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Wedding Portraits: Before the Ceremony, or After?

May 17, 2008
Brides and grooms have a million decisions to make about their wedding day, from the most important (who will the attendants be?) to the most mundane (what color should the napkins be?). One decision that is difficult for many is whether to have their wedding portraits taken before or after the ceremony.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

If you do the wedding portraits before the ceremony, they can be over and done with right away, so that after the ceremony, you can go straight into the reception. Guests don't have to wait around. You don't have to stress about how long your photographer is taking.

(If you do the portraits before the ceremony, be sure to have a special "first seeing" arranged, where you see each other for the first time, alone [with the photographer] in a special place. It will be a memorable moment for both of you).

However, as a professional photographer, I can tell you from experience that very frequently, when couples plan to have their pictures taken before the ceremony, not everyone will be ready. It takes a while to get ready: doing the hair, putting on the gown, getting everyone into tuxes and dresses. It is very common to have a groomsman lost somewhere, a bridesmaid waiting to get her hair done, a bride waiting for her petticoat, or to have an uncle simply forget to show up.

It is very stressful for couples as they hurry and/or wait for everyone to be ready; planning to do the pictures after the ceremony is often less stressful for this reason.

Secondly, there are still lots of nerves before the ceremony. Even when you are excited about getting married, some couples are still nervous about being up in front, about the ceremony going as planned, about getting the vows right. That nervousness is often evident in the pictures when portraits are done before the ceremony.

On the other hand, when pictures are taken after the ceremony, the bride and groom not only tend to be relaxed, but joyful. The most stressful part of the day is over. The fun of the reception awaits. It's a good, happy time. Again, often this is evident in the pictures when they are done after the ceremony.

The disadvantage to taking pictures after the ceremony is that it can keep guests waiting before the reception. This is especially noticeable if the reception is at the same site as the wedding.

However, this can be minimized by serving hors d'oeuvres or having the DJ or band play music as guests wait (live music is usually very engaging while people wait). And if the reception is at a different location, there is more leeway, as it takes people a while to go from one location to the other. I once had one couple schedule the reception for 90 minutes after the ceremony ended. That way, they had a long, relaxing portrait session strolling through a park--it remains one of my favorite portrait sessions ever.

Furthermore, you can reduce the amount of time for the portraits by reducing the number of portraits. World renown wedding photographer Denis Reggie (once called by the time of the New York Times as "the hottest wedding photographer of the moment") says he encourages his celebrity couples to take four group portraits: bride and groom with bride's family, bride and groom with groom's family; both families combined, and the bride and groom with the bridesmaids and groomsmen. He says he spends 5-15 minutes on portraits, and any photographer should be able to get those basic pictures quickly and easily.

The decision to take the pictures before or after the ceremony is a difficult one. But whatever you decide, make sure that it is your decision, that it's the way you really want it, not the way your parents want it, or the way your photographer wants it. This is your special day, so arrange things the way that will make it most enjoyable for you.
About the Author
Larry Brunt is a wedding photojournalist. His company, Essential Moments Photography, is located in Spokane, WA, and Larry photographs weddings throughout the United States. Visit his website at www.EssentialMomentsPhotos.com or drop by his blog
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