What if it Rains on Your Wedding Day?
As a wedding photographer, one of the most painful things to see is when one of my couples has a mostly outdoor event planned, but a few days away the weather forecast looks bad. While this will be disappointing to me, as I may have looked forward to shooting outside at that venue and may have had certain portrait spots in mind for the couple, I know it pales in comparison to the couple's feelings. For many months, they've become heavily emotionally invested in their vision of what their wedding would be like, and now suddenly the weather is threatening to throw their plans into disarray.
Expect Bad Weather
My first and foremost suggestion is to, right from the very beginning of the planning process for an outdoor wedding, accept the fact that it may rain on your wedding day, and have alternative plans in mind. From an emotional standpoint, being prepared for this possibility early in the process will make it a little easier to cope with if it actually does occur. And as a practical and logistical matter, you should always have a rain plan worked out ahead of time, rather than frantically trying to throw something together at the last moment.
Understand How Your Wedding Venue Handles Rain
This is a discussion every bride, groom, or couple should have with their wedding venue well in advance so that there are no unpleasant surprises. Having a contingency plan already sketched out makes dealing with a worsening weather forecast the week of the wedding much less stressful.
Admittedly, planning for adverse weather is easier with some venues than others. For instance, at Hotel Mazarin in the French Quarter, outdoor ceremonies in the courtyard are virtually unaffected by rain. This venue has a retractable canopy that can cover the entire courtyard, and is high enough that it is completely unnoticeable unless you look up at it, and has virtually no impact at all on the outdoor ambiance of the courtyard. Worst case, in a heavy or persistent rain, there might be a few small areas of standing water here and there, but it's doubtful that anything short of a torrential downpour would cause a ceremony here to be moved inside. In terms of rain plans for outdoor weddings, it doesn't get any better than this!.
Other venues, such as the Maison Dupuy Hotel, Elms Mansion, Brennan's, and Broussard's have custom-designed tents available to cover their outdoor event spaces. There is usually a fee involved, as this service is typically handled by a separate tent company that has an arrangement with the venue, and the big catch is that the decision will need to be made several days before the wedding, since these tents can take some time to set up. So, there's a possibility that you might make these arrangements, have the tent in place, and then end up with perfectly fine weather. But if you're looking at a high percentage probability of rain, it's well worth it for the peace of mind.
In many cases, however, the rain alternative is to move the event to the venue's indoor space. Often, this only affects the ceremony, as the reception may have been planned to be inside anyway. This can, understandably, be difficult for a couple to accept, as the ceremony backdrop of a lovely French Quarter courtyard or a graceful garden may have been the main reason why they chose that particular venue. That's a calculated risk that each couple has to take in selecting their wedding venue. But this is why it's advisable to discuss these kinds of details with the venue before booking, so that you can decide if the indoor alternative would be acceptable to you if needed, and also to know the threshold of when the decision to move inside will be made.
A rained-out ceremony is one thing, but even more painful is when a ceremony is moved inside an hour or two before the scheduled start time, and then it turns out that the weather has subsequently cleared up, and it could have taken place outside after all.
An excellent example is Southern Oaks. I've photographed over fifty weddings at this popular venue, but only on two occasions was the ceremony moved indoors due to rain, which I attribute largely to the fact that they have a lot of experience combined with a large staff that can be called into action to quickly set up the ballroom for ceremony seating if needed. Because of this, the decision to move inside can be deferred until the last possible moment if it looks like the weather might clear in time.
Separate Outdoor Ceremony Location
In some instances, you may be planning to have your ceremony in a park or other outdoor location that is completely separate and independent from your reception venue. For instance, a ceremony in Jackson Square, and a reception at one of the many great venues in the French Quarter. This can be a bit trickier to plan for. The ideal solution is to make contingency arrangements with your reception venue if they have a separate suitable indoor space for a ceremony. If there's not a separate space, it may be trickier for them to accommodate a ceremony while also being able to quickly flip the space for the reception immediately afterward, but that still might be your best or only option.
But you should definitely address all this well beforehand. The last thing a couple wants to have to deal with on the morning of their wedding is to be scrambling around on a last-minute hunt for an alternate ceremony location.
Embrace the Rain
If it does begin to rain on your wedding day, roll with it! It doesn't happen often... probably only a few dozen (out of over 700) weddings I've photographed that have been materially affected by rain. And although I can personally empathize with the disappointment associated with weather affecting important plans such as a wedding, some of the greatest photographs I've taken have been the result of the bride simply saying "so what?" and acting as though the uncooperative mother nature was not bothering her in the least.
This second line parade is my favorite example of this. I'm sure she was not actually happy about the rain, but she recognized and accepted that it was not something she could control. What she could control was how she responded to it, and clearly her mindset was, "I don't care that it's raining, I'm going to have a GREAT time at my wedding," which I think was perfectly captured with this image. Another positive aspect of rain is illustrated with that image, which is that the streets and sidewalks of the French Quarter look spectacular when wet! So if I'm doing an engagement portrait session or some wedding day portraits of the couple, I'm thrilled if a rain shower happens to move through an hour or so before.
This wedding at Compass Point Events in Algiers started to have a light drizzle right as the ceremony was about to begin, but the couple opted to remain outside. You would have thought that this particular bride's dream was to have a wedding in the rain! The venue helped by having a stockpile of umbrellas to distribute to guests. Of course, with a heavy downpour, continuing the ceremony outside would likely not have been practical, but in a light rain it's certainly feasible. In this case, the main disappointment the couple had was that we were not able to do the outdoor portraits of the two of them that we had planned, but this was alleviated by scheduling a post-wedding portrait session a few weeks later.
This topic comes up often, particularly with couples planning a wedding in the Summer or early Fall where hurricanes are always a concern. Fortunately, storms with the level of destruction of Katrina (2005) are not a frequent occurrence, but still, even a relatively minor hurricane, if it happens to hit on your wedding weekend, can disrupt your plans.
Such was the case with this wedding at Latrobes in early October 2017 with the uninvited guest Hurricane Nate making an appearance. While the actual weather effects of the hurricane were minimal (almost non-existent), a precautionary city-wide curfew that was to be imposed that evening meant the event would not be able to take place at the original planned time. So, the couple decided to move the event up to an earlier start time, with the ceremony being moved to Latrobes instead of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church as originally planned (since the church was unable to reschedule), and fortunately the venue, myself, and the other wedding vendors were able to accommodate this change.
It's another great reminder of how a weather disruption on your wedding day does not have to mean you don't have a great time. That particular wedding, despite the couple's original plans being thrown into disarray, was absolutely near the top of my list of all-time most fun receptions ever!
But still, for financial peace of mind, wedding insurance is a good thing to consider. There are various coverage options available, but in general, wedding insurance is intended to protect you against monetary loss from a variety of mishaps, including severe weather that prevents the event from taking place.
The Best Month to Get Married Outdoors in New Orleans
Setting aside for a moment the above-mentioned hurricane in October, that's actually historically the least rainy month in the New Orleans area. So, if your heart is set on an outdoor wedding and want the greatest chance of it not being affected by rain, that's the month to plan for! It's also typically the most comfortable time of year to be outside in terms of temperature and humidity. May is the second driest month, while June is the wettest.