How To Have a Visually Stunning Wedding Without Breaking the Bank

December 22, 2016

The wedding planning process can be overwhelming. You have tons of decisions to make. The venue, photographer, caterer, decorations, music, and most importantly picking the family and friends you actually want to be part of the celebration. After picking the must haves for your wedding it’s very likely you will be exhausted and picking out decorations isn’t necessarily a top priority or even in the budget. A wedding is an expensive event no matter how DIY you get. I’ve captured over 120 weddings and I can tell you details don’t necessarily mean you will have a visually stunning wedding. I’ve seen every kind of wedding from backyard to ballroom. Every wedding is special and beautiful in it’s own way. It’s very easy to be persuaded into having a wedding that’s not your ideas at all. If it’s not the wedding industry trying to up sell you it will definitely be your parents pushing their own agenda for your big day. The wedding planning process can be practical if that’s what you want. Your savings don’t necessarily have to be spent on frivolous details. A great wedding only needs a few things to be memorable… family, friends, good music, great food and lots of drinks. The memories will always be more important than the minor details. Below is a list of things on how to have a visually stunning wedding without breaking the bank:


How To Have a Visually Stunning Wedding Without Breaking the Bank

Natural light

This is number one because it doesn’t cost a thing and very little planning needs to be done. Beginning with hair and makeup to the reception you should think of light. For getting ready photos I recommend my brides get ready near a window with available light. Everyone, and I mean everyone, looks better in natural light. It’s important to take into consideration the light for the other aspects of your day as well. If you plan to have a summer wedding you wouldn’t want to schedule the ceremony for high noon. High noon has harsh light and guests will be uncomfortable due to the summer heat. Consider choosing a venue or scouting out spots on the property you have chosen to avoid the harsh light. Harsh shadows can be easily avoided by taking advantage of the shade.


unplugged wedding ceremony sign


The Uncle Bob phenomenon is getting out of control in these technological times. Once upon a time it was one family member trying to be the unofficial wedding photographer. Unfortunately, now it seems every guest with a smart phone thinks they need to capture your entire wedding day. Even grandma with her 5-megapixel camera is out of control. Family and friends end up with not so great images and you end up with no candid moments because everyone has a device in front of their face. Ask any wedding photographer and they will agree guests with cameras are a big problem. No one wants to put their Smartphone down at a wedding not even the parents. I’m astonished how many parents are taking photos during the ceremony instead of enjoying the moment. I would highly recommend an unplugged ceremony. You definitely will have to tell your guests and parents multiple times. I recommend putting it on any announcements including your website, a sign at the entrance of the ceremony and having the officiant mention it one more time before the ceremony begins.


how to plan a wedding

Rethink the ceremony

Things don’t have to be perfect or traditional. Most ceremonies don’t last more than 15 minutes, so spending tons of time on decorating the ceremony space might not be needed. Visually the most interesting weddings I’ve captured involved a nontraditional ceremony setup. Blankets on the ground, mismatched chairs, or having guests create a circle around the bride and groom. There are many ways to rethink the ceremony space to create a more intimate and visually appealing ceremony. Having a family member or friend be the officiant makes for better photos because you won’t mind if the officiant is in most of the ceremony photos. Also, a new trend is to have grandma be the flower girl, which makes for great photo opportunities.


wedding sparklers idea

Confetti / Sparklers

At the end of the ceremony confetti or flowers makes for great reaction shots. It gives guests something to do and hopefully keeps some of them from pulling out their smart phones. Be sure to have the officiant remind guests to go crazy with the confetti as you walk down the aisle. I’ve been to lots of weddings where the guests don’t remember to throw the confetti or only a few guests throw it, which is a bummer in terms of photos. You can find lots of wonderful biodegradable options on ETSY. Larger confetti is great because it takes longer to reach the ground. Confetti visually enhances photos taking on on the dance floor. I recommend handing out more confetti half way through the dancing. Another visually creative idea that might just be one of the most pinned ideas on Pinterest is the sparkler exit. The only problem with the sparkler exit idea is that it’s at the end of the reception when guests and family are the most intoxicated, which can make things a little more difficult to manage. 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. If your sold on the sparkler exit idea I would recommend having your wedding planner or a sober individual coordinate with your photographer and guests.


st. lucia wedding photographer - beach ceremony

First look

The first look is a great opportunity. It’s a very emotional part of the wedding day. By doing a first look you can squeeze in more formal photos before the ceremony. Skipping out on the traditional route allows you to enjoy more or a least some of 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 and still provide 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 father and daughter first look moments.


father and daughter first look

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 on their website, so why not listen to their advice when it comes to putting together the timeline. A natural light photographer like me will more than likely want a ten minute window during the last part of sunset because that’s when the light makes for stunning photos. If your photographer prefers using flash he or she will have different opinions on when things can be scheduled. Some of the best wedding images I’ve seen taken are of wedding photographers weddings. The reason for this is because they know how to pick out locations and put together their timeline to accommodate the photographers style. Think of it as a creative collaboration between the photographer and you. If you don’t keep your photographer in the loop the creativity on your wedding day could suffer. The more you collaborate with him or her the better the photos will be.


st lucia wedding photos

Guest Activities

Having guest activities provides your photographer with options for capturing guests candidly. Cornhole, horse shoes, and tug a war are great group games. Giving guests games to play also creates icebreakers for uncomfortable guests. Bonfires with smore’s are great for guests wanting to take a break from the dance floor. This year I had a bride and groom that didn’t have a cake and shared a smore instead.


airbnb listings make for great wedding photos

Airbnb over hotels

Most hotel rooms aren’t visually appealing for photos. They all look the same and usually have poor lighting. I recommend getting ready at home, family members house or an Airbnb. Getting ready in a space that has meaning to you makes for better photos because there’s the little details that you can never have in a hotel room. A private home or Airbnb listing will more than likely have more space to work with and be better decorated. If one room isn’t good for photos you can easily move to another.


night shot at outdoor wedding

Candles and string lights

Candles and string lights are great. Not much needs to be said here. I think everyone would agree candles make for romantic lighting. A dance floor lit with twinkle lights makes for fantastic photos. In terms of photography there’s always more creative opportunities when string lights and candles are used.


outdoor wedding venue details

Outdoor Venues

Outdoor venues usually need very little decoration because the beauty of the venue provides the ambient decor. The wedding details you select can be based on the scenery of the venue, which can help cut back on the time deciding on decorations. Also, venues with outdoor spaces provide better light opportunities for your wedding photos.