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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 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.


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’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.


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

Bristol Register Office don’t allow more than four guests inside their smallest room due to fire restrictions. 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 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.


Overview of church wedding in Caerphilly - couple and congregation singing

Many churches ban 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 where 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 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 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.


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

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.


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 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 are things that 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 looks 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 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:


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 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 and I have 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: From the side I have still photographed the couple, but also the fantastic arches and stained-glass windows. Melissa and Thomas booked their wedding there as they loved the architecture and said that 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 start crying at the same time, the tears often turn to laughter.  This doesn’t often happen but 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 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.


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

Perhaps my favourite first kiss shot taken at 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 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 kiss for the first time as a married couple.


Couple kiss at Fitzrovia Chapel in London

Here, I shot low and managed to get 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 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.


Couple being presented with wedding certificate at Westminster Register Office

The registrars at Westminster have their own individual presentation speech with a joke at the end to get the couple laughing. I won’t spoil that by putting it here!


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.


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 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:


Two pageboys carrying rings down aisle at Porchester Hall wedding

This cute pair really enhanced the wedding at Porchester Hall. I love the way that one is so enjoying the moment whilst 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 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.


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 and then there’s the other guests interacting 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 in the moment as the registrar has declared 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 a 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 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 at Porchester Hall - Candles and Love Sign

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


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.


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


Chapter 5: Signing the Register – Rules vs. Common Sense – Next>>>>

<<<<Previous – Chapter 3: Arrivals & Greetings – All About Discretion


>>>>Back to Index<<<<


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 Cardiff & London

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

 

Preferred Contact Number:
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https://www.guymilnes.com/

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