The photo above is that of our wedding bands which I designed after watching too many episodes of Xena the Warrior Princess.
Whenever people tell me that getting married is an expensive affair, I point out to them that getting your marriage registered in Singapore costs only S$26.
Every other cost (expensive wedding dinner, expensive house, expensive wedding ring etc) is probably your own doing. But a wedding need not be expensive, and it’s not a competition with your friends on who can have the biggest bash of all. Yet so many people get hung up on putting up a big one-day show when they don’t realize it’s AFTER the wedding that you have to put in the most effort for years on end.
To make things clear, I’m not advocating a cheapo wedding ceremony either. Low budget doesn’t mean low class. For example, if your budget is super tight, there’s no point getting Grade AAA wedding dinner menus when Grade B+ will do. Nobody (or at least guys) remember how good the food was at your wedding, but they’ll remember if the wedding seemed boring or overly long.
Now I’m no expert in getting married since I’ve only been married once. But having attended many weddings, as well as taken wedding photos for more people than I really wanted to, there are a few things young couples need to take care of for the biggest day of their life.
Actually, it’s about getting three important people. Get them and everything else is a walk in the park.
ABOVE ALL, GET A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER
Edwin and Soo in 2004.
I don’t say this just because I used to be a photographer. But I say it because you’ve never heard this from a photographer.
Of all the things that you’ll experience and receive in your marriage, nothing will survive the test of time save your wedding photographs. Yes, your wedding gown will turn yellow and wither, your fingers might get too fat for your wedding rings, your crowning glory may disappear and all the ang pow money would have been long spent.
But your wedding photos will most likely be viewed by descendants who don’t even know who you are. Especially with today’s digital photos which do not degrade with time (just make sure your family learns how to archive stuff properly. Read this primer.)
I’ve heard several horror stories of how people will splash big money on different aspects of the Big Day but scrimp on getting a good photographer. They try to find the cheapest photographer they can get, or the cheapest wedding photography package bundled with their gown.
That is a terrible mistake you mustn’t make. You can re-take your exams, find another job, but mess up your wedding photos and you and your wife will feel sorry for ALL ETERNITY.
Of course, good photography doesn’t come cheap (a few hundred bucks per hour is the norm) but then again, not all expensive photographers are good. On the other hand, very cheap photographers are most probably bad.
How to tell a good photographer from bad?
a. Check his portfolio of at least three different weddings. If you see the same photo angles being repeated ad nauseum for different couples, this guy follows a strict template and is probably inflexible for your needs. Some might say good photographers need to have a style template. I say great photographers shoot according to the occasion and bring out the best in different couples.
b. How much does this guy photoshop his portfolio? Excessive photoshopping (super smooth skins, unnatural color tones or exposures and so on) might indicate poor shooting skills. Great photographers usually get it right at the moment and do minimal editing later. Unfortunately, such photographers are rare. I’m okay with removing zits and stains in photos, but these days, couples get so photoshopped they look like avatars.
c. How much does he try to get the shot right? I’ve seen wedding photographers who take one snap of each dinner table crowd and walk away to get the next table done. That’s lazy and unprofessional. Someone always blinks. A good photographer is never satisfied with his skills and you can tell by how much he makes you pose over and over again (caveat – if all the photos are crap, then he’s just plain bad. Doh.)
d. Do people like to be photographed by him? This is the most important. If you have a photographer who’s glum-looking and anti-social, his subjects won’t look very happy either. Great photographers put their subjects at ease immediately and never pressurize their clients – you can tell when the subjects’ eyes smile along with their lips. A great photographer needs to be able to blend into the background to reduce distraction, yet come forth to take firm command of a scene when needed.
e. Anyone who takes couples in front of ugly CBD buildings or the Merlion is most probably a lousy photographer.
f. This is a bit subjective, but I personally believe any photographer who doesn’t use the best lenses for the job probably doesn’t care for image quality very much. Likewise, he probably doesn’t care very much for how you look in his photos (“it’s just a job”). The best lenses don’t cost the earth and can have their cost easily recouped with a few wedding shoots. However, only enthusiasts or pros can tell what kind of lenses are being used by another guy.
The problem in Singapore is that there has been so much undercutting in the market, many talented and passionate photographers don’t see the point in the downward spiral to the bottom. Still, there are a few talented joes around who treat every assignment with respect because they know every successful wedding builds their reputation further.
GET A DECENT MASTER OF CEREMONIES
Most couples tear their hair out over wedding invites and RSVPs, but don’t pay any attention to who will be the MC for the event.
Almost everyone I know resorts to getting their good friend or relative. “Hey, you’re quite talkative, can you host my wedding dinner?”
But guess what, 95% of people make crappy MCs and turn the crowd’s attention on their poor presentation when the couple is supposed to be in the limelight. And it’s not their fault, really.
An MC needs to know how to work the crowd, make the couple look like the best thing in the room and keep the momentum going even when the mike breaks down. An MC needs to breathe right into the mike and not sound like he’s hollering every word. An MC also needs to know how to speak well (“And let us welcomes the beautiful couple!”)
If you haven’t guessed by now, you probably need a trained professional to get the job done right unless you don’t mind a totally impromptu and unplanned outing.
Otherwise, you’ll end up like the MCs I’ve seen in recent years
- One MC kept telling everyone how he was still single, will never get attached, but would like to get attached anyway.
- Another kept forgetting his lines and went “Err…, errr…”. Nevermind that he was a broadcast journalist.
- Another had a helium voice and didn’t realize her voice kept going off key.
- Many MCs tell the audience weak jokes that nobody finds funny but themselves. Or they often get the wedding couple to do impromptu things on stage that fall utterly flat.
And personally, I was MC for Ronald’s wedding and was paired with an actual radio DJ. I felt so embarrassed because I was this amateur next to an absolute pro rattling off in perfect Mandarin. It’s also good to pair MCs of the same quality level, but then again, I think it’s better to have just one good MC.
HIRE A REALLY GOOD MAKEUP ARTIST
And you thought it was more important to get a good wedding planner? If your event is a simple affair, getting a few capable friends to manage the crowd and event flow is sufficient.
But no matter how glam your event, I kid you not, the makeup artist will make or break the bride for the day. Nobody really cares how the groom looks, unless he
- has an ugly wedding outfit
- is too ugly for his gorgeous wife (yes, why do pretty girls marry ugly guys?)
- is drop dead handsome
Tell me you didn’t gossip about the bride who had an overdone hairdo or that clumpy mascara? Or the bride who had far too much eyeshadow that made her look like a Thai lady-boy?
Yes, it’s not just girls who bitch about such things. Guys notice such things too but it’s not a high priority subject compared to other types of male gossip (cars, office affairs, golf).
Great makeup artists can correct many wrong-doings if you get them into the picture early enough.
Having done makeup for hundreds or thousands of couples, they’re probably the best person to tell you if your expensive gown sucks or if you need Botox.
They can also hide facial flaws, tell you which side of your face is best for major photographs and suggest where to find equally good salons or hair treatment lotions.
Of all the people that I’ve worked with during weddings and photo shoots, the makeup artist is the person who can really change perceptions on a huge scale. I mean, you can have a really grand ballroom, a massive dinner budget, but if the bride looks like a tart, it all collapses.
In conclusion, when you get married, remember these three people who play critical roles in making you look good during that moment or for all eternity. Everything else is secondary.
THAT WEDDING DINNER
Another thing – in Asia, it is customary to throw big wedding dinners with over 40 tables of 10 guests each. Naturally, many couples fear this procedure forced upon them by their parents, as they potentially face a huge hole in their bank account.
Some couples put off marriage for years so they can save up for the dinner which can cost S$40k and over for one night of revelry. This is wrong, because couples should marry as soon as they feel they are ready for a lifelong commitment, not because they feel they can’t afford a ballroom event (or a HDB flat for that matter).
From experience, it is possible to actually break even or make a profit from such huge dinners if you follow the following suggestions.
– If most of your friends are unmarried or fresh out of school, avoid inviting too many of them because their red packets will be low in value. Not because they aren’t generous, but they simply don’t have the earning power yet.
– It thus also holds true that you should invite older relatives who you know are more generous and have more disposable income. These are the sort who don’t come to wedding dinners so they can gulp down free beer or criticize how you look.
– Avoid inviting too many people, or in fact, anyone from your workplace. Because you probably don’t know these people long enough to know if they are generous, and not inviting colleagues also solves a major office politics issue – “Why was this other colleague/boss invited and not me?”
– If your parents or your in-laws insist on inviting the entire world, you need to draw the line clearly that either they foot that portion of the bill or they be realistic about who’s actually getting married. (You, not them).
My wife, at this juncture, says “You make everything sound so simple.” Well of course, organizing any wedding gets pretty complex, and you need lots of friends and relatives to help make things turn out right.
But most couples get the fundamentals of planning a wedding wrong, and they never even knew what the fundamentals were in the first place.
One last thought – your wedding is your day and it should be fun. And it’ll only be as fun as you, your spouse and the people who help drive it. For example, don’t get grumpy and stuffy girls to man the reception ok?