Your best guide in selecting any vendor is through word of mouth

Your best guide in selecting any vendor is through word of mouth. Just as a caterer with a good reputation will most likely give you a menu you’ll love, the same is true of the performance of each of your other vendors. Hire someone who listens to your ideas and shows a desire to please you. Sample (taste test) the caterer’s food and examine albums of the photographer’s past weddings. Shop by reputation and by example and you will increase your probability of satisfaction. In order to stay within your budget, ask prices before you make appointments. Don’t waste your time (or the vendor’s) by going to see someone you can’t afford.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Probably the first vendor you should qualify and select is the photographer. Top quality professional wedding photographers book many months in advance, so act quickly to secure your choice.

After the sound of happy laughter and the clink of toasting champagne glasses fade away nothing brings back the joy of your special day like beautiful photographs and video. For this reason it is suggested that a professional wedding photographer be hired. Wedding photography is a demanding challenge, and experience and taste is key to producing the images you’ll want to remind you of your day.

Assuming you have narrowed your search by word of mouth recommendations, your concern becomes personally meeting with each photographer to view photos from previous weddings. Look through as many samples as possible. Remember that any portfolio submitted for you to review is a collection of the person’s very best work. Ask to see a proof book with all the photographs taken from a wedding- start to finish. Look not only at the images but also at the quality. Are the colors rich? Are the images in focus and well framed? If you’re planning an outdoor wedding, do the outdoor shots look clear and utilize natural light well? Does the person seem to work with both natural and artificial lighting effectively?

You will, at this point, have an idea of the style and type of photography you desire. The traditional professional wedding photographer of the 1970’s and 1980’s would shoot in color with soft-focus filters and enough lights for a Hollywood production. The emphasis in this style was on posed shots primarily of the bridal party and families. Today’s wedding photography, even the traditional, has seen increased acceptance of black-and-white as well. Many couples opt for a combination of black-and-white and color shots, while others create a nostalgic atmosphere with sepia prints, or hand-painted or hand-tinted photos, in which the bride’s bouquet might be in color while the rest of the picture is in black-and-white.

If you lean toward the traditional, understand that traditional wedding photography today is more than just posed pictures. A wedding album will include some posed shots, but also a good number of unposed, candid images. The posed photos generally introduce the wedding party and family members. The candids catch what actually happened at your wedding. Brides who favor the traditional approach tend to want posed pictures that are flattering to them. They want photographs set up carefully so that their hair looks perfect and their gown looks just so. And they like knowing that any blemish or imperfection will be retouched out of the finished product.

If your preference is purely to capture the reality of the wedding experience you may prefer the photojournalistic style of wedding photographer. This type of professional takes some formal pictures, but emphasizes the candid capture of wedding party and guests caught in the act of having a great celebration. Brides who select this type of photographer prefer not to spend a great amount of time posing with the wedding party for formal pictures. They believe their time is better spent at the party enjoying friends and family.

Finding an experienced professional is key. A wedding specialist knows each important ceremony and reception moment to shoot. Make sure in your interview that you test the photographer’s willingness to listen and deliver what you desire. Also make sure your personality and that of the photographer is a match. Your list of special moments, people, and traditions you want covered should be welcomed with enthusiasm. If you have unique spiritual or ethnic traditions requiring the photographer’s particular attention you should make it clear that a family member or close friend will point them out as they occur. Be sure to let your photographer know of special family situations. Make sure the photographer is aware of rules the ceremony site or officiant may have regarding photography.

Once you’ve selected a wedding photographer you should provide examples of the types of photographs you like and do not like, clipped from bridal magazines or singled out from the photographer’s samples. Make sure that the photographer whose work, reputation, and demeanor you like will personally shoot your wedding. Also make it clear what attire the photographer should wear.

Be sure that you understand in the contract just what is included for the price quoted. Will you get to keep your negatives, or will the photographer keep them and charge you for every extra print you desire? If he (she) does so, can you purchase the negatives, and at what cost? Do you own the proofs, or is there an extra cost to keep them? Find out how soon you will get your proofs and your final product.

VIDEO

At the same time you select your photographer you should consider whether you want your special day on video. Not only is this tape a pleasure for you in years to come, but it can be a thoughtful way to show your wedding to special family members who were unable to be present.

As with your other vendors, recommendations from friends and family who have used a given videographer are your best means of qualifying this professional. Other sources to obtain videographers to interview are:

Identify at least three qualified videographers and ask for a demo tape to be sent to you. After viewing the demos make appointments to meet your favorites. Ask to see several complete weddings.

Different videographers have different styles of shooting and editing. Complete tapes of several weddings will give you a view of how transitions are handled, how sound was captured, and how clear and appropriately illuminated the video turned out. You will find that many videographers utilize special video effects of different kinds. Make sure you see what types of effects might be used on your video and can tell in advance whether or not they please you.

Be sure the videographer has equipment capable of quality video in low light, without the high illumination lighting found offensive by most wedding guests today. Also be sure you are comfortable that the videographer provides pleasing work in an environment similar to that where your wedding and reception will occur. For example, you may have your ceremony in a dimly lit interior and your reception in the bright sunshine of a hillside in the late afternoon. The video should be high quality in both settings.

You may or may not like the videographer who interviews your guests at candid moments. Many guests find this annoying. Be sure it is understood exactly what you want in your wedding and reception video. Agree upon the number of cameras to be used and their placement. As with the photographer, provide a list of traditions, and family and friends you want covered. Be sure to let the videographer know of special family situations. Also check with your ceremony site about any restrictions they may have with videography.

Any prospective professional videographer should be pleasant, enthusiastic and flexible. You should have a firm impression that the aim is to please you. Make it understood what attire the videographer should wear while shooting your wedding.

Read the contract carefully and be sure you understand what you receive for every dollar charged, and how soon after the wedding you will have the finished product. Also make sure it is in writing that the videographer who shot and edited the samples you like will be the one shooting your wedding.

MUSICIANS

Like the photographer and the videographer, the quality live band you may want for your reception should be reserved far in advance of your special day. Top-notch, versatile reception entertainment generally books months ahead. Again, you don’t want to be disappointed because your chosen group is unavailable. Act quickly to select and reserve your choice.

Music is key in setting the mood at your reception. Determine the kind of mood you want before you choose a band. Your personal preference is what should guide your selection.

The banquet manager at your reception site can usually give you a good choice of local entertainers. Other vendors such as your photographer and videographer can also suggest possibilities. You can also telephone local entertainment companies.

Look at several bands to compare the overall sound and versatility. If possible, go and watch them perform live rather that simply listening to a tape they’ve provided. If personal viewing isn’t possible ask to see videos of the group, preferably working a reception such as yours. See them in action. Are they able to pick up the pace of the party if it starts to lag? Is the singer or bandleader charismatic enough to capture the audience? Is the band’s style what really inspires you?

Pick a band that specializes in weddings. Make sure the band and bandleader you select are contracted specifically to perform at your reception. The band members should play together regularly and be accustomed to performing as a group. Such a group will tend to keep the momentum of the party going by not pausing between songs to discuss what to play next. A wonderful song may create energy on the dance floor, but if the music stops for more than a few moments, the floor clears. A band whose members work together consistently can play song after song without stopping to regroup.

If you contract with the band for “continuous music” throughout the reception, determine the band’s definition of the term. It can mean different things to different bandleaders. One band may play continually throughout the party, another for forty-five minutes and then put a tape on for fifteen minutes. Be sure you and the band have the same performing time and break time in mind, and that you aren’t expecting more service than is being offered.

Tell the bandleader what kind of music you want. Also tell him what you don’t want to hear. Specify the songs you want played during each special wedding tradition. Make it understood what attire the band should wear.

DISC JOCKEY

If you decide that a live band is not what you seek a great deejay can be contracted. Professional deejays can be found and reserved with less lead-time than a top-notch live band requires. Nevertheless, when you identify the one you want, book for your reception date right away. Better to reserve services early than to find the deejay you want already busy.

You should interview several qualified deejays to compare their personalities, as well as their prices. Here again, you want someone who enthusiastically and attentively listens to your ideas rather than dictating how he will run the show. Indeed, you want an assertive entertainer who can draw your crowd out onto the dance floor, but he must not cross the line and become pushy and abrasive. Make sure that the deejay specializes in weddings.

An effective way to see what a deejay is like at a wedding is to view a videotape of the deejay at work. A video can show you what the deejay wears, what kind of equipment is used, and how the person draws out the guests.

You should ask for the deejay’s references and for the names of his last three wedding couples serviced. Contact these people and find out how satisfied they were with the deejay’s work.

Get a written contract with the deejay for your reception day and time. Be sure it specifically names the actual person you have evaluated and wish to be your entertainer.

Several weeks prior to your reception you should meet with your deejay and plan it out in detail. Make special requests for those traditional or unique reception moments. Make a schedule of the song categories that you would like played during each part of the reception. Specify, also, what music you do not want played.

CEREMONY MUSIC

The first step to take in securing ceremony music is to determine whether any restrictions are imposed by your ceremony site. Different churches and synagogues may have such restrictions on outside musicians. For instance, Eastern Orthodox churches allow only vocal music. Quakers do not allow music of any kind. Find out what you can and cannot do.

The variety of music and combination of instruments acceptable for today’s wedding ceremony is broad. No longer is organ music or a vocal soloist the only choice. String or horn instruments can be used effectively as well.

Your officiant or ceremony site coordinator can often recommend ceremony musicians who are both site-acceptable and proficient.

As with your other wedding vendors, first-hand experience with the musicians by family or friends is a valuable help with selection.

It is advisable to hire professional musicians with an established reputation of servicing weddings. Ask for a demo tape of the musicians you are considering. Such a tape should include their performance of such traditional wedding selections as “Pachelbel’s Canon” and “The Wedding March.”

Once you make your selection of musicians, you should place a deposit to retain their services for your ceremony date and time, and obtain a written contract with the kind of attire they will wear, the length of time they will perform, and what happens if they cancel.

Once you have contracted with the musicians, you should talk about the specific music you want played at certain times during the ceremony. The fifteen minutes to half-hour prior to the ceremony is the time during which the wedding mood is set. During this prelude, favorite music, popular and/or classical, is performed. Vocal or instrumental solos are appropriate. In the traditional ceremony, after the prelude the processional begins. The music is dignified and majestic, and regular in rhythm, appropriate for walking slowly to the alter. The bride then walks in to the music that announces her entrance. When the ceremony concludes, the recessional begins and is triumphant and slightly quicker in tempo than the processional.

CATERER

If you have selected a reception site with an on-premises caterer your next step should be to meet with the catering/event manager to plan the details of the reception menu. If you have your site but as yet no caterer it’s time to qualify and select one. Again, recommendations from family, friends or your other vendors can lead you to several companies to consider for your catering needs.

You should make appointments with these companies for a tasting of their food and a view of their style in preparation and service. Remember, a wedding celebration should reflect who you are. You want to select a caterer who can meet your standards.

You want a caterer with a good reputation and the ability to provide a menu and service that suits your taste. Here again, the vendor should listen to your ideas and show enthusiasm in suggesting ways to make them happen.

Don’t be confined by the traditional formal reception menu. Though it is certainly one approach, today’s receptions embrace creative new ideas. An elegant wedding breakfast or afternoon garden luncheon are each truly a stylish wedding statement.

Contract in writing with the caterer. Be sure their proposal outlines a description of the menu and how many service staff there will be. Find out what the service fee and tax will be, and if the gratuity is included. Also find out if there are additional labor and rental charges. Does the catering company offer a reduced rate for children and vendors? Is there a cake-cutting fee? Know exactly how much the caterer will charge for specific items and for overtime. Make sure the caterer has insurance and is licensed to serve alcohol.

Once you have selected your caterer, get together and plan out your menu. A sit-down dinner might seem to be more expensive than a buffet. This is not necessarily true. On food alone, a sit-down meal is lower in cost because you know the size of the portions to be served. A buffet, on the other hand, must be continually re-stocked to insure the last guest through the line with the selection and style offered the first. The sit-down meal requires more china, silver and glassware and a larger service staff. You also find different menu considerations prompted by the time of day and season of your reception. Your guests will tend to east less in the early hours of the day and in warm weather. You and your caterer should outline a detailed plan based upon your overall reception requirements.

WEDDING CAKE

Many caterers today do not bake wedding cakes. It is wise to qualify and hire your wedding cake baker at least six months before your wedding. The top professionals book far in advance.

Recommendations from family, friends and your other vendors will lead you to two or three bakers of wedding cakes. Visit them and taste several samples of their work. They should also be able to show you “mock up” cakes or pictures of past wedding cakes they’ve prepared. You want a cake that is not only delicious, but beautiful and reasonably priced.

You might browse through bridal magazines to find pictures of wedding cakes you like. Bring the pictures with you and show the bakers you visit what pleases you and what doesn’t. Also discuss a groom’s cake with the bakers, if you decide to have one.

Not all gorgeous cakes are real. Some very ornate cakes have false tiers. Such cakes can save you money by combining the false creation with a baked sheet cake under the bottom layer. This sheet cake is cut to serve your guests. The pillars and tier dividers are often rented and must be returned. You can save wedding dollars by renting and having a friend or family member return them to the bakery for you.

Be sure you have a written contract with your selected wedding cake baker. Like those with all of your other vendors, the contract should deal with all of the details. Agree how much in advance of your wedding day the cake will be prepared. Know if there is a delivery fee, and if so, the amount. Is the baker responsible for the cake set up, or is the banquet caterer expected to do this? Know the deposit, cancellation, and final payment terms, as well as the baker’s policy if the cake is dropped during delivery or set up. Are there parts to be returned to the baker after the wedding?

FLOWERS

The florist for your wedding is one of the most important professionals you will employ. This person must have the vision of an artist and the business experience to create your masterpiece within your budget. Use the recommendations of family, friends, and your other vendors when finding a florist. Then make appointments to meet with several florists.

Talk with the manager or sales consultant of the shop. Determine whether the florist specializes in weddings. Also find out if he or she is familiar with your ceremony and reception site(s). Find out if the florist has adequate refrigeration equipment and facilities.

Ask to see pictures of work the florist has done for other weddings. Look at different kinds of arrangements done in the past. It may also help you with ideas of what you like and don’t like for your own wedding.

Sit down and talk with the florist about your wedding. The florist should ask about your dress and those of your bridesmaids. He or she should be friendly, patient and flexible, and should suggest flowers that fit both your budget and the season in which your wedding is to occur.

Once you select your florist, before contracting for the service, you should find out how many other events the florist is servicing on the day of your wedding. Specify in the contract all important details of the service, including the time the flowers will be delivered to the ceremony site, and a second-choice of flowers if your first-choice isn’t available.

Your ceremony site may have regulations regarding the use of floral decorations. Be sure to gain permission to use the floral arrangements you are considering before making your floral decisions.

Your professional florist should be able to design a floral plan for your ceremony and reception for everything from your bridal bouquet and those of your bridesmaids to the ceremony and reception floral arrangements.

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