The winter holidays are an all-time favorite time for couples to ring in the New Year AND put a ring on it! An impressive 40% of engagements happen between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, with the classic favorite being December 25, surrounded by both family and friends to help celebrate the new phase your relationship is entering.

And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance this content relates to you… you just got engaged- now what!?

First off- take a deep breath. You’re about to be asked a lot of questions by everyone around you. Mere seconds after you slide that ring on an invisible communal ping travels at light speed to every relative, colleague, friend, and that girl you stood by at that concert five years ago to text you to see if you’ve locked in a date, location, and dress code yet. And while you may have a loose vision and six non-cohesive Pinterest boards you’ve been adding to since early college, you probably have no idea where to start in the vast sea of wedding wonder. 

Luckily, I’ve had the pleasure of working behind-the-scenes in the wedding industry for years, and have had the great fortune of having ALL my best friends have their own weddings in the last two. I’ve been a photography hype woman and a maid-of-honor. I’ve been the one corralling family and organizing moments, and been at the mercy of an unorganized timeline. And moreso, I’ve done the research and seen it in actual placement. 

The first thing you need to do is dream for just a moment. If you had your dream day, what would it include?  At this point you don’t need to be overly specific, but it helps to have a vision to jump off from.  Some popular choices are historical venues with blush gardens and greenery.  The perfect fall day with all of your loved ones surrounding you, orange and red trees all around. New Year’s Eve lights on top of the city, with guests dressed in black ties and sequins. A ballroom where you share your first dance, and then many after. These key ideas make narrowing down the hundreds of options down to fit YOU.

The next thing is the hardest, but arguably, the most important- budget. No matter if it’s $20,000 or $200,000, budget makes a huge impact on just what is feasible on your day. It’s important at this point to discuss with any parents or family members on if, and what, AND at what cost (like a table or three of their friends attending), they would like to contribute to your day.  Getting on the same page in advance and deciding the most important elements to the wedding day before heading into the weeds will prevent any assumption and awkwardness later, and let you make the judgment on what feels best for you, your fiance, and your future goals. 

Once you have a rough budget set, you should decide on a timeframe for the wedding. Most venues book between eight months to two years in advance, so choosing a season will give you the best chances if you have a specific venue you’ve dreamed of. By contrast, if you have a specific date in mind, you’ll need to be more open to venues that may not fill every checkmark. 

When selecting a venue the key factors will be:

-Availability : As mentioned above, most venues book between eight months and two years in advance, with peak interest being on Saturdays. If you've got your heart set on a location, you may need to choose your date based around this. If you're open to a Friday or Sunday, you may be able to have your wedding sooner, if that's a preference.

-Budget and Guest Count : Your venue will likely be the largest line item on the wedding spread sheet. If you want a very large wedding (300+) you'll have narrower options than a wedding half the size- and, spoiler alert: the #1 factor affecting budget is guest count. Let's just get that out of the way. The more guests you have, the more everything you need.

-Location: If you have lots guests traveling, it's great to choose a place near an airport, or generally not too difficult to get to, as well as ensuring there's ample options for overnight guests.

-Physical attributes: The staircase. The vintage lounge furniture. The patio where you'll say your vows. The rolling greens. This is why you love it!

I believe that venues have a lot of push and pull when it comes to budget. A common mistake we see couples make is choosing a venue that comes at a cheaper upfront cost, but requires a lot of rentals, florals, and decor to bring it to life. On the flipside, we often see couples use a lot of their budget on a high-tag venue and compromise on other elements. I always love a good Country Club- they'll have beautiful architecture and are often manicured with rolling greens, and FILLED with vintage treasures! A venue closer to the city will come with a heftier price tag than in the country, but there are a lot of venues that fall into the unique categories that are gems! A great example is Succop Nature Park, a part of the Audubon Society. Because its a nature preserve, it comes at a lower upfront cost than a traditional venue. But, because their primary function is not to host weddings, some spaces may need more outside decor to create the feel you want for your wedding. Pittsburgh is a city blessed with so much natural beauty AND architecture. Choosing a venue with attributes you love that already exist will let you have the most freedom when it comes to creating your vision.

The Carnegie Museum Hall manifests a classic, luxurious era intertwined with historic Pittsburgh elements.

At this point, I’d also recommend looking into a Wedding Planner or a Day-of-Coordinator. I constantly hear couples say that they don’t think they’ll need one until they really get into the nitty-gritty of the day. The reality is you can’t be everywhere at once, your family/friends deserve to be guests too, and if you don’t have one, there’s a good chance that another vendor is doing something that a planner or coordinator could have handled INSTEAD of what they’re hired to do. A great example of this is how often I’ve had to sew brides into their dresses, do last minute stitches on bridesmaids, pin veils in, find a missing family member… I LOVE being able to help my couples as much as I can in any situation. But it does mean that in those ten minutes, there’s another moment that I’m not capturing for you. Your coordinator is there for you in these moments.

A full-scale Wedding Planner differs from a Day of Coordinator, which differs from a Venue Coordinator.

  • A Venue Coordinator is there on behalf of the venue's interest. They are there to help you, but only in ways that are directly connected to their segment of the day. If you bartender suddenly falls ill and won't make it they'll find a replacement before you know anything is wrong. They'll make sure you DJ gets all the power they need, and will be sure to tell catering and rentals where they can load in and load out, and when. They cannot help you if your transportation is running late, if your mother is needed for portraits but is no where to be found, or if you need last-minute touch ups or fixes.
  • A Day of Coordinator will take the reigns from you 2-3 months before your wedding day. They'll ensure all vendors know where they need to be and when. They'll create a schedule for not only your wedding party and day, but for all moving parts- when staff arrives, when every car needs to be loaded and ready to leave, and when events need to happen. They'll make sure you're bustled by dinner, and that your veil and bag actually makes it back to your suite. They'll pack up your gifts, cards, and even a dinner & cookie box for you. They often also are in charge of ensuring thank-you notes and/or tips make their way to other vendor teams, so no one needs to remember to bring their wallet.
  • A Full Scale planner brings everything that the Day-of-Coordinator does, plus more. Way more. They can do work as opulent as having custom monograms and watercolor painted invitations created for you, or as simple as stamping, addressing, and mailing your invitations out. They design your wedding to be all about you, tailored to your tastes, married to their artistic vision. They'll help you find the perfect vendors, in budget, and even suggest ones you never would have thought of- like late night fireworks, a live band to lead you to your reception, or even a flower cart for your guests to make their own little keepsake. At then at the end of the night, they handle all tear-down and clean up, ensuring your family doesn't have to lift a finger. A great Planner is an unbiased ally, a connection to the heart of the industry, and the secret to a smooth wedding day.  They take the stress off of you so you can actually enjoy every moment of the day you spent so much time waiting for!

While your venue may include tables and chairs, they don't always include set up of the tablescapes or arrangements. Your florist will arrange the main display, but the napkins, placesettings, flatware, glasses, and favors are not always included.

This is where your Planner's team or Day of Team comes in! They'll ensure all your details are placed perfectly. Pictured: Hello Productions at Gardens of Stone Bridge.

K&C's wedding had gorgeous florals shared between spaces- the arrangements from the ceremony were moved to the head table for dinner. This can be a great way to be both budget-wise, AND eco-friendly. But, someone needs to handle moving and arranging, and that's where extra hands are essential.

Once you lock-in your planner/coordinator and venue, it’s time to lock in your photographer!  The most common order for booking, based on demand and scheduling, is Venue(s), Photographer, and Planner/Coordinators, followed by catering (if not included with the venue), a videographer, florist, live music, DJs, and extra experiences like a live-painter or performance artist.

The first thing to ask yourself is what styles you prefer- do you like someone who stands in the background without interfering with moments, catching them as they happen in a documentary style? Someone who will help pose you, without being too still or awkward? Would you rather see people smiling at the camera, or, the moments in the middle. Does bright and airy speak to you, or dark and moody? Maybe somewhere in the middle, where tones aren't too far away from real life, but just a little bit prettier.

I like to marry a couple of all of these elements together.   We want those natural laughs and moments to happen, but I'll bring you to the best light to capture it most beautifully. To me, a photograph should be just as beautiful and significant in ten years as it was the day it was created, so I strive to have natural, true tones opposed to overly colorized or muted ones- natural will never go out of style.  We’ll capture those stunning details in an artful way, given a spot of attention as they deserve to be, just as you chose them. I love the magic of a golden hour session, where we can capture a kiss under your veil, you two walking hand in hand, laughing, filled with the joy of your day.  As far as posing- I love to give my couples basic poses and placements, and then prompt them into moments within - while still being sure we get some smiling at the camera for mama!

There is no right or wrong style to love, but one of the best things you can ask a photographer is to see a few FULL galleries from previous weddings. I was personally shocked at how many websites didn’t match the galleries when helping my sister choose her photographer- content days and styled shoots are wonderful, but they occur under the best conditions. Instagram feeds, portfolios, and websites show amazing moments, but seeing the REAL and complete wedding galleries will show you a true overview of what your wedding collection and legacy will be like.  It'll also show any weak points in a photographer- keep an eye out for closed eyes or covered faces in family or wedding party portraits- those are often taken in one of the busiest parts of the day, so seeing how those are managed can show a lot about a photographer. I have a list of Frequently Asked Questions on my Collections page where I share some of the reoccurring questions I'm asked- by far, the most common is if my packages let couples print independently. This is another big division point between photographers- some handle all printing, album creation, and similar in house, and do not allow outside printing, and do not edit images that are not purchased for print. Some may not have a favored print house, and allow you to print anywhere. I follow a hybrid system where you can order archival quality prints through me with design support, or print yourself where ever you choose.

I know no one loves talking about money, but it wouldn't be a wedding photographer posting about wedding planning without mentioning that it is SO worth spending a little more on your wedding photographer to get someone with the experience to really capture, and even elevate, your day. A great photographer can more easily capture a less-ideal location and make it radiant than a beautiful location will look by a less-experienced photographer. Having someone who knows the ins and outs of the industry, lighting, timelines, and softskills like organization and communication is worth its weight in gold.

Once you’ve narrowed down the style and feel of photographer you’d like, you should get to know them. I meet with any prospective client before anything is signed- we’re going to be spending a lot of time together, and I want to be sure that we’re a great match! I love hearing my couple’s love stories, learning about what’s important to them, talk about family traditions and heirlooms- if you’re simply filling out a contact form and hitting “submit” there’s no way for your photographer to capture YOUR day. If you wouldn’t want to have coffee with them, they shouldn’t be your photographer.  One of my favorite ways to get to know my clients is to do an engagement session- we’ll talk, laugh, and you’ll get to get comfortable in front of a camera before your wedding day! Plus, you can use those photographs to create your Save-the-Dates and Wedding Website. 

*It's often suggested Save the Dates should go out four to six months pre-wedding. With the wedding boom happening, I personally recommend sending them sooner- digitally counts! Once you know your date, there’s really no reason to hold off, especially if you choose a date in peak-season. 

No matter what you do, please, please, make time for golden hour.

Once you’ve locked in your photographer, venue, and coordinator you can take a little breather. This is a great time to go dress shopping, taste some cake, and of course, choose your wedding party!  In the twelve-to-eight months before your wedding you’ll find the perfect officiant, florist, and stationaire… but that’s for a future post.  I’m hoping to use my amazing network of Pittsburgh creatives to bring a little series of posts to you answering all the questions you wish you knew, the questions we wish you’d ask, and industry tips and tricks to bring you the BEST wedding day! 

Before signing off here, I’d love to share a couple of MY favorite planners and venues to get you started. Oh, and the perfect date? April 25. 

A Few of My Favorite Venues: 

Carnegie Museum of Art 

Fox Chapel Country Club

Hartwood Acres

Gardens of Stonebridge

Phipps Conservatory

Longue Vue Golf Club

Wintergarden at PPG

A couple of Pittsburgh’s Best Planners: 

Day of Pittsburgh

Em & E Events

Hello Productions

Its A She Thing

La Eventor

Olive+Rose Events 

Soiree by Souleret

Wildly Loved PGH 

Thanks for reading!

Have a burning question? Want to get a coffee? Pop me an email!

Just for research, thanks!