My favorite wedding venue of the 2023 wedding season

I shot 31 weddings this year – which was humbling, stretching, and defeating, rewarding… all the things! If you’re a wedding photographer, you know. I shot all around Michigan, the upper peninsula too, and even Mexico, but one venue stole the show for me and I was suprised – almost offended- I hadn’t heard of it yet – Soujourn Lakeside Resort.

Soujourn is a wedding venue that feels like summer camp. If you’re a michigander you probably have some type of nostalgia of having the whole family at the lake, with no to do list besides cooking dinner that night on the grill, tubing on the lake, and getting a good sunburn from the reflection off the water. If you want your wedding venue to feel like a summer camp for your family, this is the place. They have enough lodges and cabins for guests and family to stay, and if you’re like Paige and David, you’ll be smart enough to have an earlier ceremony so that you can enjoy a longer cocktail hour by the water with a pontoon boat ride in between and then a dinner inside.

It feels tucked away, private, and truly like it was made for your family and friends. It’s clean, and the reception area has a woodsy feel that makes for beautiful reception photos. You can sneak outside for golden hour portraits on the lake because the sun sets on the west side of the lake, and there’s literally beach access so the ring bearers and flower girls can dip their toes in the water and build sand castles.

In my seven years of wedding photography, it’s been challenging to find a lakeside venue that let’s guests experience or even stay. Guests could dance the night away knowing they just had to walk to their cabin, and makes accommodations so easy.

It felt like a sweet retreat in Gaylord, Michigan that everyone could enjoy. Weddings are an experience for guests too, and this one made for a sweet Michigan memory for everyone.

My Advice For Every NewPhotographer

Now that i’ve been in the photography game for 5 years, I am on the other side of questions like “how can I get started with weddings,” “what camera should I use,” ” I really want to start photography but have no idea how,” and i’m always an open book. I offer mentor sessions for starting photographers, but am happy to give away some of the more basic advice that I learned from trial and error and experience. This is what I tell most people one way or another.

1. Practice You literally can only get better with practice. Unfortunately that means you might have to have 10 bad sessions before you get 1 great one! That’s okay! Everyone has a different method to their madness, but I would recommend privately asking  5 close families, seniors, or whatever group you want  to photograph, if you can practice on them with a free session. I don’t recommend posting this on facebook or your instagram story calling clients for free, because you’ll have a harder time transitioning to being known as a photographer who is worth paying later if people know you were doing it for free not so long ago. After the first few sessions, word will spread like wild fire that you are doing photos! There are so many people in west Michigan who need photos, that you will definitely get asked. The important thing is that you set a price that is a little out of your comfort zone, that shows you have invested in your gear and knowledge and you’re worth paying. Otherwise you’ll be on a fast path to getting taken advantage of and get burnt out.

2. Time The one thing every successful photographer has in common is time! They’ve all put in seasons of work that builds their brand and reputation each year. A lot of people start and expect to be as busy as the photographer they admire right away, and quit when they’re not after 6 months of hard work. Photography in Michigan has seasons. There are busy seasons and slow seasons, wedding seasons, and Christmas card seasons. Each time one passes that you faithfully serve your clients and share their photos, you’re setting yourself up for more success the following years. I think it takes a minimum of two years to see the fruit of your hard work your first year. Don’t get discouraged your first slow season in the winter, it will be busy again later if you keep up the work.

3. Your gear isn’t everything, just something! If you’re just starting out shooting families and friends the first year, I do not recommend dropping $2500 on the newest camera! I shot on a canon rebel t6i the first year and a half of my business, and I don’t regret it. The only thing you should know for these starter level cameras is the kit lens is junk, so you should definitely buy a canon 50 mm 1.8 lens with it. Try to sell the kit lens on facebook marketplace, and buy some extra memory cards with it! After you’ve mastered manual mode on that smaller body, you can upgrade but spend some time researching. I love to buy camera equipment used, because it is like a car and loses it’s value quickly after purchasing but most brands like Canon, Nikon, and Sony can withstand years. To me a lens is more important than the camera body, so invest in those. Instead of going to best buy, go to a smaller camera shop like Normans, or Marks camera (both in Grand rapids) and talk to the employees who are very knowledgeable. They’ll let you try things out and you could even rent equipment for a couple of days.

4. Second shooting For aspiring wedding photographers- get second shooting! A styled shoot is fine, and can add value to your portfolio, but nothing will add value to your brand quite like learning the ropes of a real wedding day behind another photographer. Reach out to a few photographers you admire, share your equipment and goals, and then see if you can accompany them and use a few of those photos for your wedding day. You’ll learn the ins and outs of a wedding day, and brides will quickly reach out to you. If I could go back, I wish I would have spent two years only second shooting higher end weddings instead of shooting my first few weddings that didn’t really value photography or me as the photographer. I shoot the way I do today because of the photographers I second shot.

There’s lots more tips and tricks, like which software to use, when to shoot, where to shoot, how to manage your clients. I offer mentor sessions for beginning photographers where we can dive more into this. I’m a firm believer that there are enough clients in West Michigan for every aspiring photographer to be successful, so i’m an open book!

In short – Value your time, and give yourself time!

Styling Your Family’s Outfits For Family Photos

Styling outfits can literally make or break how your photos turn out! They can affect the way your skin tone looks, the way your photographer edits, and how the background around you looks. Sounds dramatic- but they’re so important! It can be stressful and tedious to plan out the outfits, so start with these simple tips.

  1. Start with Mom’s outfit, and go from there. Yep- I know, sounds backwards, because mom’s usually put themselves last. Well this time, mamas, i’m giving you permission to start with yours! Your dress will take up the most space in the photos, and husbands are easy to follow. The kids outfits can coordinate with yours too. We are naturally more picky with our own selves and outfits, so find one you love and don’t leave itlast. I always vote longer and flowier dresses for moms, to capture movement in the dress. Dad’s will usually never go wrong in khakis with a tan, black, or white shirt so definitely leave them for last.
  2. Throw some small patterns in there. Patterns can feel intimidating because they look more like a statement piece, but a toddler dress with small floral print or another print can really add to the texture in the outfits.
  3. Always go for muted colors of regular colors. Don’t pick pink! Pick deep red. Don’t pick vibrant green! Pick a dark woodsy green. Avoid white too! Go for the cream. The list goes on with mustards over bright yellows
  4. Follow your photographers tones. If your photographer’s best photos all have warm tones, don’t expect the same result with different colors! Most of my photos have oranges, and warm yellows in them. I love when my clients wear shades of tans, browns, and yellows, but those photos look totally different then clients who wear whites and blues. If your photographer’s best photos have clients wearing greens and blues, then follow their lead! 
  5. When in doubt, just ask your photographer! You aren’t bothering us. We’d rather have creative control and respond to your emails prior to the session, then be disappointed when we’re editing and the outfits missed the mark. Some outfits are made to be photographed, but you wouldn’t wear them regularly. Ask us- We’re the experts!

My Favorite West Michigan Wedding Venues

I get asked way too often what my favorite wedding venues are! It usually puts me on the spot and catches me off guard, because I don’t have one simple answer. West Michigan’s wedding industry is booming, and between the city in downtown Grand Rapids and the lakeshore in Holland, I have lots of favorites for different reasons. I’ll try to narrow it down to five for the sake of a blog post, and share a little bit of my expertise for any bride at the beginning of their search.
My number 1 criteria when I consider venues is that the venue itself is already beautiful, so that the bride has less details and decorating to consider. For example, a barn venue or large empty banquet hall might be a great space and $1500 less then the next venue, but if the other venue is located next to Lake Michigan,  or has a gorgeous scenery or inside, then you might break even by the time you decorate the banquet hall or barn with florals and other DIY decor. 

Here’s my top 6…

1) The Felt Mansion in Saugatuck – Technically this has a Holland address, but it’s located on the neighboring property of Saugatuck State Park and has all of the hiking trails that lead to Lake Michigan wrapped around it. To be fully transparent, yes I am biased, because yes I did get married here. Like I mentioned above, I was not a detail oriented bride and so to imagine decorating a large venue was a nightmare. But the Felt is absoloutely breathtaking itself. It is an old fashioned mansion, with a cute white chapel. You can almost feel the lakeshore that is seperated from the woods. If you’re torn between the urban look, woodsy, and beachey, it ties up all 3 aspects. There’s a variety of options of where you can have your ceremony, but most brides choose to have it in front of the cute white chapel. My favorite part is that it’s fun for guests too, as they can walk around the large property and inside the mansion during cocktail hour. It’s just COOL! Even cooler, you can rent out the inside of the mansion the night before if you want to spend the night there with your bridal party.

2) Baker Lofts in Holland – Whenever I have a wedding at Baker Lofts, I just know it’s going to be a good one. To me Baker Lofts is consistent. I know i’ll always have a beautiful ceremony, and a beautiful reception. The brick inside is beautiful, and the rooms are large enough that guests feel like they have space. During the day for the ceremonies there’s enough natural light for photographers to use, and I’ve even done all the portraits inside successfully on a rainy day! The staff is extremely professional, and the catering (gilmore catering) is every guest’s favorite. It’s located right next to downtown Holland, so you’re able to leave the venue for a quick couple hours and get a variety of photo backgrounds.

3) Camp BlodgettCamp Blodgett is what dreams are made of if you are a Lake Michigan girl at heart! What is better then having all your family and friends gathered on the lakeshore? It has a cozy summer camp feeling, but still is extremely classy. Like the Felt, there’s lots of space for guests to walk around and explore. It’s one of the few venues that’s literally on the lake, so at golden hour during the reception you can easily sneak out for some sunset filled portraits with your photographer. 

4) Boatwerks – Are you catching the theme? I just love the lake. I think if you’re from West Michigan, it makes everyone feel at home and is obviously stunning for photos! Boatwerks is also located right by downtown Holland, so if you don’t want all your photos with the lake in the background you can easily go up the street for some city shots, or down the road for some more woodsy shots. There’s a beautiful banquet hall that let’s in so much natural light, and a perfect cemented area outback that turns into a dance floor with stringed lights right on the water. It’s connected to a restaurant, but you’d never know as a guest and feels extremely private.

5)  Harbourfront Grand Hall above Portobellos in Grand Haven – This is such a COOL venue that just sums up Grand Haven’s energy! It is right downtown on the main street, above a couple restaurant and breweries, which gives your guests the city to explore if you have lots of photos in between the ceremony and reception. The inside is warm dark tones and brick which makes for beautiful photos, and it has a high deck that overlooks the city that you can squeeze guests in for a ceremony. From the ceremony point you can see all of Grand Haven and the channel with the boats passing. It is definitely the happy medium if you want to be near the lake, but love an urban look too. I love the patio that guests can step out onto during the reception, if they need a break from the dance floor.6) Spring Lake Country ClubSpring Lake feels just a little bit north of the business of Holland and Grand Rapids, in it’s own tucked away corner of the small town. It’s quiet, and peaceful, and there’s a big willow tree by the boat docks that I make everyone take photos in front of. It’s extremely classy, and full of greenery with the golf course around it. It’s a hidden gem, in my opinion!

Why you want to do a first look on your wedding day…

First look or no first look? Let me convince ya.

When I got engaged, I was convinced I didn’t want a first look. I had already been a wedding photographer for 2 years at that point, and had seen both sides but I thought I really wanted the “romantic” moment down the aisle seeing my husband for the first time, and did not want a first look. Well, then I started to see how much work and money a wedding was, and thought there’s no way in heck I’m not going to spend the whole day with my husband! After my own wedding, and being a photographer at over 60 different weddings, I am now confident that a first look is indefinitely the best option for brides + grooms for many reasons! Here’s a few…

  • Who do you want to spend your wedding day with? If the answer is your groom, the first look schedule gives that to you! Without a first look, you get very little time with your groom after the ceremony, and then the night flies by.
  • Without a first look, the day is always more stressful trying to avoid the bride and groom seeing each other. It’s always more chaotic and hectic.
  • Who do you want more photos with? If the answer is your GROOM, and not your bridesmaids then a first look schedule will also give you that! With a first look you can do photos before the ceremony in one location, after in a separate, and again at sunset! That offers a variety of backgrounds and opportunities for bride + groom portraits, but without a first look you have very limited time and options for photos.
  • Having a first look DOES NOT take away from the romance of walking down the aisle. I hear often “I really want him to see me and cry when I walk down the aisle.” Having a first look gives two cute opportunities for romance + tears. Grooms get emotional and sentimental all over again, and the walk down the aisle is still very special.
  • Having a first look puts the bride and groom at ease! There’s usually one person in every couple that is very on edge and nervous until they see their bride and groom, and having the first look help puts that person at ease much earlier in the day! Then they can continue to proceed with their day in a much better mood!

There’s just a few reasons of the many that I think all couples should do a first look! Send this to your bride friends, you bridesmaids, your mom, maid of honor, etc. and think it over!