When I was planning my wedding, I had a little file folder on my desktop titled “ideas.” It was full of inspiration photos like the one below, where I’d pull together all of my visual concepts into one neat little collage and see how it all looked together. Did brown and turquoise really go? Would orange look too gaudy next to it? What if I used old netting as a tablecloth on the patio tables with Moroccan glass lanterns? Would that be on theme, without being obvious?
I planned my wedding during a time when color palettes were all the rage (are they still a thing?), and even went so far as to ask a wedding blog to come up with an inspiration board just for me. (Please take a minute and go read my submission so that we can all do a collective eye-roll at your young, impressionable managing editor. WHAT AM I EVEN TALKING ABOUT?! Ahem, okay back to business.) At first these exercises were just to help me collect my thoughts. What would our bridesmaids wear? What would the tables look like? But then, something shifted, and I started believing that I’d actually experience the wedding like the inspiration board. That I’d look back and remember my wedding like this:
This led me to do crazy things like seriously consider making napkin rings out of shower curtains and starfish for 250 people. Because then people would really understand that they were at a hip beach wedding (um…is being on the beach not enough?).
The wedding industry preys on the fact that for most of us, our weddings will be the first time we have a chance to throw a big event for lots of people. So it feeds us information that promotes its agenda. (Sell stuff! Make you think that the stuff they are selling is essential to your happiness!) But we all know this. It’s why most of us are here. But what I don’t think we talk about enough is the method by which we are fed this information. Over time, I’ve grown very frustrated with the way that weddings are presented on the internet. Because they are curated to make you believe that the part represents the whole. And it’s bad news.
Take this wedding I shot last year, for example. The couple (APW readers, yay!) got married in the woods of northern California, with a lakeside Quaker ceremony, delicious food provided by family and friends, and then they had a rockin’ dance party and bonfire that lasted well after my second shooter and I had retired to the bunk beds in our cabin. If I submitted this wedding to a blog, it would probably end up looking something like this:
It would get slapped onto Pinterest with the tag “Colorful Canoe Wedding” and you’d walk away wondering where you could collect mismatched jars to use for wildflowers at your outdoor wedding. And while that would be fine (hey, maybe you’ve been looking for a way to arrange wildflowers and this gave you a great idea), it would also be missing the point.
Because those photos up there? They represent maybe five percent of what this wedding was about. (And the canoe part? Planned only a few hours before it happened.)
When I was planning my own wedding, I put so much stock into how ten or fifteen imaginary photos in my head would look together. If they’d be cohesive enough. Because that’s how I thought it was done. That’s what I thought was expected. It wasn’t even about the wedding being blogworthy. It was about the wedding being have-worthy. It was about our guests not even wanting to be there if it didn’t look the way it’s supposed to. But then I started shooting weddings. And shooting them a lot. And you know what I learned? Weddings look and feel much more like this photo, which never ever ever makes it to the blogs, ever:
Do you see those details? So tiny. This isn’t to say that details are insignificant, or that they aren’t noticed at weddings. It’s just that, when the photos you see every day are so big and the details so front-and-center, it can make you start to believe that they are the central visual focus of the celebration. When in reality, they are such a small part of something bigger, something better.
The reality of weddings looks a lot more like this:
It’s about the people. It’s about you and your partner. It’s about all of it coming together. So often I see these layouts and it’s all beautiful tablescapes and portraits of couples and nowhere is a guest to be found. Do you want to know what made this wedding electric? The people. And unless you’re having a teeny tiny two-person elopement, chances are that’s what will make your wedding awesome too.
So next time you’re putting together your inspiration boards (I’m not going to tell you not to. That’s half the fun of the thing), I encourage you to leave some space. Leave some space for understanding that looking out at something you put together is amazing, but that looking out on that same thing filled with the people you love? It’s so much better. Real wedding memories can’t be encapsulated. Photos can jog our memories, but even those are manufactured (and most of the time a good photographer will make things look way glossier than they were. Have you ever taken photos of your friends while you’re out dancing or at the bars and ninety-nine percent of the pictures look like a dog shaking slobber off its face? Me too. And photographers throw all of those in the trash before passing along one or two photos where things look super cool.)
Because let’s be real. At weddings, there’s generally a lot more of this:
And that’s OKAY. At the end of the day it just doesn’t matter if it all “goes.” It doesn’t all have to be pretty. And your wedding doesn’t need to sell anything. My wedding? So totally not blogworthy (well, except maybe here). But it was sure as hell have-worthy. And the blogworthy ones? Even they don’t look like what you see on the front page of the shiny wedding blogs (some of the best parties get whittled down to shots of favors and place settings). So don’t worry if this thing doesn’t go with that thing, or if the whole damn thing isn’t cohesive. Do what you love. Because the point of your wedding isn’t to fit neatly into a predefined grid. The point of it is to be awesome.