After photographing hundreds of weddings over the last decade, I have the distinct pleasure of knowing more about the behind the scenes aspects of weddings than I ever thought I would. I’ve worked at many venues. Some are country clubs; some are specific event venues, community centers, outdoor parks, national parks, hotels, and more. You name it, and I’ve probably shot somewhere like it. Heck, I’ve even shot weddings in caves, Disney World, campgrounds, PRIDE parades, and 12,000 feet above sea level on crazy gorgeous mountains. There are all kinds of venues. Not every venue is going to be a good fit for every client. I thought I’d share a bit of advice today on a few tips for finding a venue. These tips are just things I’ve seen frequently become problematic and would have been so helpful for me to know ahead of time before I got married!
- Find a venue doesn’t do more than one wedding per day. There are many venues, even some gorgeous ones, that do more than one wedding a day. While a venue can promise you they do all they can to prevent that from being problematic, I’m here to tell you that it almost always is. On my wedding day, I ran into the other bride who was getting married elsewhere on the property, and she had an earful for me on my wedding day. Apparently, she was confused with what rooms she was allowed to use. You don’t want to encounter anything like that on your wedding day.
Another thing to note is that weddings frequently run late. It’s rare I see ceremonies start on time. If something has made the day run a few minutes late, it’s usually no big deal. It’s fairly common for ceremonies to start late just because people can’t find the venue. However, unexpected things do happen. I see them every wedding season at multiple weddings. I’ve photographed many ceremonies that started an hour late. When that happens, the entire venue can be held up and any wedding coming after that may have to deal with the consequences, even if their ceremony spot is in a different area of the venue. There may be weird parking problems, or maybe your ceremony still starts on time, but they promised you could go to a certain area of the venue for photographs and now you can’t because that other wedding ran so late. You can avoid shenanigans like this by simply eliminating venues from your list that do multiple weddings in a day. Stick with a venue that puts all their energy, focus, and time into one client per day. Your experience will run so much smoother!
- If music is a big deal to you, or you’re looking for a big dance party, then stay away from venues that are inclusive and include a specific DJ, or only have a sound system for your phone. If you love great music and want your guests to get up and dance, it’s really important you have a DJ who mixes with your vibe, not just anyone the venue assigns. Taking the time to work with your favorite DJ can result in much better music choices and is always way more fun for guests. Some venues don’t allow DJs or music other than you plugging in your music device into their speaker system. After all these years I can honestly say I’ve seen more wedding fun ruined by setups like this than I’d like. Sound systems are great, and creating your playlist can be fun. However, if you also really want your guests up and dancing, chances are your skills at DJing your wedding via iphone playlist aren’t going to be great. Even if you have cool music tastes, I’ve still seen this set up spoil a wedding reception. A skilled DJ will take the time to pick up the vibe of the crowd and will select music that has everyone up and dancing, but also incorporates your specific tastes. Those skilled DJs are priceless when it comes to having a memorable night for not only you but your guests as well.
- Rethink how many guests can fit in a venue. While the fire department may come around to venues and let them know how many people they can fit in, and then they decide how many people that looks like with tables and chairs – their estimates are always generous. After all, why would they want to limit themselves and book fewer clients because they can’t fit as many people as another venue? I’ve worked at many venues where it’s nearly impossible to navigate the reception room because guests are so packed in. They can barely get up from their tables; you can’t get around and greet them. Caterers can’t get through to clear plates. If a venue tells you a specific number is their maximum, assume that for great flow on your wedding day, it’s probably actually less. Crammed tables can hinder our abilities as photographers to document the event from all angles, and makes your meal even longer sometimes to account for people having to get in and out of tables. Receptions where guests tend to smush in, also lend themselves to fewer people out on the dancefloor. I can’t say why that is, but I have thousands of photos that show it!
- Ask what the venue coordinator’s job is, and then probably hire your planner anyway. Many venues will offer an in-house coordinator to entice you. You might think you’re getting a wedding planner who will take care of everything on your wedding day, but the reality is that some venues just have a coordinator who is present to only deal with major problems, like their kitchen getting food out on time. I’ve worked at many venues where coordinators don’t show at all or sit in their offices on Facebook. I even heard about a wedding recently where the venue coordinator left half way through the wedding. There are venue coordinators that are awesome. However, it’s rare for any of them to be there acting as your planner and assistant. Their job typically involves prioritizing the venue’s needs over your own. Don’t let a venue sell you on the idea you get a “planner” of some type, and then you find out you wished you’d had someone there to prioritize you on your wedding day.
- Ask venues (or caterers too) when they allow your other wedding vendors to eat. It probably seems natural to think that you eat first on your wedding day, then your wedding party, then the guests, and last anyone else. It goes in order of importance. That makes total sense. However, it can be crucial for your wedding vendors (especially your DJ, musicians, and photographers) to eat when you do. If you make your vendors wait until the very end, most of your guests will finish, and the reception will be ready to move on to the next thing, leaving your vendors no time for their meals. Even if you’re not providing a meal for your vendors, ensuring the venue or caterer knows they eat when you do, will help the rest of the evening run very smooth. Nobody wants a hangry DJ!
- Avoid venues with prescribed photo areas. I’ve worked at a few venues where they only want clients to take photos in certain areas. The coordinator may give you a tour and say, “and over here by this statue…that’s where people take photos. Then they take them over here by the waterfall. Last, they can go on the bridge we set up.” That all sounds great in your tour, but it doesn’t leave your photographer a whole lot of room to work with the specific light that day or get creative at all. Some venues even restrict photos in other areas. I highly recommend a venue that allows you to roam around a bit and stray away from those hot spots where thousands of other couples have taken smiley photos. Giving your photographer a lot of room to be creative is what will give you some of your best photo results.
- Check the size of the preparation rooms. If you’re planning on getting ready at your venue, you may want to think again. Check the size of the preparation rooms. Do they have space for you and all your wedding party? Throw in a parent or two, maybe a grandparent, a photographer and then a mountain of stuff? Bridal suites always look bigger when you do your tour, and you might find yourself cramped later. Getting ready at a hotel can offer more space if you need it, or just pick a venue that has the space you need so you won’t be crammed into a walk-in closet with seven women, that has no ceiling, and feels like a heat wave. I’ve seen it happen and it’s not the way you want to start your wedding day.
- Consider how hot and sunny your guests might be during the ceremony. Here in Colorado, we do weddings outdoors – A LOT. Sometimes, when you tour a venue, you do it on a cold Winter day with no sunshine. It’s hard to imagine what an outdoor spot might look like when it’s almost 90 degrees in July, and there’s no shade. By the time you’ve booked, and you’re walking down the aisle at 3 pm that day in July it’s probably too late. You can see your guests sweating; the sun is blazing in your eyes. You probably forgot to provide water. Babies are crying in the back and everyone’s sort of shifted to the one side of the seats where there is shade. If you think your venue might not be comfortable for guests of all ages to sit for 30-45 minutes in hot weather, then plan to have your ceremony a little later that day, or at a slightly different time of the year, or even a different venue.
I hope that helps with some of your venue searching, especially in Colorado! We have so many amazing venues, but there are those that work better for couples who want a smooth and easygoing experience!