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.

Rachel and Jonathan's Nashville Engagement - Rainbows in Winter

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Rachel and Jonathan and I spent an afternoon roaming around their wedding venue, Historic Rock Castle just north of Nashville. In typical Tennessee weather, we were lucky enough to get a beautiful spring-like day for their Nashville engagement photos in the woods, and we made rainbows out of winter. That's the best way I know how to describe the light in the trees - it was like hidden rainbows just waiting to be found.

More than excited to photograph their Nashville wedding this June. Can't wait, you two. 

Thomas & Stephanie's Aria Minneapolis Wedding

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Published in Cake & Lace, industrial brick, towering chandeliers, and hundreds of flower stems hanging upside down above a head table made Stephanie and Thomas' Minneapolis wedding entirely different from the norm. Their sleek, elegant taste combined with the industrial feel of Aria Minneapolis made their Minneapolis wedding in February feel so different from any winter wedding in Minnesota I’ve seen before. The tiniest details were planned to ensure that every part of their wedding fit their elegant and industrial vibe. Stephanie and her mother handcrafted Stephanie’s wedding dress to perfection, making beaded sleeves and a top tulle skirt on back for added flair. Timeless and stylish, Thomas and Stephanie’s Minneapolis wedding was everything elegant, dramatic, and lovely. 

Huge thanks to my beautiful friend Lydia Jane for helping me shoot this Minneapolis wedding!

Vendors

Planner: Lasting Impressions Weddings // Venues: Wooddale Church Edina and Aria Minneapolis

Florals: Pristine Floral // Dress: Bride custom designed (base from Posh Minnesota)

Hair: Angie Funder // Make-up: Y'knot Beauty

 Linens: Linen Effects // Caterer: Crave Catering MN // Smores Bar: North Mallow

 

 

 

 

 

The Getting Ready Guide (For Best Wedding Photos)

The morning of a wedding is one of my favorite parts of the day. There's an electricity in the air, the kind that only comes from intense joy and excitement (and that really good playlist your friends made you). All of this makes for really beautiful photos, especially the storytelling kind. 

I can say that some of my best memories come from the morning of my own wedding when it was just me with my mom, sister and best friends from college drinking endless cups of coffee, dancing and getting hair and make-up started. These moments are incredible to document, no matter what you choose. Some weddings start with a huge brunch for the bridal party, others with sunrise yoga or a morning hike and some with a slow morning at home. More than anything, these moments need to be entirely you and no matter how you start your day, it's going to be amazing. By no means is this guide a list of "have-tos" - my hope is that it serves as an aid to help us work together to make the most beautiful getting ready photos for you that we can.


1. Lighting

One of the questions I'm asked the most is where lighting is best throughout the entire wedding day - but especially in the getting ready moments. It's common for the bridal party to get ready in a hotel room, a bedroom or a kitchen and while this makes sense for space, good lighting is often hard to find in these places. (For tips on lighting for your entire wedding day, feel free to wander over to my lighting guide which goes more into depth on all of this!)

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The most ideal situation is that there are two windows in the room on different sides so that the whole room is lit well (and that also helps me get those great candid shots of your best people sipping mimosas and hanging out on the couch). The farther you are from a window, the harder the light is to work with. That being said, I completely understand that this isn't feasible for every wedding. Regardless of what the room is like, the bride should have her hair and make-up done (if at all possible) next to a window. I can't stress enough how important this is - and I'll have her put on her dress next to a window, and the veil, and the shoes, everything. 

After communicating with your hair and make-up artists, I almost always keep all lights in the room off so that the gorgeous natural light from the window can fill the room in a beautiful way. No one wants that ugly yellow or orange glow around their face that so many overhead lights in places like hotel rooms/salons can cause. 

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Pretty light like this also gives us so many more opportunities to take some gorgeous bridal portraits after the getting ready process is finished. (Jesse and Lacey's wedding in northeast Minneapolis was one of my favorite getting ready locations I've ever had - see their full wedding here for photo inspiration!)

To sum up, the worst places for lighting in getting ready locations will always be in a dark room with no natural light source (ie, a window) OR in a situation where the bride/bridal party is positioned away from the windows in a darker corner. 

2. Location

As I said above, it makes so much sense that so many people traditionally choose to get ready in hotel rooms and odd rooms of their homes because it makes logistical sense (ie, there's more space or there are more outlets in the bathroom). I completely understand this and no matter the getting ready location, we will work with it. 

That being said, in my experience the best getting ready locations are ones with good lighting (see above!) and unique locations. Why not look and see if you can find an Airbnb close to your venue instead of staying at a standard hotel? Airbnbs can really give so much character to the first half of your day (which typically includes your detail photos, getting ready photos and sometimes even bridal portraits). Typically they're even less expensive than hotels and way more fun to spend the night before in. 

Finally, if you invest time into finding a great getting ready location, make sure the clutter of the morning is at least somewhat contained. No one wants to see suitcases, make-up bags and clothes everywhere in their wedding photos. I'm not saying every inch of space needs to be picture perfect, just try to keep it "real life" while also being mindful of mess throughout your getting ready space. 

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Another option would be asking a friend or family member who owns or has access to a beautiful space with natural light if you can borrow their house/apartment/studio for the morning. If you're wondering about whether a space is well lit, feel free to reach out! I'd love to talk with you and help in any way that I can. 

And sometimes there are hidden gems for getting ready locations in your own home - if you have rooms that are well-lit, large windows and a clean looking setting (white walls are a plus!) or even a nice screened in porch (see image below!) these can be incredible locations for your wedding day that you already have access to. 

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3. Hair and make-up

Hair and make-up running late is the number one stressor on a wedding day. Running late so early in the day can push the entire timeline back a full hour or more. What suffers then are your photos - photo time is crunched into a tiny space that doesn't allow us all of the time we need. At times, I've seen hair and make-up go a full two hours later than planned. 

How to avoid this? Hire a professional to do your hair and make-up. They're much more apt to stick to the day of timeline and they know exactly what they're doing. The last thing you want to be concerned about on your wedding day is whether your make-up and hair looks like you want it to, and with good professionals, it absolutely will.

Finally, add in some extra time for you to relax and enjoy your morning, because it's your wedding and you should do exactly what you want to do before the day actually starts. One of the biggest things I stress to my clients is that your wedding day shouldn't be a like a photoshoot - it should be your celebration, with your people, and I'll be there to document everything as the day unfolds. If you have a favorite place to get lunch, plan time to grab lunch with the people you want to spend time with the most. If you're into hiking, go on a morning hike before you get ready - grab that extra cup of coffee - take time to do your favorite yoga practice - make this time of day uniquely yours and I promise you won't regret a second of it. 


I so hope this getting ready guide was both informative and helpful - feel free to drop me an email at nicola@nicolaharger.com with any questions!

I'm always here to help.