I have over ten years of experience as a wedding photographer and videographer so that means I've been to a lot of weddings (over 500 at this point.) And as a wedding photographer I'm the one vendor who is with the bride for all of her day, from getting ready to final send off.
So as I've seen hundreds of wedding days from start to finish these are the top 5 things I've learned in my career.
Tip #1 - Leave the Stress to SOMEONE ELSE
There's a lot of work that needs to be done to put together the perfect wedding day, and that work needs to be done BY SOMEBODY ELSE!!! Hire a coordinator, guilt your mother-in-law into doing it, delegate all the different tasks to different RELIABLE people in your wedding party, etc. just let it be not you...(oh and not your Groom or Co-Bride either!)
However you can, with whatever budget you have, don't be the bride who is pulling double and triple duty on your special day.
Tip #2 - ENJOY your "Special Day"
This tip follows from the first one. The point of delegating all that responsibility is so that you can actually RELAX and ENJOY your special day. Wedding days are a celebration of love, of family, of your partnership, and you should be able to revel in all of it as much as you can.
You'll only have one wedding day (ideally) so don't let it pass you by without you being fully there and present.
Tip #3 - Focus on the relationships that Matter
We all have that family member who just gets on our nerves. Sometimes it's the kooky, annoying aunt who decides to wear white to your wedding (true story) or the sibling that always has it out for you. You have to invite them (because they're family) and we hope they don't R.S.V.P. but alas, they decide to show up and grace you with their presence and negative energy.
Just S.M.I.L.E. (Show Magnanimous Love Energy) Ok, I couldn't think of an "I" word, and who can pronounce Smle? Maybe I shouldn't have tried to do an acronym, but you get my point.
My point is: this is YOUR wedding day, there are going to be a lot of things that don't go perfectly, and family is one of them, but your wedding day isn't a family drama struggle session.
Focus on the connections in your life that carry no drama, the connections that are the reason to have such a celebration in the first place: your fiancée (obviously,) your older sister who was your best friend (and is now your Matron of Honor,) your cousin who you haven't seen since you were little and is going through a rough patch but then she sees you getting married to the love of your life and it's the inspiration for her to get her sh*t together and finally find the strength to leave her job and tell her boss to shove it and tell Kyle that she never really loved him she just loved the way he made her feel about herself and now that she's found her inner strength she needs...you know like, I don't know...MORE?
Your special day is about those people. The babies can just sit in the corner and pout while you have the time of your life. (F*ck yeah, "Dirty Dancing" reference!)
Tip #4 - Write your own Vows
I get it, not everybody is Hemingway. But in the same vein, not everyone is YOU, not everyone is your fiancée.
No matter how well you write or turn a phrase, vows written by you come from the heart and they are specific to the type of connection you've developed with the one you are literally going to be standing in front of while reading them.
Tell that person what they have done specifically to get to that important place in your life, how they have changed you, have changed your outlook on life, what they mean to you. Tell a funny story to entertain the crowd as well and see if you can get the officiant to laugh. Make it YOURS.
It'll be special and worth it, even if it's awkward.
Speaking of awkward:
Tip #5 - Photo Taking is Weird and Awkward so Just Have Fun
So this one is specific to my expertise: if you're not a professional model, posing for hundreds of photos is gonna be weird. Where do I put my hands? How big should I smile? What's my good side? WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS?
Just have fun. That's my advice.
Find a photographer whose work you love, whose energy matches your own and go along for the ride. Trust that they know what they are doing, and be an energetic collaborator with them. They don't know the inside jokes you have with your partner or with your brother or favorite second cousin so volunteer that info and have a blast.
Authentic emotions are always best and a good photographer will know how to work with them.
Are you detecting a theme?
My main piece of advice throughout all of this is that while there are many things to stress over during a wedding day: the décor, the catering, the DJ, the photographer, the less than ideal family dynamics, etc. The point of a wedding and of a wedding celebration is to make a commitment to the one you love and to party with your family and friends and ENJOY yourself.
I tell my brides all the time that as long as you have rings, vows, an officiant and each other, everything is already perfect, so let someone else worry about everything else.
You just need to focus on the one you love, and S.M.L.E. (yeah, no, it still doesn't work.)
To see my advice for Grooms, click here.