We’ve attended a few weddings in the course of our photography business and I bet you can guess what every single wedding has in common? Some form of ceremony uniting the couple in marriage! Every single wedding also had an officiant (or master of ceremonies) leading the ceremony. We see some common mistakes that Officiants make, so here are a few tips to help prep the best ceremony you can for a wedding.
1. Dress Neutral & Professional
As the Officiant, you’re going to be in practically every photo (unless you follow rule number 7) so dress accordingly. Tuck in your shirt, skip the lime green accents or bright red party dress, and match the formality of the event. If the couple is on the beach and asks you to wear your best Hawaiian luau, rock on my friend (also send that couple MY way, I want to photograph that shindig!), go ahead and wear what the couple requests, but do your best to find one in a muted tone that keeps the attention on the to-be-weds.
If you’re attending the reception as a guest, feel free to bring two outfits – one to perform the ceremony in and one to break it down on the dance floor. You’ll have time to change during cocktail hour.
2. Remind Everyone to Stand (or Sit) When the Time Comes
Write into your officiant script audience action points. If you need everyone to stand (like when the bride comes down the aisle), write in “all rise,” and then say it out loud. Everyone will stay risen until you give them a command to take their seats (“please be seated” usually does the trick). Without the Officiant including these simple words into their script, guests will most likely stay standing for the full 15-30 minute ceremony (yes, we’ve seen it happen). You have a lot of power! I bet you could get a group YMCA or Hokey-Pokey going at some point if you play your cards right!
Pro Tip: If the couple got bubbles for their formal ceremony exit… BEFORE you give them the okay-go-kiss, ask the audience to prep their bubbles. This will help build anticipation as well as get a TON of bubbles for their exit (which makes for better photos!).
3. Shadows & Lighting / Position Couple to Audience
Great photography is made up of moments… but great photography also cannot be made possible with out light and shadow. The matter of a few inches can make all the difference for a well-lit ceremony or a photographer’s worst nightmare. Make a point to chat with your media crew prior to the ceremony and ask if they see any foreseeable issues with the setup. Adjusting the for the lighting could simply be as easy as a 6 inch step forward or backward to avoid a terrible shadow casted by a tree, pergola, or the wedding decor. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Pro Tip: If possible, hold the rehearsal at the same time and place the actual ceremony will take place. This gives the opportunity to see if the sun is casting any direct shadows onto any VIPs. Ask the venue to turn on all the lights so you can simulate EXACTLY how the ceremony will be. Think of it like a dress rehearsal… just without THE dress.
4. Have Nice Accessories
Very few officiants memorize their wedding ceremonies and usually carry a binder. Whatever you are holding in your hands will be in the background of every single photo. If you purchase a 99 cent green binder from staples to hold your wedding ceremony pages – this will be in every image. Consider a leather folio to tuck the ceremony script into.
Oh, and make sure you print your text at a HUGE size that you can read from a distance.
And number your ceremony pages.
If you as the officiant elect to include any traditions during the ceremony that require props, please please please remove tags, wrappers, peel off price tags (even if they are “hidden” on the bottom of something… spoiler alert, NOTHING IS EVER HIDDEN), pour wine into a fancy cup, and certainly get the best rope for hand binding. If your type of ceremony requires your hands dirty, have a cloth rag/towel instead of a roll of paper towels.
👏 👏 👏 Everything 👏 has 👏 potential 👏 to 👏 be 👏 in 👏 the 👏 photos 👏 EVERYTHING. 👏 👏 👏
5. No Phones. No Tablets. No Audience Cameras. EVER.*
Please don’t make me repeat myself. Do not EVER encourage anyone to pull out a phone and take a photo during the ceremony if there is a professional photographer present. Seriously. We got this part covered. Most all creatives (your photography team and cinematography/videography team) adore unplugged ceremonies as it gives less opportunity for a guest to accidentally block a key moment.
If the couple doesn’t mind, a simple announcement at the beginning of the ceremony (prior to ANY VIPs entering the ceremony space) to remind people to be fully present in the moment and to put away their screens to join in on this special moment for the couple.
Pro Tip: If audience participation photos are SUPER important (and unavoidable), an idea may be to invite guests for a limited moment to snap a shot of the couple together, than ask them to put away their devices to join you fully for the remaining part of the ceremony.
*Please know as blunt as this point sounds, it comes from a deep seated place in our heart – there is absolutely NO reason for the future mother-in-law to watch the entire ceremony through her 3″ phone screen when she has a front row seat to the action. Yes, we’ve seen it happen. ALOT. We can also guarantee that the couple does not need a grainy, out-of-focus, cell phone photo of their first kiss from a guests phone (it’s probably not in focus anyway!)
6. Not Too Big, Not Too Small – Make it JUST Right.
If you’re starting from scratch, don’t make your ceremony too long. Also, don’t make your ceremony too short. It is everyone’s not-so-secret desire to get to cocktail hour swiftly and quickly BUT the wedding ceremony is the part of the day where everyone comes together to focus on the past, present, and future of a relationship. The ceremony should be just long enough to help showcase gravitas to this lifelong decision, but not so long it puts your captive audience to desire a siesta.
7. Step Out of the Way for the First Kiss
The most request photo we get from the ceremony is a version of the couple’s first kiss without the officiant growing out of their bodies behind them. A little simple choreography will get you out of the way. Start with a phrase that is something to build anticipation.
“Now. For the moment we’ve ALL been waiting for.”
Next, grab the microphone stand (as long as the DJ/sound guy gave you the okay ahead of time to move it) and take some big steps to the side – like 3 or 4 large steps so you’re tucked nicely behind the line of bridesmaids or groomsmen. If you read my pro-tip from point 2, you know what line comes next.
“Ladies and gentle, get those bubbles ready we have something BIG to celebrate.”
Now that you’re properly out of the way and you’ve built some really good anticipation… go ahead and say your next line.
“You may now share your first kiss as newly weds!” (or if you’re a sucker for a 1980’s rom-com, “You may now kiss the bride!“
Now go ahead and use your officiant power to remind everyone to rise to celebrate the newlyweds as they exit their ceremony!
Pro Tip: during the rehearsal, encourage the couple to kiss more than once. This gives you the opportunity to make sure your choreography was executed correctly. If they forget to kiss a second time, you can encourage them over the microphone, “let’s really seal those vows, kiss ’em again!”
How’d we do? Officiants! Sound off! What are some of your favorite tips for a wedding ceremony?