4 Things That Surprised Me About Our Wedding (And One Regret That I Guarantee No One Is Talking About)

Things That Surprised Me About Our Wedding

As a wedding photographer, I thought I knew it all going into my wedding. After all, I’d been in the business for a couple years and worked with dozens of couples to help plan their dream days, and then capture it. But even still: there were things that surprised me about our wedding. Here are four of them.

When you're planning a wedding, it can be helpful to learn from others. I'm spilling the beans about the things that surprised me about our wedding! Head to this post to read the one regret that I guarantee no one is talking about.
all photos by ashley clayton

For some context/as an aside: being a wedding photographer heavily informed the way I planned and experienced my wedding. I drew on my experience about things that work best for me as a vendor to document a wedding, and mistakes I see couples make. I was also hyper aware of everything during our wedding, because I see too many couples race through it and feel like it’s a blur looking back.

When you're planning a wedding, it can be helpful to learn from others. I'm spilling the beans about the things that surprised me about our wedding! Head to this post to read the one regret that I guarantee no one is talking about.

#1: If you hire a live band for 60-90 mins to play before/after your ceremony, you won’t get a chance to enjoy it.

Somehow this didn’t occur to me. As a wedding photographer, I’m used to experiencing all the behind-the-scenes and transition periods of a wedding day; including when a string band warms up before guests arrive and as the procession takes place. But as the star of the show, you’re the very last to enter — you aren’t standing around listening to the music like everyone else. And by the time you do make your entrance, you’re probably so focused on the huge moment that’s happening that you don’t really even ‘hear’ the music. I for one didn’t. Same goes with your exit: you’re the first ones out and it happens so quickly that you barely even process the music.

So with all that said, if music is a priority for you, consider hiring a band or group for longer than an hour so you can actually enjoy it! I was a bit sad that I didn’t get to do so.

#2: There is a such thing as watching your film too much.

You might think I’m crazy, but stay with me here.

Hiring a videographer was a nonnegotiable item for me. I knew that there was so much value in being able to have movement and audio captured in ways that photography cannot. I dreamed about being able to watch our film decades down the road; to enjoy watching our young in-love selves interact with each other, and hear our loved ones toasting us. Our day was so incredibly emotional and sentimental; and I could barely wait to get footage back.

A couple weeks later when our videographer sent us the 60 second teaser, I watched it over and over again — and yes, I cried within four seconds of it starting the first time, and continued to cry through the next three times watching it. I would queue it up first thing in the morning when I woke up just to relive it again; as I stood over the stove stirring dinner, I watched it on my phone. I memorized every single second of it.

But I discovered that watching it that many times eventually took the shine off. It took the dreamy and whimsical magic out of it. It started to overwrite my own memories of the day; instead of reliving my experiences from a first person perspective, I unconsciously started inserting THIRD person perspectives from the film into my memories/narrative. And while this isn’t inherently bad, it did kind of take me ‘out’ of the moment, as it pertains to my memories. It made it feel more like I was watching a movie in my head, rather than actually remembering living it.

As the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

I’m really glad I noticed this before we received our full film. When we do, I’m definitely going to force myself to consume it in small doses over a long period of time so the magic of it doesn’t wear off so fast. So re-watching it still feels like Christmas morning.

When you're planning a wedding, it can be helpful to learn from others. I'm spilling the beans about the things that surprised me about our wedding! Head to this post to read the one regret that I guarantee no one is talking about.

#3: DIYing it takes SO much more effort and coordination than you can imagine.

This was definitely a big thing that surprised me about our wedding.

With our small, 18-guest wedding, we skipped a lot of the vendors couples usually hire for their wedding. A caterer was one of them. We had originally wanted to do pizza to keep it easy (and also because we loooovee it), but the logistics proved too much of a hassle. Instead, we utilized my mom’s three decades of experience in food service. Specifically, her expertise in designing a great spread — not only in the menu, but also the visual display of it.

Let me take a second to say: if we had tried to do this area without her, it would not have been anywhere close to the stunning spread it was. (you’re the absolute best, mom!!)

I am so, so thankful we had a literal expert in our corner for this. When she originally brainstormed what our wedding meal could be like, I was thinking of the top surface level of it: cool, we serve this, this, and that. Boom. Done.

Wrong.

A month or two in advance of our wedding, we met up and she walked me through all of the plans she had drawn up: schematics of which dish would go where. Which containers we could serve each thing on. A long laundry list of supplies (including — but not nearly limited to — plastic tableclothes for the onsite prep tables, cleaning spray to wipe them down afterward, and aprons). Directions about who was picking up ice on the day of and where that would be ferried. The advance weekend schedule of when each menu item was to be prepped. Details all the way down to having the foresight to pack tupperware for leftovers.

None of this had ever occurred to me to think about.

Not only the details, but the manpower. I thought this would be a project my superhero expert mom could manage basically by herself.

Wrong.

There were at least 10 other hands helping her pull this off. Both on the two days before our wedding prepping the desserts, but also on the day of: dropping supplies off, lending a hand to assemble everything on-site, and “staffing” our party.

In her signature style, it all went off without a hitch. But keep this in mind if you’re thinking about DIYing something in your wedding (especially a big area like food): there is so much more that goes into it than you think. Another good thing to remember is that just because you aren’t paying someone to do it for you, doesn’t mean it’s free! Opting to do something yourself costs you in time and energy. And, your time is arguably the most valuable resource available to you because it’s the only one that’s not renewable.

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And now the one regret about our wedding that I guarantee no one is talking about:

When you're planning a wedding, it can be helpful to learn from others. I'm spilling the beans about the things that surprised me about our wedding! Head to this post to read the one regret that I guarantee no one is talking about.

#4: You should seat your parents/closest VIPs on the opposite side of the ceremony space from you.

This is the only actual, true regret I have about our wedding (well, besides not asking my seamstress to change one tiny thing about my dress that you probably didn’t even notice, but that’s besides the fact 😂).

Our ceremony space was small, and we only had room for four chairs in the first row. We immediately knew we wanted them filled by our parents. Naturally, I thought it would best to have my parents right next to me, and George’s next to him. I thought it would be easy to glance sideways/down at them during the ceremony from that position.

Nope.

Lesson learned: your brain wants to minimize as much energy output as possible, and when you have a billion things computationally happening in it at once (simultaneously processing what your officiant is saying, the expressions on your partner’s face, looking at your guests, your OWN EMOTIONS [hello adrenaline!] — not to mention if there’s anything visually happening in the setting), it’s not going to want to spend any energy turning your head to look at things *over there* when it already has so much data to process just from what’s going on in front of you *right here*. This is why people describe their ceremony as a blur or that they blacked out: there is so damn much work for your brain to do that it redlines!

So, back to the story.

Even though I personally placed all of our guests’ chairs, and I determined the exact spot and distance I wanted us to stand for the ceremony (in person the day before) it wasn’t until we were in the middle of the ceremony did I realize that I had made a mistake. What I imagined as my parents going to be “sideways/next to me”, in actuality felt closer to being over my shoulder/having to look “backwards” at them. What I expected to take no energy (looking over at them), in actuality felt super hard because I already had so much going on in front of me to process. It was so much easier to not have to turn my head to look at who was in the first row, while I multitasked with everything else going on — and from my vantage point, that put my gaze on George’s parents.

I wish so much that I had swapped our parents’ seats so that I could have much more easily glanced over at mine during the ceremony to watch them experience our ceremony. And that’s not to say that I didn’t love getting to share looks with George’s parents, because I did (truly, they’re some great humans), but I feel like we can all agree that our own parents usually take priority for us. George saw a couple really cute moments happen between my parents (who are 10 years divorced, so that’s saying a lot) that I had no idea happened until later when he described them to me. I would have loved to see those.

Not only did I experience this firsthand, but I realized afterward that the same thing happens to a lot of my couples.

Because I’m objectively witnessing their ceremony happening and looking for great moments to capture, I notice where their attention is going — and it’s almost never over their shoulder to the people in the first aisle on their side (which are their VIPs!). But I didn’t put two and two together until after experiencing it myself.

And remember the rule about driving behind a semi: if you can’t see the driver’s mirror, they can’t see you! If you aren’t seeing your VIPs (face to face), they aren’t seeing you. But they want to; because of course, what else is the point of sitting in the front row? 😉

I wish I had done this differently, and I urge you not to make the same mistake. Put your family/VIPs on the opposite side of the ceremony as you.

When you're planning a wedding, it can be helpful to learn from others. I'm spilling the beans about the things that surprised me about our wedding! Head to this post to read the one regret that I guarantee no one is talking about.

If this idea feels uncomfortable, like you’re breaking a rule, I truly believe you should challenge that feeling. Allow me to point out that it was never written down anywhere that a person getting married has to have their family on one side, and their partner’s family on the other side. This was a habit that just happened to stick; even though it really doesn’t serve us in actuality (see above), we keep doing it because that’s just “what you do.” What’s the point of that?

This is the beauty of intentionally designing your wedding day. It also happens to be my mission: teaching couples to build a wedding day that is as meaningful as possible by learning to question the status quo. I’m not here to tell you that you should ditch every single tradition and do the opposite just for the hell of it. But I AM here to tell you that you owe it to yourself to ask questions about whether a tradition is truly serving you, or if doing it another way would be better and more aligned with how you want to experience your wedding.

So there’s your wedding regret that I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard before! I certainly hadn’t, which says a lot since it’s my job to know everything there is to know about weddings. If there’s anything I’ve learned about being a wedding photographer, it’s how important it is to experience the day intentionally. I hope that you take my lesson to heart and swap your ceremony seating charts around a little (I’m 99% positive you were planning to put your parents on the same side as you); because don’t you want to maximize your attention span and be able to enjoy your ceremony with your VIPs as much as possible?


I hope you enjoyed this post about things that surprised me about our wedding, and I also do truly hope it helped shape and inform your own planning. And if you need more planning tips, you can find those here. I want you to have the dreamiest day possible!

When you're planning a wedding, it can be helpful to learn from others. I'm spilling the beans about the things that surprised me about our wedding! Head to this post to read the one regret that I guarantee no one is talking about.

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