Small weddings are having a big moment. Mostly because if you want to get married right now, a small wedding is the only choice you’ve got. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been so lucky to photograph many couples who have decided to scale things down to get married on their original date. It’s inspired me to finally create a few mini wedding packages!
But with every small wedding I work, I am immediately reminded of my own.
On a snowy Monday in March 2016, I got married at Studio 415. It was my North Side photography studio that I used to rent with my friends (and badass wedding photographers) Maria Palermo and Krystal Healy. The first time my husband saw me that day, I was moving furniture around in my wedding dress…Not the first look I imagined!
Nathan proposed over Mad Mex margaritas just 7 months earlier. He looked at me and said “We should get married.” I asked him if he was for real–like could I call my parents and tell them we were getting married?!–and he said sure! No ring, and no fuss, but 100% us!
I have a huge family, and while I love them, a wedding with 100+ guests was a little too much for us. We always knew our guest list would be small, just our parents and dogs to be exact! We moved forward with that in mind, knowing we’d celebrate with everyone at a picnic–and free flowing booze–later in the year.
While we had originally intended to get married outside, the March weather made us switch to Plan B, which was my old studio. A week before the wedding, we pulled the trigger on moving everything indoors. I loved my light-filled photography space, and I already paid for it monthly, so why not?
Our wedding day started off with a frantic mix of logistics: Moving furniture out of the way while our dogs Jane and River tackled me in my wedding dress, and making a pit stop to the Strip District with my mom for a last minute bouquet. There was no coordinated ceremony ‘entrance,’ and boy did the dogs need wrangling at every moment.
Thinking back to those hectic moments, the excitement of finally being married eclipses them all. I’ll never forget basking in that glow all day since we were in such a small group. We soaked in every minute, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
I invested in a photographer (duh), makeup artist, and hired one of my favorite Pittsburgh officiants, but I held on tight to the notion that since my wedding was small, I couldn’t have big plans or do anything special. At that point, I wasn’t seeing anyone planning a grand affair for four guests outside of blog-worthy people eloping in Europe, or at the beach, or on mountaintops.
It wasn’t until four years later that I wondered how my small wedding might have looked like…had I known what was possible.
In January 2020, I was invited to photograph a styled shoot in the same studio where I got married, and it changed every assumption I’ve had about small weddings.
Organized by Lauren Rachelle Photography and a kickass team of vendors (links below!), they designed a romantic meets industrial wedding day with pops of dusty blue and blush. When I walked into the studio, I was honestly blown away by the transformation. It was simply gorgeous.
I had done tons of photoshoots in the space back when I rented it, but never saw it set up for a wedding other than my own. When I got married there, it was a studio that we cleared out for a few hours. For the shoot, it looked like a legit intimate wedding venue.
I’ll be honest: Sometimes styled shoots can be so grand, so logistically impossible and so artistically driven, that it’s difficult to envision the design in a real wedding. Many are created for inspiration, not imitation.
But at this shoot, it was almost too easy to see how it would translate to a real day with a real couple.
It could have also been set up for double the people (it was set for 6) and been a doable “wedding and a dinner party” kind of vibe like my own wedding was. But this was just way, way cuter than my wedding.
If I were to reimagine my wedding day in the same space, I would have allowed myself to invest in something more special for the ceremony. We literally got married in front of a wall! Floral design would have added a lot here, and it’s something I’ve come to appreciate more in the past few years.
Flowers change a space, and they were the biggest difference between my wedding and the shoot. They add life, color, wow factor, and help define a larger room. And! They can do that even if you aren’t spending ‘a ton.’ Don’t believe me? Our styled shoot floral designer, Miranda Ladak of Community Flower Shop threw down pricing:
“Arch flowers (assuming it is not our arch), the table florals, cake florals, bouquet and boutonnière and with set up would be around $800, plus tax/delivery.”
My second investment? A day of coordinator, at the very least! No one should have to move a couch in their wedding dress, or deal with the awkward milling around trying to figure out what the heck happens next. There’s a reason these jobs exist, and you deserve it to hire someone to manage it all.
Maybe a smaller wedding was not your original plan, but you find yourself smiling at the idea of getting married this summer. Maybe you just got engaged, and know that a small wedding is your dream wedding. No matter what your reasons, don’t hold back!
Get married surrounded by the people who love you the most. Go big in the floral design, fashion, and table decoration. Hire a photographer who will capture these moments for others who will only see it from their images.
I didn’t have iPhone photos, or a live stream, so I understand the importance of having beautiful, emotive photos from your day.
Remember those mini wedding packages I created? I’ve actually always shot them, but only marketed them at an hourly rate. I offer beautiful packages for my full wedding clients to pick from, with fun little add ons and perks, so why was I not giving my small weddings and elopements the same treatment?
If I’m being honest, I think it was that approach that made me feel like my own wedding wasn’t a “real” wedding. But it was just as valid, beautiful, and important. And so is yours!
Styled Shoot Vendors:
Dawn Derbyshire Photography loves love.
I strive to create an inclusive, welcoming space for my employees, vendors I work with, AND my clients of all races, religions, sexual orientations and identities. All of my clients (and their love stories) deserve respect, are cherished, and are valued by me and my business. You are welcome in my business, my life, and my heart.