Picture this: It's mid-summer, with temps in the low-80s, a cloudless sky, and oh-so-light gusts keeping everyone just cool enough. Maybe you're out on a bluff, overlooking the ocean, or in a fragrant, blooming garden. A scene is set for the ideal summer wedding.
But—back in reality here—there's no way that six to eight months down the road any couple can forecast such pristine conditions for their wedding day. Despite their idealized image, summer weddings can throw a number of curveballs your way.
Stifling heat, flash thunderstorms and swarms of mosquitoes are just some of the things that neither you nor anyone else has any control over. Making sure your festivities have the greatest chance of proceeding smoothly requires some special planning and preparation. Thinking ahead will keep your guests, vendors and certainly your wedding photojournalist at ease and comfortable, so they, and you, can enjoy the day.
Regardless of what ultimately transpires, and even if the day does not turn out exactly as it did in your dreams, you'll have peace of mind from knowing that you at least covered all of the manageable factors.
While you may have found the perfect meadow, beach or vineyard to stage your wedding, or maybe a few moments to slip away for a portrait session, it's a good idea to have a backup in mind in case brutal heat, torrential rain or other unforeseen conditions disrupt your plan.
"You always have to have a 'Plan B,'" recommends Peggy Bair, a WPJA award winner. But ducking into just any air-conditioned hall may not be enough.
"Make sure it's a 'Plan B' that you're happy with," she continues. "If you don't have a backup plan that you like, you're not going to get the wedding that you wanted."
Shalista Anderson, a WPJA medal winner, saw all-too-well the importance of having a fallback when a 118 degree day rolled into South Dakota in July. The wedding party could only tolerate the heat long enough to get a handful of pictures outside. "Our plans for going outside and doing pictures were totally ruined," she recalls.
Luckily, they had reserved space in the visitor's center in Pierre, partly to give elderly guests a chance to cool down. It turned into the place to catch some excellent photos of the wedding party inside, with tall windows behind them, overlooking the State Capitol.
Persistent rain put a damper on one wedding that Bair captured, but that couple rolled with the punches, in part due to good planning. They had brought a decorated archway, so they set up seats and had the wedding indoors. The ceremony went off as planned, but without any rain pouring on their heads.
On a summer wedding day, water can be a foe if it falls from the sky, but a welcome friend when it hits your lips. Battle-hardened WPJA members—and any doctor, no doubt—would recommend keeping plenty of water on hand to keep guests, caterers, DJs and wedding photojournalists hydrated throughout the event.
It’s a small point that could be overlooked. After all, making sure that a cooler full of bottled water is nearby often tends to be low on the priority chain when such big-ticket items such as caterers, dresses and rings have been pored over endlessly.
But it can make a huge difference. Anderson found herself at another, 100-plus degree wedding in North Dakota this past summer, which was set in a village resembling the Old West. And the 100-year-old hotels, relocated to this kitschy entertainment park, didn't come with air conditioning.
"The wedding really suffered because of that," Anderson says. "It was ungodly hot in that building."
To make matters worse, the bartenders, intentionally or not, had some of that Old West attitude when guests asked for waters. So Anderson sent an assistant out to grab a bunch of cold bottles of water from a gas station several miles from the ceremony. An even better solution would be to appoint a member of the wedding party to be “on call” in situations like this. That way, the photography team can continue to focus on the job at hand.
In addition to drinking water, Anderson has also been at weddings with water misters that emit a fine refreshing spray of water onto anyone walking past it. Those turned out to be a hit with the guests.
The moral to these stories? "You should think ahead and plan for the day to be extremely hot, even if it doesn't end up that way," Anderson says.
Besides the heat, the light of the sun beating down can also wreak some havoc at a wedding if you are not prepared with providing shady areas for guests to cool down. Often, it's in the form of a tent.
Evrim Icoz, a WPJA award winner from Oregon, has also said that some classy umbrellas can do the trick, as they help to ensure that guests aren't holding their hands or programs over their eyes during the ceremony.
In fact, many venues may offer either umbrellas or tents to lend to guests. In one case, he saw a vineyard hosting a wedding buy a set of umbrellas from the wedding party after the event was over, since they worked out so well.
One wedding that Icoz documented, held at another vineyard, had only one shady spot that was taken up by the stationary videographer. That normally wouldn’t have been a problem, since Icoz tends to keep moving while taking photos, allowing him to duck into various areas of shade for occasional relief.
However, this setup offered none. "Usually, with outdoor weddings, you have free reign to move around so you can pick your battles," Icoz says. "But this was under the blistering sun. If it went another 20 minutes, there may have been a problem."
However, the desert heat of Las Vegas didn’t keep Icoz from capturing an award-winning wedding shot while trailing a couple as they made their way past the pool at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. When the betrothed passed some unsuspecting sunbathers, he pulled back and caught the intriguing contrast between the elegantly dressed pair and the tourists in their bathing suits.
"I am always looking for moments to add some lighthearted frames to my coverage," he says. "It relieves some stress for me as well and gives the bride and groom a chuckle when they see the proofs."
The sun’s position can also lead to tough set-ups to get pictures, especially when it is shining from directly behind the ceremony. So if you're planning on holding an outdoor wedding in a shade-less spot, such as a beach, consult with your wedding photojournalist beforehand. While Icoz uses such adverse conditions to come up with some creative artistic shots, he recommends the preliminary discussion, "Just to make sure that there's no insanely adverse situation for photographing."
Anderson found herself shooting a summer wedding set on a hill crowned with a massive cross. The sun was directly behind her, providing good light from one side, but harsh backlight from the other direction. Thinking on her toes, she was still able to pull back away from the ceremony at one point to capture a dramatic shot.
Also, while a sunset wedding may be a dream and may provide beautiful wedding photos, such ceremonies are tied into a specific time window that, if missed, can mean a nighttime wedding, shot under harsh lights. So either be extremely punctual, or start early before the sunset, since so many variables exist throughout the day that can cause you to be even a half hour late. Even that relatively modest delay could mean a difference between a gorgeous sunset and no light.
Summer can be a time for bugs too, though bug spray or citronella candles can keep them at bay—if you have them on hand.
Many couples pick summer for their weddings for a reason. Most of the time, you'll have beautiful, warm weather that makes it conducive to slip outdoors for the reception, ceremony or somewhere in between. But obviously, not always.
To avoid most of the stressful and photography-hostile situations described above, make sure you prepare for every possible twist and turn. "You want your guests to have high energy and enjoy the festivities instead of being passed out and tired," Icoz points out.
All things considered, try to keep a good attitude during the day and cheerfully be prepared for some unanticipated surprises. The conditions can also produce some wonderfully original shots, such as when Bair snapped a group of bridesmaids cooling down the bride's legs with a conveniently placed fan.
You'll be able to look back on shots like those and remember not only the significance of the day, but also what it felt like.
"Be prepared for something wonderful that you didn't expect," says Bair. "There are still going to be great pictures, even if they are different than what you expected. Don't get embedded in a fantasy that may not work out."
—by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association