How to plan the Perfect Intimate Wedding in Pittsburgh: Tips from a Wedding Photographer

December 5, 2023

Natalia Baqueiro

Destination Weddings, Eloping, Pittsburgh Locations, Weddings

Bride and Groom smiling after their wedding ceremony in Park Guell in Barcelona

A lot has been said about big weddings, and all the perks of it, and to me one of the best things about them is all the guests that get to be in one place at the same time with you celebrating love and union, which is what matters the most in life. However, I can also see the beauty of an intimate small wedding where there are very few family members and friends invited, or none and it’s just the two of you. So I wanted to give you the best tips and ideas of why you might want to consider an perfect intimate wedding and I’ll show one one of my favorite ones I did this year at the gorgeous Mansions on Fifth Hotel Pittsburgh It was just the couple, the officiant and myself, plus the staff at the hotel.

Bride and Groom looking at each other in front of a forest at Bride and Groom standing with umbrellas and an officiant at Pittsburgh Botanic Garden


Okay. So you have been thinking about it, but you’re not entirely sure if it’s the right thing for you. I get it. I want to give you some clarity on it though and let you know that it’s your wedding and you can do whatever you want to do, and have as many weddings as you want! In this particular case, the couple chose to do this on 2023 to later have the big wedding with their entire family and friends on 2024, so you get the best of both worlds.

Chairs in Pittsburgh Botanic Garden from an Intimate Wedding
  • The idea of a big wedding is just downright unappealing to you. If It sounds like you appreciate the idea of a small, intimate wedding, where the focus is on the close relationships with your loved ones rather than managing a large event with numerous guests, keep on reading. Many people find smaller weddings more personal and less overwhelming, allowing for more meaningful interactions with loved ones, and taking in the little moments. It’s all about creating an atmosphere that resonates with you and your partner, ensuring that your wedding day reflects your values and preferences, so whether it’s a cozy gathering with a few close friends and family members or a destination wedding with an intimate group, the key is to tailor the celebration to suit your comfort and vision. Ultimately, the most important thing is that your wedding day feels authentic and special to you both!
  • You want the focus of the wedding to be more about Connection. This one is the one that would make me opt in for an intimate wedding, at least for the first half of the celebration. Small weddings are less about the wedding venue, what the food was like, how good the DJ was, or what all the decorations looked like. Instead the focus becomes more about love, and the connections between you and your boo, and the few guests you choose to include in your wedding day.
  • You want more flexibility with your wedding budget. When you have a big wedding, a huge chunk of your budget gets eaten up by the wedding venue, the catering and the entertainment for all the guests. That means you might be under-budgeting for other aspects of your wedding that you would rather be less conservative on, such as flowers, photography and the overall experience for you both. With an intimate wedding, you get to have more flexibility with your budget and it allows you to splurge in what matters the most to you.

OKAY! Wooohooo. If you’re still on board, you’re now in the intimate wedding camp, and you’re probably wondering how to plan one. Don’t worry! I’ve got some tips for you to help you navigate it all and make sure is authentic to you and what you want it to feel like. Let’s start planning the intimate wedding of your dreams!

Like I said before, there’s not “right way” of doing things, but I’ll give you some general tips and some knowledge I’ve gathered from being a Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer and Destination Photographer for the last 5 years.

Small weddings are generally between 30 and 60 guests, while a very small wedding, or a a micro wedding can consist of 20 or fewer guests. However, what we consider “small” might not be the exact definition that another couple has in mind—so what constitutes a small wedding is ultimately up to you. 

Black and white couple holding each other by a window in black and white

Finding the right Venue

Let me give you some pointers to finding the right location for your intimate wedding in the grater area of Pittsburgh that have plenty of options for a unique and personalized experience. If you’re going this route, I recommend to start thinking outside of the box and explore non-traditional Pittsburgh wedding venues or the traditional ones which have intimate wedding spaces and or even elopement packages you can explore more of. Believe me! There are plenty.

Imagine exchanging vows by the scenic riverside, followed by an intimate reception at one of the Strips charming local eatery or rooftop bars to watch the sunset. If you’re guest list is small, you won’t have much trouble making a reservation in one of your favorite places. One of my couples had their small intimate wedding and reception at Eddie Merlot’s (Located in the Four Gateway Center at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Stanwix Street) which is an amazing location right in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh not only making it great for you to have the city at your mercy, but it gives you the flexibility to walk to Point State Park and spend some time with your wedding photographer to take some romantic bridal photos while your guests have a drink.

While hosting a smaller wedding in Pittsburgh brings numerous benefits, it’s crucial to be mindful of fixed costs such as a venue’s site fee. Places such as Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh PA and Pittsburgh Botanic Garden have packages for all the couples who want the experience of having their ceremony at their environment but on off-wedding days, such as Thursdays and Fridays, which again, might be something worth considering.

If you ask me, I would tell you to consider it all before settling for one particular place, and that includes a destination wedding, but I would also suggest that for a cozy and stress-free atmosphere to consider hosting your wedding at a familiar location, such as your backyard, childhood home, or a family member’s property. There’s a unique warmth in celebrating in a place that holds sentimental value for you, and with a smaller group, a familiar space becomes more intimate, allowing deeper connections.

Thinking beyond traditional venues? Opting for a Pittsburgh Airbnb venue could be the ideal location, but you should make sure you get the appropriate permit to make sure everything’s in place and you’re allowed to host your small intimate wedding there.

Bride and Groom Next to the Piano at The Mansion On Fifth Luxury Hotel

Tips for Choosing your Small Wedding Venue

Like I said before, there are so many places that will let you host your wedding reception at their location, and it’s all about asking. One of my favorite locations this year was Mansion on 5th, which is a great option for any time of the year.

As we know here in Pittsburgh we have a long winter with many days where it’s gloomy and snowy and if you don’t want to commit to having your entire wedding day outdoors, we can definitely find a place such as a hotel or a venue that has amenities and can provide activities for you to take advantage of.

One of my favorite things about Mansions on Fifth Hotel Pittsburgh is that they have a fire place, a bar, restaurant, piano and even a place for you to dance, sit or even go outside and take advantage of the sun if you choose to do so. They can also provide a place for you to have a small wedding ceremony, and accommodate you and your guests if you choose to do so, especially if being in the same place is something you value the most.

Bride and Groom about to kiss at the staircase of Mansion On Fifth Luxury Hotel after their wedding ceremony

Tips for Choosing your Wedding Vendors

Just like everything in life, not every vendor is the right match for your intimate wedding, so here are some things to consider when looking for the dream team for our small intimate wedding.

• Wedding Planner: While some may view a wedding planner as an unnecessary expense for a small celebration, the value they bring in saving you money, time, and stress is significant. Seek planners with experience in backyard weddings or small-scale events, as they are more likely to align with your vision.

• Wedding Photographer: Choose a photographer whose portfolio aligns with the atmosphere you want for your wedding day and whose personality resonates with you. Since the photographer is with you for most of the day, it’s crucial that you enjoy their company and that they truly grasp and appreciate the wedding experience you’re curating.

• Catering: If your venue doesn’t offer restaurant services, explore creative catering options like family-style buffets, food trucks, or unconventional choices such as a barbeque buffet. Some caterers may have minimum head count requirements, so be sure to factor that in.

• Entertainment: While DJs are common for larger weddings, consider live musicians for a more intimate vibe if you’re skipping the dance reception. Lawn games can also add a fun touch to your cocktail hour and/or reception activities.

• Florist: Choose a florist who can envision and execute the floral design for your small wedding. Some florists have minimum investment amounts but can work within your budget to create custom installations that suit your vision.

• Officiant: Ensure you connect with your officiant on a personal level, and they understand the significance of your small wedding. Whether you opt for a Justice of the Peace, an ordained friend or family member, it’s crucial that they align with the intimacy of your celebration.

• Glam Squad: While having a professional hair and makeup artist (HMUA) is recommended, some brides and bridesmaids opt for DIY for a small wedding. Keep in mind that DIY can take longer than expected, and HMUAs are trained for efficiency.

• Where to Stay: Choose a relaxing accommodation for your wedding night, but whatever you decide to do, make it memorable! From staying home, to an AirBnB before you head out to your honeymoon.

Black and White wedding Walking and laughing as they hold hands

Additional Tips to having an amazing intimate wedding

  • Extend the Celebration with an After-Party After the main event, it’s time for the encore – think silent discos, late-night snacks, or even a karaoke session! We absolutely adore it when couples add a little extra surprise to delight their guests. If there’s room in your budget, consider a s’mores bar, bring in a food truck, order some pizza, or set up games! Keep it authentic to your style, something that resonates with your guests, and then let the good times roll!
  • Cherish What Truly Matters Celebrate your love surrounded by those who matter most. We don’t want to get too sentimental, but here at [Your Wedding Name], we’re all about that love. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. Treasure the moments and take it all in. Your wedding is a celebration of your beautiful relationship. Through thick and thin, you’ll always have each other!
  • Add Your Personal Touch With a small wedding, channel your budget towards elevating the details – decor, venue, and food. Embrace the flexibility to tailor your celebration to match your unique preferences. According to Nichols, adding personal touches like customized favors or handwritten notes for each guest enhances the event’s uniqueness, leaving a lasting impact on your guests.
  • Embrace Lavish Wedding Favors A smaller guest list expands your options for wedding favors. Say goodbye to the search for favors under a dollar and consider indulging in more personalized choices. Think pink Himalayan salt shot glasses or bags of your family’s cherished chocolate chip cookies – unique tokens that resonate with your personal touch.
  • Stay True to Yourselves Amidst the wedding planning journey, you might face doubts about the decision to have an intimate celebration. Whether it’s external opinions or a touch of guilt for deviating from the norm, Rogers-Hanson reassures couples to stay true to their desires. “Go where you want to go. Don’t do anything to please anyone else. Have the wedding you want as a couple. Do something a little different that you couldn’t do with 100 guests.” Remember, authenticity is key, so feel free to include or skip wedding traditions as you see fit.
  • Craft an Intimate Wedding Ceremony While most wedding ceremonies involve a select few, a small wedding allows for more inclusion. Depending on your event’s size, invite everyone to contribute by reading a line from a special reading or encircle you as you exchange vows. “Involving guests in the ceremony, whether blessing rings or setting intentions for the couple, creates a beautiful, unique, and spiritually meaningful moment,” suggests Rogers-Hanson. Having guests invested in the marriage adds a special touch to your intimate celebration.

I would love nothing more than to be there documenting your love story and your wedding day weather you decide to do an intimate, destination or traditional wedding, I’ll be there capturing the timeless moments for you. Please inquire to find out if I’m available for your date and location! Can’t wait to start planning this experience with you.

Bride and Groom smiling after their wedding ceremony in Park Guell in Barcelona

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