Top Tips For the Perfect Ceremony

October 17, 2023
An image of a hand-written letter with marriage rings and blue flowers.

For many couples, a wedding ceremony is either the central focus of the day or a quick legality before the party gets started. Regardless of how long your ceremony is to last, you'll want to enjoy every second of it and make the most out of having all your friends & family gathered in one place to watch you make your commitment to one another. So here are a few tips to consider when you are planning your ceremony - and how they can affect the photographic opportunities for this special part of your day.  

Walk, Don't Run

A bride is walking down the aisle with her father on her wedding day

No matter how short or long your aisle is, take your time. This applies to any wedding party who may be arriving down the aisle before you too. Don't feel the need to walk in step with the music - that often looks super odd! Just take small gliding steps but don't shuffle. Take in the excitement, the joy beaming right back at you and try to lock eyes to your partner if they are standing at the other end of the aisle to you.

The longer your aisle the more variety you'll get in your photography shots as well as I can jump from my telephoto to my wide lens and get different perspectives.

Also consider what shoes you will be walking in and what the surface is. For lawns you can get accessories that you can attach to your stilettos so they don't sink into the ground. If you've got a long train or are wearing a hoop skirt to flare your dress, consider candle or floral arrangement placement in your aisle and it may be advisable to opt for a slightly wider aisle.  

Don't Turn Your Back On Me

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Picture this: you've gathered together your family & friends into one space to watch you get married. You've spent a thousand pounds on a dress, and people have maybe flown in from around the world to come and see you get married, but when you reach the top of the aisle they only see your back!

This is a scenario that happens all too often. With your celebrant conducting the ceremony, there's a natural tendency to want to face them for the duration of the ceremony. But this means you'll spend most of the next twenty minutes not seeing your guests reactions and if there's not a lot of room up there for your photographer as well, it'll mean most of your photos will be taken from a limited set of fairly uninteresting angles.

Don't make this mistake. Instead, speak with your celebrant before the big day and make sure that they'll keep you either facing each other or towards your guests. This way you'll feel that your friends & family are more a part of your wedding, rather than just hearing them over your shoulder.

Let's See the Ring!

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In the middle of your ceremony, just as you're about to officially marry the love of your life it can be hard to remember that you've got 100 people looking to see you exchange rings, let alone a photographer and a videographer team. Tying into my earlier point about where you are going to stand during the ceremony, if you stand too close to each other or are tilted towards the celebrant and not your guests there is a good chance that nobody is going to see this important part of your ceremony. It can also be incredibly difficult to get the ring in view for your photos and videos too if it's obscured by your bodies.

When you face each other to exchange rings, make sure that your aren't obscuring each other's left hand with your bodies and that there's a clear distance between you - you don't want to be so far apart that you have to reach to get the ring on, but equally you don't want to be too close that nobody sees anything. About half a metre is plenty room and if you're worried that you won't remember during the ceremony - ask your celebrant to prompt you.

Size Matters

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Think about the space you'll be getting married in. If you're having a small intimate ceremony inside Cromlix's tiny wee chapel, or in one of Prestonfield House's little ceremony rooms, be aware of how much room you'll have around you. As a photographer, I'll be at the front to get your arrival down the aisle, but in smaller ceremony spaces it's not really appropriate for me to linger beside the couple and the celebrant as I know I'll end up just being a distraction and your lasting memories of your wedding ceremony shouldn't be this annoying photographer who feels way too close to you during such an intimate occasion.

For some venues there's not really any solution - unless you're a Timelord, dimensions in space and time are fairly fixed. But it's good to be conscious about what you can control - for example you may want to reconsider your wedding party standing with you throughout the ceremony to free up some space. You might rethink that moongate in favour of a more simple floral arrangement or you could even work with your celebrant so that they stand off to the side as they conduct the ceremony.

If you have booked a smaller wedding space, that's absolutely fine. Using the tips I've mentioned above will help maximise the space available and enable you to make the most out of your photography. But if your venue does offer it, consider my next top tip!

Go Al Fresco

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Outdoor ceremonies in Scotland may sound like an oxymoron or a disaster waiting to happen, but trust me they are the best. Your venue will always have a backup for when it's torrential rain and usually they'll make a call early on in the morning rather than 5 minutes before you're due to walk down the aisle. When you have an outdoor ceremony you'll have the opportunity for so much more photographic opportunities. I won't be bound by the size of the room, and can instead take a step back and get more reaction shots from everyone in your ceremony during the ceremony. You'll also get different shots with your guests reactions in the background too (more on that later).

I'd recommend marrying in the shade if it's the height of summer, partly to offer your guests some protection from the sun but also to provide more even lighting for the ceremony. Summer sun around midday can be very contrasty with deep shadows, not to mention it can be very uncomfortable if you're wearing a heavy kilt or layered dress. Natural lighting under shade also offers another advantage - as often indoor artificial lighting can be poor and is often coloured.

For many indoor venues, I'll also need to use flash, which may detract somewhat from the atmosphere but is absolutely necessary for clear & sharp images.

Set Your Expectations

Throughout my many years of photographing weddings, I've come across a few unusual things during a wedding ceremony that even the couple didn't expect. So here are a few things to remember or be aware of that may not seem obvious!

A bride & groom share their first kiss during their wedding ceremony

A First Kiss

Believe it or not, I've had a few ceremonies where there wasn't an organised first kiss in the order of service created with the minister or celebrant. If you're opting not to have a first kiss, let me know as I'm primed for this shot and it can be confusing when it doesn't happen.

If you do opt for one, it usually happens just after the ring exchange or at the very end of the ceremony after you've signed the marriage certificate. Make sure you lock your lips for a little longer so I can get a couple of different compositions!

Don't Rush

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While I appreciate that not everyone will opt for a long ceremony with anecdotes of your love story, readings, handfasting and other traditional elements, if you have a short ceremony then you may be missing out on some key moments. Typically an average ceremony will last between 20-30 minutes - but I've had some that have lasted as little as 12 minutes.

If you've got an outdoor setting, such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, then you'll want to maximise the different angles and compositions for your photography, as well as including guest reaction shots. But if you whizz through your ceremony, my priority is going to be capturing the key moments - ring exchange, first kiss, your reaction to each other's personal vows. You might also find that you can barely remember anything from your own ceremony because it happened so quickly.

Take your time. Be present in the moment.

Getting All Emotional

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Whilst this is a momentous occasion for you as a couple and your immediate family, remember that while weddings are an emotional and joyous event your guests might be as expressive as you envision them to be.

Everyone is different and people react to emotional moments in different ways, including those whose expressions may not necessarily be reflective of what they are feeling on the inside.

So don't expect all your guests to outwardly react in exactly the same way, and bear in mind if I'm able to take photos of your guests' faces during the ceremony that it's an expression in a moment of time rather than representing everything they felt throughout your nuptials.

Group Shot or Confetti?

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If we've planned to have an entire guest group shot or confetti after the ceremony, then it's an idea to let your celebrant know so they can work this into their script.

After a wedding ceremony, guests can feel a little confused as they might not know where to go next and might be anxious as to what's happening. By involving your celebrant with what the next steps are, they can then impart this knowledge to your guests at the end of the ceremony so they have a clear idea of what is going to happen next and what might be required of them.

Also consider how you are going to distribute your confetti. It may be little confetti cones on a table as you exit the ceremony area or little sachets on everyone's seat. Let me know in advance so I can help handing the confetti out and getting everyone in place while you have 5 minutes alone together after the ceremony.

Late, Late for a Very Important Date!

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Yes, latecomers are a thing. Typically your invites should tell your guests to arrive around 45 minutes before the ceremony. This leaves scope for guests to run a little late but not miss the wedding, and you might have some eager guests who arrive a little early too.

If you are worried about a specific group of people being late - then you can always send them a separate invite with an earlier ceremony time. That way if they think they are late for the ceremony, they'll be early for the actual ceremony! If any of your guests are playing an active part in your ceremony, such as a reading, then make sure they arrive an hour before hand just to be on the safe side.

Whether you are travelling to or staying at your ceremony location, it's especially important to consider latecomers if you are wanting to make your grand entrance & dress reveal in the ceremony without anyone catching a sneak peek before hand.

Both myself and your events coordinator will endeavour to keep you hidden away during this time, but it's worth doing some forward planning to mitigate against any of the usual suspects rocking up 2 minutes before the ceremony is due to start.  


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If you are getting ready at another location from your ceremony venue, then I'd recommend booking professional transport for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it avoids having a designated driver in your wedding party who, while free, might feel a lot of pressure to get the wedding party to the venue on time. That stress and pressure may lead to impaired driving and poor decisions on the road, which isn't something you'll want on your wedding day.

Secondly, professional transport is a more relaxed and enjoyable experience. You won't have to worry about the route or parking and can sit back & relax over a glass of champagne. Cars can be hired for multiple trips throughout the day too, meaning your car can be ready and waiting for your after your church wedding to take you onwards to the drinks reception.

Whether it's a black cab or a fancy classic car, it also can add a little luxury to your wedding day and some unique photos for your gallery.    

The Doctor Can't Save You

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Unless you happen to be best mates with The Last of the Timelords (in which case, can I come with you on your next adventure in the TARDIS? I'll give you 100% discount on your wedding photography!) you are going to need to manage the time before your ceremony effectively, especially so if transport is required.

If you need to travel to your ceremony location, keep in mind the following when planning pick up times:

- Always factor in heavy traffic. Edinburgh traffic has significantly increased in recent years, due to increase in population, tourism and roadwork diversions. A 20 minute journey can easily be 40 minutes if your wedding falls on a Bank Holiday or some sporting event.

- Find out any events that might also be happening on your day that could affect your route and journey times as this will directly impact how long before your ceremony you'll need to get ready by.

- You will need to coordinate with both your transport and any hair & make up teams you've booked. Add in a buffer of 20-30 minutes as well, because you won't want to be finishing your hair at 11am then have only 10 mins to jump into your dress and be whisked away before you even know what's happening or get a chance to enjoy being in your dress before it all kicks off. And remember hair & make up can take slightly longer on the day depending on the style, the number of heads they need to work on and even the humidity of the day.

An image of a bride in her wedding dress standing in a window at a castle

Also consider how much of the morning prep I'll be able to capture. Typically I will want to be at the ceremony location no later than 30 minutes before it's due to start to capture establishing shots, candids of your partner & guests and your arrival. That means I'll be leaving well before you as well as allowing at least 30 mins for a 20 minute drive.

With a ceremony of 2pm, I might be leaving you around 1pm, and if you want those first shots in your dress then you are going to need to be ready no later than 12.15pm which can mean an earlier start for Hair & Make Up than you might want. If you aren't bothered about these shots though, we could miss them entirely and buy back some more time for a later start with your hair & make up team or a more relaxed morning that's free of tight timings & schedules.

But wait, what has this got to do with your ceremony? Well if you've had a stressful morning with deadlines to get into your dress, a photographer who needs to get the shots you've asked for, a hairdresser who needs a little more time and gridlock on the city bypass such that you arrive 25 minutes late for the wedding, then you are going to feel stressed during your ceremony.
You can avoid all this by some careful planning, forward thinking and planning for unexpected delays - it's better to have that extra 20 minutes to do a lap round your venue than feeling stressed and worried on the hottest day in July while you've been stuck on the City Bypass for 30 minutes because you forgot it was the first day of the school holidays.

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