Backyard wedding on Lake Nagawicka
A bride leans her head on her groom's shoulder as they stare out into a lake in Hartland, Wisconsin during their summer wedding.

Backyard wedding on Lake Nagawicka

How they met

I’m super excited to share one of my most beautiful weddings I’ve been a part of and that is Jeff and Lex’ backyard wedding in Hartland, Wisconsin.

Hartland is a smaller town that is west of Milwaukee in what is known as lake country. 

Jeff and Lex met back in September of 2012 at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater at the same freshman orientation group. They remained friends and after college, Lex invited Jeff on to her parent’s boat on Lake Nagawicka. They became official the next day and two years later Jeff proposed on a family vacation in Jamaica. 

When I think of this wedding and think of what made it such a photographic success, I think mostly of all the collaboration and trust I had with Jeff and Lex well before their wedding date. 

Unlike, a lot of couples Jeff and Lex hired me less than half a year before their date and they didn’t ask for an engagement session.

With their wedding in July having a warm weather engagement session would have been tricky timing anyway.

However, even without the engagement session Lex and Jeff showed so much trust in me as a photographer, letting me put them in different poses, being flexible with their initial ideas and letting me choose a lot of the location and timing for things.

When a couple puts breathing space in their schedule for photos and gives me freedom and time to take them, then we can truly get some magical photos.

We also had a really successful walk through a couple weeks before the wedding where we ironed out some details that helped us, including how long it would take to walk around their property and neighborhood, finding a spot for the first look and talking through sunset portraits.

Their backyard wedding

Like Jeff and Lex, my wife and I also had a backyard wedding.

There are so many reasons to have a backyard wedding. For one, it can be more intimate and personal than picking a venue you have no connection with. On the other hand, having it at your own backyard or a relatives’ is already a memorable place for you. 

Another thing that was really important to me and my wife is that when you have your wedding on your own personal property than you have a lot of autonomy on what can do. We wanted to have our wedding outside no matter the weather and a lot of venues may move you inside if they think it’s necessary.

Also, let’s be honest and admit that with the price of everything skyrocketing, having a backyard wedding may be a great way to keep wedding costs down or an opportunity to increase your budge in other areas beside the venue.

At both this wedding and mine we had rented a tent for the reception. Since, mine was in October my wife and I had a closed tent with the sides down and a heater filling it with warm air.

Jeff and Lex had the sides on their tent up for their reception since it was plenty warm in July and the whole thing fit in their parents backyard while they had their ceremony on a neighbor’s property a few houses down. Their neighbor had a large open grassy space which sat on a corner of Lake Nagawicka, so we’d get a wide open view of the lake in the background as they were married.

The wide open area also really helped with the wedding party portraits as Jeff and Lex had one of the biggest wedding parties I’ve ever seen, 20 people!

If you do choose to have a large wedding party, expect a little chaos during the portraits and the wedding itself. Jeff and Lex’ party were all super great and to a man and woman they all were great sports, but even so dealing with so many people can get a little overwhelming for the bride and groom.

Photo ideas while getting ready

I really loved working with Lex, because she had a lot of wonderful ideas for the getting ready photos. Many of her ideas, I’ve done before, but really it’s up to the couple to want to put the time and energy into making some of these things happen. They make for wonderful memories, but for every moment there is planning and time involved. 

If you’re already stressed and worried about having enough time to get your hair and makeup done, I would not worry about adding anything extra.

For Lex and Jeff, some beautiful moments were that they wrote each other letters before the ceremony. Lex had even written a diary and wrote in it each day for an extended period of time and she gave that to Jeff. 

Jeff’s letter was enough to make Lex tear up a bit and I documented all of it while she sat on the bed with her bridesmaids in the background.

Lex also took pajama photos with her bridesmaids on the bed and took photos holding her dress and rings, popping champagne and getting her shoes and dress on.

Her and Jeff also had a first look, which was right before they headed off to the ceremony.

Ceremony and a couple unique portraits

Their ceremony itself was beautiful and the large wedding party gave it a lot of life and character. 

Jeff is a policeman and a couple of his coworkers brought the house down when they walked down the aisle as flower men. They wore fanny packs carrying the flower petals and tossed the petals in the air with a whole lot of style as they danced in between the guests. Their dancing even included a moment where one of the men threw his leg up and the other one drummed it like a guitar. 

Everyone loved it.

Later at the end of the night, Jeff worked with me to add more police to the portraits when another coworker stopped by and they turned the lights on their police car. Jeff and Lex stood in front and we took a couple quick portraits with the lights flashing.

I have to mention this last moment, but this wedding produced one of my favorite spur of the moment portraits ever. While we were taking family portraits, Lex’ brother who seemed to be somewhat of a outdoorsy naturalist found a butterfly. 

With the butterfly perched on his finger, he walked over to Lex and put it on her hand and then I took a picture with a fully grown butterfly with its wings stretched all the way out on a bride’s finger.

It was just magic.

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