Sam + Sal's surprise wedding was a big success, and I have a few suggestions for couples planning a stress-free surprise ceremony of their own: read on for my Top 3 Tips for DIY surprise weddings!
Tip #1: Surprise your GUESTS, but keep your vendors "in the know" (we promise: we won't ruin the surprise!)
For us wedding vendors, delivering our "A-Game" is about being prepared, and knowing all the major events of the day that are important to you, our couples! Preparation is especially important for me as a candid documentary wedding photographer: since I don't stage or recreate moments, I need to know what's coming up so I can capture all the emotions fully as they unfold. Surprises happen in life, but if you have the option of informing your vendors in advance about the nature of your event, definitely do so!
All vendors, such as your venue, your DJ or band, even your hair and makeup artist (if you go that route) will want to know they are preparing for a (surprise) wedding, and not just a party. Many vendors have different pricing, package options, and a higher level of service / attention to detail for weddings than we do for non-wedding parties and events.
Tip #2: Carefully consider how your family, friends, and guests may react: surprise weddings are a fun option, but only YOU know best whether your crew can handle this level of spontaneity.
As with all DIY non-traditional weddings options, such as elopements, self-uniting ceremonies, or micro weddings, you really only need to ask yourselves 2 questions before you commit to a surprise wedding celebration (and the second question is OPTIONAL, but useful):
- Does this kind of event fit US as a couple? Do we love this idea? Does a surprise wedding play to our strengths? Does this celebration format make our wedding more joyful and less stressful for us? If you both love the idea and it just feels right, awesome: full speed ahead.
- Does this kind of event fit our important people? Are my closest loved ones likely, based on what I know about them, to find a surprise wedding fun, exciting, and meaningful? Or, do any of my VIPs "hate surprises", respond poorly to loss of control, have physical or mental health conditions that may make a surprise wedding hard for them to enjoy? What about loved ones not in attendance? If relatives don't attend our "backyard BBQ" or partner's "birthday party", might they experience serious FOMO when they learn that they actually missed our surprise wedding?
Let me be clear: I'm NOT saying that your wedding planning should be dictated by what others want; this is YOUR day as a couple after all. However, if the goal is for YOU to enjoy your surprise wedding ceremony, thinking beforehand about how others may react can help you decide who to invite, how and when to disclose the surprise, etc. Honestly, anything you can do to avoid wedding DRAMA while staying true to your own needs as partners is always a win ;)
For the record, everyone at Sam + Sal's surprise wedding LOVED the surprise element: their family members, friends, and guests were all relaxed, joyful, and fully celebrated the couple's DIY non-traditional format.
Tip #3: To fully capture the SURPRISE energy of your surprise wedding ceremony, hire an alert and responsive candid documentary wedding photographer.
I'm not just saying this because I happen to fit that description :) The truth is, there are so many different styles of wedding photography, and whenever you plan a DIY non-traditional wedding, you want to choose a photographer who 1) Has a style you LOVE, and 2) Has abilities and strengths that are well-matched to your event.
For example, some wedding photographers LOVE to pose and direct shots for most of the day, resulting in highly-refined, glamorous and conceptual, magazine cover type photographs (often called "editorial wedding photography"). When this is done well, it's beautiful. But this approach also requires hours of picture taking on your wedding day: instead of enjoying your cocktail hour, you and your partner might be posing under an archway behind your venue because the light happens to be really good in that exact spot. This can go on for hours, over and over again until half your wedding day is lost posing for "epic" shots like you're on a movie set while your guests eat, drink, and dance without you.
If your goals for your wedding day are to look like models, show how high-end your venue is, or be featured in a wedding magazine, then yeah you'd probably benefit from hiring an editorial wedding photographer.
But that's NOT how I work: I say, there's a time for art-directed "photo shoots", and it's not your wedding day. You want to enjoy real moments and look back on real memories, so that's what I focus on. I'm fast, alert, and can work "quick and dirty" in difficult light: I can better capture the SURPRISE elements of your surprise wedding ceremony.