3 Ways to Deal with Church Photography Restrictions at a Wedding

September 18, 2019
Denis Gostev, of New York, is a wedding photographer for St. Francis Xavier Church

Photo by: Denis Gostev, New York, United States

You can argue that of all the photos on your wedding day, the ones taken during the ceremony are the most meaningful—that’s why you’re there, right? It’s ironic, then, that wedding photojournalists regularly have the most trouble shooting their best work in the churches where these very ceremonies take place. Often times, significant moments unfold in front of camera lenses that are too far away, positioned at awkward angles, and photographers are forced to operate under sub-optimal conditions.

While few wedding photojournalists would recommend selecting a church based solely on how the photos will turn out, there are some important points to consider before the big day—if capturing the moments of your church ceremony is a priority, that is.

1. UNDERSTAND THE RESTRICTIONS

Church restrictions pertaining to photography can vary wildly, and while wedding photojournalists all cite different restrictions that make them particularly crazy, one thing seems to jive with many: they want to know up-front what the restrictions are, so there are no surprises on the wedding day. It’s always best if brides and grooms don’t have to play catch up, retrofitting their photography needs to fit often misunderstood—and sometimes even arbitrary—restrictions.

Federica Ariemma, of Napoli, is a wedding photographer for Lettere

Photo by: Federica Ariemma, Napoli, Italy

Some of our WPJA members have noted that there have been times where they were not permitted to photograph the ceremony at all. However, this is not information that should only be discovered on the wedding day—rather your wedding photographer needs to know the restrictions ahead of time so that they can figure out a plan.

Leonard Walpot, of Utrecht, is a wedding photographer for Vondelkerk amsterdam

Photo by: Leonard Walpot, Utrecht, Netherlands

Some wedding photojournalists strive to be very frank with their clients about what they can accomplish, given tight restrictions. They feel their clients should know exactly how the restrictions are going to affect the photographs. For example, if the church will only allow a photographer to shoot from behind the last row of people, then the couple should not expect a spread of shots showing their facial expressions during their vows. There’s always going to be a repercussion.

Paulo Castro, of , is a wedding photographer for Vila de Lordelo - Guimarães, Portugal

Photo by: Paulo Castro, Portugal

Churches often impose rules about where the photographer can stand during the ceremony. Some churches won’t let photographers on the altar. Others insist they can only stand behind the last row of people or shoot only from the balcony. WPJA members have noted that one of the most common requests they receive is that they choose one spot to stand in and stay there for the duration of the ceremony. This is a difficult restriction and, while your wedding photojournalist can still make this work and take beautiful, tight shots from just about anywhere, the couple should not expect a variety of different angles with these types of restrictions.

Donatella Barbera, of Firenze, is a wedding photographer for Florence

Photo by: Donatella Barbera, Firenze, Italy

Our members have said that it’s important for the couple to understand ahead of time what is and what isn’t possible. It’s a good idea for the bride and groom to discuss the restrictions with their photographer well in advance to see if they are comfortable working within those restrictions.

Catherine Hill, of Kent, is a wedding photographer for Petham Church, Petham, Kent, UK

Photo by: Catherine Hill, Kent, United Kingdom

2. HOW CAN YOU GET THAT FACE TIME?

WPJA members have noted that one of their favorite moments to capture is when the bride and groom are facing each other during the ceremony, saying that this moment is particularly quiet and intimate, revealing a shared emotion between the couple. Naturally, they have also mentioned that they are always disappointed when they are not able to get into a position that allows them to capture that particular moment. Our members have also said that during every wedding there are many different expressions when the bride and groom glance at one another or share a laugh that, unfortunately, just aren’t in view of the photographer, particularly when the couple is standing at the altar facing the officiant.

Daniele Borghello, of Padova, is a wedding photographer for Sagrado - Italy

Photo by: Daniele Borghello, Padova, Italy

Our wedding photojournalists have the same advice: talk to your wedding official. They usually have the power to bend the rules. Sometimes the restrictions are outdated, sometimes they are not enforced, or the official is willing to overlook them if you make a strong case. Many times the matter rests entirely on the mood of the person making decisions that day.

Daniel Monteiro, of , is a wedding photographer for Amares - Santa Maria do Bouro

Photo by: Daniel Monteiro, Portugal

The clergy person or justice who will serve as your wedding official, or officiant, needs to understand that your wedding photojournalist is not going to show up and cause a major disturbance. Perhaps that person has had bad experiences with pushy, inconsiderate wedding photographers in the past. It’s your job to let them know your wedding photojournalist will be respectful of the ceremony. If necessary, our members recommend that you make sure the officiant is made aware that your photographer will not use flash, if requested. Wedding photojournalists, by definition, are there to capture what’s happening as inconspicuously as possible—almost invisibly.

Paul Rogers, of Hertfordshire, is a wedding photographer for St Mary le Strand, London

Photo by: Paul Rogers, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

3. IRKSOME INJUSTICE

Another point to raise: the restrictions are usually placed only on the photographer—not the guests, who are all snapping (and flashing!) willy-nilly with their point-and-shoot cameras and phones. That could be a big frustration considering wedding photojournalists often make every effort at being discreet and will avoid using flash when asked.

If a patient explanation gets you nowhere, one last resort is to involve the couple in the negotiation process. When the bride insists the photographer is granted access or permission, it tends to work better.

Eric Corbacho, of São Paulo, is a wedding photographer for São Paulo

Photo by: Eric Corbacho, São Paulo, Brazil

What most wedding photojournalists will not do is break the rules. Our award-winning members concur, saying that every church has its rules, which most wedding photographers are not willing to break for the bride and groom. It is important to them to remain professional and, first and foremost, the ceremony is a sacred event, not a theatrical performance. So, most wedding photojournalists will move wherever they’re allowed while remaining discreet and without breaking the rules. 

Henri Deroche, of , is a wedding photographer for Orléans

Photo by: Henri Deroche, France

Other wedding photojournalists may not be so docile. As the ones hired to actually document the ceremony, they feel that if rules are placed only on them and a ‘No Photography’ or ‘No Flash Photography’ general announcement is not made to all guests in attendance at the wedding, then they are free to follow what the guests are doing. If the guests are shooting flash, they’ll use it as well, if needed, regardless of the dos and don’ts that were mandated in advance.

Lyndsey Goddard, of London, is a wedding photographer for Islington Town Hall

Photo by: Lyndsey Goddard, London, United Kingdom

In churches where they won’t allow photography at all, one option they usually offer would be to restage the important moments from the wedding after the ceremony has already taken place. However, nobody ever wants to do that. It goes against the very notion of wedding photojournalism.

Christophe Pasteur, of , is a wedding photographer for LE CHATELET EN BRIE

Photo by: Christophe Pasteur, France

Ultimately, our members assert that what’s most important is that the bride and groom feel a connection to their church—that they view it as a comfortable environment that they have an attachment to. At the end of the day, the wedding photojournalist’s own desires come second to the couple’s preferred church. Whatever they are or are not allowed to do, your photographer will make it work, which is why the couple’s open communication with them is so important in order to avoid being surprised and unprepared on the wedding day.

Karen Flower, of Surrey, is a wedding photographer for St Andrew's Church

Photo by: Karen Flower, Surrey, United Kingdom