Being a Southern based wedding photographer, approximately 80% of the weddings I photograph are church weddings. And throughout my experiences shooting, I’ve learned a lot. Yes, I’ve had a few of those moments were I’ve messed up and was embarrassed but have learned and moved forward never creating the same mistake twice.
This past Saturday, Amelia and I shot our most recent church wedding. As I was shooting, I found myself thinking of things that would be fun to blog about. Things that I’ve learned about shooting that have helped me and made me a better photographer. It has also prevented me from getting fussed at by church coordinators and priests. :)
* Ask the bride and/or call the church to find out about the photographic restrictions at the ceremony: Some churches even require a signature from the photographer prior to the wedding day (including St. John’s Cathedral in Lafayette and The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Lake Charles). It’s imperative to know and abide by these rules during the ceremony as they can result in embarrassment and even potential financial costs for the bride and groom.
* Introduce yourself to the coordinator and the priest: I cannot say this enough. I have found that a simple hello to the priest and coordinator can prevent dirty looks <–yes, dirty looks. ;) and miscommunications later on.* Be ready to photography facial expressions: This is definitely one of those thoughts that applies to ANY wedding. But I feel that some of my FAVORITE photos during the ceremony are of those closest to the bride and groom: the bride’s mom when she sees her daughter walking down the aisle, the groom’s father when they exchange their vows…or the bridesmaids when he slides the ring onto her finger! :) :) :)
* Shoot when necessary and avoid flash if possible: Couples are hiring their photographer to document the day without being a distraction. I feel that it’s important to know when to shoot, making sure to capture every important moment and the moments in between without being a distraction from the focus.
* Do not step onto the Alter: This may seem like a basic rule and one that every church has but it should most definitely be respected. Some churches such as St. John’s may have an area to the right and left of the alter that is accessible for photographers; however, the use of this space will be denoted in their rules.
* When crossing sides, walk behind the pews: Rather than walking from one side to the other during the mass, I find it less distracting (and sometimes required) to walk around the back of the pews and up the side aisles.
* Be Prepared: Most masses and religious ceremonies are alike however, it is important to be prepared for anything. Sometimes, portions of the mass are done out of order or the bride and groom may have surprises in store that you were not warned about. Be sure to stay alert and ready for anything as these are especially the moments that they’ll want captured.
* Dress Professionally: Most churches require sleeves at a minimum and sometimes blazers are encouraged. I realize that we live in South Louisiana so unless the church is NICE and cool this could be uncomfortable, HOWEVER I feel the way you present yourself is a reflection of the way you work. So, dressing for the job is a must. :)
* Try to avoid the center aisle: Hanging out in the center aisle can be a distraction and can also block the flow of the marriage ceremony. The wedding is a sacrament after all, and so making sure it happens smoothly is first and foremost. Instead of remaning in the center aisle, I shoot only the processional and the first kiss from this angle. Everything else is photographed from the grooms side so that I can see the bride’s facial expressions throughout the ceremony. I will float around during the ceremony depending on the portion of the mass, but after receiving one look from a past priest, I’ve never hung out in the center aisle again. :)
* Plan Ahead: Several churches require that ALL family formals after the ceremony be finished in 15 minutes following the mass. For larger weddings and weddings where the bride and groom are interested in photographing extended families, this can be a very tight window of time. By planning ahead and creating a shot list with the bride and groom it makes efficiency key and prevents confusion.
Shooting church weddings can sometimes seem overwhelming or even intimidating and I OFTEN find myself praying for a camera with a silent shutter. But I think that ultimately, if you take those necessary precautions to be professional and respectful, others will respect you as well. :)