The sun may not have been cooperative on Saturday, but it didn’t matter at all to Jane and Matt at their Westbury Manor wedding. With a rockin’ dance floor that would rival any evening wedding, this afternoon wedding was a delight for guests (and photographers) alike. In today’s blog post I have all the details from this Westbury Manor wedding plus a few tips that should be helpful to couples getting married at any venue.
Tip #1: Get ready in the same location
Jane and Matt got ready at the same hotel: the Hilton Garden Inn Westbury. I was pleasantly surprised by this hotel, as it had a friendly, helpful staff and the rooms were quite spacious. Getting ready in the same location made it easy to take photos of the bride AND groom. All I had to do was walk from Jane in the bridal suite down the hall to Matt’s room. And while there were less, shall we say, extensive preparations being done for the guys to get ready, seeing the groom and groomsmen get gussied up always makes for good photos – especially when it comes to ties.
Tip #2: Practice tying a tie before your wedding day
I have to admit that I am torn about giving this bit of advice. If I am being completely practical, I would advise grooms to practice their tie-tying skills ahead of time, but at the same time, this would deprive me of some classic getting ready photos. Some of my all-time favorite getting ready photos include a groom in the bathroom with his cell phone on a shelf, watching a YouTube video of how to tie a tie. Your wedding day is not the day to try a windsor knot for the first time, but that said, it makes for photo gold.
Tip #3: Put your wedding dress on at the venue, not at the hotel
Westbury Manor has a small, but lovely bridal suite. Even though the hotel was nine minutes away from the venue, Jane wisely chose to put her dress on at the venue rather than risk any wardrobe malfunctions or wrinkles on the way to Westbury Manor. There was just enough space inside the bridal suite to suit up and get some great photos of the girls helping Jane with her dress.
Tip #4: Get photo location tips from the experts – the venue staff
While the evening before had forecast the rain to stop at around 10:00 a.m., it being New York, the weather was predictably unpredictable. It continued to rain through the entire morning, and with the grass being wet, we decided to do all the portraits and the first look indoors. I had originally thought that I would do the first look on the staircase. It’s a quite tight and dark location, but it would have been interesting with the mirrored back wall. Luckily, George – the event coordinator for the day – helpfully suggested that we use the hallway leading out to the garden. With the doors open, there was a glorious amount of natural light, even though it was raining outside. The first look turned out great, and I have to say it was all thanks to George.
The lesson here is to listen to the professionals who see weddings at the venue day after day. They know what works, and what doesn’t. Whenever I do a venue check, I always ask the event coordinator where other photographers take photos. If the family and bridal party photos are always in a specific location, there is probably a good reason why, in terms of background or lighting. I can always choose to go in another direction, but it never hurts to see a venue through the eyes of the people who know it best.
Tip #5: Consider writing letters to one another
Some people may find this wedding tradition a bit sappy, but I absolutely adore it: write letters to one another and read the letters in front of the camera. I don’t need to know what is in the letter – that should remain private – but seeing you read your beloved’s words and your reaction are beautiful moments to capture on camera. Case in point, Jane and Matt reading letters to one another. I swear I did not tell them to hold hands as they read the letters– they needed no direction from me.
Tip #6: Designate a family member as the ‘wrangler’
for your family photos
Family portraits are a stressful part of the wedding day. In Jane and Matt’s case, the 190-person guest list was mainly Jane’s family. There were a LOT of family photos to take, and the family photos all involved large groups. I have to say, however, that this family photo session was a seamless operation, thanks in no small part to the aunts. For each respective side of the family – the bride and groom – a family member was designated as the ‘wrangler.’ Rather than having me call out names of people I do not know, the family wrangler calls people to where the photos are being taken and goes by my list (created with the bride and groom) to get the next group of family members ready. We knocked out all the family photos quickly and efficiently. Seriously, there was military precision involved and it was an impressive affair.
Tip #7: For large family groups, get the DJ involved
The military maneuvers for the rest of the family photos continued at the reception, where we got the DJ involved. Jane and Matt had several large – and I mean LARGE – groups of family members to photograph. Really the only place to take these photos (especially since we couldn’t go outside since it was wet) was the dance floor during the reception. Thankfully, we employed the DJ and his microphone to call people to the dance floor and get the next group ready for photos. It was a efficient operation: I remained on the dance floor, standing on a stool with my wide lens, and the large family groups would simply get in line and be photographed one after another. This is how all family photo sessions should happen at a wedding.
Tip #8: Make use of unique venue details
Westbury Manor has a fascinating history. It was built in the 1880s as a private estate, and passed through a few different hands until it was converted into a restaurant in 1946. There are architecturally interesting nooks and crannies everywhere in the venue, and the building has a lot to offer both guests and photographers. Hence, I was not worried at all when I realized we would be doing all of our photos indoors. The venue has a nice fireplace in the library area, and a covered patio that lets in plenty of natural light. These two areas were the main sets for the bride and groom photos. In addition, Westbury Manor has a grand bar adjacent to the library and a funky set of photo booths that I could not resist using for the bridal party portraits.
Tip #9: Do a fake toss with your bouquet
before letting it rip
The DJ for the evening was great, but he could not understand why I wanted the bride to do a fake toss first before throwing her bouquet to the crowd. Here’s why: if Jane had just staged a shot of her throwing the bouquet, I wouldn’t have gotten the reaction of the crowd behind her reaching for the bouquet. As I detailed in my article on bouquet toss alternatives, it’s great from a photographer’s standpoint to get two chances to photograph the bouquet toss. On the first (fake) toss, I focus on the bride. On the second (real) toss, I focus on the action. It’s tough to get everything in focus if I have to pan the camera from bride to crowd. With a fake toss, I get the best of both worlds, and you get fantastic, real photos. And besides, it’s always fun to see your friends and family fighting each other over a bouquet — so why not do it twice?
Tip #10: Break out the toys
Who’s that in the corner of the dance floor fumbling around with Christmas lights and a camera? Oh yeah, that’s me. I’m 95% a documentary-style photographer, but sometimes I like to play with toys. That includes Christmas lights to create a colorful bokeh (i.e., out-of-focus blur effect), a prism from grade school, and a mirror. I’ll always concentrate my photographic efforts on telling a story, but sometimes you just have to indulge your creative impulses.
Westbury Manor Wedding – Ceremony & Cocktail Hour
So those are a few tips that any bride and groom should find helpful, regardless of venue. In terms of Jane and Matt’s Westbury Manor wedding, the event went off without a hitch – despite the lousy weather at the beginning of the day. The ceremony was held indoors, which wasn’t a problem at all thanks to a polished venue staff who had it all under control. Jane and Matt celebrated their vows with a unity in glass ceremony where they mixed colored sand into one vase, which will then be created into a colorful glass objet d’art. The officiant for the ceremony – Rev. Nick Montanino – was great. It clearly was not his first rodeo, and he delivered a funny, yet sincere sermon. My favorite part was when he asked if anyone had any objections to the couple getting married…and then said that they should keep their comments to themselves.
The cocktail hour at Westbury Manor was epic. In true Long Island wedding style, there was a huge amount of food served, complete with oyster bar, carved meat, make your own taco station and a full pasta bar. Mangia! Jane and Matt had included lots of little ones on their guest list, and it was photo op after photo op as the children tried new foods.
Before the cocktail hour ended, the sun magically made an appearance, and I scampered outside with the couple to take a few photos in the venue’s beautiful gardens. When we opened the patio doors we were greeted by none other than Mr. Peacock. This was a great sign of the stunning photos to come, since the peacock roams the grounds but can’t always be counted on to smile for the camera.
Westbury Manor Wedding – Reception
Next up was the reception, and as evidenced by the huge smile on Jane’s face, these two had a blast. Their first dance was perfect. Other highlights of the reception included some very entertaining toasts by the maid of honor and best man, followed by a lovely set of parent dances. There was a photo booth in the corner that all the guests enjoyed, and at the end of the reception the DJ led guests in a scavenger hunt game. It was an exciting way to end the wedding and got every generation involved.
Jane and Matt had originally scheduled the game because they were worried that, since it was a day wedding, there wouldn’t be enough ‘activity’ and this would be a good way to rev up the crowd. Oh contraire. This crowd needed no revving (is that even a word?). I have to admit I wasn’t sure this would be a dancing crowd simply because of the hours of the wedding (noon to 6:00 p.m.), but it was like a nightclub on the dance floor at 3:00 p.m. When the wedding ended at 6:00, I seriously felt jet lagged because it felt like a night wedding to me. There was that much energy in the room.
Westbury Manor Wedding – Details
A few final notes about the wedding bling: Jane, like many other brides I have had this year, eschewed the expense of fresh flowers for alternative foliage. She found a florist specializing in dried, but vibrantly colored, flowers at the Union Square farmers market. The dried flowers were used throughout the wedding – from the bouquets and boutonnieres to the centerpieces and cake decorations. Granted, Jane and Matt had to go all the way to the florist’s farm near Albany to pick up the flowers, but it was worth the trip.
You’ve got to have a stunning vase to put those gorgeous flowers in, no? Problem solved by Matt and his father, who are quite the woodworking duo. Matt and his father made the wooden boxes used for the centerpieces as well as the wooden box for Jane’s engagement ring and the box for guest cards. There is some serious craftsmanship on display here.
In terms of the theme of the wedding, Jane and Matt are huge animal lovers, and I photographed their engagement shoot at the Bronx Zoo. So, of course their wedding had to have an animal theme. Guests were given boxes of animal crackers as favors, and gold animal magnets were used to hold the escort cards. One little guest got the bright idea to make earrings for his daddy. The sweetheart table was decorated by a group of aunties who made the table look like a woodland fairy rest stop, complete with candles and tree stump coasters. Extra dried flowers decorated everything. The reception room truly looked magical. Adding to the magic was Westbury Manor itself, which was decorated beautifully for the fall season with pumpkins, hay bales, and flowers both inside and outside in the garden.
Westbury Manor Wedding – Jane & Matt’s Love Story
How did you two meet? Jane: ‘We were both in pharmacy school and had some overlapping friends, but never formally met at school. We started talking when Matt was hired at the same hospital where I was working. We became friends and our good friends from school even tried to set us up. A year later, we embraced the feeling of being more than friends.’
Where and how did the proposal take place? Jane: ‘For our sixth anniversary, we planned a weekend trip to North Fork. Matt knew he wanted to propose that day, but wasn’t exactly sure where and when. Our first stop of the day was the beach. It ended up being too windy to go kayaking in the ocean, so we went on a nature walk and had lunch on the beach. Matt decided the beach was not the spot. We then went to the lavender fields that I had wanted to visit. As cool as the lavender field was, it was a little crowded with other visitors. We were on our way back to the hotel to get ready for dinner when I wanted to stop by a fruit farm. I found one that had a gnome corn maze (I loves gnomes!) and baby goats!! Matt knew that would be the perfect place to propose.
So what have we learned from Jane and mats Westbury Manor wedding? Have fun at your own wedding! (Oh, and give me a call if you want to chat about your wedding photography.)
Ceremony and reception venue: Westbury Manor
Caterer: Westbury Manor
Getting ready hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Westbury
Bride’s shoes: Nina’s from DSW
Bride’s hair stylist: Sabrina Gilbert from NYC Beauty Clique
Bride’s makeup artist: Sabrina Gilbert from NYC Beauty Clique
Groom’s attire: Suit Supply, shoes from Johnston & Murphy
Bridal party attire: Weddington Way + Suit Supply
Rings: Blue Nile
Special jewelry/accessories: hairpiece from A Goodness Divine (Etsy), earrings from Danori (Macy’s)
Florist: Bernadette Kowalski from River Garden
Cake/dessert: Francesco’s Bakery
Guest favors: Nabisco Barnum’s Animals Crackers (Amazon)
Officiant: Rev. Nick Montanino
Ceremony glass: Unity in Glass
DJ/band: Unique Entertainment
Photo booth: Ovation
Invitation designer: Minted
Magnet place card holders: UnconventionalJ (Etsy)
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com