Photographing the Wedding Ceremony & Vows
The Key Part of the Day
The ceremony, vows and signing is the part of the day that everything has been leading up to. It’s essential that the photographer gets things right. They must ensure 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 with planning and understanding of how a wedding works are avoided.
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 pageboy 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 he 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.
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’s 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 can be so fleeting that by the time the photographer has focussed 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 the signing that I have written a chapter dedicated purely to this part of the ceremony (see Chapter 5). So I won’t say any more here.
But after the ceremony, 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 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 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.
Wedding Ceremony Photography Rules and Regulations
Any vendors that the couple employ to provide wedding day services must abide by any rules set out by the venue or presiding officiant. Therefore it is of the utmost importance to find out if there are any rules which may hamper your vision for your day. So….
**My Very Important Wedding Day Tip**
This is probably the most important tip I can give you if wedding ceremony photography is important to you…
Discuss Your Photography with the Venue and 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. Being told to shoot only from the balcony or no nearer than halfway down the aisle are popular rules. A ban on flash photography is another one (more understandable).
So, my advice is to be upfront with your officiant about how important the photography is to you. Ask them what rules they have regarding 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.
“Moves Like a Ninja, Shoots Like a Sniper!”
A newly-wedded couple wrote these words in a review for me a while ago. They perfectly sum up how your photographer should be, especially during the ceremony. 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.
I always make a point of introducing myself to the presiding official as a matter of courtesy and reassurance. It’s worth noting that registrars tend to be more relaxed than members of the clergy about photographing the ceremony. The signing however is a different matter.
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:
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