With wide-open spaces, stunning mountain backdrops, or crashing waves on the beach, it's certainly not difficult to see why more and more couples are choosing outdoor weddings. But when finalizing a location for an outdoor ceremony or reception, there are a few things to keep in mind, from your wedding photos to your overall design aesthetic. To guarantee a day-of affair that’s worthy of the most captivating sights, we sat down with the wedding industry’s top planners, photographers, and overall experts to find out the essentials couples should consider when planning an outdoor wedding.
There are multiple factors to consider so that you and your chosen wedding style aren’t competing with the natural beauty of your surroundings, and it's important to create a cohesive look. Maximizing your space to fit both your guest list and your backdrop can transform the feeling of your day. As it turns out, there really is a bit of a science to it, but ultimately, it's all about finding ways to best work with your stunning ceremony locale.
Read on for 19 ideas to keep in mind for pulling off a stunning outdoor wedding.
Be Considerate of Your Altar
For a ceremony with a scenic backdrop, Neillie Butler, owner and executive planner of Mariée Ami, cautions couples not to block the views of their site when deciding on the style of their altar. “Keep the altar simple so nature and the couple can be the focus,” says Butler.
Get Ready With Your View
Don’t just save the view for your I dos. Christine Viola, director of events at Exquisite Affairs Productions, encourages couples to reserve a space for their pre-wedding pampering that allows them to embrace the outstanding landscape. “Having an impeccable photo to document the noteworthy aspect of a couple getting ready before their day is often overlooked,” she says.
Optimize Decor Placement
By strategizing the arrangement of decor used for this California affair, Laurie Arons, founder of Laurie Arons Special Events, guaranteed each guest a glimpse of the scenic location. “Our bride fell in love with the view at this hilltop private estate in Napa Valley,” says Arons “So, we placed the escort display to ensure all guests would walk to the edge of the property to take in the view.” The use of an open brassy frame allowed for the valley to peek through, both in photos and in person.
Bring in the Elements
Celebrate your scenery and the natural landscape with a tablescape that uses tie-ins to your location. For this wedding held on a ranch in Telluride, Colorado, Lynn Easton, founder and creative director of Easton Events, incorporated softness inspired by the color palette of the environment to create a tablescape worthy of an outdoor celebration. “Tan linens were layered with cream silk runners and tonal place settings for an effect that felt as though you were sitting in the middle of the field,” she says.
Make the Landscape the Focal Point
Photos backed by breathtaking surroundings not only include depth and perspective but can also help provide a focal point that doesn’t take away from the couple. “For this mountain affair, the stunning backdrop was commanding while not distracting,” says Laura Kleinhenz, owner of Docuvitae.
Use a Similar Color Scheme
To avoid a loud or overbearing design aesthetic—which can ultimately take away from the beauty of the natural view—Lauren Emerson, owner of Lauren Emerson Events & Design, suggests keeping your overall style complementary to your environment. “Using colors and textures that you would find in your surroundings will only enhance the experience for you and your guests,” she says.
To create a wholly immersive experience, use flowers and plants in your wedding decor that are native to the locale.
For couples who opt to tie the knot in front of a city backdrop, Jon and Brittani Hon, owners of The Hons, recommend sneaking away to capture candid moments that highlight the chosen city. "We love the dramatic and timeless effect of capturing a photo featuring the New York City skyline during a couple’s big day,” they say. “If you have a chance to sneak out during sunset to a rooftop with a view, we recommend taking that time to connect with your new spouse—away from the crowd—and take some magical golden hour photos.”
Embrace Various Perspectives
For Miki and Sonja, photographers and owners of Miki & Sonja Photography, finding ways to capture the picturesque location from unexpected vantage points makes for undoubtedly dramatic images. “We look for hills or windows in villas that will give us a higher position to capture the environment that our couples might not expect,” they say.
Find Your Light
Planning your ceremony around the day’s best natural light is something that Liz Bolar, general manager and COO of Holman Ranch, recommends. It's best that couples seek a peak time of day to exchange vows during their outdoor service. “To enhance your views, and really capture the essence of your venue, it’s best to plan your vow exchange around the golden hour of daylight, which typically occurs right before sunset," says Bolar.
Seek Unexpected Originality
“If your view features unique characteristics that help to define the character of your landscape, then we always encourage couples to embrace those during their big day,” says Jennifer Thye, owner of Imoni Events. The horses spread throughout the property of this country venue not only added to the view but gave personality to the location itself.
Consider Your Guest List
When facing a large guest list—and a site that doesn’t give much flexibility to excess space—Merilee Hennings, owner of EverAfter Events, encourages couples to strategize layout options beforehand that will ensure your views won’t become compromised on the day of your event. “Instead of one long table, we patterned a geometric design that allowed for everyone to be seated comfortably while still being able to take in the gorgeous setting,” says Hennings.
Anticipate Uneven Terrain
“Expect your rugged outdoor venue to have some pretty uneven landscape,” says Sarah Tivel, founder and creative director of GATHER Events. “The more breathtaking the view, the more unexpected the surface.” Building a stable surface will ensure everything from a solid dance floor to a level environment for your guests. “It’s important to create a solid foundation before setting up your ceremony or reception space,” says Tivel.
Embrace Your Terrace
An elevated space that provides spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, terraces are a venue's best-kept secret. Jamie Lagoyda, senior manager of weddings and events at Auberge Du Soleil, recommends setting up your ceremony space on one of these picturesque platforms.
Incorporate Outdoor Tents
Encouraging an obstruction-free perspective (no matter the weather) is one reason a tent is a great option for creating an elegant space outdoors. “Tents allow you to embrace the most interesting part of your venue, even if it seems unorthodox,” says Julie Bunkley, owner and designer of Invision Events. This grand, all-white structure gave life to this backyard affair.
Consider a clear top tent to maintain the connection with the outdoor environment, not sacrifice any of the views, and have a structure that remains sympathetic (not jarring) to the natural landscape.
Maximize Space and Landscape
“When the views and outdoors are focal points for your event, it's important to maximize your guests’ interaction with these spaces, even if they are limited on the property,” advises Maya Katz, cofounder of Alimay Events, on finding creative ways to utilize your view throughout all aspects of your day. For this unique wedding, the ceremony site and the cocktail area were created out of one large open space, allowing for outstanding views following the ceremony.
Don’t Be Intimated by Your Venue
When working with an exceptional backdrop, don’t worry too much about the logistics when it comes to designing the perfect setup. Erin Sprinkel, cofounder of Sterling Social, wasn’t swayed by the tricky hills of this outdoor service. Instead, the planner and couple opted for a wooden plank to safely bring the bride down the aisle during the ceremony.
Think Minimal Embellishment
"When you choose a venue with jaw-dropping views, you can let the venue speak for itself and not spend a fortune on decor and floral,” says Tessa Brand, owner of Tessa Lyn Events. By letting the mountain surroundings take center stage during this reception setup, the tablescape proved more complementary than distracting.
Take Advantage of Scenic Gardens
An unconventional yet captivating option for a picturesque ceremony or alfresco dinner, garden venues offer an abundance of lush backgrounds that provide one-of-a-kind outdoor views. “Gardens offer serene backdrops that conjure up thoughts of charming parties and perfect picnics,” says Kerstin Lindgren, event planner at Fearrington Village.
Utilize Destination Venues
Genevieve De Manio, owner of Genevieve de Manio Photography, embraced the uniqueness of this San Miguel, Mexico, destination site by capturing photos that showcased some of the landscape’s most stunning architecture. “The candles in the white bags were placed in the shape of the couple’s monogram to give the courtyard a beautiful glow in the evening hours,” she says.