Whether you’re working with a skilled wedding planner or you’re planning the day yourself, there are just still so many little details and questions that come up on the planning journey.
Having photographed more than 200 weddings and elopements over the past ten+ years, I tend to get asked the same things over and over again. So I put together this guide that walks you through everything from timelines and save the dates, to getting ready and group photos. Come back to this guide as often as you need!
Once you say “yes!” the wedding planning begins. For some, this is easy as they’ve had a pinterest board going for years. But for others it’s a daunting task. By now you’ve chosen a date, booked a venue, and you’ve got your photographer lined up. Congratulations! You’re doing great! Now you can relax a little and worry about the fun stuff, like your engagement session! This session is about more than just getting stunning photos of the two of you newly engaged - though that is one benefit!
Your engagement session is a vital part to your wedding process, which is why I include one with every wedding collection. This is where we will get to know each other, you’ll get comfortable in front of my camera, and the nerves will all get out of the way before your big day. It’s kind of like a dress rehearsal that way! Your engagements will really help the flow of your wedding day as well. I’ll walk into your day knowing exactly your best angles, how the two of you interact and exactly what it takes to get your partner to smile. We will all be comfortable and ready!
This is the part that most couples struggle with. Your timeline is a stressful part of the day, and it sets the stage for your photography. I work with my couples to make sure we have enough time for everything you desire to have captured on your big day, while making sure there’s enough time to get good photos still. This is just a sample timeline; because each wedding is different your timeline will vary depending on coverage and travel times.
Details | 1:00 - 1:30
The details of your day are what make your celebration unique & beautiful. I ask my couples to collect all the details they want captured during the week before the wedding in a basket. This helps me know we’ve covered everything and helps you as you remember things throughout the week!
Things to include are: perfume, the rings (both in the same place, please!) hair pieces or veil, tie, cuff links, your “something blue”, jewelry, bouquet, garter, and anything else you want.
Getting Ready | 1:30-2:30
Once the details have been captured it’s time for getting ready! If you have friends or parents helping you get ready, make sure they are there early and dressed before you get your dress on so they look great in the photos too!
First Look | 2:30-2:45
It’s time to see your partner for the first time on your wedding day. This is one of the most emotional moments for many couples, and the photos are always amazing. Everyone wants that picture of their partner getting teary-eyed as they see how amazing you look! Cherish this moment to be alone together in peace away from the chaos of the day.
Wedding Party | 2:45-3:15
After we create the amazing artwork for your home, we move on to the photographs of your wedding party! Whether you want all traditional formal shots, or some goofy inside jokes thrown in, this is your time with your crew, so have fun with it! Prepare ahead of time to make sure all of the party is there on time, and consider whether you’d like individual photos with each party member.
Family Photos | 3:15-4:00
As we work together to lock in your timeline for the day, I will plan your family photos so that we can go right down the list seamlessly without missing anyone important, or leaving grandparents standing in the heat.
Tip: Have one of your wedding party or a friend who knows your families help corral everyone into place on time!
Ceremony | 4:30-5:00 (Hidden away @ 4)
Typically the couple will go hide at least 30 minutes before the beginning of the wedding ceremony. If the ceremony is the same location as your formals, we may move that up to one hour beforehand, especially if there are shuttles whose schedule we're working around. This is a great time to capture candid moments with the wedding party hanging out, drinking some champagne, or taking a quick shot before the vows, and it gives me time to capture the details of your ceremony space and reception area before it's crowded with guests!
Announcement & Dinner | 5:00-6:00
Time to be announced in! I will coordinate with you and the DJ to make sure I know where you're coming in. While I do not require to be fed with the guests, or even be given a meal during your wedding, I do request time to eat. This is most easily and most commonly done so that I eat when you eat. This helps us make sure I don’t miss a thing as toasts typically begin as the last guests get their food. By eating when you eat I won't be in another room eating when the festivities begin back up!
First Dances | 6:00-6:30
The first time you dance as a married couple is another high-emotion moment. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Maybe cry a little. It’s a big moment! Many couples will then dance with their parents or a special person in their lives, who are almost never dry-eyed seeing you look so grown up, all married now. I will probably cry watching you dance with your parents; these are one of my favorite moments to capture and the best memories to keep. You will cherish that photograph more than you know years from now!
Open Dancing | 6:30-7:00
This is the fun part! Everyone’s loosened up and having a great time dancing to the awesome music your DJ is playing. Trust me, you want that photo of Uncle Jim doing the splits, you just don’t know it yet -- ha!!
Main Reception Events | 7:00-8:00
Whether you do the traditional cake cutting, a donut tower, oreo split, or share a pie, there are usually desserts at a wedding reception. If you’re sharing it with your new spouse, I’ll be there to capture it. Some couples choose to do bouquet/ garter tosses, dollar dances, anniversary dances, and more. It’s important to decide what main reception events you’ll be doing, and how many/which ones you want photographed.
Sunset Portraits | 8:00-8:30
I typically ask my couples to allow half an hour around sunset (usually 8:00-8:30 for summer weddings) for a few “just married” photographs of you and your partner in that romantic, golden glow. These are some of the most gorgeous and intimate photographs of the day, and my favorite part! It's also a nice chance to get a little alone time to finally reconnect together.
End of Coverage | 9:00
Whether you’re doing a grand exit you wish to have photographed or just dancing the night away, I offer various collections to tell the story of your day. Planning which parts of the reception you want covered is a big factor for when your coverage will begin and end. Have no fear - I’m here to help you plan and lock in your timeline for the wedding day so you get everything you want covered!
It’s the morning of your wedding! Hopefully all the little details are taken care of and you’re relaxing with your best friends while your hair is being done and make-up applied. Anything that hasn’t been checked off your to-do list needs to be handed over now - they are officially not your problems to handle! It is so important to relax the morning of your wedding. The rest of the day is going to be fast paced and filled with a lot of emotions! Take advantage of this calm before the storm. There are a few things to consider about the “getting ready” part of the day. Do you want to share a “first look” with your dad or any other person who plays a huge role in your life?
Will you and your fiance be exchanging gifts or love letters during this time? If so, who would you like to deliver them? Are there certain women in your life who would appreciate seeing you get into your gown? Some people want very few people around for this moment. Other people love having aunts and grandmas present. It’s totally up to you! A few other tips: as you get ready to put your dress on, refrain from putting any jewelry on. I love shooting all of those final steps once you’re in your gown! Speaking of the gown, if your dress is still on a plastic hanger from the shop, consider bringing a wooden hanger along for photographs as it will look nicer!
By having a window in the getting ready area, I’m better able to create beautiful photographs with soft, natural light. Consider the space you’ll be getting ready in and make sure there is enough natural light!
The whole day begins with the details! This is one of my favorite parts of the day because it allows me to warm up my creativity for the rest of the day. I photograph the details in a way that matches and showcases the style of the entire wedding day. So in some ways the details set the stage for the look of the whole wedding, and I love having some time to stylize and shoot everything from the dress to grandma’s handkerchief! To the right you’ll find a list of the most common details that I try to shoot. I ask couples to gather any details they want photographed the week before so as you remember things you can stick them all in a neat box to hand to me as I arrive. This goes for guys too! I love getting to capture your watch, tie, boots, cufflinks, etc.
What to bring:
- dress/wooden hanger
- veil/head piece
- rings (all in the same location!)
- invitation suite
- something old, something new
- borrowed & blue
I see posts in wedding groups online all the time from couples looking for an officiant. It can be tough these days to know who to hire for the job, or even where to look! Beyond just finding an officiant, how do you find one that’s the best fit for your needs? Let’s dive into how to find the right officiant for your elopement celebration.
DO YOU NEED AN OFFICIANT?
The first consideration is to determine if you even need to look for an officiant. A lot of couples don’t know that in Colorado you don’t necessarily have to have one! Click here for my full blog post about who can officate your wedding in Colorado! Decide before your hunt if an officiant is right for you. If it’s easier or makes your celebration more “you” there’s always the option of having a family friend or important loved one marry you instead. Whether they get official online or just act in the role as you two officially self-solemnize, there is a lot of flexibility in customizing this part of your wedding here in CO!
CULTURE & RELIGION
If you’ve determined you want a bit of tradition in your ceremony and need to find an officiant, you also want to find someone who fits your celebration. Consider you and your partner’s culture and beliefs. If you’re not that religious or want to include multiple cultural backgrounds in your ceremony, interview your potential officiant to see if that’s something they can accommodate. I highly recommend Kathi with Wine Country Ceremonies as she has officiated a number of traditional and non-traditional weddings that I’ve had the opportunity to document, and she’s always such a pleasure to work with!
If you two are religious and want aspect brought into your ceremony, you’ll likewise want to have that conversation with your officiant. I also recommend Blaine Scott for a more belief-based ceremony and for incorporating spirituality. He has done a good job when I work with him of maintaining a good balance of tradition and personalization to each couple! If you’re wanting a fully religious officiant though, you might want to consider looking at local churches. Some denominations are willing to officiate weddings for non-members as well, and can give you that religious aspect you’re looking for in your wedding.
Another question to ask is what services besides the day-of do they offer? Some can help you plan your ceremony, give you guidance on how to write your vows, and some are licensed to do couples counseling. If any of these are services you want, it doesn’t hurt to ask if your officiant offers them or they may know some resources to point you toward!
The last big factor for finding the right officiant for your wedding or elopement is travel. Will the professional travel outside their area? If they’re based here in Grand Junction, are they willing to go to Gateway, Ouray, or beyond? What are the fees? How quickly they book up can be a huge consideration for elopements, too. If they book months in advance or you’re eloping on a weekend, professionals might be booked for your date. These are all good questions to ask when you’re looking around!
Your first look is an amazing part of your wedding day! If you aren’t sure about this new tradition, the next few pages will explain why it would be a romantic addition to your wedding day celebration that not only adds to the experience, but also reduces the stress of the wedding day. Please know that I would never want any of my couples to feel pressure to go with a First Look session. However, I do want to make sure that I share all of the benefits of a first look because there is a good reason most of my couples do it and LOVE it! Here are my top four reasons you'll love a first look:
You’re investing a lot into your wedding photography. With a First Look, you’ll receive up to 40% more portraits of the two of you ... and those are really the images you’ll decorate your first home with! (Trust me, you should see all the portraits in our house!) With a First Look, you make the most out of this large investment and get the most bang for your buck.
ENJOY THE MOMENT
You actually get to have intimate time on your wedding day with your partner. Most brides don’t realize that when you come down the aisle and totally shock them with your beauty ... your partner can’t even really tell you how amazing you look! They can’t touch you, embrace you, or even really talk to you. You have to wait until the ceremony is over. And after 30 minutes or more, the reaction just isn’t the same as that initial glance.
EXTEND THE DAY
First Looks allow you to extend your wedding day. Normally the day would start when you come down the aisle, then the ceremony would end, we rush through portraits so you’re not late for the introductions at the reception, and then it’s dinner time. With a first look, your wedding day is extended by almost 3 hours! Instead of waiting until almost 5pm to see your partner, rushing for your wedding party portraits, you actually get to enjoy them and have fun hanging out with your best friends on your wedding day. The first half of my clients’ wedding albums are almost always packed with images from this time together before the ceremony. When you see each other beforehand, we can do all your formal photos before the ceremony, allowing us more time for those intimate evening shots as well!
YOUR ONLY ALONE TIME
First Looks allow you to be together and alone on your wedding day. A calm before the storm, alone in a quiet bubble away from the people and the chaos. When you you see each other, not only is it intimate but it could be your only time alone the whole day! You will likely cry together and laugh together. You don’t have to wait the whole day to finally be together.
Here it is! The moment everyone has been waiting for is finally here. The music is playing and the guests have been seated. You're about to walk down the aisle to the love of your life... and if you're like many people, you've dreamed about this moment for a long, long time! Vows will be shared and promises made. This is what the day is all about. In a world full of wedding blogs, Pinterest, and bridal magazines, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and consumed by the “prettiness” of your event. While details do matter and can set a beautiful stage for your day, it is important to remember the real purpose of this amazing day! As long as you’re married to your best friend at the end of the day, the wedding was a success. Take a breath and live in the moment!
Ceremony lighting is really important. If you get married outdoors at 12pm, the lighting will be extremely harsh and not only will there be lines of light on your faces, you’ll likely also be squinting. I suggest planning an outdoor ceremony 2 hours before sunset IF you are having a First Look, or 3-5 hours before if you’re not. This will ensure we have time for portraits after the ceremony, but the light will still be good for the ceremony itself. If you are having an indoor ceremony, be aware that most churches have different types of light in the same room, so there may be funky casts - though I do my best to balance the color and lighting as I can! Overall, I prefer lighting where the sun is more to your backs, so that the sun is behind you for the best light.
ORDER OF EVENTS
I have seen so many couples do so many AMAZING things during their ceremony! I’ve photographed couples tying literal knots, sharing an intimate communion ceremony, lighting a unity candle, or pouring colored sands into a unified bottle to display their combined existence.
One of the coolest and most unique ceremonies I witnessed had the couple water a tree that symbolized their love and marriage, to be planted in the couple’s backyard to grow with them. The options are seriously limitless! As you plan your ceremony, make sure you design it to be exactly what the two of you envision it to be. This is your day! Click here for a blog post on ideas for your unity ceremony.
The BEST advice I have for your program-making process is to remember that not every guest needs a program. Many couples I’ve worked with before have printed programs for every person attending, but quickly realized most families only took one - leaving dozens of extra programs!
Also, before ordering your programs, have several people check it for spelling and grammatical errors. Programs and the ceremony decor are best planned in advance by the couple, but leave the actual job of setting things up to a friend or coordinator! The last thing you need to be doing the morning of the wedding is running around setting things up.
Hiring either a full event planner or just a day-of coordinator is so helpful! Couples realize very quickly that if they do not have someone in charge of the coordination of the day, that responsibility almost automatically falls onto the mothers, the photographer, or the couple themselves! When a photographer is in charge of the coordination of the day, the images take a back burner - we don’t want that to happen! I try to help my couple, along with any coordinator you may have, set up the timeline to best fit your photography needs, but my coordination is best left there! If you need any recommendations on coordination services I’d love to share my favorites with you!
One thing I recommend to all of my couples is considering an “Unplugged Ceremony.” What this means is that you ask your guests to not take any photos or video on their phones or iPads (or cameras!) during the ceremony. You can either have a sign at the ceremony location, a note in your program, or have your officiant announce it at the beginning of the ceremony. You have invested a lot in your professional photography, so encourage your guests to be present and let me handle the photos! Plus, nobody wants a ton of iPads blocking the shot of the first kiss!
Your Instagram bio includes the phrase “dog mom” or “fur baby” and will fight anyone who says pets aren’t family, right? Now that you’re engaged you’re thinking about ways of including your dog in your wedding day. Read on for some tips if you're including them in the plans!
CHECK THE POLICIES
While I do a happy dance when I find out you’re bringing your pup, it’s important to check with the policy of your wedding location. Some parks and venues don’t allow dogs (like the Colorado National Monument, for example! However I've found dog-friendly spots if you're eloping and want a couple photos with your dog there.)
The first possibility when including your dog in your wedding is to bring backup. Whether your pup is an only child or you have a whole pack, if you're already bringing someone along, having a person to help makes a world of difference. They can help keep them entertained or distracted while we do photos without them, which takes a lot of the stress and worry off of you! They even have small businesses now who you can hire to babysit your pup/be their handler for the day, which can be a huge relief to know your fur babies are in good hands.
This might go without saying, but bringing backup also means bringing treats! Having a treat bag to shake to get their attention my way can be so useful, and being able to reward your dog for good patience and listening can help them stay on good behavior for more time.
EMBRACE THE CANDID
Dogs won’t always be smiling for the camera. It’s important to know that from the start. But if you embrace the in between moments and spend some shots cuddling with them, walking with them, or kissing them, you’ll end up with some ridiculously cute images that will give you variety and probably some of your favorites of the whole day!
One of the most frequently asked questions that we receive during wedding season is, “Sooooo, what do you do if it RAINS?” I want to reassure you that even if it rains, you will still have beautiful portraits and bright colors in your images! Overcast skies mean vibrant colors and no squinting! I know that rain isn't ideal, and no bride would wish for rain on their big day, but if it happens, it happens. And it’s going to be JUST fine! Some of my favorite weddings have been on rainy/misty wedding days! Here are a few things to remember:
All I need to create natural light portraits on a rainy wedding day is a porch or a gazebo! And if we can’t get that, I’m pretty handy with a flash!
Let me worry about the pictures. You have enough to think about. If there’s a chance of rain, I’ll be sure to do some extra scouting to find a covered location or two for us to use for your first look, creative session, and wedding party portraits. Plus there’s always cute umbrellas!
Take it one step at a time. Don’t think about your entire day and what will happen if it rains. That will only overwhelm you! Definitely have a rain plan for your venue, but then let your vendors do the work of handling the rest of the day.
Why should I care about Leave No Trace when it comes to my wedding day?
If you’re getting married outside, it’s probably because you’re drawn to nature’s beauty.
And the way we keep nature beautiful, so that we can continue to come back to these gorgeous spots time & time again, is to make sure that we enjoy them sustainably and responsibly.
Weddings, elopements, and photo sessions can have a big cumulative impact on the environment—and without following Leave No Trace, this is what could happen:
Locations that are currently available for weddings, & elopements could become off-limits for special events and professional photography—meaning it could become impossible to come back to a location for a vow-renewal or anniversary session in 5 years.
The spot that you said your vows could get so badly damaged, destroyed, or trashed that it needs to be closed for restoration, and won’t look the same at all when you want to come back in the future.
The prevalence and costs of special event permits could spike, causing it to become very difficult to have any kind of events on public lands
So whether you find the outdoors peaceful, serene, awe-inspiring, or whatever’s drawing you to getting married in nature, we’re all in this together.
And together we believe it is possible to have the BEST day, while also protecting our natural world for future visitors.
By reducing our impact as we visit, photograph, and celebrate outdoors, we can protect these places we love! You don’t have to limit your celebration to reduce your impact–this guide will help you each step of the way as you plan, prepare, and finally get married somewhere beautiful!
The party is here! Receptions can be a total blast. However it is important to make sure that you have your event well thought out. This is the job of your coordinator and/or your DJ. Your caterer will also play a big role in the design and set up of your event. Every aspect of your reception affects the overall outline of the evening! For instance, if you’re not having a plated meal, your reception will need to be set up to allow movement. Guests will need to be able to find the food stations easily. If you are having a plated dinner, you will more than likely need escort cards, full place settings, and space for all of your guests to be seated comfortably. Whatever the style of your event, make sure that you plan out all of the aspects of the evening. Your coordinator and DJ can help you set up the evening so that guests won’t leave early or experience long periods of waiting for the next thing to happen.
Much like the ceremony, you have the freedom to make your reception your own! It’s your party, it should be exactly how you want it to be. Here is a list of some key events that happen often at receptions:
- Couple Announced In
- First Dance
- Parent Dances
- Anniversary Dance
- Dollar Dance / Shoe Game / etc.
- Traditional Religious Dances
- Welcome Speech
- Cake Cutting
- Bouquet & Garter Toss
- Special exit (sparklers, glow sticks, confetti, etc!)
The fun has begun! It’s time to relax, dance and celebrate! Your reception should be fun! The last thing you need to be worrying about is your timeline. Your coordinator and/or DJ should take care of everything - making sure that things stay on schedule so you can enjoy your night. Here are some helpful tips that will make your reception flow smoothly:
GUESTS: Take your guests into consideration when planning the timeline. If you have a lot of elderly guests that will not be staying until the very end, make sure you schedule the cake cutting at a relatively early time so they can still be a part of it. Grandmas love seeing this tradition!
KEEP IT MOVING: Chat with your coordinator about how you can plan your reception in a way that will keep guests engaged and moving all night!
MAKE IT YOUR OWN: If you want to have a special dance with your grandparents, do it! If you want donuts instead of cake (like I did!) go for it! Make your reception a reflection of who you are and don’t feel tied to tradition. Also, make sure you give your DJ a “do not play” list if there are songs you really don’t want to hear during the night!
DON'T GET CAUGHT UP in the little details and formalities. Sure, details are pretty and fun to photograph, but they can steal the joy of the day if you get too caught up. Plan your centerpieces, welcome table, cake table, etc. well before the day and teach your coordinator or family friend how to set them up so that you aren’t even thinking about those things the day of!
If you’re planning to get married in Colorado, you will need to get familiar with the Colorado Marriage License process to make things legal. This is your complete guide to the process, from who can marry in Colorado, witness and officiant requirements, cost, how and where to apply, and the signing and returning process.
COST OF A COLORADO MARRIAGE LICENSE
As of writing this, the cost of a Colorado Marriage License is $30. You must provide that payment when you apply and acquire your license at the County Clerk’s office. Some counties will accept an application and payment online, but it is most common to require CASH for this payment. If you’re not sure, your county clerk’s website probably says, or if you want to be on the safe side just bring cash.
WHO CAN GET MARRIED IN COLORADO?
You do not need to be a resident of Colorado to get married here in the state. If you are getting married here in Colorado you will need a Colorado Marriage License, unless the state you’re coming from allows you to sign theirs across state lines. Citizens of all 50 states are eligible to be legally married in Colorado, with some common stipulations. For instance, you can legally marry your cousin (I know, I know) but not your sibling here. You cannot already be married, either.
HOW TO APPLY FOR A COLORADO MARRIAGE LICENSE
You need to apply for your Colorado Marriage License at any County Clerk’s office. It does not matter what county you apply for a marriage license in; it can be your home county, the county you’re getting married in, or some other county. You will need to return it to the same county as you got it from, though.
Some counties require appointments for applying for your Colorado Marriage License. Look up the County Clerk’s office website, or call the office, for appointment information. Some counties also allow you to apply online rather than in person. (NOTE: In our current climate, some counties are operating online-only, and will mail your license after application. Please allow time with the postal service when planning the date of your application!) Also there is no blood test to get married in Colorado.
DO I NEED WITNESSES OR AN OFFICIANT TO GET MARRIED IN COLORADO?
Your Colorado Marriage License may be solemnized by judges at the courthouse, retired judges, magistrates, indigenous tribe officials, clergy, or by you as the couple yourself (self-solemnization.) Your friend or family member may not solemnize your marriage (officially signing as an officiant) unless they are a judge or clergy. Clergy ordained outside the state of Colorado do not need to be registered in the state to perform your wedding. They can, however, lead your ceremony and allow you to self-solemnize the legal documents on your own. No witnesses are required to be married in Colorado. This gives you ultimate freedom in planning your dream wedding ceremony!