My Wedding Planning Journey So Far

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As a wedding photographer, I always thought that I would know exactly what to do after getting engaged. I figured it would come really easy to me and I would be able to check off all the boxes like no big deal.

Boy was I wrong.

On this episode I break down all of the things I have learned since getting engaged and having to plan a wedding for myself. These are also some huge tips for Bride’s and grooms who may also be planning their dream wedding!

Stepping Into My Bridal Moment

For those of you who don’t know the full story, I got engaged in September 2020 at one of my favorites places, my parents little Ranch in Northern California. It was so magical and everything I ever could have imagined.

Right off the bat, I was actually super relaxed and didn’t feel much panic or rush over having to start planning a wedding immediately. I probably put things off longer than I should have but I was just really enjoying being engaged and soaking in that moment.

Choosing A Venue:

The first thing we did in our wedding planning journey was reach out to venues. There was no set date yet because we didn’t have any special dates we were set on. I just knew I wanted more of a fall wedding if possible. Originally I was thinking October but who am I kidding, my busiest season is October for work, so instead we were leaning more towards September.

I wanted to keep my options open in case we found a venue we really loved and needed to choose a date based on their availability.

About 3 or 4 venues later, we chose the first one we went and looked at. Kinship Ranch is a real working cattle ranch in Cromberg, CA, a tiny little mountain town.

It’s actually really close to where I went to college for equine studies so I was familiar with the area.

My Requests For A Venue

The photographer in me had a few specific requests for a venue:

Good lighting, good spots to take golden hour photos, a place with lots of natural light to get ready in, and a place that had a good coordinator.

Now the bride in me, had a few additional requests. I wanted a really long walk. I only get to do that one time in my life, I want that moment to last. A 10 second walk just isn’t for me. 

My goal was to find a location that was romantic, and felt intimate even though we were going to have a large wedding.

We decided to have our ceremony out in the pasture with a big pretty mountain view in the background.

Tyler is pretty easy, he had one request for the ceremony and that was big open field and mountains in the back. Mission accomplished.

Another important thing for me was that we were going to get married somewhere that I could bring my horses. Because yes… I am THAT girl 100% and Kinship Ranch allows that which is amazing.

Choosing My Photographer

Choosing a wedding photographer was by far the most challenging decision I have had to make for my wedding planning process so far.

I reached out to probably 100 photographers if not more and the pressure I felt was heavy. Other photographers and friends constantly asking me who I was going to choose, and when I would show the work of someone I liked they would judge me for it. It was actually pretty ridiculous.

People would say that their expectations of who I was going to choose were high and that I should pick a famous photographer. But I was really surprised at how much I didn’t feel the same way as they did.

I never thought I needed to pick a photographer that had 100 thousand followers or something. I just wanted someone who had work that I loved and who I felt connected with.

So who did I end up choosing? My girl Lela Spiva! Not only is her work stunningly beautiful, but she is the most kind hearted person ever. Her tones are creamy, an warm and everything I could have imagined in a wedding photographer.

After speaking with her on the phone I knew I had to have her and it’s a decision I don’t think I will ever regret.

If you are also in the process of choosing a wedding photographer please remember that connection is everything. Followers do not determine experience, or expertise.

My Favorite Part Of Wedding Planning So Far

At this point in time, my favorite part of wedding planning by far has been shopping for my wedding dress. I went with my mom one weekend and had no expectations of finding “the one”. I really thought I would end up going to like 20 different stores. But as soon as I saw my dress I knew it was the right one.

I decided to only have my mom come because I really didn’t want too many opinions. I honestly only care about hers. We had fun sipping champagne and looking at all the pretty styles and just making a day of it.

I will say though, there was a minute where I really got in my own head and hesitated. Being a wedding photographer means that I have seen a LOT of wedding dresses. So it was really hard for me to look at this experience with a fresh set of eyes.

I felt like every dress I tried on I had seen before and it created a bit of a mental block. However, when I did put on the one that I bought my moms reaction was everything to me. Her eyes teared up, and she said everything I needed to hear.

And now when I look back at the photos of my dress I know I made the right choice because I have yet to see any other dresses that made me feel differently. I love my dress!

The Wedding Ceremony Plan

The ceremony at our wedding is one of the most important aspects of the day for me. After all that is literally why we are all coming together in the first place.

I would say that on average about 75% of the ceremonies I photograph or have attended are roughly 10 minutes or less. That’s just not my jam. I want our ceremony to be at least 25 – 30 minutes. A lot of people just live for the party and want to get to the reception but that is not our style.

We know that this is a huge life change and we are vowing to love each other for the rest of our lives. It’s a big deal and I do not take that lightly.

I want that moment where we become man and wife to be really intimate, and beautiful and done before God without a feeling of being rushed. Tyler’s grandfather is a pastor and he will be officiating for us which is so special.

There will be lots of prayer, a unity branding ceremony, and other sweet moments that I don’t want to spoil by talking about them too much!

I cannot wait to walk hand in hand with my Dad towards Tyler. I know I am going to be a blubbering idiot but I am excited to be a married woman!

Our Wedding Reception Plans

For the reception, we do not have too many plans yet. But I would like to insert a couple of tips for the brides out there.

Please do yourself a favor and make time for the golden hour photos at sunset. Those are the magical moments you will never get back. It gives you a few minutes to step away from the party and just enjoy a sweet moment with your new husband. Plus the photos are freaking stunning.

One thing I know for sure, I will be eating my own dessert. I do not want to get stuck walking from table to table for hours. It’s my wedding day and I want to dance!

I also know that I want to have an official exit. These are usually seen as sparkler exists but we cannot do that because wild fires are a thing LOL So if you have any ideas for alternatives, let me know!

Expenses I didn’t know about:

I obviously knew that planning a wedding could be expensive but they don’t tell you exactly which things are the most expensive. Here are some things that I had no idea would take up such a large part of our budget:

  • Florals
  • Catering (holy cow feeding people is expensive)
  • Postage for mailing invites and save the dates
  • Bridal dress shop fees
  • All the tiny little things like plates, napkins, silverware, etc.

The Western Wedding Stigma

Finally, one of the last things I want to mention is the wedding stigma I have felt since it became obvious that I was having a western/ranch wedding.

I think a lot of people believe that if you are not having cowhide EVERYTHING or every detail isn’t leather then your wedding is not a true ranch wedding. And to that I say, who died and made you the freaking queen?

This is your day. You have the right to do whatever you want. If you think a ranch wedding mean cowhide and leather on every single detail… go for it. If you think a ranch wedding means you put on the most fairytale dress and frolic around in a field as if you are in a Taylor Swift music video then DO THAT.

Regardless, your wedding should be a representation of who you are, and all that you strive to be as a couple. Not some magazine made up version of something you are not.

Okay thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

Let that be a lesson for all you brides to be. Do whatever the heck you want. People are going to judge you either way.


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I'm Sarah Elrod

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I'm a Cowgirl turned serial entrepreneur.

I'm a horse trainer, western wedding photographer, business coach and ranch wife.

I help women in the western industry grow thriving businesses from rural America.

When I am not strategizing new marketing tactics, you will find me riding my horses, cuddling my cattle dog, or kissing my hot husband.

There is also a good chance I am buying way too many outfits from western boutiques.

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