Wedding Photography Tips: From a Celebrants Perspective

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?

You might enjoy some of our previous Wedding Photography Tutorials and Tips.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

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+.

Some Older Comments

  • Greg Nelson August 29, 2012 12:15 am

    I went to a wedding of two my wife's co-workers and it was in an Armenian Orthodox church. I had no idea if photography would be allowed but I brought my camera anyway. After a few minutes, I noticed nearly everyone on the bride's side (the Armenian side) was taking pictures with flashes firing so I decided it was ok for me to do so as well. I didn't use my flash for either one of these but it's a good example of what you can do with a medium zoom lens and a good 8 inches of height on nearly everyone else in attendance.

  • Carter September 30, 2009 03:20 am

    If you need the officiant for a picture after the ceremony, its always nice to shoot that picture first.

  • Carlo April 23, 2009 05:07 pm

    Good suggestions and tips otherwise, as a professional wedding photographer I must say that solutions must be adpated to each different nad particular needs of the couple you are in front of...

  • themisfit February 4, 2009 10:52 am

    Thanks for the great tips, it's easy to forget the other peoples (wedding party, minister, and guests) point of view.

  • Matteo February 2, 2009 01:27 am

    Do picture that your clients don' t remember you shoot! This is the trick.

  • Alejandro Z. January 31, 2009 09:34 am

    As a one-time unofficial wedding photographer, I have one tip for those in my situation: let the pros do their work. Try to be unobtrusive. Use your flash as little as possible. Rely on fast glass. Try to get original shots that official photographers won't be taking, while letting them do their job. Ignore friends or family asking you to do otherwise. Just enjoy the occasion, and don't worry about getting dozens of good shots.

  • J. Eaton January 31, 2009 04:04 am

    We solve this very simply.
    1. From the time the couple arrives at the end of the processional until they are recessing down the aisle, all photographers must be seated. Photographers are never permitted in the chancel during the service, so there is never a question of taking pictures from behind or the side. On the (relatively few) occasions when a photographer violated these rules, I stopped the service and simply asked the photographer to be seated. In a couple of cases where I felt the behavior was intentional or repeated, I simply banned them from our building.

    2. We emphasize to the couple and the photographer and to the people that this is a service of worship. I try to create a cordial relationship with photographers and I respect they are doing a job. I insist in exchange that they understand photography is not the main purpose of the event and that there is an appropriate dignity that must be maintained.

    Truth to tell, I rarely have any problem with professional photographers; it's the guys like me that are a problem. I mean: Uncle Don who has a DSLR and a couple lens, a big flash and has read one article on wedding photography and part of and he is determined to look and act like he imagines a real wedding photographer would look. Those guys can make you nuts!

    It's interesting how many of us are clergy and photographers. Hmm....

  • Robert Johnson January 30, 2009 07:55 pm

    I seem to be one of many who don two caps when it comes to photography and ministry and I can only endorse what is said. there is one very irritating habit that needs to be mentioned. Most photographers respect the reverence but forget that congregants also want to see what is going on in front. Rather shoot from behind the couple or from a side view.

  • J. Eaton January 30, 2009 12:29 am

    This is a great article. I also am a minister and photographer. One thing that should be underlined is the part about the photographers who get recommended. I not only keep cards and make recommendations, I have in the past had a (thankfully small) list of photographers who were banned from our church because of problems. So simply from a business standpoint, it makes sense for photographers to be on good terms with clergy.

    One thing we are phasing in as part of our wedding planning process is a sheet that clearly lists our rules such as no flash during the service, no moving around, etc., and asking that couples give this to the photographer. In the near future, we're going to require that it come back, signed by the photographer.

    We're also exploring the possibility of trademarking our building and then requiring a license for wedding photographers at the church.

    Finally, it always interests me how photographers relate to my little suggestions about how to photograph in our building. I find that the older, veterans tend to be very interested. I always clearly distinguish this from any other comments, often with a comment like, "Of course, I'm an amateur but I find..." One guy went out of his way to thank me; he said, "You may be an amateur but you shoot in here all the time; I'm here once or twice a year."

  • J Miller January 29, 2009 05:33 am

    Solid advice, All should consider it.

    With over 1700 weddings photographed, we have rarely had any issues with the locations we shot at.
    When we are commissioned to photograph a wedding, we request that the couple ask if there are any conditions that their photographer will be presented with the day of their event. In our final meeting with the couple, going over the planning, we let them know that while we are at the location, we will adhere to all rules and request made by the officiants.

    One thing that always pushed my button, was that while we were obeying the rules, the guest would run wild with Flashing, running around, etc and ruin the atmosphere of the moment.


  • Pat January 28, 2009 10:36 pm

    An excellent article!

    Being the wedding photographer I am always respectful of minister's requests regarding photography. I guess some photographers do not however, as I have had some very grumpy ministers in the past :-) t only takes a small minority to tarnish the brush for everyone else.

    When I am allowed to photograph during the service I keep photography to a minimum just capturing the key moments such as exchanging rings especially if I'm by the alter. Apart from that I wait for the next hymn before rattling off a few general shots.

    PatB Photography

  • Maciek January 28, 2009 06:58 pm

    In Poland all the photographers who wish to make photos during any church ceremeony are requested to complete a short course organized by the episcopate. Annoying as it may be, such a course can really help to know what the photographers can and what cannot do in the churches.

  • nanwu January 28, 2009 09:35 am

    Thank you for this article. My son is getting married real soon and has asked me to take photo's for him...I am very new at this and will be using a new camera (I do have my old camera with me also as I am comfortable with this). Anyway I found this article very informative and didn't really think about the fact there might be rules governing photo taking. I have given my son (since reading this article) a list of questions to ask the priest when they have their next interview so I will be better prepared. and am hoping to attend the rehersal so I can talk to the priest myself and also take some practice shots......once again thank you for the article on behalf of a novice

  • Richard Bott January 28, 2009 09:17 am

    Darren - Thanks for sharing my writing, here. I hope that these thoughts will be helpful to photographers, couples and officiants, alike.

    j - When it comes to the "non-professionals", I become much more of a stickler. I let couples know that they can designate one person (and an assistant) to be their "Named Photographer" - this could be a professional, or a member of the family. I ask to meet with the Named Photographer before the rehearsal, so we can go over the ground rules, and to see if there are shots they would like to get that we're going to have to re-enact after the service. Then, at the beginning of the service, when I welcome everyone (and ask them to put their mobile phones on vibrate) but before the procession, I say something like, "I notice that many of you have brought your cameras today. That's great! As the bride and bridal party are coming up the aisle, take as many pictures as you'd like. Once they get up to the front... take more pictures. I'm sure everyone up here will be smiling. When I start the opening words, though, I'd ask that everyone, except the Named Photographer to set their cameras down. When the service is done, and the couple are heading up the aisle, get those cameras clicking." Because I have the couple and bridal party facing the congregation for most of the service, I'll sometimes add, "There are a couple of reasons I do this. First - its rather disruptive to the people behind you when you stand up to get that perfect shot. The other reason? You'll notice that the groom is facing you. It'd be terrible if he were in the middle of his vows, a bunch of flashes went off, and he forgot why he was here!"

    It's funny... I've never had a problem with folks after a spiel like that. :)

    Peace to you - Richard

  • J January 28, 2009 04:28 am

    Great article. I've officiated at a number of weddings and have experienced so many photography problems tht could have been avoided with a simple phone call.
    One issue you didn't address is when the photographer isn't a "professional", but a friend or relative with a nice (or not) camera. In the last wedding I did, I had an uncle standing right behind me shooting over my shoulder. Thankfully, he at least had the courtesy to not use a flash.

  • Tanya Plonka January 28, 2009 04:03 am

    Great article! After shooting at many different services, I'd say these are truly universal tips useful for all photographers AND brides/grooms.

    By timing your pre-ceremony photos properly (and discussing timelines with the couple long before everything is set), you should be able to show up to the church before most of the guests, giving you a chance to talk to the Officiant and establish the rules, as well as explore the location. I find 10-15 minutes before the ceremony is often adequate time for this.

    It's important to go into each church with no expectations of what the rules are, as even within one church the rules between each priest may differ greatly! Also, always be prepared to shoot "natural" light... a long, fast lens works great from the back of the church if you aren't allowed to use flash or get close to the couple.

    Whether or not I am directly told, I also prefer to avoid shooting during prayer out of respect.

  • Bob January 28, 2009 03:03 am

    Many years ago (1970s) when I used to do weddings I used to follow all of the advice that is contained in this post. I would "religiously" adhere to any restrictions that were placed on me by the celebrant. Even though I don't do weddings anymore I fully agree that the information is still important to this day.

    At one of my weddings the older Catholic priest who was to perform the ceremony verbalized to me during my pre-ceremony meeting with him that he did not agree with what photographers do at weddings and was quite restrictive in what I could do. I bet he didn't have a stack of business cards for any photographers. Usually the Catholic priests were quite liberal in what I could do, but not this guy.

    I asked him if I could use the sanctuary area after the ceremony for family, and bridal party photos. His reply was a reluctant yes and he said that he didn't approve of what the photographers do and would go and eat supper while I was doing the group photos so he didn't have to watch.

    He neglected to tell me (probably on purpose) that the tabernacle area which was in a small niche on the side of the sanctuary was protected by an electric eye beam. Needless to say after posing the bride and her train on the steps near this area my assistant stepped into this area to be out of the photo and set off the alarm. To this day I can still imagine that he was sitting at his dinner table in the rectory rubbing his hands together saying out loud "I got another one". We kept on shooting with the alarm sounding and he eventually came back and shut it off. I explained what happened and he grunted something. I was pretty much finished by that time and we packed up and left for the reception.

  • Christopher January 28, 2009 02:08 am

    Nice post! I must say I was so disappointed by my wedding pictures that I have been interested in trying to take nice ones for my relatives.
    I do try to emphasis the happiness of this special day in one's life. My best shot is here:

  • Celine Ellis January 28, 2009 02:00 am

    Fantastic words of wisdom for anyone just breaking into the wedding photography/videography market. As someone who is only just branching out from Videography to Photography at weddings it was a good reminder that the disciplines can be very different but more often very similar in the couples 'requirements'.

    While wearing my videographer hat - This may be a good time to remind all those photographers out there that the preofessional guy/gal with the video camera is also being paid to be there and is expected to meet those certain 'requirements' by the couple's just as much as you are. There are still a few photographers who don't appreciate our prescence and make life very difficult when really we can very easily work together on a wedding day.

    Communication is the key in this article with regards to the couple, to the minister/officiant, and between the videographer and photographer also.


  • Brandon Oelling January 28, 2009 01:22 am

    Great advice. Especially since wedding season is going to be in full swing very soon!

  • Ilan January 28, 2009 01:14 am

    That's a great read! Thanks! :)
    Some great tips!

  • David January 28, 2009 12:54 am

    I have been a A/V tech at a very large church (seats 1,400) for 7 years. I have dealt with many different types of photographers. I know you are getting paid to get the best shots and you want me to turn on every light I have, but you also must realize, I am getting paid to make the event go a smoothly and look the best it can to the people in the room not just your lens. If you approach me and respect me then I am much more willing to push the lights up some when it counts and work with you about dark spots. There are far to many wedding photographers to feel entitled to having the lighting set to how they want it.