Wedding Planning Advice From Real Brides

Bride talks to guests at her wedding reception in Toledo, Ohio.

With just a few weeks until the official start of wedding season, we are diving into wedding plans with our couples. One of my favorite parts of my job is helping our couples enjoy their wedding day as much as possible, and since I’ve been to literally hundreds of weddings, I’ve come to consider myself somewhat of an expert on the matter. One of the most important parts of being a wedding photographer is getting to know each of our couples on an individual, personal level. We build a relationship, a friendship. We don’t shy away from telling brides when it’s ok to be selfish,  and are happy to offer advice on putting together a stress-free wedding day timeline (whether you want to do a first look or not - but more on that later).

This year, as I have been helping couples plan the big day, I thought: who would know better than someone who JUST got married?

So I reached out to a few of our amazing brides & grooms from 2016 to see what they had to say. Shout out to Kristine, Korrin, Ashley & Brenna for being so helpful! I’ll step back and let these newlyweds offer their advice for squeezing every ounce of enjoyment out of your wedding day!

Click on image to view Kristine's wedding blog!

Click on image to view Kristine's wedding blog!

Click on image to view Korrin's wedding blog!

Click on image to view Korrin's wedding blog!

Click on image to view Ashley's wedding blog!

Click on image to view Ashley's wedding blog!

Click on image to view Brenna's wedding blog!

Click on image to view Brenna's wedding blog!

Should we do a first look or opt for the traditional timeline?

Korrin & Ashley both opted for the first look:

“They were both 'special moments' in their own right. We enjoyed the quiet conversation, and spending a few minutes 'alone' [during the first look]. It kind of took a lot of nerves out of the rest of the day, and walking down the aisle was still a special moment.” (Korrin)
“[Doing a first look] didn't change my feelings at all. Walking down the aisle still felt amazing.  It was like Drew and I got to share it together and then we shared it with all of our guests.” (Ashley)

Kristine & Brenna chose to wait until the ceremony to see their soon-to-be husbands:

“The timeline was a little bit tricky because we wanted to stay hidden but we were taking bridesmaid and groomsmen photos before the wedding in and around the same building. Diana and Brooks really were the key to making sure we didn't see each other because they knew where each party was at all times.” (Kristine)
“I loved the butterflies I felt in my stomach right before I walked down the aisle to see my new husband to be!!” (Brenna)

The bottom line: Choosing to do a first look or not is an extremely personal decision. Doing a first look frees up time between the ceremony and the reception and makes for a more relaxed timeline since you’ll be done with most of your photos already, especially if your ceremony and reception are in one location. Waiting until the ceremony works better if you have your ceremony and reception in different locations, as well as time and budget to include a cocktail hour for your guests, and if you don’t mind having your ceremony earlier so you have plenty of time to take photos with your new spouse after the ceremony. Talk with your betrothed about what aspects of the day - such as having a flexible timeline, sticking with tradition, or having both the ceremony and reception at one venue - are the most important for you, and make your decision from there.

Bride and groom first look in Sandusky, Ohio.
Bride and groom holding hands before their wedding at The Stables in Whitehouse, Ohio.
Bride and groom having their first look before their wedding ceremony.
Bride and groom see each other for the first time during their wedding ceremony in Toledo, Ohio.

DIY or Buy?

Let’s face it, some people are just born to DIY. Sometimes it’s just easier to put it all in someone else’s hands! Kristine & Brenna did a great job at creating centerpieces and decor for themselves.

"The benefits of creating our own centerpieces and ceremony backdrop was the money we saved and the fun we had drinking all that wine. Everyone wanted to help provide wine bottles. The downfalls were making sure everything looked nice once it all came together since we didn't really see the final product until very close to the wedding." (Kristine)
"I personally liked doing the projects because I felt like it gave me an outlet to reduce my stress & anxiety for the wedding. I felt more in control of the day knowing that certain things would look the way I wanted them to look since I was doing them." (Brenna)

The bottom line: Before you embark on any DIY adventures, ask yourself these questions: am I naturally crafty? Do the cost of materials and time I would put in outweigh the cost of purchasing this? Will I be upset or stressed out if the project doesn't turn out the way I want? This will help you get a better idea of small projects to include for a more personal touch, as well as what you can hire a professional to do in order to help keep your stress level in check.  But if the idea of DIYing scares the heck out of you, don’t stress yourself out by taking on projects that you can hire a professional to do! This will free up your time and energy and allow you to focus on other aspects of planning.

Wedding dress hangs on DIY ceremony backdrop in Toledo, Ohio.
Wine bottle centerpieces at Toledo, Ohio wedding.
DIY wedding centerpieces at a wedding in Toledo, Ohio.

If you could change anything about your wedding, what would it be?

“I would have cut a bigger piece of cake for my husband and I to eat. We only cut a small sliver out of the cake to share and by the time I went back to get myself a whole piece it was gone.” (Kristine)
“I think I would have started getting ready a little earlier with hair and make-up. I felt rushed as everyone was trying to eat before we left and get to the venue in time for pictures/first look.” (Ashley)

The bottom line: Make sure you add a couple of minutes of buffer time here and there in your timeline, especially if you have to travel from location to location. You might have to get up a little earlier, but you’ll be happy to have the extra breathing room! And my favorite tip - eat more cake :)

Toledo, Ohio wedding photography of bride and groom kissing.

How can I make sure I say hello to each guest without sacrificing my time on the dance floor?

"We had a receiving line right after the ceremony with just the two of us. We hugged and made contact with EVERY person that came to our wedding. It took a little longer for everyone to exit the ceremony site, but since it was outside the guests didn't seem to mind. Many people thanked us for doing this and we were also able to enjoy dinner and dancing knowing that we had already had the opportunity to see everyone." (Ashley)

The bottom line: It's important that you're able to interact with your guests so you can thank them for coming, and they can gush over how beautiful/handsome you look! If you're having a larger wedding and you are worried about seeing everyone personally at the reception, consider doing a receiving line to say a quick hello. Just make sure that you plan enough time, probably around 45 minutes, especially if you still have photos to do! You can even consider dropping in on the cocktail hour if you have time! If you have a smaller wedding, you will probably be able to see everyone at the reception without cutting into your dancing time. Personally, we had around 150 guests attend our wedding and felt that we were able to interact with everyone throughout the evening whether it was on the dance floor, in the photobooth, or grabbing a doughnut! No matter what you decide, just make sure to plan for it in that famous timeline we are always stressing :)

Bridal party stops at brewery in Sandusky, Ohio on wedding day.
Bride and groom talk to guest at their wedding.
Bride and groom walking through a park on their wedding day in Sandusky, Ohio.
Groom greeting guests after his wedding ceremony.
Bride and groom listen to speeches at their wedding reception.

Last but not least, here’s some advice for future brides & grooms!

"Realize that no matter what you do for your wedding day it will be perfect. Try not to compete with other couples to try & make your wedding more lavish or expensive than the next person. Plan a wedding that is suitable for your budget, your taste & what you two want. Don't listen to others if you don't like what they think your wedding should be like. Remember that it is your first day as a married couple and it should be special for the two of you!" (Brenna)
"Have fun! This is a once in a lifetime experience and probably the last big party you will throw that is all about the two of you. Make it a fun and memorable experience. You will have stress but make sure at the end of it all you really take the time to enjoy the day you so thoughtfully planned." (Kristine)

"Have fun with the planning and enjoy every moment of the wedding process. Make your wedding about you and the things you need and want. Everything will go by so fast so live in the moment and take it all in!

At your reception take a look around at everyone. It is an amazing experience to see so many people that you care about in one room.

Right after your ceremony sneak away from everyone and take a few minutes to just hug and enjoy each other. The first few moments of being married are exhilarating!
If it isn't done before the day of there isn't anything you can do about it, so why worry about it? You will regret worrying the entire day if you do. Let it go. Relax." (Ashley)

"The only thing that your guests care about are good food, good drinks, and good music.

The only thing you will care about is looking your best, living in the moment, and getting great pictures". (Korrin)
Bride and groom portrait on their wedding day in Whitehouse, Ohio at The Stables.
Couple walking through Toledo on their wedding day.

So remember, take time to enjoy the day. Plan ahead to ensure that you will not be rushed and be sure to take it all in! Last but not least don’t skimp out on your dinner and cake! Thanks, again, to the awesome ladies that helped me with this blog! Ashley, Kristine, Korrin & Brenna are the best. We are always looking and listening for new words of wisdom, so if you have a thing or two to help future couples in wedding planning, comment below!