For most couples, the very first thing they do once they’ve got engaged (after telling family and friends of course!) is to decide on a date and to start looking for a wedding venue.
This is one of the most exciting parts of the wedding process, and the choice of venue will in a large part determine the rest of your wedding planning.
These days there are so many options available and it can be overwhelming to decide. Personal preference absolutely counts, so a good starting point is for you and your partner to chat about the overall style of wedding you are attracted to.
Are you a traditional couple, drawn to churches and stained glass windows?
Are you an adventurous couple who are drawn to towering forest trees?
Or maybe you’re the laid-back couple who has always dreamed of a barefoot beach wedding?
Let's start with the obvious. The weather can be considered as both a pro and a con for an outdoor ceremony. A beautiful day with sunny skies and fresh air sounds pretty appealing to most couples, but there some potential cons to look out for.
Firstly, take note of where the sun is at the time your ceremony will be held - keeping in mind that this may be different depending on the time of year. You don’t want the sun shining straight into your guests eyes, and you don’t want it shining straight into your eyes either.
Jannine and Shaun, The Bridge Wedding Venue, Muldersdrift
Will you or your guests be in the direct sunlight with no shade? Especially in summer, this can make even the shortest of ceremonies feel unbearably long. Consider providing parasols / umbrellas for your guests so that they are protected. Water bottles are also a good idea - you can brand them with stickers commemorating your wedding day, or your venue might include these in their hire or catering fee.
And what to do when it rains? This is the biggest concern for couples getting married outdoors. Does your venue have a back up option for a rainy day? If not, then make sure you have umbrellas on hand!
Tammy and Blommie, Ponta Malongane (Mozambique)
(with DGR Photography)
Weddings held on the beach can be windy - which means considering your decor carefully.
If you do choose an indoor ceremony, pay special note to how dark the chapel is. A very dark chapel will give a moodier feel to your images, especially if the walls are wood panelled or face-brick.
Some venues offer a chapel that is a combination of indoor-outdoor. This may be in the form of an open-sided chapel that allows the airflow through, or glass-sided where you get the view but are protected from the elements.
Katy and Ren, Cradle Valley, Muldersdrift
As you’ll be standing for the duration of the ceremony, it’s only your guests who will feel how comfortable (or uncomfortable!) the seating is. Our wedding venue had church pews, but we did let our grans know that they were welcome to bring cushions for comfort. This may also be an option offered by your venue.
Also give consideration to anyone who may be attending in a wheelchair or who may walk with crutches or a walking stick. How accessible is your chapel for your guests?
As a photographer, my favourite venues (both indoor or outdoor) are laid out in such a way that I, or my 2nd shooter, can freely move up and down aisles on the sides of the venue, and not be a constant distraction in the centre aisle.
What about the reception hall?
We photographers joke that we wished venues would consult us first before designing their buildings, because we all have our wish-list as to the perfect wedding reception venue. I asked a few friends and colleagues in the industry their thoughts on reception halls, and this is what they came up with:
Photographers generally aren’t a fan of thatch! A thatch roof tends to give a yellow colour cast to images and sucks up the light from our flashes.
Make sure there is adequate space for your guests and your photographer to move between tables. We like to move around to capture your guests’ reactions to speeches.
Ideally position the podium next to the main table. This way your photographer can capture the speeches and your reactions as a couple in the same shot. If at all possible, don’t have the DJ speakers right behind the podium or main table either.
Caitlin and Simon, Simondium's Country Lodge, Paarl
Save the coloured strobe lights and up-lights for the dance floor.
In Summer, make sure there is adequate air-conditioning or fans to move the air. In Winter, make sure there’s adequate heating.
For an outdoor reception, make sure there is enough lighting - ideally there should be some form of overhead light about the tables. This means less overpowering flash photography is needed - plus, your guests can see what they are eating!
Jessica and Chris, family farm, Cullinan
Ask your photographer if they have photographed at your venue before - they might have some useful and surprising insights that can help you make the final decision.
Ultimately though, the choice is yours and your venue should be a backdrop to your union. You should feel comfortable and at ease in the space, and it should also reflect who you are as a couple.
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