This is a crazy time we’re living through, not least for couples trying to plan a lockdown wedding! I’m here today to bring you some inspiration for your Bay Area COVID wedding. Not getting married in the Bay Area? You’ll still get some awesome ideas here!
I’ll leave all the health advice to the experts, I’m not here to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t get married during these times, nor what precautions you need to take. There are plenty of resources online to help you plan that side of things!
As far as the photography side of things goes, I’m here to help you plan exactly the wedding you want. In my own experience shooting weddings even during the pandemic, I can certainly tell you that every couple is very different.
Take some time to work out how you want to proceed, what precautions you need in place – and be sure to communicate openly with both your guests and vendors.
As a wedding professional, my goal is to assist couples who are moving forward with their weddings. I want to do so in a way that is as safe as possible, while honoring who they are as a couple. The aim is never to judge the choices of others!
One thing’s for sure, if you do decide to get married during the COVID-19 situation, it’s still possible to have a beautiful, simple and meaningful wedding celebration. Even if it isn’t what you had in mind for your wedding, love still prevails.
So, let’s dive in with some COVID wedding inspo, with FIVE of my awesome couples!
A post-ceremony, couple-only shoot in iconic San Francisco locations
M + D (above) had planned a much larger celebration initially. Hopefully that will still go ahead for next year. The couple’s situation was a little difficult, so I had to be super flexible. M was just about to start a new job on the East Coast right after the ceremony, and they wanted to tie the knot ideally while they still lived in the Bay Area.
They decided to have a virtual, live streamed ceremony. The location they chose for this was the Shakespeare Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. However, they decided against having a photographer present for that part of the day’s events.
Immediately after they were officially married, they met up with me, their wedding photographer at the Palace of Fine Arts. We planned to do a two-and-a-half-hour photography session, taking in the lovely Palace first.
Then we’d head to Lover’s Lane at the Presidio (specifically sculptor Andy Goldsworthy’s famous Wood Line).
As we had complete flexibility on the timeline, I suggested we time the session to benefit from the gorgeous evening/ sunset light. It did not disappoint! As a nice little touch they exchanged cards with personal messages that they read out to one another.
Hopefully they will be going ahead with their larger nuptials at San Francisco City Hall and the Stable Cafe next year.
A family-only meal + ceremony near home in Point Richmond
L + J opted for a day with close family. I joined them just as they were finishing off a meal at Lara’s Fine Dining in Point Richmond, just a minute’s walk from their condo. Larissa went back to the apartment to change into her wedding outfit and we did a first look as J saw her for the first time!
After a quick couples’ photo session, the 20-minute ceremony began, complete with the couples’ dogs walking them down the aisle! A champagne toast and gift exchange then ensued, which was all built into the timeline.
Straight after that, we ran through an extensive family photo session, which was perfect because we allowed even more time than it actually ended up taking. We worked through the list quickly and made sure to capture the dogs in some of our photos.
I rounded off my 3 or so hours of photography coverage with more couples’ photos around the marina. It was a meaningful location for the couple as they live so close by and frequently walk their dogs in the area. The close proximity of the areas we took photos meant maximizing for time, as travel was minimal.
L + J were originally planning to get married in Hawaii, as that was where J proposed. However, COVID came and had other ideas, so they canceled plans for a big wedding. What L wanted most from her wedding was ‘joy, happiness and love’. That came through perfectly.
Florals Paper Source
Officiant Sophie Eckert
Invitations Printed with VistaPrint
In-home and outdoor ceremony in Piedmont Park, Oakland
As a couple, E + A describe themselves as ‘easygoing, affectionate and silly’. They also mentioned during planning they they want it to be fun and relaxed as they are a playful couple and not fussed about the details.
The couple had me start with them late in the morning. They got ready separately, in locations about a mile apart. E was with her good friend (who would also be the officiant!) while A was at the couple’s home. I began coverage with the girls who drank champagne while E finished off her wedding vows. It was a chill morning!
I then headed to A who was getting ready alone. A few photos later, we headed together to the bus stop that was the location for E + A’s first look. The reason for the unusual choice was it was where they first met!
After a few couples’ photos and lots of tears, we drove to Piedmont Park, the ceremony location. We found a suitable spot that was free of people and somewhat secluded. The couple wanted to record the ceremony on their phone, so I had brought along my mic, tripod and mount to attach the phone to the tripod. (Those are my affiliate links if you want a cheap set-up that works).
It was a super emotional ceremony! Afterwards, the officiant/friend/hero headed back to her car to set up the picnic while we utilized a wide variety of locations for couples’ photos. As soon as we were done, the couple tucked into their wedding picnic and I left them to it.
They always wanted something small for their wedding, and never planned or wanted to go the big wedding route. I’m sure that COVID or no COVID, they would have planned something exactly like this.
Lake Merritt photo session and Berkeley Hills ceremony with epic views
N + N live very close to the gorgeous Lake Merritt so it made sense to begin our session there. They are new Oakland residents and love their home and lake life. The couple wanted ‘photos that look like them’, so it’s important to get to know them a little first and really hear the wedding vision.
They had originally planned a City Hall wedding, but when they knew that wasn’t going to happen they weighed up their options carefully. After the lake photos, they chose a location that was meaningful as well as beautiful. Enter this spot: right behind the Lawrence Hall of Science and quite the secret. So beautiful!
Post-ceremony there was Ethiopian honey wine, in honor of the groom’s heritage. We sent the guests back to their cars to stay warm while I photographed the couple in a variety of backdrops within a short walk of the ceremony location.
I did give them some advice beforehand, as regards timing. The couple was concerned about fog rolling in, but in fact it would be better to capitalize on the beautiful light that starts around 2 hours before the sunset time. Fog is not that bad in photos, but harsh overhead light is more of an issue.
I also suggested that we arrange to finish the session more than 45 minutes before the official sunset time because in that location and weather conditions, it would get dark much earlier. Plus, if it’s possible to extend our session in the case of late-running without either rushing, running out of light or getting dark, grainy photos.
Backyard wedding in San Francisco with Thai takeout
R + E had just about everything thrown at them. Their original plan was to hold a 150-person wedding at the gorgeous Cornerstone Sonoma. Corona of course had other ideas.
So, they decided to go ahead with their original date but with a few necessary adjustments. The date was actually an important part of their story, as it marked two years of them being a couple!
Plan B was to get married at Buena Vista Park with 25 or so family members and the all-important wedding parties. The day arrived but brought with it a record-breaking heatwave of 102° in San Francisco.
On top of the uncomfortable heat, there happened to be dangerous levels of smoke in the air on this September day.
Just an hour before the official start of the wedding, R made the decision to relocate all wedding plans to the couple’s home, to prevent against the heat and smoke.
It turned out to be an absolutely wonderful, meaningful day. Everyone was able to safely distance and enjoy a beautiful backyard ceremony (presided over by Corona Heights’ wild parrots) and followed by delicious vegan Thai takeout.
Having the ceremony and reception all in one place actually meant more of a chill vibe to the day with the least amount of fuss! Everyone was super relaxed, lounging in their more comfortable outfits after the more formal events.
Endless unique wedding possibilities
Sure, a pandemic wedding is not for everyone. Many couples are waiting it out. The vast majority of my 2020 couples have pushed to 2021. But for those that are getting married this year and doing the intimate, downsized wedding thing, I hope this was helpful. Real-world examples can be hard to come by.
I hope you can see how different each couples’ intimate wedding really is. You can allow time for eating and drinking, or you can skip that entirely. Getting ready not your thing, or do you really want to capture more of the pre-ceremony nerves and excitement?
Some couples opt to have a virtual ceremony, for which no photographer is necessary. Others want a perfunctory ceremony, and yet others would like the whole 20-30 minute caboodle complete with personal stories, vows and readings. There are really more options now than ever!
If you can see the upsides, there really is a lot of scope for crafting a day that’s completely custom, allowing for exactly what it is you prioritize. And you can pick and choose how long you want your photographer to be there, now that all-day weddings are not really a thing.
The importance of thoughtful planning
A word of warning though. One thing that almost all my couples have struggled with, however, is a realistic idea of how long an intimate wedding (and specifically the photography) truly takes. There’s a fallacy that if the wedding is going to be small, it somehow needs less planning and careful attention to detail.
Even for the most relaxed wedding, it can be a false economy to assume that several events can be crammed into just a couple of hours. That’s why I created this detailed planning resource, linked below, in case you are planning your small wedding yourself.
It will show you exactly how to build out your timeline exclusively for your intimate, downsized wedding.
I know a wedding planner is not most people’s first thought when you think of a small, relaxed wedding. However, if you really do want it to be super relaxed and stress-free as well as cost-effective, I highly recommend at least checking this article out, as there are more benefits to hiring a wedding planner for a small wedding than you realize. I promise.
In fact, because lockdown weddings are less cookie-cutter, more custom, they may require more forethought and insight. These are truly skills a professional can bring! Luckily I also pride myself on creating timelines for my couples that optimize for, and prioritize, great photos and a relaxed experience. That is priceless and can’t be rushed.
Has that got you inspired for your lockdown wedding in San Francisco?
If you’re looking for a flexible wedding photographer that can work with you and can accommodate changes of plans without penalizing you, learn more about how I work with COVID weddings at the article linked below.
My services together with an idea of pricing are on this page: https://zoelarkin.com/details
Can’t wait to shoot more of these special and unique celebrations!