How to Plan a Central Park Wedding, Perfectly

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

On Friday I had the pleasure of photographing Nancy and Reggie’s beautiful wedding at the Cop Cot in Central Park. Their ceremony was a stellar example of how to get married in Central Park. While most people assume you can simply show up and get hitched anywhere in the park (you basically can), there are some tricks you need to know to before planning your Central Park wedding:

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Keep it small. First rule of thumb: size matters. While Central Park is vast, the size of the facilities used to hold a wedding within the park are small. (The largest space holds a maximum of 100 people.) And since the public is always present, you can expect to gain a few more guests just by drawing a crowd.

Here is a list of all the suggested locations for weddings in Central Park:

  • Cop Cot (max. 50 ppl.): 60th St., close to Central Park South in the center of the park
  • Ladies Pavilion (Gazebo, max. 20-25 ppl.): 77nd St. and West Drive
  • Wagner Cove (Gazebo, max. 20-25 ppl.): 72nd St. west of Cherry Hill at the edge of the lake
  • Cherry Hill (max. 100 ppl.): Off of the 72nd St. Transverse, just east of West Drive
  • Harlem Meer (max. 100 ppl.): 110th St. and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.
  • Shakespeare Garden (max. 20-25 ppl.): 79th St. and West Drive
  • Bethesda Terrace /Bethesda Fountain (25 ppl.): Off of 72nd St. Tranverse in the center of the park
  • Cedar Hill (max. 50 ppl.): 79th St. and 5th Ave. on the east side of the park
  • Great Hill (max. 100 ppl.): West 103rd St.
  • Gapstow Bridge (max. 20-25 ppl.): 59th St. Pond, off of Central Park West and 5th Ave.
  • Belvedere Plaza (max. 20-25 ppl.): No access to castle
  • Bow Bridge (max. 20-25 ppl.)
  • The Pool Lawn (max. 80 ppl.): Between West 101st and 102nd Sts., north lawn of pool
  • Summit Rock (max. 80 ppl.): 83rd St. and Central Park West

Plan for rain. Unlike in Prospect Park, which has the Boathouse and the Picnic House, there are no covered facilities to hold a wedding in Central Park. Instead, you are left with outdoor options and these mainly consist of either standing outside on a hill or underneath a vine-covered canopy, such as the Cop Cot. Tents are not allowed, so if it rains, you are stuck. Bad weather seems to always be a distinct possibility in NYC, so plan accordingly. Have a back up plan of where to go – I recommend underneath the Mosaic Arch, the Dairy, or underneath a nearby bridge.

Guests arriving to the Cop Cot at a Central Park wedding

Get a planner, or at least assign a few assistants. It may seem like overkill to have a planner if your wedding is going to be so small, but here is where the planner comes in handy: shooing away the public. When you get married in Central Park, you are never allowed to shut out the masses. You can request that people leave a space if you have secured a permit (required if you have a guest count of 20 or more), but no one is required to vacate the space. With everything you will have happening at the same time on your wedding day, a planner is helpful to kindly let the public know that a wedding will be taking place, stand guard in front of the space to keep anyone out, and to direct arriving guests to the ceremony area.

In the case of Nancy and Reggie’s wedding, the couple went with the wedding planning company, A Central Park Wedding. Jennifer Schoenfeld, the planner, was immensely helpful as the contact to receive the flower delivery, coordinate the rehearsal the day before, and be the point person to run interference with all over vendors – such as the officiant and me, the photographer. While Jennifer stood at the busy corner of Central Park South and Sixth Avenue to greet guests, her assistant was standing up the path clearing out the public, standing guard, and serving as a welcoming face to the guests as they arrived. If you have guests who are coming from out of town and they are unfamiliar with Central Park, then a greeter is a real asset who can meet guests at a designated spot and direct them into the park. Remember that cars are not allowed in the center of park, and so there is no taxi or Uber delivery of guests to your ceremony location.

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Pick your battles. As I have found from six years of NYC wedding photography experience, most couples who get married in Central Park are looking to recreate iconic wedding photos at the Bethesda Fountain, Mosaic Arch, and Bow Bridge. These are beautiful locations, but you have to bear in mind that they are beautiful spots to everyone else as well. If you wander through the park on any day, at just about any time of day, you will find couples lined up (literally) waiting for their turn to take these iconic photos. I have my own opinion, but let me just say this: you can either get that perfect shot, or you can have your wedding at a reasonable time of day – not both.

To get the perfect shot of a bride and groom at Bethesda Fountain, you need to get married at 8:00 a.m. on a Monday. (And as I found with my clients Andrea and John, even then you run into traffic from an artistic music video being shot at the same time.) If you are getting married late in the afternoon on a weekend, you can expect that they park will be crazy crowded and that perfect shot you want will be impossible. As such, go into the photo process after (or before) your wedding with the idea that the perfect shot would be nice, but it is probably not going to happen. Get married at a time that will be most accommodating to your guests, and then schedule your fantasy photo shoot at a time for optimal light and crowd control – 8:00 a.m. on a Monday. If that is not possible for your schedule, know that there are plenty of spots around the park where you can get wonderful, beautiful, unique photos that will make your wedding album stand out. But if you want the same iconic shots that everyone else has, you need to go in with low expectations.

Nancy was perfect about this. The Pinterest board she sent me had all the iconic shots on it, but we talked at the rehearsal, and she was completely realistic about her wedding photos. We got some beautiful photos that reflect the sheer joy and happiness that was present on her wedding day, and we made an attempt at the Mosaic Arch shot, but of course life interfered. When we arrived there was a disheveled opera singer belting out the tunes smack dab in the middle of the arch. While the singer held court, I tried to get a backlit shot behind her of the couple. It’s not a great shot, and far from the photos of Pinterest legend. Always remember: those perfect shots in Central Park are taken when the park is not crowded and, quite honestly, are mainly with professional models. Learn from them, grasshoppers, get your perfect Central Park shots taken at off-hour times.

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Discover the park’s hidden gems. So if you can’t get married early in the morning, don’t worry. The park is simply beautiful, and there are many, MANY undiscovered gems. In my opinion, north of the park is not utilized near enough. You can have a whole meadow to yourself if you simply go above 82nd Street. This goes for couples getting married and anyone wanting a portrait within the park as well. Case in point, as I type this I am on the road to 96th Street for a family portrait. When doing my venue check I found beautiful areas that I had never been to with camera in hand. Like most New Yorkers, we get into a location rut and never venture out of our comfort zone. It is time to start – go north, people!

Don’t worry about your dress getting dirty. Central Park does not have carpeting, it has grass. If you have a long dress, expect for the bottom edge to get nearly ruined in the process of walking around for photos. Again, cars are not allowed in the park, so you really have to walk from photo location to photo location. Wear a short dress and leave the diva attitude at home. Nancy was fantastic about her dress, and while it wasn’t ruined, it was definitely soiled. That said, the dirt will be totally unnoticeable in her photos. Have a good dry cleaner on call, and roll with it.

Wear comfortable shoes. Again, Nancy was my perfect bride. She wore chic grey boots to her wedding and was a trooper making the fifteen minute walk from the Cop Cot to the Bethesda Fountain. Wherever you go in the park, you are going to be walking, and normally over rough terrain. Some of the most beautiful photos are taken from on top of large boulders so that you get a view of the park plus the city skyline. You can only get this view if you and your feet can carry you there. Wear your comfortable shoes and change into your stilettos when you get to your photo destination – though even with this plan, keep in mind that your feet will be sinking into soft grass. Better to just stay with flats – or even better, boots!

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Totally bring a musician… Nancy hired a cellist for the ceremony as part of her wedding package. It was fantastic to hear live music in the park, and the performance added a wonderful ambience to the ceremony. Now note that I said ‘bring a musician,’ not an orchestra. As with your guest count, keep it small. Also, bear in mind that any musicians will need to truck in their instruments by foot. I did a wedding at the Ladies Pavilion where the leader of the jazz quartet performed (only him) at the ceremony, but had to carry in his piano. For the sake if your performer’s back, only do this if your location is close to the entrance of the park.

…But don’t bring flowers. A bouquet, absolutely, but the park does not allow decorating of the spaces for your ceremony. That is, technically you aren’t allowed to have flowers. I shot a wedding this year where they did bring decorations for the ceremony, but removed the flowers afterwards, and in an act of random kindness, distributed the flowers to people who passed by in the park. It was a lovely end to a sweet ceremony and a great use of the decorations. Bottom line, leave the park as you find it so no trash, leftover decorations, flower petals, or god forbid, confetti or rice. For Nancy and Reggie’s ceremony, the only flowers were in Nancy’s stunning bouquet that was punctuated with succulents as a shout out to her home state of California. The vines come free with the reservation at Cop Cot. Oh, and in case you get tempted, no picking flowers in the park either.

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

No open bar. Along with the no flowers rule, is the no alcohol rule. It may be tempting to pop open a bottle of bubbly, but do so on the down low. At Nancy and Reggie’s ceremony, we had two motorcycle cops randomly show up at the wedding. Seriously, they revved their motorcycles up to the top of Cop Cot at the end of the ceremony, I guess just to make sure there was no criminal activity? I’m not sure what they were doing there, but they were super friendly. (I was tempted to get a shot of the bride and groom with the cops, but time was ticking down.) You never know when the police are going to show up in NYC, so hide your hooch.

Have a plan for your guests after your ceremony. It’s doubtful that your reception will be in the park, and I’m sure you will want to take photos of you and your beloved in the beautiful environs. Unless you plan for all of your guests to accompany you throughout the park as you take photos, do what Nancy and Reggie wisely did and open your reception reservation early to your guests. At the end of the ceremony, Nancy announced to her guests where to go for the open bar. That was a motivating call, and we then proceeded throughout the park to take photos.

I always recommend that photos of you and your new spouse should be taken alone. It is nerve-wracking enough to be photographed. If you then add to this process an entourage staring at your every movement, you can see how it is difficult to appear natural in front of the camera. (Don’t forget you’ll have the added entourage of foreign tourists taking your photo as you traipse through Central Park – wearing a white dress is like waving a red flag in front of a bull to tourists.) It is inevitable that your friends will whip out their phones and try to make an Instagram moment of the whole thing. You don’t know where to look – their camera or mine? – which is distracting to the entire photo-taking process, thus lengthening the amount of time it takes to get your portrait done and get you to your cocktail hour. Want to keep your photo time short? Then send your guests ahead to your reception and spend some quality time alone with your photographer. And that advice goes for any wedding, no matter the location.

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t give you details on the happy couple. Nancy and Reggie met years ago through mutual friends at a rum bar in California. At the end of the evening, Reggie told Nancy that his phone ‘died,’ and that she should take his phone number. While she would have liked him to be the traditional pursuer in this case, Nancy said that she would take his digits, text him once, and then delete his number. That was motivating. Reggie texted her with the words, ‘Why can’t I stop thinking about you?’ and well, they have been together ever since.

The proposal was equally as dramatic: after a day of ziplining in Cancun, Reggie came up to Nancy with his smelly glove in hand. ‘I think there’s something in here; can you help me get it out?’, he said. Annoyed, Nancy proceeds to shake the glove upside down, and as she does so, the engagement ring goes flying across the room. The proposal was a complete surprise, but she did say yes. The circle will be complete when the happy couple returns to Puerto Vallarta on their honeymoon. Enjoy the photos!

Ceremony venue: Cop Cot, Central Park

Event planner: Jennifer Schoenfeld, A Central Park Wedding

Flowers: Artsy Flora, through A Central Park Wedding

Reception venue: Riverpark Restaurant

Guests arriving to the Cop Cot at a Central Park wedding

Guests arriving to the Cop Cot at a Central Park wedding

Cellist at a Central Park wedding

Groom waiting at a Central Park weddingBride arriving at a Central Park wedding

Bride arriving at a Central Park wedding

Bride arriving at a Central Park wedding

Bride arriving at a Central Park wedding

Boutonniere pinning at a Central Park wedding

Groom waiting at a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park weddingCeremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park weddingCeremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Guests hugging at a Central Park wedding

Guests at a Central Park wedding

Guests at a Central Park wedding

Guests at a Central Park wedding

Guests at a Central Park wedding

Guests at a Central Park wedding

Ceremony at the Cop Cot for a Central Park wedding

Guests at a Central Park wedding

Portraits at the Cop Cot after a Central Park wedding

Portraits at the Cop Cot after a Central Park wedding

Portraits at the Cop Cot after a Central Park wedding

Portraits at the Cop Cot after a Central Park wedding

Portraits at the Cop Cot after a Central Park wedding

Portraits at the Cop Cot after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and her father after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

Bride and groom portraits after a Central Park wedding

If you would like to see more images from my portfolio, such as these Central Park wedding photos, please visit my website – www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com

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