Valerie Thompson
 

THE BRIDE GUIDE

 

okuuuuur. so you’re getting married!

…and lucky you, I’ve put together this amazing resource to help you plan! As someone who helps brides plan weddings on the daily I’ve encountered a lot, while it’s entirely likely this is your first time around the block as a bride. So let me be your gal pal and give you a few tips from the various weddings I’ve been a part of. I’ve rounded up some of my top things to think about not only from a photographer’s perspective, but also from a bride’s perspective. That’s right - I’ve gone around and asked former brides for all their juicy planning tips too. From things they wish they’d done to things they’re glad they did, these girls are sharing some good stuff. I wanted you guys to get the most authentic advice, so I went straight to the source - buckle up!

 

01.

 

Engagements

Engagement sessions are the best for a few reasons, but I mostly love shooting engagement sessions for my wedding couples because it gives both of us the chance to get comfortable and experience shooting together ahead of the wedding. I do my best work when you guys are comfortable in front of my camera and then I’m comfortable being myself around you, so having this opportunity to get to know each other can be so important. You’ll learn my personal brand of humor, I’ll learn yours, we’ll crack jokes together hopefully. That kind of thing. Even if we don’t do engagements or any kind of session prior to the wedding, I usually try and meet up with you guys for drinks or food just to chit-chat and get to know you.

Engagements are also a chance for you guys to have some photos of you just being yourselves like you are in day-to-day life. Rather than being all done up in a dress and suit like you’ll be on your wedding day, this is a great opportunity for something way more chill.

02.

Venues 

 

If you’re here then you probably know that venues are PRICEY. You’ll probably spend the largest chunk of money on your venue, so you have to make sure it checks all your boxes.

In the DFW area, a lot of places are all-in-one venues or purpose built wedding venues with a reception space, one or two ceremony spaces, and usually a bridal suite and a groom suite too. These kinds of venues can be great and convenient, but definitely make sure to do a walk through to ensure you’re on board with the style of the decor, buildings, and grounds, and make sure you really love it before locking in that weekend all day pricing. A lot of these kinds of venues are typically cheaper on weekdays too. If you know you’re getting married local and it’s likely that most of your friends and family wont have to travel, then booking your venue for a weekday might save you a lot of money that you can spend on something that means more to you. Even so, you wouldn’t be the worst person in the world for asking your guests to take a day off from work, especially if it’ll save you a lot of money in the long run!

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If you’re looking for something more unique and personal, I can’t speak highly enough about thinking outside of the box on your venue and I want to give you guys a few options you may not have thought about!

Backyard weddings

I actually shoot a lot of these, and you can get as fancy or as low-key as you want. If you or a family member have access to a property with some space to set up some family style tables under the trees, this can be just magical. I’ll touch on this in later, but if you go this route make sure to plan the lighting properly.

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Breweries, cideries, industrial loft spaces, bars and coffee shops

Are you guys nuts about beer? Have your wedding at your favorite brewery and serve the beers on tap for cocktail hour. Not a white barn and greenery kinda couple? Maybe an industrial style warehouse space is for you - they typically have big windows and great light, and you can dress up the empty spaces and concrete floors with your own style rather than having to work around the style of an existing space. Got a favorite bar or coffeeshop with plenty of space or a patio? Have the ceremony and reception in separate rooms or inside/outside and have them serve your favorites from the menu.

Worried about catering? Don’t be! I know what you’re going to say - oh but there’s catering included in wedding venue packages and it’s just easier that way. cue: food trucks or catering from your favorite restaurant. If you do food trucks, it’s a good idea to give your guests a few options so not everyone is waiting in line for their food from one truck all night.

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National parks and public lands 

These are a great option for couples who love the outdoors, and honestly what better backdrop than nature and a wide open sky? On top of all the other benefits, the only thing you need to pay for is a permit, which usually runs around a few hundred dollars at most - a fraction of the cost of renting a whole venue. Depending on the length of your ceremony, guests can stand or you can rent chairs, and you can head to your favorite restaurant for the reception or have dinner under the stars. Always make sure you pack in and pack out everything when you’re looking at getting married on public lands so we can keep our parks wild!

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Airbnb, cabins and camping

Large Airbnbs are great for accommodating family in the same space as the wedding. Not only will it cut costs for you and your guests, but it brings everyone together in a community space before, during and after the wedding and it feels a lot more like home than separate hotel rooms. Likewise, groups of small cabins can be great for the same reason - to get whole family together in a relaxed setting so you’re not rushing to get around to saying hi to everyone on the big day.

Check blogs like The Venue Report, Junebug Weddings and Green Wedding Shoes for more venue ideas and info. And don’t be afraid to do something you haven’t seen done before - there are no rules!

 

03.

Getting Ready + Getting Ready Spaces 

 
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Keep it Clean

Seven girls, a mother of the bride and a makeup team in a room the size of a broom closet? Probably looks like a bomb went off - hair extensions, makeup, bras flung all over the place …part of the beauty that is the chaos of a wedding day. But when it comes to photos, not so great. Nobody wants wedding pics with curling irons and random bits of clothing strewn about in the shot. Have your girls keep everything stashed in their bags, and designate a corner of the space away from the windows (which we’ll be using for the good light) for all the stuff you brought. And when it comes time for photos, enlist the help of each of your ladies to help tidy up the spaces we will be shooting in so that your pics look clean, beautiful and not full of clutter.

Set your mood for the day

The space you start your day in can have a huge effect on your mood going into what is one of the biggest days of your life. So, choose a space that will create a positive mood, rather than stress you out. Running around in a dark hotel bathroom trying to share the mirror with 4 other girls doing their makeup on top of each other might not be the best vibe. Instead, opt for something with more space, light streaming gently into the window and maybe a place to get some fresh air like a balcony or a porch, and intentionally curated furnishings that will do justice to the pieces you’ve hand selected to wear.

Choosing a space for the best light

In photography, light is everything. Cameras need light in order to work. Good light and a bright space to get ready in can make all the difference in terms of getting you those getting ready pics you want. A dark, cluttered space with lots of random bits of decor and tiny (or no) windows is going to make it more difficult to achieve this. As a rule of thumb, any kind of full length window is a plus - I’ve seen a lot of bridal suites with tiny windows that you can’t see out of that don’t really do anything to let natural light in, and the pictures I can take with this kind of lighting wind up being significantly grainier and and often color-cast due to the artificial and low lighting. You’ll probably also notice me turning the lights off to take photos - the overhead indoor lights can wash pictures entirely in yellow, whereas natural light is much more clean and neutral. If you can, have your makeup artist set up near a window and get ready in the window light.

Dress Hanger

Bring a nicer hanger for your dress. It doesn’t have to be one of those fancy monogrammed ones, but just something like a nice wood finish rather than one of those clear plastic or wire ones you get back from the dry cleaners.

 

 04.

How to get a handle on your Timeline

 
 
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Chances are, you’ve already seen the sample timeline I sent you with your proposal. I always send this early so it gives you a realistic idea of how long things take to shoot on a wedding day. That being said, of all the weddings I’ve shot, the timeline almost always gets behind at some point. This is just the nature of a wedding day. It’s best to go into the day with a solid timeline that has generous time frames, and then roll with the punches if it gets a bit delayed. A tight timeline that you’re trying to make work for whatever reason will always result in more stress.

Getting Ready

The time that I arrive at the wedding can be one of the busiest times of the day in terms of photography - I’ll be working on shooting everything you have set up for the ceremony and/or reception space, your details like rings, shoes, dress and grabbing candids of everyone getting ready, as well as popping over to the groomsmen to do the same over there. Depending on whether you’re doing a first look or family portraits before the ceremony, this can take a bit of time. I recommend that I arrive at least three hours before the ceremony in most cases, to capture everything during this time.

ceremony time

This will totally depend on the time of year you’re getting married, but I recommend having the ceremony time set to about 1.5 to 2 hours before sunset, for the best light all evening. I’m all for having a beautiful ceremony during sunset but it will be getting dark by the time we get to family portraits and it will be completely dark for the bride and groom portraits, making our options for those portraits limited.

Family + Group Portraits

Family portraits are another part of the timeline that typically takes longer than you would expect. I will work with you ahead of the wedding to create a list of all the family portrait combinations you want photographed, and to keep things as short and sweet as possible I will use the list to arrange and check off all the shots on the day to make sure you get all the shots you want. I like to allocate 20-30 minutes to get this done, or sometimes more if you have upwards of 12 shots on your list. I try and keep this part of the day as quick as possible, as I know all of your guests are eager to make moves to cocktail hour. Things that slow family portraits down are often family members who have wandered off (if they’ve already gone to the cocktail hour or gone to the bathroom) and just simply everyone wanting to have a chat and a catch up while they wait. For this reason, it helps to have a single family member to enlist as a bit of a coordinator to help organize everyone into groups for each shot - someone who knows a lot of the guests by name is particularly helpful, as I’m still learning who everyone is at this point.

 

05.

Lighting is errythang

 

I feel like you’ve heard me say this a lot in this guide but I can’t stress enough how important lighting is! Most specifically for your ceremony and for your reception. I want you to be able to know how to position your ceremony setup and what kind of light is the ideal light for your reception. I’m going to go over a few different types of lighting and the pros and cons of each so you can decide what’s best for your wedding. Keep in mind that all of these light conditions are for sunny, clear days. Cloudy days are pretty good for light too, as they create diffused light that is pretty even and usually good for bringing out even skin tones.

 

Ceremony Lighting

backlit

Backlit lighting is probably one of the best for ceremonies if you’re having your ceremony a couple of hours before sunset - if the sun is still moderately high in the sky, having it hit you directly, front-on can be a little harsh, resulting in lots of too-bright and too-dark patches in the images. This kind of light produces flattering skin tones and a dreamy, bright look in the images. For backlit ceremonies, you may want to make sure that you angle the setup just a little bit to make sure that your guests aren’t looking directly into the sun.

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Direct or front-lit

This kind of light can be harsh in an outdoor setting, but really painterly and pretty indoors when the direct light is coming from a window, like in the image below. If this same image was shot outside, her dress would probably be too bright and we wouldn’t get any of that lovely lace detail we can see in this image. Another instance where direct or front lighting works ok is when the sun is just about to dip below the horizon, in the last 20-30 minutes before the sun completely sets. It’s already soft and low enough in the sky at this point to not cast shadows quite as harsh as it would if it was brighter and higher in the sky, and it often paints a lovely gradient of warm colors on the sky behind.

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uneven / patchy lighting

This is probably one of the worst kinds of light for a ceremony, as the camera records bright spots and shadowed spots really light and dark and you’ll get areas like in the image below where faces are too bright and blown out, and other areas fall into pretty dark shadow. If you can, to avoid this kind of lighting I suggest doing a walk through of your venue and/or ceremony site at the time that you want to have the ceremony and notice what the sun is doing. In this case, the sun was still pretty bright and it was getting lower in the sky so it hit the side of a tall house to the left, causing that dramatic line of light you see cutting across the backdrop.

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shaded / cloudy day light

Not sunny on your wedding day? Not a problem! Cloudy day light is even and usually really flattering for skin tones - nothing is too bright or too dark, and tones are usually rendered pretty true to reality. The same kind of light can be found in the shade on a sunny day. If you’re getting married at noon or when the sun is high in the sky, having your ceremony under full shade can be really helpful, and much more comfortable for your guests who might get hot in the sun.

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indoor

If you’re having your ceremony indoors, always try to use natural window light first if you have it. If you have natural light from a window and the indoor lights are turned on, sometimes it can create a weird blue/yellow cast in the images. If the space is too dark without the lights on, have the indoor lights turned up all the way for the best image quality possibly. If you have the indoor lights turned on, avoid having different colored lights in the space. So if there are fluorescent overhead lights and incandescent lights, pick the brightest of the two and only use those. The same goes for colored uplighting - which doesn’t translate very well in pictures.

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Reception Lighting

cafe + string lights

Cafe lights are THE BEST light for receptions, and they can work for both outdoor and indoor receptions. They’re ambient, warm and if you have enough of them, they can provide enough great lighting for me to shoot with. Make sure to get the cafe lights with the much larger bulb rather than your standard Christmas tree string lights, as the string lights don’t emit quite enough light, resulting in much lower quality and grainier images. You can get a pack of the cafe lights at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, etc. for about $30-50 and it’s fairly easy to search google or follow a youtube video on how to build posts to hang them from, or how to string them up indoors.

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colored lights

Colored uplighting might look great in person, but does not translate so well in photographs. It tends to wash everything in that color, so your images end up looking all purple or orange or green, and it’s hard for me to separate out the colors in editing so you wind up with something like the first image below, where everything is a little purple and de-saturated.


On the other hand, table candles and other kinds colored lights that your DJ might have can be great for dancing pictures. In the second image, the couple had table candles and a custom pink neon sign in the background that created cool pink and orange streaks with their movement. I use my camera-mounted flash and a particular technique to achieve dance floor shots like this.

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 06.

Do whatever the fleep you want

 
 

Chances are, this is your first time planning a wedding. It’s a lot to take on, and you’re still probably learning about all the things people do on their weddings like first looks and last dances and sparkler exits and confetti exits and garter tosses and all the special planned moments but I’m here to tell you it is 1000% okay to chuck those ideas right out the window. Because those kinds of things originated from couples who wanted to plan things into their wedding day that would be special to them, specifically. I tell all of my couples to make your day truly YOURS. Make it unmistakably “you guys” and you’ll have something so special to hold onto forever. Plan what you do on your wedding around what is most important to you two as a couple, and what makes your relationship so unique.

Want someone important to you two as a couple to marry you? Just ask - it is SO easy to get ordained online, and it’s so much more personal to have the person who brought you guys together or your father or best friend marry you, rather than an officiant you found online who says the same stuff at every wedding.

Do you guys really want to elope but your families want a big wedding? Compromise and elope someplace beautiful and important to you two as a couple, then come back home and throw a big reception party where you can invite all your friends and family, and celebrate with everyone.

Not into the white dress/white cake/floral centerpiece kinda thing? That is totally a-ok - feel free to do your wedding your way and wear a dress that isn’t white, or serve your guests waffles for dessert and put something more fun and interesting on your reception tables that your guests can see over!

It is SO easy to get caught up in the details and to focus on that list of “things people expect to see at a wedding” and I’m here to tell you that your marriage should be #1 and the details will fall into place if you let it be about that first and foremost. Let you guests get a little glimpse of your relationship on your big day, and don’t just follow the rules of what everyone else does if that doesn’t fulfill you! I hear so many times that my brides are just worried about making everyone happy - mum wants so and so to come to the wedding and you’d rather have a smaller wedding, or grandma’s paying for the dress and she has ideas about what it should look like …I’ve even had brides downsize the whole thing at the last minute because the stress of planning and trying to make everyone happy was too much. And that is totally ok, I 100% understand the need to make your family happy, but it is your day. Don’t lose sight of what is important to you guys at the end of it all.

 
 

07.

Advice from past brides

 
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Amanda

“…a day of coordinator is life! My venue came with one and I don't think I stressed about a damn thing on my wedding day and it was glorious.”

Clara

“my favorite decision was having a BBQ the day before. We got to hang with almost everyone in a casual environment, and not spend only 3 minutes with lifelong friends having a life catch-up while being dragged to do something else. It also made the wedding itself a celebration and not a time-crunched reunion. I feel like day-before or -after events often center around close family and friends who are also the only people you really spend time with on your wedding day. Make space for college friends and people who you really enjoy but aren’t part of the “inner circle.”

Adriana

Advice for Brides:

“Don’t skimp on your florist! I made that mistake. Also chat with all your vendors to make sure you get along and vibe. That’s like super important on the day of the wedding.”

Things you would do differently:

“…in an ideal world, I would’ve picked a better location for getting ready. In reality it was convenient to get ready where I was and I didn’t want the hassle of finding a cool Airbnb to spend money on ON TOP of everything else going on.”

“I would’ve done white bridesmaids dresses except my bridesmaids said they wanted something with some color so I yielded because it wasn’t worth arguing over.”

Brittany

“…get all of the big things booked early, then worry about the little details! Worry about rentals (linens, napkins, etc.) last. Also, always plan for rain!”

 
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Heidi

Advice for Brides:

“Focus on what you want your wedding to reflect and represent, i swear the details become less trivial when you’re focused on the marriage instead of the wedding.”

Things you would do differently:

“I had a backyard wedding with 100 people so not small but also not a big production but still I wish I would’ve hired at least a month of coordinator! ALWAYS have some sort of planner/coordinator would be my advice.”

Amber

“Don’t stress the small stuff, embrace the weather... rain pics are so cute…don’t let people make you do things you don’t want to, it’s your day and you should celebrate it exactly how you want to.”

Sara

“The biggest advice I can offer for the wedding day is throughout the day, pause. Just pause, and absorb how you're feeling and what's going on around you. It's going to go by so quickly and then it'll be over before you know it. On my wedding day, during ready, I stopped what I was doing at one point and looked around me and noted carefully how I felt. My maid of honor was hand scribbling on her toast last minute changes. My one bridesmaid was finishing up her hair in the corner, another was eating her lunch. It was pretty quiet, and I remember exactly how I felt. Before the ceremony I did the same thing, and during pictures, and before we entered the reception, during dinner, and during dancing. It's just such a special day full of so much love, I wanted to make sure I bottled up and cherished how it felt every opportunity I could. I remember it like it was yesterday, and I'd like to think that's partially because I made sure to pause, observe all my senses, and really commit to memory how I felt.”

“I'm so thankful I didn't waste money on favors or ceremony programs, and am also so glad I invested in a photographer and videographer who know what they were doing! I get comments all the time that my photographer really captured the emotions of the day.”

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Morgan

“Hire a videographer - 100% our biggest regret. I wish I would’ve emptied my savings acct for one! Dj - a good one!”

Beth

“Spend good money on your florist. I spent the largest chunk of money on that and it was everything I hoped for! My dress was $400 but my flowers were $1100 for 4 bouquets and it was worth every single cent!”

Rebecca

Advice for Brides:

“Hire people you like. I just got married and there's a ton of trust involved with every aspect, but things like H+MU are a lot cooler when it's someone you actually enjoy being around.”

Things you would do differently:

“…do things your way, it will be fine…we skipped on a lot of stuff people were trying to talk us into (like a day of coordinator and florist) and did them our way (DIY flowers at the flower market day before/ran our own tech) and it turned out amazing.”

Stephanie

“If family starts to control your wedding just elope cause it's not worth it. 'Obviously' hire a great photographer/videographer cause I still regret not being knowledgeable about it and hate our photos. Don't waste money on things that people will throw on the ground or not take home such as brochures that have a schedule on it or what not. Hire a makeup artist. Either have a smaller bridal party or deligate someone in charge of your bridal party so that you have enough time for photos and not hurdling around 18 people which hinders time for couples portraits!”

Janelle

“…do a freaking first look. It calmed me down so so much. My husband is the most no-emotion guy ever. Like, ever. And even after seeing me before the wedding all made up and in my dress, he STILL cried as I walked down the aisle. So I call nonsense on the idea that it makes it less special when they’ve seen you beforehand.”

 
 
 

08.

Get inspired

Here are a couple of websites, blogs and podcasts to help you get inspired to plan the most “you” wedding ever.

 
 
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Bridechilla Podcast

Aleisha keeps it so real, also she’s hilarious and her Aussie accent is so much stronger than mine. You won’t be able to stop listening.

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Junebug Weddings

This is wedding planning ground zero. If you want to visualize the many ways you can plan a wedding your own way, this is the place to start.

Airbnb

Find getting ready spaces, venues and accommodation.

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The Venue Report

If you’re looking for a cool out-of-the-box venue, this is where you need to look.