Real Wedding Planning: How to Choose a Wedding Venue – Part 1

I may be a little biased, but it seems like the two items I hear couples describe as “most important” in their wedding planning are the photographer and the wedding venue. It seems that these are the two choices couples agonize over, because they want to get it right. And who could blame them? The venue often sets the tone for your wedding celebration, and the photographs are the permanent record of your wedding story. I see dozens of wedding venues each year, so I’ve developed this list of items to consider when you start looking for a wedding venue. (That’s one of the benefits of working in the industry: you gain a lot of insight!)

  1. Space
  2. Decor/Appearance
  3. Food/Beverage Options
  4. Availability
  5. Location
  6. Coordinator/Staff
  7. Budget

So, these aren’t in any particular order of importance. In fact, I would probably rate all of these with the same importance if I were planning my wedding. Unfortunately, with both venue and photographer, I see a lot of couples place a lot of emphasis on budget. Thankfully, there are ways to work with a tighter budget and not have to cut corners, but more on that in a moment. Let’s just take these one at a time.

Choose a Wedding Venue: Space

I see it often: beautiful venues with the perfect vibe for a wedding, but sadly, the couple has a guest list that very closely matches the fire department maximum capacity. You might be asking, “What’s the issue? The venue says it can hold 300 people, so we can invite 300 people!” Well, let me be frank – no one likes to be crowded. I’ve photographed weddings where there wasn’t room to walk between tables before any guests were seated. You can imagine what it was like once everyone was in their seats! Not only is it difficult for guests to navigate the area, but also for vendors/catering staff/photographers. Another issue: not enough seating for the number of guests present. It’s a sure way for some of your guests to leave early when they become uncomfortable.

I recommend looking for a venue that has room for your entire guest list, and then some to spare. If you have a band or DJ, you also need enough room for everyone to break out their dancing shoes! Having a little extra space also lends to an overall more elegant and cohesive feel. I know you’re spending lots of time choosing decor, florals, place settings, and the overall theme. Don’t allow it to be overrun by a tight and crowded space.

Choose a Wedding Venue: Decor & Appearance

One of the easiest choices you can make for your wedding day is a theme – the overall vibe you want to convey in your celebration. Themes can be specific, such as nautical, beachy, New Years Eve, or even Harry Potter. Or they can be more general, perhaps following a color scheme or a more general decor scheme. When you begin shopping around for a reception venue, it is important that you keep the overall feel of your celebration in mind. For instance, you most likely wouldn’t hold a traditional, elegant, black tie event at a rustic barn venue. Likewise, you wouldn’t hold a casual, beachy affair in a grand ballroom. Envision your guests and decor in the space.

Choose a Wedding Venue: Food & Beverage Options

Food and beverage will make up a large portion of your celebration’s budget. Most couples have an idea what they would like for food and drink, however each venue offers different options. Many venues will be able to provide onsite catering options. These are great if you’re looking to consolidate services, or keep the planning simple. Other venues may have a list of preferred outside caterers.Seeking out individual caterers and bartending services can be quite an undertaking, so always ask venues if they have a preferred list.  Another thing to consider is whether or not the venue will require you to apply for an alcohol permit for the event.

If you have identified a caterer or service you absolutely must have, prior to booking your venue, ask if they have any recommendations on venues they worked well with. In fact, some of the best word of mouth referrals can be from other vendors!

Choose a Wedding Venue: Availability

Setting a date may have been the first thing you did after becoming engaged (after spreading the good news to your families, of course!) Occasionally, couples will find their ideal venue, but as venues often book more than a year in advance, it may be booked on your chosen date. I do encourage a little bit of flexibility, if possible. I know it isn’t ideal to change a date in all instances, but as the venue is often the first thing you book, you might have some wiggle room. Venues often give the option of holding your wedding and/or reception during the day, which can be helpful if you absolutely cannot reschedule your wedding date. It’s always a good idea to consider off-peak months and weekdays, as a handful of venues in your area may offer discounts!

Choosing a wedding venue is certainly a very personal and difficult choice. I hope that my insight has been helpful so far! Be sure to check back for Part 2, where I’ll discuss location, budget, and staffing!


A Timeless Wedding with a Personal Touch

Laurie + Josh: A Timeless Wedding at Historic Savage Mill Great Room

I’ve never met a couple more excited to finally be married! You could feel their joy the minute you walked into the room.  It was my first time meeting either of them in person, but I immediately felt like we’d known each other a very long time!  Laurie and her bridesmaids had hair and makeup done at her family home, and this might have been my favorite part of photographing their amazing wedding day. So much love, support, and happiness filled the room, setting the scene for a perfect wedding day. More than a few touching moments passed between Laurie and her family. When she revealed her classic and elegant gown to her dad, I think every single one of us had a tear or two in our eyes. (I’m not crying; you’re crying!)  Just a few miles down the road, Josh and his guys were getting ready. This was a very laidback, fun crew! Watching Josh help his sons into their tuxedos and tying their neckties, you could tell that the family bond was strong and at the heart of the celebration.

A First Look

I always stress to couples, build in a lot of portrait time if it is a high priority for your wedding day. Josh and Laurie’s planning did not disappoint! We had plenty of time, and started with what could only be described as an epic first look at the Shrine of St. Anthony. Josh’s reaction to seeing his bride in her gown for the first time – indescribable! I think it would be fair to say she took his breath away. We continued with the rest of the wedding party portraits on the Shrine grounds, which offered a wide variety: gardens, classic architecture, and even a beautiful large barn!

From the Shrine, we traveled to Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Catonsville for the ceremony. Like the rest of the wedding day, their ceremony had tons of personal touches. Their faith plays a large role in their lives, and they wished to have the ceremony reflect that. They even had several friends from the parish perform a wonderful celebration in dance!

Time to Celebrate!

After the ceremony, it was time for the party! I was excited to finally have the opportunity to photograph a reception at the Great Room in Historic Savage Mill. As you may know, my studio was in Savage Mill for three years, and the building and grounds are close to my heart. Many of the other tenants will tell you, the Mill has a heartbeat. It lives and breathes the history of all who have walked the floors. For those three years, it was my home away from home, so to finally have a wedding onsite was a big deal!  The Great Room itself is perfect for weddings. I love the blend of history and elegance. The high ceilings lend an extra sense of grandeur, but the space itself still feels cozy and intimate.

The energy and excitement of the day carried straight through the reception. My favorite personal touch was a game they played with the guests, where the “winner” of each round was to perform a good deed for the couple over the next year, such as coming over and making dinner. I loved this idea because it showed how important their connections to friends are, and that they want their home to always be open to those they shared their day with.

Another big congratulations to Laurie and Josh! Your wedding was classic, timeless, and personal. Keep smiling at each other the way you did that day, and I have no doubt that you will have a home filled with laughter and love!

First Look: The Shrine of Saint Anthony, Ellicott City, MD

Ceremony: Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Catonsville, MD

Reception: The Great Room at Historic Savage Mill, Savage, MD

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A Beach Wedding at Herrington on the Bay

Marianna + Gemar’s Windy Beach Wedding Day!

In my last post, I shared M+G’s engagement session at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I’m excited to finally be able to share their wedding day on Herrington Harbor! This was no ordinary beach wedding day. Their wedding came just as Hurricane Hermine was passing through the Mid-Atlantic region. We were fortunate enough to not have the inches of rain that many areas south of us had, but we did have gale force winds to contend with throughout the outdoor, waterfront ceremony. The whitecaps on the Chesapeake Bay made for a beautiful sight, but your eyes certainly watered a bit while looking out from the dock.  But this group didn’t let it get them down. The entire wedding party looked flawless, even standing on the water’s edge for the ceremony.

Marianna and Gemar had a lot of friends and family they wanted included in their wedding party – thirty-two including themselves! While not the largest number I’ve captured in a wedding party, this day was certainly close. While posing a larger group can present a challenge, it’s also a lot more fun to work with! The possibilities are only limited by time. They also were pretty much unstoppable on the dance floor, as you can tell!

It’s hard to pick a favorite part of M+G’s wedding day. The ladies were dressed beautifully. The love of their families and friends was warm and tangible. The kids were definitely ready to show off their skills on the dance floor. The sun even made an appearance during the ceremony and again during their bubble send-off. But I think what really captured my heart this day, besides the people, was the food: BRUNCH! I’d just like to go on the record as saying you can never, ever go wrong with belgian waffles, homemade corn muffins, bacon and eggs. Delicious!!

Despite the wind, the smiles were constant all day long. Congratulations, Marianna and Gemar! Thank you for sharing your beautiful beach wedding day with me, and I hope the rest of your days are filled with calm seas and gorgeous sunsets!

Venue: Herrington on the Bay

Makeup: Jennifer Thorpe Beauty

Dress: The Bridal Boutique

DJ: Matt Flaherty

Florals: Floral AccentsMaryland Beach Wedding090316-091512Maryland Beach Wedding090316-113521090316-114320Maryland Beach Wedding090316-114611Maryland Beach WeddingMaryland Beach WeddingMaryland Beach Wedding090316-120543090316-120628090316-123011Maryland Beach Wedding090316-123703-2090316-124355Maryland Beach Wedding090316-124849Maryland Beach WeddingMaryland Beach Wedding090316-125137090316-125643Maryland Beach Wedding090316-131417Maryland Beach Wedding090316-131514090316-130512090316-135351090316-135739090316-142213090316-142131090316-141909090316-143404090316-141527Maryland Beach Wedding090316-141315090316-141038090316-140930090316-153134090316-154245



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Marianna + Gemar | Waterfront Engagement Session

A waterfront engagement session and coastal wedding are always in style. I love the bright, airy, and timeless vibe of photographs captured near the water. The ocean, in particular, has always drawn me with that special siren song. The sound of the water and wind, the hint of saltwater in the air, inspires me and soothes me. Whenever I need a little boost in mood, I need look no further than the nearby shore.  The ocean plays a huge roll in my art and life, from the color palettes in my home to the places I love to shoot.

When Marianna and Gemar contacted me to start planning their portraits, we knew we wanted a special location that would reflect and complement their wedding theme. Their September wedding would be held at one of the Chesapeake Bay’s prettiest bayside venues, and they wanted a waterfront engagement session as well. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area was the perfect choice to combine both waterfront and urban options.  The resulting session was fresh, casual, and fun! We walked the piers, and then I took them over to one of my favorite locations: The American Visionary Art Museum. I hope you enjoy viewing their portraits as much as we did taking them!

Marianna + Gemar | Waterfront Engagement Session

Inner Harbor Engagement SessionInner Harbor Engagement SessionInner Harbor Engagement SessionInner Harbor Engagement Session

Coming soon: M + G’s amazing wedding at Herrington on the Bay! You won’t want to miss this…it’ll blow you away. (Kidding, but we almost did get blown away!)

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