“Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock...” Hear that? That’s not the clock, that’s the impromptu ping-pong game that just broke out in the church as your ceremony enters its third hour. Oh, and don’t wake the guy snoring behind the altar…he just needs a little nappy before witnessing your vows.
They say that love is timeless, right? Yeah, well, love never sat through an epic marathon of nuptials in 90-degree heat while mentally tracing a Rorschach test on his neighbor’s liver-spotted head. It’s a good time to start speed-reading your way to the “I Do’s” when grandma goes down like a Sumatran rhino on the bad end of a tranquilizer gun. Not sure if your service is going a little long? Just ask those guys weeping in the corner. They’re Teamsters.
Hey, no one doubts that the wedding ceremony is the raison d’etre for your big day; just don’t let bad time management make you un-raison-able.
First, let’s get this out of the way—a wedding is the happiest moment of most people’s lives. It just doesn’t have to last a lifetime. If your ceremony includes a souvenir program and an intermission, with guys in suspenders walking up and down the aisles selling peanuts and Cracker Jacks, it might be time to make some edits.
And if guests start doing the wave? Better make those changes quickly.
Luckily, your wedding photojournalist is experienced at capturing the most significant memories of your event, and can adapt to pretty much anything. But you’ll only help yourself by keeping a tight leash on the schedule. It will allow for greater flexibility with your photographer, and you’ll have far fewer shots of guests seemingly trying to catch flies in their mouth.
The truth is, we all hope to create lasting impressions from our wedding day. So it’s completely natural to want to include as much meat in your ceremony as possible. However, by the ninth reading from Book VII of Milton’s Paradise Lost—unabridged—you’re going to be spraying your guests down with Red Bull. A beautifully-crafted three-act set of vows can be quickly ruined by the thundering craaack! as Aunt Marge peels her big moisturized face off the back of the pew. Yes, it’s a lasting impression, but mostly in the varnish.
WPJA member Jonathan Adams of Kentucky always makes sure to ask the officiant how long he or she expects the ceremony to last, to help with his pacing. “I've had three-minute ‘I do’ weddings and over-an-hour ceremonies,” says Adams.
But we’re really quibbling over minutes here, which to some might seem like a luxury.
Take those poor invitees at Ahmad ibn Tulun’s wedding, for instance. The 9th-century Egyptian ruler recorded the longest wedding ceremony in human history. It rolled throughout the entire Middle East and lasted several months. A newly found Dead Sea scroll revealed a passage from one of the guests, which read, “Day 97…Vows almost over…hope to get feeling back in my buttocks soon.”
Understand, a long celebration isn’t bad by definition, especially if it’s steeped in tradition. In some Asian cultures, the ceremony alone stretches into days, even weeks. (That’s the best argument I know against polygamy). As we speak, a full-blown Shinto ceremony is holding court somewhere in Japan, while many Pakistanis are throwing rice from sunrise to sundown. That takes a 32-ounce gulp of endurance. And if you’re planning on attending a wedding in some parts of India you better put your mail on hold for a week.
Fortunately, for those of us who reside in America, we like our rituals as we like our values lessons: quick and painless. The MTV generation has appropriated the traditional patience allotted to life-altering events and replaced it with a Pavlovian need for instant gratification. If your homily doesn’t include a pounding bass track and a sports drink pitch, you might as well be reciting James Joyce in semaphore.
So who should crack the whip? Adams suggests that the best way for a couple to keep the bus moving is to hire an experienced wedding planner instead of relying on the photographer: “As a wedding photojournalist we like to document your day and not be the director.”
But life has a way of butting in. Like Paris Hilton’s career, some things just happen without reason. Limos show up late; parking creates delays; even the main players can miss their cues. So says Chicago WPJA member Peter Pawinski. “I had a wedding at a country club in New Jersey…where the minister simply didn't show up.” About 45 minutes later, the father of the bride called in a favor from a judge friend. “Not only does the judge show up and marry them, but he ends up…providing the most entertaining, heartfelt, and smooth ceremony I have ever photographed,” says Pawinski, “Plus he gets to be the hero of the day.”
The moral of the story? Always ask if your officiant has a GPS microchip implant.
WPJA photographer Kristen Schmid of Illinois offers some tongue-in-cheek yet salient advice on how to keep on the clock. “It helps if you have the ‘Bridezilla’ thing going on, because people will show up on time out of fear,” Schmid laughs. Kristen uses the term endearingly, though, adding, “The cliché is that it’s the bride’s job [to delegate], but it’s not. If everybody involved has a clear sense of what their role is and what they need to do, it helps with the entire ceremony.”
Surprisingly, more so than the length, the actual timing of the event can sap more energy than Al Gore’s 10,000 square-foot mansion. As Chicago WPJA member John Zich points out, problems occur when churches squeeze multiple weddings into a single day. “The couple books the only available slot—the first one of the day, and then have several hours to kill between the ceremony and the reception.” The downtime is often filled with a slow-mo limo tour of the city or countryside, with endless detours and photo ops, exhausting the wedding party. Says Zich, “We often suggest they pare down the list of planned stops and take a little time just to relax and refresh before the reception starts.”
Ok, let’s summarize: the more organized the planning, the less chance you’ll be burning the mid-afternoon oil. And you’ll ensure the best possible pictures from your special day. The pros agree on several tips that will help keep the ceremony running smoothly, on time and with minimal delays:
Lastly, keep in mind that this is your day, and you (or perhaps your selfless parents, bless ‘em) are going to be paying it off for the next ten years. Or at least until there is a more equitable exchange rate for donated kidneys. You’re the one who’s ultimately in control and you can make your ceremony as long or as short as you darn well like.
And if people have a problem with that, just show them to the ping-pong table.
—by Jeff Corriveau for the Wedding Photojournalist Association