Wedding Advice for Newly Engaged Couples: Joanna Foster Wilson

How long after your got engaged did you begin planning the wedding?

Wait, do you mean… how long before I got engaged did I start planning? I’ve been in the wedding industry as a photographer for over 6 years, so I’ve been in and around weddings, ‘researching’ if you will, for my own big day. I had a wedding binder for years. I thought about color schemes every time I saw any floral arrangement. So when we got engaged in Brussels, I started in on the planning before we even boarded the plane home. I had to remind myself that Brian was now a part of the planning process. In the end, almost all of my notes were thrown out.

Three years ago I would have told you that we were getting married on a beach in Mexico with orange and pink flowers and a live band. Instead we opted for a Brooklyn-chic wedding in a bookstore, a party in a loft, and a killer DJ. It was so much more us.

How did you determine the wedding’s budget and who contributed what?

After some initial research, we realized we couldn’t do anything without a figure in mind. We needed to have “the talk” with our parents. Luckily, both sets of very generous parents had each decided to gift us some wedding money. It was a lot of money for us, but still a modest amount with which to plan a wedding (especially in New York City). But I’m the biggest penny pincher in the world, so I was hard set on making it work and having money leftover. The “leftover” part didn’t pan out, but we did come out even.

How did you keep track of your wedding planning (book, planner, Excel, other?)

We did it all. We had an ‘inspiration’ book with magazine cutouts (many of the images were from my years of pre-wedding-planning), which was helpful for showing vendors our jumbled thoughts (“You know, street food chic!”). We also kept lists and spreadsheets in Google Docs (see Brian’s article about it here).

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And then 2 weeks before the wedding, Brian organized EVERYthing into the most amazing notebook. I loved that book and its little handwritten labels. In the days prior to the wedding, you could find me wandering the streets of Brooklyn, clutching that black binder, fearfully mumbling the lyrics to songs on our Do Not Play list. I still have the book. I’m not sure I can ever part with it.

When you discussed the wedding, what 5 things where most important to the two of you?

Photography (of course), 2) killer dance music, 3) sharing our love of New York with our guests, 4) keeping the party un-fancy, and 5) making sure everyone felt taken care of.

How did you incorporate those 5 things into your wedding?

We hired two different photographers with completely different styles. 2) We went with a musical genius for a DJ and just left everything up to him. 3) We spent hours mapping out all our favorite Brooklyn and NYC experiences and recommending the right ones to the right people. 4) We kept the guest list to a minimum (75), made sure we felt close to everyone we invited, and eliminated any wedding element that seemed complicated or stuffy. 5) We did not pinch pennies when it came to good food, an open bar or taxi rides home, and we over-communicated with everyone to be sure they felt good about coming to the city and getting around.

Did you register for gifts and was it a good experience?

We did, and it was! I always thought we’d register at small local stores and such, but when your family lives all over the country, that’s not the best idea. So we registered at Crate & Barrel, CB2, and Target. I used to laugh at people who registered at 3 different places because I thought it seemed a tad greedy, but we were really just covering our bases. Our Target list only had about 8 items on it.

Did you have to handle any tricky or delicate issues while planning your wedding and how did you cope with them?

One tricky issue was our officiant. We were dead set against the notion of being married by a stranger. And since neither one of us is religious, we didn't want a priest or rabbi. We wanted someone who knew us well and would have some fun with the role. The perfect person for the job was my Uncle Phill, my dad's brother, who is a very spiritual person (the kind I can get on board with) and a great orator. Unfortunately, the whole 'getting ordained online' thing didn't feel right to him. Being religious, he didn't feel like it was a moral thing to do, which we respected. So we opted for Plan B, which was to go to City Hall a few days before and get the official paperwork done ahead of time.

We didn't tell anyone about this, that Phill wasn’t actually marrying us that day. We didn't think the paperwork issue mattered, and the last thing we wanted was for our guests to think the wedding wasn't “real.” So we kept it on the down-low.

Phill rocked the ceremony. It was candid and special and funny and sweet. We wouldn’t have traded that for the world!

Could you share your favorite photo from the day and tell us why you love it?

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This photo, taken by the incredible Noah Devereaux, encompasses exactly what we wanted on our wedding day: well-dressed people having a GRAND time in good 'ole Brooklyn. My mom really wanted one of those “jumping shots,” which I thought was already a little behind the times. But she’s my mom, so we obliged. And since our wedding party was a bunch of hams (4 actors, an opera singer, and one ballsy slam poet), they really had no problem with the task, and the photo turned out even better than I could have hoped.


Thank you, Joanna! Your wedding must have been so much fun (what with all the talent in the room!) and what great advice about having everything collected into one central location (i.e. The Black Book)!

Would you like to ask Joanna any questions about her wedding experience? Leave a comment and we'll try to get back with you! Check out Joanna's photographic skills on her website and be sure to follow her on Twitter.