Are you recently engaged, planning a wedding, or getting married within the next few months? Are you freaking out a little bit about how you can make sure your loved ones and vendors are as safe as possible on your special day, or just wondering how you can make the best choices to minimize any potential negative impact to your plans? It's totally understandable to feel all the feelings. You may be wondering if your day will still be as magical as you dreamed, if guests will be too scared to attend, and if the plans you've already made are safe and considerate. You may be wondering things like, "What if I have to significantly downsize my guest list?" or "What type of venue is best and most likely to set us up for success if mitigation efforts have to be put in place again?". I'm just as new to this whole pandemic thing as you are, but as someone who has been photographing weddings for a decade, I do have some advice to offer. Here we go!
1. Choose a Venue with Outdoor Options for both the Ceremony and Reception
Fresh air is safer air. COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through the air we breathe. While it is still best practice to wash your hands and not touch your face, that is easier to manage and control than what we are taking in through the air around us - a situation that can pose some serious challenges. Choosing a venue that has outdoor spaces that are appropriate for both the ceremony and reception (as well as cocktail hour) may allow you to breathe a little sigh of relief, knowing that you and your guests will have the benefit of dilution of the amount of potential viral particles in the air around you. The open space allows the particles to dissipate more and any breeze or wind you have is especially helpful with this. If your heart is set on having your ceremony in a church, select a church that is much larger than the number of guests you will have, and rope off at least every other row to allow for distancing. You may also consider having masks available at the entry - this could be a great opportunity to create some fun customized masks for your guests! If you already have your venue booked and part of your day is supposed to be indoors, reach out to your contact and ask what their options are for moving everything outdoors.
Some Tampa Bay area venues with full day outdoor options are: Palmetto Riverside Bed & Breakfast (featuredbelow), The Powel Crosley Estate, The Ringling & Ca' d'Zan, Marie Selby Botanical Garden, Palma Sola Botanical Park, Bay Preserve at Osprey, Spanish Point, The Sandbar, The Gasparilla Inn, and Mote Marine. This is not an exhaustive list, just a starting point!
2. Consider Having an Intimate Backyard Wedding
This option can be great for anyone, since it combines the added safety of being outdoors with a smaller guest list. It may be especially helpful for those who have experienced financial loss as a result to the COVID-19 pandemic and are looking for ways to have a beautiful wedding on a smaller budget. You can still create memories with your loved ones, have amazing food, beautiful decor, and high quality photography + video to remember it by. Your house and yard don't have to be spectacular - you can create ambience in so many ways. A quick drive or walk to a nearby park or scenic part of the neighborhood can be perfect to get gorgeous portraits. This backyard wedding was inspired by Lana Del Rey + Old Hollywood vibes, and the result was an event no one will forget.
3. Rent an Airbnb Instead of a Hotel Room for Getting Ready
There is one part of a wedding day that has to be indoors - what vendors call "Prep". It's the several hours spent hanging out and getting hair & makeup done, getting dressed, and popping champagne. Prep has the potential to be the most dangerous part of the day because it often happens in the close quarters of a hotel room, and often there are a dozen people all sharing that space and breathing that air. This may seem insurmountable, but there are ways to make it safer. The easiest way to do this is to GO BIGGER. Instead of packing everyone into a hotel room or suite, rent an Airbnb with a good size living area and multiple rooms so that everyone can spread out while they have their hair and makeup done. In addition to being safer for everyone, it also probably means better light and less clutter, which when combined with more space, mean better photos. Featured below, are photos of an Airbnb in downtown Tampa with a mid-century vibe.
4. When it Comes to Your Attendants, Less is More
Attendants (bridesmaids and groomsmen), are an important part of many couples' wedding days. But there are alternative options which allow you to include your best friends, cousins, and siblings in your day in a meaningful and special way - without creating more risk by having so many people hanging out in your prep space. One recent trend is to have one attendant each, or even no attendants, but have the people you'd otherwise be your attendants dress in a certain style and color palette. Then, you can still include them in photos afterward. It may seem counterintuitive, but weddings with few or no attendants are often much less stressful, less rushed, and still just as much fun. It also takes some of the financial burden off of your friends who may be experiencing financial hardship due to COVID. The images below are all examples of weddings with one attendant each or no attendants.
5. What about bad weather? Tents are your Best Friend.
You may be thinking about all the things that could go wrong with an outdoor wedding. I'm here to tell you - ALWAYS GET THE TENT. It's worth it, just to have peace of mind. Not only that, tents can be surprisingly beautiful. They also create natural soft box effect for lighting, which means you are going to look even more gorgeous in your photos. White tents are still lovely and I really enjoy working in them. But if you want to create a special kind of ambience, consider a clear tent. When string lights are hung in a clear tent, the reflection makes it look like there are at least twice the amount there actually are, and the result is stunning. You can also see the sunset and any other beautiful surroundings. Photos featured below are from the Boca Bay Pass Club & The Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande, FL, as well as a private residence in Brooksville, FL .
6. The Classic Courthouse Elopement
Does the whole idea of trying to plan a traditional wedding during a pandemic just feel like too much? You can save the stress (and the budget) and get married at your local courthouse or Clerk of Court's office instead. Many of these buildings are historic and quite pretty. You can still have amazing photos and even video at a secondary location, like downtown, the beach, a local park - you could even choose multiple locations. Social distancing is easy when you're outdoors! The day will be laid back and entirely about you and your love.
7. The Ultimate Beach Day
In the same vein as "have an outdoor wedding", is "have a beach wedding"! The Tampa Bay area has so many beach options available. The Sandbar on Anna Maria in Bradenton (pictured below) is perfect because not only is the beach setting beautiful, but they also have a large white covered pavilion where you can have a lovely outdoor reception. Sunset Beach House on Siesta Key is also gorgeous and boasts a large picturesqe house you can rent and sleep in, an additional building with rooms, a pool, and direct beach access. Holmes Beach is a classic old Florida town with some great Airbnb's you can rent, and some of the most beautiful stretches of beach. Rent bicycles, gold carts, scooters, and more, and have a blast with your closes family and friends!
7. Ask Your DreamVenue About Weekday Weddings
Can you just not imagine your wedding day being anywhere other than the venue you've been envisioning for so long? Ask the venue about weekday availability. You can even have an intimate wedding or elopement style wedding at your favorite venue. Rent the space just for the ceremony and an hour after for photos, then go enjoy dinner outdoors. The wedding featured below is at Marie Selby Botanical Garden, a popular wedding venue in Sarasota Florida. The couple had only their two children and the officiant present (any myself). It was an incredibly emotional and memorable couple of hours; a perfect wedding day with only a fraction of the budget and the planning - a great fit for working within social distancing guidelines during COVID19.
The bottom line is, COVID doesn't have to ruin your wedding day. With a little flexibility and creativity, you can create a magical and memorable day while being as safe as possible. It might look a little different than you first imagined, but it won't be any less special. Whatever you decide, having jaw dropping wedding photos is something you never have to compromise on. Remember that following guidelines for best practices when it comes to social distancing and wearing masks is still the safest way - but that can be incorporated into your day. My final tip is to PLAN EARLY if you want a Saturday wedding, and try to be flexible regarding what day of the week your wedding is on. With months of weddings being rescheduled for late 2020 and 2021, prime dates are going to be a bit more scarce than in previous years. Busy wedding season in Florida is November - May, so if you want a date during those months be sure to start inquiring with your favorite vendors as soon as possible. Most of all, have fun and remember your "why". :)