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10 Ways to Have a Visually Stunning Wedding (for Cheap)

A pro photographer weighs in

a couple standing together under mountains

As a wedding photographer, I have captured hundreds of weddings, and have always enjoyed myself at each one. I see a lot—from the glances between family members, to the way your eyes light up when you see one another, to the decor and finishing touches that you put thought, time, and energy into. And actually, when it comes to that wedding decor, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that all the beautiful details in the world won’t necessarily mean you’ll have a visually stunning wedding.

But, hold up. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go all out for your wedding decor. Decor is amazing! But I’ve seen every kind of wedding, from backyard to ballrooms with over three hundred guests. Every wedding has been beautiful and special, full stop. But to make your wedding planning easier, I wanted to let you know that you don’t have to spend money on details to make your wedding beautiful. In fact, you could say that my motto is, “No details, no worries.”

The wedding planning process can be completely overwhelming. You have so many decisions to make—from venue, photographer, catering, decorations, theme, and picking who you actually want to be part of your wedding celebration. After picking out the main components that make up your wedding day, you may just be burned out. And picking out decorations isn’t your top priority or even in the budget. Because let’s face it: having a wedding is expensive no matter how DIY you get.

So that’s what spurred me to write this post. I’m here to let you off the hook of worrying about decor and details, and to share what I’ve learned from the hundreds of weddings I’ve captured. Here’s how to make your wedding stunning, without a vase in sight.

a couple standing in light togetherunnamed (1)unnamed

how to have a beautiful wedding

1. prioritize natural light: This made number one because it doesn’t cost a thing and requires very little planning in the grand scheme of things. From the getting ready stage to the reception, you should think of the light. For getting-ready photos, I always recommend my couples to get ready near a window with available light. I recommend this because everyone looks better in natural soft window light, and of course your wedding photos will look better with natural light.

It’s also important to take into consideration the light for the other aspects of your day. If you plan on having a summer wedding, you probably don’t want to schedule the ceremony for high noon. Not only will you have harsh light, your guests will likely be very uncomfortable.

2. Outdoor Venues = PERFECTION: Outdoor venues generally require fewer decorations because the space makes up for the lack of decorations, and venues with outdoor spaces need very little decoration because the prettiness of the venue provide the ambient decor. The wedding details you do pick out can be based on the scenery of the venue. If your venue is pretty without any decorations you don’t need to spend weeks picking out flowers. Also, venues with outdoor spaces provide better light opportunities for your photos.

3. Rethink the ceremony: Things don’t have to be perfect or traditional. Most ceremonies don’t lass more than fifteen minutes these days, so spending tons of time on how to decorate your ceremony space is not necessary. Visually, the most interesting and intimate weddings I’ve captured involved a nontraditional ceremony setup. Think blankets on the ground, mismatched chairs, have guests create a circle around the bride and groom. There’s lots of ways to rethink the ceremony space to create a more intimate and visually appealing ceremony that will look great, with minimal money or energy.

4. Confetti is everything: At the end of the ceremony, confetti or flowers always make for better photos. The guests have something to do and it always creates awesome reactions when the couple walks down the aisle. Be sure to have the officiant to remind guests to toss the confetti as you walk down the aisle because I’ve been to lots of weddings where the guests don’t remember to throw the confetti (super bummer). You can find lots of wonderful biodegradable options available on Etsy, and bigger-sized confetti is great because it takes longer to reach the ground (and if there’s any kind of breeze, it will decorate the space for longer). Confetti is also great when used on the dance floor—I recommend handing out more of the stuff once the dancing begins.

5. CAREFUL WITH THE OPEN FLAMES: Another visually creative idea that lots of people want is a sparkler exit, however this often results in a bit of an unmanageable situation (alcohol + wedding guests = someone gets lit on fire). I suggest doing a sparkler first dance. It brings all the guests to the dance floor and make for a beautiful backdrop for your first dance, and people are still sober-ish, which means way less fire risk.

6. Guest activities: Having activity options for your guests provides your photographer with options for capturing your guests candidly. Corn hole, horseshoes, and tug of war always make for great photo opportunities. Plus, it’s a great icebreaker for uncomfortable guests. A bonfire with s’mores is a late-night activity that also makes for great photo opportunities.

7. First looks make for great photoS: This can be a very emotional and candid moment, which makes for great photos. Not only is it the first look, it might be the only time the two of you have alone, together. Also, by doing a first look you usually can squeeze in more of the formal photos before the ceremony, which means more time to enjoy the cocktail hour.

Couples wanting to go the traditional route can choose to do something special and still keep true to the tradition of not seeing each other. You can choose to read vows to each other by being separated by a wall, doorway, or nature (tree). This can be just as emotional as seeing each other also provide great photo possibilities.

If you don’t like the idea of either of these first look options there’s also the possibility of setting up a first look with your father or mother. Some of the most emotional photos I’ve taken are a parent child first look.

8. Unplugged weddings really are better: Ask just about any wedding photographer and they will agree: guests with cameras are a big problem. But no one wants to put their smartphone down at a wedding (not even the parents). I’m astonished how many people are taking photos during the ceremony instead of enjoying the moment. Because of this, I would highly recommend an unplugged ceremony. You definitely will have to tell your guests and parents multiple times. Put it on invitations, put it on your website, put it on a sign at the entrance of the ceremony location, and have the officiant mention it before the ceremony begins. Then once you hammer it home, let your photographer take the pictures, and your guests truly be in the moment.

9. Ask your photographer for advice: Wedding photographers have different approaches to capturing a wedding. You obviously hired this person to capture similar images you’ve seen in their portfolio, so definitely ask for their advice when it comes to putting together the timeline.

A natural light photographer will more than likely want at a ten-minute window during the last part of sunset because this is when the light makes for stunning photos. If your photographer is big on using flashes, he or she will have different opinions on when things can be scheduled. If you make it a collaboration, you will always end up with better photos.

10. Airbnb over hotels: Most hotel rooms aren’t visually appealing for photos. They all look the same and usually have poor lighting conditions. I recommend getting ready at home, a family member’s house, or an Airbnb. Getting ready in a space that has meaning to you makes for better photos. A private home or Airbnb will more than likely have more spaces to work with, so if one room isn’t good for photos you can easily move to another.

did having a visually stunning wedding factor into your planning process? what worked for you, and what didn’t? what other suggestions would you add?

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