Category Archives: Tips for Clients


Including Pets in Wedding Festivities

Categories: Tips for Clients, Weddings.

One of my favorite things about not being exclusively a wedding photographer or having two separate websites for my work, is that SO many couples who inquire about wedding photography mention that they loved seeing pets on my website. I always LOVE hearing that because if we have a love of animals in common, it’s no doubt we will get along really well :)

Being one of “those people” who included their pets at their wedding inspired me to write this post about the several different ways to include your four-legged kids in your wedding festivities. When I dreamt of my wedding day, it was really crazy for me to picture the day without Riley and Lexi, our two yellow labs. They are like children to my husband and I, and have played a huge role in our relationship and feeling of being a family even before we were married. I know that all venues have different rules about animals at their location, so of course always ensure you’re adhering to the policies you agreed to when you signed their contract. But if you’re interested in including your four-legged kids, here’s some tips and ideas of how to do so, as well as all of my awesome 2013 couples who included their pets in their wedding events.

1. Dustin and I personally included our dogs in our engagement session as well as at the actual wedding. We did not include them in the ceremony as we did not want to have to designate certain friends to walk them down the aisle, and we did not want them to be a distraction for us or our guests. So instead we were fortunate enough to keep them in a separate location on-site (where my bridesmaids and I got ready) so that they could be there while I got dressed, be in a handful of portraits after the First Look, and then could come to the reception for just a little while. We know that our dogs are great off leash and our wedding venue was tucked back in a private development, so we had no worries about them wandering off or being in danger. When I look back, it’s one of the decisions I was most happiest about my wedding and I’m so glad we went with our gut and included them. It’s also important to note that our venue had no rules about pets in the contract that we signed, and we also took great consideration in our dogs behavior when having them in an unfamiliar building alone for several hours. We knew it was something they would be okay with, but if for any reason your dog does not like this kind of thing, that’s probably one of the quickest ways to lose your security deposit…haha.

2. Going back to the engagement session – if including your dogs in your actual wedding is not logistically possible or is just simply unreasonable, by all means ask to include them in your engagement session! This is the time for more fun, relaxed portraits anyways, so why not? I always suggest either having a friend come to do doggy duty for half of the session (so you have portraits alone with no distractions), or allowing enough time to shoot at two locations, for example starting at your home with your pets, doing a quick outfit change, then heading to a second location. This is also a great idea because even if you can include your dogs at your wedding, often times the wedding day timeline is not going to allot a ton of time for hanging out with them alone or trying to get them to cooperate for pictures. I’m so glad Erin and Danny included their four dogs in their engagement session, because on the day of the wedding we had very little time for portraits and were able to snap just a handful of photos of them both together with two of their dogs who attended.

3. Similar to including your dogs in your engagement session is including them in your bridal session. I even shot a bridal session this year that included horses – I loved that!

4. A few of my couples this year included their dogs during the getting ready portion of the day. Three of my brides had their dogs with them as they got dressed, which worked perfectly for including them in some group pictures, portraits, and more candid images. This is great if you’re getting ready at home or at a rented residence for the weekend. And if possible, you could even have a friend sneak your pup out for just a few bride and groom portraits later in the evening as well.

5. As you’ll see – one of my couples even had their dog, Teddy, as a groomsman! He was even listed in the ceremony program – haha! He is the cute little chihuahua looking pup escorting the adorable little girl in purple. This bride and groom was married in her childhood church, so the church had no problem allowing the dog to walk down the aisle. This is probably not allowed at many churches, but it’s a fun option and I loved that Teddy even had an adorable outfit, too!

6. And finally, an easy and much simpler way to include your pets in your wedding festivities is by honoring them through decor. Some of the sweetest things I’ve seen is when a couple opts to donate to a rescue or shelter in lieu of favors for their guests, using their pets images as table numbers, or even having “mini” versions of them for the cake topper!

Did you include your pets in your wedding? Feel free to leave any other tips or advice in the comments.


Hindsight is 20/20: The Good Wedding Decisions

Categories: Tips for Clients.

Last week I shared the not-so-good wedding decisions we made and it was a huge hit, so today I’m sharing some of the smaller decisions we made that were definitely good. The good is always as important as the not-so-good, right? Back in December I shared our top three favorite wedding decisions, each in their own post because they were huge and very important decisions. You can read about having a second photographer, our first look, and writing our own vows if you’d like to know more. But all of these little tips are just that…little decisions that I felt had a huge impact on our day. These are just what worked for us, but each couples wedding should be about making it work for them, so these will definitely not apply to everyone.

(All photos in this post by our wonderful photographer, Katelyn James.)

- Having an engagement session. This was a no-brainer for me and something we never debated, but because Dustin was living in Oklahoma for work, I was at home in South Carolina, and Katelyn is based out of Richmond…finding a time/location for our engagement session was quite the struggle. Both geographically and just coordinating three very busy schedules. Katelyn and I emailed for a long time trying to find ways to get her down here and it was just never going to be realistic, so we kind of met in the middle and Dustin made one of his weekend trips home during a weekend I’d be in Maryland to shoot a wedding. Fortunately we have some amazing family friends who let us hang out at their gorgeous plantation located as close to the MD/VA line as we could get, and we have engagement pictures we LOVE. Our engagement session was great for a few reasons…first because it gave us the chance to spend some time with Katelyn and get to know her and she to get to know us, second because we got to get familiar with how she works and have a little “test run” before the wedding, and third because relaxed farm-y portraits are way more “us” than being all snazzy in our wedding day attire. We used our engagement pictures for a gorgeous guest book, and have a big 20×30 canvas of one of our favorites over our bed. Other favorites are scattered all over the house…a few others in the bedroom, a bunch on the fridge, and one in the dining room. We LOVE our engagement pictures :)

- A co-bachelor/bachelorette weekend. Instead of doing separate parties with our friends, we used it as an opportunity to get everyone in the wedding party together and hang out for a weekend. Distance was another problem since all of my best friends live in Maryland, and Dustin’s friends are down here in South Carolina. So we decided to meet about halfway in Wrightsville Beach, NC for a weekend mini-vacation. Instead of trying to coordinate a rental house, we just kept it simple and coupled up to share hotel rooms to keep costs to a minimum. We had SO. MUCH. FUN. Seriously one of the funnest times ever…and so relaxed and low-key. We never had any big plans and instead just kinda winged it. We had ate two awesome dinners each night, tried to do the beach/fishing Saturday but that didn’t work (one of my bridesmaids and I tried to accompany the guys on an inshore fishing trip and ended up sea sick…they had to bring us back hahah oops – and it was raining on and off so no beach time), and then bar hopped Saturday night. I loved having everyone together and it was so fun for our friends to get to know each other before the wedding.

- DIYing a lot of our details. I knew from the beginning I wanted to do a lot of the decorations myself. I wanted it to feel very “us” and incorporate our history together into the day. I definitely could not have done this without the help of my amazing friends and my brother who helped me stay on top of these things and did a lot of them for me up in Maryland. And a special shout-out to Lena who helped me with a ton of the things I’m about to list. We had map bunting since we had spent so much of our relationship long distance, a hanging timeline of our relationship complete with funny details and pictures, fun facts about us on some of the tables in custom-stained frames, tree stump center-pieces that Dustin cut himself, home-made tree cake stands, lots of spray-painted wine bottles, twine-wrapped mason jars, custom Mr. and Mrs. chair signs, poms for some of the chairs on the aisle, homemade signs, yarn wrapped bar letters, cupcake flags, cake toppers I burned the text in, travel tag favors, and more. This made the wedding such a labor of love and 100% completely a reflection of us. It’s also important to note that I did all of this stuff little by little as we went along because it was a TON of work, and of course, my friends were a huge help too. Pacing yourself and having help is key.

- Getting ready at the venue. Because we had restricted hours on when we could get into the venue and when we had to be out, and because we were setting everything up ourselves (another reason I should have had a wedding planner…this was STRESSFUL!), it was key that we got ready as close as possible. Pepper has this adorable little cottage right next to the Pavilion so while we were getting ready we all took turns going out to help set up. My mom’s cousin and Lena’s mom were also a HUGE (enormous, gigantic, I’ll never be able to repay them) help keeping everything moving.

- Having on-site hair and makeup…for the reason above. It was really fun to camp out in the cottage that morning, and logistically it was not possible to get ready elsewhere because we had to set up. The two girls that came out were awesome and so helpful…we all loved them :)

- Having our dogs at the wedding. Riley and Lexi are a huuuuge part of our relationship. They are like children to us so it would have crushed me to not have them there that day. Fortunately we were able to make this work but I know at a lot of venues and in a lot of situations, it just can’t work. Because of the cottage, we were able to have them come out late morning right before I got dressed, hang out in the cottage during the ceremony, then they came out to play at the pavilion for part of the reception. We also had them join us after our first look for a few pictures, and those pictures will always always always mean the world to me. They had awesome wedding collars too so they definitely looked the part :)

- The shoe game! This was so fun and I’m so glad we did it. The shoe game is where you have a close friend to the both of you come up with questions like “Who is the better driver?” or “Who is the bed hog?” – questions that have a clear one or the other answer. Then you put two chairs back to back, facing away from one another, and trade shoes so that you have one of each…1 of my boots in one hand, and 1 of his boots in the other hand. Our bridesmaids read off the questions and depending on who you think really is the better driver or the bed hog, you raise that shoe. The fun part is that you can’t see what each other says but everyone else can, so it’s pretty funny. Definitely a fun game, and we enjoyed talking about our answers that night and laughing about it.

Kind of like with the not-so-good decisions, I’m sure there are more, but as I’d thought about it over the last 2 weeks, these were the clear winners for our situation. I’d love to hear in the comments what you’re favorite wedding decisions are…it may help other brides!


Hindsight is 20/20: The Not-So-Good Wedding Decisions

Categories: Tips for Clients.

I’ve been wanting to share this post for a while but wanted to take plenty of time to think things through and have a really complete list. There’s many things I wish I would have done differently for my wedding, and if it helps other brides even just a little, then it’s definitely worth sharing. Of course I look back on our wedding day with such amazing memories, but it just went by too fast and there were things I really wish I’d considered more beforehand. These are just little things I would have changed to make planning/the day of the wedding just a little bit easier but honestly the most important thing was marrying Dustin and celebrating with friends and family and both of those were huge successes.

(All photos in this post by our wonderful photographer, Katelyn James.)

- The first thing I would have done from the get-go was hire a planner. My hesitation was dropping a big chunk of change when I was trying to be really careful with my budget. Well duh, a wedding planner’s job is to help me be careful with my budget! I wanted the freedom to do things my way, DIY a lot of stuff, and I didn’t want to try to get talked into things I didn’t want. But really, a wedding planner can be involved as much or as little as you want, and having someone who plans weddings for a living would have been such an enormous help and many of these things I’m listing below, I probably wouldn’t have if I’d hired a planner in the beginning.

- More “us” time. The day goes by so fast, we all know that. And we had so many friends and family travel down from up north and far away to celebrate with us, that we really wanted to see and thank everyone. But I really, really wish I’d set aside just even 15 minutes of alone time with Dustin (and Landon for a little, too). Obviously our First Look was one of our favorite decisions and gave us some quiet time, but we also had to move into bride and groom portraits and bridal party pictures afterward. When it came down to it, we hardly spent any time together that day and during the reception we were all scattered in different directions trying to see everyone before the evening was over. I saw a recent wedding featured where the bride and groom took 20 or so minutes and sat under a tree and had a picnic during cocktail hour. This would have been so perfect and I definitely recommend finding some “just the two of us” time. And even just being more connected during the reception would have been nice, but we were both trying to see our respective friends and guests and just didn’t get to do much together :(

- The DJ. I thought I did a ton of research, but I should have done things differently. I now know how crucial a good DJ or band is…it truly sets the mood of the evening. I was not thrilled with our DJ and the music selection and really wish that I had chosen someone else with more of a proven track record.

- A videographer. Not having one is one of my biggest regrets. I knew I wanted one, but finding a way to fit a videographer into the budget after we’d secured the major vendors was just not happening. But if I’d been a little smarter with our budget and vendor choices in the beginning, I could have definitely made it happen. Wedding videos make my heart melt time and time again, and I’m really sad we don’t have one :(

- Stationery. I DIYed our invitations and I was not overly thrilled with the end result. Someone once said that the invitation is the first thing the guests see that set the tone of the event. Our wedding day was pretty relaxed so I thought DIYing the invitations would set a “relaxed” tone. Well I think they looked a little too relaxed haha. For the money I spent (and soooooo much time!), I would have much rather spent another $200 to have a real stationer do it and do it well, and it would have saved me SO much time and stress!

- The flow of guests during arrival. I wasn’t really thinking straight and had our guest book/card/gift table inside the pavilion  yet the doors were closed when everyone arrived and they were instructed to walk around the porch to the back of the pavilion where the ceremony was taking place. Of course the first table they saw was our mad libs/guest activity table and everyone assumed that’s where gifts went. So basically half our guests didn’t sign our guest book which really sucks :( I should have thought that one through a little better. Definitely something having a wedding planner would have helped with!

- Seating. Oh seating. We did the whole no assigned seating thing because again, our wedding was pretty relaxed and I didn’t want to be telling people where to sit. But when it came down to it, I probably should have done assigned seating just because people ended up adding extra chairs to certain tables and then there’d only be like 3-4 people at another table.

- Hair. First things first, I LOVED our hair and makeup girls. This is nothing against them, I just wish I’d thought my hair through more. I had a hair & makeup trial and it was a great opportunity to discuss the two options I had in mind…a low up-do, and a half up/half down look. Because it was nearly a trillion degrees the day of my hair & makeup trial in August and we knew it could be just as hot for the wedding in September, we went with the low up-do. I LOVED it, but in my heart I saw myself with my hair partially down for my wedding. So went September 15th rolled around and it was a perfect 80 degrees and breezy, we agreed to go for the half up/half down look. I had some pictures but basically let her have free reign with the design as long as it was half up/half down. I didn’t pay any attention while she was doing it because I had my head in the clouds about everything else (and at that point just couldn’t wait to see Dustin), and although it was sooooo pretty, it wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned. When it’s all said and done, my hair really wasn’t that long and doesn’t really hold soft curls, so I don’t even know if what I’d pictured in my head was realistic, but I just wish I’d paid more attention and had her tweak a few things for me.
- Jewelry. I just didn’t hardly wear any, and didn’t put much thought into it until the week off. Basically I felt kinda bare that day with really small dangly earnings  a simple bracelet, and that’s it. I wish I’d done something a little more. I didn’t even wear a necklace. Lame.

- Colors & bridesmaid dresses. So I chose my colors pretty early on and they are colors I’m just always attracted and it fit with the season and our theme to so it made sense. But then finding bridesmaid dresses in the grey-ish blue I was going for ended up being a nightmare. Dresses were too grey or too blue, nothing in between. Finally we found the beautiful JCrew dresses the girls ended up wearing in my other color, the earthy kind of light green. I ended up LOVING them and the girls all got to choose their own style, but they were so expensive and some of the girls had to get them altered and I just have so much guilt over what they ended up spending on those suckers. So lesson learned, consider what kinds of dresses you can find in your price range BEFORE going all gung-ho with your colors.

This might seem like a lot, but honestly the good HEAVILY outweighs the things I would have changed about our wedding if I could do it again. If you want to see the three best decisions we made, I wrote a blog post for each of them and you can find them here, here, and here. And soon I’ll be sharing some of the smaller smart decisions we made about our wedding :)


Our 3 Favorite Wedding Decisions: Writing our Own Vows

Categories: Tips for Clients.

We’ve made it to the final of our three favorite wedding decisions. In case you missed them, you can find the first two here and here. I’ve enjoyed having an excuse to look back at our wedding pictures and reflect on how our day came together, and I hope maybe some of this information has been helpful to other brides out there at any stage in planning their own wedding.

Our third and final of the three best decisions we made about our wedding was writing our own vows. This is such a personal decision and one that I completely understand why some people aren’t comfortable doing, be it for personal, religious, or other reasons. But for Dustin and I, it fit perfectly into the style and vibe of our wedding and having those words that we both wrote so deeply from the heart and spoke to one another in front of all of our closest friends and family was AMAZING. Seriously just so special and emotional.

Why are we so glad we did this? Well, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the typical format of saying your vows (which obviously varies from ceremony to ceremony), but the goal of our wedding was to infuse as much of US as possible into each part of our day. The ceremony is obviously the most important part of the day…so it only made sense that we both prepared something completely 110% from the heart to read as we committed the rest of our lives to one another. I didn’t feel like the standard vows could truly capture our exact commitments to one another and reflect the uniqueness of our relationship, so writing a separate piece of our own was the way to go.

How did we go about doing this? So many people have said they wanted to do the same thing but were afraid the two sets of vows would have totally different lengths, tones, etc. and it could be awkward. I was afraid of this too, especially since Dustin isn’t the best writer (it’s okay, he knows this haha). So we decided to have a very close mutual friend read both our vows and give us feedback based on length and material…as in we didn’t want one full of straight funny stuff and one that was dead serious. Fortunately they were nearly the same in length, and each only needed minor tweaking. We both followed a similar format from start to finish so that they flowed nicely when read back to back.

What made reading these vows so powerful and emotional for me personally was knowing Dustin set aside time to seriously do some soul-searching and put his feelings into words. Like I said, he’s not much of a writer and very rarely leaves notes or writes down anything other than phone numbers or enough to fill out a form or something like that. So it was kind of a big deal for him to verbalize his feelings in this way. Knowing that he sat outside on our porch with a pen and paper and really did some deep thinking is so awesome. Also hearing his words for the first time in front of everyone we love was incredibly emotional. Seeing him tear up and hearing his perspective of our relationship was so touching. For me, I was so afraid I would be a blubbering mess. I’d tried to read my vows alone in my office and literally sobbed each time. But when it came down to it, I just felt this sense of calmness. I had a few moments during the ceremony where I needed to take a breath and collect myself, but overall, speaking those words gave me a presence and power that helped me keep it together so that he could hear each word I’d written clearly.

Now going forward, those two sheets of paper hold so much importance to us. For a while after the wedding they sat on our dresser and each day when I’d be combing my hair after I got out of the shower, I’d stand there and read them. It’s so amazing to know we will forever have those special words that we read to one another, and reading them takes me back to how it felt to be standing there on 9.15. I haven’t yet, but I definitely plan on framing them and hanging them somewhere in the house. They will be a constant reminder of our promises and commitments and I know those words will be important to read and re-read as we face challenges in our lives together.

So of course this decision is not for everyone, but for us, it was clearly one of the best decisions we made and one that is so incredibly special to me.

All images by Katelyn James.


Our 3 Favorite Wedding Decisions: A Second Photographer

Categories: Tips for Clients.

I’m back with the second of our three favorite wedding decisions! In case you missed our first (doing a First Look), you can find it here.

Our second favorite decision we made about our wedding was adding on a second photographer to our collection. This is something that’s easy for brides to consider and resolve not to add one because their friend only had one photographer at her wedding and her pictures were still totally amazing! Well as a photographer myself and someone who second shoots often, I knew all of the great things the second shooter is able to capture that the lead photographer cannot due to the simple fact that they just can’t be in two places at once. Think about it…the lead photographers job is to capture all of the critical moments of the day such as you walking down the aisle, your grooms reaction, the ring exchange, the first kiss, toasts, the first dance, etc. But the second photographer? They have the flexibility to focus on your groom as he gets ready, the other reactions, and guest photos. Having that second perspective helps tell the story of the day that much better, and for the minimal cost to have that second photographer there, it’s definitely worth it.

For us, my absolute favorite things about having a second photographer were:

- Having images of Dustin and Landon getting ready together at the same time I was getting ready. These are some of my absolute favorites from the whole day and are so priceless. The relationship Dustin has with his son is one of the things I love most about him so there really are no words for how special these images are to me
- Both my reaction and Dustin’s reaction during the first look
- Two different ceremony perspectives and shots of my guests in their seats since I never got to turn around long enough to see exactly who was sitting where
- Lots of photos of our guests at the reception since the evening went by so quickly and there were some guests I was only able to say hi to for a second :(
- Photos of my grandparents, and other friends and family members at times during the reception that Katelyn had other more high impact things to photograph

Here are some of my favorite images of the day that wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t added on a second photographer to our collection… (All photos by Katelyn James)
…these next two are the same moment from two different perspectives which is awesome

…that ring was a struggle haha

…right after our first kiss…I love this picture

We had lots of guest photos during cocktail hour while Katelyn was doing family formals…

And guests and family members enjoying themselves throughout the night…