Generally speaking, a micro wedding guest list includes immediate family (i.e., parents, grandparents and siblings) and sometimes a few close friends. But, for sure, you can and should invite whomever you want.
A micro wedding (or intimate wedding) is a small celebration of about 15-50 people. Most of the ones I photograph have about 20-40.
Most micro weddings function similarly to big traditional weddings, just on a smaller scale. Typical differences: the reception centers around a meal rather than dancing; and the venue may be a restaurant or VRBO or bed and breakfast rather than a big barn space.
Why Have a Micro Wedding?
I love micro weddings.
Number one: they are almost always less stressful for the couple than a big wedding.
To my mind, you should enjoy your wedding – the planning, the anticipation, the day…all of it. If you aren’t enjoying the process then why are you doing it? After all, a wedding is simply the celebration of your decision to marry your person. It’s not a family reunion or a party for other people. It’s about your closest-caring community coming together to celebrate your remarkable relationship. And that’s super cool.
Micro weddings are also typically:
- Less expensive
- More custom
- More flexible
- Less stressful (yes, I’ve said it twice because it’s that big of a deal)
With fewer people in attendance you can actually spend time with the people you do invite. You can afford to feed them better food. You can spend money on things like a shared experience for your guests to remember forever. You can be more flexible and creative with the timeline. And fewer people just means fewer moving parts.
Look – big weddings can be wonderful and fun. And if that’s the direction you want to go in that is totally okay! But if you do that, may I recommend that you turn the experience over to a full-service planner who can handle all of the things for you and take the stress off of you? Hiring a good planner can be really expensive, though. If you’re on a budget it may be a better idea to simply downsize (even if you keep the planner who does everything for you!) If you need suggestions for a planner, just let me know. I can connect you to some really good ones!
How to Plan a Micro Wedding in 6 Steps
If you’re leaning toward a micro wedding, here is a quick step-by-step guide to planning it.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Vision
You’ve said yes to getting married, now what?
Most of the weddings you’ve attended as a guest probably looked something like what my siblings chose – my brother got married in a church with a tent reception on his in-laws property. My sister got married in a different kind of church with an upscale vineyard reception. Both of them probably had between 150-200 guests.
But if you care to consider a different approach, just keep reminding yourself that weddings are a celebration of your marriage. And that celebration can look like whatever you want!
So start here: ask yourselves what do we two love to do? Do you love craft beer and hiking? You can build your day around that!
Do you love new adventure experiences? Build your day around that!
Do you love wine and conversation? Build your day around that!
You could start your wedding day with a sunrise first-look in Shenandoah National Park followed by a reception at a brewery with your friends and family.
You could plan a weekend of regional activities for all your guests like climbing the Via Ferrata or whitewater rafting or a canoe trip together.
You could host a five-course dinner party at a beautiful intimate vineyard for your close friends and family.
Once you have a rough sketch of what you want to do, then you’ll know whether (and what types) of vendors you’ll be needing. As a general rule, the bigger your guestlist, the more planning that needs to happen. When there’s only a few of you, you can be more flexible.
Step 2: Decide on a Budget
This is the not-fun part. But weddings can be black holes when it comes to money. So you need to decide on a budget early and stick to it.
Most people do not have unlimited funds, so what I recommend is making a list of all of the things you want and then ordering them from most to least important.
If I were getting married again (or planning a vow renewal) mine would look like this in order of highest priority to least priority.
Obviously I’m a photographer and videographer – I believe capturing memories forever and beautifully is really important – so those two vendors would be the most important items on my list of budget items. (As an aside, notice that when people are fleeing their houses due to fires or other disasters, photographs are among the most important items they grab.)
Then I probably would want to schedule some activities for friends and family to do together for the weekend and maybe even hire a live band or really good DJ.
My husband and I are big foodies so having an excellent meal to share with my guestlist would be really important to us.
The venue is less important to me personally. I want it to be pretty, but I’m willing to go simple here so I can allocate more of my budget to other items.
I love beautiful wedding dresses, but when it comes down to it, I’m totally ok with buying my dress off of Etsy or secondhand or buying a bridesmaids dress in white to save some money.
I absolutely love fresh flowers, but for me, the day is more about the experience so this would be pretty low down on my priority list. In fact, for my wedding day I had no fresh flowers in the traditional sense – instead we had a mix of succulents, paper flowers, dried flowers and wood sola flowers.
The beautiful thing about going small is if you only have one or two tables to decorate you can spend a little bit more making those super custom. Splurge on locally made pottery that will then be used in your home for the next 50 years. Rent beautiful light fixtures (you only need a few!) Or – if you get here and are out of money, hang some bistro lights and call it a day. Everything looks better under twinkling lights. But for me, decorations are the icing. They are super nice to have, but it’s the last thing on my list.
Your list may be ordered differently – and that’s totally okay! Once you figure out your order of priorities, then you can decide what percentage of your budget to allocate to each item. It may be that by the time you get to the bottom few items you just knock them off altogether.
But do you want to hear something really interesting? In 2020, the average cost of a wedding was $19,000, according to The Knot. That’s about $10,000 less than the average cost of a wedding in 2019.
The difference? (I bet) – COVID forcing people to downsize. And I haven’t heard any moaning and groaning about these smaller weddings. My theory is that people ended up liking them!
Step 3: Figure Out Your Guest List
For most of us our social groups are loosely categorized like this:
Of course relationships don’t always fit neatly into clear social circles.
You might be estranged from a parent or one has remarried and you don’t like the new spouse.
You might have siblings you don’t get along with (or their partners).
Your parents may feel strongly that their best friends (who are part of your outer circle) be invited to your wedding that you’re trying to keep small.
At my wedding (~85 guests) we had three criteria for inclusion:
- I didn’t want to meet anyone for the first time at my wedding (that didn’t quite work out – my husband has a very large family).
- The guests would be the people who would stand by us when life got tough.
- Everyone we invited we knew would say “yes” because they love us and want to support us (I think we invited 87 and about 85 came).
Ok, now that we’ve gotten that intro out of the way, here’s another quick graphic.
Ok, now you have your “maybe list.” Perhaps you have room in your budget to invite 200 people, want to have a big wedding, and everyone on that list gets an invite!
If you have 200 people on your “maybe list” and can only afford to invite 75, order your list from most-wanted to least-desired guests. Then start working backwards and knocking people off. Sorry, boss!
In general it’s easier to draw the line in the sand at the same level, so to speak. So if you have a similar relationship with four people from work, invite them all or none. If you are inviting siblings and their significant others, invite them all, or none, etc. That way if someone seems hurt, you can say, “we just decided to do family, only!” or “oh, we just decided to keep it super intimate.”
Step 4: Book Your Photographer (possibly Videographer too)
Whatever kind of wedding you choose to have, I recommend picking a photographer (and, if desired, a videographer) who specializes in that type of celebration. Whomever you choose will be with you all day so you want someone who is both an expert in your specific kind of wedding and that you get along with really well.
For my intimate weddings and elopements I am the first vendor most of my couples book. Sometimes I’m the ONLY vendor they book!
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 3 am to fix you up? 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 there are some members who don’t want to stand close to others?
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 5: Choose a Venue (or Location)
I’ve written two blog posts on some of the best intimate and micro wedding venues in the Charlottesville area. You can find those here and here.
In general, look for venues that will fit your guests without feeling absurdly large. If you have 20 people in a space designed for 200 you are going to feel like…where are the other people? But if you pick a really beautiful small space, it will feel intimate and cozy.
Since I’ve gone into detail about some of the best local options in other blogs I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that here, but do check those out – they are a great resource for you!
Step 6 Choose Other Vendors
Here are the vendors I believe you will need for your micro wedding:
Here are the optional vendors I highly recommend if they fit in your budget:
- Hair and makeup
- Entertainment (DJ/band)
If you end up booking with me for your photography and/or videography,then I have a list of other recommended vendors that I share with my clients.
But if you’re just reading this for your own research purposes, then here are a few tips about how to find the best vendors for your day. (This is how I would find vendors.)
- Join local Facebook groups and ask for recommendations. Then go to Google and read reviews of those vendors
- Go to instagram and type in the hashtag #YOURCITYwedding, then start scrolling. Click on all the photos whose aesthetic you like. Many wedding vendors will tag other vendors on the post so if you click on an image and love the bouquet but the photographer posted the photo, they may have tagged the florist in the comment section! Or you can comment and ask who the vendor was. Then read reviews – everywhere you possibly can.
- Start Googling. Try different combinations of words – Charlottesville intimate wedding, Virginia micro wedding, Central Virginia elopement. I like to look through both the previews of articles on the first page and click over to the images tab. That helps me know more quickly if I like the aesthetic of the vendor without having to click through to individual websites.