Shelby & Alex's Tennessee Engagement in Pouring Rain (From The Notebook)

It was pouring the day I met up with Shelby and Alex - rain coming down in sheets, and then droplets, and then sheets again. It had been raining like this for over two days and I was positive that they would want to reschedule their engagement session, especially since we were meeting on the shoreline of Percy Priest Lake. Just so much water. 

I texted Shelby that Sunday morning and she replied with, "We're up for shooting in the rain if you are!" And I knew I had found my people. YES. 

Our Nashville version of that rainy scene from The Notebook turned out better than I could have imagined. We were soaked to the bone and so dirty by the end - trees were halfway underwater, there was a layer of thick mud over everything - but it was so much fun. I only fell in the mud once and was beyond thankful for my Hunter rainboots (but also realized my raincoat seems to absorb water instead of repel it, so I'm now in the market for a new raincoat, any suggestions?) 

By the end, the light had faded and the rain had slowed and I knew we had made some magic despite how insane we probably seemed to all the fly fishermen who were gathered around the shorelines of the lake in their bright orange ponchos, watching us from the sidelines. 

Thanks for being up for absolutely anything, you guys. It was so worth it.

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The Best Wedding Venues in Tennessee

I love calling Tennessee home. She's a beauty, with her rolling hills, roaring waterfalls and the Great Smoky Mountains peeking through on the eastern side. Endless songs are written about Nashville and heartbreak and love and finding home - and I'm so happy we get to call this state ours.

That being said, searching for a wedding venue is always overwhelming and many of the couples I work with don't even know where to start the wedding planning process in looking for their place for the wedding. Location is a huge factor in setting the stage for your story, and you want to make sure you're choosing a location that accurately represents who you are and what you love. 

All of that being said, I've put together a list of the best wedding venues in Tennessee (that I've found so far) to act as a guide as you begin the wedding planning journey. I've based my choices on a variety of different things, but the main ones are experience, aesthetic, feel and location.

As you start to craft your wedding experience, take a minute to scroll through these wedding venues all over the state - I promise you won't be disappointed. 

 

Cheekwood BOTANICAL GARDENS 

Image via OnceWed

Image via OnceWed

Just south of Nashville, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens speaks reminiscently of gardens found in Padua, Italy. Home to the Cheekwood Museum of Art and endless gardens and hidden pools, I'm convinced you could wander in Cheekwood for days on days and still find hidden treasures in tucked away corners. Ranging from gardens to mansion views, villas to reflecting pools and rolling hills to forests, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens has to be a must-see as you tour through wedding venues in Tennessee. 

 

Bloomsbury Farm

Image via Bloomsbury Farm

Image via Bloomsbury Farm

Bloomsbury Farm is a gem, hidden right outside of Nashville with rolling acres of beauty around every corner. A working farm, Airbnb rental and wedding and event space, it's one of my favorite spots in all of Tennessee. Owner Lauren Palmer started the farm herself by selling her organic vegetables at farmers markets back in 2009 and her family has been farming for generations, so you can just tell there's a lot of heritage wrapped up here. This place is a dream any day, so planning your wedding here would be x100.

 

Cedarwood Weddings

Cedarwood Weddings in Nashville, TN

Cedarwood Weddings hits the top of this Tennessee wedding venue list because there aren't many places like it. An all-inclusive, highly sought after destination wedding venue, Cedarwood is like finding wedding venue gold in Tennessee. Just outside of the Nashville, it feels like you're stumbling upon on oasis when you arrive. Their team does it all - styling, florals, rentals, props, amenities - the works. And it's all done in an incredibly beautiful, timeless kind of way, making all your Southern wedding dreams come true.

 

Blackberry Farm

Blackberry Farm is like a diamond in the rough. Located in Walland, TN on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm offers stunning views of the mountains while providing a luxury wedding experience and accommodations that are some of the best. Take your wedding to the next level by crafting an experience for you and your loved ones that will surpass any expectations you might have - I'm convinced you can't find better than Blackberry Farm. 

 

Arrington Vineyards

Arrington Vineyards Wedding Venue Tennessee

Arrington is a popular weekend getaway for many people who live in Nashville - you really can't get much better than sipping wine on a Sunday afternoon while looking out on rolling hills and green vineyards. Weddings here are lovely - the vineyards glow in the fading sun as the night winds down, and the property is so large that the ceremony and reception options seem to be endless. It's possible you'll spot a few sheep crossing the road at some point, and it's certain that the wine will have you dancing all night long. 

 

CJ's OFf the Square

Best Wedding Venue CJ's Off the Square

I first stumbled upon CJ's Off the Square in Franklin last fall, when I walked into the historic home turned wedding venue right outside of downtown. I walked out the backdoor and couldn't believe the lavish gardens that spread out before me - a garden wedding ceremony venue like this is hard to find, especially close to the city. Perfectly set up for intimate and elegant southern weddings, CJ's Off the Square has quickly become one of my favorite wedding venues to photograph weddings at. It's beautiful, intimate and intensely romantic - everything you want in a garden wedding venue. 

 

The Cordelle

Image via The Cordelle 

Image via The Cordelle 

The Cordelle is one of my favorite wedding venues in the city because it's like a blank canvas - you can do whatever you want inside, or just leave it as is and it's incredibly beautiful. With deep hardwood floors and beautiful white walls, The Cordelle is a space where lovely and minimalist weddings shine. The interior styling in the bridal suite is all done by 12th Table (and we all know their aesthetic is perfect). With both indoor and outdoor ceremony locations, this is a perfect venue to plan your wedding in if you're looking to stay close to Nashville. 

 

Falls Creek Falls (Or choose A Waterfall You Love)

Waterfall Wedding Falls Creek Falls Tennessee Venue

Alright - the last two wedding venues in this list aren't actually wedding venues, but (in my opinion) it can be an intentional and incredible choice to go with a wedding venue that actually isn't technically a wedding venue at all. Falls Creek Falls is a state park just a few hours outside of Nashville and the beauty there is unbelievable. Whether you're looking to elope, have a smaller wedding or renew your vows, pledging your life to the one you love in front of a roaring waterfall is one of the most epic ways to do it (and could save you thousands of dollars in the long run!) It's not for everyone, but for the few that love this idea, get in touch! I love it too. 

 

Your backyard

Backyard Wedding Venue Tennessee

The last venue on my list is pretty self-explanatory. While I will always love photographing weddings at all of the venues on this list, it's the backyard weddings that I love the most. There's something absolutely amazing about gathering your best people together at your home (or your parents' home, or your grandparents' home) and celebrating the start of your marriage. Backyard weddings are a symbol of family to me, the kind of celebration that is intimate and meaningful with so much legacy wrapped up in inviting everyone into your home. If you don't actually have a backyard, maybe you have an uncle or a close family friend that has a piece of beautiful property in Tennessee that's even better. Whatever you decide to do, I know it'll be beautiful - you're putting your heart behind every choice you make as you plan your wedding, and that's what really counts. 

Meredith and Andrew's Garden Wedding at CJ's Off the Square

I have a hard time finding adequate words when it comes to Meredith and Andrew. I remember meeting them for coffee in east Nashville last winter and instantly bonding over all of us being very new to Nashville and how much we both despised bridal shows (my kind of people.) Their engagement photos in downtown Nashville a few months later ended with me realizing I had a gigantic couple crush on them, and I don't use those words lightly. We just connected, like when you meet people you know you just want to be friends with. It was like that. 

They're seriously some of the most wonderful people - so warm, so kind, so welcoming. They welcomed me into their new life in Nashville together (and later their Nashville wedding) with open arms. When I left their wedding, it felt like I was leaving old, dear friends. I can't ask for much more than that. 

Their intimate, garden wedding at CJ's Off the Square in Franklin, TN was one of my favorite weddings of 2016. I hope you can tell how much they love their friends and families through these photos - it was so evident all throughout their wedding day that they are people that love well and love deeply. 

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Vendors

Florist Lois Knox - Basket of Flowers
Bride's Dress Designer Madison James, purchased from Posh Bridal Couture Nashville
Groom's Attire Express Men's Suite
Hair Amanda Hetzler - Ellie Reid Salon
Make-up Josey Baker
Videographer With This Ring Wedding Films
String Quartet Nashville Silver Strings
DJ Jason Middleton - Premier
Invitations & Menu Cards Carrie Kuhl - Hitch Studio

Signy & Patrick's Wednesday Virginia Wedding in the Mountains

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Signy and Patrick had such a clear vision for their Virginia wedding in the mountains - they wanted it to be dreamy, like a fairy tale, saying their vows in front of the people they loved the most, tucked away in the woods. Their closest friends and families all gathered in the cabins of  Shenandoah Woods in Virginia's gorgeous Shenandoah Valley in October at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains for their wedding one Wednesday afternoon. 

I'm all about doing things untraditionally when it comes to your wedding, and airing on the smaller side of a guest list is almost always a wonderful decision, in my experience. Signy and Patrick did just this, and small, intimate weddings like theirs are always some of my favorites. They were able to spend so much time with each of their guests and it didn't seem like they felt overwhelmed like they "had to make rounds to greet all the tables" during their reception. Everyone they invited was either a family member or close friend, and that speaks to who they are as a couple - they deeply value and intentionally prioritize their close friends and family. 

Weekday weddings are also some of the best, and I wish more couples would take the plunge and would say their vows on Wednesday like these two. Usually the biggest hindrance is that everyone I talk to about this is afraid their friends and family won't be able to get off of work in the middle of the week, which I completely understand. That being said, Signy and Patrick pulled off their Wednesday wedding beautifully, and they kept their guest list minimal to ensure that everyone they wanted there could make it to their Virginia wedding venue for their wedding on a Wednesday.

Finally, their vision for their wedding was so focused because with help from their families, they made all of their wedding decor and details by hand. This is really incredible given that their wedding had some of the most intricate details I've seen at an outdoor wedding. Whimsical, gold details with jeweled fairy tale-esque pieces made the entire day feel like we were in a storybook. Another testament of having a strong and clear wedding vision like theirs - you can make your wedding the way you want it to be without spending all the money on decor. 

If you can't tell, I love these two and being part of their wedding was such a privilege. Thank you both so much for letting me be part of your day - so many congrats to you two and so much love from Nashville.


For more wedding inspiration similar to Signy and Patrick's style, take a look at Christian and Teddy's intimate Iceland wedding that also looked like a fairytale! 

How to Prepare for Your Engagement Session

Engagement photos are a whole big thing - most likely, you haven't been professionally photographed since high school (let's not get into how awkward and terrible senior photos used to be - we've all been there). Suddenly you're engaged and you know that this (taking engagement photos) is something you're supposed to do. And it can be so overwhelming. 

Breathe. We've got this, and I promise that engagement photos can be more fun and less stressful than you might think. Below I've put together some thoughts and musings on what to expect, how to prepare, location ideas and inspiration for what to wear for your engagement photos - whether they'll be in Nashville, your home, a waterfall, the woods, or some other beautiful location, we've got it covered.

On top of all of that, let's talk about why engagement photos matter and why you should schedule a session. Consider this my field guide I'm giving to you as you navigate unfamiliar territory. I'm with you and here to help you, every step of the way.

Here we go! 

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When to book

Alright, let's start from the top. The very first thing you need it know is, when should you book your engagement photos - what time of day has the best light?

I get asked this all the time. The best light for your portrait session will be either late afternoon right before sunset or early morning at sunrise. This light is everything we need to make stunning photos! Late afternoon gives us that strong golden hour light everyone loves, and it is incredibly magical. On the flip side, as painfully early as sunrise is, I can’t stress how worth it it is to take your engagement photos early in the morning. There’s no comparison to that sunrise light and in the summer it’s the perfect way to stay out of the heat. Mornings are also an ideal time to photograph in public places, as state parks and coffee shops are usually much quieter and we can avoid those random photobombing strangers in the background.

As a quick FYI, Save the Dates typically should go out at least four months before the wedding. Since my turnaround time is typically 2-3 weeks for engagements, I recommend scheduling your engagement session for 5 months before the wedding to give you plenty of time. That being said, if you're really wanting dreamy winter photos, let's schedule your engagement photos to happen in the winter! At the end of the day, the entire wedding process is your process and I wouldn't want to do it any other way. 

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WHY

You have an idea of when you want your engagement photos to happen - but now you need to think about why you're having engagement photos taken. So why do we do engagement photos?

It's become a cultural thing, for sure - it's only normal for most couples to do some kind of styled photoshoot and call it their engagement photos, and that's great. But I think there's a lot more than comes with engagement photos than we give them credit for. To me, the purpose of your engagement or portrait session is to celebrate who you are together, showcasing your everyday. For many of my couples, this is the only time they'll ever get photos of themselves taken in their everyday clothes, and these are the photos they choose to hang up in their homes even after their wedding is over.

For my wedding clients, I love portrait sessions because it gives us a chance to get to know each other before your wedding day. It also helps you become comfortable in front of my lens - and it's way fun. I promise that your wedding day photos will be even  more relaxed and beautiful after we spend a few hours together, practicing in your engagement photography. 

Finally, I want these sessions should look like you. How do you spend your weekends? What do you do on Saturday mornings? I want to step into your life together and photograph you there. That’s what these engagement stories should look like. Keep scrolling and we'll talk more about this in choosing a location. 

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Location

We can make beautiful photos where ever you want to shoot, but after photographing weddings for years, I've learned a few things along the way that usually do or don't work when it comes to engagement photos. I'd love to share them here. 

Typically I suggest couples should choose 1-2 locations for a two hour engagement session and we’ll take it from there. Shooting in natural areas like the woods,  by the water or in state parks are always favorites of mine. We want to stay away from the crowds - I know how nervous most people get being in front of the camera, so I want to give you space, quiet and room to breathe (this typically means nature, nature, nature). It's way easier to be intimate and close to your loved one in the middle of the woods than it is downtown on the Pedestrian Bridge with people yelling over their shoulder at you to smile. 

Think about any unusual places you may have access to - often times the best locations are the ones not many other people will think of. Places as quirky as junk yards, old attics or warehouses can make for amazing photos. Or maybe you know someone who has access to an amazing rooftop downtown we could use, or you have a family member who lives on a farm with acres of beautiful woods. Locations like this are perfect and unique to you! Try to stay away from places like landmarks, monuments and typical “engagement photo” spots in your area - they’re usually overdone and crowded with people at any point of the week. 

Finally, I always, always love photographing couples in their homes. There's something intimate and beautiful about documenting your daily life together, where you live or where you spend a lot of your time. I’m also always up for traveling - if you decide you want to do your engagement photos out of state for mountain views or to be on the coast, let’s make that happen! I can tell you I'm already game. 

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What to wear

The question I get the most (always, always people ask this) is what they should wear for their engagement photos. It's a hard call because these are really important and you don't want to mess it up by wearing that "one dress you got that time that a month later after your photos you realize you actually really dislike the way it looks on you" - we want to avoid that at all costs. So read on, friends!

The most important thing is whatever you choose to wear for your photos should be an expression of you. My personal everyday outfit inspiration comes from florals and minimalist Elizabeth Suzann-like style - so I knew that when we were talking engagement photos back when my husband and I were engaged, I would be wearing florals of some kind (and I never regretted it!) and that my outfits would be incredibly simple.

So if you're like me, grab that floral dress from Zara and pair it with your Bryr clogs. If you want to go more minimal, stick with a silk shirt and high waisted black Levi's with mules and have your guy wear a floral tie with a chambray shirt or under a summer suit coat. When it comes to patterns, I always tell my couples - if one of you has a bold pattern you want to make sure the other is wearing solids so you don’t clash patterns or colors (ie, don't wear polka dots if he's wearing flannel!) This is one of the biggest things I can stress!

Do wear //  Add accessories and layers to whatever you wear - bring a few long sweaters or a leather jacket, if you want to, to pair with your main outfit. Wear scarves in the winter or rompers in the summer. Jumpsuits are adorable, as are stacked rings and long necklaces. Be playful and bold, but creative and uniquely you. For guys, button-up shirts rolled up at the sleeves look amazing. Add a denim jacket, suit coat or suspenders and you’re killing it. Jeans rolled up slightly at the bottom with boots  always looks good. Show off your tattoos if you have them.

What to avoid // Avoid clothing that can easily show bra straps or can be see through, revealing undergarments. Wear comfortable shoes! Get your make-up trial done the day of your portraits to give yourself that extra confidence boost. Avoid tennis shoes, sneakers, baseball caps and shirts with logos at all costs!

That being said, this session is probably the best reason for you to buy that Anthropologie dress you’ve had your eye on for the past few months. You have a floor length black velvet dress you never get to wear? Wear it. If you were ever going to wear that jumpsuit you got from Free People, now is the time. 

How to prepare //  I recommend wearing your outfits at least once before we shoot to make sure everything feels as good as you look. I trust your style, so break the rules if you want to. You’ll look incredible. (And just to get you inspired, I’ve put together a Pinterest board of engagement style inspiration with some tips to help you find the right clothes for your shoot!) 

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To sum all of that up, your engagement photos are about who the two of you are, together. They're more than just pretty photos in pretty light - they'll be the photos you'll look back on to see your everyday together, who you really were in this season of life.

That's a really, really beautiful thing. Let's make it count.