I have been to a huge variety of ceremonies, folks! Some as a guest, and many, many more as a photographer. I will be the first person to tell you that the most important part of your wedding day should be your ceremony. Putting a lot of thought and effort into what you are committing to the other person is what matters first and foremost. With that it mind, let’s talk about all pretty little details that can create the most romantic setting & wow-worthy ceremony!
Ideally, you’re reading this before you’ve picked a ceremony site. However, most couples already have a general idea of where the ceremony will be before they book a photographer, so I’ve broken this article down into sections based on the type of ceremony site you may be considering. And if you’re in between two of these options, hopefully this will help you make a final decision!
This is the most classic and iconic place to get married, isn’t it? A church often holds the mosts sentimental value to couples and can be the centerpiece that determines where and when everything else happens. If you’re planning your ceremony in a church, you probably already know which church, which means my advice will only go so far. However, there are little things you can do to the space to make it look extra-special.
So, first: what is the ideal wedding chapel or sanctuary? Photo-wise, the most beautiful churches for weddings have lots and lots of natural light and no brightly colored carpets or pews (no red, green, etc.). White walls are ideal, although a chapel that has a lot of wood is lovely if there are large, bright windows. If it’s possible to turn all the lights off without being too dark, do it! Mixed lighting is very unflattering – not just on camera, but also to the eye. Open all the curtains and let that natural light in for the most beautiful photos!
While I highly encourage couples to pick a ceremony site that holds significance to them, I strongly encourage against the big, dark, auditorium-like churches with no windows and lots of black walls. It’s nearly impossible to make these spaces bright and wedding-like, and the photographer will 100% need to use a flash. Unless you don’t care about receiving photos from the ceremony, don’t have a ceremony in a church like this!
Once you’ve selected your church, speak with the coordinator about typical procedure. Can you open the curtains entirely to let light in? Can you turn off any overhead lights to avoid mixed lighting? What are the rules for photography? It’s really important to get this information before you book, so that you know what to expect photo-wise. Some churches do not allow the photographer anywhere near the front of the ceremony, which makes it impossible to get a shot of the front of the bride walking down the aisle. Some churches require the photographer to stay seated in one seat during the entire ceremony, which will mean very limited photos and angles. You definitely want to know the rules, so ask!
Finally, when you’ve officially booked your ceremony, it’s time to think about decor. Many churches and chapels have a natural charm and elegance, so decor should be tasteful, simple and match the style of the room. Floral arrangements at the front of the room add a beautiful depth to the space, and so does candlelight. It’s a great idea to ask your florist to help you plan the decor. Get his/her input, particularly if they have worked at the church before!
There is so much to love about an outdoor ceremony! Plan it correctly, and it’s the most romantic, beautiful setting to make vows to one another. Plan it poorly, and you may be really disappointed with the end result (particularly the photos!). There are a few basic tips when planning an outdoor ceremony that will make a huge difference in the look of your photographs.
As you’ve heard me talk about a ton in this guidebook, natural light is the very first thing you should consider when planning your outdoor ceremony. If it’s sunny on your wedding day, where will the sun be? Will it be in your guests’ eyes? Will it be in YOUR eyes? Will it be at sunset, or in the middle of the day? Is there any shade? All these factors are things to consider as your plan your ceremony!
A sunny, summer day at 3pm is not only going to be hot, it’s also going to have blinding, unflattering light. In Washington, D.C., the sun sets close to 9pm during the longest days of the year. In the winter, the sun can set as early as 4:45pm. That’s a huge range! The best time to have your outdoor ceremony is within the 2-3 hours before sunset. This leaves enough time after the ceremony for golden hour photos, yet takes advantage of the sinking sun so that the light is not too intense.
The angle of the ceremony set up to the sun is super important. Again, you don’t want you or your guests to be blinded the entire time! The best angle for the sun is when the couple is backlit at the alter. This means that the sun is shining at your guests, BUT it’s not directly behind you two. Off-center to the right or left of the alter is the perfect location for the setting sun during a ceremony! No one goes blind, and you two will be beautifully backlit!
Another consideration in planning your outdoor ceremony is the surrounding setting. Many times, venues have a set location where ceremonies take place. Sometimes this is great and the spot is perfect, other times, not so much. Light shade from trees & natural surroundings create a really lovely, soft light which allows more flexibility for middle-of-the-day ceremonies without the harsh light.
When you’ve figured out the light situation, you’ll officially pick the location and start planning the details. Surprisingly, many beautiful outdoor locations can end up looking rather plain without any decor. I highly recommend some kind of decor at the alter – whether it be a floral installation, an arch, draping, or a combination of any of these. Some ceremony views are stunning and speak for themselves, but even these can always be enhanced by flowers along the aisle, candles or other tasteful additions to create a lush, beautiful space. And the bonus? You can also use the alter as a backdrop for family portraits!
Lastly, you may be planning a ceremony inside your reception venue (possibly as your Plan B!). Indoor reception venues vary so widely compared to the last two options, and so understanding how to make the space beautiful also varies widely! There are a few guiding principles that will help in any situation.
Evaluate the size of the ceremony space. How many chairs can fit comfortably in the space? Is there room along the ends of the rows or multiple aisles? Is it going to feel squeezed? For indoor spaces, the bigger, the better. Tight, squeezed spaces not only photograph poorly, they also are uncomfortable for guests! Additionally, if there isn’t a lot of space at the end of the rows, it will be harder to get close enough to photograph major moments, like the processional, vows & kiss. If these moments are important to you, definitely be sure that there is a path for a photographer to move from front to back easily without having to go down the center aisle!
Next, think about the light. Are there big windows? Will there be natural light? Is your ceremony before or after sunset? The biggest rule for indoor ceremonies is not to mix light. This means that if there is natural light (windows) then there should not be any lights on within the ceremony space. Talk with the ceremony coordinator in advance to be sure that you can avoid this mixed light. Your skin tone will thank us!
Lastly, consider the color and style of the space. If the floors or walls are anything but neutral-colored, this may clash with your wedding colors! Think about this well in advance so it’s not a problem later on. Most indoor spaces can benefit from additional, tasteful decor. Flowers are always a good idea. A lush installment in front will add life to your space and can totally transform a ceremony. Candles and greenery along the aisle and at the front also create a beautiful mood.
Things to avoid? Anything fake. Fake candles and fake flowers are a terrible idea for any part of your day, but particularly the ceremony. If your venue doesn’t allow open flames, ditch the candles entirely and stick with florals. Can’t swing the cost of all the extra flowers? Consider using lots of greenery – like smilax or eucalyptus. You can always ask your florist to help you decide what’s best for the space, too!
There is clearly a lot to think about when it comes to planning a beautiful and photogenic ceremony. Again, I’d like to add that the ceremony and your vows absolutely should be a focus for you two! That’s what the day is all about – committing to one another for life! The thing that ultimately makes a ceremony wow-worthy is when a couple has thoughtfully considered the gravity of this commitment. The emotions and joy that comes from this are priceless!
Romantic with moody fall vibes and jewel tones, this wedding was cozy and so beautifully designed.
La Vie En Rose photographs their 100th wedding at an all-time favorite wedding venue, Rockhouse Hotel.
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La Vie En Rose is a wedding photography and videography studio for couples who want photos that live in the moment with them. They are based in Washington, DC and Naples, FL and are available for travel worldwide.