Breaking Wedding Traditions | Turning Your Wedding into an Intimate Wedding

How to have an intimate wedding anywhere.

You may or may not have heard the term “intimate wedding” which typically means a small wedding. As someone who has seen a lot of weddings and who has planned my own wedding, I’ve noticed a few different themes across different weddings. While Johnny and I had hundreds of guests, we knew we wanted this to be a fun, intimate wedding. Sounds crazy and like they’d contradict each other, doesn’t it?

Well, while you’re planning your wedding, if you’ve found that the new and old traditions that seem to come with a wedding aren’t your thing.. guess what? You don’t need to make them your thing.

Here are some things to consider, whether it’s one or none or all, know that you can make this wedding exactly how you want it. Cut what you don’t want, and add in what you do.

I am about to contradict every single thing you’ve ever read about planning a wedding.

Get Rid of the Timeline :

The biggest no-no. If you’re a couple who flies by the seat of your pants, then fly. If you’re having a wedding day where it all takes place at one spot, then consider inviting everyone to come over at a time leading up to the ceremony, and when the time is right and things are going and everyone’s there, exchange your vows, hold your ceremony, and continue on with your festivities.

Get rid of the
time to do hair
time to do makeup
time to eat
time to take these photos
time to take those photos
time to see each other
time to be here
time to walk down the aisle
time to say vows
time to stop saying vows
time to take those photos
time to enter party
time to throw bouquet
time to cut the cake
time to dance
time to break from dancing
time to leave

yes. I said it. I meant it.
as long as there’s dinner at dinner time.

No Seating Chart, and Long Tables (or no tables?!) :

Talk about casual & intimate - having tables and seating areas placed around all over and not telling people where to sit lets anyone mingle with whoever they want.

Having one (or multiple, depending on your guest list size) long table wherever everyone sits makes it feel more intimate, whether it’s a few guests or a few hundred, like a big family dinner.

Get Ready Together :

Some ceremonies don’t happen until late in the day, so most wedding days, brides & grooms don’t see each other until the day is almost over, and at that point you’re normally engulfed in people. If you’re setting a day aside for the two of you, but you get very little time together, you may have a hard time appreciating all of the guests who are there. Getting ready together and with family and friends could make you more excited to be surrounded by more people later in the day.

Salubria Historic Manor House Virginia - Moody Scottish Highland Wedding Styled Shoot - White Sails Creative - Sage and Silhouettes - BHLDN - Bijous Sweet Treats_51.JPG

Get Your Dress Dirty :

Yep. I said it. And I meant it. “You only wear it once” rings true, unless you’re doing some sort of photo shoot after your wedding, or planning on wearing it every year on your anniversary. You may even want to pass it on to your daughter! But most of those dresses often get cut up to the trends. Looking back at the ridiculously fun time you had on your wedding day through the dust and dirt on the bottom of your dress just may hold a lot more sentimentality (and can still be passed on and danced in.)

Damian & Jesse - Maine Backyard Wedding - White Sails Creative_5.JPG

Reusable Decorations & Mismatched Plates :

Also a way to save money - when you’re out buying decorations for your wedding, look for things you’d use in your own house, or that friends/family members would like. Use things from around your house to decorate - such as frames, plates, cups, vases, statues, old bottles, table cloths, and other knick knacks. Use a journal for your guest book that you can tuck away and continue writing in about your wedding day and honeymoon, the fill it with prints (like a scrap book, from the good ol’ days).

Hannah and Shannons Wedding - Brown Wedding_12.JPG

Homemade Food & Pot Lucks :

I’ve seen the crazy responses to this one - a pot luck for a wedding? This all comes down to what kind of wedding you want. If you want a beautiful and seated wedding with low-stress, and having food like that is a priority in your budget, then having it catered is the way to go. But if you’re looking at your budget and realize that having friends and family there is more of a priority, and that meals have always been a big part of your relationships, then maybe having a fun, laid back, intimate dinner (for all amounts of people) is the way to go. A huge vat of soup and breads and cheeses can go a long way.

Hannah and Shannons Wedding - Brown Wedding_15.jpg

Have your Dance Floor under the stars :

This sounds scary, because weather, but staggering tents around the dance floor can combat that fear. Then, for some extra magical (for pretty cheap!) string lights across from tent to tent, or tree to tree. It makes for a bigger space to enjoy each other’s company, or do some barefoot dancing.

Pick your own flowers :

Turning your wedding day into a wedding weekend or even a wedding week gives you more of a chance to spend time with everyone. Want to save money, and make it a fun experience? Pick your own flowers, and create your own arrangements! Flowers die quickly, so make sure you test it out first and see how to make it doable. If you don’t want dead flowers by the time the wedding festivities start, pick your flowers the day before, and keep them cold until it’s time to show them off.


Get Ready At Home, In a Cabin, Cottage, or Outside :

Getting ready somewhere where everyone fits, and with more to it than a hotel room adds sentimentality to the whole experience. It also adds more character to your photos.


Don’t Be Scared of the Rain :

Not because it’s good luck, like everyone says, but because it’s your wedding day, and it’s going to be fantastic.

Caitlin and Ted_17.JPG

Having a Backyard Wedding | Why I Had a Backyard Wedding

This blog isn’t specifically a guide that tells you exactly how to have your backyard wedding and the logistics of it all (link to a Junebug Article below that covers more of that!) - it’s an overlook at how your backyard wedding can be (for examples : it’s whatever you want) and some of the pros of having one!

What I am covering :
Why I had a backyard wedding
What is a backyard wedding?
Guest List Size
Saving Money
Different or Traditional?
Junebug’s List for a Traditional Wedding, but in your backyard

Why I had a backyard Wedding :

I am the youngest of 8.. my first sibling to get married was my sister when I was 5 years old - this was the start of my family’s well-known parties. We are an Irish Catholic family, so parties are an important part of our lives - weddings and wakes, and everything inbetween. My sister got married in a church, and then had her reception on my family’s farm. We rented a big tent and everyone was invited. This was always my idea of what a wedding was - it was a casual gathering of friends and family, to drink and dance and celebrate.. not something we could have spent tens of thousands of dollars on. After that, there were 4 more weddings before mine and Johnny’s. Each one was a little different, but they were all a wild rumpus of a thing. The party went on all day and all night, some even stayed up until the sun rose. Johnny & I had that same sort of wedding, we planned it in 5 months, and it was the absolute best day of our lives that we talk about all the time, and that we want to plan another one all over again (said no bride ever). There are very few things I’d change about that day (I wish we had gotten ready together, so we could spend more time together that day).

That being said, not everyone has a huge, close family like I do, so everyone’s reason for having a backyard wedding is different.

The reason I am drawn to photographing and attending big weddings and small weddings like this is the casualness of it all - the knowing exactly what you want, and having it. Not doing what is traditionally done, but having the wedding day you want, and letting no one change that.

photo of Johnny and myself at our wedding by

photo of Johnny and myself at our wedding by

What is a backyard wedding?

A backyard wedding can be whatever you make of it. It doesn’t need to be in your actual backyard. It can be in a family member’s, a friend’s, an airbnb’s, a rental home’s. It doesn’t even need to be in your town, your state, your country. It’s basically finding a home you are drawn to as a couple, and making it yours for your wedding day.

You can have whatever kind of food you want (stations, food trucks, make your own, bring your own).
You can have a timeline, or no timeline, with what you want IN the timeline.
You can dance all night (under the stars) because there are often no cut-off times.
You can have a tent, or no tent.
You can get ready together, in a place that means a lot to you.
You can decorate as much or as little as you want.
Your ceremony can be wherever you want (the woods, the water, the garden).
You can spend your money where you want.
You can have it on whatever day you want, because no one has already booked that date.
It can be as wild or low-key as you want. Skinny dipping? Yes.

One of my favorite examples of a backyard wedding is this blog by the Scottish photographers The Kitcheners.

They got ready together in a home, took their chairs, their instruments, their family members, went into the rainy woods, and got themselves married. If you do nothing else from here on out, check out this blog.

Backyard Wedding Inspiration Backyard Wedding Guide


The location can be anywhere you want - turn it into the vacation for you (and your friends and family), or keep it close to home for the sentimentality. Weddings don’t need to be full of disposable decorations. It’s about you two and who you are together. So, sit down and think about the places in the world that mean the most to you, and go for it.

My sister-in-law grew up going up to a small island in in Maine every summer, where her family had a house for generations. Ever since she was small, she imagined getting married in the front yard of that house, over looking the water. So, the week surrounding their wedding, we went up and rented houses and stayed on this island (stuck somewhere between the 1950s and 1980s). The day before their wedding, all us ladies went to a wild flower garden to pick our bouquets and flowers for decorations. They had a couple tents for cover, just in case of weather, but we danced out under strings of lights and stars, and ended the night skinny dipping.

You can see the blog post here of the festivities leading up to their wedding, and the wedding day.

A few months after their wedding, they had a party for everyone who couldn’t make it to Maine, and again, danced under the stars (this time in the rain) back home on my family’s farm.

Backyard Wedding Inspiration Backyard Wedding Guide

Guest List Size

I am the youngest of 8 children, with 18 nieces and nephews (and counting) any time we have an immediate family gathering, it’s nearly 40 of us. Yes. That’s more than most guest lists in total. Then Johnny grew up in a small town with a lot of close friends. It was hard to narrow down our list, so we decided to go all out. Because we made the food ourselves and had no indoor space to worry about, we invited everyone. By the end of it, we didn’t keep track of how many people were there, but it was easily somewhere between 300-400 people. On the opposite of this, if you’re really doing a small backyard space, you can have as few people as you want (the two of you? a few close friends? your pups?)

Backyard Wedding Inspiration Backyard Wedding Guide

Animals Allowed!

At my brother’s reception, he had his dog and any other dogs anyone wanted to bring, because the wedding was on our farm! If animals are a big part of your life, and your friends’ lives, this gives you a chance to have them be a part of your day (:

Backyard wedding planning and inspiration White Sails Creative Photography

You can save money

Not booking a venue is the biggest cost cut ever. If you have a backyard wedding somewhere across the country or world, you’re able to buy plane tickets and rent an airbnb for a fraction of the price. Or, if you’re having it right there at home, you can spend more on what is meaningful (taco trucks).

You can also save money on decor, because you can use things from around the house if you want to add any decorations, but if you’re getting married outside, you don’t have to decorate the trees or mountains.

You may need to rent a tent, tables, and chairs (depending on your plans for the day) but that’s nothing compared to a venue.

White Sails Creative Backyard Wedding Guide  Inspiration.JPG

So, that brings us to the most important question: what kind of backyard wedding do you want? Sit down and have a chat with yourselves. What do you want for your wedding day? The amount of guests don’t matter in the beginning, but what’s important to you for the layout of the day?

something different, and simpler.

If you’re wanting a simple wedding, where you get ready together, you all gather round, you exchange your vows, you play your music, you eat whenever and wherever you want to eat, you dance when the music’s good, you sit on what’s available - you can do that now, and I’d love to help.

A traditional wedding, but in our backyard.

Do you want the layout to be the same as every other wedding you go to? Do you want a cocktail hour, a DJ, a caterer, a sit-down meal, a dance floor, a guest-book table, a photo booth, lots of bathrooms? That would be more on the traditional side, and would take more planning to have it in your backyard. If you want a list of things to do for a traditional wedding that you’ll just be having in your backyard, Junebug Weddings has a great list of everything you need.