Not long after shelter-in-place mandates were issued, I was invited to my first Zoom wedding. With only 10 days notice until the blessed event, I had very little time to prepare—but then I realized I didn’t have to prepare anything. No flights or accommodation to book, no plant-sitters, no new outfit.
But while, as a mere attendee, I had very few responsibilities, I realized that couples who wanted to livestream their wedding had to face a whole new world of decisions. Whether it's toggling the Zoom view between vows and then throwing to a musician in a different room, or making sure it's legal to get married virtually, the substantive elements of a wedding were all there, but the logistics were all so different. How did they do it? Below, Vogue talks to wedding experts and couples who successfully pulled off a live-streamed wedding.
What streaming service should I use?
Zoom has become one of the go-to streaming services for work and social functions, and it has also pulled ahead in weddings. Zoom is user-friendly, and its burgeoning popularity means that plenty of people are familiar with how it works, making it a low-stress solution for many attendees. On Zoom, you can have up to 1,000 devices in a single call. It offers live chat, private chat, and breakout rooms. "We can actually invite more people than our original venue would have allowed, so that's a bonus!" says content strategist Jennifer Machiaverna, who is using Zoom for her wedding. "People who also were not going to be able to travel, like my grandmother, will also now be able to watch and participate in the ceremony, which is an unexpected blessing."
“Just make sure to get a Pro account,” notes event planner Marcy Blum, “because the free service cuts out after 40 minutes.”
If you’re planning to have a smaller audience, don’t forget the old faithful option of FaceTime, which many people are likely to be familiar with. “I've had great success with FaceTime twice,” says event planner Mindy Weiss. “I had my videographer [film from a] safe distance and live feed it to their chosen guests.”
Alyx Gorman, an editor, livestreamed her wedding recently from Sydney, Australia, and opted for the conferencing app HopIn, which she recommends highly—but with one proviso. “It doesn't work well on iPads and other devices, so it might leave a few of your older guests kind of stumped,” she says. (Her backup plan: a YouTube livestream.) Gorman liked HopIn’s additional features, including breakout sessions (“a bit like wedding tables, where guests can all video chat each other independently”) and a networking function where you can match guests up with each other randomly. “One person even got matched with his ex—which is such a real life wedding thing. I loved it,” she says.
What hardware should I use?
If you’re having a more intimate wedding, all you might need is a phone. With 10 family members streaming her wedding on Zoom, special projects manager Valeska Pretelt simply asked a trusted guest to broadcast the event: "My cousin, one of our four in-person guests, stood up on a chair and held up my iPhone for all to witness." Broadway performer Amanda Jane Cooper also had a friend act as camerawoman with an iPhone for a portable option, and she supplemented that with bluetooth speakers, a laptop, and an iPad, all placed on top of a stepladder to capture the ceremony.
For Gorman’s wedding, there was a “three-camera setup”: a friend used a Blackmagic ATEM Switcher to toggle between the different views, enabling close-ups, wide shots, “and picture in picture, so even when the celebrant was speaking, guests could still see our faces.” The couple used a separate laptop to talk to people after the ceremony. “If you can afford to have professional standard video production, it's going to make a huge difference for your guests and for you,” she says. “All the feedback from our wedding is that it felt real; and in some ways it was more intimate, because people could see our faces up close during the ceremony.”
Wedfuly cofounder and CEO Caroline Creidenberg says that most smartphones can provide a high-quality feed. She also recommends that couples set up a few different tripods for different views: “On our end we switch between the different views, so when they're doing their processional, for example, you don't just all of a sudden see them show up on the screen. We have devices on each of their faces so that when they do their vows, we show their respective faces.” And don’t forget the element of sound: “We usually recommend the couple has either a microphone, or even AirPods, for the voice aspect.”
How do I deal with the legal elements of getting married?
Digital weddings aren't yet legal in every state, and things are changing fast, so check your local laws. For example, in April, New York announced it would allow people to obtain marriage licenses online." California has a similar rule, and in Colorado, there was a monthlong provision enabling people to apply for marriage licenses via mail.
For architect Alice Colverd, who is planning a virtual wedding, that was a boon: "We will apply for a license and apply for an appointment with an officiant who is doing Zoom marriages. I am grateful to New York State for making this option available to us; we are happy to be able to move forward with our lives in spite of everything."
Are there specialists who can help plan a virtual wedding?
While a virtual wedding might involve fewer moving parts, for some couples it will still make sense to bring in wedding planners and on-the-day coordinators—and they don’t even have to be in the room with you. “An expert can help with flowers, the license, the celebrant, the ceremony order—even sending a fab outfit,” says Weiss. Cooper worked with coordinator Alice Isaac, who arranged for the bridal party to send a video toast on the night of the couple’s virtual rehearsal dinner: “We will always cherish those videos and are grateful for Alice’s intentionality and expertise in planning the little things that make a big difference.”
Even if you don’t enlist professional help, it’s probably a good idea to hand off tasks to any witnesses you will have. “If you have quarantined with other people or are having a small number of socially distant guests, ask one of them to worry about the live stream, check the audio, and stay on top of everything,” says Blum. And if you had planned to work with certain providers, like caterers, set designers, stylists, photographers, makeup artists, musicians, and the like, you might still be able to retain their services, albeit on a potentially smaller scale. “It makes sense to hire a professional floral designer or stylist to set up for you, for example—after all, you will be looking at these images for a lifetime.”
There is one type of professional assistance that’s particular to a live-streamed wedding: tech support. Most of us aren’t familiar with the technology required to broadcast an event online. “I'd recommend that anyone who's planning a big digital wedding hire an IT person to help before they get any other vendor,” says Gorman. “Our team can emcee and run the entire Zoom call,” says Wedfuly cofounder and CEO Creidenberg, “handling all the spotlighting, muting, unmuting any media being played. What we tell the couple is, you just log on and set up your cameras—and then you can just enjoy the wedding.” Wedfuly also offers add-ons, including location scouting, invitations, and vendor liaison.
How can I personalize the wedding?
Without your friends and family all present, and without the trappings that often accompany an IRL wedding, it’s easy to think that a digital wedding might be less, well, you. But that’s not the case. All the things you might want to ask loved ones to do—readings, ceremonial processions, musical performances, speeches—can still be done, either live or pre-recorded.
Take the invitations: “Send an email to everyone, addressed to each personally if possible, as it makes it more special for each guest,” Blum recommends. “Ask them to wear something festive (on top at least!) and ask whomever you wish to prepare to give a toast.”
You might not be on a dance floor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance. “You can send your first-dance song sheet to your guests, and they can sing to the music while you dance,” Weiss suggests. Above all, though, “don’t lose your sense of humor—if you are making the effort to make your dreams come true, have fun with it! Have Champagne or apple cider on ice, and make sure all your guests have a glass of something to toast with.”
While everyone isn’t together in the same room, that doesn’t mean you should eschew the reception, says Creidenberg. “People are doing reception tables using Zoom breakout rooms. You don’t have to limit it at the ceremony. It does make it a little bit more special.“
What about the location?
Many venues have closed down or paused operations, so most couples are choosing smaller venues or to get married from home. Home, as they say, is where the heart is, so think about the areas that will make you feel most comfortable or glamorous, or that have the most space. If you have a yard, or a favorite room, that’s definitely worth considering. “If you are getting married in your home, that actually works for a chuppah,” says Weiss, “because a chuppah is supposed to look like a roof.” Pretelt opted for her balcony, describing it as “picturesque in and of itself.”
And if you're at home, you can lean into personalizing the visual elements of the festivities. “Figure out what is going to be in the frame of the video,” says Weiss. “It’s fun to frame pictures of guests and place them around the ceremonial area. And don’t forget to clean your home area if it’s going to be onscreen!”
For your wedding, you might want to splash out and rent or buy new furnishings. But you could also work with what you already have, like Gorman did. “We used all the potted plants in our house, plus some extras and lots of blooms to make the altar. The set also featured a book case, which I stacked full of books our guests had written, love stories, and books that are personally meaningful to my husband and me.”
What can go wrong?
If you’re planning a live-streamed wedding, it’s imperative to ensure you have a strong and well-tested wi-fi connection,” says Blum. “It would be very disappointing, to say the least, if it conks out.”
Don’t forget to run through the event beforehand. “Rehearsal was important for us to pull this off, and we recommend it!” says Cooper. “We triple checked the phone hotspot connection with our devices. Our photographer did a photo rehearsal on the roof via Zoom to figure out angles and lighting.” To help guests understand what’s going to happen, send a detailed note to explain how the event will proceed and instructions on how to participate.
Given the lack of familiarity we all have with how this kind of a wedding might unfold, give yourself plenty of time. “Often, a bride and groom have several folks tending to them on their big day, but when you’re doing much of the prep on your own, we recommend leaving more time than you think you need.” says Cooper. And even with all that planning, plans can go awry. “During our virtual reception, the bandwidth was stretched too thin, so we opted to jump off Zoom for a conference call with our parents and bridal party instead,” she says. “It’s important to expect that things might go differently than planned so that you can take each hiccup in stride and enjoy your special day to the fullest.”
Creidenberg cautions couples to pre-test the audio: “One of the biggest hiccups we see is that you can have feedback in terms of audio. People will set up their cameras and test angles and don’t actually test them on Zoom. They’ll turn on the cameras and all of a sudden when they’re talking, they’ll have echoes.”
Ultimately, a digital wedding is just like any other—things can and do go wrong. Remember we’re all in this together, Blum advises. “Everyone realizes that this is a different experience and not what is expected, and it's definitely okay to mention that.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue