Dear Savannah...

As a photographer, I get the immense blessing of seeing weddings from a very personal viewpoint all the time. You're likely planning a wedding for the first and last time. Awkward etiquette situations can be really tricky to navigate. I asked some brides for their current most pressing questions and I answered them! I hope you'll find my insight helpful. 

My family is extremely traditional and my fiancé and I have opted to do a first look. How should we inform our families of this decision? Do we tell them beforehand or the day of?

This can be a tricky situation if your views don't align with those of your families. Most of my couples choose to let their families know about this decision beforehand and I do think that is important. More often than not, parents are totally cool with it. I have had two situations where the bride and groom waited to tell their parents until the day of the wedding and both backfired badly:

  • In the first situation the groom's parents were terribly disappointed in the bride and groom's decision but protested quietly. They whispered and complained to other family members but refused to address their feelings with the only two people who mattered. The bride and groom could feel the tension and relationships were strained badly all day long. It wasn't fair to the bride and groom.

  • In the second situation, the bride had informed her parents of this decision but had not totally explained what would happen (they did not know what a first look was) so the bride expected it to be fine and it wasn't. Her father was deeply upset and offended by the idea. At this wedding, the bride and groom decided to call off the first look which left us with a stressed out couple, a really messed up timeline and a waste of nearly 2 hours. Following the ceremony, we had no time for portraits because the timeline had been immaculately planned out for a first look.

The key here is that in both situations, the families really had no idea what a first look was. In the parents' eyes, the bride and groom were just choosing to see each other willy nilly for no reason at all other than breaking "tradition". The moms and dads felt insulted and took it personally. It's incredibly important to sit your parents down and have a conversation with them about what a first look truly is if you're worried about their feelings.

Use the following points if your conversation with your parents. A first look is the opportunity for the groom to see his bride first. It's a decision that's rooted in mutual respect for each other. Your marriage is only between the two of you. It's not fair to see each other at the same moment as your random college roommate or 4th cousin. That moment should be private, cherished and just between the two of you. I do not allow anyone to watch first looks. It will be strictly you, your husband-to-be and me. The first look also allows for a much better investment into your photography. You'll get 60% more portraits, be able to attend your own cocktail hour, you won't keep guests waiting and we won't be rushed to capture meaningful portraiture. First looks always help to relax anxious brides and grooms and reaffirm their decision to unite for life! 

The tradition of the groom not seeing the bride before the ceremony is rooted in arranged marriages. The family of the bride did not want the groom to see her until after the marriage was sealed in fear of him walking away from the marriage. Remember, marriages were financial transactions. This is also the reason that brides wear veils - to conceal her face. They were much thicker and less transparent generations ago. I'm guessing that your marriage has a lot deeper meaning than a financial transaction. 

Traditions should be meaningful and waiting to see each other is not a meaningful tradition. When having the conversation, be confident and firm in your explanation. If things go sour, kindly remind your parents that this is your wedding but postpone the conversation until tensions have fizzled out.  With all that said, it is OK to not let grandparents in on this decision. Let me know how it goes! xoxo

HELP! My fiancé has 9 first cousins. No, I'm not kidding. Of those cousins, 8 are married or are in long-term (basically engaged) relationships. We obviously planned to invite those spouses and boyfriends/girlfriends to the wedding. The remaining cousin is sort of a serial dater and she isn't seeing anyone right now but she's mentioned off-hand a few times needing to meet someone so she has a date to our wedding. We were not planning on giving her a +1 but now we're worried we are going to offend her and cause some problems. Should we let her bring a guest?

There is no hard and fast rule for who gets a +1. However, if the invited guest is married, engaged or living with a long-term girlfriend/boyfriend, then they should be able to bring their spouse (this is sort of a no-brainer). Otherwise, +1 invites are up to the bride and groom and can be determined by venue space, budget, etc. 

The Emily Post Institute explains this clearly: Wedding invitations are not negotiations; the inner envelope is the final word on who exactly is being invited, and the names listed there are the only guests included in the invitation. It’s not okay for guests to ask you to make exceptions, so it won’t be rude in the least to stand by your guest list. 

I highly recommend using inner and outer envelopes to make it abundantly clear to your guests who is invited. In this case, I would say that you do not owe the cousin the ability to bring a date. Her siblings and family members will be there - she won't be alone. If you don't have room, cannot fit it into the budget or simply just don't want a stranger at your wedding, just simply invite your cousin and let the conversation about +1's end there. Good luck! xoxo

Who is included in family formal portraits? I asked my mother-in-law-to-be for her list of family formal portraits so that I could compare it to mine and make sure I didn't miss any combinations. However, on her list she included all of my fiancé's aunts and uncles as well as their families. I'm confused now. Should I add my aunts and uncles too?

Generally speaking, no. Please do not. My guideline for family formal portraits is great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and siblings - whoever is applicable to the couple. Additions to this that are acceptable are children (if the bride and/or groom have children), brother and sister in-laws, step parents, step siblings and step grandparents. 

The reasoning for this is because we have an extremely limited amount of time to capture family formal portraits. It is typically very hectic and loud with people chatting and wandering around (and often wandering off). Because of time limitations, we shoot these like a messy but functioning assembly line.

If you have large families on either side, I recommend making a second list for the reception that I can have the DJ help coordinate. Group photos like college friends and sorority sisters are also best suited for the reception. 

However, if your family is very tiny, then there may be some flexibility but please discuss this with your photographer first! Thanks! xoxo 

My husband-to-be has two main mother figures in his life - my mom and his aunt. He always planned on doing two mother/son dances - one with my mom and one with his aunt. Things got a little complicated. In the last year, his mom has moved closer in proximity to us. Now that his mom lives closer to us and he sees her more, he fears that not including her would cause chaos and hurt feelings. I will also be dancing with my dad. Are four dances too many?

I know this probably feels incredibly stressful and seems so tricky. It all comes down to the fact that it is your day. You need to do whatever your guts tell you is best. I'll offer a little advice though to help you through the decision process. 

I think it is important to consider your guest's experience. If during the dances the guests are waiting to eat dinner and the bar is not yet open, that can be tough. Almost all the weddings I shoot, guests talk loudly through the parent dances because they are bored and hungry. It's really disheartening to look around the room during parent dances to see the guests barely paying attention. 

I typically recommend that parent dances are scheduled for immediately following the first dance. The guest behavior is always noticeably better when the first dance, parent dances, speeches and toasts happen immediately after entering the reception. Once they are over, dinner should be served right away and the rest of the evening should consist of very little scheduled activities.

In this case though, if you were to do four dances, I would recommend doing them towards the end of dinner so guests can watch them with full bellies. They've talked to their table through dinner and can likely sit back quietly for a few minutes and watch. The parent dances can be a nice way to open up the dance floor. 

Alternatively, your fiancé could choose one song and dance with your mom, his aunt and his mom during the one song. Discuss this with everyone in advance and split the song up as evenly as possible. He can dance with each one of them individually without it taking 15 minutes of precious reception time. Let them know that you want to share a special dance with them but you also want to keep your guest's happiness in mind. I hope this helps! xoxo

When it comes to registries, is it OK to just ask for cash? My fiancé and I live together and we already have all of those typical kitchen items you see on most registries. What we really would benefit from is money towards our house downpayment or our honeymoon. Is this acceptable to ask for?

Hey! I think wedding registries are really evolving to understand that most couples are pretty non-traditional now. I also live with my fiancé and we bought a house together before we were even engaged. We have a stand mixer, baking sheets, tupperware and all that stuff too. I get it! 

I suggest finding a registry that makes asking for cash classy. Instead of registering at Target or Crate and Barrel, join a registry like Zola or Blueprint Registry (no, I'm not being paid to endorse) where you can ask for cash, donations to charity, experiences and more. 

However, don't forget that this is a great opportunity to ask for those items you just wouldn't buy for yourself. Personally, I added nice silverware to our registry along with some really nice towels. We have hand-me-down stuff right now that we've collected through the years and it works just fine but the registry is a great opportunity to upgrade. Some people just prefer to give a physical gift! Happy shopping! xoxo