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Chapter 4

Ultimate Guide to

Wedding Ceremony Photography

Photographing the Wedding Ceremony & Vows


Bride and father walking down aisle at Fitzrovia Chapel

I love to photograph small, intimate ceremonies as much as the larger ones. In this wedding at the Fitzrovia Chapel, you can see almost every guest quite clearly as the bride approaches the altar.

Ceremony & Vows – The Key Part of the Day

The ceremony, vows, and signing are the part of the day that everything has led up to.  It’s essential that your photographer gets things right.  They must ensure they are in the right place at the right time to capture the key moments and present the couple with a stunning set of photographs that completely tell the story of their wedding day.  However, certain pitfalls are avoided with planning and a good understanding of how a wedding works.

Bride cheering as she is married at Fitzrovia Chapel

The way this image looks shows just how fast-moving the ceremony is for the photographer. I hadn’t properly composed the shot when the bride did this. So I quickly fired off a couple of frames to catch her joy as the registrar declared them husband and wife.

How You Can Best Prepare for Your Wedding Ceremony Photography


I will 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 embarrassing and unnecessary position of arriving at a venue in London only to have the presiding official tell me that ‘No photography is allowed’ during the ceremony. This news came as a nasty shock to the couple and me. A rule of this severity has only happened once, but on many occasions, I have been limited by less severe restrictions.

Bride and Groom from the back at wedding in the Statutory Room, Bristol Register Office

Due to fire restrictions, the Bristol Register Office doesn’t allow more than four guests inside their smallest room. This includes the photographer. But I asked nicely, and they relaxed this, meaning I could capture Joanne and John’s most important part of the day.

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 can only shoot from one spot at the side/back/balcony, etc.

This is more common in religious settings venues such as churches than civil marriage venues.   If this is mooted, 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 shot 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 is allowed throughout the ceremony.

Quite a common rule (again more so in churches), but it is perfectly understandable.  Some wedding officials cite that it distracts the couple, but I have never had a newly wedded couple complain of this.  More usually, the presiding official 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 grainier due to the camera’s use of high ISO settings.  However, there is software that can deal with this.

    • No photography during the official schedule signing.

This rule is now uncommon thanks to the register moving online in May 2021.  The next chapter is about Signing the Schedule and includes much more info on the changes.  I expect most areas to be fine with having the schedule photographed, but it is up to the officiating person on the day.  Do check if this is important for you to have photographed.

    • 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 often distract your registrar and you, the couple, and they can get in the way of your photographer.  If the venue doesn’t implement this rule, I know some couples who have asked their guests not to take any photos at this time.

    • No photography at all – at any time!

Thankfully, it is extremely rare, and if photography is important to you, I would seriously reconsider your choice of wedding venue.  I have never encountered this in a civil marriage, and thankfully, only once in a church.


The following photos all demonstrate the above points and illustrate how photography can be slightly different as a result.

Overview of church wedding in Caerphilly - couple and congregation singing

Many churches ban the use of artificial light, including flash. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem, and my camera coped with this admirably.

Guests filming couple on mobile phones at wedding ceremony in Islington Town Hall, London

Guests will invariably take photos of the ceremony when allowed. I embrace this and include it in some photos to add a fun element. After all, it is part of your day!

The bride and groom smiling with videographer guest in background at Southwark Town Hall

Again, I purposefully included the videographer here as he was a close friend of Danielle and Mitchell. His obvious happiness compliments the couple’s…

The grooms smiling at exchange of rings during their Southwark wedding, London

The photos are far more dynamic when I’m allowed to move freely. At the ceremony, couples only have eyes for each other, so your photographer will capture a more striking set of images.

Close-up of the bride placing the ring on her groom's finger in Chelsea

Another example is when I am able to capture a variety of photographs, such as this close-up of the exchange of rings.  Civil marriages are generally less restrictive than religious ones.

I always ensure 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.

The registrar smiles at a civil marriage in Peckham, London

Most registrars are comfortable with my moving around the room during the ceremony, as this photograph taken at Southwark clearly shows.

Bride looking lovingly at her groom during her Westminster Register Office wedding ceremony

Shots such as this portrait of the couple being ‘in the moment’ are priceless and are more likely when your registrar is comfortable with the photographer being there.

Always Read the Small Print

You usually receive a ‘Wedding Pack’ on booking 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 a very worst-case scenario.  If anything concerns you, do ask your venue contact/registrar.  Sometimes, you’ll find that some of the terms officially presented to you aren’t upheld on the day.  Or they will often relax a rule if you point out how important wedding photography is to you.  It’s always worth asking.

The bride and groom looking at each other with registrar reading at Old Marylebone Town Hall wedding in London

Black and white works in many situations and provides a more timeless feel without the distraction of colour.

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 a register office, but I love to take advantage and get some good shots of this.

The bridal party waiting outside Old Marylebone Town Hall wedding ceremony room

The bridesmaid and couple organise themselves outside this London wedding venue room just before the ceremony.

Smiling bride entering wedding ceremony whilst guests look on at Old Marylebone Town Hall

Bridesmaids and family members often enter the ceremony first, making for another lovely sequence of images.

Bride and father entering Cardiff church for wedding

Nothing quite matches the architecture of an old church. The bride and her father bring plenty of colour to this photo as they enter the nave for her wedding ceremony.

Bride and dad going into wedding through large doorway at the Ned

A large doorway at the Ned Hotel adds interest to this portrait as the bride enters the ceremony with her father.

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.

Groom Waiting Nervously in Rossetti Room, Chelsea as Bride Enters with Father

The aisle of the Rossetti Room in Chelsea Old Town is short, but I’m still able to take a nice sequence of the bride walking down it. The diminutive size also means the photographer can capture a good overview of everything that is going on at that 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 things can’t be rehearsed but happen if they’re meant to.

Groom sees bride for the first time at Pembroke Lodge wedding

Groom Louis’s first glance at his bride Bernie at this Pembroke Lodge wedding in Richmond. His look says it all!

The Ceremony

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 church’s perimeter to get to the other side.  Church weddings sometimes last up to an hour and beyond, so there’s plenty of time to get these shots in.

Civil weddings are more time-limited, so I have to photograph quickly 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 possible.  Here is a section of photos demonstrating this:

Church wedding ceremony and congregation in black and white

This is a standard shot from in front of the couple at a church wedding. It gives a great overview of the ceremony, including the congregation and magnificent Gothic architecture.

Church wedding ceremony from back with full height and architecture

I move around to the back for this impressive view. A good wide-angle lens (as well as a good photographer!) captures the full height of the church, giving a sense of scale.

Wedding vows at church in Crystal Palace

Moving in a little closer, I captured some of the vows. More detail in the couple’s clothes and the brickwork is apparent.

St John the Evangelist Church wedding in Crystal Palace

The last photos can’t show what this one does: I have still photographed the couple from the side, but also the fantastic arches and stained-glass windows. Melissa and Thomas booked their wedding there as they loved the architecture and said I captured this well.

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!

Bride and groom laughing at wedding in Old Marylebone Town Hall

Melissa and Adam certainly saw the funny side of their Old Marylebone Town Hall wedding. They laughed through much of the ceremony.

The bride looks at her guests and smiles during her wedding ceremony at Chelsea Old Town Hall

How delighted does Debbie look during her wedding to Richard in Chelsea Old Town Hall? This is a photo and expression to cherish for a lifetime.

Groom looking at guests with excitement after wedding ceremony in London

Same room but different couple: Ross wasn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve either just after being pronounced husband to his new wife.

Bride holding serious groom's face during wedding vows.

A look of pure love: Lindsay holds Greg’s face during their vows. Shortly after, he cried – his serious look here was to try to prevent that.  Something tells me Lindsay knew what he was thinking!

Bride gazing lovingly at her groom

Another loving look as Lindsay is clearly cherishing every moment.

The groom is upset as he is reading a poem at his ceremony in Chelsea as his bride watches

After their vows, they jointly read a poem. Richard really struggled with this and broke down a few times, which gave me a lovely sequence of emotive photos. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room – including mine!

Bride and groom with hankies crying at wedding

When both bride and groom cry simultaneously, the tears often turn to laughter.  This doesn’t often happen, but it is amusing when it does!

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 the photographer will most likely 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.

Newly-weds share their first kiss in Southwark Register Office for their wedding

Perhaps my favourite first kiss shot was taken at the Southwark Register Office: This pair needed no encouragement to prolong their kiss. Couples are seldom confident enough to invest such passion into it, but Danielle and Mitchell were so caught up in the moment.

Groom passionately kissing bride in his arms at King's College Chapel in London

Paloma & Laszlo had no qualms about making the most of the first kiss at their King’s College Chapel wedding in London.  This went on for a while and is unusual at a religious wedding. But it’s great for the photographer.

First kiss at Bristol Register Office wedding with registrar in the background

This was the smallest of wedding ceremonies but no less special as they kissed for the first time as a married couple.

Couple kiss at Fitzrovia Chapel in London

Here, I shot low and got the beautiful architecture of London’s Fitzrovia Chapel behind the kissing couple.

Mature wedding groom holding senior bride.

The moments after the first kiss are just as powerful: At this wedding, Paul holds his new bride after they’ve finished. This really catches the happiness and love between them.  I love mature wedding photography.

Signing the Schedule and no Presentation of the Certificate

I touched on this above and cover it in-depth in the next chapter.  So, I won’t say much more here.

But briefly, things have been updated to streamline the registration with a move online.  There is no certificate for the couple to take away on the day as it is posted out afterwards.

Couple being presented with wedding certificate at Westminster Register Office

The days when the marriage certificate was presented at the ceremony: Westminster had their own individual presentation speech with a joke at the end to get the couple laughing.

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 for more info.

Gay wedding couple exchanging rings at Islington Town Hall

This gay wedding at Islington Town Hall was in the Mayor’s Parlour. The light was perfect, and I didn’t use my flash at all.

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 photographing this aspect as it adds something special to the finished photograph collection.  I’ve added a selection of my favourite kids shots here:

Two pageboys carrying rings down aisle at Porchester Hall wedding

This cute pair really enhanced the wedding at Porchester Hall. I love how one is enjoying the moment while the other is unsure.

Small girl presenting rings at Chelsea Old Town Hall wedding in London

A same-sex wedding in London sees this little girl presenting the rings and looking to the registrar for reassurance.

Little boy giving the couple rings at Pencoed House, Cardiff wedding

The couple’s son shyly presented them with the rings in this Pencoed House wedding near Cardiff.

Boy and man picking up dropped rings in Cardiff City Hall wedding

Oops! This little one dropped the rings at a Cardiff City Hall wedding. I love to capture any slight mishaps that happen – it’s all part of the day!

The Congregation and Guest Photography

I always try to photograph as many guests as possible.  The more aspects of the day 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.

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.

Four wedding guests in front rown of marriage at Old Marylebone Town Hall, London

The time at the signing can be the perfect time to snap a few photos of the guests.

Man and woman laughing at wedding whilst bot sleeps on her lap

There’s quite a lot going on in this photo. A joke shared between these two is a moment on its own. The sleeping boy is a cute touch, as the other guests interact in the background. This was shot whilst awaiting the arrival of the bride.

Woman with camera turning away and laughing

This is quite a fun one. I photographed this guest taking a photo of the room, then again as she noticed me and turned away laughing.

Wide shot of wedding from back as guest gives reading at Pencoed House

A family friend gives a reading in the Old Barn at Pencoed House near Cardiff.

Groom holding bride by shoulders at Chiswick Town Hall wedding

This was taken at a wedding at Chiswick Town Hall. The bride and groom are so when the registrar declares them husband and wife.

“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.

Exchange of Rings at Porchester Hall London

Rebecca & Kolbe’s wedding was a very smart black-tie event. They married on a stage in Porchester Hall. This worked well as I could bounce the flash back onto them from the lower ceiling there.

Happy Photo of Groom Placing Ring on Bride's Finger

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 around 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 at Porchester Hall - Candles and Love Sign

This type of portrait can’t be staged: The look of love between them says it all. They have each just put out a candle, and the smoke drifting adds to the overall effect.

Wedding Ceremony FAQs



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.



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 can choose any registered 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.



A. This varies depending on the 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.



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 the ceremony package you chose.  A basic package may not allow for this.

The groom places ring on bride's finger - black and white wedding portrait

Chapter 5: Signing the Marriage Schedule – The Register is No More – Next>>>>

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The bride and groom share a joke during their wedding ceremony at Old Marylebone Town Hall

I’m not quite sure of their source of delight here, but it was halfway through Helen and Martin’s ceremony and captures their personalities well.

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Bride at Old Marylebone Town Hall Signing the Register

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Wedding Photographer in London, Bristol & Cardiff

Guy Milnes Photography is based between London and Cardiff, covering South Wales, Bristol, London and the home counties.
He has been a professional photographer since 2008 and loves to capture the wedding day's atmosphere as it unfolds naturally.


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