The case for a destination wedding

The number 1 argument for taking your wedding to an exotic location is money: you’ll save so much by not hiring a venue, decorator, cake designer, planner, band, and caterer, you could fly to a beach-side ceremony in St. Lucia, linger for a week-long honeymoon and still have wedding-budget money in the bank.

The Lunsfords and their 30 closest, traveling supporters.

To help you put your wedding budget into perspective:

Of the more than 2 million weddings planned for next year, the average spend will be around $26,000. That includes everything from invitations to the limo at the end. But an average just means half will spend more and half less.

The top 1% — that’s 20,000 weddings — will spend $100,000 or more. So if your wedding is in the top 50%, you’ll be right to have a budget of between $26,000 and something over $100,000.

So let’s compare that to a wedding week in St Lucia for a party of 22, including you and your SO. If you paid for everyone’s travel and two nights’ accommodations, you could do that wedding for $40,000.

  • Dress, veil & shoes: $2,500
  • Tux & shoes: $1,500
  • Airfare for 22: $16,500
  • Two all-inclusive nights for 10 guest couples: $13,000
  • Seven all-inclusive nights for you love-birds: $4,500.
  • Typical resort fee for hosting a wedding: $2,000
Yes, there’s cornhole in Cancun 🙂

If, as is typical with destination weddings, you left air travel up to your guests, and you simply secured a great room rate for attendees, then you could do that destination wedding surrounded by your closest humans for $12,000.

Attending couples would each pony up around $2,500 to cheer your vows and hang with you for a couple of days.

Okay, so now for the number 1 reason for keeping a wedding local. And that is that the bride or groom has a large, tight-knit family with matriarchs and patriarchs who retired their passports and Skymiles memberships long ago, and the wedding absolutely must happen with everyone present.

Andrew with his brother and son on the way to the altar at Finest Playa Mujeres, near Cancun.

Ahh, but take the case of Andrew and Autumn Hewitt in Atlanta. They had their civil wedding cake at the Decatur courthouse — and dinner afterward — with the extended clan and friends, and ate it in Cancun after a beachside ceremony with 30 of their closest, able-to-travel friends and family.

About the photography

So yes. You’re going to want pictures of everything you loved about that amazing blue-water resort. Well, there’s three ways to get them.

  1. Use the resort’s photographer. We’re biased in the other direction, but the facts are that resort photographers typically are resort employees with resort-supplied cameras doing snaps at scenic spots on the property, or they’re local contractors paid a flat rate to do the same. A typical resort photography package includes an hour or two of photo coverage and a disc of unedited images mailed to you. Pricing varies wildly across the Caribbean. What’s consistent is the small amount of skill and effort invested in shooting and delivering your photos. Your family could do as well with cell phones.
  2. Crowd-source. Have your guests shoot away with their phones and message you their pics. This is a grab-bag approach, but you’ll occasionally get that priceless photo — like the one of Aunt Edna with the hoola-hoop and that turned-up bottle of champagne.
  3. Do #2, but back-stop with a professional. Jill and I travel as much as we shoot weddings locally. Our destination prices aren’t much different than what we charge for local weddings, because we love getting those exotic scenes, so we absorb much of our travel costs. And since we’re going to be on the island with nothing to do besides relax and be wedding photographers, you’ll get a lot more time in front of the camera and tons more pictures. Pictures that have been edited. Pictures that were shot by pros who live in the same country as you, and maybe in the same city.

Six Atlanta wedding venues we love

We cover weddings in lots of places: churches, farms, islands, beaches, wineries, state parks, botanical gardens and on private properties.

Occasionally, we find ourselves in a place that makes us wonder what compelled our clients to say, “This is it!!” And sometimes we find ourselves in a venue that’s a standout mix of character, spaciousness, flow, and light — a combination that screams great photos! Maybe it’s because we’re photographers, but it would seem to be that a big driver in venue choice has to be the photos it’ll render. Because the human memory is a faulty thing, and that makes photos so important. So this blog tackles the venue question from that perspective. We’ve selected a short list of Atlanta venues that worked particularly well for photography. As we highlight each, we’ll explain what made them so great not just for photography but for the wedding, and we’ll also point out any downsides that stood out for us.

Primrose Cottage, Roswell, GA

  • beautiful inside and out
  • an abundance of windows bring natural light into the bridal suite, groom’s quarters and reception area
  • the large bridal suite features a red claw-foot tub that makes for artsy photo-moments for a saucy bride
  • ceremonies are performed outdoors in a lush, shaded amphitheater-like setting.
  • a large reception hall offers high, white ceilings that are great for the bounced light that we like for candid dance and guest photos.
  • a beautifully lit garden shed on the property makes for wonderfully romantic photos

Dekalb History Center, Decatur, GA

  • situated on the square in downtown Decatur with lots of photo spots in the surrounding area.
  • the center’s second-floor ceremony and reception space is all white plaster and marble with a 16-foot ceiling and massive windows on side walls. Beautiful and super-great for photography!
  • the building is accessed via massive sets of stairs on the east and west sides of the building.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Atlanta, GA

  • while restrictive in what photographers are allowed to do and shoot in the sanctuary during a wedding mass, and quite challenging from a lighting perspective, the Basilica is one of our favorite ceremony venues because of its majestic beauty.
  • from the high-ceiling nave (the central section of the sanctuary) to the ornate apse (the dome-like space behind the pulpit), from the organ loft to the stained glass windows lining the aisles, the Basilica is a regal setting for any wedding.

Flint Hill, Norcross, GA

  • hands-down one of the most elegant wedding venues in Greater Atlanta
  • every aspect of the white-trimmed property evokes antebellum aristocracy. If that’s vibe you want, this is the place.
  • the layout is designed for a romantic outdoor wedding with up to 275 guests, with the reception ballroom being the rain-plan alternative.
  • the bridal suite is roomy, well-lit and elegant — great for prep photos.
  • the north-facing front lawn is perfect for a romantic first look and for formal photos after the ceremony.

Trolley Barn, Atlanta, GA

  • a former garage-of-sorts for the electric streetcars that roamed Atlanta in the late 1800s, the Trolley Barn since has served a variety of purposes, and now is a wedding and event center.
  • its expansive main floor with 20-plus-foot ceilings and factory-style windows create a spacious, airy atmosphere for a reception, and all that’s a plus for photos, too.
  • a mezzanine affords photographers a great bird’s-eye perspective of your reception.
  • a brick courtyard, garden and lush lawn at the rear of the building form a wonderful backdrop for an outdoor ceremony, formals and couple photos.

Fendley Farmstead, Canton, GA

  • new-ish venue with a great back-story: owner Dena Milner was raised across the street and bought the property from her childhood best friend with an eye toward creating a wedding venue. Dena’s daughter Brannigan was the first bride to marry there, in 2009.
  • it’s a rustic and large property featuring an open-sided ceremony barn, a large reception hall finished in knotty pine, a bridal cottage, a groom’s hangout, and an active pasture.
  • the ceremony barn is conducive to great photos thanks to ample natural light and a layout that permits the photographer to move about quickly and easily
  • the reception space is large with high ceilings, which is great for photos
  • the property has a variety of photo-op spots, including a white wrought-iron Cinderella carriage, vineyard, and a chandelier hanging from a tree in the pasture.

Seven steps to the right wedding photographer

When you hire a professional photographer for your wedding, they’ll typically have you sign an agreement that states not only when, where, and how long they’ll be snapping away, but also what deliverables are included.

Unfortunately for consumers, photography packages vary wildly and without any strong correlation to price or quality. This is because both the artistry and business acumen of photographers as a group also vary wildly.

So we’re going to take off our photographer hats and put on our tiaras and give you some tips on choosing the right pro.

1) Do I even need professional photos?

Ask yourself whether photos are even important enough to pay money for. If you don’t take photos when you travel or hang with friends, if you don’t post pics on social media, if you don’t surf Pinterest or IG, you might not be the kind of person who needs pictures to remember life by. Instead of hiring a photographer, save your money and let your guests crowd-source your memories. If this doesn’t apply to you, read on.

2) What style of photos do I like?

Spend some time browsing pics on Pinterest and IG. Look at your own social media photo posts. Figuring out and being aware of what you like and don’t like will help tons when you start talking to photographers.

3) Where do I find photographers?

There’s no good single registry. You can find them through their posts on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, and many have profiles posted on a variety of online wedding sites. Of course, you should also Google “wedding photographer” for the location where you’re needing them. All this goes without saying that if you’re reading this, you’ve already found one team 🙂

4) Quality before cost.

Make the photographer’s artistry and reputation your top priorities and worry about cost second. You can always find a cheap photographer, and if you’re reading this far, photo quality probably ranks for you. So create your short list of favorite photographers, and write down what you like about each.

5) Read their reviews.

It’s good to know what others have to say about the pros on your short list. Browse for reviews, and ask for references. Follow through on this. If others have had issues with a photographer whose work you really like, you can either move on or use that as a basis for conversation to get the pro’s side of the story, If the pro is defensive, red flag. If the pro owns the issue, then you’ll have something to think about.

6) Decide what coverage and deliverables you want.

When you’re comfortable that you’ve found three pros with a style you like and a reputation you trust, it’s almost time to start talking money. But money for what? You could ask for their packages, but those will be varied and hard to compare. Instead, tell your pros what coverage and deliverables you’re interested in, and ask them to price that out. Now you can compare apples-to-apples. To help you know what you want, here are some common options:

  • a second photographer for all or part of the day
  • a simple album, an heirloom-quality album, or no album at all.
  • digital images with permission to print or digitals for online sharing (cheaper)
  • physical prints, and if so, what sizes (8×10, 5×7, 4×6, etc.)
  • how many hours of coverage you’ll need
  • how many coverage locations and how far apart

7) Understand what you’re offered.

Photographers can be pretty geeky and have their own language when it comes to digital and print products and digital image format and usage. Here are seven questions to ask:

  • On average, how many photos do you deliver for a booking such as mine? Not looking for a promise, just a level-set.
  • What editing or adjusting do you do to the images I’ll receive?
  • Can I share them on social media or with friends and family?
  • Can I print them?
  • Do I have to get prints through you?
  • Can I edit them myself — adding filters or cropping them? (Usually, that’s a “no”)
  • Do you keep backups or an archive in case I need more prints or lose my copy?

Okay, our photographer hats are back on! Hopefully, this little blog post will give you some confidence as you shop for the right pro.

Shameless commerce plug: to know whether our style is your style, check us out here:

Five Ideas for a Great Reception

On occasion, a bride will say she wants to keep the reception laid-back rather than fill it with a bunch of activities guests aren’t interested in. That seems sensible and considerate, right? Well, having photographed a reception or two, we can say confidence that the best receptions by far are the ones that start and end with fanfare and have a lot of fun going on in between. The reason for a reception is to celebrate your marriage, but the objective is to send guests home happy, a little tipsy, perhaps, and so glad they came to help congratulate you!

That said, here are five proven reception activities that will engage your crowd and make time fly.

One: The Big Intro

If you want a party atmosphere, nothing sets the tone like a high-energy kick-off. The star of that moment is the person you’ve named as emcee for the night — whether that’s your band leader, DJ, maid of honor or best man, while you and your wedding party are the electrifying cast. So get yourself a high-energy host to pump the crowd for your big entrance. Then it’s up to you and your wedding party to deliver on all that excitement when you’re announced into the room. You and your crew don’t need great dance moves, either. A complete abandonment of inhibitions will do just fine to please the crowd 🙂

Two: A Choreographed First Dance

A beautiful, well-rehearsed first dance can be mesmerizing for the crowd and a wonderful place to get lost in one another for a few minutes after a frenetic day. If you aren’t a natural, many towns have dance studios that offer inexpensive lessons that’ll make you feel like one. Even if you’re planning on winging it, you can still look great simply by maintaining posture as you dance and then finish with a dip!

Three: The Shoe Game

All it takes is two chairs, four shoes, and 20 questions for you and your new mate to leave your guests in stitches. The shoe game is definitely a reception-crowd favorite. To play, your emcee will place the aforementioned chairs back to back in the middle of the dance floor. You and your SO will take a seat, remove both shoes and then swap one with each other so that you’re each holding your own shoe in one hand and your partner’s shoe in the other. The emcee then will begin reading from a prepared list of questions things like, “Who’s the messiest?” You’ll each raise the shoe that belongs to the one who best fits the question. The Internet is full of shoe-game questions, but it’s best to leave the list-making up to a couple of people who know you well — think maid of honor and best man. If you’re adventurous, you can even authorize the emcee to conclude the game by opening the questioning up to the crowd 😉

Four: The Train

When dinner’s over, the dance floor is packed, and crowd energy is peaking, it’s the perfect time for the bride to start a train. Especially if a fun, old-school song like Louie Louie or Come On, Ride the Train is blasting. All it takes is a couple of collaborators in tow behind you to get it going!

Five: The Send-off

Nothing says “Good-night and thanks for coming” like a sparkler-and-bubbles send-off! Not every venue allows sparklers, but if yours does, combining them with bubbles makes for a magical atmosphere and fantastic photos. The secret’s in the reflectivity of the bubbles: they catch and cast the light from the sparklers, multiplying the amount of light in the air. Plus, a wand and some good bubble juice are just too much fun to stop, and they’re safer in the hands of kids than a hot sparkler!

Best wishes!

We hope these ideas will help you plan the kind of reception that you and your guests will never forget, and we hope also that you’ll consider One Soul Photography when you begin looking for the right fit in a wedding photography studio.

What your photographer’s picture language means

A quick read on terms you need to know

Conversing with a photographer about what’s included in a booking can be confusing. Here are some terms and concepts that’ll help make sense of it all.

Image resolution: this drives whether an image is printable or can only be viewed electronically. Image resolution is all about a) the number of pixels per inch (ppi) in an image — the more the better — and b) the height and width of the image in number of pixels (px) — the bigger the better.

Most commonly, photographers deliver images that are either 72ppi (low-resolution pics good only for electronic or online viewing) or 240ppi or 300ppi pics (high-resolution and printable).

Printable size: To know how large a print in inches that you can make from a digital image, divide the image’s height and width by its PPI.

Example: An image with dimensions of 2400 x 3600 pixels and a PPI of 300 can make a excellent-quality 8″x12″ print. This is the natural print dimension of a photo produced by most professional digital cameras. The same image at 240ppi would make a good quality 8×12 print.

Native image format: this is the image format produced by a professional digital camera. The generic term for this is RAW file. Native-format images require conversion to viewable formats such as TIF, PNG, or most popularly, JPG. The aspect ratio of native images is 2:3. In printing terms, it’s 4×6 or 8×12. If you want an 8×10 or 5×7 print, the RAW image must be cropped to fit those sizes.

Watermark: a watermark is a semi-transparent mark placed on an image to indicate studio ownership. Sometimes, watermarks are striped through the middle of the image to make the image undesirable for online sharing or printing. Sometimes, a watermark is a studio’s logo discreetly positioned in a corner of the image.

Proof/proofing gallery: a proof is a low-resolution image, usually watermarked, and delivered to the client by way of an online gallery or through some other file-sharing means like Dropbox. Proofs are delivered for client viewing, on the condition that they not be printed or shared with others.

Okay, that’s enough jargon for now, and it’s enough to clear the way for an intelligent conversation with your photographer when you’re discussing what your pro might include or charge extra for.