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10 Absolutely Free Ways to Make Your Wedding Day Unforgettable

Hannah & Nick | Private residence | East Fork Lake, Illinois | Shot while on assignment for Daniel Knight, Studio B Photography

My all-time favorite wedding emcee is this absolute pro named Dave Kennedy. He’s a class act, and he likes to mix in the Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole duet “Unforgettable” into his dance-floor mix. It’s just a fantastic song: classic and unexpected, happy and romantic. And it’s also what everybody hopes their wedding day will be, not just for them, but for all their favorite people, too— unforgettable. From my experience, here are ten things that will unequivocally heighten the experience of your wedding day.

Becky & Kurt | theWit Chicago | Chicago, Illinois
  1. Only invite people you actually want to see there.Obviously, there are exceptions to this. There are family members who we have a certain obligation to invite. (If you invite one, you have to invite them all— that sort of thing.) But beyond that, there are a great many reference points for who you can leave off the list. If you don’t see yourself going out to lunch with this person in the next year, they’re off the list. You are not obligated to invite someone just because they invited you to their wedding. Etc. I recommend talking to Martha Stewart about this one. (Or you can read her books, if she doesn’t return your call.) I’m not saying it’s important to have a small wedding. I’m saying do your best to avoid inviting people you won’t be so excited to see.
  2. Make a detailed shoot list using names.If you’ve seen me on the job at a wedding, you know how I am about my shoot lists. You’re never going to hear me say “bride and father.” Not only do I find this generic and impersonal, it’s also ineffective and inefficient. I view shoot lists in this way: we ask as many questions as possible before your wedding. I want to know who you want in the photos and who you don’t want in the photos. I want to know everybody’s names and how they’re connected to the family. I want to know if there’s anybody who doesn’t get along. And when I’ve got all this information, it helps me move through shoot lists with — I gotta say it— impressive efficiency. And not just getting pictures. Getting really good pictures! Formal photos grow more valuable as time passes, but they don’t have to take that long. I can move through an average shoot list in 45-80 minutes, depending on how many people are involved. But this efficiency comes from making the decisions about what pictures we’re going to take days or weeks in advance and having the names of everybody who I will photograph. It doesn’t mean we can’t make audibles— we often do. It just minimizes how much time we spend thinking on the day of the wedding. P.S. It’s also ideal if your team, particularly your planner and your photographer, know about any awkward family dynamics or situations, including, but not limited to, divorce, death, and disabilities. We all want to be sensitive and aware of what’s going on and be prepared to make any accommodations necessary.
  3. Allow buffer time in your pre-ceremony timeline. And then, post-ceremony, clip right along.Pre-ceremony, it’s ideal to give yourself time to feel, time to rest, time to dance, time to eat. I work with planners with the objective of creating pre-ceremony timelines with lots of buffer room to give all these opportunities to you, my clients. And then, the real trick to a good party is post-ceremony, keep people entertained. Don’t give them time to get bored or tired. At cocktail hour, have interesting nibbles. Ideally, we won’t be keeping them waiting on portraits post-ceremony. I’m personally a fan of doing the first dance right after you’re introduced, because it opens the dance floor right away and people can feel free to start dancing when the spirit moves them. You can even have the emcee say, after your first dance, that the dance floor is open and invite people to start dancing. The sooner people start having fun, the more epic the night will feel, and the longer everybody will want to stay.
  4. Leave your phone at home.If there’s one day you don’t need to look at that thing, it’s your wedding day. Not only do you have a team looking out for you (planner, bridesmaids, parents, photo team, etc.), but everybody you would want to see is hopefully there in the same room. If you do have someone you want to FaceTime or something like that (this is a post-Covid world), give the responsibility of getting them on the phone to someone else. Your eyes are for this present moment only. This is the day you have planned. See it. And…
  5. Trust your team.It’s important to hire people who you feel comfortable being candid with, so that you can talk through the details of the day in advance and feel comfortable putting your day in their hands. That way you can, once again, be deeply present with the experience and not waste a moment wondering if something that needs to happen is happening.
  6. See your fiancé before your ceremony.I care so much about the so-called “first look” that I’ve written a manifesto about it. (You can download it here.)
  7. Complete the vast majority of your formal portraits before the ceremony.My goal is always 90%. Believe me, post-ceremony, you’ll want to spend as little time as possible taking formal photos. That’s the time for fun. And with this tip, it’s important to make sure all your people— wedding party, family members, etc.— know where they’re supposed to be and when.
  8. Complete pre-ceremony portraits at least 45 minutes before you walk down the aisle.Post portraits, it’s super important to have some time to sit down, breathe, drink some water, touch up makeup and hair, and just be quiet. Not only because it will help you feel more present during the ceremony, but also because after that, chances are you’re not going to have a quiet moment until Sunday.
  9. Limit formal dances, and then open your dance floor with a “friends and family” dance. And ask your emcee to use your names, not generic “bride and groom.”Firstly, too many formal dances is such a drag for your guests. If you’re determined to have several, I recommend sprinkling them in after the dance floor is open. Again, we want to get that party started, and the longer your guests are in their seats, the more likely they are to call it a night. Also, finishing out your formal dances with a “friends and family” dance is a great way to get everybody on the dance floor with a wink.
  10. Skip traditions that are meaningless to you.I’ve seen more couples skip a cake cutting— and I love the cake; I think it’s a wonderful and very sweet (hahaha) tradition if it speaks to you. But if it’s not something that feels important to you, just don’t do it. Same goes for tossing a bouquet, lighting a unity candle, playing Canon in D, etc. Skipping traditions that aren’t meaningful to you frees up your energy to devote to the traditions that are deeply meaningful. For example, I once photographed a bride who wore a sixpence in her shoe— and it was the same sixpence worn in the shoe of her grandmother, her mother, and her sisters on their wedding days. It’s your wedding, and the traditions are just another way to acknowledge how personal an experience it is.

If you loved reading these tips, and you want to set up a discovery call with me to be your photographer to tell the story of your wedding day, click on over to my contact form and drop me a line. I’m so excited to connect with you! In the meantime, enter your email address here to receive my tips for how to get camera-ready for your wedding day.

Scarlett & David | Milwaukee Art Museum | Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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