Wedding Date: Saturday, December 3, 2016
Wedding Location: Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Wedding Venue: Zama Beach Club
Let's start with the reality of this: Sheldon and Alex's wedding was the first wedding I've ever been in as a member of the bridal party. I've been a reader and greeter in times past and while it's very special— it's not anywhere near the same kind of participation as being right by the couples' side. But maybe this wedding was a little different because I was so involved in the planning process—I felt like I was getting married too. I wanted everything to be perfect for my big sister and when the day finally arrived, I was hiding the fact that I was a nervous wreck because butterflies can be contagious.
Here's how my mind was going through the ceremony:
YES I didn't trip walking down aisle. Thank you baby Jesus. Oh jeez, the photographer is right there, do I look stupid? Wow are all these people looking at me...Do I have a hunchback? Shoulders back Helen. Wow, Sheldon's bouquet feels like a ton of bricks. Don't fidget with that dead petal. Oh jeez, Sheldon's voice trembled. Don't cry. Don't cry. The tissue is soaked by the flower stems. Don't cry. My big sister is getting married. Wait, did I stage the train of the dress? What's Alex feeling right now? Is that sweat or tears on his face? Haha, my brother winked at me. He is sweating so hard right now poor thing. How are Mom and Dad? Dad's focusing hard on the two of them. How's my sweetie? Smile at him. It's his birthday today. Is he enjoying himself? Jeez I don't even know what he's wearing—haven't seen him all day. Wait Helen focus. listen, because after all, this only happens once.
The mind is a crazy thing. Not sure if this happens to every bridesmaid, but I vividly remember thinking about all this.
Then after the wedding, that's when the photographer gets to work with the formal photos. The sun was setting so there was maybe 15 minutes of good light—that meant family photos PLUS photos of the bride and groom by themselves. I was trying to not be that person to micromanage the photographer, but also help with things like ("Hey guys, put your hands in your pockets.") When it was all said and done though, we realized we forgot photos with some very important people in our family. For awhile I blamed myself, because I was in charge of finding the photographer, but in the end it wasn't anyone's fault. We were all in the the chaos of getting through the photos and there was only so much time. So here's seven things that I learned:
1. Organization: Weddings are being planned till the last possible minute sometimes. Sheldon and Alex's photographer was asking for the wedding day itinerary almost four months in advance. While we appreciated the organization, it was a little overwhelming considering we still hadn't even mailed out the invitations yet. Even with all the organized conversations the photographer pursued, we still forgot photos with family members.
What I learned: I will try to always be lenient with my couples about the wedding day itinerary. I understand that the only constant is change but itineraries are a way for us to know what will be happening when and to not miss anything under a crowded tent. One thing you can also control, is the list of family members that you know you want to have photos with. Not only does a list help avoid awkward lag time, it helps avoid awkward family dynamics.
2. Details: The photographer was told to get photos of the guests getting on the ferry that went to the wedding ceremony site. (The island was too big to be able to get to ceremony quickly by walking, but too small to have enough taxis to take everyone to ceremony). We basically paid the photographer to be in a car for about 30 minutes because we wanted this ferry detail. In hindsight, it may have made more sense to get more photos during reception.
What I learned: I am continually going to recommend my couples to think about the in-between time, otherwise known as my travel time between getting-ready places, wedding, and reception. Once, I photographed a wedding where the bride and groom were getting ready in places 15 minutes apart and I only snapped maybe 20 rushed photos in each place before needing to get to the wedding venue. Perhaps that's enough for the couple, but there's the added stress of making sure my car doesn't break down, my GPS doesn't falter, getting the boys dressed two hours before the wedding, etc. Forty photos could be a little better so you can get those family photos you could potentially miss after the wedding, or that sweet laugh between the groom and dad. When you're rushed, you have less time for candid moments.
3. Leave Plenty of Time + Pay Your Vendors BEFORE Wedding: So it was three bridesmaids, the bride and the mom and we started getting ready at 9am on Sheldon and Alex's wedding day, and we still arrived at the ceremony site 15 minutes before wedding (not planned). We also had to figure out payment for the makeup and hair ladies while we were trying to get out the door... adding unnecessary stress to the bridal party.
What I learned: Hair and makeup people will tend to relax more when there is a smaller bridal party, so they take longer per person sometimes. Regardless, I will now recommend brides to communicate a finish time very clearly to leave time for photos before wedding (if desired) and traveling to ceremony site. There is nothing wrong with being ready too early. Gives you time to get that fireball whiskey shot to calm your nerves. Ole!
4. Expect something to go wrong/or not according to plan: Like most weddings, we had a rehearsal the morning before the wedding day at a certain waterfront location. When we showed up 15 minutes before the wedding, I was trying to set up a video camera and realized our ceremony site wasn't where it was supposed to be. The wedding planner made a last minute decision to set the chairs up at another location nearby, albeit a better place, it still led to one of those "holy crap, where are the chairs?" moments. My sister was trying not to panic that she couldn't get her engagement ring to fit on her swollen finger and my mom was about to hurl from car sickness from the bumpy drive over.
What I learned: I learned how nervous you get regardless of what role you play in a wedding and this allows me to empathize even more with my bridal parties even more. I can tell them that something will go "wrong" ahead of time, but it's all about how you respond. I'm going to try to communicate that it WILL be okay. Everything will be okay. You will get through that gospel reading or that walk down aisle without tripping, and you'll be husband and wife before you know it.
5. Smile: Sheldon did a wonderful job smiling because it was natural for her. This was it for her...She knew she was gaining a new family in a few short moments. Alex gave her a big 'ol smooch at the end and had the biggest grin afterwards. (I only know this based on looking at photos afterwards. My view of them was blocked a bit because they were turned away from me.) Then there's me. I kid you not, there is not one single photo where I'm smiling. In fact, I look like I was blackmailed to be there. Some others in bridal party did the same. It's actually quite hilarious....
What I learned: Whether you're a bridesmaid, groomsmen, or the couple in the spotlight, don't forget to smile. Don't forget to hold hands. I've actually photographed weddings where the couple is a foot apart the entire time. That may be what you want, but most likely, you aren't going to frame those. Most likely.
6. Hire an Event + Floral Designer + Wedding Planner: Okay, I know money is factor for a lot of weddings. We all have budgets, it's just a matter of what you prioritize. But here's what I still can't believe....My type-A mom actually enjoyed getting ready with us in the condo room. I love that she's a hard worker, but I was so happy to share this memory with her. The groomsmen weren't setting up the venue hours before the wedding. We didn't have to worry about where napkins went and silly details like that. Goodness gracious, it was a day to be enjoyed and it was made possible because we had an event and floral designer and a wedding planner. Renee Landry + Cindy Smith. We literally didn't have to do any set up, clean up or micromanaging with vendors. These women did EVERYTHING. They even sent a staff member to go buy rice in town when a guest dropped their phone in the water. God bless them.
What I learned: Encourage couples to hire event designer +coordinator. Skip out on those party favors, or extra tables to pay for an hour of help even. I have gone to weddings early to check out venues and I'll see the maid of honor and the mom up to their elbows with tape trying to put that last decoration together. I've also seen couples stay behind after reception to help clean up. Is it worth it to save the money? Do you want your last memory of wedding to be cleaning beer cans?
7. Be thankful + Keep Perspective in Check: Even though we forgot some photos, and I wasn't smiling during wedding, I keep thinking one thing. We're so lucky to have all of it captured. Our parents generation maybe only had 20 photos of the whole day. Susan Pacek did an amazing job capturing all of the details and emotion that poured into the wedding.
What I learned: I couldn't believe how relieved I was that someone was there to capture this whole day. I felt so thankful for her documentation. For all my photographer friends: Never capture a loved one's wedding day. Enjoy it. I have too heard one too many times that they get suckered into capturing a loved one's wedding —They might say they enjoyed it, but really though, the pressure is on them.
Congratulations again to Sheldon + Alex! Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this special day.
Thanks for reading...
Outer Banks born and raised wedding and lifestyle photographer living in Wilmington, NC. Ready for an adventure near and far.