When 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.
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.
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.