An experienced officiant shares key information on optimizing weddings in a natural setting.
Nature is beautiful and romantic, therefore gardens and beaches make absolutely lovely settings for wedding ceremonies. They are ripe with potential for spectacular photographs.
Alas, an outdoor ceremony also has the potential for disaster. Nature is unpredictable and as much as we would like to believe all will be well, the sad truth is that the weather doesn't care who is getting married at any particular moment in time.
As odd as this sounds, if you have your heart absolutely set on an outdoor wedding ceremony, you probably shouldn't plan one. These occasions demand a bridal couple willing to make accommodations if inclement weather threatens the event. I recommend the following if you are interested in exchanging your vows in the great outdoors.
1. Know the general climate and weather patterns of your wedding location like the back of your hand. Although, Florida is known as the Sunshine State it could just as easily be called the Intermittent Thunderstorm State or Unbelievably Hot and Humid State. I have encountered couples from up north who planned destination weddings here and honestly did not realize how uncomfortable the summer months are, even at sunrise and sunset. Even in the shade, temperatures routinely exceed 90 degrees in July and August. Likewise, it can come as a surprise to some people that we do have days during the winter that are downright cold. I once officiated a wedding on New Year's Day where the poor bride and bridesmaids shivered through the entire thing in their strapless gowns on a day with a high I'm not sure exceeded 40 degrees. Whether you are getting married in Florida, Alaska or somewhere in between, know what to reasonable expect.
2. Arrange in advance for an alternative location for inclement or uncomfortable weather. No one should ever plan an outdoor wedding without having an alternative venue lined up just in case it's rainy, too hot, too windy or too cold. If you're getting married at a hotel, country club, or other such venue that routinely books weddings, you're likely to have a back up location readily available. If your preferred venue does not have convenient shelter on site, either arrange for something else relatively close by as your back up or strike it off your list and move on to your next choice. This holds true whether you have two guests or two hundred. Have a back up plan!
3. Be prepared to use your alternative venue and have someone else make the decision when the time comes. Brides can become emotionally attached to their mental expectations of the wedding and therefore are not the best person to make the call when inclement weather threatens the ceremony. A wedding planner, venue staff, officiant, family member or friend with sound judgment should be allowed to determine whether or not the ceremony will proceed outdoors as planned. For example, as Florida is the lightning capital of the world, I will be the "bad guy" and move a ceremony indoors if I feel safety is an issue. I certainly hope brides would prefer to be married indoors than see someone struck by lightning at their wedding.
4. Be mindful of comfort as well as inclement weather. Rain may wreck havoc with hairstyles, sound equipment, musical instruments and the officiant's text thereby sending everyone inside, but that's not the only thing to consider when planning an outdoor wedding. Keep your comfort and your guests' comfort in mind. If the temperature falls below 50 or exceeds 80 you really should consider using your alternative indoor venue. Don't put the men in three piece suits or black tuxedos if the weather is expected to be hot. Position the ceremony in a shady spot on hot days. While the bride may only be at the ceremony for 15-20 minutes, the guests can be sitting out there waiting for it to begin for half an hour or more. Choosing a shady location also makes for better photographs as it is pretty much impossible to remove squinting with photo editing software.
5. If it is in your budget, hire professionals to handle the decorations for an outdoor wedding rather than doing it yourself. Wedding planning companies and some florists can provide packages that include chairs, flowers, arches and other such structures to enhance the location and provide a visual focal point for your wedding. The advantage here is that should weather become an issue, professionals can more easily tear down and reassemble your decorations than you could. In their capable hands, you won't have to scramble at the last minute and break a sweat. Additionally, they have the experience to know what kind of decorations hold up to the elements better than others. I've seen a lot of do-it-yourself efforts turn out wonderfully, but unfortunately, I've also seen too many fall flat - once quite literally.
6. Consider an indoor venue with access to a beautiful natural setting for your portraits instead. You can always get married inside and then take advantage of the beauty and romance of nature during the post-ceremony picture taking. Here in Florida, many beachfront hotels have ballrooms and restaurants with glass walls or huge windows overlooking the beach. You can get married in the comfort of air conditioning without any risk of wind or rain ruining your decorations (and hair!) and then step out onto the beach for spectacular portraits. Likewise, public parks and gardens will often have an event facility enabling you to get married in comfort and photographed in nature.
Lest I sound too negative regarding outdoor weddings, I can assure you I have officiated oodles of successful weddings in natural settings. I would estimate at least 75% of the weddings I officiate take place outside and by far, most are perfectly fine. It's the exceptions that stick in the memory and all of these would have been helped tremendously with the considerations above.
Be realistic and flexible and you'll do just fine!