Photographing the Wedding Ceremony & Vows
Ceremony & Vows – The Key Part of the Day
The ceremony, vows and signing is the part of the day that everything has led up to. It’s essential that your photographer gets things right. They must make sure that they are in the right place at the right time to capture the key moments in order to present the couple with a stunning set of photographs that completely tell the story of their wedding day. However there are certain pitfalls that are avoided with planning and a good understanding of how a wedding works.
How You Can Best Prepare for Your Wedding Ceremony Photography
I’m going to start with perhaps the most important tip I can give you if photography of your wedding ceremony is important to you…
**My Very Important Wedding Day Tip**
Discuss Your Photography with the Venue and Registrar/Other Wedding Officiant
I have been in the rather embarrassing and unnecessary position in the past of arriving at a venue in London only to have the presiding official tell me that, ‘No photography is allowed’ during the ceremony. This was news to the couple as well as myself and came as a nasty shock. A rule of this severity has only happened once, but on many occasions, I have been limited by less severe restrictions.
Some Rules on Photography at Wedding Ceremonies to Watch Out For
These are the most common rules that you may come across when looking into booking your wedding venue.
Your photographer is only allowed to shoot from one spot at the side/back/balcony etc.
This is more common in religious settings venues such as churches than at civil marriage venues. If this is mooted, then I will ask if I can change positions discretely during a hymn or reading. They are usually OK with this but if not, try to be aware of where the photographer is standing and shift your position slightly if possible so I can see both of you clearly. I once did a wedding at the Tower of London and was not allowed in the chapel at all. I had to photograph down the aisle from outside the doors!
No flash photography allowed throughout the ceremony.
Quite a common rule (again more so in churches) but it is perfectly understandable. Some wedding officials cite that it is a distraction for the couple, but I have never had a newly wedded couple complain of this. More usually, it is the presiding official who is easily distracted by flash photography and would prefer it not to be used.
Most modern cameras that professional photographers use are perfectly up to the task of capturing detail in very dim venues. This rule may interfere with their photographic style somewhat and the photos could be more grainy due to the use of high ISO settings in-camera. However, there is software that can deal with this.
No photography during the official register signing.
Another very common rule and the reason being ‘data protection’. The next chapter is about Signing the Register and includes much on my take on this rule. But just briefly: Many register offices and boroughs around London do actively allow and encourage photography of the signing. There are many such as Cardiff and Bristol who do not. Either way it’s important for your photographer to abide by this. Whatever the rule, most registrars and clerics set up a ‘dummy’ register afterwards and welcome posed signing photos.
No guest photography during the ceremony.
This isn’t much of a problem at all if you have a professional taking the ‘official’ photos. It can be a good idea as over-enthusiastic guests are often distracting to your registrar, you the couple and they can get in the way of your photographer. If the venue doesn’t implement this rule, then I know some couples who have asked their guests themselves not to take any photos at this time.
No photography at all – at any time!
Thankfully extremely rare and if photography is important to you, I would seriously reconsider your choice of wedding venue. I have never come across this at a civil marriage, and thankfully only once in a church.
The following photos all demonstrate the above points and illustrate how the photography can be slightly different as a result.
I always make sure that I introduce myself to the presiding wedding official on arrival at the venue. A little friendliness goes a long way and I ask exactly what the rules are and reassure them that I will not be intrusive. Sometimes I do ‘haggle’ and generally find that they are fairly flexible and will bend their own rules a little. My advice is to be upfront with your officiant about how important the photography is to you. Ask them what rules they have about photography. If they do seem unnecessarily strict, find out why and try to negotiate. Assure them that your photographer will be discrete and observe the sanctity of the occasion. Also, tell your photographer that you expect this.
Always Read the Small Print
On booking, you will usually receive a ‘Wedding Pack‘ with full terms and anything you should know. This will invariably include a section on ‘Wedding Photography’. However I’ve found that this is generally to protect the venue and is often very worse case scenario. If there’s anything that concerns you, do ask your venue contact/registrar. Sometimes you’ll find that some of the terms as officially presented to you aren’t actually upheld on the day. Or they will often relax a rule if you point out how important the wedding photography is to you. It’s always worth asking.
As the Bride Enters the Church or Venue
There is usually a short time before the ceremony when the bridal party has arrived and gathers outside the door in readiness for the bride’s grand entrance. This is more usual at a church than register office but I love to take advantage and get some good shots of this.
The Bride’s Walk Down the Aisle
Then there’s her walk down the aisle. Sometimes her bridesmaids and/or page-boy will enter before her. If this is the case, I take a sequence of them entering one by one. Finally, the bride enters and walks down the aisle, usually with her father. I stand near the door for this to get her entrance. Then I take a couple from the back and hurry to the front. In a register office, or if there’s not room, I back down the aisle to get the sequence from the front and hopefully the reaction when the groom sees her for the first time.
The Bride and Groom See Each Other for the First Time
This shot is priceless, but it’s incredibly difficult to get right. Lots of variables must fall into place at exactly the right time. For example, the photographer needs to be quick enough to move into the right place in front of the couple. There must be no one else in the way obscuring the shot. Finally their facial expressions should be flattering. These are things that can’t be rehearsed but happen if they’re meant to.
As mentioned above, I prefer it when I can move freely around, although I do this discretely. In churches, your photographer should never pass between the couple and the vicar or priest even if there’s room to do so. I tend to walk around the perimeter of the church to get to the other side. Church weddings last up to an hour and beyond sometimes, so there’s plenty of time to get these shots in.
Civil weddings are more time limited so I have to photograph quicker for a good selection of shots. They can sometimes be over in ten minutes and couples frequently comment on how quickly the ceremony has passed.
But whether civil or religious, I like to take shots from as many different angles and viewpoints as I can. Here is a section of photos demonstrating this:
Wedding Emotions and Reactions
No one can predict how they will feel or react on their day. The most stoic groom can (and frequently does) break down in tears when faced with his beautiful bride and the magnitude of the occasion. Couples also often get the giggles. I love that as it makes for such fun photos.
It will be your photographer’s job to capture all of this – whether there are tears or laughter!
Take Your Time with the First Kiss
Whether it’s walking down the aisle or the first kiss, please don’t rush. The first kiss at the end of the wedding ceremony is the one shot that the photographer is most likely to miss. Often it is so fleeting that by the time the photographer has focused in, it’s over – although he should be able to anticipate when the wedding kiss will happen. Your first kiss as husband and wife will look great as a full page in the album. I’ve done a double page 8 image sequence of the first kiss before now and it looked great! So do take your time.
Signing the Register & Presentation of the Certificate
There is so much I could write about this and I touched on it above and cover it in the next chapter. So I won’t say anymore here.
But after the ceremony and signing, the couple are presented with their Certificate of Marriage. Sometimes this is done discretely away from the gaze of the congregation or guests. At other times a more elaborate presentation is made. This is purely a matter of how the venue, county or borough operate.
Gay Wedding Ceremonies
Fortunately, gay weddings have been legal for the past few years but sadly only for civil marriages. The church is yet to catch up. For more on Gay & Lesbian Wedding Photography, I have a whole page so please click on that link.
Photographing Children at Wedding Ceremonies
I frequently shoot weddings where the couple are keen for their child or children to play a part in the day. It’s very popular for the little person to present the rings or walk down the aisle with the bride as part of the bridal procession. Sometimes they give a reading. Whatever the case, I love to photograph this aspect as it adds something quite special to the finished photograph collection. I’ve added selection of my favourite kids shots here:
The Congregation and Guest Photography
I always try to photograph as many guests as possible. The more aspects of the day that I can capture for the couple to look back on and remember, the better. There is often scope for this whilst everyone waits for the bride to enter and sometimes during the signing if I’m not allowed to photograph this.
I have no problem with guests taking their own photos, so long as they don’t get in the way of any key moments. It’s only natural for people to want their own shots of the day and I often find myself shooting them taking photos. I love to capture people taking selfies too. It’s amazing how few notice me doing this.
“Moves Like a Ninja, Shoots Like a Sniper!”
A newly wedded couple once wrote these words in a review for me. They perfectly sum up how your photographer should be, especially during the ceremony (well, almost!). Your photographer should be the soul of discretion, able to position themselves so that they are not a distraction and move position when there is less chance they will be noticed. During a hymn or reading is ideal. They should not snap away randomly as the clicks from a DSLR camera can be distracting. They should take time to consider the composition and press the shutter sparingly.
Longer Ceremonies = More Diverse Photos
As far as I’m concerned, the longer the ceremony, the better. It is important for me to have time to move stealthily round and take images from different vantage points. This includes pictures of the vows, exchanging of rings, congregation and various unexpected occurrences that may happen such as this expression of love and happiness:
Wedding Ceremony FAQs
Q. WHAT IS A CIVIL MARRIAGE CEREMONY?
A. A civil marriage ceremony is a wedding with no religious context. They are held in register offices or venues approved by the local authority. Although readings and music are allowed, there must be no religious content at all during your civil marriage.
Q. CAN WE MARRY OUTSIDE THE AREA WHERE WE LIVE?
A. Absolutely. However, you’ll need to give notice of your intent to marry at your local Register Office at least 28 days before the date. Once you have done this, you are entitled to choose any register office or approved wedding venue in the British Isles to marry. Rules for religious weddings are very different – you’ll need a family connection to the church or have lived in the area for 6 months or more.
Q. WILL MY PHOTOGRAPHER BE RESTRICTED BY RULES AND REGULATIONS AT OUR WEDDING CEREMONY?
A. This varies depending on local authority/venue/individual conducting your ceremony. Do check with them if photography is important to you. Some rules include no flash, no moving around and, rarely, no photography at all. Most register offices are flexible and helpful though.
Q. CAN WE WRITE OUR OWN VOWS?
A. There are certain words you must say to make your marriage legal. However, around this, most authorities are happy for you to have input into the words read by the registrar. This can depend on your ceremony package you chose. A basic package may not allow for this.
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