This A to Z is simply a collection of tips, advice and observations I’ve picked up at weddings over the years, aimed at helping couples prepare for their big day. Some are pretty obvious, some a little obscure, and all of them subjective – so please don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy!
A is for ARRIVAL
Plan to arrive at the church 10 minutes late. No more, no less. If you arrive on time, at least 10% of your guests won’t have arrived yet. The further your guests have to travel, the higher this percentage goes. Quite often, a bride who arrives on time is left sitting in the car, waiting nervously while the last of the guests arrive. Any later than 10 minutes though, and your priest won’t be happy, let alone the poor groom.
B is for BUTTONS
If your dress is fastened with buttons at the back, have a crochet hook on hand if required. It’s usually up to the mother of the bride or the chief bridesmaid to button up the dress. Manicured nails, along with wedding day nerves, can turn a simple task of buttoning up a dress into Mission Impossible. A crochet hook, however, will make it a doddle.
B is also for BABY WIPES
Yes, baby wipes. Why? There is nothing better than a baby wipe* for removing any little stain that may appear on your dress throughout the course of the day, so make sure your bridesmaid carries a small pack in her bag.
*Darren Purcell will not be responsible if your dress is made from some alien fabric that reacts badly to the lowly baby wipe. I’ve never seen it go wrong, but best to test it out beforehand!
C is for CONTRACT
Get contracts from all of your suppliers. Every single one. If they hesitate when you mention contract, then walk away. Make sure the contract spells out every little detail, including what is expected of both parties, by when, and what sort of payment schedule there is. Also, it should include details of contingency plans should disaster strike. I have heard dozens of horror stories over the years where suppliers don’t show up, or deliver something other than what the couple were expecting. In almost every single one of those cases, there was no contract.
C is also for CHECK-IN
One of the most common delays on a wedding day, is waiting for family members to present themselves for the family photos. Very often, the delay is down to just one person who has decided that would be the perfect opportunity to check into their hotel room! It’s not a deliberate ploy to mess up your day, it’s usually just something they do instinctively – arrive at the hotel, let’s check in! Asking the family members to wait until after the photos to check in means you can get through the family photos nice and quickly.
D is for DELEGATE
This is your day. You get to boss people around. Give jobs to your bridal party. Don’t lump it all on the best man, spread it around. Duties such as paying suppliers, rounding up family for photos and removing flowers from the church should all be delegated to others BEFORE the wedding day.
E is for ENJOY!
You’ve planned for this day for years. It’s like a steam train now, it will carry on regardless of any slip ups, so you should just relax and enjoy it. Now for the science bit… when you get stressed, your body releases a hormone called corticotopin. Corticotopin affects the way in which your brain stores memories. In short, the more stressed you are on the day, the less likely you are to remember your day!
F is for FLOWERS
First of all, the button holes and corsages. What side do they go on? For gentlemen, they wear them on the left hand side. For ladies, they go on the right hand side. An easy way to remember, beaten into me by my mother, is that ‘WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT!’ To be honest though, it’s not a massive deal. Lots of ladies wear them on the left if they feel it looks better with their outfit, so don’t get too caught up on it. With regards to the bouquet, a common question is ‘How should I hold it?’ As a general rule, you hold your bouquet with two hands, with the top of your hands roughly level with your belly button. Don’t squeeze your arms in by your side, as doing so will make your arms look bigger. Arms should be relaxed and elbows fall naturally by your side.
F is also for FINGERS
You got your wedding rings ages ago, and they fit perfectly. You try them on the day before the wedding, and they fit perfectly. Then it comes to the big moment and SHOCK! They won’t go on all the way! Don’t worry, you haven’t suddenly developed fat fingers. Stress, nerves and anxiety will cause hands to swell very slightly. Those rings that fit perfectly yesterday suddenly don’t go on so easily. It’s a problem that affects men more than women, but don’t worry, it’s quite a funny moment when the bride has to wrestle the ring onto the groom’s finger.
G is for GRIN
Smile! A camera will be on you for most of the day, whether you know it or not, so do your best to keep grinning all day.
H is for HITCHES
There will be some hitches. Always. Remember, every problem has a solution, so try not to panic.
I is for INVESTIGATE
When you’re booking a supplier, do your homework. Don’t just go by their website. Do NOT rely 100% on what you read on wedding forums. While they can be an excellent tool, bad feedback can be, and often is, deleted. Talk to other people who have used your suppliers. If at all possible, don’t book over phone or email without having met them. In the case of photographers, meet them and see their work first hand. Ask to see full albums of individual weddings, and not just a ‘best of’ collection. Find out if they are members of the IPPA, the Irish Professional Photographers Association – while not a guarantee (there are some excellent photographers who are not members of the IPPA), it is certainly an excellent base to start from. Be wary if photographers try and sell themselves solely on the basis that they are members of certain organisations – there are many organisations out there you can become a member of by simply sending off a cheque for €100, so don’t see these logos as a guarantee of quality. They’re simply a guarantee that they sent off their fee. Find out what equipment they use. Is it professional grade? You would be AMAZED at the number of photographers out there using substandard equipment, no backups etc. And most important of all when booking a supplier – do you like them? Remember, you will be in the company of your photographer for more time on the day than practically anybody else, so it’s imperative that you feel comfortable in their company.
J is for JUICE
If you’re having champers that morning, be careful! Champagne will get you drunk faster than a free bar on New Year’s Eve.
K is for KIDS
I know not everyone shares this view, but I think children at weddings are fantastic. Kids will always do something fun and worthy of photographing, so you can see why I like having them there. But my advice here is for brides who have kids themselves, specifically those under the age of 5. Assign a minder to them for the day. That could be a professional minder, or a family member, but pick one person to have that responsibility. I’ve seen it all too often where the bride thinks ‘ah sure the whole family will be there to help with the kids’. Unfortunately collective responsibility rarely works. People assume someone else is looking after the kids, and more often than not, the bride is left looking after tired and upset toddlers, unable to relax herself. Give some consideration to a service such as Little Wedding Crechers for that extra piece of mind.
L is for LIVE MUSIC
Bands are an integral part of a successful wedding. Don’t base your choice of band purely on cost. If a band is expensive, there’s a reason for it. Don’t base your choice on the music from their website either. They could be studio recordings. Go see your band live and make your mind up then. We’re very lucky in Ireland to have some fantastic wedding bands out there. Go and find them.
M is for MUSIC
Specifically your first dance music. Don’t pick a song because you like the melody and forget to listen to the words. I’ve heard first dance songs about break ups, suicide and murder. Listen to the lyrics, people! Oh, and don’t have Take That’s Greatest Day. Don’t. Just don’t.
N is for NIGHT BEFORE
Get a good night’s sleep, you’re gonna need it!
O is for OPEN COMMUNICATION
If you’re unsure or unhappy about something regarding a supplier, say it to them as early as possible. It’s in our interests to make you as happy with our service as we can, and you’d be surprised in the different ways we may be able to accommodate you.
P is for PHOTOS
More and more I’m getting asked ‘Do you need a list of photos that we want taken?’ My answer to that is simple. If you need to give your photographer a list of the photos to take, then you have the wrong photographer. By all means, chat to the photographer about your ideas and locations for photos, both before and on the day, but a list is not necessary.
P is also for PHOTO BOOTH
I've been at weddings as a guest before where photo booths have been great fun, but they sometimes come with a catch. If you're having a photo booth there in the evening, it will, without doubt, have a detrimental effect on the dance floor. Before long, the photo booth becomes the focal point, and dozens of people swarm around it - dozens of people who are now absent from your dancefloor. Ask your band, and they'll most likely tell you that photo booths are the tool of the devil. Just something to keep in mind!
Q is for QUIET TIME
Remember to take some time out with your new husband or wife. I recommend that every 2 hours, the couple should take 10 or 15 minutes together. Go for a walk, go up to your room or even just find a nice corner of the hotel for some ‘you’ time. You won’t regret it. The day flies by quicker than a Fianna Fail councillor at a horse race, so don’t forget about each other.
R is for REPORTAGE
Reportage is a huge buzzword at the moment in photography. The problem is that most people have an incorrect understanding as to what it is. If you want 100% reportage photography, then you won’t pose for a single photo. Not one. Your photos will be purely based on what happens on the day. It’s a beautiful style, but if you want the arty shot of you and your partner walking along the beach, or gazing into each other’s eyes under a tree, then reportage is not for you. Take this photo below, for example, of the couple walking alone on the beach. It's beautiful, it's unposed, but it's not reportage. I, as their photographer, instructed them to walk while I photographed them. They had fun and a great time to be together, but it's not strict reportage. If they asked for 100% reportage photography, we would not have taken this shot. So, if you want shots like this, trust your photographer and have faith in them if they make suggestions to you.
S is for SIDES
Specifically, what side to stand on. Again, it’s not a massive deal, but the protocol is as follows: The bride should be on her father’s LEFT arm as they enter the church. When they arrive at the altar, the father’s right arm is free to shake the hand of the groom. He then introduces brings the bride and groom together, and steps back. Now it usually descends into a blur of hugs, kisses and high fives all round, but you get the idea. For the formal photos, it’s the same. The bride is on the groom’s LEFT arm. The tradition is that the groom (and his brave, trusty groomsmen) must have their right arm free to unsheathe their sword if any bandits come to take his wife. This happens more often in Limerick than anywhere else, but it always pays to be prepared.
S is also for SURPRISES
If you have anything special or unusual planned, make sure to tell your photographer, so he’ll be ready to capture it. For example, if there’s going to be a guard of honour as you leave the church, your photographer will want to know beforehand.
T is for TIMING
Lots of people are shocked when it comes to how long things take on your wedding day. Take the church ceremony for example. It usually takes about an hour, so some couples assume they’ll be on the road to their venue an hour after it starts. Not at all. An average sized wedding of approximately 150 guests takes about 2 hours from the time the bride arrives to the time they leave. Why? The receiving line! It’s the first chance people get to congratulate the bride and groom. So remember to factor that in when it comes to planning your day.
T is also for TACKY
Warning. I feel very strongly about what I’m about to say. I’ve even lost bookings over it. You know the pictures where everything is black and white, except for one little bit of colour, usually a flower or the rings? There are many names for it. Selective colour, spot colouring, colour isolation. It’s probably the tackiest thing to hit photography since Vaseline lenses. Don’t do it! If your photographer does it, smack them over the head and tell him or her you want a proper photograph, not something that looks like a still from Schindler’s List.
U is for UNITED
Chances are your photographer will be missing the United game if your wedding is on a Saturday. Be extra nice to him.
V is for VIDEOGRAPHERS
Picture the scene. The bride is finally in her dress, and looks absolutely stunning. She appears at the top of a beautiful staircase, with stunning sunlight beaming in from a skylight above. At the bottom of the stairs, her father waits, a tear forming in his eye as she begins to walk down the stairs. Then a voice bellows out: “OK, hold it there!! Go back upstairs love, and Daddy, I want you to stand over here instead, and hold your hand over your mouth as if you’re about to say WOW!! OK, let’s go again, whenever you’re ready, love!” That scene happened at a wedding I photographed last summer. A beautiful, natural moment was destroyed, gone forever. The voice belonged to the videographer. His website describes him as being ‘Discreet and unobtrusive’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-videographer at all. 8 out of 10 of videographers are great to work with. Occasionally, however, there are the Steven Spielberg wannabes as described above who’ll happily turn your day into a bad episode of Fair City. When booking your videographer, get advice from your photographer. I have at least a half dozen excellent videographers I’d be happy to recommend.
W is for WEATHER
Every bride prays for sunshine on her wedding day. Every wedding photographer prays for a few clouds. Why? Because clouds are like a giant softbox in the sky producing beautiful soft light. Light clouds on a bright, dry day are the closest thing you can get to having a full set of studio lights placed all around you. Strong sunshine leads to nasty shadows, squinting eyes and strong glare. It doesn’t mean you can’t get good photos on a sunny day, not at all. It just means your photographer will have to be much more selective about placement – where to take the photos and from what direction. They will also need to be masters in the art of fill-flash – using the flash to counter the aforementioned shadows on faces. So when you are putting the Child of Prague statue outside the night before, burying it, chopping its head off or whatever your own local tradition is; spare a thought for the photographer and ask for a cloud or two to go with the sunshine! Being Ireland, there may also be rain, so best to be prepared. Don’t go spending silly money on ‘deluxe wedding umbrellas’. Ask your photographer and/or driver if they have umbrellas. I have six giant ivory umbrellas that I keep in the car for rainy wedding days, so often brides will use those. If you insist on buying some yourself, just search for white, cream or ivory golf umbrellas. They’ll be half the price of ‘wedding’ umbrellas, and probably twice as sturdy. And what happens if it does rain? Don't panic. Unless it's absolutely torrential, I would encourage couples to pop outside for a bit anyway, umbrellas and helpers in hand. I'd never force you, but unless you're a Gremlin, the rain isn't going to hurt you, and you'll end up with some gorgeous shots like these ones here.
W is also for WATER
Bring a small bottle of still water with you in the wedding car. Did you watch the Royal Wedding? Did you notice how often Kate Middleton was smacking her lips? When you get nervous, your mouth gets very dry, very quickly. A couple of sips of water before you go into the church will go a long way to combating this.
X is for X-RATED
Ok, maybe not x-rated, but don’t be afraid to be yourself around your partner on the day. Hold hands, embrace, and sneak an odd kiss once in a while. After all, you’ll be married by then, so you have permission! Plus, it makes for much better photographs!
Y is for YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE
You should be aware that the ‘first kiss’ is not, and never was, standard practice in Catholic wedding ceremonies. If you want it in, make sure you ask your priest who will most likely oblige. I’d say a third of all weddings I shoot don’t have it, and the bride and groom are left standing there puzzled as to why they can’t have a snog.
Z is for Zzzzzzzzzz
Well done for getting to the end without falling asleep! I hope you found it useful!