In the UK, its actually rather difficult to have an outdoor wedding. Wedding licenses are only given to venues (rather than people like in the US), and only then if there is a permanent roofed structure, a table, a glass of water on said table and tissues (very randomly British?!). If you are looking for an outdoor ceremony venue I would absolutely recommend The Manor House Hotel in the Cotswolds which has an outdoor pagoda and The Pergola and Hill Garden (a very secret venue in London on Hampstead Heath which I cannot wait to photograph this summer).
Alternatively, if you have a reception space in mind, you could always do the legal ceremony elsewhere (a Registry Office etc), and then have a ceremony where you want, and create something that is meaningful to you both in a location you love and hire a celebrant instead to conduct the ceremony.
For this, my top tips would be threefold. First, get someone who is familiar with not only public speaking but weddings! There is nothing quite like someone who is familiar with the flow of a wedding ceremony (however great they are at being in front of a crowd). Secondly, your backdrop is crucial. As you have the freedom to choose exactly where to have your ceremony I would suggest making sure it is in shade! Neither of you want to be squinting at each other during your vows, or indeed having photographs taken of this. So a big tree which you can be underneath (and the right side of, to make sure you are in the shade), or the shade of a building which itself is a great backdrop. If you are going for a ‘view’ for your ceremony – Im thinking rolling hills, mountains etc, make sure you the sun will likely be in front of you rather than behind you (otherwise your photographer may need to use a flash – yuk, destroying the very reason and look of an outdoor celebration!).
1 THE SOUND SYSTEM for your outdoor wedding
For those spaces that are registered for a wedding check what their sound system is like. Remember sound doesn’t travel so well outdoors as it does indoors. Some outdoor ceremony venues have invested heavily in a PA system (The Paper Mill Woodland Wedding venue). If not, have that conversation early and hire your own PA system or ask to hire from your DJ or Band earlier in the day.
2. THE WEATHER for your outdoor wedding
Stick to your guns! Often, in England, the weather is never awful all day…Find out when you have to make that decision whether to stay outdoors or bring your ceremony indoors. Some venues will ask you to do so the day before based on forecast. It may also depend on what is outside. If you have chairs that are wooden or metal this may allow for the rain to be light without having to bring the ceremony inside. Also just check if you do have to bring it indoors where it will be and what it will look like. Id say though, as much as you can, have the strength and confidence to stick to your guns and have an outdoor ceremony. Even if its cloudy, spitting with rain, or forecast rain later. Because this is what you envisioned and it will very likely not be so terrible that you cannot have an outdoor ceremony. One thing to suggest – if you do want to safeguard guests, choose BLACK umbrellas. Yes thats right, not white ones that can look cheap and dont look as good in photographs.
3. DECORATE your outdoor wedding
GO BIG! You have an outdoor space and you should go for BIG rather than small on EVERYTHING! Flowers are always beautiful and can really enhance a space. Big urns, Big sapling trees lining the aisle (like Kate Middleton), Large candelabras with multiple candles. Lots and lots of fairylights everywhere (even in the daylight they will show up). Make sure you decorate the space behind where you will be standing (ie where the registrar or celebrant will be standing). Think of this as the theatre stage which needs to be dressed because this is what your guests will be looking at and also all photographs shooting down the aisle at you both at the end with have this as the backdrop.
4. BACKDROPS for your outdoor wedding
An arch of flowers, a wrought iron style arch decorated very simply with flowers. Big draping and white or coloured drapes. Chains of jasmine hanging down, big candles, candelabras, or strings of lights if its a twilight affair.
5. THE TIME OF DAY for your outdoor wedding
Id suggest at its best either a morning ceremony or late afternoon (if summer). If you can choose your location Id suggest the shade of a tree. Because you then wont have the strong overhead sunlight which can cast shadows on your face and look really unflattering, plus you have a ready made backdrop to decorate. Alternatively, old stone arches look beautiful too. And if there is no shade look at where the sun will be during the ceremony and then locate to have the guests looking in to the sun so to speak at you both. Being backlit will mean better photos and that you wont be squinting at each other. (guests looking on if it is bright sunshine will invariably have sunglasses on anyway).
To end – here are some beautiful photographs from The Manor House (part of the Exclusive Hotel family) where my couple married outside. Yes, they were asked whether to bring it indoors because the forecast was cloud and it did actually spit with rain a little just before the start of the ceremony. My couple also used big urns at the start of the aisle, and drapes in the pagoda which were great. Photographed on film using my Contax645 film camera.