I'm a storyteller who believes life is made up of the little moments and that the best photographs look for the in-between
Julia first got in touch with me in May. She and Cory had been engaged for a year but had never made a ton of headway in wedding planning. But Cory, who is in the military, was going active duty in October and his mom had recently gotten sick out of the blue…suddenly they were on a timetable.
So within three months of that first email, we shot their engagement session, they booked a venue (Meriwether Springs Vineyard and Brewery in Charlottesville) and they pulled together an intimate gathering for their closest friends and family.
Traditional wedding planning guides like The Knot and WeddingWire will make planning a wedding in three months sound absolutely nuts! But actually, probably something like 40 percent of the celebrations I photographed are planned in four months or less! It’s totally possible and it’s totally possible for it to be stress-free.
The trick to planning a wedding quickly without losing your mind, is keeping your guestlist small, the wedding day simple (for what it’s worth, simple does NOT mean cheap or poorly thought out) and finding someone to help you hone in on your vision so you know exactly what kind of celebration you are going for.
Let me break it down for you.
Here is a quick step-by-step guide to planning an intimate wedding or elopement quickly.
Step 1 Book Your Photographer
For my intimate weddings and elopements I am the first vendor most of my couples book. Sometimes I’m the ONLY vendor they book! Often, they pick their day around when I’m available.
Here’s why that’s something you should consider: there aren’t really planners or guides in Charlottesville who specialize specifically in intimate/micro weddings or elopements. But there ARE photographers who do.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve gathered resources like — who are the officiants who will hike? Or the hair and makeup artists who will get up at 3am to do your makeup? Where can you go if you don’t want to book a venue but you do want to maximize privacy? What do you DO on an all-day elopement? How do you take family photos when half the group isn’t already in your “circle” and you want to preserve social distancing as much as possible?
So when you book me, I’m not only your photographer, but your guide to having an epic, intimate wedding. I basically take what you tell me about what you want your day to look like and then point you in the right direction so you can have that day as simply and seamlessly as possible.
Step 2 Decide if You Are Having Guests
Deciding whether or not to have guests is a deeply personal decision. There is NO right or wrong answer. Although I specialize in intimate weddings I absolutely shoot big celebrations as well, because for some people, getting married surrounded by your huge community and all your family and friends is an absolutely perfect way to get married.
The biggest thing for me, is that you should enjoy your wedding day. That’s it! And one of the reasons I’ve shifted more to shooting smaller, alternative celebrations is because I truly believe that the best way to get married is whatever way isn’t stressful and you enjoy. And often, when there are fewer people that you are really close to, you are able to do the things you love rather than the things you think you have to do.
It also shifts the vibe of your gathering from “production” for other people (a la Pinterest-perfect wedding) to “experience” for you and whomever you choose to share that experience with.
So for some, their ideal guest count is zero. For some it’s just immediate family. For some it’s just close friends. For some it’s their inner circle — however small or large that is. For some it’s their extended circle — whatever that looks like. And honestly, some of the most beautiful weddings I’ve shot are for people who have massive communities that they have wanted to include in their day and it has been amazing.
When I got married, my criteria for our guestlist was “who are the people who are going to support us when life gets tough, when our marriage isn’t picture-perfect and when we need babysitters” (just kidding…I totally just added on that last line four years later as a mom to a toddler in the middle of a pandemic.)
Step 3 Choose a Venue (or Location)
If you’re having an intimate or micro wedding, you’re probably going to want some kind of a venue. It just makes hosting a LOT easier when you have a home base. And if it ends up raining on your wedding day, you have a built-in rainy day plan.
Some wedding venues specialize in big weddings, but there are a TON of estates and smaller vineyards around the Charlottesville area to check out that are honestly ideal for intimate gatherings!
If you’re eloping or having fewer than 10 or so guests then you can probably pick a spot like Shenandoah or a state park and plan your day around that with the rainy day plan being “umbrellas.” =).
Step 4 Decide What You Want Your Day to Look Like
There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate your marriage. What do YOU love to do? Build your day around that! It can include different activities or foods. You can do a sunrise first look or an intimate dinner for your group. You can have toasts or not, first dances or not. You can eat pizza or have a five course meal. You can hike, or just hang out at your venue around the campfire.
Once you have a rough sketch of what you want to do, then you know what other vendors you do or don’t need to book and how much pre planning needs to happen. As a general rule, the more people you invite/the bigger your guestlist is, the more planning that needs to happen. When there’s only 2-10 of you, the more flexible we can be.
Step 5 Choose Other Vendors
For many of my elopement couples, I am the only vendor they book. For others it’s me and a florist and hair and makeup. But if you have guests — even if it’s just your parents and siblings, you’re definitely going to want to feed them! So then there’s hiring a caterer or figuring out where to pick up takeout. If you have 20-50 people, you may want some kind of entertainment like a band or DJ. And if you want to decorate a venue or VRBO or simply want the day to be on someone else’s shoulders, hiring a planner is a great idea.
But the thing about planning an intimate wedding quickly is that it really does cut down on all the fluff. You have to make decisions quickly about what you’re doing and who you need to hire and then it’s done — you just roll with it. Because at the end of the day, the point is you’re getting married! And that is a beautiful, incredible thing no matter what else happens.