Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tips for Planning a Wedding on a Budget

Bride' Prepared for things to not go your way & do as much as you can to avoid these things. Its a promise: someone wont be where they are suppose to be, something will be late arriving, something will be forgotten, your cake may tip over (you do have permission to be upset if this should occur.) You can't prevent accidents & everyone's actions, there's a lot of people involved in your wedding & it would be an enormous undertaking to think you can.

What you can do is do your best to make sure everyone knows what's expected of them the day of & where they are suppose to be at the different times. I give all of my clients a Timeline which I really stress for them to fill out. It gives them a better & more realistic idea of how long things are going to take. A lot of people forget to add 15 min le-way in case someones running a little late, or they don't add drive time in between locations etc. All this adds up really fast. Another thing I put on the Timeline is a list of all the vendors & their numbers & the addresses for the church & reception locations. If the cake doesn't show up everyone in your Wedding party should have the number on their paper & they can help you with keeping things on track.

Make sure to assign people to help you throughout the day. Theres a lot of little time consuming tasks throughout the day. Make sure you ask your Bridesmaid or someone else ahead of time to help you pack presents into the car at the end of the night & that you have room in a car for them in the first place! Assign someone to help cut cake if your caterer won't be doing it, someone to serve the champagne, someone to keep the DJ stay on track of when to play songs. Make sure you also give the DJ a list of what songs to play & when you want them played (like at exactly 7pm or right after cocktail hour switch to dance music or play the couple first dance song etc).

Remember that some of the things that go wrong will be the memories that you'll laugh at later so just be in the moment. Some of the worst moments end up being the fondest. I've seen the ring bearer run screaming & crying down the isle, the brides trip (yes it really happens its not just a horror story), the Dj play the wrong song etc. I always tell my brides to remember, your wedding is a party but more importantly its all about you marrying the person you love, being with the people you love & to remember all the other small stuff is really not important at the end of the day.

Save Money

Some people are very well off & it's not a burden planning an expensive Wedding, if that's you congratulations, you are the 1% skip this section. For everyone else, even if you saved up for it all, months in's hard earned money & seeing so much of it go for a Wedding can be scary. A lot of woman want their Wedding to be perfect so they get the 'Spare No Expense' mentality. If you didn't save up money in advance & will be paying your Wedding off a long time after it's all over please trust this. A lot of the things that get purchased for the Wedding are unnecessary expenses & things that get forgotten...skip them & save hundreds of dollars. Here's a list of things I've heard Brides say they wish they'd spent less on:

The Bouquet: Save up to $200-800 

Bouquet's are beautiful & can add a lot to your wedding. Don't skimp here but be smart about your purchase. Don't ask for 30 different varieties in your Bouquet when 5-10 will do. Ask the florist what flowers are in season & be flexible. Yes Peonies are great but if they aren't in season & she can suggest something similar that is, take it. Also consider a cheaper filler flower in your Bouquet. Babys Breath & other flowers can be really beautiful & are actually really trendy right now versus some filler flowers that are barely noticeable & can cost $20 a flower.

Don't go small either. I see a lot of Bouquets where you can hardly see them in pictures & they end up looking cheap. Try to pick some nice big flowers for your bouquet that will take up space so you can have a thicker Bouquet with less flowers. A really cheap way to add size & drama to your bouquet is with ribbon. Go to the craft store when they have ribbon 60% off which is a lot (or go online) & pick a nice large ribbon that you can add to the bouquet.

     Another thing to try is sticking to only 1 flower. There's lots o of beautiful bouquets ideas with 1 flower. You can always add a second flower or greenery to spruce it up if the idea of 1 flower scares you, succulents are a beautiful & modern greenery.. There's so many great places to find inspiration on the internet & TONS of them are money saving ideas. Pintrest is one of my favorite places for finding amazing inspiration that's also very affordable.

Guest Favors: Save up to $200-800

Guest favors can add another $200-$600 to your budget fast & a lot of the times what you'll get for that amount of money is complete junk. People have enough things in their house they want to get rid of. Don't waste your money on something that's going to be thrown away in a month. 

If you HAVE to have a favor find creative & useful things to give them that aren't expensive. Consider giving them a CD with main songs from the Wedding. Another great idea is to buy bulk candy bars (Hershey's with Almonds is a great one), remove the wrappers & re-wrap with a custom wrapper you can make yourself. Personalize it by adding a picture of you & the groom or with text like thank you & your Wedding date. Vintage weddings are very popular right now & if your throwing one consider doing a seed packet or small succulent plant. Seed packets can be super cute & tied into your wedding with cute saying like "our love only grows" etc. You can find really inexpensive craft paper or tiny burlap bags which can be customized by stamping your saying on each one. 

Lastly, consider this: many times people would love to have some of the professional pictures that were taken of them during the wedding but after the craziness of the Wedding is over it can be hard to track pics down for everyone that wants a copy. Talk to your photographer about posting the images in an online gallery for the guests. Add a card to the table of where they can track down any pictures taken of them at the wedding.  If you are willing to spend a little more consider sending picture discs out with the Thank you's.

Unity Candles, Toasting Glasses, Cake Knife: Save up to $100-300

All of these things are nice but don't spend a ton of money on them. They are something that most people never even see. During the ceremony most people are too far back to pay much attention to what the details are on the candles or knife set. These parts of your Wedding literally last 5 minutes, your usually to nervous your self to pay much attention to them & then that money you spent on those things is over. If you spent $100 on your candles & holders, that cost you about $20 a min, YIKES! Ask any of your friends that have gotten married if they kept the knives or glasses & if they did if they have ever taken them out since the wedding? Spend money on the important things that people will see during your wedding & that add to the overall experience & resist splurging on these smaller items.

Guest Books: Save up to $100 

Nobody buys a guest book anymore. They are something you will never look at....come on, let's be honest. That's a space-taker-up-er if I ever saw one. Do you really need a book to remind you Aunt Mildred attended or is that what the Photographer is there to do (capture pictures of everyone for you). If you're wanting something like this then spend the money wisely. One thing to consider is fingerprint trees. You can print a picture of a tree & then put out stamp pads with your wedding colors for people to stamp their fingerprint somewhere on the tree & then sign. It ends up looking like leaves on the tree. 

If you really want signatures or notes from your guests another thing thats more useful is to have your Photographer make a book with the pictures from your engagement session. They can leave lots of empty space on the pages where people can sign. This is a great way to get more mileage out of your engagement pictures & have the signature book be more purposeful & something you will actually look at. 

Lastly, & I got this idea from a wedding I just shot & loved it....put out cute little pieces of paper or thick card stock & have people write you a message on them. I think giving them direction will get you more meaningful messages, consider asking them to write what they love most about you as a couple & what advice they give you in your new marriage & then read them on your first anniversary. You can also talk to your photographer about making a photo box from your engagement or weddings pictures to keep the cards together in. Or decoupage your images onto a box you can pick up from your local craft store.

Fondant Cake & Complete Real Cake: Save up to $300-$900

Fondant can be really beautiful & if your stuck on having a Fondant cake go for it. Fondant can easily add $200-$500 to your cake cost depending on what your getting. Your cake usually sits at the reception for several hours before it gets eaten. Fondant after sitting out gets rock hard. All that money you spent to have a cake with a rock hard shell! Buttercream is a very tasty & cheaper alternative & I've seen lots of super elegant design done with it. Its taking over at a lot of the nice weddings. Another thing to consider if your even slightly crafty is to get a Buttercream tiered cake & dress it up yourself. Get a few extra flowers from your florist that does the bouquets & add the flowers so they cascade down the sides & consider a unique cake topper like a banner with your names & wedding date or sparkler candles (why shouldn't you blow some candles out? Way more fun than just cutting the cake!) You can find many of these on Etsy.

On the real cake vs fake cake:

Most times you go to a Wedding these days you will find that only the top layer of the cake is real & the rest is fake. Having only the top real, where you will be doing the cutting with the groom...can save you hundreds of dollars. Consider doing this & then getting the same cake from the bakery as sheet cakes to cut & serve guests.

Decorations: Save up to $100-$500

People will buy tons of small & gimmicky decorations so they get more for their money versus buying a few nice larger pieces. Small decorations get lost. Once the room gets filled up you won't hardly even see them. Designers know to have height with their decor. Having different levels of decor height wise will get you a lot more for your dollar. For example...instead of having a bunch of short decorations on the table (I see fish bowls with a floating candle a lot) consider your table marker as your shorter item, try a tall vase with spray painted branches & crystals or a tall vase with an led underneath to light it up & you can add flowers or candles inside & then make sure you have something from the ceiling or higher up like up-lighting on the walls or strings of lights above with tulle etc. 

Don't underestimate the power of Balloons & Christmas lights! You can do so much with them. Pintrest has a billion really fancy ways to use them such as putting a little led light inside so they glow, putting a marble inside to weigh it down & hanging them upside down at different heights to make a chandelier from them, taking One of my favorite ideas is to stake them down with golf tees & I've seen people line the isle with them and then throw gold glitter all over the ground for a really classy & inexpensive way to decorate that area. Colored lighting or soft lighting in general like Christmas lights or candles also add a lot to the decor so don't think you have to have a ton of flowers, use light to make an impact. To save tons of money here go just after Christmas & get the lights at 70% off or check out yard sales & craigslist during other times of the year. 

Esty has a lot of amazing inexpensive details you can pick up for your wedding. And remember: if you dont get to crazy with your Wedding theme, you can sell all your Wedding decor on Ebay or other auction sites & get up to 60% of your money back, there's always going to be someone else getting married & needing the same things you needed!

Metallic Balloons if you want them to look extra classy

Tape balloons to the floor. You could do this around the dance floor or other area

Balloons covering the ceiling are a great way to take an ugly room & give it height for less

The design in the picture is obviously quite expensive but we not take a hula hoop, spray paint it your wedding color & then drape it with crystals, crepe papers or ribbons

For simple centerpieces using fruit or even food coloring to tint the water & then inexpensive flowers like babies breath to fill the jar or vase. Just remember the taller the better! Small centerpieces get lost on the tables & Ive seen some really beautiful ones at weddings I shot but its never as impactful as something tall

So you saved money. Now here's a few things people don't spend enough money spent on, details that do add a lot of visual interest & fun to your Wedding day:


Period. Food is important but if you want people to stay after dinner you better make sure they are having a good time. I recommend doing Champagne or Wine versus hard liquor that can cause people to get a little out of control. I've seen a $10,000 go down the drain because everyone left right after they ate their $35 plate of food because they didn't want to pay the venue $10 a drink. 

The DJ

Ok so now they are having a drink, relaxing a little bit but no one will dance why? Because you saved a buck on the DJ & he's horrible. I've actually been to weddings where they had the music playing from Pandora & Ipods. My favorite was the Uncle they hired who we realized had passed out drunk behind the DJ table only after the same song played three times. A good Dj will go a long way. You want to make sure your booking someone that looks professional (I've seen some scary looking DJ's), that has a good lighting setup. Lighting is important to set the feel on the dance floor. If there's no lighting or not adequate lighting it can make the dance floor uninviting. Make sure he knows your style & the type of music you expect him to play & that he's good enough to know when to play a song or not. You don't want to have a mostly older crowd at your Wedding & he's playing Baby Got Back &  Back that Thang Up all night. Seriously. This happens a lot I've seen it. Make sure you guys are on the same page.


And Ill say it again, lighting. Lighting lighting lighting lighting. Seriously! Have you ever gone to an expensive dinner where it wasnt low-key lighting? What about a prom dance etc? Its all about setting the ambiance. People want to look beautiful & have fun & low/key lighting is both flattering & what we associate in our minds with a formal or well done event. Uplighting the reception venues walls is probably the most cost effective way to decorate & have it be noticeable. If you ever watch a celebrity or really nice Wedding its all about the lighting.  Candles are very inexpensive & easily add low lighting so you can shut off the bright lights. You can buy strings of white lights the day after Christmas for 75% off & they are a great way to achieve low key lighting. Uplighting. Your Dj or Event Decorator should have some you can use but worse case scenario you can get some online for not very much & they are definitely something you can get your money back out of if you sell them after the wedding. 

Fun details

One thing to consider is having a photo booth! It adds a super fun element for guests. & doubles as their wedding favor if you print the image on site or have them printed & include it in their Thank You card when you send it. Also consider Wedding decor that does add a lot like spending a few dollars on a reception sign or chalkboards can be a really cheap way to add a lot of visual interest to your wedding & pictures. Here's some of my favorites:

Pennant banners are a cute way to give yourself something to hold & do in your first posed bride & groom pictures which can be a little awkward as you warm up to the camera. You can also write Thank You on them & take a picture to use for Thank You cards after the Wedding. They also double as fun props for guests during the reception. They can write little notes to you on them & then pose for a picture that will make you smile later when looking through the pictures of the reception. 

Consider sparklers for your big exit. They are so much more fun then just rice or flower petals & cost about the same. They can make for some really great romantic pictures at the end of the night. If you aren't leaving at bight bubbles are pretty awesome but another really fun idea is glitter. Do be aware it will be all over you but if you get a clear glitter it can be kind of awesome sparkling through he reception! Just make sure you have already taken your bride & groom pictures before doing this

You spent over $1000 on your wedding dress but its hanging on a $.50 plastic hanger. If you have a good photographer they are going to get a picture of your dress before you put it on, please at least find a nice wood hanger or something to put your dress on or every time someone see's your dress picture their eyes go right to the ugly hanger you had it on.

Hope some of this inspires you to save money & have fun with your Wedding. If you have any tips for ways to save, pictures of your awesome wedding decor or DIY projects please share in the comments! If you liked this Blog post don't forget to share it & follow to stay in touch. Here's a link to my Pinterest Boards where you can find lots more ideas like Photobooth backdrop ideas you can easily do at your wedding or my Happily Ever After board which has lots more great examples of what's trending in wedding design & more. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Horrible Wedding Photography: Why You'll Regret Hiring the Cheaper Photographer

Look, I get it, I'm a wedding's expensive to plan a wedding & Photography can be an easy thing to be tempted to save money on as you watch the expenses pile up especially when the average wedding photographer costs $2700 for the day. (I have a blog post I wrote that has a lot of tips for saving money, click here to read it.) But lets look at it this way: you just spent how much on that wedding dress & your hair & makeup to look good? 

The average wedding dress is about $800 & hair & makeup around $70.  Second, & you already know this but "after the wedding cake is gone & the decor is in the trash & divided up among the guests like a free yard sale....after all that you have what left to remember it all? Yes you already know. Yep. That's all you'll have (& your long beautiful marriage of course) & I'm sure you hope to end up with pictures worth looking at, that did your beautiful wedding justice. Go ask any of your married friends what they wish they would have done differently. You'll definitely get some great tips & things to think about. One of the things I hear the most though is the Photography & this is often not just to me but friends telling me their friends are not happy about the pictures they just got back. So here's a nice long article to scare you into making the right decision & burn the craigslist photographers ad:

Top Reasons You'll Regret hiring the Craigslist PhotographerUncle Bob or your Friend, to take your Wedding Pictures. This is an actual list compiled of common complaints I hear:

1. All of your pictures are under or over exposed because they don't understand their camera or forget to change the settings when they go from taking picture inside to outside etc. If their camera is set to auto....Yikes! Houston you have a problem. They have a fancy camera & no idea how to use it.  

2. All of the indoor pictures are super yellow or maybe they are all super blue & you didn't have a smurf themed wedding so what's up with that? Well let me tell you. Do they even know what Degrees Kelvin is? How to custom White Balance? Color Bracketing? DO they even know how to White balance? These are all very important. It's one of the second worse things IMO to mess up because no matter how good you edit they will never look quiet right.

3. All your pictures were shot looking up your nose or that chin or arm you hate. Unflattering angles are an amateurs best friend.  It takes a lot of practice to understand angels & how to shoot to flatter your subjects. So attention curvier girl's or girls that are conscious about all woman I guess....your going to want someone who understands posing & will know the flattering angles to make sure you look your best. Now I don't want to create unrealistic expectation either. We can't change how you look either only photograph in the most flattering way. But there will be times during the day where you can't be posed like the ceremony or first dance or candid shot moments so it's up to you to remember to stand up straight & be aware of the camera to get the best shot. 

4. They did weird editing techniques & every picture has a super dark vignette, you have jaundice or is in a tacky photo collage. The picture to the right is priceless. Most people who don't know what they are doing have lackluster pictures so to make them look better somehow. My favorite is pictures where people are barely even visible anymore, there faces literally look like mashed potatoes because they made the faces so creamy & blurry trying to soften their skin.

5. What? You had a 70's themed wedding? didn't....Eooowww. Well all your pictures are pixelated like they were designed from an avatar game anyways! You get your prints (if they were included) but they are pixelated because the photographer shot them too small in camera or over edited the JPEG! Booooo because you'll be stuck with a lot of 4x6 prints & nothing larger. 

6. There was an apocalypse or something apparently in just the photographer neighborhood because  they dropped off the face of the earth & you never got your pictures back. This is the most common thing I hear from Bride's sadly. What typically happens is they over booked themselves because they got greedy & thought they could handle 5 weddings a month or the more unfortunate scenario....your pictures look terrible & they are having a heck of a time trying to make them look any sort of ok to give them to you. If you hired an amateur the pictures probably need a lot of work & they don't know how to proficiently work on editing images yet so it's going to take muuuccchhh longer & your spring wedding might be a Christmas gift. 

Average time to get your pictures back is 4-6 weeks. Im usually 6-8 because Im really picky with my images & I usually edit a few more then most. So make sure you talk to them about how long it will take & that you have realistic expectations. I've had bride's wanting images 2 weeks after the wedding. 

*Another scary thought if that most beginning photographers don't back up their images. What happens if you need a copy later on of your disc because of a tragedy & they don't have them anymore?

7. There's things in the pictures that shouldn't be like a random person walking by or a Groucho & his garbage can in the back of all your posed pictures. There's some pretty entertaining examples of this if you just google it. 

8. They bail on you last minute because something came up. They don't have a professional business so they don't have a reputation to worry about ruining. Also WORSE CASE SCENARIO a pro will have contacts in the industry they can set you up with (although most pros will be there anyways come hell or high water).

9. They show up with inadequate equipment for the job (a camera that wont shoot RAW or doesn't have a high enough ISO setting to support low light in a church etc). Some churches don't allow for flash so if they have cheapy cameras and no lower aperture lenses...good luck. You are going to have a ton of pictures that look like the late night fuzzy TV screen when everything's off air. Yikes!

10. They cropped them to a 4x6 format and now you cant print anything larger than that. Something I learned along the way (thank you Aubrey for wanting to print larger pictures : ) But yes, there's different crop ratios. An 8x10 is not the same ratio as a 4x6. Technically you should be making an 8x12 from a 4x6 so where the 8x10 came from nobody knows. Probably the same jerk that put uneven numbers of buns in the pack compared to the number of hot dogs. 

11. So what happens when the pictures ARE awful? You cant be mad because they told you they were new to Photography, or your friend was doing you a favor, or its your Uncle who thinks his pictures are amazing and it would hurt his feelings. 

So how to avoid hiring the horrible Photographer you say? Well the BIGGEST mistake Brides make is not asking questions. Make sure to ask:

What Photo Editing Software do You Use?
If they use Picasa/Photoscape or rather, anything other than Photoshop or Lightroom....they probably dont know what they are doing. Photoshop and Lightroom are costly but professional tools that are important for you to end up with a professional image without degrading the picture quality. I really can't think of a single professional photographer that doesn't own these programs. I use Photoshop or Lightroom for every wedding or any image I take for anything for that matter. Its an essential tool for color correcting, adding creative color effects, adjusting lighting and sharpening etc with degrading the image.

Up to what size will I be able to print the images? Do you print or do I? Where do you print?
If they don't know anything about their camera setting they could be shooting a small JPEG on accident, which means your never going to be able to make large prints from your pictures. They other thing to know is where they print your pictures at. Do they print at Walmart or do they use a professional service? Walmart, Costco etc are not acceptable for anything other than your everyday pictures. A professional will have a pro printing service they go through. This makes all the difference in color accuracy, image durability & the clarity of the pictures you just paid for.

What Camera gear do they use?
While you can certainly take a good picture with any camera, certain aspects of your day will just not be the same if they don't have adequate equipment. If you've ever seen an image that looks like it was taken by a military night vision camera ie: theres tons of grain all over (fuzziness), this is caused in low-light situations & gets worse or better depending on your equipment. Its one of the main reasons I own a $3500 camera. So if they own a Rebel XSI,  XTI, T1i & kits lenses that have higher apertures such as 3.5 or 4 they probably are not going to get the best images. Cheaper cameras also have smaller sensors and more issues with focusing. Large sensor cameras, or full format, captures pictures like nothing else can. I really cant put the difference into words but its pretty major. 

They don't have you sign a contract.
If the photographer doesn't have you sign a contract, they just started taking pictures. Someone who has done several weddings or is a professional will have you sign a contract. Period.

How many weddings have they shot?
If they have only shot a couple weddings be careful. It doesn't mean they can't but make sure you are happy with other work they have shot & they have the proper gear to shoot a wedding (shooting babies & families is very different from what you need to shoot a wedding). Second to that, Weddings are fast paced & there's lots of things through out the day that can be easily missed, important things you cant do over...such as the first kiss. Someone who is less experienced can have a problem keeping up where as an experienced professional will foresee & be ready for the key events. 

What do you consider your photography style to be? 
Traditional, photo journalistic etc. Make sure you aren't expecting natural light candids & their style is to shoot everything with flash & posed. Some photographer's shoot very vibrant & like contrast where other shoot very soft colors & lower contrast. Look at style of images you like & find someone who can shoot that.

Can I see samples of unedited wedding images you took?
This will tell you a lot about their skill level. Most photographers can put a band aid on bad pictures and make them presentable but a true professional will have good results straight of the camera. If your only getting a few edited & the rest just go on the disc you want to make sure they wont be handing you a bunch of horrible pictures.

Do you have an example of an entire wedding you shot?
This is great to see because the typical album they show you or what you see in their online portfolio is going to be the absolute best images they've taken and can give unrealistic expectations. You want to see how a whole wedding looks and make sure they are consistent.

Do you use a second shooter & what experience do they have?
A lot of times people choose to go with a certain Photographer based on the fact they get a second Photographer with the package. But make sure that the second person you are paying to have at your wedding is worth the expense & is a professional with experience.

What is their personality like & does it mesh well with yours?
I always say wedding photographers do it all. We are the photographer, counselor, organizer, makeup toucher-uper & so much more. We end up doing it all most weddings & consequently we spend a lot of time beside you so if you don't like your photographer as a person or your personalities aren't in sync it's not going to go well. You don't want to hire someone talkative & outgoing if your a quiet person or want someone who is more behind the scenes.

How many edited pictures do I get? Do I get all of the images or just the edited?
This varies alot and typically an expensive and experienced Photographer will not give you any pictures beyond what they edit. Its definitely something that varies between Photographers but you want to make sure you have a clear understanding so you aren't expecting 1000 images and get 40.

At the end of the day: 

Photography is a long road, there's a ton of things to learn & you'll never be done because there's always advances in technology or new techniques emerge & everyone makes mistakes 
because we are human. The bottom line is knowing the skill level of the person you are hiring and having realistic expectations based on their skill level. 

Even pro's make mistakes. The guys that charge $10,000 a wedding, they forget things. I forget things. The difference is a whole day of mistakes versus a few pictures. The difference is calling yourself a professional versus being honest about what results your capable of achieving. The difference is saying you can do something you can't. Another big thing that sets a Pro apart from a beginner is their ability to fix their mistakes. There's a ton of resources and tools available especially if they were shooting in RAW during your wedding. You can fix a incorrectly white balanced image or an underexposed one. The difference? Knowing how. 

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Here's a link with some additional questions to ask & a downloadable PDF to take with you to the consultation

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