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My wedding last August. Photo credit: Sargeant Creative

My wedding last August. Photo credit: Sargeant Creative

With the summer solstice just a few days away, it is officially Wedding Season. Despite my usual snarky, sarcastic demeanor, I love weddings! Okay, I admit that sometimes I also enjoy being snarky and sarcastic about weddings, but generally speaking, I love weddings. Having recently been a bride myself, I thought I would pass along my top 5 tips for any brides-to-be.

1. Prepare a list of photos you want

Any decent wedding photographer is going to know to capture classic wedding moments like exchanging rings, the first kiss, cutting the cake, throwing the bouquet, etc. But where your input can be really valuable is in preparing a list of posed/family photos you want. Unless you tell them, your photographers are not going to know that it’s important for you to get a photo of you with your grandma, or all your school mates.

Keep in mind that your photographers have no idea who anyone at your wedding is, other than you and the groom. Use first names (and last names if necessary to avoid confusion) when putting together your list so your photographers can just call out their names when they are needed. And try to group people together. For example, any photos that involve your parents should be taken consecutively so that when their presence is no longer needed, they can wander off if they need or want to.

Provide the list to your photographers ahead of time, so they have an idea of how many posed photos you want. And bring an extra copy of the list with you on your wedding day (or better yet, give it to your day-of coordinator, see #5 below) in case the photographers forget their copy.

2. Have a “first-look” session with your groom

Our first-look session begins. Photo credit: Sargeant Creative

Our first-look session begins. Photo credit: Sargeant Creative

Traditionally, in a Western, non-Jewish wedding, the groom does not see the bride until she begins to walk down the aisle. After the ceremony, the bride and groom, and their wedding party and families, disappear for an hour or more to take photos. Guests are either faced with an annoying gap in time between the ceremony and the reception, or they go off to a cocktail hour that the wedding party misses entirely. I find this to be a terrible sequence of events, and apparently I’m not alone because the first-look session is becoming more and more popular.

The point of a first-look session is that the bride and groom get a few special moments to themselves (with the photographers discreetly shooting) to greet each other, take in each other’s appearance, and just enjoy each other before the circus begins. Once the initial private moments are done, the photographers focus on photos of the couple together before moving on to family and group portraits.

A first-look requires bridal party and family members to be ready and present earlier than they otherwise would be, but it gives you so much more time to capture the photos you want. And best of all, after your ceremony, you will get to actually enjoy the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres that you undoubtedly spent a lot of time choosing and you will get more time with your guests–people who likely came a long way to see you and celebrate with you.

3. Hire a professional make-up artist

Even if you *are* a professional make-up artist, you should hire a different professional make-up artist to do your wedding make-up. Unless you are a celebrity, no one will ever take more photos of you than on your wedding day. Your make-up needs to carefully balance the line between stage make-up and everyday make-up. Too much, and you will look ridiculous in real life. Too little, and you will appear washed out in all your photos.

Photo credit: Sargeant Creative

My friend Diane (also a professional make-up artist). Photo credit: Sargeant Creative

Professionals know the best tips and tricks for bringing out your best features and concealing anything less than your best. They know how to layer products to get all-day wear. And they know which colors will complement your skin tone and look best on you.

Money-saving tip: for your engagement photo shoot, have a complimentary make-over at a department store make-up counter. It’s polite to buy one or two items after the make-over, but at least you have something to take home and use for several months afterwards. I had a free make-over at Origins before my engagement photo shoot, and I liked so much of the make-up, I bought most of it so my make-up artist could use it for my wedding day make-up as well.

4. Get a gel manicure

Even if you never wear nail polish, your wedding day is the one day when you want every aspect of your appearance to be perfect and polished. Whether you go classic with a French manicure, bold with color, or neutral with a pale pink, a manicure is a must.

Regular nail polish is too fragile for special occasions–it could smudge before it’s dry, it could chip, your nails grow out from under it within a week. A gel manicure avoids all of those problems.

Look at those nails! Photo credit: Sargeant Creative

Look at those nails! Photo credit: Sargeant Creative

I had my first (and only) gel manicure a few days before my wedding. It lasted through the wedding AND honeymoon and still looked as perfect on the day we returned as it had the day I got it. I’m used to being very careful with my hands after getting a manicure, so it was weird, but refreshing, to realize that the moment I walked out of the salon, there was pretty much nothing I could do that would mess up my gel manicure.

Some concerns have been raised lately about UV exposure with regard to gel manicures. The gel polish is hardened onto your nail by exposing your nails briefly to a UV light. I’m not recommending that you get a gel manicure every week for the rest of your life. I’m recommending that you get one once. The UV exposure is minimal. And if you’re ultra-concerned about it, just put some sunblock on your hands first.

The other downside to a gel manicure is that it is VERY difficult to remove. You can go to a salon and have it removed, or you can do what I did, which is basically soak your fingernails in acetone nail polish remover, then scrape off the gel with an orange stick or similar nail implement. It’s time-consuming, and your nails will need a week or so to recover from the trauma, but it’s so worth it to have beautiful nails on your wedding day that you don’t have to worry about for weeks.

Check Groupon or Living Social for gel manicure specials; you are almost certain to find something.

5. Hire a day-of wedding coordinator

Many brides these days use a full-service wedding planner to help them with every aspect of putting together their wedding. I fully support this idea and used a wedding planner myself, even though I already had strong ideas about what I wanted my wedding to look like. Wedding planners can provide you with ideas, or execute the ideas you already have. But even if you don’t want, or can’t afford, a full-service wedding planner, I strongly recommend a day-of coordinator.

A good day-of coordinator will actually start working with you at least a couple of weeks before your wedding. They will confirm all your vendors the week before your wedding. They will prepare a timeline of events so you know what happens when. They will attend and run your rehearsal. And most important, they will be there to handle any mishaps on the day of your wedding.

When your cake doesn’t arrive because the bakery driver was in an accident, do you want to be the one trying to find someone to go pick it up? When your officiant gets completely lost trying to find your venue, do you want to be the one giving him directions? When the only toilet at your reception venue stops working, do you want to be the one dealing with that? Answer: NO!

And even if nothing goes wrong, which never happens because *something* always goes wrong, it’s still useful to have a person in charge who is not you. As the bride, your job is to look beautiful, be a charming hostess, and have FUN! Your job is not to direct Uncle Bob to his table, find a place for Cousin Rita to change little Joey’s diapers, or corral errant groomsmen. *That’s* why you have a day-of coordinator.

Websites like Martha Stewart Weddings, The Knot, and Wedding Wire can be a resource to find a local coordinator or planner. Magazines such as the Washingtonian also have local wedding resources. And bridal magazines have tons of advertisements for wedding planners. Or you can just Google “Pittsburgh wedding planner” (or wherever you live, obviously) and see what turns up.

Full disclosure: I currently intern for a DC-area wedding planning company, Rave Reviews. If you need planner or vendor recommendations for DC or Los Angeles, let me know!

* 10 Internet points if you know what the title is referencing.