First Steps to Plan A Wedding


January 13, 2024

Are you newly engaged but you have no idea where to start on how to plan a wedding?! Well this blog post is for you! As I approach my 20th year shooting weddings, I have learned a few things I’d love to share with you! Read on to learn the first 10 steps to planning your wedding!

First of all, I want you to take a breath and ENJOY the excitement of being newly engaged. There are only few times in life that compare to that chapter in life. It’s fleeting, yet so fun! So, don’t drown the happiness out by stressing out! Yes, you could pay a wedding planner, but if you are organized enough, you can do it too! I promise!

Here’s some tips on how to start planning your wedding when you’re ready!

Step 1: Choose & Book Your Venue

White Raven Venue & Retreat | Alberton, MT

The FIRST thing I recommend is to book your venue. Yes, not your photographer…your venue. Here in Montana, we have a short window for popular months for wedding season (June through Oct). Knowing this, there are a lot of people choosing Montana lately to exchange their forever vows and there aren’t a ton of established wedding venues for the amount of weddings there are–hence a strong demand that make wedding venues book up FAST. Sometimes even years in advance.

Consequently, you might have to be flexible on the day or month of your wedding, simply to get the venue you want. Chat about what is more important to you and your fiance: the date or the location. That will help narrow down how to pick your date!

Pro Tip: Ask your venue if they will supply the chairs you will need for the ceremony/reception too!

2. Book Your Photographer

I always tell my bride and grooms, after securing your venue, move on to the next most important step to start your wedding planning–booking your favorite photographer. Believe it or not, most photographers book wedding dates 1 to 2 years in advance. And if they are like me…they limit the number of weddings they do in a year. For instance, I only shoot 5 weddings a year. 5. That’s not that many slots available for all my inquiries, and unfortunately, I have to turn down quite a few because of this.

Knowing this, reach out to your favorite photographer to see if they have your date open. DISCLAIMER… if you absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a certain photographer…you actually might reach out to them first (versus the venue) to check their availability before you book a venue. That would secretly make my heart burst to hear this as a photographer…so just remember…weigh what’s more important to you guys–the venue or securing your photographer first and go from there.

I recommend the photographer to be at least your second choice, because often times, they can be invaluable when trying to plan a wedding. They can recommend all the vendors they love to work with–saving you hours of researching. I also like to build a temporary timeline for my couples so they can share this with their vendors as the day gets closer.

***Remember to choose your photographer wisely. They are the one vendor you have the MOST contact with. From months before the wedding during your engagement to 8 + hours on your wedding day, to multiple weeks/months afterward when they deliver your gallery and your album. Do you like them enough to stay in communication that long?

3. Choose Your Floral Designer

Florals Designed by Delisa Heil at Gardenwerks Flower Farm | Helena MT

Next, florals are extremely important to elevate your wedding, therefore I would reach out to my dream floral designer to check their availability. Here in Montana, getting your flowers from local flower farmers is very popular, and due to our short growing season, their schedules fill up quickly too.

It is very tempting to try and save money by not doing real florals. I highly advise NOT to do that. Most photographers use the florals for not only the detail shots at the beginning with wedding invitation suite and ring shots, but also all through the day with YOUR portraits–or even with your bridal party. It’s worth splurging on florals for the sake of your wedding pictures! *Enter shameless plug here*

4. Book Your Caterer

Caterer: House of S & M | Kalispell, MT

If you have food & drink… people will stay and they will celebrate with you! Great food is a MUST for a memorable wedding. It doesn’t have to be super fancy–it just has to be GOOD! No one will remember the plates or silverware you chose, however they will remember the food you served. One of the best weddings I’ve ever been a part of was in Northern California where they roasted a pig underground for days. Was it pretty? Nope. Was it delicious and memorable 10 years later? YES!

Most caterers will also serve cocktails, wine, beer, etc. If they don’t, they will definitely be able to recommend some great vendors to get you started!

5. Book DJ or Band

Helena Blues Project | Helena, MT

Like food, if you have great music, you’ll have a great party. People are drawn to music whether it be live or a DJ. Music keeps your wedding day celebration moving and grooving until the last guests depart. Book your DJ sooner rather than later. In my hometown, there are very few DJs, so their schedules fill up VERY fast! You don’t want to have to pay travel fees for out-of-town DJs simply because you didn’t book one soon enough!

Hopefully, your DJ (or band) can help set up audio at the ceremony too! Make sure to ask about this beforehand! It’s super helpful for guests to actually be able to hear the ceremony vs just watch!

6. Choose Your Make Up Artist & Hair Designer

Aaris Kunish with Aaris K Cosmetology | Helena, MT

Another extremely important part of your day is your hair and make up artists! These girls are your bread and butter as you get ready! Great ones will party with you and calm your nerves as your big day unfolds. I recommend booking these important vendors just as early as all the above! Be sure to ask if they offer a mock up before the big day so that you can see what it will look like BEFORE your wedding day to avoid any surprises the day of!

7. Book Your Baker

Your desserts deserve some spotlight on your wedding day! Because of this, make sure you choose a delicious ensemble for your guests! From the traditional cake to the most exquisite cupcakes and torts, wow your guests with a little something sweet at your reception! Might want to order more than you think… I see lots of guests go get second helpings throughout the evening! **If possible…serve COFFEE with your dessert! Not only will it give your guests something nice to pair with your sweets, but offers those who are not drinking a little-pick-me-up!

Pro Tip: Assign someone to cut and serve your cake for you! I forgot this at my own wedding, so I spent an hour doing this myself!

8. Go Dress & Tux Shopping

I know a lot of you were wondering when I was going to say something about the dress! YES! Finding your dream gown is important, but I highly recommend booking your vendors FIRST! Just make sure you find, purchase, and alter your wedding gown, tux, bridesmaids dresses with plenty of time before your wedding! Most tailors ask for you to come in a month before your big day to make the last final touches on your gown and the groom’s tux so that it fits you perfectly on your special day!

Pro tip: Have the conversation with your bridal party on whether or not you are purchasing their attire or they are so there’s no confusion.

9. Design Your Wedding Invitation Suite

Summit & Sage | Bozeman, MT

One of my ALL TIME FAVORITE things to photograph on a wedding day are all the details with the wedding invitation suite. Not much makes my heart pitter patter more than starting the day with making art out of someone else’s art! From one artist to another, it makes me so happy. Over the years, I’ve seen brides stray away from Shutterfly invitations, to true stationary art to invite their guests to their wedding. Like the invitations above, this bride’s guests couldn’t stop talking about the beautiful invitations they received in the mail. In such a digital age, receiving one of these handmade invitations is a true gift!

10. Narrow Down Your Guest List

Last but not least, is creating and narrowing down your guest list. I’ve shot a wedding attended by the bride and groom’s 500 guests…and I’ve shot weddings with 20 or less. It really depends on your budget. If you both come from large families, this can be tough! It’s best to give your guest list some time and thought! Don’t feel that smaller weddings will be less fun–that’s far from the truth! Some of the best weddings I’ve ever shot were during the height of the Covid pandemic with large party rules, where the guests had to choose 50 people TOTAL to be at the wedding. Sounded tragic at the time, but to date…that was one of my all time favorite weddings!

Well, there you go! There are many more steps after these 10, however this should give you a great start! Remember…the most important thing is that you and your future spouse ENJOY the day and have some FUN! The day is for you two–not your 500 guests!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

Questions to Ask Your Wedding Venue BEFORE You Book

Helena Wedding Venues

How to Prepare For Your Engagement Session

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