You know that phrase “always a bridesmaid…never a bride”? Well in my personal case it is “always a wedding photographer… never a bridesmaid” that is, until now. My sister is getting married next month (here’s the blog post from her Christmas day engagement shoot in Cozumel), putting me in the oddest spot for a photographer: in front of the camera. Am I going to completely let go of the photography reins for her day? Absolutely not! Just going to bring on a bit of help. : ) Having been a wedding photographer for the past 10 years, I’ve seen a LOT of behind-the-scenes from the big day. I decided I wanted to compile some pieces of advice to share with my sister so she could have the BEST wedding day possible, but you know what? I’m going to share it with all of you too, because everyone deserves a great wedding day. 1. Get a good night’s sleep the night before your wedding. I know this sounds incredibly simplistic, but you would be surprised how many people stay up late at parties the night before, or just hanging out with family that might be in town. Your wedding day will be exhilarating and amazing, but exhausting. Be ready. 1.5. Along these same lines – EAT! You would be surprised how many brides (and grooms) are so busy on their wedding day that they don’t eat! Have someone designated to get food for you and your wedding party during the getting ready phase of the day, and for you and the groom during the reception. Also have that person pack a to-go box for you to take along with you to your hotel. You’ll be so glad to have it later! 2. Make a schedule for the day. Be sure to have a game plan for the entire wedding day. Allow LOTS of cushion within this schedule for delays in things that you can’t plan for (for example – dresses that lace up the back take a LONG time to put on! Hair styling inevitably runs behind! Somebody will forget something at home and a nerve-wracking high-speed rescue plan will ensue!). Build time into your schedule for hiccups. They will happen. Once you have a schedule for the day, give a copy to everyone involved, so they will know where to be and at what time. 3. Do not micro-manage! Research and choose your vendors wisely, then let them do their job. Micro-managing details on your wedding day will take away your joy. 4. Designate someone to be in charge! Weddings can be chaotic! The person in charge can be an official wedding coordinator, or an organized, authoritative person you trust, but someone needs to be in charge of knowing what is happening at all times to keep things moving along. Organize and plan to your heart’s content up until the day before the wedding, but ON the wedding day – let it go. Enjoy. This day only comes along once. You need to be fully present. 5. Choose your photographers wisely. Obviously we feel strongly about this one! Honestly though, you will spend more time with your photographers on your wedding day than with your own parents! They need to be people you like, feel comfortable with and enjoy being around (or you’re going to have one long, miserable day). They are also responsible for the way you remember your day. Most brides tell us that their wedding day goes so quickly and is such a blur, that it is their photographs that become their memories of the day. Research your photographers well, and ask to see an ENTIRE wedding they have shot (websites often just show some of their very best images). High quality wedding photography CAN be expensive, but making the wrong choice can be even more costly in the end.6. Choose to do a “first look”. Whether or not to see each other before the ceremony is a hotly debated topic. We have found that the first look is a beautiful, private time for the couple. As photographers we also have the advantage of being able to capture every surprised face, every smile and tear (which can be difficult during an actual wedding ceremony). This also allows us to capture all the posed images of the couple and bridal party before the ceremony, leaving the bride and groom to relax and enjoy the entire reception and all their family and friends without any further interruption.7. Do not have a receiving line. In our experiences, receiving lines are a bad idea! They tie up the entire family (and sometimes bridal party). People are in line greeting mostly people they don’t know, and the first people through the receiving line are in for a long, boring wait at the reception (the last people in line… well, at least at Six Flags there’s a fun ride at the end of your wait). From a photography perspective, there’s very little that is good to photograph during this time – so it is time wasted! You should greet your guests, but the best way to do this is for the bride and groom to visit each table at the reception. 8. Have something for your guests to do while waiting for you! If you have photographs to take following the ceremony, be sure you have something to entertain your guests at the reception. If there is food, don’t make them wait until you get there to eat! Play a video. Have tables set out for them to look at. Have your signature book out at the reception rather than the ceremony (people will write more). Once you arrive, cut the cake first so your guests can begin eating. People are far more relaxed and attentive to you if they have full stomachs! 9. No Perfection Allowed! Things WILL go wrong on your wedding day! During our own wedding ceremony, one of the bridesmaids fainted and the ring bearer had to leave to go to the bathroom in the middle of everything (what I want to know is WHO gave that kid a Big Gulp beforehand anyway????). The truth is, it’s all those little things that end up making the story of your day. So what if the bottom of your dress gets a tiny bit dirty after the ceremony? Aren’t you just going to be laughing and dancing at the reception anyway? And isn’t your husband going to be far too busy gazing into your eyes to notice anything else? ; ) Your wedding day should never be about perfection. It should be about love. It should be about memories. 10. Simplify. When I look back over all the weddings we’ve been a part of, what stands out to me that is beautiful about each one is not the flowers, or the venue or the dress, but the love between the two people and the families coming together. Truly – you can have the most idyllic setting, the perfect weather – the most delicious food and gorgeous decorations, but if the bride is not adored – if she doesn’t have that twinkle in her eye for the man she loves – nothing else matters. At the end of the day, whether your ceremony is in a castle or in a barn, you will be one in the eyes of God. The day will still be the start of a beautiful beginning.