Arizona Backyard Weddings Guide

A bit of history on backyard weddings

Backyard weddings have a long history, but nearly as long as you might think. According to The Spruce article on the history of wedding receptions, up until World War II, weddings were often held at the bride’s home and the style of reception was in accordance to the family’s financial standing. In other words, it was a show of wealth- the more money the bride’s family had, the fancier the reception was. Once dance halls became popular, the bride was no longer limited to how many people her parents’ home could hold, and most people got away from hosting wedding receptions at their homes. Trends changed, and as weddings became bigger and more expensive, many people opted to use their homes as a way of saving money. Backyard weddings can have the reputation of being “cheap” or quaint, but they certainly don’t have to be. Many couples choose to have small, intimate weddings these days over bigger weddings for many reasons: cost, stress, putting money into areas they really care about, guest experience and wanting low key weddings especially if they are introverted and want a more intentional, meaningful wedding rather than a show. 

Backyard ceremony in Arizona with trees

Pros & Cons of a Backyard Weddings Vs A Venue

Pros

  • Intimate, sentimental

    I think there is nothing more intimate and sentimental than having your wedding in the house you grew up in, surrounded by your childhood memories and loved ones. As you get ready, you are likely going to be surrounded by photos of you when you were younger, of your family. Getting ready photos might feature those photos, showing a beautiful visual history of you growing up all wrapped up in one photo. Maybe you want to get married under the tree you used to climb as a kid. What wonderful stories can you tell your children when looking through your wedding photos! Every single one of my past clients having their weddings in their backyards talked about how intimate, laidback and personal having their wedding in a backyard was!
    “We chose to do a backyard wedding because both of us are very laid back. We wanted to keep it low key and intimate. Ultimately we wanted the day to be relaxed and surrounded by our closest family and friends.” -Emily
    “We chose to have a backyard wedding because we wanted a more “intimate” atmosphere” – Kaylee

  • Save money (maybe?)

    Backyard weddings CAN be cheaper than having your wedding at a venue, but not always. More on that below. Cost savings was one of the benefits all of my past backyard wedding clients mentioned! “Price was also another factor for us, it was much most cost effective to do a backyard wedding than rent out space at an actual venue.” -Krista 

  • more flexibility on date

    With no other couples to compete with, you have the pick of the calendar when you are having a backyard wedding in your backyard, or the backyard of someone you know.

  • You Can do (almost) whatever you want!

    There are no venue rules or liabilities so if you want that beer alpaca or burro, or sparkler exit, you can go for it! As long as it’s logistically possible and legal. 

  • Can put money into exactly what you want and value

    Want to have an amazing spread of food by a private chef? Or maybe your jam is having the best local craft beers & ciders (the best local AZ cider is Cider Corps, hands down)

  • Your dog can be included!

    Really, need I say more? Dogs should ALWAYS be a part of wedding celebrations, in my humble opinion. What is cuter than your furry child in a bowtie, or a floral crown?

Cons       

  • Might not be actually cheaper than a venue

    When you factor in the cost of decorations, rentals, lighting, etc it might end up being more expensive. Some venues include rentals and some decor, making it sometimes cheaper depending on your particular situation and vision.

  •  Lots of logistics and planning involved

    How much spacing in between tables? Where will people park? Are there any city ordinances? Restrooms? Power? Dance floor? Permits? Insurance? All of these and more will need to be considered. See below for a bigger list. All or most of these logistics are typically handled by a venue.

  •  Clean up

    Who will be handling the clean up & when? How will you dispose of all the trash? 

  • Yard maintenance/upkeep

    This is a big one I see with backyard weddings. You’ll have to clean up and maintain your backyard and lawn up until the wedding day and have it in tip top shape.

  • May be more limited on how many guests due to space concerns

    Most of us don’t have mansions, so there will be hard limitations on how many guests you can cram into your backyard. You’ll need enough space for a ceremony, reception tables, and for guests to comfortably walk around and mingle.

Factors When Planning Your Backyard Wedding

  • Parking Space

    Where will people park? Finding parking for 40-100+ people in a residential street can be challenging without pissing off the neighbors or your HOA.

  • Noise Ordinances

    Are there local noise ordinances that would require all amplified music to be shut off by a certain time? What about a decibel limit? A good DJ with experience in backyard weddings may know the local ordinances already.

  • Power

    Do you need a generator? Where will you put one to not interfere with the party? How will you hook it up? Do you have enough power without blowing circuits? Which things need their own circuits due to the power usage?

  • Restrooms

    Do you need to rent out a port-a-potty? Or use the house bathrooms? Are there enough? Do you need signage for guests? Who will be in charge of making sure the bathrooms are stocked throughout the night?

  • Food

    Food truck? Catered? Private chef? Plated dinner or buffet? You have lots of options when you are having a backyard wedding, but your specific space will have limitations particularly based on how many guests there are.

    If you are only having 20 people, you might be able to have a private chef or buy or make your own food. Past client Emily has this consideration: “We didn’t realize until after grocery shopping that it would be a challenge to store all of the food! The wedding itself had a lot of food, but we also were staying in that house with a bunch of people and needed to store that food too. Luckily we had family close by who let us borrow some fridge space. I’d probably spend a little extra money to get it catered, just to eliminate the stresses of preparing all of the food before the big day and during the party.”

    For larger guest counts, a catered dinner or a food truck are great options. I’m a huge fan of food trucks as an economical option. We had Dilla Libre at our 120 person wedding in Payson, and I’ve worked with them on several small weddings since! When you are going with a food truck, you’ll want to make sure you have space for them to park, which for some backyard set ups might not be possible.

  • Yard Maintenance

    You (or the homeowner) will need to get the yard in tip top shape for the big day. The grass will need to be green and well maintained, weeds pulled,trees and bushes trimmed up and any yard issues fixed.

  • Permits/Insurance

    Do you need any special permits per your city or county to hold the event? Are there special rules in place regarding generators, bathrooms etc? Researching your local ordinances can be tricky to wade through. Do you need liability insurance or any other type of insurance?

  • Neighbors

    It’s a REALLY good idea to give your neighbors a heads up and clear it with them. Ensuring their driveways won’t be blocked, the noise will be kept to a minimum/off by a certain time, etc will go a long way in maintaining good relations with your neighbors.

  • Clean up

    How will you handle clean up? Are you going on a honeymoon right after so family members would have to clean up? What needs to be cleaned up that night vs the next day? Assigning people specific tasks will help this process go more smoothly.

  • Plan B/Rain Plan

    What happens if it rains? Does your backyard have enough space to have a tent? A lot of tents require staking- will this interfere with irrigation systems in place? What happens if there is a dust storm (typically only during June-Sept)? Rain isn’t necessarily a death sentence with weddings, but it does require a plan especially for backyard weddings that often don’t have the space to move indoors.

  • Space Restraints

    Do you have enough space for both the ceremony & reception? How much space is needed between tables? 

Photography Considerations When Planning a Backyard Wedding

This is where using your photographer as a resource is vitally helpful! Their knowledge and experience when it comes to lighting can be key. Photographers are typically more than happy to provide feedback on locations of ceremony and reception especially when it comes to lighting. Lighting will make or break photos, but hiring a photographer that is experienced in making the best photos in any lighting situation AND has a lot of experience with backyard weddings helps. 

Ceremony


Having a clean background behind the arch or altar will ensure that your photos of the ceremony are clean. Moving as much backyard furniture such as chairs, tables, swing sets, etc as far away as possible so they don’t impede the photos will help. The best lighting for ceremony photos is full shade over the whole ceremony space, but that’s hard to achieve in a backyard. Back-lighting (sun behind the wedding couple) will make the photos of the wedding couple beautiful, but that often means that the sun will be shining onto guests’ faces. Side-lighting can be a good alternative, meaning the sun is coming in from either side, but sometimes can be harsh when the sun is very bright. Front-lighting (see above photo) means that you will be squinting when you look into the crowd, and the sun can be very bright. But front lighting is better than very dappled light, or having half the ceremony in shade and half in bright sun. Depending on whether you are having a first look, how many family photos you want to take after the ceremony and how large your wedding party is (if you have one) will all impact the best time to make your ceremony, but in general, 2 hours before sunset is a good rule of thumb! But a good photographer will guide you on all of these factors so be sure to hire a good one with a lot of experience with backyard weddings- cough cough, like me! 🙂

Reception

What kind of lighting should I have? How much lighting? In general, I suggest people use string lights and as many as you can fit for a beautiful ambiance. Up-lighting (such as these on Amazon) can provide interesting accent lighting on areas you want to highlight, but aren’t necessary. If you are hiring a professional DJ (which I recommend- more on that below), oftentimes DJs will have an up-lighting package. Ask! For my own wedding at a summer camp, we brought in all of our own string lighting (and rented poles to hang them on). I recommend considering buying them if you can repurpose them later for your backyard. You often will spend as much buying as renting. You’ll want to try to stay away from mixing a lot of types of lighting together- for example, a halogen flood light that is a part of the house, mixed with lots of strings of cool toned LED lights. Each of these types of lights have a color temperature, so having a lot of different colors specifically when they are on skin tones makes photography challenging.

Wedding Couple Portraits

Where will the wedding couple portraits happen? Backyards tend to be cramped, so often a lot of people opt for a day after session or have portraits done off site if there is a nearby usable space. I generally recommend only going off site if there is a location 10-20 minutes or less away, unless you specifically allot extra time to travel. In my experience, most people don’t want to leave their guests too long, so having portraits done at a later date and location further away is an excellent option, leaving you to enjoy being with your guests! A good photographer (hi!) will be able to make beautiful portraits in almost any space. For example, this portrait:

backyard wedding in Tempe AZ bride and groom in front of hong kong orchid tree in bloom

was made behind a Hong Kong Orchid Tree in the corner of their backyard with some tables and the pool in the background which are visible in this photo.

These portraits:

Were made on the side of the road near the neighborhood.

The image below was simply the glass windows of the building on the right on the second image. This location was just a few minutes via car near their house.

Rentals Needed for Backyard Weddings

  • Ceremony Chairs (can be moved from ceremony to reception)
  • Ceremony Backdrop (if needed or you want something creative- see Pinterest or wedding blogs for some fun ideas)
  • Ceremony Decor
  • Tent (if needed- see Plan B/Rain Plan point)
  • Reception Chairs
  • Dinner Tables
  • Cocktail Tables
  • Serving Tables
  • Gifts Table
  • Guest Book Table (check out guest book alternatives ideas!)
  • Dessert Table
  • Bar
  • Place Settings (if you’re doing a plated dinner)
  • Linens (unless you’re doing farm tables)
  • Centerpiece Vases 
  • Table Decor
  • Dance Floor
  • Lighting
  • Overhead Decor
  • Photo Booth (if you’re having)
  • Food Prep/Storage Equipment
  • Generators
  • Portable Restrooms
  • Trash and recycling bins

My favorite (and my planner BFF, Sierra’s favorite) local rental company is The Event Co. They have a huge and fantastic selection of rentals and are responsive and great to work with! 

forest wedding in Phoenix with rustic wood reception tables

Consider hiring a planner or day of coordinator

Does this overwhelm you? Backyard weddings may save you money but they have considerably more logistics and rentals to coordinate. A Phoenix-based planner is a very worthwhile investment to save your sanity and allow you to enjoy the day. I’ve seen countless couples who end up having to direct their family on their wedding day instead of sit back and enjoy it, which also impacts the photos. Do you want a bunch of photos of you looking stressed while you direct your cousin where to move the tables to? Not having a planner may also impact being able to get the posed photos of the day, such as family photos. If your mom has to help set up for the reception then she won’t be in the family photos which might be happening at the same time. And of course, if the family is doing things like set-up, then there won’t be candid moments of them happening. In my experience, one of the main reasons you have a wedding is to have your family with you and enjoying the day. Perhaps you feel comfortable doing the planning, but think you might want to have someone set up and coordinate things the day of. A Day Of Coordinator would be a very good option! By the way, Day Of Coordination is a misnomer- most planners jump in with logistics coordination 2-4 weeks out from the big day to ensure everything goes smoothly the day of. They also coordinate vendor deliveries and arrivals, so you (or your mom, maid of honor, BFF) aren’t on the phone the whole time while getting ready, during family formals as you try to figure out where the heck the cake is! At my wedding, I didn’t even know that my food truck was a little lost- our day of coordinator handled it all without a hitch. 

Ceremony in one spot, reception at backyard

This is a great option if your backyard doesn’t have enough space for both the ceremony and reception, or if you want a particular beautiful ceremony location that’s not possible to have a reception at. Arizona has some stunning outdoor wedding ceremony locations. Or perhaps you want to have the ceremony at a church. One downside of this plan is traveling from one place to another and the time it takes to go from one spot to another.

AirBnbs/Rental Houses for Backyard Weddings

I’ve seen a number of cases where people rent an Airbnb or VRBO house for a wedding only to have the owner cancel last minute- either because they didn’t authorize use of the house for a wedding or they get in trouble with zoning ordinances etc. Be VERY careful when going this route and know that the homeowner can cancel, leaving you scrambling for a location at the last minute when other options are booked. Be SURE to inform your host of your plans and adhere to any property rules and think of having a backup plan in case a cancellation happens!

Advice From Past Clients on Having A Backyard Wedding

Kaylee: “I would advise people who are thinking about doing it at their home to let your neighbors know ahead of time so there’s no worries about noise complaints.”

Krista: “I would recommend having a very clear picture of what the space looks like especially at the specific time of day the ceremony will be so you can plan set-up accordingly. Also, we had a covered patio portion which we did not realize would trap in heat as much as it did, so be mindful if you have a covered patio when it’s hot out that the heat gets trapped under there (I wish we would have set up fans to help cool it down).”
Emily: “My advice would be to not stress. At the end of the day, you’ll be married and that’s all the really matters. Make sure you surround yourselves with the most important people in your lives that day and the wedding will end up beautiful. “

Backyard Wedding Venues in Arizona

Maybe you don’t have a backyard you can use for your wedding, and don’t want to risk going the AirBnB/VRBO rental route but love the idea of a backyard wedding. Here’s a short list of wedding venues that are backyard-like, but actual wedding venues!

Venue at the Grove

Venue at the Grove wedding

Gather Estate

Modern Farm

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Alyssa Campbell Arizona wedding photographer

Welcome! I’m an Arizona-based wedding & portrait photographer specializing in natural and documentary photos. My blog is where you can see my latest work as well as check out tips & the latest news. Following me on social media is another way to check out my recent work!