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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.

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.

Bride cheering as she is married at Fitzrovia Chapel

The way this image looks shows just how fast moving the ceremony can be 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.

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.

Bridesmaids and pageboy getting ready outside wedding venue in Cardiff

The bridesmaids and a pageboy organise themselves outside this Cardiff wedding venue just before the ceremony.

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 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.

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

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’s 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.


Bride and groom looking at each other at Southwark Register Office

Benjamin and Estelle were more serious as they wed at Southwark Register Office.

Bride placing ring on groom's finder at Glansevin Mansion

The scene was enhanced at this wedding ceremony at Glensevin Mansion in the Brecon Beacons. The yellow added vibrancy to their wedding photos.  Even here where everything is fairly subdued, you can see the love in the couple’s faces.

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.

Bride gazing lovingly at her groom

Another loving look as Lindsay is clearly cherishing every moment.

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 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.

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

Perhaps my favourite first kiss shot: This pair needed no encouragement to prolong their kiss. Couple 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. This went on for a while and is unusual at a religious wedding. but great for the photographer.

Bride holding groom by cheek and kissing him at wedding

Shooting towards the window gave this photo intense flare at this Cardiff City Hall wedding. I think it adds to the atmosphere and adds a dynamic touch of drama.

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 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.

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 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 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 at Chelsea Old Town Hall 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. I love to capture any slight mishaps that happen.

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.

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 it’s 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 took this guest taking a photo of the room, then again as she noticed me and turned away laughing.

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).

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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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.


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