Tying the KNOT at the USNA: A photographer’s guide

You’re in love with a soldier!  He pops the question and you say yes!  You dream of the location, the reception and, of course, the pictures! Immediately, you contact the Naval Academy because it is “the place” to get married in Annapolis in the Naval community. You send an email to the wedding scheduler and pray that a date is available since they book up quickly and don’t schedule more than a year out.  Once a date is secured, the planning begins and persons must complete pre-marital counseling. This is an overwhelming process, but exciting too. 

Once you determine your budget and nail down a venue, it’s time to consider vendors such as the photographer.   When it comes to getting married at the Naval Academy, there are a lot of rules to be followed by the bride, groom, the guests and the vendors.  The Naval Academy offers a planner just for the ceremony.  These planners are amazing at giving you information and making sure your day goes as close to as planned as possible.  One of the best parts of getting married at the USNA chapel is the portraits!  I am going to help set you up for successful portraits when tying the KNOT at the chapel. Gorgeous images can be obtained by focusing on Keepsakes, Naval Rules, On Site Locations and Time.  

Other than taking in the day and enjoying every moment (as quickly as it passes), brides and grooms anxiously await the images from their photographers to print, share and look back on for years to come. The keepsakes are priceless.  When planning a wedding, the couple should sit down and really think about what these keepsakes are worth and budget accordingly. When I got married, I held a smaller wedding (75 people) because I knew that I wanted amazing images. I researched and found a photographer that matched my style, my vision and my budget.  As a bride-to-be, you have to prioritize your budget and focus your efforts on what is most valuable to you. These keepsakes will last for generations and tell the story of your wedding day. This is a job that no professional photographer takes lightly because the moments only happen once and there is no “do over”.  

When it comes to getting married at the Naval Academy, there should be no surprise about the rules. The chapel is efficient and wants to maximize use so everyone who wishes to have their dream wedding there, can.  When you are working with your chapel event planner, be sure to ask for a list of the rules to pass on to your photographer. The photographer has to plan equipment and resources for the day.  For instance, the chapel has 2 levels.  Photographers are allowed to access the second level for portraits, but guests can not. Considering a second photographer is a must for this venue. Other rules include photographers must remain behind the cross-isle, they can’t use flash during the ceremony and group photos are not permitted in front of the chapel on the steps.  The images of the newlyweds are very limited in the chapel due to time constraints.  This is why it is so important that the photographer is on their game when getting those coveted images within the chapel. Additionally, the photographer has to have a background check and is subject to validation no less than 30 days before the ceremony. 

Because the chapel time is so limited, newlyweds and photographers should be creative with their after ceremony portraits. The grounds of the Naval Academy around the chapel are gorgeous with blooming trees, gazebos, waterfront and historical buildings. Most brides are unaware that they can be photographed at the Buchanan House Garden, which is right next to the chapel. It is the garden of the superintendent and it requires written permission. This garden is worth getting permission for. There is a gorgeous, clear view of the chapel steeple (capturing that iconic picture with the newlyweds in the foreground), the gardens are well maintained, colorful and there is a beautiful fountain. The vines are throughout and it is so romantic. The number of people allowed in the garden is limited to the bride/groom and two or so additional people. Another amazing building is Bancroft Hall. This building has gorgeous large deep wood doors, chandeliers and is open and airy. At the top of the wide staircase is a sign that reads “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  This is a popular sign for newlyweds to pose in front of. There is no request required to take pictures in Bancroft hall and there is no time constraint.  Knowing the rules of the Naval Academy will help your day run smoothly and be as amazing as you envisioned it.  

Time is of the essence (as they say) when you have a Naval Academy Wedding. They run a tight ship and ensure that every couple gets their day in the chapel.  You only have 30 minutes from the time you start walking down the isle to the sword crossing finish (if you choose to have one).  They expect you to be on time and ready to go. The bride usually stages down in St. Andrews Chapel and the groom in a room lateral to the chapel.   From my experience, you will want the photographer to either ride with you in transportation to the chapel or ensure they have arrived in plenty of time to get through checkpoint at the gate and find parking.  Once the ceremony is over, the bride and groom will be taken to the second level of the main chapel to watch their guests exit.  I usually grab 2 shots from up top and then one shot in the middle of the chapel to show its grandeur prior to running outside and changing lenses/settings to get the newlyweds exiting the chapel to the front gate.  If you have approved planned pictures in Buchanan House Garden, you must be prompt. You can arrive at your scheduled time and have no more than 30 minutes in the garden.  Trust me, your photographer needs to be on point and ready to use every part of that time. The garden has so much to offer for romantic, meaningful pictures. Plus this allows for you to spend some time with each other before heading off to the ceremony.  

Getting married at the Naval Academy is such an amazing experience. To maximize this once in a lifetime opportunity, be sure to coordinate with planners and ensure your photographer has a plan! It can truly be a fairytale with keepsake images to look back on for decades to come.  

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