I love church weddings – they are beautiful & sacred. I’m not what you could call religious, but there is definitely something about watching people in sometimes historic churches where lots of people before them have stood and made the same commitment to each other.
There’s an added pressure where church weddings are concerned mainly because I usually end up with a bucket load of restrictions & sometimes a negative attitude from church officials simply because I am a wedding photographer. There’s a definite stigma attached to us wedding photographers where church officials are concerned.
I don’t need to be told to not draw attention to myself, to not get in the way & to not use flash in a church – I mean, as if I would! I have heard some shocking stories about other photographers in churches though from church officials – which is exactly why these impositions on us exist. Belly crawling down the church aisle when asked to only take photographs from the back or pretending to be a guest taking photographs – I have also heard of numerous examples where a vicar has actually had to stop a wedding ceremony to ask the photographer to leave.
No matter where you choose to get married – in a church or another wedding venue – it is still a sacred moment that deserves respect. If your chosen wedding photographer does things like this then they are the reason these rules exist on the rest of us that choose to respect this very important moment.
My view is simple – if your Vicar tells me that I can only stand at the back or I can’t even take photographs then that’s what will happen. I will never, EVER go against what I have been told.
I do think it’s a massive shame when they say I can’t take photographs. It’s even more frustrating for me when they say things like ‘well they are having it videoed so don’t need it photographing do they, you can stand and wait at the back’. – That’s an actual conversation with a vicar at a wedding this year! Seriously, I was very upset, not for me, but for my couple. I had no clue I couldn’t take photographs & nor did they – please make sure you discuss it first with your Vicar. The worst part was there was a balcony above that I could have stood on using a long lens & got some amazing photographs – no-one would have even heard my shutter click – heck, no-one would have even known I was up there! He said no photographs, so there were no photographs.
So, if photography is important to you, you have a couple of choices. You can chat to your Vicar or church officials & talk with them about why you want the service photographed & talk candidly about how important it is to you.
If it helps, feel free to tell them about how I work when photographing church weddings – I always work in an unobtrusive way with minimal movement. I want to be at the front when you make an entrance & move round to the back (discreetly & only if able) – photograph the giving & receiving of rings, little moments between you both, the first kiss & then walking back down the aisle as a married couple. I will also photograph the signing of the register if able (read more about how I photograph the this bit *here*). I don’t ever use flash in churches (it’s usually prohibited anyway), it’s distracting & unnecessary.
If after speaking to them they still won’t budge, then unfortunately you will either have to make peace with the fact that your ceremony will not be photographed or you will have to consider another church or venue.
I want to stress that even though I’m mostly given restricted access to church weddings, there have been some where the church officials literally couldn’t do enough for me. They have even moved distracting elements such as microphone stands or chairs that weren’t needed to make the background less cluttered. There have been some that have given me the ‘you can go wherever you want’ line too. Even when I am told I can go & do whatever I want – I am still always respectful, unobtrusive & quiet.
Another important thing to discuss is to make sure you clarify with the church officials if they say that photography is ‘fine’ what that actually means. Often, ‘fine’ can mean stand right at the back (some churches are massive by the way!) & never move a muscle. Other times it can mean I have a ‘free run’ of the church.
I always ask my couples if they have asked if photography is permitted & they almost always say, yes they said it’s fine. I get there early to chat to the vicar & introduce myself (something I always do) &I ask them about where I can & can’t go & they tell me I can go stand at the back and stay there until they call me up to do the signing of the register. That to me, is not them saying photography is ‘fine’. It’s saying that I don’t really want you to take photographs but I told the couple it was fine so I have to let you.
I always do what I can to try & show them that we can be respectful & thankful for them allowing us to take what we can. Unfortunately, there are always some that ruin it for everyone else.
Being informed is the best way to move forward with finding out about wedding photography in churches.