Planning a Beach Wedding
by Chris Mann
Planning a beach wedding may sound like it should be easier than planning a ceremony in a house of worship–but there are some alternate factors to take into account. It can be a good idea to do a site visit well ahead of the wedding day to make sure that the location is exactly what you envision.
The Beach Location
It’s worth taking some time to choose this carefully. Getting married in front of the hotel or resort at which you are staying is the most convenient, but bear in mind that the beach may be crowded and there will most likely be onlookers watching the ceremony. They also may appear in the background of your wedding photographs! If privacy is important to you, find out if there is a more secluded beach that you can use–even if it means arranging transportation for the wedding. Find out if the beach is relatively flat, or shelves steeply. Make sure there is enough space between the high tide line and the back of the beach to accommodate your wedding set-up—especially if you have many guests and are planning to seat them. If it’s a remote beach, make sure that there is easy, especially if older or family members or guests with special needs will attend.
North, South, East or West?
Consider which way the beach faces. If there are tall trees or buildings nearby, they may cast a shadow on the beach at your preferred wedding time, depending on the time of year. You may also have strong sunlight shining directly in your eyes and those of your guests. Get local advice from the venue, or your photographer or wedding planner.
Beaches that face the prevailing wind tend to collect weed and other flotsam that is washed ashore – this can look very unattractive. Resorts that are located on such beaches will usually sweep the beach once or twice a day, but only the area in front of their property. Sometimes washed-up debris is only a problem at certain times of the year, so again you should seek local advice.
Quality of the Beach
A beach is not just a beach; the sand can vary in color and texture anywhere from fine white powder to black volcanic grit or pebbles. Make sure to find out what the texture and color of the beach actually is, and don’t rely on brochure photographs! Very fine, soft sand is more comfortable underfoot, but can be a nuisance if a strong breeze is blowing.
What Time Should You Get Married on the Beach?
This is probably the most important question, especially if you plan to get married in a tropical destination.
Generally, the optimum time is about an hour to an hour and a half before sunset, for a number of reasons. Earlier times may be too hot to be comfortable when the sun is strong and high. This can make it hard to avoid squinting and creating hard, unflattering shadows. The “golden hour” when the sun is low and the day has cooled a little, is the preferred time for beach photography.
Having said this, don’t be tempted to schedule your ceremony too close to the actual sunset. Weddings have a tendency to start late, and it’s better to have ten or fifteen minutes in hand to sip a glass of champagne with your guests, than to wind up having your wedding photos taken in the dark! In the tropics, the sun sets at a steeper angle to the horizon than it does further north, which means that it seems to set more quickly and the period of twilight is shorter. Again, your photographer can offer his or her local knowledge on this.
It’s hot on the beach! When choosing your wedding dress bridal party attire, remember you will be standing in the sun for quite a while. Clothing that feels comfortable in a cooler climate or in air-conditioning may be unbearably hot in a warmer location. This especially applies if the groom and groomsmen are planning to rent tuxedos, which can often be too hot and uncomfortable.
Lightweight, breathable, natural fabrics are best—such as cotton or linen. Don’t forget that a beach wedding is usually less formal, so there’s less of a need to dress up.
Hair and Makeup
Again, the hot climate has an impact—it’s a good idea to use a local hairdresser and/or makeup artist who will know which products will work in the heat. You may also want to have a test-run to make sure that our hair and makeup plans are going to be suitable.
Chairs, Tables, Arches, Chuppahs, and Gazebos
Decide if you want your planner to provide any kind of “wedding furniture.” Beach ceremonies tend to be a lot shorter than ceremonies in a house of worship, but you may want to consider having chairs for your guests, especially if many people are likely to attend. Having the guests seated during the ceremony is not only more comfortable for them, but makes it easier for the photographer and videographer to get a clear unobstructed view of the ceremony.
Usually, you will want a table and a couple of chairs for the signing of the marriage register.
A decorative arch, chuppah, or canopy is also worth considering. Something that provides shade for you during the ceremony is useful, but consult with your wedding planner and photographer to make sure that it isn’t going to hide you from view! Also, elaborate arches with palm fronds can cast distracting shadows on your faces.
Music and Sound
If you plan to have music at your wedding, or you want your guests to be able to hear your minister’s pronouncements and your vows, consider that you may need to arrange for a PA system with a radio mike. Your wedding planner can advise on this, but bear in mind what may be permitted at the location.
Research the weather in your chosen location. Some countries have a well-defined rainy season; others may not, but have heavy tropical showers that can occur during the afternoon and evening. You can find bargains on accommodation in low season—for example in September and October, which is “hurricane season” in the Caribbean—but remember you may be taking a chance on the weather. It’s possible for bad weather to occur at any time of year, so having a backup plan is wise.
Most people opting for a beach wedding are looking for a relaxed, casual style. Photographers who specialize in beach weddings will know how to achieve this, but will also be able to accommodate a few posed formal pictures of the bride and groom with the wedding party. It’s a good idea to get these family group shots done right after the ceremony. This allows guests to relax with a drink while your photographer takes you and your new spouse off for some romantic sunset images together on the beach. You may also want to arrange for some shots in the gardens of the resort where you are staying, before the ceremony, or even a “getaway” photo session in casual clothes on a different day from the wedding, perhaps at a different, more secluded location.
Chris Mann is a photographer/videographer with Tropical Imaging, specialists in Caribbean destination weddings and portraits, and the leading photo company in the Turks & Caicos Islands, BWI.
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