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The Truth About Your Wedding Ceremony

Bride Vs Groom, Wedding BlogWhen we first started Bride Vs Groom I wanted to tell the story of our wedding in the hopes of offering a little inspiration and advice from one Bride to another and share the journey together with other Brides and Grooms. Now that my wedding is over I’m starting to think about things more as a professional wedding photographer and consider, in retrospect, the things that if I hadn’t already experienced I would like to have known in advance.

When you work in the industry it is very easy to find yourself lost in the wedding bubble. You notice things and see different ideas all the time but don’t necessarily realise their significance to Brides and Grooms until you find yourselves standing in their shoes. For example when I talked last week about the First Look I had no idea that this might be a concept people had never heard of. Over the years it’s also become apparent to me that Brides and Grooms clearly aren’t being made aware of the various rules and restrictions that they may find themselves faced with on their wedding day.

I was fortunate enough to actually have two wedding ceremonies: A UK civil ceremony to settle the legalities and a church ceremony abroad which we considered to be the actual wedding. In both cases, based on my prior experiences at every different kind of wedding, one of the first questions I asked each potential wedding venue was “what are the vicars/registrars like here? How restrictive are they?” When choosing a venue you naturally assume the venue will be in charge and they will let you know of any restrictions, but the trouble is that the venues honestly don’t know because they’re not really the ones in charge of your ceremony.

The truth about your wedding ceremony

Photo by York Place Studios

It is the officiant (with a certain amount of coordination with the venue) who will decide on how the ceremony itself works and who decides what will and will not be allowed, and the fact is there’s not really any set guideline that they each follow. You see, Brides and Grooms, it is not actually based, it would appear, on the legal or religious guidelines that govern the ceremony. If this were true then each time I photographed a wedding I wouldn’t be met with a completely different set of rules each time dependent on who I was dealing with.

These rules can be as diverse as:

  • Not being allowed in the church AT ALL (this has fortunately only happened once to me!)
  • Being allowed to sit at the back but not allowed to take pictures (except perhaps for the posed signing of the register… photographing the real signing of the register may or may not be allowed for apparently differing “legal reasons”)
  • Being allowed to take photos from the back but not to move anywhere else.
  • Being allowed to take photographs from the rear and sides of the room.
  • Being allowed to choose either the front or back but not being allowed to move.
  • Being allowed to photograph anywhere as long as we’re quiet. (In fact one vicar actually said “go anywhere you like as long as you don’t stand on my foot!”)

As you can probably imagine, these individual rules will, at the very least, have a huge effect on the type and quality of photographs you’re able to get of your ceremony, and they appear to be defined not by any official guideline, but by individual officials differing past experiences with photographers. Inexperienced photographers may perhaps have used lots of flash, made lots of noise and been generally disruptive to the ceremony and unfortunately this leaves a false impression in the memory of professional photographers who use ninja like skills to get the shot they need without any disturbance.

Photograph By Ed Peers

Another question you need to ask is whether there are other weddings happening in the venue at the same time and if so how they deal with that. It’s quite common for there to be several function rooms at large venues and for several weddings or receptions to occur simultaneously or one after the other with no problem whatsoever and you’d never even know it’s happening. However in some smaller venues (particularly registry offices) with a similar need to hold lots of ceremonies in the same day but less capacity to do so, you have to realise that this does mean you’re not going to get a lot of time.

Registrars have more than one ceremony to do in a day and consequently have to get you in and out on schedule. This does sometimes cause problems: If you over-run you will see another bride arrive for another wedding in the same room. When under pressure to get to the next wedding on time your registrar may become a little short. Your ceremony may be slightly curtailed or you may not get much time outside to mingle and have some pictures taken. This of course doesn’t always happen, but it’s something that’s best to know ahead of time and a question you need to ask before you book your wedding. Of course if it really bothers you and you can afford to pay extra then some venues will allow you to book on an exclusive use basis.

These issues don’t bother everyone, but for us the difference was night and day. We loved both of our ceremonies, but whereas at our civil ceremony it did become quite clear that another wedding party were waiting to come in and that they needed us out, at our church in La Palma we had all the time in the world and it made it absolutely amazing. Our registrar was on at least her third or fourth ceremony of the day, was clearly a little stressed and wouldn’t allow us the time to even put on our play-out music. Our vicar in La Palma (who was unbelievably excited and lovely having never actually officiated a wedding before) made us so welcome and, with a storm raging outside, allowed all of our guests to stay in the church, dance and sing, have our throwing of the bouquet and even drink a little champagne! It made such a difference to our day, and to be honest, for me if the UK ceremony had been more than a legal signing for us, we would have felt a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also been to many many beautiful registry office and other civil ceremonies, it just seems to vary depending on individual circumstances and just how busy the venue is on any given day.

This issue isn’t limited to civil ceremonies either, all vicars and other officials can just have a bad day and also find themselves under equal pressure. Sometimes it can be as simple as the Bride and Groom just not clicking with them. I say this not to attack any individuals (in fact 99% of the officials I’ve worked with are absolutely amazing people) but it breaks my heart when I do see unhappy brides and grooms and it’s something you’re never aware of until you actually get married yourself. So what can you do?

  • ASK! Talk to the venue about the registrars, talk to other couples about their experiences, check with the registry office in advance what they will and will not allow. If something’s particularly important to you then tell them! If you want your photographer to have full access then let them know, if not they might just assume you’ll find it distracting!
  • If it’s a religious ceremony then attend some services before you decide on your church. Meet up with the officiant after the service and get to know them a bit – it’s much easier to trust someone you know than someone you’ve never met before!
  • If you have the opportunity to choose your own officiant then do!
  • Be prepared. Perhaps some of these things are out of your control, perhaps you just have to accept them. But maybe, by being prepared for them, you can avoid any unexpected disappointment on the most special day of your lives.

Image by Ed Peers

And above all ENJOY and be prepared to roll with the punches, even if that means getting married in the middle of a tropical storm! Your wedding won’t go exactly to plan but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you enjoy it and, regardless of any minor flaws, have the best day of your lives!

  • Ian Wallace - December 18, 2012 - 1:02 pm

    Yes – all these things!
    The signing of the register rules annoy me, only because there’s so much rubbish spoken about it. There is no legal reason why photos can’t be taken of the bride and groom signing the register. The Data Protection Act doesn’t cover the register as it’s a public document.
    However, not distracting the bride and groom while they’re signing a legal document makes complete sense. Apparently mistakes are a real pain to get corrected!ReplyCancel

    • bridevsgroom - December 18, 2012 - 1:06 pm

      Absolutely Ian, I think the actual signing is a moment that certainly should never be interfered with – photographs of it should only be taken in a documentary style like the rest of the ceremony as distracting people is the last thing you want. The posed picture can be useful if you want a more crafted image, but I don’t see any particular reason for not being able to take both.ReplyCancel

  • Jaye Cole | Tux and Tales Photography - December 18, 2012 - 1:10 pm

    Fab article Dom! I have shared the same frustrations as many photographers with the varying rules from one wedding to the next.

    Our worst case this year was a bride who attended a church an hour away for a whole year just to have her ceremony there only to be told on the day that no photos were allowed! Fortunately, a little sweet talk and we managed to photograph some key moments (as expected, the vicar had some bad experiences with intrusive photography in the past and it only needed a bit of reassurance to find a middle ground).

    All turned out well in the end, but think of what stress could have been avoided if the vicar had been transparent with her rules in the beginning!ReplyCancel

    • bridevsgroom - December 18, 2012 - 1:56 pm

      Thanks Jaye 🙂 It’s an interesting point you make about talking directly to the vicar about it, we’ve had similar situations where officiants have been very strict at first but then relaxed a bit once they’ve realised we weren’t about to cause havoc! So glad it worked out in your case though, it’s terrible when a Bride and groom find out they have no pictures of their ceremony!ReplyCancel

  • Michael & Andrea - December 18, 2012 - 3:08 pm

    Another Brilliant post! And such an important one. Communication is key and it is amazing the amount of different rules you come accross. The worst issues from a photographers perspective tend to be dark churches with a no flash rule, but having a good photographer with the right equipment can save this from being so much of a problem. There are ways around it to some extent.

    But as you mentioned, if the Bride and Groom know the restrictions then usually a compromise can be made with the registrar / Vicar and the photographer. If not then atleast everyone involved knows what the score is.

    If photography is very important to the couple and the Vicar / Registrar can’t accomodate, you have two options. Move your venue or get creative (First Look is uber cool) 🙂ReplyCancel

    • bridevsgroom - December 18, 2012 - 4:58 pm

      Thanks for the comment Michael & Andrea, it’s great to hear what experiences other photographers have had in this area 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Shelly - December 18, 2012 - 5:55 pm

    Correct correct correct! Well done Dom.

    When I tell potential clients about being turned away at the church, I think they only half believe me. It’s happened at least four times this year – I even had a vicar who told me I could do what I liked then proceeded to glare at me the entire time (mind you, she then had a little swig from a bottle of cough syrup (at least I think it was cough syrup!) whilst belting out a song during the hymns ;-0 )

    On the other hand, I had a priest who gave us the run of the church and even had a bit of a laugh with us during the ceremony. He was ace.

    Most registrars are lovely lovely people and are very accommodating. But yep, there have been times when they’ve been not so lovely and times when they’ve practically raced through the ceremony. But those times are outweighed by the really cool registrars who want to give the bride and groom the best possible service and wedding day they can.

    Communication is key in everything – you can’t always get to know your registrar but you are usually able to meet with the vicar a couple of times at least. Information is king and as long as you kinda know what you’re in for, then at least you’re doing it in an informed manner and your day will be as relaxed and fun as it can be without any of those people glaring at the photographer at the front (or the back… or standing outside the church).

    Well done Dom on highlighting an important bit of the day.


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