July 19, 2018
Wedding ceremonies are single-handedly the most important part of a wedding day. It’s literally the entire reason a wedding is happening. There are so many components that go into choosing a ceremony site, what you do during our ceremony and timing. As a wedding photographer I wanted to share some tips/insight I have learned along the way as a vendor, bride, bridesmaid, and guest during a wedding ceremony.
Feel free to watch the “Live” video I did talking about ceremonies or read the much more eloquent version below.
Lighting is a huge part of every aspect of the wedding day but for most of the day your wedding photographer can manipulate and control where the light is in your photos. The ceremony is one time that for the most part your photographer is managing the lighting situation. There are a couple of things you can do to and think about when planning to make sure your ceremony photos are as spectacular as the rest of your day.
My first suggestion: minimize backlit ceremonies. When a photo is backlit it means that all the source of light is behind the subject. In this case that is the couple and their wedding party. Every time you see a silhouette photograph it is backlit. In real life your eyes can adjust and balance the two levels of light: the bright light source and the dark shadows that are the subjects. Cameras have not quite caught up to our natural vision and are not able to balance the difference between full sun and full shade like our eyeballs can. They are remarkably close but not quite perfect. A lot of times this results in images that are different than what you saw in real life. You’ll find that the background you loved so much is super bright and blown out. Your photographer made the choice to keep the exposure on their subjects (bride and groom saying I do) looking perfect as opposed to putting preferences on the background. Also take into account that your guests will be looking towards where the sun is and will possibly spend the whole ceremony squinting. If your only ceremony option at your venue is heavily backlit there’s still options. One way that photographers can balance this is by utilizing flash during a ceremony. The biggest pro: your photos look like they did in real life. The biggest con is that flash can be a distraction during a ceremony and often venues (mainly churches) don’t allow flash during a ceremony.
If your ceremony is inside and it has abysmal or little to now light you can rent lighting equipment to provide even lovely light on the “alter” area. If you watch Prince William and Duchess Kate’s wedding you will see (briefly) lighting setup throughout the whole church. If you look at their photos you will notice everything looks perfect because everything was lit equally. Sometimes bad light (dark, backlit) is unavoidable based on the venue location you chose and that’s fine. When you are venue shopping think about how bright it is behind your desired alter space. Also keep in mind that often times you can choose and get creative on where your ceremony space is at your desired venue.
If you are having your ceremony outside look for fully shaded areas. Your guests will thank you if it’s a warmer month and your photographer will thank you for the lighting consistency.
If it’s outdoors think of where the sun will be at that time. Will half your wedding party be in the sun and half in the shade? Can’t decide what time your ceremony should be? Visit your venue as close to the same ceremony time and season as your wedding, if possible. You can also download very helpful apps that show you where the sun will be. I use it all the time when I go to new locations and need to know for sure where the sun will be.
The background is pretty important to your ceremony photos. When I speak of the ceremony here I mean the entire ceremony. When you are venue shopping think of where you will be walking from and end up. Basically what is going on behind everyone as they walk into their ceremony as well as the backdrop while you say “I do.” While everyone is processing into your ceremony look around for any obstacles or eye sores you can avoid: trash cans, exit signs that could be covered, parked cars, doors that can be closed. A good photographer will be able to minimize any undesirable distractions but more often than not it’s easier to move a trash can in real life than trying to crop it out.
The size of your aisle is important. If your venue has a fixed size aisle (ie, church) then the rest of this paragraph is slightly irrelevant. A wider aisle is better. Think about it this way. At some point the aisle needs to fit a big beautiful white dress and another person beside it. You want to make sure the aisle can comfortably accommodate both side by side. If you ceremony space physically isn’t very wide but does have length you can do fewer chairs in each row but a longer aisle. Reducing the number of chairs in each aisle also allows your guests more ways to have a better view.
Signage is very important. Imagine your wedding guests are very excited little lost sheep that just want to do all the things but have no idea where and when those things are happening. Don’t be afraid to have more than one sign saying the same thing. You’ll find that wedding guests don’t want to commit any faux paus so they often are scared to sit close, don’t know where to go, or what the next “event” is. Typically the front row or two is reserved for family but what usually happens is that guests sit farther back causing the first few rows to look empty in photos. Signage also included hand held like programs. Don’t be afraid to put on your program to “proceed upstairs/downstairs for refreshments before dinner.” When you are thinking about what signs you need for your wedding think about where and what you want your guests to be doing and have a sign facilitating that.
Unplugged Weddings should be standard. Curious what an unplugged wedding is? Watch this video. I have not found a better video that perfectly explains it! It’s basically asking your guests to experience your wedding ceremony the old fashioned way: with only their eyeballs and not through the camera app on their phone. Unplugged weddings are where guests choose to be completely present while the couple commits their lives to one another. This goes along with having signage and my next point.
Utilize your officiant to make announcements. Typically your officiant has a microphone on and can make general announcements about putting phones away, where to find cocktail hour, and for family members to stay put for photos.
Microphones are necessary, really. This applies especially if you are having an outdoor ceremony but occasionally to indoor ceremonies. If you are choosing to have an outdoor ceremony you need to have at least the officiant with the microphone. More often than not I can only hear about 1/3 – 1/2 of what is being said in the ceremony. This means your guests can’t hear what you or your officiant is saying. You don’t want to hear your guests only tell you how pretty everything looked but how they loved the story and symbolism of tying a 3 stranded rope together.
His side/Her side. This tip is not necessarily about having a grooms side and brides side. The current trend is that everyone is one family and to sit wherever you like during the ceremony. This particular tip is about where the family (read: parents) sit in relation to the newlyweds. Have the parents side on the opposite side of the aisle to their child. Say the bride is standing on the left side and the groom is on the right. Have their respective parents sitting opposite of them. The biggest benefit of doing it this way is that the parents can see their child’s face during the ceremony as opposed to their new child in law (which I’m sure they love too.) With a typical seating setup your parents will be looking at your back the whole ceremony which let’s face it they’d much rather look at your beautiful face and opt to do something a little less “traditional.” Trust me this one is worth it to your parents.
Receiving line. This trend was more popular in the 90’s and has since fallen out of trendiness but I feel this one needs to become a new “traditional wedding thing to do.” If you haven’t heard of a receiving line it is the single easiest way to ensure that you are able to greet and thank every single guest for coming to your wedding. Basically it is a line consisting of at minimum just the couple but can also include parents and wedding party. Guests go one by one and are able to greet each member in line. These don’t consist of long conversations but this gets you off the hook for walking around during dinner (and not eating) to make sure you greet every guest. If you like maximum efficiency then this is definitely for you. There are a couple times/places you can choose to do a receiving line. 1. as your guests exit the ceremony space (portraits take place after.) allows you to greet guests who are unable to make the reception 2. as your guests enter into the reception venue/cocktail hour (make sure there is someone walking around passing out refreshments.) Logistically option 2 is possible if you do a first look. 3. If you are all about bucking all wedding traditions you could have a receiving line when your guests arrive to the ceremony. Crazy, I know.
Last tip: Recess to a well lit area. Hands down my favorite part of the wedding day is when the couple recess out of the ceremony and both breath a huge sigh of relief in realization that it’s finally legal. They are married. This is when unscripted photographic gold happens. The problem that happens is everyone is usually shuffled away to a private closet somewhere in the venue where there is typically 0% light available and your photographer is hard pressed to capture the sigh of relief, the huge hug that lasts as long as they can hold on to each other, and inevitably the joyous tears in the realization the goal they had been working on and the vast planning has just been reached. It’s literal magic watching it all happen. This last point is the most photographer/videographer selfish minded on the list but recess out of your ceremony to somewhere that is decently lit. Go wherever you want. Go outside, go behind a tree, go just around the corner, go to the parking lot. Go wherever. You will cherish the happy tears photos as much as your epic portraits. You will remember how you felt. You will remember the flood of relief that it’s all party after that. Trust me. See below for evidence.