We met his freshman year of college, my sophomore year. We were in a stairwell in his dorm when we were introduced. By looking at his spiky hair and Deutschland futbol t-shirt, I assumed he was a German international student. Maybe a week later I found out he was from Lincoln, Nebraska.
I had a crush on his roommate (Jordan, did you ever know this?), so I would frequent their dorm room and often end up chatting with Greg instead. Almost every day that semester, I would cross paths with Greg on my way to statistics class while he was headed to lunch. I didn’t find out until years later that he would wait in his dorm’s entryway until he could see me crossing to class. Our happenstance meetings weren’t so random after all. I think I managed an A in that stats class, but probably only credit to having taken statistics in high school. Having lunch with Greg by far trumped standard deviation and confidence intervals (my senior psychology major self would later regret that decision).
We were both picked to go to Nicaragua on a spring break service project. When I got the list in my mailbox of who our team was, it was one of my top 10 happiest life moments. Greg would stop by my room on our way to our Nicaragua meetings and soon after, on a very cold January day, he asked me to be his girlfriend. We dated for 2 years and got engaged my senior year of college.
On May 22, 2010, Greg and I got married in Cedar Rapids. Our ceremony was at Stonebridge Church and our reception was at the Festhalle Barn in Amana. This year, we will be celebrating our 6th anniversary. As a wedding photographer, I meet with couples all the time and offer advice from a photographer’s perspective – how to plan your timeline, what vendors to use, etc. But as I look back on being a bride, there are so many pieces of advice I wanted to share.
Here are 10 tips to the future bride, learned from my own experience as a bride:
1. I have always had high and often unrealistic expectations for any major celebration in my life. After countless birthdays that ended in tears, one year my mom got me a mug that says, “Hannah is going to have a great day!” I have it at work and pull it when I need a pick-me-up. Knowing that I didn’t want to be disappointed on my WEDDING day, of all days, I sought out our college’s counseling center. Her advice: the night of your rehearsal, take off your planning hat and put on your bride hat. I did just that and it was the best day of my life and far exceeded any expectations I had.
2. There are countless reasons why I preach a first look from a photographer’s standpoint, but here are a couple personal reasons why I was so glad to have a first look. The instant I saw Greg during our first look my nerves disappeared. He was calm and happy, which rubbed off on me. We were able to talk, hug, and kiss, and share a few moments together without the rush of a timeline. We were able to take all of our formal photos before the ceremony, which left even more time to enjoy with our guests afterwards. Our ceremony was also later in the day, so having a first look allowed us 4-5 more hours together on the best and quickest day of my life thus far.
3. Change into comfy shoes at your reception. I did not. I ran around barefoot at my reception and ended the night with Greg carrying me to the bed and breakfast we stayed at, because I was hobbling.
4. I’m ashamed to admit it, but my brothers were going to be ushers. My brother called me out and said that my bridal party should be made up of people who are going to be in my life forever, not just my college besties at the time. I added my two brothers and my sister-in-law to our wedding party and it sidestepped a huge regret I would have had. Family matters and being in your bridal party is a huge honor. Pick people who you can’t imagine not being in your future.
5. Don’t DIY to death. I had all sorts of grand plans for making my own bouquets from farmer’s market flowers and finding centerpiece crafts on wedding blogs (before the days of pinterest). While my mom and her friends did labor over handmade ties, my mom was wise enough to suggest meeting with a florist, an event planner, and having someone else take care of the big details of our day. I walked into our reception without having set up every table or centerpiece and was stunned by how beautiful it all was. Trust your wedding vendors to do their job and enjoy your day without getting your hands dirty.
6. I had professional hair, makeup and eyelashes applied. The makeup looked and felt natural and the hair was a soft curl, but it all made me feel the most beautiful I have ever felt. If you have stubby eyelashes like mine, get those fake lashes and enjoy a day fluttering your pretty eyes.
7. Photo booths may have had their time in the spotlight a few years ago, but I love the pictures from our photo booth. They make me smile, not just because they’re goofy, but also because it helps me remember who was at our wedding and what everyone looked like several years ago. It’s a great and easy way to ensure more pictures of your guests that aren’t awkward table shots.
8. Write your own vows. Greg’s cousin, Erin Pille, wrote our vows in gorgeous calligraphy and did a watercolor painting of my bouquet. They are hanging above our bed and I read them almost every night. They were totally unique to us and are still a perfect caption of how we want to love each other.
9. Go on a honeymoon, even if it’s incredibly simple. We were saving money to live in Spain for Greg’s final semester of college, and let’s be honest…I was working for minimum wage at a coffee shop and we were so poor. We couldn’t afford a fancy trip, but knew we wanted to spend some time together immediately after our wedding. We headed up to Two Harbors, Minnesota and spent a long weekend at a Larsmont Cottages. We went hiking, biking, kayaking, and sat outside at night with a glass of wine around a bonfire. It was totally worth it and I’d do the same thing all over again even if we had the money for a European adventure.
10. Our rehearsal dinner was by far one of my favorite parts of our wedding. I had originally wanted a small, backyard wedding with twinkle lights and a bonfire, but we went with a big barn wedding instead. My mom and mother-in-law were kind enough to grant me both wishes. Our rehearsal dinner was in my parent’s backyard with vintage tablecloths, BBQ from Greg’s uncle, and an evening of sharing memories and blessings that ended under the stars. Looking back, I’m so thankful for the thought put into our rehearsal dinner. It’s an evening with your closest friends and family, and should be cherished as an intimate and important gathering, not just mandatory food after rehearsing where to stand and how to walk down the aisle.
These aren’t definitive tips and I know many people who are much more “go-with-the-flow” than I am and put together flower arrangements the morning of, or had a friend curl their hair. These are just some things I was thankful for reflecting back on our wedding day. Tip number 11 and the most important one, is that regardless of a $5,000 or $50,000 budget, an elopement or a ballroom celebration, I’ve never met a couple who didn’t just glow on their wedding day. It all works out and in the end, you get married and that is a wonderful gift not everyone gets to have.
Enjoy a few pictures from May 22, 2010, when I married the ever-so wonderful Gregory Michael White.
Photo credit: Hanle Productions (no longer shooting weddings, but we still love our photographer so much!!)