Welcome to part six of our official Wedding Photography Guide, a series of weekly articles designed to teach you the fundamentals of wedding photography. In our previous article we covered how to photograph the couples session, which includes everything from scouting the location to foundation posing and communicating with the couple. This week, we present our official Wedding Ceremony Guide, an overview of how to best capture all the action of a wedding ceremony.
All of the education from the guides as well as our workshops is derived from our experience at Lin and Jirsa Photography, a Los Angeles Wedding Photography Studio with over 10 years of experience and over 2,000 weddings. For comprehensive wedding photography education, be sure to check out our full workshops in our store.
Introduction | Why We Are Here
Although wedding days can run long, a typical ceremony lasts only 20-30 minutes, which limits the time you have to creatively capture all of the important moments and people as the ceremony unfolds. Of course, ceremonies can last longer depending on the culture of those getting married and the activities or rituals they choose to practice, but we’ll discuss that in more detail below.
If you photograph weddings as part of a team of 2-3 photographers, which is often the case, you’ll also need to know how to coordinate with your team members to effectively capture the best angles for stronger storytelling.
In this article, we offer eight tips to help you (and your team) efficiently photograph a wedding ceremony from the processional to the recessional, and everything in between.
1. Speak with the Officiant Before the Ceremony for Timeline Cues
As officiants tend to run the show once the processional is underway, we recommend talking with them before the ceremony begins in order to get a solid understanding of what to expect. General wedding timelines rarely outline the ceremony in detail, so ask the officiant how the ceremony will unfold.
Ceremonies typically include a number of the following activities:
- Bride’s entrance
- Father’s blessing, aka “Giving away the bride”
- Sand Ceremony/Unity Candle
- Ring exchange
- First Kiss
Ask the officiant for a specific phrase he or she will say before announcing the first kiss. Knowing this cue ahead of time should allow your team to move into position in time to capture the moment. We also recommend respectfully asking officiants to step out from behind the couple after announcing the kiss so that only the bride and groom remain in the frame (see before and after images above).
2. Communicate With The Cinema Team to avoid cross shooting
As we mentioned in our previous article on how to photograph a bride and groom’s first look, when working alongside a cinema team you will need to communicate your plans with them in order to avoid crossing angles and getting into each other’s shots. Communication is especially crucial for the bride’s entrance and the recessional, in which the bride and groom are on the move.
3. Follow Through From Beginning To End During The Processional
When photographing the processional, we recommend following each subject (parents, groom, bridal party, etc.) from the moment they enter the aisle to the moment they take their final position for the ceremony. Otherwise, if you start capturing images of the groom as he makes his entrance and then quickly transition to the next member of the bridal party before the groom has taken his place at the altar, you may miss an important moment, such as the groom hugging his mom at the end of the aisle (see the image below). Your clients will appreciate seeing these candid moments when you deliver the final images, and they go a long way to help you exceed your client’s expectations.
4. Divide And Conquer The Aisle Shot For The Bride’s Entrance
As the bride prepares to walk the aisle, the second shooter (S) should take a position at the back of the aisle in order to shoot over the bride’s shoulder and capture the groom’s (G) reaction while the lead shooter (L) remains by the groom to capture the bride’s processional & his reaction up close.
Wedding days revolve around the bride, so her grand entrance to the ceremony site ranks highly on the list of important moments. Traditionally, couples would wait until this moment to see each other for the first time on their wedding day. While the trend has shifted and more couples are choosing to do a first look before the ceremony, this momentous occasion still draws incredible reactions from both the bride and groom, as well as the guests.
When photographing this moment, team & lens synergy is important. If the lead is shooting down the aisle to capture the bride on a wide angle lens, for example, then the second shooter should use a lens with a tighter focal length, such as a 70-200mm lens, to capture the groom’s reaction (see the images below). We discuss shooter movement and positioning in more detail in Photographing the Ceremony.
Second Shooter Angle
Lead And Second Shooter Examples For The Father’s Blessing (or the “Giving Away Of The Bride”)
Top row: Lead and second shooter angles for the bride’s father “giving away” his daughter during the processional. Bottom row: Lead and second shooter angles for the bride hugging her father during the processional.
Lead and second shooters should continue capturing images of the couple as the bride’s father as he gives his blessing and leaves his daughter with the groom at the altar.
5. Coordinate Positions To tell a stronger story
This image shows all the possible angles and shots that can be taken in a single wedding moment. As you can see, it is important to position your team in the optimal location to capture these moments as they unfold.
Wedding photography teams vary in size, but they generally range from an individual photographer to three shooters depending on the guest count. The more shooters you have on your team, the more coordinated the movement must be to ensure that the angles are covered for each of the important moments, and that the bride and groom’s (as well as the guests’) experience isn’t hampered by intrusive coverage.
During the ceremony, all shooters should rotate through three basic positions: Center aisle, outside the left side of the seating area, and outside the right side of the seating area (see the image above). In most cases, the lead will likely start at the back of the center aisle and capture wide or artistic angles of the ceremony. When the lead leaves the center aisle to find creative angles, the second shooter should move into cover the center aisle. The third should note the other shooters’ positions and move accordingly to avoid occupying the same space. Ideally, these movements would work like a well-choreographed dance, however, it may take time to perfect this coordination.
Here are some of the important moments/people to capture during the ceremony:
Scene & Venue
6. Be Aware Of Cultural Nuances
Each culture practices a wide variety of symbolic traditions and rituals that are derived from their respective history and religion. We recommend studying cultural nuances and wedding traditions associated with the bride and groom’s culture before photographing their wedding. When you understand the significance of the rituals and objects used, you can identify when key moments will occur and know exactly how to capture them.
You can find more information on how to photograph various cultural weddings with our Cultural Wedding Photography Guides.
7. Stack shooters For The First Kiss And Recessional
If you talked to the officiant before the ceremony, you should know the cue for when he or she is going to announce the bride and groom’s first kiss. During the first kiss, lead and second shooters generally stand next to each other (also known as “stacking”) in the center aisle and capture the kiss at different focal lengths, one using a 24-70mm lens and the other a 70-200mm lens.
After the kiss, lead shooters should walk to the front of the aisle and track the bride and groom as they walk toward the back of the aisle. It’s important to be careful while doing this so as to avoid walking backward into a person or an object while tracking the couple. Use the second shooter if possible, or warn people ahead of time that you plan to walk backward as the bride and groom exit.
Expected key moments like the recessional offer a great opportunity to experiment with creative angles or tools, such as a tilt-shift lens (see images on the right above). However, if you are the lead shooter, we recommend that the second shooter take lead on a 24-70/70-200mm to capture the action to ensure that you don’t miss any important moments.
8. Direct The Couple To Do A Second Kiss During The Recessional
When the bride and groom get to the end of the aisle, it is common to ask them to go for another kiss, this time allowing the photographers to showcase the guests cheering in the background. First and second shooters should remain on different lenses and capture the moment at different focal lengths, one wider, one tighter.
The amount of time allotted for the wedding ceremony does not reflect its significance in the overall wedding day. Depending on the culture, ceremonies can involve a multitude of traditions and seemingly be finished as quickly as they started.
Like always, your best bet is to communicate with the bride and groom before the wedding day and discuss which ceremony traditions they plan to observe and follow up with the officiant before the ceremony begins to confirm the ceremony timeline. The more prepared you are, the better your chances of capturing creative imagery, regardless of time constraints or other limitations.
You can find additional information in Photographing the Ceremony, a comprehensive course in our Wedding Workshop series that covers everything you need to know about how to capture incredible wedding-day imagery, including how to direct and manage a wedding team, understand angles needed to capture a cohesive & emotional wedding story, and more! Check out this course in the SLR Lounge Store or stream it as an SLR Lounge Premium Subscriber.