Summer will be coming in a few months, and that means beach weddings are happening just every weekend along the Jersey Shore. There are many variables in properly planning a beach wedding ceremony. It seems simple on the surface, but in reality there are some significant logistical concerns with which you should be familiar before you get to the wedding day. Over the years, I have seen more than a few problems which could have been avoided through awareness and planning. Here are just a few tips on how to make your beach wedding ceremony a success.
Public or Private?
If you’re planning on getting married at a public beach, guess who’s going to be around in the background of your photographs? Yes, that’s right: the public. Your photographer can remove them digitally, but will likely charge you extra if you ask for them to be removed from all of your photographs. Cloning the sand and the waterline isn’t terribly difficult, but it is time consuming especially when dealing with an entire ceremony worth of images. If you want your dream beach wedding to be only you, your family, and your friends, consider getting married at an off-peak time of year or rent use of a private beach.
Don’t Feel the Burn
Having a nasty sunburn to start your honeymoon off is the worst. Ask your makeup artist about SPF makeup options. There is a myth out there that SPF makeup is bad for wedding photographs, but that’s not actually accurate in most cases. SPF makeup is designed to reflect light. If you’re outdoors for your ceremony and reception, your photographer is not likely to use flash anyway (unless filling shadows when the sun is behind you). If you’re outside for the ceremony and inside for the reception, don’t worry. Unless your photographer is hitting your face with direct flash, it won’t reflect back at the camera. The vast majority of experienced photographers out there will use what is called “bounce flash” so that the light isn’t creating a shadow behind you. Thus, the reflection of the light back in its direction won’t actually make it to the camera. Here is an excellent article on this particular subject that I highly recommend by Maddie Eisenhart. As for the guys, this is a pretty obvious choice: wear sunscreen!
Wind, Wind, and More Wind
I’ve watched ladies getting their hair done for well over an hour just to walk outside and have the breezy shore wind blow that fancy hair do all over the place. If you’re getting married outside, especially at the beach, consider an up-do. Be thoughtful as well about wearing a veil in high wind, especially a cathedral length veil. If you must wear one, make sure that sucker is bobby pinned so tightly to your head that a hurricane couldn’t rip it out. An additional consideration regarding the windy environment is whether or not to spend all of that money having your guests release butterflies or blow bubbles as you recess down the aisle. If it’s windy, butterflies will just blow off into the distance as soon as they are released. As funny as that is for me, I doubt you will think it quite so humorous. Bubbles don’t work very well in high wind either. If they show up at all it is only a couple of them catching the sunlight just right.
Keep It Light
This goes for both ladies and gentlemen’s attire. Ladies, a ballroom gown belongs in a ballroom. If you try to lug one of those around a beach ceremony you are asking for a lot of trouble. Heavy dress materials and walking in uneven sand don’t mix well. Further, materials like lace and tulle do a fantastic job of collecting sand, driftwood, seaweed, and the occasional crab. Keep the dress light and short (or at the very least, easy to bustle). It should be a no-brainer not to wear heels on the beach, but just in case you haven’t thought things through, heels don’t do well on sand or on boardwalks. If you absolutely must do heels, you’re going to need to place a solid walkway under the sand all the way down the aisle and where you’ll be standing during the ceremony.
Gentlemen, unless you’re getting married on the beach during a cold season, being out in the direct sun while wearing a black wool tuxedo is for the sea birds. I’ve photographed more than one beach wedding where the groom and groomsmen all looked miserable because someone wanted them in full evening wear tuxedos. There’s no reason to make that decision with a beach wedding. In fact, it looks simply out of place. If tuxedos are a must, go with lighter colors or even white. Even better, lose the jackets entirely.
Boutonnieres at the Beach
Now that we have the guys dressed more sensibly without jackets, let’s not try and pin boutonnieres where they don’t belong. “Boutonniere” is actually French for “button hole” and if you don’t have a jacket, there is no button hole in the lapel where a flower would go. I’ve had to try and make huge rose boutonnieres stay in place on small ring bearer kids wearing Hawaiian shirts. It doesn’t work, and it’s no more appropriate than asking a woman in heels to wear running socks. Boutonnieres are not a requirement. If you want the guys to wear some sort of flower, be mindful of what they are wearing and keep it light. Also consider asking your florist to provide magnets in the floral tape instead of using the standard pins. Trying to pin a massive double rose and conch shell boutonniere on a vest should garner hazard pay for whoever is attempting to do it. You’re doing a beach wedding, so if you must accessorize a man, come up with something else. Your planner (or photographer, in most cases) will thank you.
Jewish Beach Ceremonies
I have photographed Jewish beach ceremonies where a lack of forethought caused delay and/or embarrassment. If you’re doing a ceremonial wine cup, be sure to pre-open your wine bottle or use wine with a screw cap. As a photographer I carry a wine key with me for just such occasions after one ceremony was held up twenty minutes while someone found a way to open the wine. Another thing to keep in mind is the moment where the glass gets stomped on. This requires that the glass have something under it to provide resistance, such as a wooden plank. It can be buried under the sand if you like, but if you try to break a glass just on beach sand, there’s a good chance you will fail the first through eighth attempts. As for the chuppah, make sure any fabric is tied down tightly and won’t fly downward in front of you when the wind hits it. Failing to do so can adversely affect your photographs and obstruct the views of your family and friends.
If you want your wedding party to take photographs with sunglasses, make sure they all know to have them. Better yet, provide them and bring an extra pair for the photo session. Someone almost always forgets theirs. If you want to take photographs with immediate or extended family (or anyone not in the wedding party) make sure they know in advance not to leave after the ceremony. Your officiant might also make an announcement to that effect at an appropriate time either before or immediately after the ceremony. Trying to pull people out of the restaurant during cocktail hour and back out onto the beach is nearly impossible and almost always meets with resistance. Make sure your wedding party knows if you are going to take photographs after the ceremony, lest they also leave for cocktail hour and you’re delayed while someone goes and fetches that one idiot groomsman that went in. You know the one.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Unless you and your future spouse are opera singers like me, you’re likely going to need amplification. Talk with your DJ or the venue about supplying sound during the ceremony. You might have written your own beautiful vows, but no one is going to hear them over the crashing of the waves, the gulls squawking, and that inconsiderate jerk playing his boom box thirty yards away. It’s also beneficial for your photographer to know what is being said so that he or she may be in the right position at the right moments. If you are going to use a microphone stand, try to position it in such a way that when you have your kiss, it is not in front of you.
The Light! It Burns!
Research when the sun is at the best possible position in the sky during your wedding day before choosing your ceremony time. This can help you avoid squinting and ugly shadows in your photographs. Taking family photos where everyone is having to squint because the sun is right behind the photographer is going to make for a very uncomfortable experience. I personally try to avoid this with my weddings, opting instead whenever possible to have the subjects facing away from the sun and filling shadows with flash. If you have light eyes, you are typically more sensitive to bright light than others. Be mindful to plan your ceremony time and direction around the sun, and hopefully you’ll get lucky and it will be a cloudy day with no shadows or glare.
Have A Backup Plan
This is true of all weddings, not just those on the beach. Having a backup plan should be obvious to most people, but have one in place should the weather or environment become uncooperative.
The biggest piece of advice I can give with beach weddings is: Stay Flexible. Things will happen which might throw a wrench in the works. If you have planned for multiple potential problems and have solutions in place, the likelihood is that you won’t need any of those solutions. The weather, the public, your wedding party, your guests, and even the sun can all work against your well-laid plans. If you have a cavalier attitude about the little things that can go wrong, your beach wedding will stay stress free and fun… the way it’s supposed to be!