As I mentioned in January, I'm shaking things up a little on my blog this year. You all can read my review on each wedding I photograph when I blog them in full, but I would also like to share my brides' experiences about what it was really like to plan a wedding. From the proposal to the wedding day itself, with all the joys and stresses. I hope these posts will help any bride in her wedding planning process throughout the year, and hopefully reading about the whole experience from someone who has 'been there, done that' will make things a little easier)) This is also the first ever guest post on my blog! Eeek! Stephanie and Gary got married on a Leap day just over two weeks ago. It was a beautiful day, and you can see their wedding in full Here. Over to her:

"Hey, I’m Stephanie Hudston and I just got married on the 29th of February at Dodmoor House. Dasha was there to capture all the moments of my day and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. She got in contact with me asking if I could write a guest post on the experiences of planning my own wedding and any tips I can share with all of you. As someone who didn’t know anything about weddings, I have discovered quite a lot in my 6 month journey. I hope that my experiences can help out anyone who is about to get married!

Find Time to Unwind

However long you spend on planning your wedding, you’re going to have to stop sooner or later. My advice: don’t wait till the wedding to stop fretting about things. Pick a day to get everything done by and then just relax. Stop thinking about all the little details and start thinking about getting yourself mentally and physically prepared. Go out for a meal, get yourself pampered, read a book and just enjoy it all. All the people you hired, all the people that are around that want to help you, let them, that’s what they are there for. Sometimes the planning of a wedding can consume you so much that even if you had another three months left, you will still find something to add, change or do. So make sure to give yourself some much needed rest before the big day.

Get Inspired

You can find inspiration for a wedding absolutely anywhere and when you do, the place I recommend storing it is on Pinterest. Other sites I used for daily inspiration were: Rock My Wedding, Style Me Pretty and for a bit of the eccentric, Offbeat Bride. There really are hundreds of wedding blogs out there, so you should never be lacking some inspiration! It can get a bit overwhelming at times, but you just need to refocus and make sure you use your time wisely. Looking at all of these pretty images will give you tons of ideas. I know at one point I wish I could extend my wedding by a couple of days and have different themes just so I could include all of the things I liked! This stuff makes you a bit crazy like that, but just as long as you have fun with it and know the reality of it, then you can always dream.

Staying on the Right Path

When I got engaged I knew the bare minimum when it came to weddings. I honestly didn’t even know the difference between engagement rings, wedding bands and eternity rings. In the 6 years I have been with Gary, I have actually never pointed at a ring before... I didn’t know you had too! So when I entered the world of weddings, it was all new to me. I had 6 months to plan and having a wedding planner never crossed my mind. I bought ‘Brides’ magazine a few days after Gary proposed and that’s when I began to learn things, like the fact that a wedding breakfast is the dinner you have, not an actual Full English. Okay, so I had a lot to learn and that I did. I Googled. A lot. I got all the ridiculous sounding checklists from magazines and wrote many, many lists.

You may want to do everything yourself and even think you can handle it all, but if you have people that want to help you, trust me, take their help - it will only make your life easier. My priority was all the details of the day, so that was everything from doing mood boards for the florist to designing my dessert table. I made sure that I kept a list of everything I needed to get done and in order of priority. I had a folder that I kept all my wedding things so nothing would get lost and I basically just worked hard at it. I was very lucky that I had great suppliers and that I didn’t have anyone that let me down, so everything went pretty smoothly. Make sure to do your research on the people that will be helping you with your big day, read any reviews and testimonials you can and go with your gut instinct.

About 8 weeks before the wedding, write down everything you have planned for the day; from the time you wake up to the time you go off as newlyweds. This served as a great reference to give to all my suppliers, especially Dasha and my videographer. We also created a spreadsheet that was just a page long of all the times and what was happening, such as entertainment, cake cutting and departure. Whoever is helping you run the day, make sure you talk through everything with them, such as how you want your day to look with instructions of where you want certain things placed to the timings of everything. It may seem a bit much but our day would have not run as smoothly if people weren’t on the same page.

A few other things that I found useful were:

  • Make a list of all the decorations and things you will be bringing to the venue for the wedding day. This makes it a whole lot easier for everyone to keep track of things.
  • Have all your suppliers’ numbers on the phone just in case you need to get ahold of them wherever you are.
  • Get in contact with your suppliers a few days before the wedding day to make sure there are no problems and if there is, you still have time to get it fixed.
  • When you go for your dress fitting, make sure you’re comfortable sitting down with your dress!
  • Pack a little emergency kit with things you may need on the day; headache tablets, straws, bandages, sewing kit, nail polish, etc.
  • Give Dasha/videographer a list of important shots you want. They may not be able to get everything but it helps them in knowing what really matters to you.

Pre-wedding shoot 

I would say that having a pre-wedding shoot was just as important as tasting the food and getting fitted for a dress. It was all part of the process and I am so glad we had one. Gary didn’t really understand the point of a pre-wedding shoot till he actually did it. I for one understood it entirely but was so nervous the night before and on the day, that I felt like calling Dasha up and telling her to forget it. Gary and I are pretty shy people, and the fact that we were meeting someone we had never met before to be photographed being affectionate... that was terrifying! We were so terrified of this that we had the shoot done at Gary’s parents house just so no one from the public would be watching us. But we met Dasha and we talked to her and then we realized... actually, this is not as bad as we thought. The first 10 minutes are probably the most difficult as you’re trying to act natural and show the world that you really do love each other without being awkward because you’re having photos taken of you. After the nervous laughing is done with, we just got into the flow of things and had tons of fun. The time passes by so quick, I was actually sad when it was over! It was really great to finally have photographs of us that weren’t taking on a bad quality camera and that are more casual than our wedding ones. Having this pre-wedding shoot prepared us for the wedding as we knew what to expect and all we had to do was just be us!

Surround Yourself With Calm

Who you choose to have with you on the morning of your wedding is really important. Apart from my make-up artist, videographer and Dasha, the only other people in the room with me were my bridesmaid and mother-in-law. I wanted for my morning to be relaxed and hassle free. I was nervous but also really excited by the fact that I was finally seeing all the things I had visioned come to life and coming together so nicely. By having my bridesmaid and mother-in-law there, they were finally finishing the journey of all the months of planning that they had helped me with. I was very lucky that everyone around me that morning helped to create a really peaceful atmosphere. Share your special morning with the people that you feel most comfortable with and that give you a bit of breathing space when you need it.

Forget Tradition

Just because you’re having a wedding, it doesn't mean you have to follow the rules. If you aren’t comfortable with something, either find an alternative or don’t do it. Gary and I had a civil ceremony and although we really wanted to write our own vows, it just became too stressful so we stopped. What we decided on instead was to write each other letters that we read before we saw each other. It was more personal to us and made us more relaxed during the ceremony. We also decided to not have a first dance or any dancing at all. Dancing has never been something we've done so we weren’t going to start at our wedding! I didn’t give out any gifts during the speeches and I didn't throw my bouquet. Gary had three best men and I had one bridesmaid. Your wedding is about the two of you and if at any point you’re uncomfortable with a certain thing or you have changed your mind about something, that’s completely fine. Within limits, do whatever it takes to make your wedding all about the two of you, even if it means forgetting about every tradition and doing it your way.

What Really Matters

Every bride is different. Some love the planning of their wedding, others not so much. Some find it really stressful, while others can cope with it. Some want to create every single last detail, while others would rather just buy it. Maybe you’re somewhere in between! Whatever bride you are, what really matters at the end of the day is the person you’re marrying. Weddings can turn into monsters, sometimes big ones. We all have a vision of how we want our day to look like and somewhere along the way that will probably change. One thing can lead to the next and we’re left standing there wondering... is it all worth it?

There have been so many times when I wanted to just quit, when I kept over thinking every little thing I was doing. It scared me because I have never had a vision of what I wanted my wedding to look like till I decided with Gary that we were going to have a wedding. I always told myself that I would have a very small gathering, it would be nothing fancy and that I would never be a stressed out bride. Yet here I was freaking out over the style of my invitations. Woah, what happened there?! Well, the wedding monster of a wedding did. I was the bride that enjoyed planning, making the details and kept pretty calm about things. But sometimes there were just days that I got fed up of it all and didn't feel like going on with it. I could easily go and get married, so if that’s all that mattered, why didn't we just go and get married already?

And that’s because it has been one heck of a journey to get where I wanted to be with Gary. Yeah, we could have gone and gotten married without any fuss, but we wanted that celebration. We wanted to share with our friends and family, to show everyone that all our hard work that brought us to this day was for a reason. We began our life as Mr. and Mrs. surrounded by people that wanted to be there, by smiling faces and well wishes. We ate amazing food, we had incredible entertainment and the whole time I looked around I knew it was our wedding. Even though at some points during the planning I didn't think the little details would be noticed, they were. When I didn't think the day would run as I had hoped, it did. To some, weddings seem like a complete waste of money, and I was beginning to think that too, but when I got married to Gary it became the best day of my life so far.

It’s okay to be calm one second and very stressed out the next. It’s okay to be really indecisive about things. It doesn't matter whether you’re having a really big celebration with hundreds of guests, 50 or much less. You need to do what makes both of you happy. You get to marry your best friend and show all the people that matter. Remember to take some breaks from your planning and spend some time with your other half. They may not be as interested in the type of shoes you’re wearing but they still want you to be happy, so don’t forget them.

And the most important thing of all, enjoy every last minute of it. I know that the photographs Dasha has taken of our wedding will always be treasured. It’s only been over a week and I look at them and get to relive the whole day over again. I can’t help but smile and feel the same emotion I felt on the day. Like everyone says, it goes by like a flash. Although there was some up’s and down’s along the way, I wouldn't have changed anything. To walk down the aisle and see Gary standing at the end of it, to say “I do” and to exchange rings made all the hard days worth it.