Collaborating With Your Wedding Photographer 102: Designing and Planning the {Picture Perfect} Ceremony

04 | 02 | 2009

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So, the ceremony is the thing of the wedding, right? But, and I hate to say it, it gets kind of overlooked sometimes—perhaps not emotionally, but as a design element.  If couples are going to have a design disaster, it’s often the ceremony.  Luckily, having a beautiful, nay, picture perfect one, can actually be fairly simple.   I am certain we’ll revisit this topic from time to time, but here are some observations and tips and rants, all from my point of view (which is that it will all show in the photographs).

  1. Create a visual focal point for your ceremony.  With a church ceremony, you’ll likely have little to do here. But if you wed outdoors a bit more thought is required.  If you’re Jewish, you’ll probably have a huppah, and those are beautiful and serve their purpose quite smartly. (As an aside, I love the sentimental value, as a huppah signifies both shelter and openness in/for a couple’s marriage). If you are a non-religious, borrowing some of that design inspiration might be nice.  I always like when couples use trees as a backdrop for an outdoor ceremony.  Trees are so powerful visually. Oak trees and redwoods are particularly abundant in California.  But lots of other wonderful ideas exist. Also … if you do wed under a tree, be sure to check the light before you set a ceremony time.  Dappled shadows are terrible on people’s faces in photographs.
  2. Actually, check the light before setting a ceremony location or time no matter what.  Make sure there will be nice light on your faces.  Outdoor afternoon ceremonies are tricky, but even nighttime ceremonies can look fabulous as long as we (the photographers and guests) can see your faces. (Much more on that in a future post on the immeasurable importance of light/lighting).


  3. If you’re having your ceremony outdoors, have people sit.  I like the idea of everybody standing together outside in theory. But in reality, the overview shots can get weird and almost funerary if everybody stands.  Trust me …
  4. If you’re having your ceremony in a church, make sure you understand their photography restrictions.  I have actually shown up to weddings a few times and had the minister say he or she doesn’t allow photography during the ceremony at all. We are very respectful, and we always take photos anyway because that is why you have hired us … to give you your memories, but limitations are limitations.  And there will be some. A lot of times they won’t let you in front of the last row of pews, which isn’t as big of a deal in a tiny chapel but it can be crippling in a giant cathedral. And that’s just the beginning.
  5. Choreograph your ceremony.  Practice the processional, recessional, and any other maneuvers you and your bridal party will need to make.  Even simple things like the father of the bride giving the bride’s hand to the groom will go smoother and look better if it’s been intentionally choreographed and practiced.  (I’ll bet the video will look better, too).
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  7. Speaking of videographers, make sure they’re discreet.  First of all, if you’re going to hire a videographer, it’s best to hire someone who’s discreet from the get go … but it’s also good to make sure that the videographers are willing to cooperate with the photographers and aren’t going to plant their tripods in the middle of the aisle or (gasp!) right behind the officiant.  It will show in all the photographs.
  8. Attend to the officiant’s attire. You’ve attended to your attire, to the bridal party’s attire … so why not the person standing in between you and your spouse (in all the photographs)?! If your officiant is a man, you’re probably in the clear. He’ll wear a suit or religious or judge’s robes and you’ll be fine.  But if you have a female officiant, there are really no set rules about how she should dress. Whatever she wears, it should go with the overall feel of your wedding.  And in no way, should it detract or distract (visually) from you and your betrothed.  I’m not saying she can’t wear something exuberant. Once I photographed a wedding where the bride’s friend officiated and just for the ceremony she wore a floor-length vivid red coat. It was extraordinary, really, and gave a sense of high ritual to the ceremony.  I loved it. I would say that’s the exception to the rule, though, and the reason it worked was that it was designed into the wedding ceremony.  It fit.  On the flip side, I’ve seen more crazy (and totally inappropriate) floral-printed dresses on female officiants than I can count. Groan.
  9. It’s nice if your officiant will step aside when you kiss.  It’s strange to see someone else’s arm or leg or head sticking out to the side from behind your embrace.  Of course.
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  11. Think about the chairs.  This will also be the topic of a future post because I think chairs are a major design detail that’s easy to overlook.  But chairs are in so many of the ceremony (and reception) photographs.  If you think about it, you are inviting at least as many chairs are as you are guests to your wedding.
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  13. Be a little sentimental, even if you’re not a sentimental person.  This is difficult to tell you how to design, but real emotion is what is so wonderful about photographing the human face (and part of what makes photographing weddings so wonderful).  So: involve your loved ones in the ceremony.  Have them do readings of poems or say words or light candles.  Write your own vows or use the traditional ones and mean it! Sing a song. Make the ceremony magical and real and meaningful to you and your spouse … and your friends and families.  That’s why you’re having a wedding with people attending.  A rabbi at one of the ceremonies I photographed said that a wedding is really just a public recognition of a private commitment that had happened a long time ago.
It will all show in the photographs.

These are just a few things I’ve been thinking about… I think of “ceremony” ideas and tips all the time, so we will be sure to add to this list as more come to mind.  And I’d love to hear everyone else’s ideas, too.


3 Notes on “Collaborating With Your Wedding Photographer 102: Designing and Planning the {Picture Perfect} Ceremony

  1. jessie

    LOVE to hear your point of view…so valuable!

    I second the notion of PRACTICE…it never hurts and you’re right, small things you take for granted, like a Father of the Bride hand-off, really do look better when you know exactly where you’re going!

  2. Pingback: Collaborating with Your Photographer, 103: The Immeasurable Importance of Light & Lighting at Pursuing the Picture Perfect Wedding :: a wedding blog by Gia Canali

  3. Wedding Planning

    Finally someone who can write a good blog ! . This is the kind of information that is useful to those want to increase their SERP’s.

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