March 21, 2021
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had 21 weddings booked for 2020. Over the course of the year, all of my clients understandably changed their wedding plans to prioritize health and safety. Sometimes this meant rescheduling our work together to 2021. Sometimes this meant planning a safer, smaller wedding to take place in 2020. By the end of the year, I had worked 11 weddings during the pandemic.
I learned a lot along the way. I’m still learning, particularly as the pandemic continues into 2021. Below are a few of those lessons with a specific focus on how couples I’ve worked with have made the most out of an unprecedented, deeply challenging time. I hope they are of value to you and your partner as you center health, safety, and joy for the start of your marriage.
This far into the pandemic and I imagine you and your partner feel a lot like me and my partner: Zoom fatigue is real. We’ve all spent the past 12 months hopping on video calls as we desperately try to stay connected with those we love most.
So when it comes to beaming in your loved ones on your wedding day, it’s understandable if the idea totally deflates you. Will it feel special to FaceTime or Zoom or Skype? Will it just make us more sad?
I’ve seen this question addressed a lot of different ways during the pandemic and I’m happy to say that yes, it can feel special. Is it the same as having everyone in the same space? No. But a virtual option is undoubtedly safer and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate love than to honor the safety of your family and friends.
Here are some ideas that I’ve seen work well when it came to utilizing virtual options at a wedding during COVID:
Set up a projector screen. This can serve as a central hub to your wedding and also has the benefit of feeling more natural than staring into a computer screen.
Consider smaller calls at more intimate moments. I’m thinking of a bride I worked for who FaceTimed in her parents immediately after she put on her wedding dress. The moment was pure and sweet and full of love even though the three of them couldn’t be together in the same physical space. Using technology in this way can be a special, memorable way to have a first look with someone you love who can’t attend the wedding in-person.
Make a montage. This idea may seem like a lot of work but I’ve seen some really lovely examples of post-wedding video montages that incorporate footage shot during the day plus many of the photos that I took for the couple. The result is a lasting tribute to the start of your marriage that has the extra benefit of keeping the fun going. One such tribute I saw got rave reviews from the couple’s guests who honestly got to see more of the wedding through the montage than if they’d physically been there.
Invite your virtual guests to tune in via Zoom (or a program of your choice) to your ceremony. You can email them a link to easily join in beforehand. I recommend having someone tech-savvy designated to set-up an iPad/tablet/laptop/phone to properly stream your ceremony and troubleshoot behind-the-scenes so you and your partner can focus on being present at the ceremony. One couple I worked with even had a faraway friend lead their wedding ceremony and read poems — all through Zoom. Oh, and their florist built a beautiful display that incorporated the laptop they were connected through!
Toast in the Digital Age! A 2020 couple I worked with set aside time on their elopement day to share a celebratory champagne toast with their close family over Zoom. There were happy tears shed from both sides of the screen as the couple was able to hear congratulatory and heartfelt speeches from their families from afar. They recorded that video session, too, so they now have those speeches to revisit in the future.
The pandemic presents us with a unique opportunity to get creative when it comes to planning this thing called a wedding. Before COVID, it was all too easy to default to what we’ve all seen as the “traditional” model for a wedding. During COVID, many of those “traditions” aren’t safe or even legal to do. We can either let this defeat us or energize us.
I’ve seen so many couples choose the later option and the results are nothing short of beautiful. Take, for example, these photos of a pair of autographed hiking boots. These are from a wedding I did for a bride and a groom. Before the wedding, the bride sent her boots to her sister and her nieces and nephews. They poured out all of their love for the couple by marking up the bride’s boots with their good wishes.
This is something she’ll always have to remind her of the love her family had for her and her partner as they began their marriage with a hike on their wedding day. As a professional wedding and elopement photographer, I take this as such a win. The pandemic has taken many things away from us. It has also given couples the freedom to forge their own path as they decide how to start their marriage and honor their unique love story.
Before COVID, the average cost of catering was somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 per guest not including any alcohol. While that number hasn’t radically changed during COVID, it does mean that you have an opportunity to make the most of a smaller guest count, i.e. fewer people means better food.
Of course, there’s no pressure to do this but it is a perhaps unexpected benefit of the necessary smaller guest counts that COVID requires. Where before, catering for 150 guests cost about $10,000 before tip and bar, catering for 15 guests is a much more reasonable, if still expensive $1,000 (or even less, depending on what you’d like to eat).
Whatever you decide, please remember the pandemic when it comes to serving food. The ways I have seen safety manifest in catering most strongly are:
Assign your guests tables by household. This will likely mean you have much fewer people per table. That’s OK! You’re doing your best to keep people safe, particularly during a time like eating and drinking when they will, by necessity, be unmasked.
Reconsider the buffet line. If you have a buffet line, I recommend designating one or two people to serve the food so multiple people don’t touch the same serving utensils. If you don’t have a buffet line, this will be known as a “plated” food service and will require waitstaff, either provided by a catering company or arranged among your guests, depending on your situation.
Keep it simple. Remember: Just because you’re having a wedding doesn’t mean you have to default to chicken, steak, or fish. Have a little fun with it! Want pizza? Order pizza. Dreaming of a taco bar? Get a taco bar. Feel like a picnic in the woods? I’ve got my lunchbox packed.
There’s this myth in the wedding industry that an elopement isn’t a “real” wedding or is seen as less important than a big wedding. Not true! Whether eloping is your Plan A or your Plan Z, there is no shame in choosing this route for the day you say “I do.” I promise that your experience can be just as special — if not even more special — because you can focus more on what matters most to you two.
My partner and I actually opted for an elopement in the pre-pandemic days of 2019. We went from planning a big 100-person wedding — including putting the deposit down for our big venue — to realizing that wasn’t what truly felt like “us.” We changed gears for an intimate elopement in the Oregon forest with zero regrets. I have worked nearly 50 weddings and elopements of all shapes and sizes and guess what?
They were all real weddings because they all started real marriages.
Don’t believe me? Take it from this bride. She and her partner originally had a huge indoor wedding planned in a major downtown wedding venue. The global pandemic made this original plan unsafe for their guests, vendors, and themselves and so the couple decided to reimagine their wedding day.
They spent the first day of their marriage in the Columbia Gorge with an officiant, two witnesses, and yours truly. Not only did they have a blast, they found memorable, fun ways to adapt the traditions that were important to them into their new plan. For example, they crafted a portable, lightweight chuppah to get married under using the bride’s brother’s prayer shawl as the canopy.
What did the couple make of all this? The bride told me that “what could have been a stressful and possibly sad day” turned into “one of the best days of the entire year.”
Isn’t that what we all want from our wedding day?