Selecting a wedding venue is one of the most important decisions you make when you are planning your wedding (other than selecting a wedding photographer, of course)! It can be difficult to figure out how to start, where to look, how to research—and honestly, it can get very overwhelming really quickly! Writing as a photography studio blog, the wedding venue can also really enhance certain aspects of wedding photography—getting to play with architecture, furnishing, decor, and overall style is a lot of fun for a photographer, and creative photos are sort-of a byproduct of choosing an awesome wedding space. As such, we feel it is our privilege to help you as you begin to sort through all of the initial wedding details, and did a little research to provide you with the best information out there.
There are several things to consider as you select a venue, and we have considered some of the top tips to help you as you plan for your big day!
Tip #1: Make a Spreadsheet for Information
As with any aspect of wedding planning goes, it is really difficult to find all of the information you need, across all vendor websites in the same way/format. This can be kind of a pain as you research and try to decide on a location. In some cases you will have to call the venue, in others you will have all of the information you need on the website. Don’t get discouraged—just stay organized. Starting a spreadsheet with information from your top venues can really help to plan and see the big picture, as well as all of the smaller details, as you prepare to make a choice. Here are some details that I recommend putting into your spreadsheet:
Availability: Dates that you are interested in that the venue is available (remember, this is where you will also want to note time sensitive information and deadlines).
Ceremony vs. Reception: Many couples have a different reception and ceremony venue. If this is the case for you, you will want to break your spreadsheet into two.
Type: Are you looking at all indoor locations or outdoor locations? If you are looking at a variety of spaces you will probably want to note if it is a hotel, beach-front, historical site, restaurant, bar, etc.
Rates: Try to get a general sense of this… you may need to add details, but at least record the rough/flat cost that you can gather from either the website or representative you speak with.
Website & Contact Info: Be sure to record the website link and any contact information of individuals you have spoken with, that way it is easy for you to contact with more questions or book once you have made a decision. Several wedding venues have similar names, or you could easily get them mixed up—so this will help keep things straight!
Layout: These are notes you might have to make once you visit a venue, but it is important to take note if the space meets everything on your check-list. Are there places for cocktails, dinner, dancing, etc.
Specifics: Does the website list any major restrictions—such as a “definite end time”? These are things that might impact your decision if you are debating between a couple of locations at the end of your search.
Facility Extras: What is included with the venue? A/V equipment, chairs, tables, linens, etc.
Travel & Parking: Make any notes regarding free parking, public transit access, or other transportation considerations that your guests will have. Is it easy to get to? Will people want to carpool?
Caterer: Does the venue have any caterer requirements? Such as a preferred vendor list or in-house catering? If you are flexible this aspect can be fine, but if you already know of a caterer you want to work with, this can be tricky!
Tip #2 Consider the Size and Event
Many wedding venues try to stretch the capacity of guests to the max so that they look really appealing to couples. Remember that just because a dining room can hold 200 people, does not mean that is necessarily should. Try to re-frame questions and ask “what is the ideal number of guests for this space?” Rather than, “What is the maximum number of guests this venue can accommodate?” Try to remember that you will want a little breathing room!
Tip #3 Be Realistic With Your Budget
This is something that comes up again and again with wedding planning. Many couples are on a tight budget when it comes to their wedding, or at the very least, they want to be reasonable with their cost expectations. Keeping a $10,000 venue on your list, when your budget is really $5,000 is not worth your time or effort. When you first sit down to begin planning, don’t just set a maximum cost expectation, also try to decide what is most important to you and your partner. Is it having an open bar? Is it the location? Is it getting an awesome wedding video so that you can remember your special day vividly for years to come? (the latter is probably our top choice). Venues often fall in a top category for couples, and if this is where you really want your budget to go, you might need to be reasonable in other areas!
Tip #4 Choosing Your Wedding Date
For many couples, choosing the wedding date is the first order of business. However, there is value in being a little flexible here. If you already have a venue in mind, you might want to consider being open to a variety of dates that could work for you or your fiancé. As we have mentioned on this blog previously, being open-minded to a winter wedding is one way to do this—as spring/summer/fall are generally the seasons that top venues typically book fully. If you are set on getting married in one of those seasons, being open-minded with a date can allow you to prioritize the venue and work around available dates.
Tip #5 Decide on the “Feel”
From a photographer’s perspective, venues really create the ambiance of the wedding—both for the ceremony and the reception. It is a good idea to look at venue in terms of the “feeling” or ambiance that you are hoping to achieve with decorations and overall aesthetics. This is a conversation to have with your partner—but also with a wedding planner if you choose to work with one, as that will ultimately decide a lot of the other details for planning.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it does provide five tips for selecting a wedding venue. From the perspective of a wedding photographer, the venue can really enhance the kind of shots and the style of wedding photos that can be captured. While you not necessarily frame it in that way initially, in years to come when you look back on photos and/or videos from your special day, that is how you are going to really remember the space your wedding took place. If you have been having a difficult time selecting a venue you like, you can always try to consult with your photographer if you found them first! We are always happy to recommend venues we like or have worked in in the past to our clients.