Let’s be real for a second: All those gorgeous, glittery wedding planning ideas you’ve saved on Pinterest? They’re probably from staged shoots—not real weddings—and photographed in tiny spaces. Filling a wedding venue with oversized florals, rose-covered backdrops, a la Kim and Kanye, and dazzling overhead lanterns is not exactly cheap.
So what’s a bride or groom with champagne taste (and a beer budget) to do? We asked some of the top experts in the biz how to make a wedding unforgettable—and so photographable—for way less.
1. Add bright colors.
Every wedding will involve linens and fabrics of some kind, whether it’s tablecloths, napkins, drapery, or even wedding party attire. Instead of opting for soft pastels or shades of white, go bold and perk up your ceremony and reception space with bright colors.
“Color is always free,” says Kait Rovnyak, lead event planner at AaB Creates. “Too often people go with very soft palettes, when a bold color scheme—a pink tablecloth and an orange napkin—would liven up the entire event and photograph beautifully, especially in an outdoor venue.”
She also recommends spray-painting simple glass vases, wooden table numbers (from the dollar store!), and other inexpensive, simple items to brighten them up and turn them into notable, Instagram-worthy details.
2. Choose local plants and flowers.
Local seasonal blooms will always cost less than exotic, hard-to-find flowers, so factor that in when working with your florist to design bouquets, centerpieces, and other décor items. Photographer Jillian Mitchell says that she’s even had clients use blooms found on-site at their venues to decorate chuppahs, escort card tables, and place settings.
“A perfect example is this bamboo chuppah with bougainvillea picked on the grounds of Teitiare where the wedding took place. Super simple, but absolutely perfect for a Mexican wedding,” she says.
“[Another planner at a Mexican wedding] placed a simple palm on the place setting of this event, which added the perfect touch of tropical,” she notes.
3. Use home décor items to liven up your reception space.
Do you have bold décor items in your home that you love? Repurpose them at your wedding by placing them on escort card tables or using them as centerpieces. Or, if you’re still in the decorating process, use your wedding as an opportunity to purchase home décor items you’ve been coveting and show them off first at your wedding. They’ll be forever imbued with memories of your big day.
“We have had clients use oversized geodes, statues of Buddha, and even a large, taxidermy peacock as display pieces on their escort card tables,” Rovnyak says. “They were ‘expensive’ for wedding items, but not for things that they would want to keep in their homes and own for years to come.
Rovnyak also loves books, antique candlesticks, Chinese vases and other knick knack–type displays, as well plant accents—all of which can be pulled from your home or borrowed from friends and family members.
4. Be creative with your escort cards.
You’ve undoubtedly seen photos online of escort cards that feature skeleton keys, framed photos, knick-knacks, or other items that are expensive to buy in bulk. But if you think outside the box, you can turn a simple escort card display into a dazzling décor element for just a few dollars.
Take this fruity escort card idea that Mitchell photographed at a destination wedding.
“I'm in love with these limes-turned-escort-cards,” she says. “These were handwritten by a bride.”
These require nothing more than a bag of limes, a bit of kraft or other thick paper, and some twine. Handwrite your guests’ names on the paper and away you go! A gorgeous display you can make with items from the grocery store.
5. Jazz up the walk down the aisle.
Walking down the aisle to say your vows is one of the most nerve-wracking and exciting moments of your life, so why not make it as memorable as possible? Send flower girls and ring bearers down the aisle with balloons, sweet signs, or paper pinwheels to add some color and excitement to your photos, or have just the bride walk down the aisle for a distinctive and impactful image.
Plus, adds Mitchell, your photographer can turn the walk down the aisle into an Instagram-worthy moment by flexing their creative muscles. She says, “As far as interesting images, I think that's up to the photographer. I love getting different angles as the wedding party walks down the aisle. From the side, behind the groom et cetera.”