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Wedding Photography Tips: From a Celebrants Perspective

Today we have a post on Wedding Photography – from a slightly different ‘angle’ than the normal Wedding Photography tips post – it’s from that of the Celebrant/Officiant/Minister. It is by one of our forum members Richard Bott (see his Flickr Account here) who is both a photographer and Minister. As someone who has also been a wedding photographer and a celebrant/minister I’ve added a few of my own tips at the bottom of this post.

Wedding Photography Image by Mance

Wedding Photography Image by Mance

I’m one of those fortunate people who have been on both sides of the camera when it comes to weddings – as an amateur photographer, as an amateur groom, and as a professional officiant (in my case, clergy).

Putting on my clergy hat (yeah, sometimes the hats look more than a bit strange), I’d like to make some suggestions about how one’s shooting of the wedding can be a whole lot smoother.

First… I realize that you may not have much time… but it’s a really good idea to talk with the officiant before the wedding. Realize that – in churches, at least – the officiant has the final say about what can and cannot happen in the service. Introduce yourself. Find out what their rules are for photography and/or videography. If you can make this phone call or get this visit in before the wedding or the rehearsal, even better. This gives you the chance to explore the space, the lighting… and what photos the officiant will allow. It also gives you the opportunity to explore the possibility of… well… getting the officiant to expand what they will allow.

The rules can be really restrictive. In some situations, you may not be allowed to shoot at all during the service. You may be restricted to using “natural” light only. (“Natural” is in quotes because many worship spaces have a wild number of different bulbs in their fixtures, stained glass, frosted glass, dirty glass, clear glass and candles, all shining right where the bride is going to be standing.) With other officiants, you may be able to use a strobe.

With some, you can shoot at any time – others, not during prayers.

With some, you’re welcome to move as necessary to get the shot – with others, you’re welcome to take what you want, but you need to remain stationary.

A couple of suggestions…

  • When you’re meeting with the wedding couple, ask them if they have had an indication of the rules around photography for the service. Whatever they tell you, check with the officiant… it’s a real pain as a photographer to have a list of photos from the couple like, oh, the Exchange of Rings, the Kiss, and the Blessing, only to find out on the day that you aren’t allowed to shoot during the service!
  • Remember that, from the officiant’s perspective, the primary purpose of the marriage ceremony/service is for the bride and the groom to share their marriage vows. Everything else (including… and I know this is heresy for us photography types… the pictures) is secondary to that purpose.
  • Remember that, from the officiant’s perspective, they and the witnesses need to be able to see and hear the bride and groom as they are speaking. Getting between the officiant and the couple, or the witnesses and the couple may get you a reprimand… or escorted off the premises.
  • Remember that sounds… especially that of the mirror going up, the artificial or real shutter sound, various and sundry beeps and/or the motorized movement of film… are greatly magnified by the silent times in religious marriage services – like during prayers. In large spaces, or with couples whose voices do not carry, those same sounds can actually interfere with the congregation hearing the vows.
  • Remember that those aisles are pretty narrow. You may not be allowed to set up your tripod. Or your monopod. Or your Gorillia-pod.

As a minister who has officiated at way too many weddings, I’ve got a stack of business cards from photographers. The ones who are willing to work within the bounds that have been set are the ones whose names I’ll pass on to other couples. They’re also the ones that I’m willing to see if I can give some lee-way to, the next time we work together. Sometimes, we’ve even been able to re-work parts of the service to give them a chance at an unobtrusive shot… or a chunk of time to “repeat” parts of the service for photos, afterwards.

I’ve also got a few cards of photographers who I will not allow into the worship space – because they’ve been unwilling to work within the boundaries that have been set to make sure that the couple’s wedding is uninterrupted. They’re the ones I have little difficulty suggesting that colleagues look out for, and stay away from.

A few Comments from Darren

Like Richard I’ve also been in the position of both wedding photographer, minister and groom. It is funny how different a perspective each of these roles have on the photographers job at a wedding.

As a minister I’ve not really had too many horror story with photographers – but have found that the day goes a lot smoother if there is as much communication as possible between all parties. As a minister I was more than willing to take a call from a photographer before an event and even to show them the church in advance of the wedding. I also had a few photographers show up to rehearsals to get the lay of the land and see how the service progressed.

I would also echo Richard’s advice that different churches and ministers have quite different ‘rules’ when it comes to photographers. Some are very strict while many are open to being creative and flexible if given enough warning and approached with respect and in a non pushy way.

I personally would ask photographers to feel free to move around the church as they needed but to remain off the front area and out of the main spotlight – particularly during key moments in the service. I would also put aside time during the signing of documents especially for the official photographer to get their shot and ask other photographers to stay in their seats until the official photographer had had a chance to get their shot.

The last thing I’d say is that many ministers will be able to help you get some great shots because they are the ones that know their church the best. Before the ceremony or in days ahead ask them where other photographers have taken shots or where they usually set up. This is particularly helpful for newer wedding photographers who are not sure at what angle to shoot from. Photographers who have gone before you might help you get some great shots.

I guess the main thing is to communicate, be respectful, allow the minister to do their job without getting in their way and ADD to the experience of the couple on the day. Do all this and I think everyone will have a good experience of your work.

Looking for More Wedding Photography Tips and Help?

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Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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