I love a photography challenge and there’s nothing more challenging than shooting a church wedding ceremony.
Forget everything else that happens during the course of a wedding day, the ceremony IS the grand occasion. The awesome moments that your couple have been waiting for happen here, so you need to BE READY.
You do not want to be the photographer that missed moments because in the run-up you A) failed to plan well and communicate clearly with your couple and B) got flustered with your camera settings while all the action happened around you.
To help photographers shoot their first wedding, here are my
Top 5 tips for shooting a church wedding ceremony
1) Be aware of photography restrictions
‘Your camera isn’t one of those ‘clicky’ ones is it…’.
Some officials just don’t like photographers. Maybe they had a bad experience with an intrusive photographer in the past (possibly a friend of the wedding party with an expensive camera that offered to shoot for free, but they just did not know what they were doing…).
They can sometimes request that the photographer only takes shots from certain places and during certain times in the ceremony and after.
One official told me that she was concerned that the noise of the camera would detract from the solemnity of the occasion. As such, I was asked not to take pictures at all during the ceremony because she believed it would be distracting for the bride and groom.
I talked to the bride about this and she told the vicar that she personally had no problem with this- after all she had hired a photographer precisely to take photos during the ceremony. So, the problem was solved with a bit of good communication and the bride and groom got what they asked for.
My top tip for photographers- be respectful but make sure your bride and groom are happy with the arrangements.
2) Attend the wedding rehearsal
Obviously, you will have checked out the venue before the big day to do some basic planning (assessing lighting conditions, seeing what the space is like). But how about attending the wedding rehearsal?
Here you’ll to find out things like exactly where and when key people will be making an entrance/ exit and where the band/ choir will be. This will allow you to plan how you will frame key shots in the least intrusive way and it will also make you aware of where your view will likely be restricted by guests or equipment. I sometimes go as far as sketching a map so I can visualise the service in the run-up to it- I find that it helps with my creativity on the day.
Also, attending the rehearsal is a great way to introduce yourself to family members and guests before the wedding. I find this really helps family feel more comfortable on the day when I’m working around them because the ‘ice’ has been broken.
Plus I always think it’s really cool to meet parents and family- I’m always fascinated to see similarities between the looks of siblings and parents.
Chief of all is to make an introduction to the ushers and best man- they are vital in helping the day to run smoothly where group shots are concerned 🙂
If you can’t do this, at the very least ask for the order of service in advance. But not everything will be in the order of service. For example, when I did my first military wedding, without going to the rehearsal I would not have been prepared to capture the military salute just before the ceremony.
3) If you are not early you are late
Make sure that you arrive at the church in plenty of time. You don’t want to be getting there just moments before the bride- mega stressful. Arrive early so that you give yourself time to re-assess the lighting and mentally prepare to capture the most important part of the whole day. If you pay attention to tips 1 and 2, everything will be cool. Also arriving early will allow you to capture candids of guests arriving and the groom as he anxiously awaits his bride.
4) Use high ISO
It’s more important to get the shot than have the ‘perfect’ shot (if there is such a thing).
Being unobtrusive is the name of the game, so flash is a no-no (usually). Some photographers do however use a bit of flash because it’s part of their look/ style.
In a church, you have to shoot where you can get a clear shot and that may not always be where the best light is. To remedy this- push the ISO of your full-frame DSLR to an acceptable limit.
You’ll inevitably loose some dynamic range (colours/ skin tones might not be produced as accurately as under ideal conditions), but at least you can work at exposures that are short enough to eliminate camera shake and reduce subject motion (I won’t go lower than 1/250 s). Your client will not perceive a slight reduction in image quality vs. shots taken in better light.
Clients don’t pixel peak and they certainly don’t view photographs from a technical level like a photographer, but rather at an emotional level. If the moment is there and, it’s a great one, they will love it! And ultimately that’s what wedding photography is all about, capturing the moments. But if you miss the moment because you didn’t get your settings right or if the shot is blurry, ouch… you don’t want to be that photographer.
When working at high ISO you can afford to underexpose by one stop or so to bump the shutter speed to get a sharp shot. But, I would advise not underexposing by more than this because you don’t have as much latitude to perform big increases in exposure in post (at high ISO, colours can go a bit whack!), so make sure you meter correctly and try to get it right in camera as much as you can.
5) Work in manual mode
This will save you heaps of time in post-production because you will end up with a series of shots from a particular scene that have a consistent exposure. This allows you to batch process.
I use aperture priority when the pace can be frantic and the light conditions are changing constantly. I find this to be more reliable than Auto ISO with aperture priority- sometimes I find that my camera makes decisions about what it ‘thinks’ is the ‘correct’ exposure that I am not happy with. This is all part of the art of photography- you need to be able to visualise how your camera will interpret a scene and to make constant minor adjustments. This is something that comes with experience. I like to be in full control during the ceremony- it’s such an important part of the day.
Remember when shooting in full manual mode to drop your ISO on the way out of the church (I’ve been caught out by that one before)!