Award-Winning, Destination Wedding & Elopement Photographer based in Asheville, NC shares insight on How to Re-Imagine your Wedding Plans for the ‘New World’ post COVID-19 + all the Silver Linings!
First, take a deep breath (or a sip of that chardonnay!) and try to relax. It’s not all bad. In fact, there are some pretty sweet silver linings that I’m really excited to tell you about!
So many couples have had to face the incredibly disappointing and heartbreaking reality of postponing, cancelling, rescheduling or even tabling their wedding plans for now because of this pandemic.
There is just so much uncertainty surrounding all of this and the situation seems completely fluid from day to day. Between the daily barrage of conflicting information, ever changing CDC guidelines, trying to keep up with, make sense of or understand state / local mandates, the travel and health / safety concerns for your guests and the financial uncertainty of it all… COVID-19 has totally crashed your party and taken almost every ounce of joy out of what should have been one of the most memorable seasons of your lives together.
I want you to know that I feel your pain and frustration. I honor your sense of loss and your grief and I am here for you.
I actually started thinking about how to write this post for all of you after a bridal portrait session with one of my (formerly) spring 2020 brides — who maybe like some of you, had to push her wedding date another 6 months.
I can still recall a phone conversation with her back in March. I hadn’t slept in a week, I was so stressed out and I’d been crying every single day but when I got on the phone with this angel of a human who was so completely heartbroken that this moment she’d waited her whole life for and was SO close to but then it was abruptly snatched away by this salty ass virus, she was frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed and just — sad that finally ‘starting their lives together’ & starting a family was now delayed by another 6 months… In that moment, I remember putting on a brave front for her, trying to be reassuring, positive and strong, trying to talk to her about the silver linings…
But, at the time, the only one I could come up with was: “Well, the good news is: Everyone’s gonna be EXTRA READY to PARTY come November.”
Fast forward two months, to the car ride back to her parent’s home after we finished shooting her bridal portraits. This bride, her mother, her MOH and myself were talking about the whole situation… things weren’t nearly as raw as they’d been in March but the bride shared her fear that: “what if we get to the fall and it’s still not safe… then what?” This is a completely legitimate concern and we talked a little about the ‘new world’ and what that might look like for weddings for the foreseeable future and what it might mean to re-imagine your wedding plans in order to adapt to this new world and thus this blog post was conceived.
5 Stages of Grief:
The five stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression & finally, Acceptance.
You may not experience all five stages and you may not go through them in this order. If you aren’t ready to re-imagine the wedding that you’ve been waiting for your whole life and have been lovingly planning, anticipating and looking forward to for the last year, that’s okay. I invite you to come back and read this post later, when you are ready.
‘The New World’:
I’ve been doing some thinking on it (for about a month), I’ve done some research, talked to some industry experts and I’ve come up with a few pretty sweet silver linings that I’d like to share with you!
Although, so much is uncertain these days, it seems that the consensus among industry pros about what the future of weddings might look like is:
Weddings are gonna be Smaller...
(at least for the foreseeable future)
Obviously every state / county has their own rules and regulations related to mass gatherings, including weddings. Presently, North Carolina does not have a mass gathering cap on the number of people who may attend a wedding ceremony bc of the religious exemption. However, wedding receptions are still subject to the mass gathering limit which at present is no more than 25 people outdoors and only 10 people indoors.
It’s important to note that some wedding venues with kitchens and food service staff fall under the regulations pertaining to restaurants and are operating at 50% capacity. So, indoor/outdoor venues who have the space to spread out and purchase another reception tent for instance, their capacity can increase and operating at 50% could mean that they could still accommodate most if not all of your guest list…
What does this mean?
This means that we’re all gonna have to pivot in order to work around these new restrictions and keep everyone as safe as possible in order to make your Wedding Day happen. We’re gonna have to be flexible and creative and practical and imaginative and open and gracious and hopeful.
This means that your Wedding might not look like what you envisioned.
You now have a unique opportunity to rethink the ‘standard wedding format’ and re-imagine your wedding with intention!!
First, you’ll want to mix a couple cocktails and sit down with your fiancé for an honest conversation in order to reexamine your wedding priorities.
- Make a list of what your Wedding Celebration’s non-negotiables are and what you can live without.
- Brainstorm ways that you can embrace a totally custom wedding format to make your day even more special than you had originally planned.
- Was there something you were planning (maybe because you felt pressure to do ‘what everyone else does’ or to do ‘what’s expected’ or maybe bc of familial pressure from parents or guest pressure?) something that didn’t 100% represent you and your partner? Now is the time to throw it out!
Another Silver Lining:
With COVID in the picture, we are now in a “make-it-work-moment” that presents you with a very unique opportunity to really do this your way and it gives you the freedom to release yourself from traditional wedding pressures and family expectations, that have been holding you back.
Re-Imagining your Guest List:
If you are planning a wedding in 2020 or 2021 it is likely that your guest list will significantly decrease due to imposed gathering restrictions or guest attendance concerns. Determining the original wedding guest-list is often one of the most stressful areas of wedding planning for many couples.
Start with the easy eliminations:
- Did you invite 40 of your parent’s friends because you felt like you had to?
- Did you invite extended family that you barely know because you felt like you had to?
- Did you invite people you hadn’t seen or talked to in years, because they invited you to their wedding and you felt like you had to extend an invitation to be polite?
- Did you invite handful of random +1 guests to accommodate your solo friends and family?
Take a quick sigh, knowing that you can immediately take those formerly “mandatory” invitees off of your core invite list.
Hot Pro Tips:
- Call your venue and get real clear on what they’re doing, what their restrictions are presently and find out what they can handle (insert guest count) with physical distancing protocols in place?
- Because this situation is fluid and ever evolving and there is so much uncertainty, you should save yourself some time and further heartache by going ahead and wrapping your heads around re-imagining your wedding for an in-person event for the smallest number of guests possible and expand the guest count if allowed!
- You should totally poll the core guest-list to see who can/will attend an in-person event! One way to deal with the invitation/attendance conundrum is to ask your guests: “would you prefer to attend in person or online?“
- Look at your text messages/call history. You should only be considering inviting the “core guests” who you have texted or talked with on the phone in the last 6 months!
Because we’re in the midst of a Global Pandemic, you now have the freedom from expectation — to invite only the people that you are truly closest with and everyone else is going to understand! You have the (amazing) and unique opportunity to restructure your in-person (and virtual) guest list in a way that honors your relationships with those people. Because everyone is going to understand that you can only have (x) number of people in attendance at the actual event, they’re going to feel honored that they mean enough to you that you would still want them to be there virtually to witness your I Do’s!
I imagine that after the initial sting is gone, Re-Imagining the Guest List might be one area that actually feels pretty good! With less guest tables to plan for and less money spent on food & bev and favors, you can reallocate those dollars and put them towards that statement circular floral ceremony arch of your dreams or a band rather than a DJ or you might decide to now prioritize the photographer or videographer that you really wanted to hire, but didn’t.
A temporary return to cake-and-punch weddings?
“In the old days, people had morning weddings followed by breakfast, or afternoon weddings with just punch (or champagne) and cake. Perhaps more people will opt for morning or afternoon weddings so the entire event can take place outdoors, be shorter, and have less food service. ” says Officiant Elizabeth Oakes.
VIRTUAL WEDDING GUESTS:
Let’s say your original invite list had 150 guests and your venue’s current gathering restrictions force you to reduce your guest list to 50% capacity (75 guests or less.) Do you want to create two guest lists and two different events (in-person and virtual) that happen concurrently? Or do you prefer to plan a virtual after-party that happens after your intimate in-person event?
professional virtual zoom party and live streaming combo
Will you be adding a live streaming component so virtual guests can watch your in-person wedding, in real-time? To ensure a high-quality audio and visual experience, take some of that saved money and hire a professional videographer — and certainly someone who is an experienced AV professional to manage your virtual stream! Someone holding a shakey iphone or worse an iphone propped on a chair won’t cut it girlfriend! Spend the money. Get a professional. You won’t regret it. Promise.
Your live streaming package might include:
- A virtual host to welcome guests, emcee, and guide your guests through the virtual party experience
- Technical support to help your less tech-savvy guests
- Professional live event video coverage with multiple camera angles, including the guest POV perspective
- TV flat screens to broadcast the concurrent virtual party? It could be fun to highlight and the show off your virtual guests all dressed up in their homes, to bring them into the room! 🙂
- Slideshow or video montage for guests to watch during downtime
- Trivia quizzes or contests to connect the guests and keep things moving during transitions
- Virtual recording and party highlight reel
You’re going to save THOUSANDS by having 50% less guests actually in attendance at your Wedding. (Think: $50 -$75 per head for food / bev & half the number of tables to decorate / adorn with floral)… Now, you can splurge on some things that may have been out of the question before, like a professional videographer to live stream the event for your virtual guests.
Silver Lining x 2:
You get to KEEP all of that footage of your ceremony, your reception and the very unique footage of your virtual guests in attendance! If you get a really talented and creative videographer, the possibilities for the kind of Wedding Video that you could walk away with are just SO EXCITING!!! Totally unique, never been done before… Think about it for a sec.
How will this change our Wedding Photography?:
Not all that much to be honest. We’re still doing the same job that we were always going to do!
We’ll just do it with a mask on which is supremely annoying esp when it’s hot — but it could be much worse! 😉
Wedding Photographers can no longer cram into a tiny hotel room with guests from all different households to capture photo journalistic documentation of your getting ready prior to the ceremony. If you want these types of images, you’ll want to plan accordingly! This may mean springing for the hotel penthouse or bridal suit in favor of a regular sized room. This could also mean booking a private house just for the bridal party to get ready with enough room for people to spread out and not be on top of each other! If booking a bigger space to get ready isn’t an option, you may need to start thinking about a smaller bridal party or allowing only a few select people in the bridal suit with you for those pre-ceremony getting ready portraits!
Photographers will most likely no longer be directing you to squeeze together with people from separate households. How do we handle group portraits and extended family photos while keeping a 6 feet distance?
It’s super important to have conversations with your family & bridal party to find out ahead of time what they’re comfortable with.
Make sure you connect with your photographer to develop a photography plan for this about a month in advance of your wedding (so that you have the latest information in hand). You don’t want to unintentionally put your photographer, your guests, or yourself in a risky situation where anyone feels pressure to compromise their health to get a photo!
These are some pretty important conversations that you’ll want to have with your photographer ahead of time so that everyone is on the same page and has realistic expectations for group portraits!
5 Ridiculously AWESOME Ideas that I stumbled across in my research for this post:
#1 Circular Ceremony:
Let’s say that you have 75 guests comprised of roughly 15 family units (ex: aunt Jill’s family). You design the ceremony and arrange the seating so that the two of you will be standing in the middle for the ceremony & each family has a section of seating spaced 6ft from the next family unit with floral between the sections or something, forming a circle around you — this could be really beautiful (imo)!
#2 Bullseye or Cabaret Style Reception Dance Floors!
I personally think this sounds totally cool! Sparkly X’s or other fun decals marking the dance floor to guide guests and to help remind them of their proximity to others when dancing! This doesn’t have to be a crazy strict thing but it would certainly be a helpful visual for your guests!
Check out these diagrams below for inspo!
#3 Progressive Receptions:
You may have heard of a “progressive dinner”!? People usually plan them around the holidays! The idea is that everyone has pre-dinner drinks and appetizers at one person’s house, dinner at another person’s house, dessert at yet another persons house and then drinks, games and dancing etc happens at the last persons house! Sounds fun right!?
A “Progressive Reception” is kind of a spin on that!
I heard about this option today from Grace at Hidden River Events! They’re floating it as an option for their couples and I thought it sounded really fun! So the idea is basically that they’d have mini receptions set up around the property, dividing your guest list into groups of 25! Each reception space would have it’s own vibe, fun seating, activities, dance floor, DJ, bar etc and the groups and/or the Bride and Groom would basically float between the various reception spaces, getting to spend time with their guests in a more intimate setting and then the food would be in one place and each group would have a dinner time window where that group would move to have dinner in the dinner tent etc.
This is just a rough retelling of this amazing idea that I heard about and I am certain that there would have to be lots of planning and logistics to make it happen smoothly but with the right planner + day of coordinator, this idea could really be a fun, unique and memorable wedding for everyone!
#4 Two words: Silent. Disco.
So, the idea adapted for COVID era Weddings is that if your venue has enough space, your guests could be more spread out for the open dance floor portion of the night / without being crammed onto a tiny dance floor sweating, breathing, singing (and spitting) on each other! 😉 I LOVE this idea so much….
I went to Bonnaroo a couple times and had THE BEST time at the Silent Disco there, I’m a HUGE Fan, it’s so much fun! Check it out!
#5 Elopements (ish) are going to be a thing and I’m totally here for that!
Maybe it’s not what you ever envisioned for your Wedding but hear me out:
- I LOVE shooting Destination Elopements (or super small destination weddings — talking like only immediate family and best friends). It’s actually become one of my favorite things to shoot.
- Why: I get to help my couples to choose epic, picturesque locations for their I’Do’s. I get to travel with them to these unbelievable locations to tell their story! I get to be part of the planning, helping them to identify quality vendors who can provide them with what they need at the destination they’ve chosen. I get to help them to select locations for portraits, I get to spend basically an entire day with them doing almost everything that I would normally do including (hair/makeup/getting ready/anticipatory & details shots) pre-ceremony, shooting the actual ceremony, family portraits (if they bring their immediate families and/or best friends with them) and newlywed portraits + sometimes champagne toasts and cake cutting! 🙂
- With an Elopement, you’re still gonna get it all right now (the hair/makeup, the dress, the first look, the vows, being MARRIED, the first kiss, the walk, the portraits and even the first dance alone on a deserted beach if you want 😉 (hell, you can even have a first dance with your dad if he’s there!) and you can plan the rage’r of your dreams later on, maybe on your 1yr anniversary, when things are (hopefully) more “normal”! Doing it this way also opens up a world of possibilities for reception venues later on! (i.e you might not have to book that $20k wedding venue for your rage’r… you could do it at a private home, museum or restaurant, hotel rooftop etc…. just say’n!) Think about it.
Things are going to be different than you originally imagined and that’s okay. It’s going to be okay.
Because what really matters, at the end of the day is that you have found your person, you love each other deeply and you get to start your lives together right now, if you want! You don’t have to postpone or wait or table your plans…. you just have to re-imagine them! 😉
So, the universe threw a big, heavy wrench in your wedding plans and now you have the exciting challenge of re-imagining what that celebration of your union will look like. Maybe it won’t look like anything you ever expected and that’s okay. It’s going to make a hella unique and historic story for your kids and grandkids one day! (just breath.) XO -Brit