On October 14, 2017, I married my high school sweetheart and the love of my life. It was a beautiful wedding at the Trinity River Audubon Center in Dallas, Texas. We had 150 guests, our color scheme was burgundy, navy and gold, we had a first look out on the nature trails, and it was a perfect day. Since it wasn’t long ago that I was planning my own dream wedding, I know what it feels like to be in my brides’ shoes. Wedding planning is a daunting task, and there’s so much that can go right and wrong on the big day! So as a former bride turned wedding photographer, here’s a summary of the five things I did right (and wrong) on my own wedding day.
Note: All photos in this post are taken by Kayla Smith Photography
1. I hired a planner/coordinator
Planning a wedding is a ton of work, and in the world of Pinterest and DIY trends, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. After I got engaged, I did some research and booked my venue, wedding photographer and bought my dress because those were the top three things I cared about. But after that, I had no idea what to do next. This was my first time planning a wedding! That’s when I decided to invest in a wedding planner, and it was seriously the best decision I could have made. I decided to get the full wedding planning package, and my amazing planner Shannon helped me find all my remaining vendors, attended all my meetings with me, and put together the decor for my big day. She turned my small vision into more than I could have imaged. My wedding day was perfect because of her!
Now, if you don’t have the money for a planner, or just enjoy the idea of doing it yourself, I urge you to at least invest in a day-of coordinator. Planning a wedding is stressful, but the day of shouldn’t be. The last thing you want is for you or your mom, aunt, best friend, etc. to have to get to the venue early to set up table decor and orchestrate the vendors. That is such a hassle and is going to put so much strain on you and your family. A wedding coordinator is the saving grace who makes sure everything runs smoothly and ensures you and your family don’t have to lift a finger on your wedding day. A lot of venues come with some kind of coordinator, but they only care about preserving the venue. Hire a coordinator whose sole job is to serve you and your family and make sure everything is exactly how you always dreamed it would be!
2. I invested in a professional photographer whose work I connected with
I started following wedding photographers on Instagram before I even got engaged. I LOVED wedding photography and was so excited for the day I got to have wedding pictures of my own! So whenever Nick and I got engaged, I already had a list of photographers I wanted to contact. In the end, I didn’t end up going with any them. Instead, I hired a photographer all the way from Amarillo (almost a 6 hour drive away) because I really connected with her work. I could envision Nick and I in her photos. The editing style, the posing, everything about them fit my vision for our wedding pictures. And after reading through her blog, I decided I liked her personality as well. She was talented, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. So I paid the extra money to have her travel to Dallas, and it was totally worth it.
3. I tried various styles of wedding dress
If I’ve learned anything from countless “Say Yes to the Dress” marathons, it’s that brides don’t really know what they want when it comes to wedding dresses. So many times a bride will come into the salon with this vision in their head of their dream dress, and they’ll leave with something completely different. This is what happened to me. I wanted kind of a bohemian style dress with a fitted top and a flowy bottom, but after trying on multiple dresses that fit that description, I just wasn’t loving them. So my consultant brought out some other options, and I ended up with something completely different that I loved. When trying on wedding dresses, it’s good to have a general idea of what you like, but be open to trying other styles! You never know what will look good on you until you try.
4. We did things the way we wanted and didn’t follow strict tradition
Nick and I had a pretty traditional wedding. We definitely didn’t elope and get married on a mountain or something crazy like that. But there were a few things we switched up, and I absolutely loved it. First, we didn’t get married in a church. This is actually pretty common these days, but it still broke tradition. We got married at the visitors center of a nature preserve. There were actually cages filled with frogs and other animals in the area next to our reception space! Next, we had a first look. I wasn’t that into the tradition of waiting for him to see me walk down the aisle, and I loved the moments alone we got together during the first look! Another smaller thing we did was a mother-daughter dance. It was a surprise to my mom, and it was such a sweet and memorable moment. After the other dances, I went to the mic, said something sweet about my mom and invited her to dance with me to “The Best Day” by Taylor Swift. Then halfway through the song, our DJ invited all the other mother/daughter duos to join us. So don’t be afraid to mix things up and make your wedding your own! Your wedding should reflect you and your fiancé’s personalities and wishes, traditional or not.
5. We did premarital counseling
This isn’t entirely wedding related, but it’s still important. Nick and I had been dating for 7 years when we got engaged, but we still learned a ton about each other during our premarital counseling. Our counselor, who also ended up being our officiant, had us read multiple books on marriage and communication and guided us through all the important topics from money management and chores to raising kids and family issues. He tried to help manage our expectations and get on the same page about everything. Weddings are fun and all, but what’s really important is the life you’re building with the person you love. So don’t neglect your relationship before the big day!
1. I cared too much about the details
I have a tendency to get caught up in the details. I’m a very detail oriented person, so there are many things about my wedding day that I way over-analyzed. I share this flaw with my mom, which is why we opted to get a wedding planner to relieve a lot of our burden. But even with Shannon walking us through a lot of the major decisions, I wasted way too many hours pouring over Etsy looking for the perfect place card holders, or second guessing the images on my save-the-dates for the third time (I even re-ordered all of my save-the-dates because I decided after the fact that I didn’t like the picture I’d chosen. I also reordered some of my RSVP cards because I didn’t like the way I’d written the number 2 on them..I know, I have a problem.)
After the whole thing is said and done, nobody remembers the small specifics of our wedding. I married the love of my life, my friends and family had a great time, and I have beautiful pictures to document the whole thing. That’s all that really matters, so if I could go back, I’d save myself a lot of time and anxiety and stop stressing over every little detail.
2. I didn’t do enough research before picking my venue
I loved our wedding venue. It was insanely beautiful, it fit our style, it was unique and the coordinator was easy to work with. But it was the first and only venue we visited. I found it online a few days after we got engaged, and after touring it, I knew it was the one, so we booked it. It wasn’t until later when our planner started helping us navigate everything that we realized some of the venue’s flaws. For instance, we HAD to use their caterer, and they were a tad (or a lot) expensive. The venue also didn’t provide any of the rentals. So we had to pay to rent the chairs, tables, lights, plates, silverware, table linens, everything. That adds up. I don’t regret booking this venue. I really did love it, but just as a general warning to future brides, don’t make any snap decisions when it comes to big things like your venue. Do your research, and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before you book. Whether it be the venue, photographer, planner, florist or anything!
We got married on a covered balcony at the Trinity River Audubon Center surrounded by nature. The arbor was handmade by my uncle and cousins!
3. I left some things until the last minute
The morning of my wedding, I still had a list of tasks I needed to do like copy my vows into the vow books, write Nick a letter and make a slideshow for the reception. Those seem like small things, but they added so much stress to the wedding day for me. Nick also put a lot of his tasks off until the day of or a few days before, and he can personally attest to the strain it put on our wedding day and on our relationship leading up to it. I had a bride last fall (and if that bride is reading this, know that I tell this story out of love!) who put off writing her vows until the morning of her wedding. When it was time to start the ceremony, she still wasn’t finished. She was in tears from the stress of it all! She ended up winging it, and they were beautiful, but still. Don’t put stuff off until the last minute. You don’t want your wedding day to be any more stressful than it has to be.
4. I made my family shot list too long
This is the only thing about my wedding that you could say really went wrong, but even this was small. I made an extremely long list of family formals I wanted for my photographer, and it took up a lot of time. About halfway through the list, my photographer realized we were going to miss the sunset, so we majorly cut down the rest of the list, rushed through them, and ran out to a field to try and catch the sunset (spoiler, we missed it). The photos turned out beautiful anyway, but because of this, we have a ton of photos of my family, but just a few of Nick’s family….and I still feel bad about it. A lot of his extended family didn’t get pictures with us because we spent too much time taking unnecessary pictures and wasting time. So, lesson learned. Brides, you don’t need every combination of family photo you can think of. Only the main ones are going to be in your album, so don’t waste too much time getting 10 combinations of the same 10 people!
5. I didn’t slow down enough to try my own cake
I had a blast at our reception. I spent the whole time walking around, talking to people, enjoying the photo booth and having a great time. But the only bite of cake I had was the one Nick shoved in my mouth when we cut it. We saved the top layer for our first anniversary, but it wasn’t edible after a year in the freezer. So while I did have fun, it would have been nice to slow down, take everything in, and enjoy a piece of cake with my new husband. All in all, though, we had a great wedding, and I loved every minute of it!
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