Advice from a Pro: Ginger Sumerlin’s Guide to Having the Smoothest Wedding Day Ever

I’ve said for a few years that I could write a book about weddings. Not about how to photograph them necessarily, not how to “survive” them, but how to enjoy them to the fullest. And in the process, make the wedding day as smooth as possible for everyone.
 

Having been a wedding photographer for 10-plus years, I’ve seen a lot of weddings done well, and many of them not so well. I’ve come home dozens of times in tears of frustration, venting to my sweet hubby about how the day could have gone, if only they had their ducks in a row. Surprisingly enough, the greatest weddings are often the most humble ones. Money doesn’t always equal great, and likewise, small tight-budgeted weddings aren’t always lackluster.
 
Wedding planners/coordinators are wonderful, if you can find a good one. Find someone with hundreds of weddings under their belt. Someone who is kind, yet bold – who can and will make things happen. Don’t skimp. Even if it is “Aunt Fran”, walk through the whole day with her. Details are important.


 

Don’t overlook these details:

 
Having a trial run of your makeup and hair before the big day
 
Please do a trial run on both with your hairdresser and makeup artist prior to the wedding, so that you are not surprised with the outcome on the day of. There is never enough time to re-do one or both of these things. And while I’m on the subject of hair, really think through your hair style, and how your veil will fit into this style. If you have a fancy up-do and want to show it off, consider placing the veil in below the style. If you have a “bump” type style, or lots of curls you don’t want flattened, do not place the veil on top of your hair, as it will flatten all curls and bumps you paid for.
One more thing on hair, and it NEEDS its own paragraph. Please brides, please, for the love of all glorious wedding cake in the world, take off your hair band from your wrist. Better yet, don’t even put it on your wrist on your wedding day. Most likely, you’ll not need it, and your photographer will not want to Photoshop it off.
 
Brooks Wedding


 
Designating someone to steam out any wardrobe wrinkles
 
Make sure someone knows how to use one when it comes time to steam the dresses and veil. And leave plenty of time to do this. DO NOT wait until the photographer is ready to photograph these items to take them out of the bag.
 
Brooks Wedding


 
Having a helper other than a bridesmaid
 
Some of the smoothest wedding days for me, have been those where the bride had a helper to carry her dress or flowers, or lipstick and extra hair accessories like bobby pins or safety pins. Designate someone to attend to you, but not necessarily one of your bridesmaids. They are likely needed somewhere else during this time. Also please consider who will bustle your dress, if it needs it. This process takes time, and someone needs to be aware of the pattern of the bustle, so that you’re not held up in between the ceremony and reception, struggling with the mess under your dress.
 
Brooks Wedding


 
Hiring food and cake servers
 
Please check with your venue or caterer to make sure that after you and your groom cut the cake, you have someone designated to cut and serve it to your guests. It will not serve itself. A few weeks ago, I had a groom serving his own cake! Partially because he had a precious servant’s heart, but mostly because no one was designated as a server.
 
Brooks Wedding


 

Also consider the following:

 
Encouraging guests to unplug
 

Take your wedding unplugged. I include in my contract that if I am being hired as the couple’s photographer, no one else is to follow me around and take pictures, but I cannot make people NOT bring their cameras or their phones. I know your guests want to capture part of your day also, but when all you see in the crowd is a sea of phones held up, you can’t really enjoy their expressions as you exchange your vows. Not to mention, it’s so tough from my view at the front as the bride is walking down the aisle, to photograph anything other than oversized IPads and cell phones. I recommend taking your wedding to a new level – unplugged. Yes, it’s a thing. Add a cute little sign to your décor asking your guests to kindly leave their phones and cameras in their pockets. Encourage them to enjoy your wedding with their eyes, not through their electronic screens.
 
Being aware of any alcohol policies at your venue
 

I’m totally not opposed to couples and wedding parties enjoying alcohol on their day, but please consider the amount and the appropriateness of the drink. A morning mimosa, a toast with wine, a mixed drink during the dancing – all great things if your convictions allow. But if the venue doesn’t allow drinking, or you’ve not purchased insurance to consume, along with a bartender, respect the venue’s space and don’t sneak it in. It’s disrespectful, and you run the risk of getting fined and your drinks taken away. While here, let me also encourage you that if you plan to drink on your day, please do so responsibly. I’ve seen too many inebriated wedding party attendants not “all there” during pictures, and too many slow moving brides and grooms who are unable to think clearly enough to really know what’s going on. It’s your wedding day – be present. Soak it in – fully conscious of everything. You’d hate to miss the beautiful details of this once-in-a-lifetime day.
 
Going through your vows ahead of time
 

Go through the wedding vows, like really go through them with your fiancé. Talk about what they mean to you. If it’s canned material that your officiate brings to you, please know you have every right to tweak this. Or better yet, write your own vows. Too often, I listen as the bride and groom repeat after the minister, only to get jumbled up on the wording, because they don’t really know what it all means. The wedding is about this covenant being made – make it meaningful!
 
Planning meal times into your day
 

Carve out time in your day to eat properly. Remember your body needs enough fuel to last all day long. For summer weddings especially, please also drink enough water to stay hydrated.
 
Buying multiple lighters for a sparkler sendoff
 

If you plan to have a fancy send off with sparklers (since rice is no longer encouraged, due to the choking hazards to birds), please think it through, and talk with your planner about how to best arrange this. If you have only one lighter, and you light and pass down, the sparklers at the beginning of the line will clearly be snuffed out by the time the last ones in line are lit. You’d think this is common sense – but I promise you, it’s not. The secret is to come together in the center to light all at once, or make several groups of lighters.
 
Consider a “first look”
 

Oh, the precious first look. It’s more common now for sure, whereas almost 19 years ago, when I got married, the first look always happened the moment the bride walked down the aisle. I tell my couples I will completely respect their wishes if they choose to keep with tradition. But if you think about the time it saves to get the first look and romantic pictures pre-ceremony, as well as the privacy and sweetness of that first look and few moments with just the two of you (and two very quiet photographers hiding in the bushes near), you’ll see that it’s so much better.

 

Considering the fact that I am a wedding photographer, this article has very little to do with photography. That’s a whole different article I’ve yet to write, but one day will…
During weddings, I’m a hair dresser, a cake server, a dress fluffer and bustler, a sparkler-lighting freak. I can place veils, arrange flowers, and pin boutonnieres like a pro – but wouldn’t it be nice if I could take pictures of all of those details instead? ; )


 
Ginger Sumerlin is a wedding and family photographer in beautiful East Tennessee. She is married to David, and homeschools her three boys, ages 8, 10 and 14. Check out Ginger’s work and learn more at www.gingersumerlinphotography.com.