5 Photo-Friendly Wedding Ceremony Tips
From the aisle to the altar, to the wedding vows, ring exchange, and first kiss, so many of the most meaningful moments of a couple’s wedding happen during the ceremony. But nonetheless, the wedding ceremony remains one of the most overlooked parts of a wedding day. In many ways, it’s much easier to design the meal, flowers, and playlist, than it is to plan this part of the day that is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. It can feel daunting, but believe me, your wedding ceremony is a sacred ritual that’s worthy of the spotlight.
I’ve noticed that many couples get so nervous about standing in front of family and friends that they rush this part of the day and forget to account for a few little details that can make or break the photography of the ceremony. Now, while these won’t be your epic landscape portraits, ceremony portraits are the real moments that encompass what this day is all about, and it’s my job to capture them in all their beauty and importance.
Being a wedding photographer, I’ve picked up a few simple tips for planning a special (and photogenic) wedding ceremony, and I’m sharing them with you below so that you can prepare your ceremony with care and confidence.
LIGHTING IS EVERYTHING
I can’t stress this enough; any photographer will tell you that lighting is everything; it can make or break your ceremony portraits. But because of common locations, time of year, and time of day, wedding ceremony lighting is notoriously tricky.
Here are some of the biggest common lighting mistakes:
- Dappled lighting – Under a tree on a sunny day. You’ll end up with contrasted spots of sun and shade. It may feel romantic in the moment, but when those bright spots fall across half your forehead, left eyeball, or nose, it’s not flattering!
- Split lighting – One person has their face to the sun, the other has their back to the sun. This causes one person to glow, while the other blends in with the shadows. This is especially exaggerated if the person facing the sun is wearing white and the other is wearing a dark color.
- Backlighting – The couple is lit from behind. This is better than the both of options above, but it has the potential blind your guests and wash out your epic backdrop.
When planning your ceremony, try your best to select a space that glows with natural, even lighting. Choose a location and time of day that provides either even shade or bright sun. In the case of bright sun, consider the comfort of your guests, and kindly position them with their backs to the sun.
The best way to test lighting is to visit your venue for a dress rehearsal a few days before your wedding and at the same time of day as your ceremony. If you want to know the best time of day for your ceremony, and/or aren’t sure about your ceremony location, reach out to us and we’ll happily give you recommendations.
KEEP IT UNPLUGGED
Your snap-happy guests have all the best intentions, but there’s a time and place for documenting, and your wedding ceremony is not one of them (unless you’re me!). Asking your guests to put down their phones for the ceremony may seem like a big ask, but it’s really not. And while you may still end up with a few sneaky paparazzi, the majority of your guests will respect your wishes for an unplugged ceremony.
There are so many good reasons for having an unplugged ceremony; here are just a few:
- It helps your guests be present. Nothing takes you out of the present moment like getting caught up documenting every minute. The moment your guest raises their camera, they shift from active participant to spectator. Asking your guests to put their phones, cameras, and iPads away during your ceremony will help them be present and really enjoy your once-in-a-lifetime moment.
- It reveals their beautiful faces. When you’re at the altar, you want to be able to look out and see the faces of your loved ones, not a sea of screens! And as a photographer, I want to be able to capture the expressions of your guests at any given moment during the ceremony.
- It eliminates distractions. If you don’t ask your guests explicitly to turn off or silence their phones, you will not only have guests who are texting, emailing, and posting, someone’s phone will go off in the middle of the ceremony; taking everyone out of the moment, and embarrassing the offender.
- It gives you better ceremony photos. There’s nothing worse than being photo bombed by an iPad right as the couple has their first kiss. We’ve even had guests step in front of us, your photography team that’s being paid to get exceptional images, to get their own photograph. This puts us in the awkward position of either asking guests to step aside, or scrambling to get our shot.
Ultimately, we want nothing more than to give you the wedding album of your dreams, full of happy, emotional faces and free of distractions; so help us help you! Keep it classy: leave the photography to the professionals during the ceremony, and let your guests know they will have plenty of time to take their own photographs after you say ‘I do’.
If you want some help wording your request for an unplugged ceremony, this article on Offbeat Bride has some great tips.
PLAN FOR RAIN
While some couples are down for anything and willing to get soaked in rainfall, not everyone wants to leave it up to chance. It doesn’t matter if you get married in the middle of August, if your wedding is in the Pacific Northwest, there’s always a chance you’ll get rained on. So if weather is a concern for you, plan ahead!
- Invest in a bundle of clear umbrellas. They’re great in a pinch and look lovely in photos.
- Choose a location that provides a covered space but is still beautiful and makes you happy.
- Buy a wedding canopy if rain is a big concern due to the location, time of year, and lack of tree cover.
- Allow your guests to stand rather than sit on wet benches.
Save yourself the headache of scrambling for a solution the day of your wedding. And put your mind at ease by preparing a rainy day backup plan.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Planning the ceremony may feel like an afterthought, but it’s the setting for the most life-changing moments of your wedding day; and it will fly by.
It always hurts my heart when couples say they ‘just want to get it over with’ because they’re not comfortable being the center of attention. While I totally understand being nervous, I urge you; instead of sacrificing your ceremony by rushing through it, cut back your ceremony guest list to include only the people you feel most comfortable with.
Don’t let your nerves rob you of soaking up every moment and basking in the enormity of committing your life to the person you love. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, and it’s yours for the taking.
One of my favorite memories from my time as a wedding photographer happened at an intimate wedding in the summer of 2020. The officiant asked everyone to look around them in silence and take a vivid mental image of that moment. It was beautiful. It forced all of us to slow down and soak up the most sacred part of their wedding day.
So take time to sit in each moment, and don’t rush it. Soak up everything you hear, see, feel, taste, and smell. Burn it into your memory to keep for a lifetime.
MAKE IT SACRED
I’m a big proponent of spending time on the wedding details that matter the most; and I can say with total confidence that you won’t regret spending time designing a wedding ceremony that is truly yours.
You don’t need to be religious to have a sacred wedding ceremony; it is fundamentally sacred because it binds you to the person you love most in this world.
When choosing your wedding ceremony ritual, ask yourself:
- How do you find meaning and connection as a couple?
- What rituals are woven into your shared life?
- What are your shared beliefs?
Don’t be afraid to do something out of the box; what matters most is that it holds special meaning for you. In all my days as a wedding photographer, I’ve seen couples engage in a handfasting ritual, share poems or songs, plant a tree together, and perform a native american cleansing ritual to prepare the ceremony site. I’ve seen candles burned, maypoles wrapped, and rings blessed by all in attendance
My husband and I chose to say our vows over a crystal instead of exchanging rings, and that’s a memory I’ll always cherish. There are so many ways to make this special part of your wedding day your own.
The wedding ceremony is the part of the day where you get to express just how much you love each other and declare to the world who you are as a couple. It’s your chance to make a lifelong promise, create new traditions, and invite your guests into your world.
So take your time, plan ahead, and unapologetically make it your own because that’s what we’re all here for. The ceremony is the reason for the celebration.
I can’t stress enough how quickly this part of your day can pass you by if you don’t actively seize every moment. So I hope these tips will help you have a very special, photogenic, stress-free wedding ceremony.
One more thing, before you tie the knot, check out my previous article, 5 Reasons You Should Definitely Book an Engagement Session for more tips on shaking off your nerves and getting the photos of your dreams!