Here at Zoe Larkin Photography, we LOVE a good backyard wedding! There are so many reasons that make this kind of celebration especially intimate, personal and meaningful.
If you’ve been following for any length of time, you’ll know we’re interested in working alongside couples who infuse their values into their weddings. I believe that a backyard wedding gives you maximum opportunity to personalize even more than a wedding at a regular venue. Plus, there’s nowhere that holds more memories than your home, or that of a loved one.
In this blog post, I’m going to share with you many stress-saving tips from all the backyard weddings we’ve ever photographed. Every one of the seven backyard weddings showcased here was different but they share one thing in common – intimacy.
Emotions seem rawer, joy seems deeper, and everyone has the best time. People can truly be themselves! I love seeing how everyone pulls together for these intimate events – family members and friends help decorate and contribute their unique skills to a very personal celebration.
First, I’m going to share just some of the many reasons to have a backyard wedding in the Bay Area. Next, I have a ton of tips for you that are sure to set you up for success both in the planning stages and day-of.
Then I’ll go into depth showcasing my very favorite photographs from seven of the best backyard weddings we’ve captured over the years, sharing more about each wedding couple and their vision. From a photography team that specializes in backyard weddings in the San Francisco Bay Area… Let’s go!
Table of Contents
Reasons to consider a backyard wedding
- A backyard wedding instantly adds a personal touch to your special day. You can cherry-pick what you really prioritize about the wedding experience. It’s an intimate setting that showcases your love story in a place that holds sentimental value.
- A backyard wedding can be much more cost effective than traditional venue options. This is especially significant when getting married in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive places in the US to tie the knot. By choosing to have the wedding at your home or a family member’s, you can save significantly on the big-ticket item: venue fees.
- Because of possible size constraints of the property, you might find your guestlist smaller than if you had a traditional venue. This allows you to save on even more items, from rentals to catering.
- When it comes to decorating and styling your big day, the possibilities are endless in a backyard setting. You have complete control over every detail!
- Not only will you feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings, but your guests will too! A backyard wedding means eliminating some of the logistics that go along with event locations like shuttling between ceremony/reception venues or navigating unfamiliar places.
- The natural beauty of your home or backyard provides an excellent and customizable backdrop for photographs
- A backyard wedding can strike a balance between elegant and casual, offering a chic alternative to a formal venue that still feels like a special occasion.
- Choosing to host your wedding at home also contributes to an eco-friendly approach. You can also use local food options and ensure minimal waste production.
- Your backyard wedding will stand out as unique and memorable not only for you but also for your guests. Plus you’ll get to relive the memories again and again, as opposed to a wedding venue you’ll only go to once.
Advice for those planning a Bay Area backyard wedding
Keep your planning tight
A vital tip for couples organizing a DIY backyard wedding: keep everything streamlined and avoid last-minute chaos. By diligently ticking off tasks from your to-do list, you can ease into the wedding week confidently. All of the couples I’ve worked with on their backyard weddings have utilized extensive spreadsheets with multiple tabs to keep track of everything from wedding party contacts, to guestlist and gift trackers, and of course a play-by-play timeline.
Expect the unexpected
Still, be prepared for sudden, unforeseen responsibilities that pop up. These unexpected chores can leave you feeling stressed, especially since backyard weddings lack the professional staff and catch-all planning contingency of a venue.
Honor the hosts
If your big day isn’t taking place at your own home, spare a thought for the hosts who graciously open their homes for your celebration. It takes plenty of work behind the scenes to accommodate a large gathering – not only before and during the wedding but also afterward. So, consider booking a house cleaner and enlist family, friends, or even hire professionals to help dismantle everything post-wedding.
Capturing beautiful outdoor wedding photos can be tricky due to harsh lighting. While you can try to optimize around the softer light of sunrise or sunset, midday shots are often unavoidable.
To prevent unflattering photos of guests squinting or sporting dark shadows under their eyes, you’ll need to find ways to work around these lighting challenges.
For outdoor photos, my go-to solution is seeking out shaded areas like a sprawling oak tree, dense foliage, or building corners. Shade provides gentle light and enhances your shots; however, it might limit the available shooting angles and directions. Note: dappled light is worse than full sun, as this leads to spots of light appearing on the subjects’ faces, which cannot be fixed after the fact.
Shade is often our friend when photographing while the sun is overhead, but not all shade is created equal. Exposing for subjects in shaded locations may result in overly bright backdrops behind the subject. This will be best achieved at or close to sunset, when the light appears much more even in all directions.
Your photographer will guide you through where to pose for romantics and family photos while the sun is directly overhead, but in a nutshell, prepare to work with the light and not with the ‘pretty backdrop’ which might not work until later in the day.
Another great rule of thumb to bear in mind is this: position the subject so the sun is behind them. When you take photos with your phone, I’ve noticed people want the sun shining on their face. With professional photography you want to be backlit, meaning the sun is shining on the back of your head or slightly to the side, but not front-on.
For a short outdoor wedding however of around 3 hours total photography time, I recommend optimizing around sunset and aiming to finish up right at sunset or shortly before.
Source items thoughtfully and frugally
One factor to weigh when contemplating a DIY backyard wedding is the plethora of supplies usually offered by a venue. These could include outdoor lighting, sound/AV equipment, decorations, tea and coffee equipment, linens, tablecloths, glassware, dishes, tables, chairs and more.
Costs for a homegrown bash could easily spiral and rival those of a professional venue. As well as those listed above, there may prove to be numerous ‘invisible’ costs – even things like renting a dancefloor, patio heaters and porta potties. Alternatively, you could borrow or rent items, but this also requires a lot of planning and budgeting in accordance with your priorities.
Lower-cost retailers like Costco and Amazon can be godsends here, especially if you plan to resell after the wedding. You can also check local buy/sell wedding Facebook groups or sites like Wedzee.
Formulate a travel/ parking plan
Don’t forget to address parking logistics for your backyard nuptials! This is particularly essential within the Bay Area as many streets lack parking, particularly in San Francisco. You might need to verify street parking feasibility with local authorities when hosting a sizable crowd driving in.
As a thoughtful gesture, you should inform the neighbors of the impending influx of vehicles and loud music. Be aware of whether your community has a cut-off time for late-night gatherings. That might be 10pm or 11pm depending on the area and day of the week.
Goodwill gestures like baking cookies, writing letters, and even inviting your neighbors can truly make all the difference. The last thing you want is local residents shutting down your dancefloor.
I’ve seen weddings where out-of-town guests are bussed in from their hotel (I have many recommendations for local shuttle services). You could ask local guests to use Uber / Lyft, which is preferable as well if alcohol is a part of your celebration!
Most common vendors needed for a backyard wedding
- A photographer
- Hair & makeup artist
- Floral designer
- Videographer (if you want to capture audio from vows/speeches in particular)
- DJ / MC (if you have events to announce)
- Wait staff / servers (unless opting for a buffet)
- Day-of coordinator or planner (often will bring their own staff)
- Setup/ teardown staff
And a few more nice-to-have vendors for a backyard wedding
Check out the vendor credits below each wedding listed to see if they’re right for your wedding!
Photos from Bay Area backyard weddings
I’m going to share photos and a bit of background on seven awesome Bay Area backyard celebrations! Let me know in the comments which is your favorite and which details stood out to you as the most memorable!
Natalie and Ben, Berkeley
This was hands-down one of the most meaningful, tear-jerking and joy-filled weddings I’ve ever photographed. Natalie and Ben’s story spans two coasts and 9 years. The Jewish couple met in NYC in 2014 in a teacher fellowship program. Natalie stayed in middle and elementary education and Ben moved into academia, pursuing a PhD in art history at Johns Hopkins.
The location of the wedding was in Ben’s parents’ gorgeous garden overlooking the Bay and the bridges. It’s also where Natalie and Ben have been living since the start of the pandemic. This home is where Ben – a true Bay Area boy – grew up, and the site of many childhood shenanigans for Ben and his groomsmen.
The yard, with its stories, levels, and labors and love, became another character in the story.
Natalie and Ben’s wedding infused meaningful Jewish elements such as a ketubah signing, drinking from the Kiddush cup, personalized kippot and a short hora set.
On the day, sadly Natalie’s mother could not be there due to illness which was heartbreaking. She joined the Ketubah and ceremony virtually via FaceTime, with Natalie’s brother holding his phone up so she would be included during key moments.
Fortunately some good came out of it and we were able to arrange a separate session a couple of months later which included all close family members. We got loads of gorgeous photos of Natalie and her mom – way more than we would’ve got time for on a busy wedding day.
Their outdoor reception was beautiful and memorable, filled with poignant speeches and a relaxed vibe as darkness slowly fell. I was glad to capture so many dancefloor moments! And even some impromptu photos back in Ben’s childhood bedroom complete with his ‘wall art’ and ode to his high school girlfriend!
Natalie and Ben trusted me completely, for which I’m so grateful. It really showed in the final photos – they are surprising, fresh, and filled with love. They show what an amazing experience this wedding was for everyone involved. I couldn’t help but admire the closeness of the bonds between these two and their community.
Photography: Zoe Larkin Photography
Dress: Adore Justin Alexander
Bride shoes: Loeffler Randall
Wedding party: Anthropologie Weddings
Caterer: Pot Liquor SF
Bartending: Pop n’ Pour
HMUA: Beauty Bree
Rabbi: Jake Petzold
DJ & Musician: David Trevors
Transportation: Frankin Shuttle
Centerpieces: Fifth Season Studio
Michelle and Rob, Danville
This incredibly intimate backyard wedding had just 18 guests. Everyone played a part in making the day special and memorable. I love how everyone pulls together for occasions like this – from mom decorating Michelle’s Vespa, to the sister-in-law Robyn who’s also a professional wedding planner, and the sister and brother-in-law who offered up their beautiful Danville home to host the celebration.
With such beauty surrounding the home, we were spoilt for choice when it came to photo locations! We started with some on-the-fly getting ready photos which were really candid in nature – I loved them.
Then a first look and some time for photos and chilling before the ceremony started. The day had a relaxed feel which I really appreciated about this couple. They weren’t trying to force as many events as possible into a short time for the sake of saving money. Instead, they wanted intentionality and time to savor.
Some of my favorite photos are of Michelle and Rob simply looking out over their guests over dinner as everyone chatted and the sun was going down. Another favorite was from earlier in the day when guests organized a surprise confetti cannon for the ceremony exit!
I loved the idea of incorporating Michelle’s Vespa into the photoshoot, with Rob taking it out for a spin and Michelle holding on tight. SO fun and personal, plus it worked beautifully in the residential cul-de-sac of Rob’s sister’s home.
There were lots of shenanigans by the bar later in the night with friends’ free pouring. It’s so worth having your photographer stay to capture those real moments when everyone’s loosened up, dancing and having fun!
Photography: Zoe Larkin Photography
Planning: Robyn Diane Events
Dress: David’s Bridal
HMUA: Jacqueline Banuelos
Catering: Hazy Barbecue
Rentals: Pleasanton Rentals
Sweet: Sibby’s Cupcakery
Rings: Kern Jewelers
Serving staff: vendor details not provided
Marie and Austin, Los Altos
Marie and Austin restarted their lives together in 2020 after Austin had been away at law school for 2 years. He proposed to Marie one day after they’d gone surfing!
Their wedding was fairly intimate with around 50 guests. Their vision for the day was very simple: to get everyone together, reconnect and have a good time. As this wedding was in summer 2022, they hadn’t seen some of their friends in over 2 years.
For this wedding, I started at the couple’s home in Palo Alto to capture getting ready photos and some shots with their cat. We took this opportunity to get some special photos in the surroundings that they see every day including their backyard and their cute street. Of course, we got some photos showcasing their love of surfing (and ping pong).
The wedding itself was held in Marie’s sister’s backyard in nearby Los Altos. They loved the photojournalistic style that I specialize in. Lots of candids, fun couples’ shots, table visits, games and catching up.
One of my favorite touches was having a boba hour instead of a cocktail hour! I love this idea. If you’re not big drinkers or want a dry wedding, boba is the perfect fun drink to get everyone excited and it’s great in photos too. All their guests put their orders in in advance so it was a seamless ordering process.
There was a Polaroid guestbook station and plenty of games like ladder toss and cornhole that kept guests entertained. I always suggest having activities if you’re looking for candid photos, because it works best when folks are engaged in something.
A highlight was the boba cake! Yes, a friend created a cake that resembled a glass of boba! Super fun.
Photography: Zoe Larkin Photography
Florals: Sassy Diva Designs
Rings: Shane Co
Naomi and Andrew, Los Altos (associate photographer)
Naomi and Andrew were originally planning to get married in June 2020, but like so many others, they had to make do with a WebEx call and a virtual officiant.
Two years later, they wanted to have a chilled wedding celebration with around 80 friends and family members. Their old venue went out of business and vendors moved away, so they started afresh with their wedding planning journey – and what’s where my team and I came in!
This wedding was very much a family affair! The couple enlisted the help of family and friends not just to lighten the load but as a source of fun and meaning.
There were funny and cute touches like when the friends prepared the ‘toasts for toasts’ – literal pieces of toast! Friends also tended bar, making g&ts and old fashioneds throughout cocktail hour, and also provided homemade desserts.
The couple didn’t want a lot of super traditional touches like getting ready photos, a formal first look, a grand entrance, cake-cutting, a first dance or parent dances. Theirs was an indoor/outdoor event, with the ceremony taking place in the living room, cocktail hour and reception outdoors, and then back inside to while the night away on the dancefloor.
Naomi was an delightfully organized bride, with a down-to-the-minute timeline prepared before she’d even booked us! Usually this is one of the services we provide, but she was seriously on it. It even had the exact start and end time for the photographer already planned out.
One of our talented associate photographers captured this casual April wedding that took place at Naomi’s parents’ house.
Photography: Zoe Larkin Photography (associate photographer)
Dress: Lace and Liberty
Engagement ring: Charles and Colvard
Wedding rings: Blue Nile Diamond
Taylor and Ali, Los Gatos
This was a socially-distanced, family-only wedding complete with virtual guests! Much of the day was spent sharing the experience with those who joined via Zoom, including the ceremony, toasts and the cake-cutting.
The wedding took place at Taylor’s parents’ house with romantics at a nearby nature preserve to round out the day right at sunset.
We lucked out with the most incredible, even light at this January wedding celebration. That’s why all the photos from every angle look so stunning (plus Taylor’s natural beauty and poise, of course!).
Despite the fact there were only 4 guests (2 parents, 1 sister and 1 friend/tech), there was so much thoughtful care put into the decorations, bouquet, cake, outfits and backdrops.
This was so lovely and a dream to capture. It added more interest to both the experience and the photos. Thoughtful touches add a sense of occasion and elevate your home so much.
Photography: Zoe Larkin Photography
Floral design: Rooted Floral
Cake: Sugar Butter Flour
MUA: Makeup by Adele
Dress: Anthropologie Weddings
Officiant: Randy Taylor Weddings
Steph and Binh, Portola Valley
Steph and Binh actually had their ceremony at Huddart Park and then the reception in Steph’s parents’ backyard. Their Huddart Park ceremony is covered in the blog post below:
The parents had already set everything up, so the whole crew was ready to party on arrival. They opted for takeout at one of their favorite local places as they had such a small group. Much easier and cheaper than a catered meal! Everyone dived in and helped themselves.
The decorations were really pretty and helped create a party atmosphere. The ‘Happy Wedding’ sign was so cute and worked perfectly for photos.
When we arrived at the house, my second photographer and I whisked the couple away to do some romantics on the grounds as it was simply stunning. There was an incredible viewpoint that was part of the property – unbelievably magical.
What made this set of photos so great (apart from the obvious like a beautiful and loved-up couple) was the timing. The photo time ended right about 1 hour before sunset so the light had this flattering golden glow. The photography time coincided with the end of cocktail hour, just as the group was about to sit down to dinner.
Vendor details: not provided
Rhianon & Ted, San Francisco
This was a pandemic wedding, taking place in September 2020 at the couple’s home in Corona Heights, San Francisco. Rhianon and Ted originally planned to have a big 150+ person wedding in Sonoma which they decided to can due to the rescheduling difficulties and price increases.
I’m so glad that they went this route, because we had the most glorious day in the couple’s backyard with around 20 of their closest friends and family members.
Day-of, there was yet another curveball. We had a heatwave in San Francisco and temperatures soared into triple digits. Therefore, the ceremony at Buena Vista Park, a ten-minute walk away, was scrapped in favor of keeping proceedings under one roof.
Rhianon told me she did not see the wedding as a “serious, stiff or excessively formal event”, and instead reflected that their “goal has always been for this to be a fun, lighthearted, joyous celebration”.
There were some decor touches at the house, but really the event was all about the connections, great vegetarian food, and their pup who got his own photoshoot! We had a good half an hour to obtain beautiful romantic portraits of the two of them around their quiet neighborhood.
The layout of their home was perfect for a socially-distanced ceremony. The wedding party gathered on the lawn while others spectated from the deck. The two decks of the home worked great so folks could spread out throughout the event.
Rhianon changed into a slinky white jumpsuit in the evening and the couple spent some time on Zoom on one of decks catching up with those who couldn’t be there.
I was delighted to be invited back to photograph R&T’s maternity session/baby shower the following year! And we also captured their best man Roscoe’s wedding in 2023.
Rhianon summarized, “We have gone through some really difficult and serious things together, but even during the heaviest times, we just genuinely love hanging out with each other. THAT’S what we this wedding to be about, and the vibe we want.” And I love that.
Photography: Zoe Larkin Photography
Floral design: Sweet Spire Floral
Dress: Anthropologie Weddings
Shoes: Badgley Mischka
Rings: Padis Jewelry
HMUA: Beauty by Lia
Catering: Osha Thai
As a wedding photographer, I love capturing backyard and at-home weddings here in the Bay Area. They do not take a back seat here. They’re filled with genuine emotions and beautiful moments set against a natural backdrop that makes every photo truly special. With all these reasons in mind, consider a backyard wedding for a heartfelt celebration.
It’s worth remembering that a backyard wedding isn’t one that you ‘don’t have to bother planning’ or ‘just turn up and it’ll be fine’. A wedding of this kind takes arguably even more preparation than a regular wedding at an all-inclusive venue where all you have to do is pay the bill and turn up!
When you book with us, you’ll get an unobtrusive presence on the wedding day and tons of planning help! I’ve personally photographed over 400 weddings. I have seen first-hand what makes for a fun, chill experience.
Our down-to-earth couples just get it when it comes to honing in on what makes a wedding truly special. It isn’t the decorations or the exclusive venue. It isn’t the size of the centerpieces, how many tiers your cake has, or the fancy dress with a 12-foot train. It’s simply love. Your love. And the people who came to celebrate it with you on this one special day – and the memories you made with them.
About Zoe Larkin Photography
Looking for a Bay Area backyard wedding photographer? You can learn more about my services at the links below:
Hoping I’ll be photographing your at-home wedding very soon! To stay connected, be sure to follow along on Instagram and reach out when you’re ready to book your date.