The crisp fresh air, the flora and fauna and stunning natural backdrops – going al fresco is capable of creating a bohemian summer dream of a wedding, when done well.
But, whether you’ve the spirit of a hippie or are traditional at heart, magic aside, outdoor weddings demand many unique considerations.
Three critical planning points – Time, temperature and your contingency plan
Time – Choose it wisely
From the sunset in a hazy summer sky, to dramatic images shot against a starlit backdrop, outdoor weddings are a gift to a photographer such as myself. And yet as much as they give, they can also take away if you don’t carefully select the right time for your ceremony.
So first of all, we need to talk about natural lighting. Whether summer or winter, you should always ensure that the sun is shining on the backs of you and your guests (rather than dazzling everyone, and blocking out your guests’ vision as your vows unfold).
The natural light transforms throughout the day. When the sun is positioned directly overhead the shadows that fall are anything but flattering. However this stark, bright light of noon, contrasts against the soft lighting that begins to appear in the late afternoon – which in turn creates softer, more flattering images. On the flip side, a winter wedding allows you to have your ceremony much earlier on, as the sun sits so much lower in the sky.
Helpers for the heat, warmers for winter
Whether getting married during the midst of summer, or during the cooler months, plan ahead for keeping your guests comfortable.
If you’re opting for a summer wedding, the midday sun is something to avoid – excess perspiration during your vows is never a good look, and guest comfort is also something to consider.
If you’re expecting high temperatures, you can make it all a little more comfortable with wedding programs that double up as fans, iced buckets of water bottles and a well thought out shaded area. As for your bridal party, your ladies will thank you for choosing breezy, lightweight fabrics.
If you’re getting wed in winter (or even autumn or spring, as the evening could well come with a chilly breeze), you can keep your guests warm with baskets filled with blankets, a vat of hot chocolate on-tap, heated hand warmers and patio heaters or fire pits.
Create a cast-iron contingency plan
Unless you’re opting for a destination wedding in a country with the climate of the Sahara, you have to plan ahead for wind and rain. The ideal outdoor wedding location will have a ready-and-waiting indoor area – just in case. You could also consider having an outdoor ceremony, and an indoor reception. Whatever you choose, let your guests know all about it, and provide a few dress code tips for looking fabulous come rain or shine (my top tip? You may want to tell them to bring emergency wellies!). For further reading, check out my rainy wedding day guide – It’s raining, it’s pouring: Your rainy wedding day contingency plan.
Cars, cars everywhere – weigh up your parking
Some smaller or more remote venues/locations may struggle for sufficient parking space. If this is the case you’ll need to find out where there’s enough parking for both our guests and your vendors, and include this on your invites.
Book ahead with plenty of time to spare
Unless you’re opting for a package deal with an outdoor venue, you’ll need to book certain elements of your day separately – such as your officiant and caterers. Be aware that the time of year, location and popularity of services all influence how much leeway you need when booking ahead. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier, the better.
Venturing into the outdoors for your wedding is going to take some thought as to your outfit. From top to toe, consider whether you’ll need items such as wellies, windbreakers or brollies (for rain or shine).
Talk to your vendors (especially your photographers)
Are your vendors all ready for the challenges of an outdoor event? Do they have experience? If not, you should prepare to brief them so they know exactly what to expect, and what could go wrong (for which they’ll need contingencies plans of their own).
As for your photographer, ideally they should arrive early to discover the best angles and locations for the ceremony and the private shoot to follow.
Testing, testing – will everybody be able to hear?
Out in the great outdoors there’s no natural acoustics like those you’d find in a church or registry office – so you may need a professionally set up (and fully tested!) sound system.
Less is always more
When going for an outdoor wedding, natural beauty is all around, and when you select your location well you can forget about spending big on wedding theming and décor. However, you may want to think about an arch to create a focal point for the ceremony, strings of lights to create a little evening ambience and supplemental flowers and potted bulbs if you’re getting married during the cooler and less colourful months.
Painstaking floral arrangements?
Don’t allow them to sit in direct sunlight and wither away before your guests have so much as taken their seats. Arrange for them to be set out between 30 and 60 minutes beforehand.