Planning Tips for a Relaxed Wedding Day
I’ve been photographing weddings for the past few years and I’ve learned a thing or two 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 wedding days that speak to me the most are relaxed weddings, 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 fulfilling than witnessing and documenting couples completely in the moment and genuinely filled with joy on their wedding day.
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 themselves, 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 have time to enjoy, here are some tips:
Think outside the traditional wedding norms.
Don’t let anyone tell you how your day should go (including me). 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 forest. 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:
Tie the knot at 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.
Skip the 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.
If you do decide to have a wedding party, know that they don’t have to be sex-specific.
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.
Have an intimate wedding.
As a born-and-raised Wisconsinite with a big family all living in-state (typical midwest, eh?), I totally understand how it can be tough to limit your guest list and keep 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 like Anna and Eric, 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 (or just the two of you!). Again, do what feels right for you.
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 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, there are a few options that you should consider to help your day go smoothly and give you time to enjoy your wedding:
First Look – 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 great because they give couples a chance for a moment alone before the chaos begins. 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 pretty much guaranteed time to mingle and enjoy the party right alongside your guests!
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 – 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, an hour of staged wedding party photos, etc. Bypassing the traditions that you’re not a fan of anyway will give you and your guests more time to mingle, celebrate, and revel in your day!
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 part of the whole thing. 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 feeling stressed! If you want that anticipation and to see each other for the first time in front of all of your guests, go for it. But, if you want to spend as much time as possible together on your wedding day, then incorporate a first look (still so special and exciting) or spend a slow morning at home and get ready together. Regardless of how you do it, do it for you.
Get Ready Together – There’s nothing more relaxing than a slow morning at home, so why not start your wedding day off this way? Get that french press 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 a little time out of your evening when the light gets nice and golden to have a moment away from the craziness. Its two-fold: time alone together to take it all in, and some beautiful images during the best light of the day.
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. One caveat — you have to be willing to embrace the elements. 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 going to be fine and way more fun if you embrace it.
Perhaps the most important factor in having a relaxed wedding day — mindset. Instagram, blogs, pinterest, and all that other noise can get to your head (speaking from experience here). They can be great tools for garnering inspiration and ideas, but can also bog you down and add a lot of unnecessary pressure. 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 party. 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.