Everyone has their five cents of advice to offer the bride and groom-to-be and it's not unusual to get completely overwhelmed with all of the suggestions and options available to you.
My aim here is to give you some information to help you plan and organise your wedding AND maintain your sanity. When it arrives, your wedding day will fly-by in a busy blur of activity. The key to really enjoying the day is to have it organised in a way that allows you both time to relax and experience the atmosphere of the occasion and surround yourself in the love and well-wishes of your friends and family.
This section is quite long - but certainly worth a read. Here's what I cover:
Choosing a date
Most people will choose their wedding date based on when they can get time away from work and when their preferred venues and service providers are available. A couple of other things you should keep in mind when making this decision include the weather at that particular time of year, sunrise/sunset times, and whether the date clashes with other special events.
Hot or cold?
If you're planning on getting married on the beach and wearing a strapless gown, getting married in cold and windy August might not be the best idea. Likewise, if you're planning on wearing a heavy gown with long sleeves and the guys are going to be wearing three-piece suits with long over-coats, getting married in mid-summer probably is not going to be comfortable for you or your guests. I've actually seen a groom faint while taking his vows because of the heat and dehydration. You can check the average temperature for your wedding date, as well as the historical maximum and minimum temperatures recorded, on the Bureau of Meterology website. It also allows you to check average rainfall and average levels of humidity.
Lighting is usually at its best for photos in the hour or so after sunrise of before sunset. The worst time for outdoor photography is usually between 10am and 2pm, because the light is so strong and harsh. You can calculate the sunrise and sunset times for your wedding date at the Geoscience Australia website. This website does a very accurate calculation based on the latitude and longitude of your location. You can get the latitude and longitude by entering your nearest city or town into the first section of the page (called the National Gazetteer of Australia). Once you've got the numbers, scroll down and enter them into the second section, along with date and time of your event. Sunset times get progressively later from June 21 (the shortest day of the year) until December 21 (the longest day of the year). A later sunset will give you more time to get photos after your ceremony, depending on when your ceremony started and when your reception begins.
Clashes with other events
Don't forget to check what other big events are scheduled to be held on your possible wedding date. For example, is it the AFL or NRL grand-final day? If so, you might have a lot of people looking around the reception venue for a TV screen. Some events might also mean increased traffic congestion in your area (think about the Gold Coast Grand Prix or Noosa Triathlon) making it difficult for people to get from venue-to-venue on time, or you might find that local beach where you planned to have your photo shoot is chocker-block with people watching a surf lifesaving carnival. You might also find that some of your guests won't be able to attend if your wedding is held on a religious holiday (eg Good Friday) or other important national holidays (like Anzac Day). So, once you've narrowed down a couple of dates, check your local council website for events and holidays in your area that could mean you've got a clash.
Friday I'm in love
While the majority of weddings still take place on Saturdays, it is now very common for people to get married on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays. You'll sometimes find venues and other service providers will offer you a discount if your wedding is booked on a non-peak day - so it's worth asking the question when you meet with them to discuss your needs. And while saving money is great, there's a few other things you should keep in mind when booking a non-Saturday wedding. For example, will your friends and family be able to get a day off work if you have your wedding on a Friday or Monday? Or if you have the wedding on a Sunday, are people going to have to leave early and be careful about how many drinks they have - potentially putting a dampener on your celebrations - because they've got to go to work the next day? You'll need to weigh-up the pros and cons before locking in your date.
When to start the ceremony and reception
Most weddings still kick-off around 3pm - and with good reason: it gives the bride and bridal party ample time to have a bit of a sleep in, get their hair and make-up done, get dressed and have photos without worrying about the clock. In setting your ceremony start time, you need to think about the length of your ceremony and the sunset time for your wedding date. If you're getting married in June and the sun is going to set at 5.15pm, a 3pm wedding probably won't leave you with much time to greet your guests after the ceremony, have your family photos and then head to the location shoot. But if you're getting married in January, when the sun usually sets around 7pm, you'll have plenty of time between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception and you won't be rushing or racing the light.
A morning wedding
I've been to a wedding that started at 9am. As a guest, it was great. When we arrived at the church there was still dew on the lawn and the place was filled with soft morning light. The reception was a champange brunch, held in a beautiful heritage-listed hall next to the church. It was a gorgeous and memorable wedding and the photos, taken in the surrounds of the church, were fantastic.
But for the bride and bridal party, getting to the church by 9am meant they had to start having their hair and make-up done at 5am, which meant they were up and out of bed by 4am - ouch! My words of advice - brides need their beauty sleep. You don't want dark circles or tired bleary eyes, and you certainly don't want to be yawning when you say your vows.
A lunch-time wedding
Starting the ceremony at around 11am, with a reception lunch following at around 1pm, is another option. This scenario gives you - and your guests - a little more time for shut-eye and getting ready. The only negative here is the light for your photos. The light is harshest between 10am and 2pm, which is exactly when you'd be having the majority of your photos taken. Now, you can work around the light by choosing shooting locations that offer different lighting opportunities - shaded areas, old buildings with large verandahs, covered courtyards, indoor/outdoor options etc. A good photographer will also have the know-how to work around the light. But it is just worth remembering that the most beautiful light is usually in the hour before sunset. An option here would be to schedule your photo shoot for after a lunch-time reception. But remember, your dress, hair and make-up could be looking a bit worse for wear after you've kicked your heels up at the reception.
Working out start times and your running sheet
When you're working out your ceremony and reception start times and your running sheet for the day you need to think about:
Getting to the church on time
My first piece of advice is simple - allow yourself enough time so you don't have to rush. This is your wedding day; it should be a day where you can relax, be pampered and enjoy the company of your friends and family. That means allocating enough time for you to get out of bed at a reasonable hour (it's going to be a long day!) and enough time for you, and each member of the bridal party, to get their hair and make-up done. When you're booking your hair-stylist and make-up artist, ask them how much time they usually need with each member of the bridal party. You should also check whether your mum, grandma or sisters want to get their hair and make-up professionally done as well and factor that into your schedule.
Salon or mobile hair and make-up service?
You'll also need to decide whether you go to a local salon or have a specialist mobile wedding hairdresser and make-up artist come to you. If you are going to salon, make sure you include travel time to and from the salon in your schedule. You should also ask how many hairdressers will be attending to your bridal party, whether they have any other clients they'll be looking after at the same time and how long they expect it will take. In my experience, it's probably better if you can organise for mobile hair and make-up specialists to come to your home. It means you don't have to travel anywhere, you have the full attention of the experts and you can kick back and relax with a glass of champers. If you have a big bridal party or a lot of people wanting to get the expert touch, ask your hair and make-up artists if they work alone, or have other members of their team who could come and assist on the day. It's a good idea for the bride to have her hair and make-up done first so she can finish getting ready and be available for photos on her own while the other members of the bridal party are attended to.
Eat, drink, be merry!
Put a bit of thought and planning into the mood you want to create on the morning of your wedding day. Do you want it to be fun and up beat? Or sentimental and romantic? Here's a couple of ideas you might like to try:
I'll be snapping photos as you and your bridal party get ready, capturing the little moments you share together and the big moments, like when you put on your gown or veil for the first time. A lot of these photos will be taken documentary- style, recording events as they unfold. I'll also be taking detail shots during the morning - of your jewellery, dress, shoes, flowers and the invitation. These are all things you've put so much effort into planning and choosing, so it's important to record them all in a beautiful way for you to remember when the day is over.
As I mentioned earlier, it's a good idea if the bride can get her hair and make-up done first; that way I can do some more directed photos with her on her own while the rest of the bridal party is being pampered. This is the time when more personal photos of the bride can be taken. Once everyone in the bridal party is ready, the formal pre-ceremony photo shoot can get underway. You'll need to allocate about an hour for these photos.
Whether you're hiring a prestige vehicle or borrowing cars from friends and family, it's important to plan how everyone in the bridal party is getting to the ceremony. While it's traditional for the bride to travel in one car with her father, she might also want hermaid/matron of honour to travel in the car with you. Alternatively, you might want the bride and all of the bridesmaids to travel with her in one car. Whatever you decide, make sure you work it out and let everyone know which car they will be in, who they'll be with and who will be driving. You will also need to plan how the bridal party will get from the ceremony to the location photo shoot and then on to the reception venue.
You should also check the parking situation at your ceremony venue. If finding a parking spot is going to be an issue, get someone to rope-off (or put witches-hats around) the three or four car parks required for the bridal party's vehicles. This is particularly important if you're getting married at a beach or local park; you might need to check with the council to see if any parking restrictions exist and whether you need a permit to park.
Brides - when you arrive at the ceremony venue, it's important to stay in the car until I've snapped that all-important photo of you arriving, and then looking out the car window. We'll then grab photos of you getting out of the car and getting ready to walk down the aisle.
After the ceremony
You'll need to allow time after the ceremony to greet your guests and have a quick catch-up with friends and family, before getting your family photos taken. It's good to have a list of the photos you want taken and to give one other member of your family the job of getting family members organised for the shoot. If you can get through the photos fairly quickly you'll have more time to spend doing the location shoot with the bridal party. Usually you should expect to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour after the ceremony greeting guests and taking family photos.
Guest entertainment while your away at the photo shoot
Don't forget to put some thought into what your guests will do to pass the time while you and the bridal party are away at the photo shoot. The most ideal scenario is for your guests to be served drinks and canapes at the ceremony or reception venue while you're away. If that's not possible because of budget or other considerations, you could include a note in your order of service booklets suggesting guests take the time to check out the local sites or enjoy a coffee with friends and family while your having your photos taken. Make sure you include information about when the reception will officially begin.
The photo shoot
The post-ceremony photo shoot with the bridal party will take between one to two hours. The timing depends on how many locations we visit for the shoot and how far we need to travel between your ceremony and reception venues and those locations. I usually recommend having photos taken at a location that offers a number of different opportunities for your photos, so you have more images to choose from and variety in your album. If your ceremony was held at a particularly beautiful spot, you might want to have some additional photos taken there with your bridal party. We can discuss options for the location photo shoot once you have booked your venues. If I haven't shot at your venues before, I will go and visit them before the wedding to scope out the light and identify photo opportunities for your big day.
Your photo shoot should be a fun experience and something you remember fondly from your wedding day. I always encourage couples and the members of their bridal party to relax and have fun at the shoot and enjoy this time special time together.
By the time we get to the photo shoot location you'll probably be starving and dying for something to drink. I always pack a small esky with some drinks and snacks for the bridal party to enjoy on the shoot. As well as a bottle of bubbly, I always bring a few bottles of water and sports drinks so you can rehydrate before heading to your reception.
Choosing your venues
There are so many things you have to consider when choosing your venues; cost is just one of them! You might want to choose a particular church for sentimental reasons, like the fact that your grandparents or parents were married there. Or you might want to choose the beach or park where you became engaged. You have to think about how many people a venue can hold, whether you can use the priest/minister/celebrant of your choice, and what music you're allowed to play (some churches only allow religious music).
But one thing you should also keep in mind is the travelling distance/time between the ceremony and reception venues. Unless you want to spend a big chunk of your wedding day driving around in a car, you're better off choosing venues that are relatively close together. It also means you'll have more time to spend with your guests and will give you more time for your photos before the sun sets. Doing a lot of driving increases the risks of things going wrong - cars running out of fuel, accidents, break-downs and flat tyres! And then there's traffic congestion, road rage, getting lost or getting busted for speeding - none of which you want to deal with on your wedding day. So the less travelling the better!
Church, beach or park?
From a photography point of view, all three offer fantastic visual opportunities. Of course, the downside to anything in the great outdoors is the unpredictability of the weather. A wet, cold or windy day will make things fairly unpleasant at the beach or in a park. I guess that's one of the big benefits of a church wedding - you're guaranteed to have a roof over your head and a few spots for interesting photos if it's bucketing down outside. If you do take the punt, make sure you have a practical wet weather plan ready to go. Try to pick somewhere that will still be beautiful and special to you both.
Here's a few of my favourite churches in the greater Brisbane region:
Sandgate Baptist Church
St Matthew's Anglican Church, Mitchelton
St Mary's Anglican Church, Montville
St Albertus Chapel, Maleny
St Mary's, Kangaroo Point
The Broadway Chapel, Woolloongabba
Graceville Uniting Church (click here for photo)
All Saints, Wickham Terrace
LaTrobe Chapel, Paddington