How to have an intimate symbolic blessing ceremony in Italy

I constantly strive to improve my wedding photography. However, I often find myself at wedding ceremonies trying to take beautiful photos of you and struggling to do so. I want to discuss creating the perfect symbolic blessing ceremony in Italy; and what we can do to help each other. I want to get beautiful photos for you but as you read on hopefully you will realize it is not always so straightforward. Before we get started let me just quickly touch on the other types of wedding ceremony you can have in Italy.

Church weddings obviously take place in a church. A priest or minister will perform the ceremony. In this situation, there is little you can do to control the photographic outcome of your ceremony. If you know your priest very well you may be able to make some suggestions to improve the photography, but if the priest is not a good acquaintance, we will have to follow his direction and accept the outcome. A priest may compromise your photos by standing so close to you that there is no reasonable space for photos or video. He may hold a microphone to your mouth and so his arm and microphone will be in the photos during your vows.

Civil weddings. This ceremony is a little more relaxed and informal and it is possible to ask the person officiating to accommodate a few requests in order to help the photography. Most civil weddings are in a town hall or registry office, however, in Italy in a few locations you can have a civil wedding outdoors.

setup for a blessing ceremony

Lovely blessing ceremony setup.

Finally, we have the symbolic or blessing ceremony. These are my favorite to photograph. However, they are also the ones that have the most issues photographically for me to deal with. You can choose to have your ceremony where, when, and how you want. Great right? Wrong. These ceremonies are usually the most disorganized and the photos are usually the most compromised. With total creative control over the production and execution, in theory, we can create a symbolic blessing ceremony that is photographically ideal. It will have the perfect light, beautiful location, sensible arrangement, and plenty of space to be able to work the angles and get great images. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that this is rarely the case.

Reasons your symbolic blessing ceremony in Italy goes wrong

  1. You as clients are not aware of what is required. Neither should you be as it is likely your first wedding. You are not experts but hopefully the people you hire to perform, curate, facilitate, plan and organize your event are.
  2. As your ceremony is not in an official location or institution like a church or town hall, the guests have a tendency to behave in a less orderly and respectful way.For example they tend to move around during the ceremony, becoming photographers with their phones, cameras and ipads.
  3. You may have a wedding planner but this doesn’t mean they are knowledgeable about what image makers require to get great results. A good wedding planner would consult with the photographer to select the location of the ceremony. The photographer will be able to advise on the light, the location and other aspects that will influence the outcome of the photos. Most photographers are ignorant about wedding planning and most wedding planners are clueless about photography. The solution is they should work together to combine their knowledge.
  4. The celebrant ruins it. A poor or improvised Italian wedding celebrant can ruin your wedding by thinking they are the star of the show. It’s your day, not theirs. They must dress in a respectful manner. Imagine you are wearing your stunning wedding dress and your groom is in his tuxedo or dress suit. Do you really want to stand next to a celebrant that’s wearing a flamboyant bright colored dress or attention-drawing attire or worse poorly dressed? If the celebrant is an amateur, the ceremony will only last a few minutes. So I don’t even have the time to move around discretely and get a variety of shots of you, your guests, family, and location. Worse, it can even be embarrassing as this is your wedding. It should be given the importance it deserves. Even if you have already been legally married in a registry office back home this is the wedding ceremony in front of your relatives and guests. If it is too short it looks nonchalant and throw-away as if you don’t care. Not really the message you want to give for supposedly one of the most important days of your lives.

How a good celebrant can improve your symbolic blessing and the photos.

  1. They will dress appropriately so they are heard and not seen!
  2. It is important for me to have sufficient space and access to move around freely while being unobtrusive during your ceremony. A celebrant who can sense when it is time to move out of shot is a rare thing. There are some moments which cannot be captured on a second take with the same atmosphere. The reading of your vows, exchanging the rings, first kiss, lighting of the unity candle, and happy stroll down the aisle together hand in hand are all one time moments. Unfortunately, some celebrants are immovable during these key moments and resent being asked to step out of frame. There is also nothing more frustrating than to have others in shot when I wish to concentrate entirely on couples during unforgettable moments. A sensitive celebrant will understand that your photos are paramount and will do their best to help me ensure that I capture these important moments without hindrance.
  3. Ceremonies are opportunities to express yourselves freely and a celebrant who helps your feelings to run free is important in creating and enhancing the ceremonial mood. Your symbolic blessing should be a unique ceremony that is tailored to you. This will make you feel more emotionally connected to the ceremony and it will also make your friends and family feel more engaged. Smiles and tears are an essential ingredient of a wedding and nowhere more so than during those minutes you are standing before your guests. Feeling moved because of a touching word or memory that is cleverly evoked by a personalized ceremony means that I can capture the expressions and feelings you experience. The emotions will come racing back when you look over the images in later years.
  4. A good celebrant will be able to manage an audience and those unpredictable things that can happen as a result of weather, behavior or logistics. The set up and time of day are crucial to the overall effect. These features combined are the stage on which the ceremony will be held. Therefore beautifully arranged fresh flowers, tasteful decoration and also clothes worn by all are key. It only takes one factor to be incongruous and spoil an overall impression.

I have said before that the most important vendors you will hire are your wedding planner, your photographer, hair and make-up artist/s. In addition, I would also recommend researching your celebrant very carefully and as I prefer to do, invite them to talk to you virtually or in person before you make the commitment. There are a few who know what they are doing and many who clearly don’t.

symbolic ceremony in Italian gardens

Amazing backdrop for a symbolic ceremony

So the key ingredients for a great symbolic blessing ceremony in Italy are:

  1. Get a good planner.
  2. Ask your photographer their opinion on the location, time and design of your ceremony.
  3. Engage the services of a professional wedding celebrant.
  4. Avoid having your ceremony in a garden under the scorching sun. Excess heat and sunlight are not flattering.
  5. Insist upon a dress code for your wedding guests. We don’t want a fluorescent pink dress standing behind the bride.
  6. Choose to have an unplugged blessing ceremony. This means no mobile phones, tablets or cameras during the ceremony. A celebrant can greatly help with this matter by making an announcement at the beginning of the ceremony to remind everyone to switch their phones off and put them out of sight. I see so many entrances of the bride ruined because there are guests standing in the aisle with an iPhone trying to get a photo of her. Worse yet in my photos of the bride you see the guest holding their phone.
  7. Avoid people bringing, baby transporters, ugly bags, flutes of prosecco and so on to your wedding.

Listen to everyone’s advice and create a ceremony that is a pleasure for you and that allows the photographer and videographer the possibility to create beautiful images without having to work around the ugly elements and issues that can easily be avoided with a little foresight.

I have chosen to not post examples to prove my points as I don’t think it is fair to my clients.

Whether you are a bride or a groom, a photographer or a videographer, a celebrant or a wedding planner, please feel free to share your views, opinions or experiences on this subject to help future couples create the best symbolic wedding ceremony possible.

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Jules Bower

Italian and destination wedding photographer Jules Bower photographs weddings in Italy, Europe and worldwide. His unique approach and expertise arrive from not only an obsession with photography but also because he owned one of the first and most successful wedding planning agencies in Italy.