You wouldn’t think I’d need a policy on church weddings, but I want to make it really clear to my couples what factors they need to consider in relation to their wedding photography when getting married in church.
I really love a church ceremony. I’m not religious myself but I find a church ceremony beautiful and engaging. There’s something reassuringly comforting about the fact that hundreds if not thousands of couples have stood in the same spot, saying the same words and making the same commitment to each other over the years. The same hymns sung by generations of the same family. Well loved traditions can be beautiful.
And yet I feel more tense as I approach a church wedding than I do when I’m on my way to photograph any other kind of ceremony, including those from other religions. Because, frankly, a lot of vicars, priests and officials within the church can behave negatively towards me because I am a wedding photographer. I am made to stand at the back or up in the rafters or on a fixed point, behind a column. I am told to be quiet and “not to ruin it” and not to “draw attention to myself”.
As if I would. As if I believe that the wedding ceremony is anything other than totally sacred and about the couple, whether they marry in a church or any other venue. As if I’d want to do anything to detract from the importance of the promises they are making to each other.
As if I would risk breaking the rules and having the Priest very publicly ask me to leave in the middle of the ceremony.
And yet some people do. At a wedding a while ago the vicar explained to me that the photographer before me had pushed over the Church Warden. Let me say that again. The photographer PUSHED OVER THE CHURCH WARDEN. Really.
The photographer had been advised that the church’s rules meant they needed to remain at the back. The photographer in question decided to ignore those rules and move to the front anyway. The warden tapped them on the shoulder and they ignored her. The warden then grabbed the back of their jacket and they turned and push the warden so hard that she fell over.
I’ve heard other stories about photographers lying down in the aisle, as the bride is just about to walk up or climbing on pews or climbing into the pulpit and shooting over the vicar’s head. I’ve heard stories about wedding photographers who have walked across the alter and run around. I have heard stories about photographers who have been verbally abusive to vicars and church wardens.
When discussing this issue with other photographers I’ve been told by some people that they’ll break the rules that have been imposed upon them where ever they can to get their shot, irrespective of the consequences.
Well the consequences are felt by the next photographer who has to shoot in that church. They’re the ones who have to deal with the mistrust and suspicion heaped upon them because the person who came before over stepped the mark.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t at all condone the approach to working with photographers that many churches take. I have a set formula for photographing a church wedding which means I get the shots I need, with as little disruption as possible. I like to photograph the bride walking in from a discrete position at the front and then move to the back during the first hymn and stay there for the rest of it. Without moving. I might sneak a tiny bit closer for the first kiss but that’s it. And when I mean a tiny bit, I’m talking about a couple of steps.
When I’ve suggested this to some vicars they look at me as though I’ve suggested I’ll do a tap dance routine in the aisle, while playing the kazoo as the couple say their vows.
From my couple’s perspective I know it’s disappointing. They have often been told photography is fine, only for me to be told something different. My couples invest in their wedding photography so it’s a real shame for them if they’re unable to have a record of the most important part of the day.
So what can be done? Well if you’re one of my couples do have a good chat with your ceremony official. If photography is important to you, let them know. Explain my approach to them and ask whether that’s a good fit with their policies. It’s also worth letting them know that I don’t use flash at all during the ceremony (it’s usually prohibited).
If they’re not happy with the above you have two options – think about a different ceremony venue or reconcile yourself with the fact that you won’t get comprehensive coverage of the ceremony.
I will always abide by the rules set for me by your ceremony official, as I don’t want to cause ill feeling (or worse, disruption if I get publicly told off!) during your wedding ceremony. I also don’t want to reinforce the views that wedding photographers do not respect what is ultimately the most important part of the day: the wedding ceremony.
It’s really important that you get clear guidance from your ceremony official which tells me exactly what’s expected of me and be aware that sometimes couples are told that photography is “fine” but then on the day I am still required to stand at the back and not move.
Are you getting married in a church? What are their rules about wedding photography?