I'm not planning to hire a wedding photographer... so why am I looking at their portfolios?
Because wedding photographs represent the very essence of what you get to keep from that "very special day", your "dream come true" (or not), to see what actually gets remembered, and what gets tossed in the giant confusion that is that very busy day.
Here's what I gather from photographers' pics...
1. Things that get remembered
The wedding dress, the bouquet, the rings, the bridesmaids' dresses, the groom's tie, the groom's boutonniere, the bridesmaids' bouquets, the shoes, the aisle, the centerpieces (which can be doubled up from the bridesmaids' bouquets, that's cool), the official wedding cake (versus what gets served).
2. Moments that get remembered
Putting makeup on, having that look of impatience and serenity, laughing with the girls one last time, breathing out every ounce of air while your dress is being tightly squeezed on, walking down the aisle, saying "I do", the exchange of the rings, the official kiss, walking back down on the aisle, a few tears from the guests, hugging the parents, the lineup with bridesmaids, the lineup with parents, a kiss with the groom, the first dance as mister and misses, feeding the cake to each other, dancing and laughing.
3. Things that do not get remembered
The flowers everywhere else, the backdrop before you get to the aisle, the rehearsal dinner, the food you served (and, in fact, most of the partying, because it's way dark), the drinks you drank (so long as it's alcohol), if the chairs at the ceremony were comfortable, the decor where you ate (apart from the few details listed above), the ways the tables were arranged, who was seated where, what was inside the favor boxes, what your guests are wearing, the music, the actual desserts being consumed (if any).
From that, I deduct that what you think you'll remember ("oh, I need that dream castle") is wildly different from what will be remembered. The devil is in certain details, the keyword here being "certain".
Hence, key learnings:
1. Don't spend that much on the venue
As I've experienced so far, most venues overcharge because it's the W word. In fact, the best way to put it was in the email I just received from La Venta Inn, which read "I would be happy to give you a tour of the venue and grounds as soon as you are available. We will go over detailed pricing at that time."
It's clear: venues are like time shares. Come in for a few hours, get brainwashed on getting sold a piece of the dream, just like the other thousands of people that buy that piece of dream every year. You can't blame them - at menu prices that "start at $97+", and rental of the space that's at least $1,500-$3,000, every bride is 4 hours worth thousands... and that's worth spending a couple hours brainwashing you, don't you think?
2. Don't overthink the food
Okay, you want to avoid the feeling that guests are critiquing the food. Or that your mom will make comments for the next 10 years about that hors d'oeuvre that didn't look so fresh. That doesn't mean that you should pay the $100+ per person that many caterers try to squeeze out of you when they hear the W word. It doesn't have to be 4 entrees. 1 or 2 may be just fine. It doesn't have to be a dessert buffet - from my experience and what I've heard, you get stuffed wayyy before dessert comes around. And lobster would be awesome, but if it's not in your budget, shrimp is an inexpensive alternative (and prepared right, quite delicious). Better yet, think local foods. In Fremont, we have a large Indian community. I'm thinking of a delicious + inexpensive Indian buffet would be great. Filling. Flavorful. Fun!
3. Don't hire a DJ/band
There again, the cello at the ceremony would be great, but if it's not in the budget, a nice sound system with an iPod will come in at half the price, and with the same effect. Same goes for the reception. And, bonus: if it's your iPod that's getting played, you're guaranteed to love the songs.
4. Don't overspend on flowers
It's easy to get carried away by the vision of flowers everywhere, just like the cliche rose petals on the bed for your honeymoon. The reality of it is, you'll be so focused on your husband-to-be, on what's *really* happening (yes, OMG, it's really happening!!!), that you won't notice the flowers everywhere but in your hands. Your guests may just glance at it once, if at all. And you'll hope your photographer will spend more time on people than on walls. So you can find cheaper alternatives if you want splashes of color: think big drapes that you can get on sale somewhere; just laid out as 2 curtains to where you'll pronounce your vows - that can make a big impact at a small cost. For bouquets, try to get flowers that are in season, vs what's trendy in magazines; and reuse the flowers from the bridesmaid's bouquets as centerpieces. I'm thinking of getting $2 vases at Walmart, put some water beads bought at the chinese market, and drop the flowers from the bridesmaids' bouquets. And voila, a centerpiece.
I probably won't do a venue (more on that later too), but even if I do, I'll bring my own booze. The corkage fees tend to be $15/ 750ml bottle in California at least, but that's surprisingly cheaper than buying the booze at the venue. They're trying to make money, remember? So they'll charge $60 for champagne, and over $40 for very average wine. Get your favorite wine (mine is a $4.99 wine at Trader Joe's) and BYOB. I've heard you can also talk to the sommelier at Costco's and get emails when discount prices are available. Worth investigating and a great way to have better quality booze for cheaper.
Want to learn more about wedding planning? Need to know what to do when it's not just expensive, but offensive? Subscribe to this blog and keep tuned to come with me on this insane journey... I'm hoping my sacrifice will help you learn the caveats, smart tips and good resources when your "big day planning" sucks up a year of your time.