blemishes, it's much easier (less time consuming, less expensive) to cover them well with the right make up than to get your photographer to remove them afterwards in the photos.

Selecting Your Cake:

  • Will you have a cake, cupcakes or a variety of desserts? You could also have a small cake that is for display and cutting, and a large undecorated cake to serve the guests. This cuts costs, while still allowing for you to have a beautifully decorated cake for the photos.

Once you decide on all the little details of your day, you need to arrange where to put them!

This is the crucial last step that most people miss. Placement of everything is the key ingredient to making “pretty” into “photogenic”  otherwise all your efforts could be wasted.

Find out more here: Planning a Picture-Perfect Wedding

Happy Wedding Planning!






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