Planning Your Wedding Ceremony
In regards to your ceremony, I believe that it's critically important that we don't distract you, your family, or your friends during the most significant part of your wedding day. With that in mind, we always follow the simple rule of never positioning ourselves between a wedding guest and the couple. By using telephoto lenses and working from the back and periphery of the ceremony, we can capture amazing storytelling images without becoming part of the ceremony.
How It's Done
During the processional, I'll be at the front of the aisle, standing on the bride's side so as have the best possible angle to photograph the bride in the foreground and the wedding guests in the background. At the same time, this position prevents me from blocking the groom's view as the bride processes down the aisle, presumably on the arms of her most important family members. After the processional, I'll move to the sides and rear of the congregation and continue the rest of the ceremony coverage from those locations. During some the most important ceremony moments like the ring exchange or the kiss, I may elect step down the aisle to within 50 feet of the altar. However, I avoid getting closer to the altar except in situations where my view is completely blocked as can sometimes happen when the celebrants gather around to pray or light candles. In those cases I might try to move closer in the hopes of obtaining an unobstructed view. At the conclusion of the ceremony, after the kiss and during the recessional, I'll be positioned at the back of the aisle and photograph you both as you recess out of the ceremony location.
Additional Hints & Tips
- When you're arranging for ceremony seating, avoid including more seating than you need. In other words, if you have 100 guests and 125 seats, you'll have large gaps in your audience. And those gaps may be apparent in your photos. Although you certainly wouldn't want too few seats, and a few extra seats is a great idea, be careful that you don't include too many extras.
- I've witnessed some weddings where the groom and groomsmen stealthily enter the ceremony area from the side aisle, often with the Officiant leading the way. When the groom and groomsmen enter from the side, I feel that it's a lost opportunity to honor the groom and groomsmen. Wedding guests are focused on the aisle and thus I think it's only appropriate that the Officiant, groom, and groomsmen also enter the ceremony area via that prominent location. And, in terms of the wedding photography, I've never captured a satisfying photograph of a groom's entrance from the side; however, when a groom enters via the aisle, I'm typically able to capture some really amazing photographs.
- The use of smartphone cameras during ceremonies isn't just common—it has become ubiquitous at every wedding ceremony I photograph. And although it's certainly understandable that your friends and relatives want to capture a blurry, underexposed photograph of you walking down the aisle, those guests really aren't fully present in at your wedding. Instead of watching you, your fiancé, and your wedding party, they're watching the action through their phone displays or worse yet, checking the photos they just captured on the backs of their devices as important events are still happening. In addition to the fact that those guests not fully invested in your ceremony, as I photograph your processional, recessional, and even your first kiss, some of your more aggressive iphoneographers, ipadographers, or aspiring amateur photographers may step into the aisle at the most inopportune time and thus negatively impact or sometimes even ruin the important photographs you've hired me to capture. Therefore, please consider doing what many other couples are now doing and making your wedding ceremony an unplugged affair. In other words, you might suggest to your guests, through both the Officiant and your wedding program, that they should turn off their phones and cameras during your ceremony. Here's an example of some text that you might want to include in your program: "Welcome to our unplugged wedding ceremony! We'd like you to be fully present for our ceremony and therefore ask that you turn off all mobile phones, tablets, and cameras and celebrate this moment with us." The Officiant might announce something like, "The bride and groom would like you to turn off all mobile phones, tablets, and cameras and be fully present during this ceremony. But don't worry, there are professional photographers here who will be capturing everything and you'll be able to see those photos online after the ceremony."
- Wedding guests will sometimes avoid the front rows in the ceremony venue. This strange behavior can lead to gaps in seating around your family members. To help prevent those gas, consider using pretty placards to identify each seat reserved for family members (with names). Then ask your ushers to seat your guests from the front of your ceremony venue to the back. Although there might be some resistance to this plan, instruct your ushers to say, "The bride and groom have asked guests to fill the front seats first. Would you mind taking a seat at the front?" This specific phrasing is important. When someone involved with a wedding includes the phrase "The bride and groom have asked ..." when speaking to a guest, very few people can resist any request that follows.
- Ask your ushers pay close attention to guests seated in aisle seats. Guests seated on the aisle will be visible in many of your most important wedding photographs. Unfortunately, some of those guests may be dressed inappropriately. Although I'll often try to avoid photographing those folks during your processional and recessional, it's sometimes unavoidable. To help with this situation, ask your ushers to politely guide guests wearing distracting apparel to inner seats. This may seem to be unnecessary minutiae, but I've lost track of the number of couples who were disappointed that a guest's appearance "ruined" their processional or recessional photos.
- If you're having an indoor ceremony, unless you have spotlights and other professional lighting installed, please consider leaving the room lights set as high as is possible while still maintaining decorum. Although lowering lights may create an intimate mood, semi-darkness can make it extremely difficult for photographers to capture the celebrants without the use of flash photography. If you're having an outdoor ceremony at night, you'll likely need lots of professional lighting—including spotlights.
- Before your wedding, make a plan regarding your absolute "must-start" time. There are occasions when certain guests and important family members might be late to the start of your event. In the past I've seen couples mired in indecision as to whether or not they should start the ceremony because someone was missing. Therefore, consider worst-case scenarios before your wedding day so that you can settle on your plan long before your ceremony date.
- Avoid setting your ceremony start time 15 minutes after your invitation start time. Some wedding planners might suggest this practice but it's almost invariably a poor idea. Unless your wedding ceremony is being held in an incredibly out-of-the-way location where there's a high probability of guests becoming lost or having some kind of unexpected delays moving from their parking area to your ceremony location, there are few excuses that justify a late ceremony start time. If you feel that your friends or family are habitually late, call or e-mail each one of them and emphasize specifically how important it is that they arrive on time. That is usually more than enough to encourage your family members and friends to arrive on time.
- During the ceremony, during both the processional and recessional, the wedding party, guests, and escorts should be encouraged to walk slowly. Try to remember to remind your wedding party and family about this consideration several times before the wedding—particularly during the rehearsal.
- If you're feeling ambitious, it's often a great idea to stop and kiss half way down the aisle or perform a dip if you have it in you. Your guests will love it and it will make for an amazing photo! Just make sure you tell me that you're on doing that before the ceremony!
- If you're using an aisle runner, your runner selection is very important. Not only does the runner serve as a foreground element in many of your ceremony photographs, it's also central to the décor of your ceremony space. If you choose to have an aisle runner, make sure that you ask to see it prior to the ceremony. You should ensure that the runner is thick enough and won't bunch when it's laid out—particularly if your ceremony is over uneven or soft ground. If you're using the runner at an indoor location, please consider purchasing double sided carpet tape that you can apply to the bottom of the runner. Also make sure that the front AND back of the aisle are roped off. Otherwise people will walk down the aisle and dirty or damage your runner. And finally, under no circumstances use an aisle runner over grass. When a runner is laid out over grass, it's a complete mess by the time the first person walks to the end of it. Even with all of this advice, I personally think that runners are rarely necessary and they typically add little to ceremony décor; in fact, in my experience a runner is more likely to detract rather than add to the visuals related to your ceremony. As a great alternative, I recommend the use of flower petals bordering the left and right side of the aisle. If you choose that option, make sure you purchase enough to provide good coverage down both sides. You'll want to avoid sprinkling the flowers in the middle of your aisle unless the aisle is grass. Flower petals can be quite slippery when you're walking on a hard surface with leather bottom shoes and nobody wants a nasty slip on your wedding day.
- If you can control the width of your aisle, try to ensure sure it's about 10' wide. That is a comfortable width that will serve you well on several fronts. First of all, that width will help prevent guests leaning into the aisle with their camera phones from blocking my view during your processional or recessional. That width will also accommodate three people walking side by side—which can be important for a processional when two people are being escorted up or down the aisle. As a neat fun fact, if you're getting married in a church with a cemetery, you won't need to worry about this consideration the aisle is always wide enough to accommodate a casket and pall bearers.
- If you're hiring musicians for the ceremony, please ask about their music stands. In some cases, musician music stands are unattractive and can detract from your ceremony decor. If you are hiring multiple musicians, it's always best to ensure that every musician is using the same stand. Also, you should ask your musicians to remove any instrument cases and bags and hide them from the view of your guests.
- The equipment used by your audio technician or DJ can greatly impact the beauty of your ceremony. To put it bluntly, microphones and microphone stands can be a distracting addition to your ceremony photographs. Ask the individuals handling your ceremony audio if they provide wireless microphones or lapel microphones. Under no circumstances should you approve of an audio vendor who is unable to provide you with a wireless microphone setup. You'll also want to ask that your audio technician have backup microphones immediately available. I've lost count of the number of weddings where a microphone failed mid-ceremony. In addition to microphone considerations, you should also request specific speaker placement. I strongly recommend asking the audio folks to make sure that the speakers are placed well outside the left and right boundaries of your congregation and wedding party. In other words, in an ideal world, I should be able to frame a photograph of the altar and your entire congregation and not see a speaker in the frame. If there are speakers present at the front of your ceremony venue, then they will appear in your photos. In some cases, they might even appear to be growing out of the tops wedding party or guest's heads. Some alternatives include placing the speakers to the far left or right side of the ceremony area, to the far rear of the ceremony area, or using considerable amount of speaker cable to position the speakers to the far left and right side of the front ceremony area.
- If you plan on special ceremony traditions like candle lighting, sand ceremonies, presentation of flowers to parents, special readers, presentation of gifts, or tea ceremonies, please let me know about those mini events prior to the ceremony.
- Consider providing bubble bottles or flower petals for your recessional. If you ask your guests to blow bubbles or throw petals during your recessional, you'll likely see some really great photos. It's an excellent idea to put a note on each aisle seat to remind the guest sitting in that seat to blow the bubbles or throw the petals during the recessional. Many times, without that reminder and with the excitement of the recessional, guests won't remember the bubbles or petals. If you really want to help make it happen, you can ask the Officiant to remind the crowd about those celebratory items immediately after he introduces you for the first time as husband and wife and just prior to your recessional.
- If you're planning on hiring a professional Officiant or asking a friend of family member to officiate, please remember that he or she will be prominently featured in almost every ceremony photograph. Therefore, and I apologize in advance for sounding crass, but you might want to consider selecting an Officiant who is relatively attractive and who won't be distracting in your wedding photographs. In particular you should inquire as to what they plan to wear to officiate your ceremony. I would recommend that that you ask them to avoid white garments or vestments, bright or light colors, or busy patterns.
- If you're hiring an Officiant or if you've asked a friend to officiate, you might want to ask them how he or she plans to hold the notes or text related to the ceremony. In some weddings I've photographed, I've seen an Officiant use loose papers, over-sized binders, colorful books, and even plain manila folders. Since those items are all visually distracting, I recommend that you ask the Officiant to use a unobtrusive black book or non-decorated binder to hold their ceremony notes. I personally don't recommend the use of electronic devices (like an iPad). First of all, an electronic device can fail whereas printed paper provides an Officiant with a safer alternative. Second, some devices may emit unwanted light that might fall on the Officiant or the couple and greatly detract from the ceremony photos.
- During the ring exchange, take care to avoid hiding each other's hands. This is most often an issue for the groom since the bride's ring hand is on the side farthest from the congregation. Your guests want to see those rings exchanged so don't hide those hands!
- Make sure you personally view and approve the guest chairs for your ceremony. I've been to some unfortunate wedding venues where the ceremony chairs were uncovered and unattractive banquet chairs. Avoid ugly chairs!
- After the ceremony, as long as the couple is visible, guests tend to stay on hand with an idea to offer their congratulations. However, it's important to quickly clear the ceremony location so that Family Portraits can commence. I know that you'll be tempted to greet your guests immediately after the ceremony, but it's best to reserve that reunion for your cocktail hour or reception.
- Even though we live in Southern California, you should consider creating an alternate plan in case it rains. Although I'm not afraid of getting a little bit wet, you'll want to stay dry. Therefore, you'll want to consider alternate locations and the best place to quickly purchase lots of matching umbrellas.
- In Hindu ceremonies, a bindi is a bright red forehead decoration applied by parents and the ceremony Officiant, traditionally known as a Pandit or Pundit. Similarly, a sindoor is a red orange-red dye applied by the groom at the parting of the bride's hair. If you'd like to remove those dyes after the ceremony, then you'll want to have an excellent oil-based makeup remover on hand.
- If there's someone you don't love, don't invite them to your wedding. It's a big buzz kill when you see those folks on your wedding day and I've seen it dramatically affect the mood of past clients. It's your day. And so I'd suggest that you invite who you want to be there and not the people who you think should be there due to some sense of family or personal obligation.
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