Celebrants & Ceremonies

Choosing and Getting the Best from your Wedding Celebrant

It’s easy to get so tied up in the details of the event of your wedding day
– from pew-end-flowers to table linen –
that sometimes you forget you’re actually getting married!  
The celebrant conducting your wedding ceremony is a vital cog
in the big and busy wheel of your day.  
Here are some tips and tricks for getting the right fit of Celebrant for you.
Before looking for a Celebrant, you need to first decide on your wedding date and location.
Then you can begin to look for someone in that area, available on your chosen date.

Would you prefer a male or female officiate?
Maybe it doesn’t matter, but maybe it’s important to you.  Know this from the start.

Ideally, you need to book your celebrant a good 12 months in advance, so begin your search early.
Ask around. Get recommendations. Read reviews.
Then speak with at least two (ideally 3!) Celebrants before making your decision.

Meet with your Celebrant and make sure you totally ‘click’ with them.
Skype if necessary!
If there is any vibe at all that you won’t have a great working relationship, DON’T book them!
You want someone who is experienced enough to avoid and overcome unexpected hiccups,
and who is able to delight you and your guests, creating memories to last a lifetime.

To determine their experience, ask how many ceremonies they have conducted,
and over what period of time.

Communicate your vision for your day as a whole, and specifically your ceremony.
Make sure your Celebrant listens and understands your wishes.
If you’re not sure what you want, ask your Celebrant for suggestions.
They should be experienced with choices of music, readings, vow wording and extra touches.

Find out if your Celebrant will write a ceremony uniquely for you,
or if they use the same wording for every wedding?
There are two distinct aspects to being a Celebrant.
One is writing a ceremony that reflects your personality and wishes.
The second is presenting it in a professional yet friendly manner.

Do you need something unusual from your Celebrant, such as dressing to a theme
or speaking part of the ceremony in a different language (to respect your heritage)?
Be clear in your own mind about these things, and add them to your wish list!

What other messages would you like your Celebrant to convey to your guests,
possibly before the bride arrives?  
For example: do you want your guests uploading photos to social media
before you’re home from honeymoon?  Are your guests invited to a BBQ the next day?
Would you like guests to stay close for a full group shot following the ceremony?
Your Celebrant is the best person to handle these messages.

Ask if they have previously conducted a ceremony at your chosen venue
– what advice can they share?

Discuss what their procedure is in terms of ceremony rehearsal.
(As a photographer, may I recommend you consider scheduling this at the same time of day
as your actual ceremony, so that you can evaluate the sun angles when setting out seating
and deciding where the bridal party will stand.)

Ask how many weddings your Celebrant is likely to conduct on your wedding day.
If they are rushing to or from another wedding, it may compromise how your day flows
and put unnecessary pressure on you.

Be clear about their fee and what it includes so that there are no surprises.
Consider GST and mileage.
Make sure you pay a deposit to secure your date.
Ask when final payment is required.

Ask if they provide a sound system, and if there is a cost for this.

Make sure you understand where their role begins and ends.
For example, it is YOUR responsibility to arrange the marriage license, not theirs.
Ask their advice on these things.

Some Celebrants provide pre-marriage counselling, which can be really helpful and loads of fun.
If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, ask your Celebrant about it.

Ask what their back-up plan is if they are unable to attend your ceremony due to illness or accident.
This is one person you can’t afford a ‘no show’ from on your wedding day!

Finally, a good Celebrant should fill you with confidence so that you can relax
and look forward with excitement to your wedding day!
A massive thanks to Upper Moutere based Celebrant  
Diane Strong  (Ph: 027 326 6897)
for her contribution to this page.

And from my experience of over 250 wedding ceremonies,
may I add these thoughts regarding photographing your ceremony:
Consider sunlight when you decide the layout of your ceremony. 
Make sure the whole bridal party is standing in either FULL shade or FULL sun. 
The camera simply can not handle both. 
Either those in the shade will be completely black
or those in the sun will be completely burned out,
and you will have no pleasing shots of your whole bridal party.  

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Likewise, be very careful if you are planning to stand under trees or an archway.  
Speckled light will leave very unflattering highlights or black spots all over you! 
And an archway may put a shadow right though you.
Watch for background 'clutter'.

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Similarly, while there are traditions as to which side the guys and girls stand,
if you are unable to vary the ceremony spot,
ensure the tall guys aren’t blocking the sun and thus casting shadows across the girls.

And be very careful with red carpets
While these are a lovely idea, be aware that they will reflect a red glow up under your chin
and onto your faces, making colour balancing a nightmare for your photographer. 
It might also turn your lovely white gown into a delightful shade of pink!   :)

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Think about where you want your Celebrant to stand.
Traditionally, they stand behind you, facing your guests. 
What tends to naturally happen, is you and your partner turn yourselves inwards to,
at least partially, face your celebrant. 
Thus you begin to turn your backs to your guests, and to your photographer. 
It also means your Celebrant is in EVERY shot. 
Some of my favourite Celebrants stand to the side, leaving you the center of attention,
and making for much more pleasing photography. 
At the very least, please ask your Celebrant to step aside for your kiss. 
I can't tell you how many photos have been spoilt with a Celebrant looking seriously at their notes,
or rubbing their nose in the background of a precious moment!

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Have you thought about the role of social media and informal wedding photos
How do you feel about your guests sharing your special moments before you even get back from honeymoon? 
I have heard of guests uploading photos to Facebook DURING the wedding ceremony!  
Most weddings, these days, are 'Unplugged Weddings' - where guests are asked not to take photos during the ceremony,
and not to upload any other images to social media before the official photos are share.

One of my most favourite Celebrants, Diane Strong, has kindly allowed me to share a statement
she often uses at the start of her ceremonies.  You might like to consider something similar.
Today we celebrate the best of what it means to be human.
Today we celebrate love. 
I invite you to be truly present at this special time. 
Please turn off your phones and put down your cameras. 
The photographer will capture how this moment looks.
I encourage you all to capture how it feels with your hearts, without the distraction of technology.
Afterwards feel free to capture the afterglow
and maybe wait until tomorrow before you share them with the fabulous world of Facebook.

Or this, from Celebrant Angel Pearson, could be added to your Order of Service sheet
or read by your MC prior to the brides arrival:
Please don't watch this ceremony through the back of your camera.  
There's a professional photographer on site and all images from today
will be provided to the bride and groom to share with you.
They invited the photographer here to take photos,
but they invited you here to be part of these special moments.
So relax, enjoy, celebrate and leave the photography to the professionals.

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Here’s a tip that experienced Celebrants know about, but less experienced ones may need reminding of: 
Have your witnesses address (but not sign) both copies of the license during the ceremony rehearsal,
to avoid a long awkward pause during your ceremony.
Then, on the day, all they need to do is add their signature.

And did you know that almost anyone can be your witnesses
So long as they understand what they are doing, they can witness and sign your license. 
I’ve seen a 7-year old child of the couple, and elderly grandmothers fill this role. 
It doesn’t have to be your best man and maid of honour.
It’s a lovely way to acknowledge someone special in your life.

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Make sure you let your photographer know if something active is likely to happen during the ceremony 
to allow them to position themselves so as not to miss the moment. 
If you’re doing a butterfly release, collecting your rings from grandmothers sitting in the front row,
or you’re doing a dramatic dip-kiss, make sure I know about it!

Speaking of dip-kisses – practice these! 
Be aware that men naturally turn their women away from other people when they kiss them. 
This means that all your guests – and your photographer – sees, is your rear end! 
Practice so that you dip parallel to your guests.

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Finally, make sure you have your Celebrant’s cell number in the contact list of your best man's phone.
While it’s very rare, I have experienced a few weddings where the Celebrant has failed to show!
Click here for a link for all you need to know about applying for a marriage licence in NZ.
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