I just got off the phone with an embarrassed, weeping bride. She was calling to let me know she wasn’t going to be able to hire us for her wedding photography after she was pretty much certain she was going to. But that’s not why she was crying.

She was crying with me because she was overwhelmed, and I’d demonstrated myself as an empathetic listener. She’d budgeted $20,000 for her wedding (more than she really had to work with). Though, upon her own admission, she hadn’t done a stellar job of planning how she would need to spend the money she allocated. After nixing the florist, the DJ, and getting a second-hand dress, her bill was still coming closer to $30,000, than the $20,000 she already didn’t have.

“How is it that my mom’s wedding cost $10,000?” she lamented. Costs change, of course, but I know where she’s coming form. Even accounting for inflation since the 80’s, her wedding is going to cost almost $10,000 more than her mom’s wedding.

I felt for her. I am of the belief that the wedding industry has become bloated and doesn’t fairly reflect the nature of this particular event as it once did. And I know that this industry, over time, has invented a lot of “must-haves” that weren’t there before. Certainly, that was contributing to some of this bride’s feelings of defeat and loss.

Couples today don’t say, “lets get married and get our friends and loved ones together to commemorate it.” They say, “Lets get married and have a wedding.” A subtle difference, but an important one.

Now, before I go on, I’m not saying weddings are stupid, or a waste of time or money. I’m not saying everyone should just go to the courthouse and then go to brunch. That’s fine for some people, not everybody. What I’m saying is that starting from the proposition that you need to have a “Wedding” is the wrong proposition. What you need is to honor a very important decision you and your spouse are making. The only ‘rules’  out there for this event were written by people who made money from them and wanted to make more money from them.

In the wedding industry, everything is taken to its most extreme sentimental position. Suddenly a professional is needed for everything. In real life, you can do your own hair and makeup for a Friday night on the town and you look great. But for your wedding, you need a professional. Flowers from Giant or Safeway look great in the house all year, but at your wedding, you’d better get a professional. A Spotify playlist will be a blast at your house party, but it will ruin your wedding. The pies your mom made for your sister’s baby shower were amazing, but you’ll need a professional confectioner to make something for your wedding. Your parent’s back yard has been great for the semi-annual garden parties, but you’ll need an ornate ballroom for your wedding.

In actuality, none of those things are true. I’ll tell you what almost no one else in the wedding industry is willing to: You don’t need any of it to make your wedding ‘legitimate’ and beautiful. It looks and feels like it has to be a package deal, but it’s doesn’t. It’s an a la carte bonanza and you get to decide what actually matters to you and what doesn’t.

All of this is true, but it asks a lot of us to defy the status quo of “weddings”. This is why I suggest you start, not from the premise that you need to have a “wedding”, but from the premise that you’ve decided to get married and would like to commemorate that decision with the people who love you the most. See the difference? Maybe you still end up with the classic dream wedding, and that would be great! But you’d have gotten there from the path of the empowered, educated consumer.

For most people, there’s one notable exception. Unsurprisingly, I’m talking about the photographer. Of course I’m biased, but hear me out, then decide if you agree.

“Real weddings” is the codeword for weddings that ‘fit the mold’, whether DIY’d or commissioned by professionals. But whether a wedding ‘fits the mold’ or not isn’t important. What’s important is how that event affects the rest of your life. It’s not a finish line, it’s the starting line. And this is fundamentally what your photography is about. It’s going to stay with you forever, and couples who don’t have it, wish they did. But importantly, that feeling persists regardless of what they’re wedding looked like; whether it was a “real wedding”. Couples who don’t have wedding photos they like, whether they had a wedding that ‘fit the mold’ or they did it all their way, wish they had better photos.

But even this is a bit of an overstatement. Photos don’t make a marriage happy. They don’t make weddings successful. What they do is ride through life with you, reminding you of what mattered on your wedding day.

I don’t presume to tell couples what kind of wedding is right for them. Only they can know that. But it bothers me how many couples are making the decisions, not on reason, but from a carefully tended plot of mental land an industry has laid claim to. Lets be objective for a moment. $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 for most people, is a lot of money to spend on being treated like royalty for one day. That’s a down payment on a house to live in, or a new car to drive. That’s college for one of your kids. That’s retirement. Will the kind of wedding day you have be more important than those things? It might feel like that right now, but I wouldn’t bet on it in the long run. Maybe I’m wrong, you’ll have to decide.

If any of this has resonated with you, I encourage you to reject this industry’s definition of a ‘wedding’. Start simply with the fact that you’ve made a decision that will affect the rest of your lives, and that you want to commemorate that decision with people you love. Don’t start by choosing a location and luxury, start by making choices about the things that will matter in the long run, then move your way out from there. Realize that it doesn’t matter how other people think your wedding should look, where it should be, or what you should wear. What matters is the life you’re about to spend together and the people who will love and support you.

If you’d like to discuss wedding photography options with us, get in touch. We’re down to earth and are always happy to have a candid conversation about the challenges of wedding planning. Of course, maybe you have your own thoughts on this and we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment, or find us on Twitter!