Tips to Achieve a Relaxed Wedding Day
I’ve been photographing weddings for the past few years and I’ve learned a lot after documenting 50+ celebrations of all kinds — from ultra-traditional banquet hall weddings, to completely unstructured barn weddings, to destination elopements, and everything in between. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but the weddings that speak to me the most are more relaxed celebrations, oftentimes taking place in a beautiful, natural setting with a select, intimate group of family and friends.
Why do these weddings inspire me? Simply because they are usually a product of a couple who has prioritized the things they value most and incorporated those elements into their day. They aren’t worried about abiding by the status quo and traditions that don’t resonate. This makes for a wedding day that is completely them, and a wedding day that they actually enjoy. There is nothing more inspiring to me as a photographer than getting to know my couples personally and seeing them completely in the moment and genuinely enjoying their wedding day.
As a particularly easy-going person who feels most at peace out in nature, this style of wedding speaks to me on a personal level. I’ve never been one to want all eyes on me, and when I think of my own wedding day, one thing I’m sure about is that I’m not at all interested in orchestrating an elaborate, stressful production where I’m the center of attention.
Despite a recent shift in wedding trends toward less traditional celebrations, I still encounter one too many couples who are stressed out during their wedding, feel like their day is appeasing their parents more than them, or don’t even have time for a drink at their own cocktail hour. If you’re wondering how to achieve a stress-free day that you will actually enjoy, keep reading.
ONE | Think outside the traditional wedding norms.
Don’t let anyone tell you how your day should go. If conventional wedding etiquette and formalities don’t speak to you, don’t feel obligated to incorporate them into your day. Don’t like cake? Have ice cream or pie or cookies instead. Love the outdoors? Skip the stuffy ballroom and tie the knot in a beautiful landscape. Not into formal sit-down dinners? Enlist your favorite food trucks to cater. There are so many opportunities during a wedding day to express your personalities and you should capitalize on them. Your day will quickly become a more meaningful, personal, and enjoyable (rather than stressful) experience! It’s your day. Make sure it feels like you. Here are some real-life ways I’ve seen couples make the day their own:
TYING THE KNOT AT A FAMILY HOME - Alyssa and Mick got married at Mick’s family’s vacation home in Three Lakes, WI where he spent summers growing up. The location was a place they naturally felt relaxed and unplugged, so it lent itself perfectly to a laid back day. So significant, sweet and meaningful.
NONTRADITIONAL / NO WEDDING PARTY - I’ve seen this happen in a variety of different ways, which is awesome because you can completely customize it to your preference. Skipping a wedding party altogether can seem like you aren’t making friends a priority, but Jenny and Sharad still made sure their friends were an integral part of the day. They got ready with their people, and many gave speeches during the ceremony or reception. They weren’t keen on a ton of staged photos (so they skipped them!), and they didn’t have to worry about forcing matching outfits upon their friends. This also opened up the timeline to allow complete enjoyment of the festivities. Win-win for all.
ps. your wedding party doesn’t have to be sex-specific, just saying!
FREEFORM CEREMONY - They had semblance of a plan, but free spirits Katherine + John went for a mostly unstructured day. Their ceremony stands out as one of the most emotional I witnessed, and I think that can be attributed to heartfelt, handwritten vows, a dedicated musical performance, and having their loved ones stand in a semi-circle around them as they committed their lives to each other. We stood under a covered patio as rain poured around us. Intimate and magical.
TWO | Limit your guest list.
This can understandably be a tricky one and you should make sure you do what feels right for you. As a born-and-raised Wisconsinite with a big family living in-state who might be offended when they don’t receive an invite, I totally get how it could be tough to keep the numbers low and the day feeling intimate. Consider different guest count ranges and how each would affect your budget, venue restrictions, and feel of the day. You may choose to have a destination wedding that would help filter out guests naturally, or you might limit your list to the extreme and elope with 10 of your closest family members and friends. Again, do what feels right for the two of you!
THREE | Timeline is key.
Planning ahead is crucial, so this may be the most important aspect to a having a relaxed, stress-free wedding day which is why I usually play an integral role in helping create timelines for my couples. Aside from having an organized and logical schedule with plenty of buffer time built in (I’m Type A, can you tell?), there are a few options that you should strongly consider to help your day go smoothly and give you time to ENJOY your wedding:
FIRST LOOK - 100% RECOMMEND, ALWAYS. A first look is a time for the couple to see each other prior to the ceremony. It’s traditionally treated as a “reveal” after the couple is dressed and ready, but definitely doesn’t have to be staged if that’s not your style. First looks are the best because they give couples a chance for a moment alone before the chaos begins. And yes, they are usually still very emotional despite not taking place when you’re walking down the aisle. First looks are crucial if you want to take photos before the ceremony. If you get all or most photos done prior to the ceremony, you’re freed up the rest of the day to enjoy your company.
FAMILY PHOTOS - Keep ‘em short and sweet. I would never deny that these are important photos to have, but they don’t have to take up more than 30 minutes. I recommend only doing 10-20 photo groupings that involve mostly immediate family so that we can fly through this part of the day that doesn’t ever seem to be a favorite for anyone.
SKIP THE TRADITIONS: Yes, going to say it again! Anything that doesn’t suit you, skip it. Some typical timeline components that I’ve seen couples go without: receiving lines, bouquet/garter tosses, grand marches, wedding party photos, etc. I recommend skipping literally anything and everything that you couldn’t care less about to give you and your guests more time to mingle, celebrate, and revel in your day!
FOUR | Spend your day together!
Seems simple enough, right? What I’ve noticed about every single wedding day I’ve photographed is that the period of time before a couple sees each other for the first time on the wedding day is the most stressful. As soon as their eyes meet, all of that stress goes away. Sure, it might seem romantic to see each other for the first time when you’re walking down the aisle, but if your ceremony isn’t until the late afternoon (as many are) you realistically will spend most of the day apart and possibly feeling a bit anxious. A wedding is a commemoration of your relationship, so it only makes sense to spend it together. If you want that anticipation and to see each other for the first time in front of all of your guests, by all means, go for it. If you want to spend as much time as possible together, then incorporate a first look (still so special and exciting) or even consider getting ready together (so sweet). Regardless of how you do it, do it for you.
FIRST LOOK - for all the reasons mentioned above.
GET READY TOGETHER - I’m just WAITING for one of my couples to do this. I think it would be the cutest thing ever and so intimate. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than a slow morning at home, so why not start your wedding day off this way? Get the coffee brewing, put a record on, do a little yoga (or whatever floats your boat) and ease into what will surely be one of the most memorable days of your life together.
SNEAK AWAY AT SUNSET - Take 15-20 minutes out of your evening when the light gets nice and golden (weather pending, of course) to have a moment away from the craziness. Its two-fold: time alone together to take it all in, and a few extra photos of the two of you.
FIVE | Get outside.
So this very well might be my own personal preference, but I truly believe that an outdoor ceremony/venue/cocktail hour/reception/everything gives a laid back vibe to the whole day. If you ask me, more time outside = more chill wedding. It obviously takes a certain type of couple to want to do this, but nature is proven to be calming and grounding. One caveat — you have to be willing to embrace the elements (all of them). Tents are good options in case of rain, but overall don’t be afraid to muddy up your dress a bit and let your hair down. Honestly, it’s gonna be fine and way more fun if you embrace it.
SIX | Mindset.
I thought I was done at #5, but realized that I was forgetting a huge component — mindset. Instagram, blogs, pinterest, and all that other bullsh*t can get to your head. They can be great tools for garnering inspiration and ideas, but can also bog you down and add a lot of unnecessary pressure, or make you feel like you should be following trends. As you head into your wedding day, your focus should be on each other; not worrying about everything being picture-perfect, IG-worthy, blog-worthy etc. If you’ve got a solid plan going in, and you’ve incorporated your own personalities/preferences into your day, your work is done. Trust your vendors to do their jobs, breathe, realize some factors may be out of your control (eg. weather), stop sweating the small stuff, and enjoy your wedding. The planning is important, but when it comes down to it, being carefree and relaxed on your wedding day is so much about getting your head in the right place.