Planning Your Wedding
Just engaged? That initial feeling of being super aware that there's a new shiny addition to your finger is exciting, and I'm sure you can't wait to start planning your dream day - even if it's a few years away. Whether it's an hour since you said Yes, or it's been several months, planning your wedding is a daunting task once you start to delve into it. These days there's an endless choice of how to celebrate your union - from extravagant affairs costing millions in Paris, to simple elopements in Glencoe and an infinite combination in between. So where do you start? Grab a cup of tea, and settle in for some of my top tips for planning your epic wedding.
Wedding Style & Vibe
Your wedding style & vibe is going to set the tone for your wedding planning, budget and of course the day itself. The first thing I would recommend doing is discussing with your partner the vision for the big day. That includes the size of your wedding - how many guests you might want to invite, whether you want it to be informal DIY or have someone take care of the event for you, as well as any themes or elements of your personality you might like to include. For instance, one partner may want a Lord of the Rings themed party like Bilbo's Birthday (definitely not talking about myself here), and the other may want to celebrate in a stately home full of tradition. Coming together to bring about both elements that matter to you both is what your wedding day should be all about, so there may need to be compromise on both sides in order for your unique personalities and styles to be incorporated into your day.
Once you've got an idea of the wedding size and style, my next recommendation is to consider the kind of venues that would suit your personalities and the party that you'd like. If you are looking for a more relaxed vibe, then something like a rustic barn or modern venue with outdoor options may suit you much better than an old Castle steeped in history or a luxury hotel that may not allow much flexibility. Match the venue with your vibe, not the other way around - no matter how beautiful the venue might be.
When to Marry
When you've narrowed down the type of venue you'd like, then the next thing you'd want to consider the time of year you'd like to be married. If you're choosing Scotland as the place you'll exchange vows, then you might feel a little apprehensive due to our reputation for bad weather. However much rainfall we get a year, Scotland can and does have beautifully gorgeous days no matter the time of year. Setting your expectations is something to consider - so don't assume Summer is great and Autumn is rainy, because more often than not it's the other way around. From experience and data taken from the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh on rainfall, July is the worst of the summer months for rainfall, while September is surprisingly dry by comparison. That's not to say that planning a July wedding in Edinburgh will end in torrential rain, but it's something consider if you are in love with the idea of an outdoor wedding. Rain also doesn't stop your wedding photography - in fact, some of my favourite images ever have been taken in between huge downpours as it creates a brilliant atmosphere when the sun pierces through the clouds. Summer months do tend to add to your wedding budget though, so if you are looking to keep costs down it might be an idea to look at an off season date from October to early May.
September is an increasingly popular month, which is also something to watch out for as your dream venue or suppliers may already be booked out. What was traditionally counted as a wedding date towards the end of the season is very often peak business for venues and many suppliers. It's certainly my favourite month for weddings - that's because as the sun moves towards the Autumnal equinox, there's beautifully soft lighting that makes for great photos. Of course if the leaves turn early, there's amazing colour to be had if you're opting for a wedding venue that has lots of outdoor space and gardens.
One of the most contentious topics within wedding planning, your budget is going to dominate the conversation between you & your partner for months to come. The single most important piece of advice I can give you is that you are going to go over budget. If you're over on social media you'll no doubt have heard of "girl math" - well this is "wedding math" (or maths, because we're British and I used to teach maths). Managing a budget is tricky for multi-national corporations, so don't beat yourself up if you end up spending a little more than you expected on your wedding day. However, if you want to be prepared, I would always over estimate how much you want to spend. Adding in a 10-15% buffer for everything means that whilst that initial budget may seem a little extreme, it means that if you DO make savings, then you can re-invest that credit into another part of your wedding budget that may demand more resources than planned. It also means that when things do go a little out of hand financially, then you've already mitigated against that initial shock and instead your budget's only increased 10% rather than 25% of your original budget.
The top 5 biggest spends of your wedding day are going to be Venue, Catering, Outfits, Photography and Videography.
The best way to set a budget is deciding what's most important to you. That might be the grandeur of a venue, or it might be the catering or the dress. If you value good food & drink options, then you'll want to set aside a larger portion of your budget for catering - likewise if you think that wedding photography is super important to you. There's no right or wrong way to prioritise your wedding budget - everyone will have their own values and what's important to them, and whilst my top would be photography and I'd love for every couple to prioritise that it's just simply not the case for everyone. It's important that this day reflects you and your values - so listen to your heart not Instagram trends.
One of the most common complaints of couples looking to book their special day is that prices increase when they mention the word "wedding" to a supplier. It's super important to know that wedding suppliers don't do that because they are evil capitalist machines, but because there's a certain amount of responsibility & cost involved in a wedding that might not present for any other type of event. For instance, a make up artist will charge more for wedding make up than simply party make up - that's because your make up needs to last all day (often 12hrs+) so they may use more expensive products for that, they also have to be up early and travel to your venue at silly times in the morning, and they very often cannot take on any more clients that day because of it. There's also the pressure behind a wedding day to consider - for instance, if I miss a kiss during a couple's photoshoot it's not as much of a deal than if I missed the first kiss during a wedding ceremony. When you are dealing with unrepeatable moments, you need to ensure you are hiring professionals who know what they are doing and don't need a second chance to get it right.
Many suppliers and venues will expect a deposit or retainer fee in order to secure your booking with them. The balance is usually due before the wedding day - sometimes 6 weeks, 30 days or even a week before depending on the policies of the supplier. You may want the option of paying a supplier earlier, so you can manage your budget a bit more throughout the year - discuss with them if that's something they are happy to enable. As a wedding photographer, balances are due 6 weeks before the big day but if you'd like to pay a portion towards it early that's always an option too and I'm more than happy to arrange that.
A pro tip is always ensure that you know exactly what is included in any chosen package before you sign a contract / pay a deposit - whether it's catering, a photographer, the venue or a florist. You'll want to avoid any hidden surprises close to the wedding day - or even after - when you realise something you had assumed was included in the price actually wasn't. For instance, some photographers may deliver 300 images but then charge for each additional image thereafter, meaning you may be paying extra to access all the amazing moments in your gallery. In case you're wondering - when you book with me, there's no upper limit with the images I deliver and you'll never be charged for additional images.
Booking a Wedding Venue
Once you've got an idea of the style of wedding you'd like, the type of venue that would best suit and the budget you could allocate towards it, it's best to start your venue hunt as soon as possible. Dates can book up really fast, and sometimes your wedding date is allocated purely based on what's available at your dream wedding venue rather than the time of year that you'd like to marry in. I would recommend doing 4-5 venue viewings if possible, including a wildcard option if you can. In my time as a photographer, I've certainly known more than a handful of couples who had their heart set on one wedding style only to veer wildly to another because they viewed a venue that didn't fit in their original vision and fell in love. A wildcard option will either serve to reaffirm that you may the right choice for your wedding style, or make you reconsider the whole thing - either way it's a great idea.
During your venue visit or open house, it's always best to imagine these key things:
On Site Accommodation: it may not be a deal breaker for you, but it certainly makes things a lot smoother on the day if you're not travelling on the Edinburgh City Bypass. If one or both of you can stay at the venue the night before, then it's always a plus. If the venue doesn't have any on-site accommodation though, look at what the options are nearby. Do you or your guests need to travel far? Do you need to put on transport for everyone, or just the wedding party & immediate family?
Wedding Venue Styling: is the venue a blank canvas where you can inject your own style, or is it somewhere with limited scope to make it your own? Ask the events coordinator what you can do to make your venue unique to your day - can you bring in independent wedding stylists? Can you have a floral arch?
Outdoor Ceremony Options: with the rise of outdoor wedding ceremonies ever popular, especially now that couples in England have that choice to marry outdoors, it's always best to check what the policies are for hosting your ceremony outside. Ask the events coordinator what the venues does for outdoor ceremonies, is there a dedicated spot for it in the grounds, what are the options if it rains, can you put up a marquee?
Wedding Venues & Outside Suppliers: certain wedding venues will insist on couples selecting their suppliers from a pre-approved list of recommended companies. This may be florists, wedding stylists or caterers. More and more couples are looking for flexibility in their wedding days, especially when it comes to catering - so check if the wedding venue has any flexibility on the style of food & drink they will offer, and if they do allow outside caterers in their kitchens. It's not a popular question, but with more and more couples opting for street food style catering over the traditional fine dining 3 course meal you may find that venues are more willing to adapt than they previously were.
Imagine Your Wedding: this sounds like an obvious question, but if you're first visiting a venue in January when the trees are bare, it's freezing and the grounds aren't looking their best, then you'll need to use your imagination as to what your wedding day will look like in say July. There's an assumption that everything will be greener, more colourful - but is that the case? Venues with big, wide driveways and courtyards with little to no greenery nearby may still feel a little on the cold side - and city centre weddings also may have that concrete feel that just isn't what you'll be wanting for your summer wedding vibes. Take a moment to look at the wedding venue on Instagram - go to the tagged section too, as that shows you what other couples / guests and photographers have posted about the venue rather than the select few curated images the wedding venue has chosen to share on their 'gram.
Booking Your Wedding Suppliers
Once you've booked your venue, everything else can fall into place. No wedding supplier worth their salt should in all good conscience book a couple who have not locked in their venue & wedding date. So when you've booked your venue, it's best to begin the search for the next most important suppliers - namely Celebrant (someone to marry you) and your photographer and / or videographer. This is because these suppliers are typically the most sought after - your favourite photographer may already have their date booked if you enquire too late. Even if you don't have an initial preference on a celebrant, finding someone to marry you who understands what you want from your ceremony is super important so it's best to lock them in as soon as you can.
It's important to note that all wedding suppliers offer something unique. By definition, we are a people orientated industry and that's why what we offer is so personal. When you are looking for suppliers, you'll want to find people who offer services that line up with your vision. Wedding suppliers will all have their unique style, creative approach and expertise. For instance, if you're looking for a naked wedding cake, take a look at bakers who offer this service rather than assume all bakers will make this on demand. It's the same with florists, wedding stylists, hair & make up artists - learn what it is that they offer and see if that aligns with what you'd like. It's super important to schedule a hair & make up trial before the big day too as if you really dislike the style on offer then you can always change supplier at the last minute. There's no shame in saying you dislike a service that's offered - a make up artist would far rather you pick someone that matches your style that know that you didn't feel confident about your look on your wedding day.
When it comes to photographers and videographers, in addition to reviewing their portfolio & style, it's really important to schedule a call with them before you book. These two suppliers are going to be spend the most time with you on your wedding day, so you'll definitely want to ensure they are someone you can feel completely relaxed & comfortable around. More on choosing the right photographer for you here.
Remember, planning a wedding is a journey, not a destination. It's about creating a day that reflects you and your partner and celebrating your love with your nearest and dearest. So, take it one step at a time, and make sure that you not only enjoy the process but also enjoy being engaged. Your wedding day will fly by no matter what you've got planned, so soak up all that ancitipation & excitement and have an amazing time planning one of the best days of your lives.