Wedding Planning Tips From Your Photographer & Recent Bride

All Photos by Katya Nova Photography

My husband Brian and I were married recently in November of 2017 in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic at the Huracan Cafe. As some of you know, Brian also photographs weddings with me which means that we have both worked in the wedding industry for quite awhile. All I could think was I’ve got this!… Weddings are my jam…how hard can it be!

Brian and I both know weddings. We have been to and photographed hundreds of nuptials, we knew how to create a timeline, and saw when people made both great and not so great decisions when it came to the flow of their wedding day. There were SO MANY times that we would see different things that we truly wanted to incorporate into our own wedding day and of course a few things that we knew wouldn’t be right for us as a couple.

We decided to have a fall wedding mainly because we live in Buffalo, NY (brrr) and the fall was a perfect time to get away right before the cold hit. We also decided it was a perfect time to get married because it was the end of our wedding season in WNY.

So here I was thinking that I knew it all when it came to the world of weddings; boy was I surprised! I learned a lot during the wedding planning process. It has only been a few short months since saying ‘I DO’, so I can easily look back at all of the decisions that were made and see which ones were great and which ones I would have approached differently. I really do hope that reading about my wedding planning and wedding day experiences will help you with your planning!

Note: We had a Destination Wedding so I will speak about that specifically at the end of this article.

Picking a ‘Perfect’ Wedding Date

Pick a date that works for you! Give thought to what may work best for others, however it is your day. We were very selective based on many factors, however do not base your date decision on anyone else…why?…because if the people that you booked the date around don’t show up then that can lead to resentment.

We are friends with many other wedding professionals so it was important to us to choose a date that was outside of the traditional Buffalo wedding season. We also have friends who are teachers so we took into account that a Holiday Weekend (in this case it was Veterans Day) may boost attendance by our teacher friends.

Do not let everyone else dictate when you get married. We spoke with immediate family and close friends…once they were on board, we went with the date.  Bottom line is to be kind and also true to yourselves.

Key People

I cannot stress enough how important it was for Brian and I to be surrounded by certain people on our wedding day.

Think about a few major things when choosing a wedding party:

  • Who calms me down when I am stressed?
  • Who can I literally not do this without?
  • Who has been there for me through thick and thin?
  • Who is fun!? If nothing else you need someone fun on your side all day…trust me!
  • Who is ‘the voice of reason’?
  • Who is organized?

Chances are that one person doesn’t have every trait on this list…. but guess what? Each person in our wedding party had at least a few of these traits and together they made our day as perfect as perfect could be.

My Man of Honor and BFF Marc was amazing! He stepped it up like I knew he would and knew exactly what I needed when I needed it without me even needing to ask.  My lovely bridesmaids (who we called mermaid barbies all day) kept me sane and kept my train out of the sand all day (long train + sand = bad combo).

Huracan Cafe

Picking a Venue

Get married where you want to get married! It is your day and your lifetime of memories.  Being wedding photographers, we knew that we did not want to get married in a wedding venue that we had worked at before. The decision to get married on the beach came after many visits to Punta Cana and knowing that we wanted to be married in the late fall and not endure the cold. We did take into account that we needed to choose a place that allowed children since family would be traveling with little ones in tow (including our niece and nephew). We looked at small restaurants, larger resorts and intimate venues. Once we found the Huracan Cafe, we knew that this was the perfect place for us to get married. It was inviting, private and could be completely customized plus we absolutely loved the on-site wedding coordinator Nati.

What to Wear

I was so focused on choosing a gown that was outside the box that I lost track of what I actually wanted. My mother LOVES Say Yes to the Dress and I Found The Gown so being the only child and only daughter I fulfilled her dreams and we went to Boston for a long weekend with my Man of Honor Marc, Bridesmaid Korrine, Mom & Aunt to find the perfect gown…. and I did (so I thought)! It was a 1920’s hand-beaded vintage inspired Jenny Packham Taupe Gown (oooh la la)! I actually cried…like those brides on TV…. that was the dress!

Then I got home. My dad wanted to wear a tropical shirt (which he did) and I always envisioned my bridesmaids in bright colors like coral or yellow….nothing matched my lovely vintage gown!  Never have I felt so much stress over a dress. And if you know me, then you know that I don’t wear dresses so for me to stress over a dress just felt nutty. I went from elated to sad and tried matching so many different beaded bridesmaids dresses to my gown and contemplated changing the entire color scheme of my wedding (many hours on Pinterest) until I finally decided to sell it….what a relief!

I found a beautiful mermaid style Maggie Sottero that perfectly fit with my vision and after having about 6 layers cut out of the bottom I was one happy bride! I felt beautiful in my new dress and it is one of my favorite things I have ever worn. P.S. I changed into a second reception dress which I then wore for a ‘Rock the Dress’ photoshoot with our photographers Katya & Rob 🙂

The wedding gown struggle is real ladies!

Hiring Vendors

While I do agree that setting a certain budget is important, emailing every single (insert vendor type here) and choosing based on the lowest price is a bad idea. The people that you work with on your wedding day will ultimately make or break your day. Luckily our dream-team of wedding vendors were all available. Nati from Huracan Cafe, Katya Nova Photography & the lovely makeup artist Magda Riccardi made the day (and planning process) a breeze!  Huge shout out to Andrea Williams from who we got to know throughout the process and I wish was there in person.

If you have a vision, trust the professionals to help you execute it! The time you will save by working with a true professional is priceless.

The Ceremony

Do. Whatever. You. Want. Brian and I were married by Brian’s longtime friend Paul. He became ordained online (yes, it’s legit) and our ceremony was a beautiful, personal and emotional experience. Brian and I wrote our own vows and there was not a single dry eye in the crowd. We asked our God-mothers to read song lyrics by The Beatles & Bob Marley and I walked down the aisle to UB40’s I can’t Help Falling In Love With You.

The ceremony was totally us. It was everything we wanted and it was perfect.

Our Portraits

To do a first look or not to?  I knew that I would be emotional (I can’t hold it together at any of the 30+ weddings I shoot in a year so how in the heck could I possibly hold it together at my own wedding?) So we decided to go for it and it was the right decision for us. We wanted to be at our own cocktail hour and did not want to be taking photos when we could be spending time with guests. For us, it was a no-brainer. These photos ended being some of our favorites. The raw emotion of seeing each other for the first time with no one else there (besides of course our photographers Katya & Rob) is something we will never get back. And there was plenty of crying and emotion during the ceremony so it wasn’t like I got the tears out of the way with the first look like I had hoped :eye roll:.

We chose to have our photos taken with most of the individual families and couples who attended our wedding. Our photographer Rob said “Are you sure there is no one else you want a posed photo with, you don’t want to regret it later”…that stuck with me. The candid moments are beautiful but I will also cherish these portraits as well.

Our Decor

In case you didn’t notice a repetition here…Do what you want! We were married in a Tropical location. We wanted bright and fun tropical colors. I was SHOCKED to hear that we were one of very few weddings at the Huracan that chose to go in this direction. Many brides and grooms chose blush, gold and burlap. That is totally great, but for us it was not our vision. Who says you have to be “on trend” and who says you can’t have something that is “so last year”….who cares? We had a naked cake. I don’t like frosting and Brian doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth either. Naked Cakes made every single list of Hipster Wedding Trends That Need to Go Away. That’s laughable… this non-hipster bride just doesn’t like buttercream.

We were very lucky to have a wedding coordinator who went above and beyond to bring our vision to life. Trusting our event designer was everything. When we met with Nati, she said “trust me”… so we did.

I surprised Brian with a Live Wedding Painter (shout out to Marina Chernova). My goodness… what a wonderful and unique souvenir and something everyone will talk about for years to come.

Now, what we didn’t know was that Hurricane Irma had caused more damage to our venue than we expected. We walked in and after a few private deep breaths alone in the bathroom, I picked myself up off the floor and trusted Nati just as she had asked me to. The venue was flooded just a few weeks prior to our wedding and the workers had to make a chain and haul the water out with buckets… how could I possibly be upset when a country (and the Caribbean in general) was hit with so much devastation?

Breath…and move on.

The Party

We wanted to dance with our family and our friends. We wanted to total party atmosphere. Because of this, we hired professional Dominican dancers for what is called Crazy Hour. It was absolutely worth it!

Our DJ was fantastic and played most of our playlist including some of the songs that we have heard at so many weddings. I requested ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ as the last song and we all formed a huge circle on the dance floor and screamed the lyrics as loud as we could…had we seen this scenario dozens of times? Yes… but it was our day and after several rum & cokes it didn’t matter.

The best part of the night was when it started to rain! We just kept dancing and that right there will forever be my favorite memory.

Things WILL happen that are out of your control. Trust me when I say that if you just go with it…it will all be ok.

Heather’s Favorite Things:

  • The flowers in our hair
  • Our small and intimate bridal party
  • Keeping our first look private
  • Not stressing over the silliest and smallest things
  • Dancing in the rain!
  • The lovely barefoot sandals that my aunt made.
  • Writing and saying our own vows
  • Spending private time at the start of the day with my bridal party and our moms.
  • Brian’s wedding day outfit

Brian’s Favorite Things:

  • Working with professionals that I could trust.
  • Crazy Hour
  • Taking time to talk to family and friends throughout the week.
  • Being honest and open about what I wanted as the groom.
  • Dancing in the Rain!
  • Having a long time friend officiate.
  • Our Live Wedding Painter
  • Our custom Happy Hour Drink!!!

Tips From Brian (The Groom):

  • It was so great to work with wedding pros we could trust.  I didn’t have to micro manage them and that allowed me to have the best day.
  • Planning this big DAY shouldn’t just be one day of celebrations. Plan a simple dinner the day before or a brunch the following day.
  • It’s not ALL about the bride. Lets be honest… Make sure that you’re adding in your personal flares. It is your day too guys!
  • Find creative ways to save some cash.

Destination Wedding Notes

  • Brian and I decided to have a destination wedding for many reasons. It was challenging in ways that are much different than planning a local wedding. We had our cake & food tasting only a few days before the wedding and also tasted all the options for specialty drinks in one day!
  • I did not have a hair and makeup trial so I had to trust the reviews that I read online and cross my fingers that I would be happy (which I was).
  • There was a language barrier in some cases, however the professionalism and graciousness of our vendors never wavered. If we could do it all again, I would not change a thing. My biggest takeaway here is trust.
  • When you work with the right people, magic happens.
  • We are so happy that we hired a videographer (it was a last minute decision) and will forever cherish being able to see the memories in action… The 3 minute clip is below.

Biggest takeaway!? Stop to take it all in. It is the best advice I can give. Just take 60 seconds with your new spouse and take in your surroundings. You will be glad you did!



Wedding Vendors:
Destination Wedding Photographer: Katya Nova Photography
Wedding Venue, Décor + Wedding Planning: Huracán Café
Travel and Accommodations: Destination Weddings
Wedding/Reception Dress: Bridal Chateau
Wedding/Reception Shoes: DSW
Videography: Jules Maldo Cinema
Makeup: Magda Riccardi