As a wedding photographer, I see all sorts of weddings from the extremely lavish & luxurious, to beautiful intimate quiet backyard moments together. No matter the scale of the wedding, the thing that stands out to me most as the most joyous, beautiful celebrations are the ones where couples have so clearly worked together to create something that is representative of who they are; both individually, as well as who they are together as a couple. No matter how quirky or different they may be. These are the weddings that I love to photograph the most, where it is unashamedly who you are, personal, joyful, emotional and fun. 

I mean, every single wedding is a joyful occasion, all the ones that I’ve been to anyway! But the ones that speak to me most and the ones that stay in my mind the longest, are where it has been a true reflection of the couple.

In this blog post, I am going to discuss with you, how to plan for a wedding that is relevant to and representative of you as a couple. We’ll have a look at:

  • How to figure out the main priorities of your day, 
  • What will make the day super special for you, individually and as a couple,
  • Some of the traditions that you could possibly include in your wedding, and how to make the day flow nicely in a way that’s enjoyable for everybody. 
  • How to troubleshoot any differences in your vision together.
  • And finally, we’ll talk about how to bring it all together in a day that’s not overwhelming, but that is truly reflective of who you are.

There is a companion planner to help you get the most from this post, click below to download!

Figure out the main priorities of your day

Sit down together and plan the main elements and top priorities – ask yourselves if you want a super traditional wedding or something completely different from the norm? Or maybe it’s a casual blend of the two. Even a traditional-traditional wedding has space for your personalities.

Some ideas to get you thinking:

Locations and Venues:  is the location important to you? Do you want an all-in-one ceremony and reception venue or is there a specific special place that is meaningful to you as a couple? Do you want to travel out of town or keep it local?

Decide on the time of year:  it can make a big difference to the other elements that you plan together – a helicopter elopement will look (and feel!) very different in July than it will in February, for example

Style and Details:
Are you both looking forward to dressing up to celebrate or are you more casual and focused on the guests or the music? Do you want to have a theme, have formal dress or professionally styled elements? 

Food and Entertainment:  Is it important to have a multiple course wedding breakfast with white-glove service? Perhaps you want something more relaxed but still high quality, like a buffet? Or maybe gourmet pizzas and picnic blankets are more your style. Think about whether you want music entertainment or just as ambience – it’ll make deciding on a band, DJ or DIY option much easier. 

A bride and groom holding hands and walking through a tall grassy field in the summer

Put some thought into what will make the day super special for you individually and as a couple. 

Consider what you’ve always imagined when you think about your wedding day. What’s the most important thing to do or include? And what will make you feel the most bridal (or…groomly?). Obviously the fact that this is your wedding day will make it a special day and getting married is the most important part, but it’s not the only element of the day for most couples. Putting some thought into what it is that is important to you both together and individually will really elevate the experience for both you and your guests.

For example, have you got your heart set on including your family members and friends in the ceremony?  This can be incorporated in so many ways, most commonly asking important people to be part of your bridal party,  making a reading or speech, or making a performance or singing during the ceremony or reception. 

Maybe you’re a sentimental soul and have always imagined having your grandmother’s lace stitched into your dress or your grandfather’s shirt made into a pocket square. Or do you really want to include your family pet in your wedding party? 

Perhaps you’re a natural performer and want to wow your guests with an epic first dance (or maybe you’d prefer to avoid it altogether and have a lego-building competition instead?). 

You may decide that you want to make sure you include some time that is just for the two of you. Or you want to be sure that a certain element of tradition is included. 

There are many ways to do this including events such as a first look, or taking a moment to read a love letter or even your vows to each other before the ceremony itself. Some couples choose to see each other before the ceremony but others make plans to do this without seeing each other at all! This can be as fun and creative as you like, and you can link it to traditions and quirks of your relationship. 

Speaking of traditions…

Think about which traditions you do and don’t want to include

Weddings are traditional by design. Wearing wedding attire (dress, garter, veil,), not seeing one another before the ceremony, sharing vows, having an aisle (and being accompanied down one by a parent), exchanging rings, cutting the cake, dancing, throwing confetti, giving gifts… 

Almost every part of a wedding has traditional elements with different symbolism that can be traced back to some historical origin, usually (but not always!)  about bestowing newlywed couples with fertility or prosperity or good luck in some form. The good news is that the only “must-have” of a wedding in this day and age is making an agreement with the right legal words overseen by a registered celebrant. Everything else is up to you! 

Of course, there are family or religious traditions you may consider must-haves as well, but the most important thing with any tradition is that you include it because you want to include it and that it is meaningful to you as a couple. 

Common western wedding traditions include:

  • Gifting rings, both an engagement ring and exchanging wedding rings
  • The bride carrying something old, new, borrowed and blue
  • Not seeing one another before the wedding 
  • The bride being given away 
  • Bridal party and guests gathered on opposite sides of the ceremony site
  • Having a group of bridesmaids and groomsmen and having them wear matching attire
  • Having a Maid of Honor and Best Man
  • Wearing a white wedding dress, veil, garter and carrying a bouquet
  • Having the first kiss
  • Throwing confetti, and tossing the bouquet and garter
  • Having a wedding breakfast
  • Cutting and feeding cake to one another 
  • Having a honeymoon

It seems like every element of a wedding is traditional right? Most of these make sense to make the day flow together nicely (which is what we’ll talk about next) but none of these are essential, and there are many more modern, cultural and religious traditions that might or might not be important to you as a couple. 

Having photographed more weddings than I can count, I can honestly say I’ve seen combinations of all of these traditions brought together in so many different ways!  In a future post I’ll dive into why many of these traditions exist and the significance behind them, but for now know that almost every element of a wedding day as you may know it is “traditional” and 100% up to you whether or not to include it. 

My biggest advice when it comes to traditions is to understand why you’re including them and don’t include anything that doesn’t speak to or resonate with you – don’t “cut the cake” if its just something you think you should do! 

Think about how you want the day to flow

The way you plan how the timeline of your day runs is totally up to you, and your experience of the day will hinge on how this is planned. As with everything, there are so many ways to approach this and it all depends on what priority elements and traditions you choose to include.

The most common wedding day timeline I encounter in kiwi weddings is centred around a 6-7 pm meal which defines a ceremony time of around 2-3 pm. This is handy when it comes to getting ready as you have most of the day to prepare with hair and makeup, do last-minute venue set up and various other bits and pieces that inevitably pop up on the day. 

This kind of timeline can have its issues though depending on where you are getting married and the time of year. In summer it can be the hottest and brightest part of the day for you and your guests (and the light is not ideal for outdoor ceremony photography at 2-3 pm). It can make a very long day for any children or elderly relatives that are a part of your wedding too.

No matter what you choose there will be something that is not ideal, so make it work the best you can.  Your vendors are your best bet for advice on this we can help you with a general timeline, and your photographer, in particular, can help to nail down specifics. As wedding vendors, we are working to wedding timelines every weekend and most definitely have advice on what works well and what doesn’t. 

Don’t be afraid to mix things up to suit how you want your day to run (but with a word of  guidance – let your vendors know in advance – we won’t give away any surprises and may be able to suggest ways to make your ideas come to life smoothly and with a good flow) 

Some ideas for alternative timelines are:

  • Having a First Look and bridal party photos pre-ceremony
  • Having a morning wedding (or having an evening cocktail wedding)
  • Going straight to cake and canapes after ceremony (and leaving bridal photos until sunset)
  • Family group photos before the ceremony
  • No group photos until the reception
  • Post-wedding day photoshoot for a creative session, 
  • Speeches during ceremony or after the vows
  • Having a split timeline for ceremony and reception, such as a morning ceremony and evening reception.

Think about how to communicate this with your guests. 

When you are planning your wedding, it is important to think about how you will communicate important details to your wedding guests on the day. Most people only attend a handful of weddings in their lifetimes but may have expectations or previous experiences with how the wedding timeline and day flows.

 It is always good to communicate the general flow of the day with your guests no matter how traditional or non-traditional your wedding day may be. The most common way of doing this is to have a master of ceremonies or emcee who will be in charge of informing everyone of these details via announcements and introductions over the day. You can also usually ask your celebrant to make some “housekeeping” announcements before or after your wedding ceremony if, for example, you are having an unplugged ceremony, or on the opposite end of the scale if you have a particular hashtag you want them to use for social media posts.

While having an emcee is helpful (even for very small weddings!) there are also some other great ways I have seen used by my couples to communicate important details to their guests in a way that represents their relationship and who they are, such as:

  • Infographic cards to show the events of the day or even the important moments in your relationship, the VIP guests or members of your bridal party
  • Table or seat cards with group photo information – so that guests know which photos they are expected for and what time. 
  • Printed Map of the venue with important time and event information
  • Beautiful perspex or blackboard signs, or printed cards outlining group photos, meal times, menu items, entertainment options (such as lawn games, band or music etc), speeches, and other events that you have planned for your day such as a sparkler exit, dancing and games.

These are all things that you can design together, or with your vendors to give your day an easy flow with great communication for your guests, particularly if there are elements which may be non-traditional or even unexpected!

A bride and groom embrace under a dark starry sky at Vilagrad Winery

Troubleshoot any differences in vision

Just like your marriage, planning your wedding will be something you need to do together. Even if one of you isn’t that invested in the little details, the colours, the themes or what kind of table decorations to have, it’s important that you both have input into the overall priorities of your wedding day (go back to step one!).

But what if one of you wants to get married on the family farm and the other wants a chic city wedding? How do you navigate such different visions of your wedding day to make sure you both have the day of your dreams?

Without turning this post into an A-Z of couples counselling techniques, this again comes down to prioritising what you want independently, and together and then communicating about it. Your husband- or wife-to-be might be happy for you to do the decision making for the details, but ultimately should be part of the high level planning – its a day for celebrating the two of you together after all, and it can be easy to feel a bit resentful if you feel like everything is on your shoulders. 

But all of this advice about working together doesn’t help that much when it comes to blending two very different ideas and aesthetics together. So here are some ideas about how to bring together different ideas of style and sensibility. 

Merging formal and casual elements:

Consider what parts of the day need to be either formal or casual – you could have a very formal ceremony and a casual reception, formal dress code with a less structured and more casual flow of events through your day. Or you could consider having a formal decor and reception and relaxed events. 

Merging different aesthetics: 

This can be a big one! Perhaps one of you really wants a romantic, floral, boho vibe, and your spouse-to-be really wants to include their love for all things mountain biking. It sounds like a collision of ideas, but it’s totally workable with some creativity. 

In this case, it might be worth considering alternative ideas for your ceremony and reception locations. Maybe you could get married at your dream romantic venue and then explore the amazing places to have photos at their favourite mountain biking trail. You could include games and events at your wedding that cater to adventure and romance. Or you could include graphic elements that relate to both in your decorations and invites. It’s a great idea to reach out to your vendors with your ideas (or asking for help to blend them!) because you never know what we can come up with that might be just the perfect thing for your wedding, and we love a chance to get creative with you!

Managing guest-list expectations:

OK, this can be a touchy one, but also very important. Again this comes down to making that priority list in step one. If having everyone you know at your wedding is important to you and having immediate family only is important to your spouse-to-be then there is going to have to be some compromise involved. But like everything, it can be done! Consider having an intimate ceremony followed by the biggest party ever, or flip it and reverse it and have a big ceremony followed by VIP only reception. 

Where this can become a bit trickier is when family members have expectations for your guest list. While my deep-down-empowered response would be to say “It’s your day! Do it your way!!” (well, in essence, that is  kinda the point of this whole blog post!), it’s not always as simple as that, is it?  

So my more measured response is this – consider first you and your fiance’s needs (it is your day after all) but also think about the ways in which your decisions can help make your family happy too. It’s totally not necessary to invite your mum’s walking group, but maybe having her best friend celebrating there with her will add even more joy to what is a huge milestone day. 

Planning a wedding is a huge event in your life. It’s usually something you haven’t done before and it can at times be stressful and may even put parts of your relationship to the test. Ultimately though it should definitely be something that brings you together with excitement over everything else. Prioritising the most important parts of your wedding day together, identifying what will make it feel really special to you, figuring out traditions and timelines and navigating differences in opinion should hopefully be a little easier with this roadmap blog post to get you through!

 If you want a space to figure this all out grab my free printable that walks you through it all by clicking the link below.  And if you found this post helpful and interesting, share it on social and DM me on Instagram to tell me what you think!