From crafting a nuptial retreat to getting ready together, here's what the pro likes to see at every celebration.

By Sarah Schreiber
October 21, 2019
Courtesy of Elizabeth Messina

If you're in the thick of wedding planning, you've likely already discovered the importance of prioritizing a select few vendors or details. This priority list, of course, varies by couple. The same is true for the vendors who actually bring weddings to life-they have priority lists of their own. The difference? Theirs come backed with years of industry experience. To help you shape up your own big-day musts, we've tapped the biggest names in the wedding sphere-from planners and photographers to florists-to share their three wedding must-haves. Follow along with The Insider to learn which wedding-related details professionals can't live without.

Celebrity wedding photographer Elizabeth Messina—who has been behind the camera at many an A-lister's nuptials, from Jason Bateman, Jessica Simpson, and Lauren Conrad to Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Sasha Pieterse—had a very special guest with her during her very first gig: Her one-month-old daughter. "My mother came with me and helped me with my newborn while I took photos," she tells Martha Stewart Weddings. "I would break from time to time to nurse her. It was a wonderful and challenging experience. I honestly do not know how I did it." That tricky first go helped set Messina up for a 20-year-long (and counting!) career of success—especially since, she says, weddings are unpredictable by default. "Something goes wrong at virtually every wedding. That's simply how life is—unpredictable," she notes. This is true even for your vendor team, Messina adds, noting that she's made her fair share of mistakes. (One of which involved forgetting extra batteries for her single camera, which died during the cocktail hour. "I cringe even thinking about it," she says, but added that the day was saved by a nearby photographer friend.)

The unbelievable good has obviously outweighed the bad; Messina has watched John Legend perform a surprise intimate concert for a few lucky guests, witnessed a bride on horseback gallop into her ceremony in North Carolina, and seen stunning fireworks at midnight in the South of France. Through her global travels for work, Messina has gathered incredible insight into what goes into a next-level wedding day—insight the creative has luckily shared with us. She was so inspired by her suggestions, in fact, that she may very well use them herself: "This seriously sounds so good; maybe this is the beginning of planning a vow renewal!"

Related: The Insider: Celebrity Wedding Photographer Jose Villa's Top Wedding Essentials

View your celebration as a "wellness retreat."

"If I were planning my wedding tomorrow, I would think of it more as a wedding retreat," explains Messina. The key to pulling off this type of event? Keeping the guest list as small as possible—and transporting everyone to paradise. "I envision 20 or so of our closest friends and family somewhere in the Loire Valley or perhaps a villa in Tuscany. We'd spend several days and nights together, eating incredible food and enjoying each other's company."

Craft a scenic ceremony backdrop.

In the process of planning this type of party? Do everything you can to show off your surroundings, which means holding each part of your event in a scenic spot that speaks to your destination. If you decide to tie the knot in Tuscany, for example, exchange vows in "a grove of olive trees standing in a circle of flowers," suggests Messina.

Bookmark these three wedding dress brands.

For elopements or retreat-style nuptials, Messina recommends the following three wedding dress labels: Marchesa, Alexandra Grecco, and Claire Pettibone. These are three ateliers to bookmark, she says, if you're looking for a garment to match the vibe of your romantic, relaxed destination wedding.

Get ready together.

If she were to get married all over again, Messina says she and her husband would get ready together: "I know that's untraditional, but he's my favorite person and I'd want to enjoy the whole day with him."

Involve your children, if you have them.

Who cares, notes Messina, if they "bicker and laugh" throughout the day? The most important parts of these types of celebrations, she explains, "are the people we love and hold dear." Crafting an "inclusive and relaxed" wedding with your kids is a choice you won't regret making.

Consider the season—especially for destination events.

Envisioning a celebration abroad? Be sure to double check the official sunrise and sunset times on location, notes the creative. She suggests tying the knot in June, since you'll "have as much natural light as possible—this makes for wonderful photographs."

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