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Bride Guide: What to Do First When Planning a Wedding | Wedding Photographer in Kansas City

The ULTIMATE List of What to Do First When Planning a Wedding

Congratulations, you’re ENGAGED!  “But…where on earth do I begin?” I hear you asking.

Never fear! As a leading wedding photographer in Kansas City who serves couples all over the United States and beyond, I have photographed and planned scores of weddings. Luckily for you, I have put some of my knowledge and experience into this simple, step by step guide to help you navigate the beginning stages of planning your wedding. Follow these steps, and you will be on the right track to the wedding of your dreams!

Set your Budget

Schedule time with your fiance to sit down and go over your wedding budget together.

This may be the last thing either of you really want to do, but it should actually be first on your list! Setting your wedding budget will provide you with a guideline for all of your wedding planning and will help you to make the right choices for your wedding. I strongly recommend to schedule a date and time for you and your significant other to sit down together with the express intention of finalizing your wedding budget and stick to it. It can be tempting to discuss other things, but for your own sake, do this first!

Prior to having this  conversation with your significant other, talk with anyone else who may be contributing to your wedding fund. (Parents, grandparents, etc.) Whether the two of you are footing the bill alone or if you have multiple contributors, I would recommend that each of you do a little research on what weddings in your area typically cost. It is best to start this conversation with an understanding of what you can afford/spend, along with a general knowledge about the wedding market rates in your area so that neither of you are surprised.

***Know that wedding vendors typically require a retainer fee or deposit of around 50% of the total due for your wedding service, whether that is your venue, photographer, DJ, wedding planner, musician, hairstylist or makeup artist. Being prepared for this expense in advance will help you to secure the venue and vendors you want most for your special day.

What to Do First When Planning Your Wedding by Merry Ohler, who is the best wedding photographer in Kansas City.

Set the Date

Choose which season you want to get married in, and narrow it down to two or three possible wedding dates.

Think about whether the two of you want to have an indoor or outdoor wedding. Have you always dreamed of a June wedding? Or do you love autumn best? Do you envision spring blooms everywhere on your perfect day, or do you picture a winter wonderland when you close your eyes? Work through this together and decide which season most appeals to you both, then decide what type of ceremony appeals to you both the most.

Do you long to steal away with just a few special guests for a private ceremony on a white sand beach somewhere tropical? Or will your vows take place before 400 of your closest friends and family in the city you love most? Are you drawn to a more elegant affair, or are you picturing something a little more rustic? Are you most interested in a private estate wedding or perhaps a barn wedding? Or do you have your heart set on a glittery shining night in the city?

Talk through all of these things and settle on whichever wedding date (or dates) will work best for you. Don’t forget to think about any holidays which may be near your wedding date, and consider how these might affect attendance.

This is also a good time to consider whether you are flexible on your date - or not. Many wedding venues offer “off peak” discounts for weddings taking place on a weekday or in “off peak” season, which is typically the winter months. It is best to know if you are flexible before you schedule appointments to view your venue. That way, if they are booked on your first choice date, you can have them check your alternates right then.

This is also a great time to begin to consider an approximate time for your ceremony. Keep in mind, if you opt for a weekday, your guests will likely have work commitments and your attendance will be significantly affected. Likewise, if you choose a holiday as your wedding date, realize that while you may catch a break on your wedding venue, many other wedding vendors such as photographers, videographers, hairstylists, makeup artists, DJ’s and musicians, etc. will charge a premium to work on a holiday and sacrifice time with their family. If the venue discount is great enough, it may still be worth it, but make sure you do your homework.

Pick your Wedding Theme and style

Decide what type of ceremony and reception you want to have, and come up with a general idea of the number of guests you plan to invite.

Do you envision a modern bohemian vibe for your wedding? Or something more classic and stately? Will your wedding reception include dinner and dancing? Or will you opt for a more simple afternoon cake and punch reception? If you are serving dinner, will it be a more casual buffet-style? Or will you serve a plated meal?

Will you bring in a live band? Or will your party require a top DJ? If you know you will have a lot of dancers in attendance, make sure to consider this when walking through potential venues. A tiny dance floor just won’t do if you expect the majority of your guests to be “busting a move.”

Some of these questions may seem a little premature, but dedicating some thought to the answers will help you when it’s time to choose and book your wedding venue. In addition, knowing the approximate number of guests you plan to invite will help you to choose the right venue for your wedding size.

***Keep in mind that in most cases, you can expect around 80% of invited guests to attend. Of course, destination weddings, as well as weddings which take place on or near holidays may fluctuate with either more or less than average attendees.

The ULTIMATE list of What to Do First When Planning Your Wedding by Merry Ohler, who is the best wedding photographer in Kansas City

Pick the perfect Venue

Choose and book your wedding ceremony and reception venue(s).

It’s time to schedule some venue tours! First, make a short list of your favorite venues. Take into consideration how many guests they can accommodate, whether they offer indoor and/or outdoor options, and whether the overall vibe matches what you envision for your wedding. Next, stalk their websites and social media accounts.

I can’t emphasize this enough: READ THEIR REVIEWS. If you find any repeated complaints that raise a red flag, make sure to note those on the list of questions you plan to take with you to your tour! This doesn’t mean you should rule that venue out, but a repeated issue should definitely be addressed from the beginning.

Schedule tours and make sure to take a list of any questions with you! A few things you might not know to ask, but should, include:

  • How early can we get in to decorate? The morning of the wedding? Or the night before?

  • What clean up must be completed after the wedding reception?

  • Do you allow us to bring in our own caterers and bartenders?

  • Do you allow us to bring in our own photographer and videographer?

  • Do you allow live music or DJ’s, or both? And can we bring in our own?

  • Do you require event insurance for the date of the wedding?

  • Do you have a bride room and a groom room?

  • Are your bathrooms accessible?

  • Do you have a wedding day coordinator or event coordinator on site on the day of the wedding?

  • Do you have a dress code for any staff who will be on site on the day of the wedding?

  • Do we have full use of the grounds for photos, etc?

Once you have found the perfect spot, book it and celebrate! You’ve reached the first major milestone in planning your wedding! Cheers!

The Ultimate List of What to Do First When Planning A Wedding - by Merry Ohler, who is the best wedding photographer in Kansas City.

Choose and book Photographer

Next, it is time to schedule wedding photographer interviews and select and book the best wedding photographer for you.

When all is said and done, your wedding day will be a priceless, treasured memory for you and your spouse. That being said, of all the things involved in your wedding day, the only parts of your wedding that will last ten, twenty, or fifty years down the road are the love you have for one another and your wedding photos and films.

Your wedding photographs will be poured over by your children, your grandchildren, and even your great grandchildren. It is extremely important that you select a wedding photographer who is not only competent and can handle the pressure of photographing such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but who is also someone you trust and enjoy spending time with and who will deliver a beautiful record of one of the most important days of your life.

Before scheduling interviews, really spend some time and figure out what style of photography you like best. Do you prefer images where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling? Do you prefer classic, bright and airy photos? Or are you drawn to a more moody, warm look?

Go on Facebook or Instagram, and look at your friends’ wedding photos. What do you like or dislike about them? (For heaven’s sake, don’t share! You are just doing a little research.) Do you like more dramatic images that look more editorial? Or do you love the images that draw you in to the story and bring tears to your eyes?

Once you have a solid idea of what you like best and what types of images you want for your own wedding, it’s time to schedule a few photographer meetings. First, if you found wedding photos you loved, ask your friend who their wedding photographer was! They will be happy to tell you and will give you their honest feedback about working with that individual. Alternatively, use Google! Type in descriptive keywords, like “storytelling wedding photographer in Kansas City” or “documentary wedding photographers in Kansas.” Be as descriptive as possible to help make sure you are getting results that match your desired style. Thirdly, you can use Facebook. You can type search terms in the search bar, or you could post asking friends and family for referrals. ***A word to the wise: posting a request on social media will bring you lots of posts from individuals who are just starting out in the wedding business. While this may mean they offer services at discounted rates, please make sure you are doing business with someone who is running a legitimate business, paying taxes and who carries insurance. Otherwise, your investment may cost you far more than a few dollars.

Next, interview your short list, pick the one who is the best fit for you, and book them! If you aren’t sure how to interview your wedding photographer (or other wedding vendors), check out this post for my detailed guide to interviewing and hiring the best wedding photographer for you. Wedding photographers frequently book 12-24 months in advance, so it is imperative that you find and hire the right one for you early in your planning process. Trust me, you do not want to be scrambling to find a wedding photographer last minute.

Original wedding floral Hand Made Decoration, flowers, wood, table

Finalize your Wedding Party

It’s time to ask your ladies and gents to stand with you in your wedding!

This process has become so much fun over the past several years, with brides-to-be and grooms asking their favorite people to stand with them in a fun proposal, with sweet little gifts, and more. Check out Pinterest for some fun ideas if you want to do something unique, or feel free to go with a more traditional conversation. Either way, get excited - this step is so much fun!

Make sure to discuss the number of attendants with your significant other. Gone are the days when the number of bridesmaids simply had to match the number of groomsmen, but it is still good to discuss and make sure you are on the same page. Many of my couples opt for an uneven number, or even a number of bridesmaids and “bridesmen” in coordinating colors. At the end of the day, you want your best mates at your side as you marry the love of your life, and that’s what this is all about.

Find * the * Dress

Make appointments at bridal boutiques to try on wedding dresses!

Now that you have the first major steps completed, it’s time to say “yes to the dress!” Decide who you want with you as you shop for the perfect dress, and choose a few dates to make appointments. Some brides prefer to bring only their mother, sisters and a few aunts, while others prefer to bring their whole tribe! Either way, make sure to communicate location, date and time to whomever you want to be there, and make sure someone brings a camera or cell phone! You will want to snap a few selfies with your tribe as you sip champagne and try on pretties!

Book your Wedding Planner

Decide whether you need a wedding planner, a wedding day coordinator, or both, schedule appointments to interview and select them.

It is best to book your wedding planner/wedding day coordinator early on in the process because they will help you to keep things straight in the weeks and months leading up to your wedding. If you are very organized and do not feel that you need a wedding planner, I would encourage you to at a minimum hire a wedding day coordinator. This frees up your family and friends to be a part of celebrating with you, and will keep everything on your big day running smoothly. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but trust me when I tell you that it can be a source of stress for your loved ones. WIthout a wedding day coordinator, the duties will fall to them, and if they are not a professional event planner, it can all be a bit overwhelming.

Some would argue that you should book your wedding planner earlier in the process, and I can see the benefits in doing that, too. However, I would recommend to book them at this point in the process at the very least. You will thank yourselves later!

Wedding. The bride in a white dress standing and embracing bridesmaids

Book your Honeymoon

Schedule an appointment with a travel agent to discuss and plan your honeymoon!

This step is one which is often skipped until later, but if you plan to go on a honeymoon following your wedding, it is best to consult one early in the wedding planning process. They will be able to help you decide on the perfect destination or resort, and they are a wealth of information about the local culture, weather, and more. Additionally, most travel agents cost exactly the same as if you booked independently, but you have access to their real world advice and connections to help you get the most for your money.

Choose Music Vendor

Decide whether you plan to have live musicians for your ceremony and reception, a DJ, or both!

Believe me when I tell you, the right DJ or live band can make or break a wedding reception. I have photographed weddings at which the dancing did not stop until it was time to clear the building...and I have photographed weddings at which the party jolted along, with intermittent pauses, gaps and awkward announcements. Please, please, please - ask for referrals.

If you don’t know a great band or DJ, ask your photographer. We have been to so many weddings, and we always keep a short list of our favorite vendors for every aspect of the wedding. The thing is - a great band or dj makes our job easier, because there are more people dancing and having a great time, which makes for better photographs! Trust me, we know who you should book.

Choose Florist

Decide whether you want real or faux flowers and make appointments to meet and interview florists.

Do you plan to go with real flowers for your wedding? If so, look into a florist early in your wedding planning process. Good wedding florists book early and will only accept the number of commissions they can handle, so if you want to book an amazing artist or team, you need to get on this quickly.

For a wedding florist, I would not recommend to just book the local florist without viewing his or her wedding work and reading reviews from prior couples. The flowers for your wedding may only last a day or two, but they will be in so many of your wedding photos. If you end up hating the final look, you will be reminded of that every time you look at your wedding photos...for the rest of your life.

If you aren’t sure where to start, ask your wedding venue or wedding photographer. Any professional wedding vendor will have a list of vendors who they love, and most are happy to share their recommendations with their couples.

Arms of hands of Bridal couple with wedding rings 7701.

Choose Cake

Decide on your wedding cake baker, style and flavors.

Bakers tend to book fairly early in the planning process, so you want to make sure to solidify this portion at least 6 months in advance, in most cases. If you are booking an off peak wedding, there may be a little wiggle room, but again - you may pay a premium if your wedding is on New Year’s Eve, Christmas or another holiday.

Talk to your significant other and decide whether you will have a traditional wedding cake and a groom’s cake, or something more unique like a donut wall, funnel cakes, or crepes. Modern weddings are really focused on your personalities and making your wedding “your own,” so don’t be afraid to shake things up and do something unique! Some of the most fun weddings I have photographed involved couples who had cheeseburgers and pizza for their reception meal and an ice cream truck in lieu of wedding cake.

There you have it - a great start to planning your perfect wedding! What do you think? Are there any steps you would add to the beginning stages of planning your wedding? I’d love to know - leave them in the comments below!