When finalizing a location for your outdoor ceremony or reception, the importance of your surroundings can make or break everything from your wedding photos to your overall design aesthetic. With you and your new spouse the obvious focal point on your big day, it’s nice to offer your guests something just as enjoyable to look at during the day’s various celebrations. Whether exchanging vows in front of a beautiful mountain peak or opting for a sandy walk down the aisle on a beach retreat, there is an unlimited number of backdrops that guarantee a swoon-worthy panorama.
When talking to the experts about planning a wedding in front of some of the most breathtaking views in the world, we were shocked to find that there are multiple factors to consider so that you (and your chosen wedding style!) aren’t competing with the natural beauty of your surroundings. Using a complementary color scheme with hues found within your landscape, rather than competing with them, is an element that should never be overlooked. Maximizing your space to fit both your guest list and your backdrop is another factor that can transform the feel of your day.
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 formulate the essentials for planning an outdoor wedding that can keep up with the most visionary of couples. Here are 19 tips and pics for stunning outdoor weddings that will get the creative juices flowing!
Be considerate of your altar
For a ceremony with a scenic backdrop, Neillie Butler, owner and executive planner of Mariée Ami, wants to caution 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.
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 peak 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, Lynn Easton, founder and creative director of Easton Events, included 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.
Incorporate outdoor tents
Encouraging an obstruction-free perspective (no matter the weather) is one reason that makes tents 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.
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 your 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.
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 (pre-I Dos) that 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.
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 couple 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,” says Bolar, adding, “which typically occurs right before sunset.”
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 assure 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,” she adds.
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.
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.
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, co-founder 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 where created out of one large open space, allowing for outstanding views post-I dos.
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, co-founder of Sterling Social, wasn’t swayed by the tricky hills of this outdoor service, instead, opting 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 complementing than distracting.
Take advantage of scenic gardens
An unconventional, yet captivating option for a picturesque ceremony or al fresco dinner, garden venues offer an abundance of lush backgrounds that provide one-of-a-kind outdoor views. Kerstin Lindgren, event planner at Fearrington Village, agrees adding, “gardens offer serene backdrops that conjure up thoughts of charming parties and perfect picnics.”
Utilize destination venues
Set in San Miguel Mexico, Genevieve De Manio, owner of Genevieve de Manio Photography, embraced the uniqueness of the event’s 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 adds.