A bride and groom smile during their wedding ceremony
Emma and Elijah Stewart married in a family friend's home on March 20, 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the couple's wedding plans to a smaller and more intimate celebration. “I think people will see some of these photos and the stories behind them, and they’ll be able to see how sweet and intimate it was,” Emma Stewart said. Photo courtesy of Brooke Confer Photography.

Nebraska wedding photographers foresee this year’s wedding couples shifting focus to smaller and more intimate wedding celebrations after a year of COVID-19 wedding disruptions. 

The 2020 wedding season forced many couples to downsize their weddings, or for some, to celebrate their union via Zoom or FaceTime. Weddings were moved into homes or backyards, and couples wore masks and social distanced with family and friends. 

Brooke Confer, owner at Brooke Confer Photography in Lincoln said many of her 2020 weddings downsized to family events with a postponed 2021 reception where friends and extended family could attend. Confer said most of these receptions were later canceled as many couples didn’t want to go through the stresses of re-planning another wedding.

“It’s different for everyone, but it’s the idea of putting in all the work to have another wedding once you’re already married and you’re in the rhythm of your married life. And depending on where you’re having it, you still couldn’t necessarily have a full-blown thing anyways,” Confer said. “Everyone has their different reasons.”

Confer said her slow season, which is typically in the winter months, was slower than usual which allowed her to focus on preparing for her upcoming wedding season even more.

“Because of COVID, this slow season has been slower than most, and for me, I’m feeling more rested and ready to dive back in,” she said.

Victoria Petersen, co-owner of Vic and Josh Photography and Videography in Lincoln said she loves photographing weddings because she gets to see a glimpse into some of her clients’ most important moments of their lives. 

”I feel like I get this little window into people’s lives in their season of life, and I get to step into that, and step back out. People invite you into things that they wouldn’t be invited to, and I’ve been able to witness really precious moments,” Petersen said. “I’ve gotten to witness humans being born. Who gets to be invited into that? It’s wild. Or being the first person to meet a baby. It’s baffling.”

For her second year shooting weddings full time, Petersen said she felt lucky that most of her weddings still happened in 2020. 

“I think I was really lucky, and I think I was an outlier in the photography world,” Petersen said. “Most of my couples decided to still get married. It just looked a lot different. I had a lot of small weddings. I had a lot of people change their venue or city they were getting married in, so the weddings looked quite a bit different, but they all still happened.” 

If the majority of her couples rescheduled their weddings to 2021, Petersen said she could have lost out on a year of income.

“My first COVID wedding was planned in two days. The ceremony was in the backyard, and the couple ordered takeout and ate in her parent’s basement,” she said. 

Several years ago, Petersen said that someone told her the wedding industry was due to crash at some point. When nearly all of her couples changed their wedding plans and down-sized in 2020, Petersen said she believes COVID-19 caused that crash.

“We’re getting to the point where wedding trends are building and getting crazier and more expensive, and at some point, that has to fall out. That’s not a sustainable model, and I think this was the perfect way to reset that,” she said. 

While most of her 2020 weddings still happened, she did have one couple who canceled their wedding because they tested positive for COVID-19 the week of their wedding. Another one of her couples planned to do a destination wedding in New York City, but with a required quarantine for the couple and their guests upon arrival, they instead held a small wedding in Omaha with plans of a 2022 New York celebration. 

Overall, the 2020 wedding was season looked different, but the majority of the weddings still happened, Petersen said. 

“People have been so much more flexible, and the community has been coming together to make it happen for people because they know it’s been really hard,” she said. “I’ve seen so many creative solutions to things, and it just makes the things that aren’t important, really not important. That’s been a really beautiful change.”

COVID-19 has shifted the perspective of many wedding vendors, as many are now planning for micro weddings, also known as weddings sized at 50 and under. 

“This last year, my mantra has been, ‘people over party.’ It’s about the people, it’s about the marriage, relationships and that’s so much better than a big party. That’s what it’s about,” she said. “You have to make sure you’re preparing for your marriage as much as you’re preparing for your wedding.”

People are starting to value enjoying the moment more, Petersen said. More couples are choosing to do first looks and reading their vows privately.

“I feel like we did get caught up in all of the fluff of everything, and I really want to strip it back down even from a photography standpoint,” she said. “How do we focus on connection and the things that matter? How do I prepare my couples for that? How do I develop resources for them to plan a day that really feels true to who they are?”

Petersen said she’s had a big mental shift toward focusing on meaningful things and the experience, especially since the pandemic. 

“Photos are so much more than looking pretty; they take you back to the moment,” she said.

Emma Stewart, a bride with a wedding date of March 20, 2020, shifted her entire wedding in the span of three days from more than 150 guests down to 10 of her closest family members as COVID-19 quickly began to make headlines around the United States in mid-March. 

Emma and her husband Elijah were engaged for eight months after dating on and off throughout high school and college. Stewart said that the week of her wedding, she cried on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday as regulations shifted by the day, and sometimes by the hour. Three days before the wedding, Stewart found out she lost her job at a pediatric dental office when it shut down due to COVID-19. 

“Day-by-day, it got worse and worse,” Stewart said.

But, the pair decided to push forward with their original date and to come out on the other side of an extremely difficult season as a married couple. 

“As it kept getting worse and worse, people told us that we could move our wedding date, but it wasn’t really about the wedding at all. I just wanted to be married. I wanted to be married to my best friend. I wanted to move in and start our lives together,” Stewart said. “That was easy because no matter where we have this, if it’s in my mom and dad’s old living room, or if it’s in church, at the end of the day we’re married, and that’s all that matters.”

The couple originally planned to tie the knot at First Street Bible Church near downtown Lincoln but moved their ceremony to a family friend’s home after the venue’s regulations could no longer allow for a wedding due to concerns with COVID-19. For a reception, the couple and their ten guests gathered in a conference room at the Venue Restaurant for dinner and dancing. 

“It was short and sweet but so fun,” Stewart said. “I was sad and deserved the right to cry because I lost my eight months of planning, but if you’re still mourning the loss of that on your wedding day, then all you really cared about was the wedding itself and not the person you’re marrying.”

While the day wasn’t what the Stewarts envisioned, the day turned out to be intimate, memorable and something much more unique than what they originally planned. Stewart said one of the best parts of the day was the drive-by celebration family and friends surprised the couple with after the ceremony, throwing streamers and honking as the Stewarts exited their ceremony. 

“We were both just bawling,” she said. 

“Now my sister wants a small wedding like that. It was so special and meaningful,” Stewart said. “I think the meaning is different when you don’t spend millions or thousands of dollars on it.”

The couple initially planned to do a vow renewal on their one-year anniversary in March 2021, but they later decided against it as they reflected on how special and unique their wedding day was and didn’t feel the need to re-do anything. 

“I think people will see some of these photos and the stories behind them, and they’ll be able to see how sweet and intimate it was,” Stewart said. 

Senior at UNL studying journalism, political science, and human rights.