Capturing the Main Event

Share

The details of a wedding ceremony might vary according to cultural or religious factors, determined by the two families. Despite these variables, the logistics, necessary photo gear and strategies for success aren’t wildly different.

Certain rituals will appear in some form in almost every wedding ceremony.  Reading, reciting or chanting of marriage vows by the officiant, and sometimes by several other parties, an exchange of rings, sips of wine or some other symbolic beverage, and perhaps the first kiss between the newlyweds are all likely to occur in some form. (For a more detailed explanation of various cultural and religious wedding customs and traditions, see our separate guide, Multinational Wedding Traditions).

You’ll need to take pictures of each person in the wedding party as he/she comes down the aisle. Who walks down the aisle, and when, is established by whomever is conducting the ceremony, or in the case of catering halls, the caterer. You should have a list with the order, and you should have requested an advance briefing regarding what to expect during the ceremony. This is where the variations in ritual will show themselves, and there won’t be any possibility of a re-shoot, so be prepared.

Electronic flash is the preferred light source for photographing wedding ceremonies, for its ability to freeze movement in dimly lit environments. Because of the constant flow of participants during the ceremony and, therefore, of flash-to-subject distances, you will most likely (and preferably) be using a shoe or handle-mounted flashgun, probably with some type of light modifier to tone down the specular (harsh) light of a flash tube.

For triggering your flash and dedicated slave units, use a multi-channel radio slave system to ensure that your slaved strobes don’t fire helter-skelter whenever a guest raises their point-and-shoot camera and takes a flash picture.

Your main flash should be mounted on your camera or tethered off-camera using a camera-mounted flash bracket, triggered through a TTL flash cord or a radio or IR transmitter, to fire your dedicated slave lights. Each person operating a camera under your direction should be working on a separate channel. Each group or individual in the procession should be photographed at least two or three times at pre-established distances as they walk down the aisle. Seasoned caterers and party organizers will remind everyone in the procession to smile as they begin the walk.

There are times you may not be able to use a flash during the ceremony, due to religious or personal considerations. Your best bet is to mount your camera on a tripod, bump your camera’s ISO sensitivity up a few clicks, create a custom white balance or possibly Auto WB and shoot using your fastest prime lenses. Use of any lights during the ceremony should be discussed well before the day.

For the times that you are able to work with flash, it’s always a good idea to have an assistant hold a second dedicated slave-triggered unit on a boompole to fill in shadows or light up the background of your shot. Dependable, self-contained flash units designed for this sort of use are available from Quantum and Impact.

Any fill lights you set up along the perimeter of the chapel should be secured in place, and all cables should be gaffer-taped to the floor. If you’re using overhead floodlights to illuminate the rows of guests, make sure the light stands holding them are securely locked and preferably weighted down with saddle-style sandbags. This is especially important if you plan on using high-temperature halogen lamps. (You really don’t want a 1000W lamp—or any lamp for that matter—to come crashing down on any guests.)

You can use two-way radios in order to ease communication between all members of your photo crew during the quieter moments of the ceremony as well as amidst the higher decibel levels of the reception.

In terms of lenses and camera bodies, you will most likely be using two lenses (preferably on two camera bodies) for this segment of the assignment. To capture each member of the wedding party, you will most likely need a mid to longer range telephoto, i.e. a 70-200mm zoom. Once all of the members of the wedding party are assembled, you can use a wide zoom as well as a short telephoto lens in the 85mm to 105mm range for close-ups of facial expressions during the officiant’s service, the ring being slipped onto the bride’s finger, the bouquet, first kiss and other details. (For more information, see The Wedding Photographer's Guide to Lenses.)

Be mindful of how you set your AF and exposure modes. Because of the range of contrast and brightness levels you’ll be dealing with, it would be wise to make use of your camera’s spot meter. Unless you have a different preferred shooting method, this should be linked to your AF focus point.

And remember—a short stepladder or step stool is always useful for capturing a bird’s-eye view of any room.

If you have any questions or comments, or would like to share your own experiences photographing wedding ceremonies, you can do so in the Comments section below. Any memorable stories in connection with a particular ceremony you covered? Let us hear about it.

Add new comment

The article mentions it briefly, but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of checking with the pastor/priest/rabbi ahead of time to find out what is permitted. I am speaking as a pastor who has experienced photographers who think the wedding is simply a photo opportunity and that they are the paparazzi with authority to climb over altar rails, move all the way in for closeups, run around the altar... If a couple wants to get married in a church/synagogue, then it first has to be treated as a religious ceremony. For myself, I usually allow some freedom during the procession/recession (i.e., the photographer can get that coming-down-the-aisle shot and use flash), but once the wedding party is all in place, I do not want flash used. I try to suggest possible locations for photographing which will not interfere or be intrusive. Photographers may also want to consider staging moments before or after the service.

mgvh wrote:

The article mentions it briefly, but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of checking with the pastor/priest/rabbi ahead of time to find out what is permitted. I am speaking as a pastor who has experienced photographers who think the wedding is simply a photo opportunity and that they are the paparazzi with authority to climb over altar rails, move all the way in for closeups, run around the altar... If a couple wants to get married in a church/synagogue, then it first has to be treated as a religious ceremony. For myself, I usually allow some freedom during the procession/recession (i.e., the photographer can get that coming-down-the-aisle shot and use flash), but once the wedding party is all in place, I do not want flash used. I try to suggest possible locations for photographing which will not interfere or be intrusive. Photographers may also want to consider staging moments before or after the service.

Nice artical, Thanks. Now for people that dont allow for flash at weddings, 30 years from now the only thing the couple will have are the pictures of there wedding. If they are grainy and blurry because of not being able to acheve a fast enough shutter speed to take a decent picture then that will be a bad memory of not using that church again as i will explain to them what the pictures will look like without the use of a flash. My pictures are whats going to last and be the memory of that day for a life time. I think Phographers should use discreation as to not intrude on the wedding and be as invisable as possable but the no flash thing just kinda sucks.

As  a photographer for over 15 years, I have come into these problems with some religious ceremonies. Had one couple find out that their wedding ceremony could not be photographed, they never found out what their restritions were. Same thing with a barmisva and batmisva, things could only be shot after  the ceremony was over. I always like going to rehershals and meet  pastor/priest/rabbi or assistant, that's the way you are prepared for the event. Your going to have to work with your clients locations and restrictions, be prepared!!

Pastor, chill. It is the wedding of the B&G, not yours. If they want photos, let them have them. If you need to have GOD in this discussion, I will presume he would want to see the couple happy and have their memories, regardless if flash was used or not. In my experience, it is the newer, insecure pastors who get all uptight and give a list of rules for the photographer to follow. More experienced pastors don't take themselves that seriously and allow everything. Of course, there are a lot of photographers who are over the top, but then every couple gets the photographer they deserve, LOL.

NO. as a pastor, if the wedding is in a religious setting, you are part of a worship service. That takes precedence and a professional photographer will know how to work with that, and above all, be respectful of people of faith. You can work with it. An intrusive and arrogant photographer can ruin a  religious wedding. How well I know. 

I agree with the pastor 100%!  I'm a professional photographer who shoots weddings.  I always ask the officiant/priest/pastor/minister what is allowed in the church.  I never use flash during a ceremony and  I stay behind the seated guests while shooting.  There is no reason to get closer than that if you have the proper lens.  I've gotten some stunning images of the ceremony from the back of the church and the balcony using a 200mm lens and nobody even knew I was around. 

 I recently shot a wedding with another photographer who asked me to step in as a replacement for a photographer who backed out at the last minute.  I had never worked with him before and had no idea how he worked at a wedding.  I was horrified to see him walking all around in front of the seated guests shooting pictures.  He walked right up next to the officiant to get a close-up shot of the ring exchange, he was behind the unity candle table shooting close shots of the lighting ceremony, he was the center of attention during the entire wedding ceremony!   I was in my usual position behind the guests in center aisle, on tripod and he is actually IN most of my shots!  Who wants photos of the photographer in their wedding album? 

He disrupted the ceremony and was disrespectful of the bride and groom, the guests, the church and the beauty of the religious ceremony.  He treated the ceremony as if it was a photoshoot and he was the star photographer.  A wedding is not about the photographer and the pictures.  I was embarrassed to no end.  Needless to say, I will never shoot another wedding with him.

Thank you so much for your comment!!!  Great insight!  I am new to weddings (have only shot three so far) and this was my biggest concern!  I had a gut feeling that it was "wrong" to shoot from anywhere that the guests could see me or where I was in a guest's photos.  I just need to get a longer range lens now since my super wide couldn't quite catch the exchanging of the rings to the level of detail I would like.

You rock! You are welcome to photograph every wedding I perform. It is a partnership. Best to you.

Kudos for recognizing that the way that fellow behaved was wrong on SO many levels!  I've been shooting weddings for about 30 years, updating equipment, style, and technique along the way.  So much has changed (for the better) and yet so much remains the same.  A wedding is STILL a sacred ceremony, joining two lives in love... and everything about it should be treated with the proper respect and honor.  Photographers with the proper equipment can do the job, and do it right, without being obvious or offensive.  A true professional  (in attitude as well as what equipment, technique or position is utilized) abides by the rules set forth by the officiant, whether in a house of worship, a party center, or a park.  It's my experience that officiants who are unusually restrictive have become so due to rude, arrogant photographers who insist on ruining it for everyone with their intrusive, disrespectful behavior. 

Some of the posts on this thread tell the minister to 'chill out', accuse them of thinking it's 'all about them' and various other arrogant comments.  May I suggest to them, that they step back a bit, become a little less confrontational, a little less rude, and a little more thoughtful about what a wedding is all about.  If the couple have chosen to have their wedding in a house of worship, then part of your job is to respect that. They have their reasons. It's NOT your job to 'educate' the minister on anything.... his or her job is to join the couple in marriage, your job is to create photographs of the process, for the couple.  Do it right, with the right equipment, and the right attitude, and you will gain the reputation of being a true professional.  Arrogance and rudeness makes only YOU look bad, and makes the couple and everyone present uncomfortable.  That's what they're going to tell their friends, even if your photographs are stunning.  "Yeah, but the photographer was a JERK!" will become the standard reply to compliments on their photos.

Nice artical, Thanks. Now for people that dont allow for flash at weddings, 30 years from now the only thing the couple will have are the pictures of there wedding. If they are grainy and blurry because of not being able to acheve a fast enough shutter speed to take a decent picture then that will be a bad memory of not using that church again as i will explain to them what the pictures will look like without the use of a flash. My pictures are whats going to last and be the memory of that day for a life. I think Phographers should use discreation as to not intrude on the wedding and be as invisable as possable but the no flash thing just kinda sucks.

In reply to the pastor who commented first, I couldn't agree more. I shot my first wedding in March, and while I used a 5DM2 with a 50mm/1.2 for much of the pre-ceremony activity and First Look portraits, during the ceremony itself I mounted my 70-200mm/2.8 IS II and kept crouched off to the side, with an occassional shot straight on from far back in the center aisle. There is no excuse today for flash during a ceremony, we are not bound by the chains of film's limtations like we were for years. A 5D Mark II or a D3s set at ISO 1600 using a 70-200mm/2.8 with image stabilization will give you more than you need to get the shot without flash. Viveza 2 from Nik is great for lighting up shadowy areas, and if you're shooting a low-light or candle-lit ceremony where you don't want a flash anyway, get yourself a monopod and sit in the first row. You can shoot at 1/10 of a sec at 200mm with the new IS and VR lenses, plus ISO 1600 is no problem on a full-frame (not to mention that a little Noise Ninja fixes any noise wonderfully). I should add that I don't even own a flash, and haven't needed one, lol!

While I understand the respect you have to have for the ceremony, don't go to either extreme. Don't be the superstar jumping in front of everything, but also don't be the guy hiding like a sniper in the distance and never stepping up for the closeup a long lens will not give you.

Every situation is about a balance. I use a flash when I need to, not on every shot, but I do always ask the officiant ahead of time where I should avoid and if they allow flash. If they don't, respect it and be ready. If you need to step in front of people during the wedding to get a shot, then do it. No single long lens will cover all the shots you want, and you have to move your feet. When you get the shot you need, get out of the way. And, when you know your shot, you don't have to act like that 'superstar' lwgsp described well. If your flash is going off all over the place, a dozen times per shot angle, you're just hoping and not planning accordingly.

Your priority is to get the shots the bride and groom want, not worrying if you ended up in Aunt Sally's shot. They hired you and expect you to do your job. If you miss a shot because you felt you were in the way and took a secondary shot that wasn't what you had in mind, then you didn't do your job. I know that's blunt, but I've done the long lens and short lens (keep both on cameras to switch). I've never had a complaint in any event. Just be aware that once you have the shot, take it quickly, move and find another. If you stand still in the center like I see a lot of videographers doing, you're still going to block people in the back anyway so it's best to just block someone here and there and change it up and move around. Don't run around non-stop. Take your time to plan and think about your shots so you just guess and become that center of attention.

People understand it's your job! Actually, sometimes you can get great smiles if you involve the crowd taking the photos as well. They'll smirk and smile, especially the children, and you'll get some great shots that no family member would get.

This is a tricky one. I always check with the celebrant of the ceremony and ask the bride and groom, wayyyyy, before the wedding day, to speak with the person conducting the ceremony regarding guidlines, rules, traditions, etc. When the feedback comes from the bride and groom on that I work with them for a plan that is suitable to everyone. The bride, sometimes, doesn't mind all the action, attention from my camera lens. Many brides I met actually love it. It's their day and they want THE photo and the energy that comes from a photographer around. So at the end of the day I let the couple decide what they want and I tailor my style and technique accordingly. I do whatever it takes to get what the couple wants, not what the pastor wants. Some pastors thinks that the ceremony is about them as well and the less movements there are the Holier the ceremony or they are. Not necessarily. I've photographed religious events, including ordination of priests (which are like weddings and more serious) and the whole atmosphere was energy, movements and dancing. No one noticed or felt distracted by the photographer. I've photographed wedding from way back on the side of the church (requet of the priest). I was no where in sight and the whole ceremony was dull as hell. The audio system in the church was awfull, you can hardly hear it, the church was too dark, the aircondition didn't work, if there was one, everyone was sweating like hell. So many distraction and no photographer in sight. So I think it requires clear communication between the couple, the photographer and the celebrant of the ceremony to try their best to make it a happy occasion. I don't think there is a "way" to do it. It depends on the people involved.

Moussa wrote:

This is a tricky one. I always check with the celebrant of the ceremony and ask the bride and groom, wayyyyy, before the wedding day, to speak with the person conducting the ceremony regarding guidlines, rules, traditions, etc. When the feedback comes from the bride and groom on that I work with them for a plan that is suitable to everyone. The bride, sometimes, doesn't mind all the action, attention from my camera lens. Many brides I met actually love it. It's their day and they want THE photo and the energy that comes from a photographer around. So at the end of the day I let the couple decide what they want and I tailor my style and technique accordingly. I do whatever it takes to get what the couple wants, not what the pastor wants. Some pastors thinks that the ceremony is about them as well and the less movements there are the Holier the ceremony or they are. Not necessarily. I've photographed religious events, including ordination of priests (which are like weddings and more serious) and the whole atmosphere was energy, movements and dancing. No one noticed or felt distracted by the photographer. I've photographed wedding from way back on the side of the church (requet of the priest). I was no where in sight and the whole ceremony was dull as hell. The audio system in the church was awfull, you can hardly hear it, the church was too dark, the aircondition didn't work, if there was one, everyone was sweating like hell. So many distraction and no photographer in sight. So I think it requires clear communication between the couple, the photographer and the celebrant of the ceremony to try their best to make it a happy occasion. I don't think there is a "way" to do it. It depends on the people involved.

Very well said! You nailed it about how some pastors think this is THEIR day! I respect the pastors and the church, but in the end, we as photographers are paid by the couple to get the shots. Some pastors go overboard by not allowing the photographers up the aisle and restrict them to one spot! This is plain stupid because with digital photography these days, I see guests all snapping away in the aisle while us professionals are banned to the back of the church! How am I supposed to capture the moment when the bride sheds a tear when we are confined to one spot in the church? Yes, some photographers go crazy and go all the way up like they are the one getting married...but most professional photographers try to be discreet. 

Here a tip for the pastors too...when you say to the groom " you may kiss the bride", step aside to the left or right...it makes a better photo when you are not right behind the couple!!

you are right

I'm a professional photographer who worked as a church secretary for more than 10 yrs beforehand.  Pastors do not think it is their day...half of the time they don't even want to be there.  Don't you think they would rather be doing something with their family or something they enjoy instead of spending hours upon hours that come with a  wedding-most of time they do not get paid by the way.  

True respect and having a great attitude towards a church's restrictions and customs will sometimes get you the access when other's have been denied.  And remember the Couple chose the church for a reason...their reason.  We must respect that as well.  I simply tell the couple, after my restrictions are given (which they should already know) what to expect from the images due to my restrictions.  For example my last wedding I was only allowed 1 shot of the bride coming down the isle-period.  No other shots were allowed during the ceremony.  Communication is key and it's the photographer's job to make sure they have communicated well.

I love your remark...

"Here a tip for the pastors too...when you say to the groom " you may kiss the bride", step aside to the left or right...it makes a better photo when you are not right behind the couple!!"

I don't know why the pastor/priest has make all types of restrictions since of the photographers try to be very discreet... it the best that is in every shot including that "KISS THE BRIDE" shot :(.

Thanks,
PC

I am  a wedding photographer ,who happens to be married to a minister,he all way's allows the photographer ,full freedom up to a point.The point is for the photographer to get the once in a life time photo,but not to craw all over the Minister or the Couple I like the other gentleman once worked with a photographer who acted like a rock star,(notice I said once)and I have seen Minister's act the same.In fact there is a preist  in the next town I will not work with..My husband preforms wedding's in a lot of different venue's.some are well lit, some have terrible lighting,I make it a point to all ways check out the venue before agreeing to shoot a wedding,and I have turned down weddings that I felt were just impossible.I was once ask to shoot a wedding in a small church ,that ,the lighting had three different types of lighting globes ,one of the ceiling light's had pink globes,the other used globes with a bronze cast,then throw in a floresent or two.No software or len's can over come that ,plus the wedding party had 4 adults and 5 children and the Minister with one lone over head spot light,on the stage.The stage area was just to small..It  was their right to have their wedding in the location of their choice,but I could not and would not take these people's money for terrible pictures ,and I saw no way to over come the problem's..They did find another photographer,and his work is some of the best in this area,BUT,he told me the photo's came out very poor and the couple was very angry and told everyone they knew about the photo,s....He could have saved him self a lot of grief.And yes I told them why ,I would not shoot the wedding ,but as the bride told me "Well we will just get a pro,who can."My husband once had a photographer tell him to move out of the way ,during the exchanging of the rings.My big gripe is the Granny with the camera ,who will jump in front of you at ever shot,no matter where you move  ,her little 50.00 camera can cause you a lot of trouble,At my last wedding I had to ask a teenage girl to please let me get my formal shot's before she went to flashing away,at the same time I was.. .In fact ,I know many photographer's who have it written in to their contracts that ,no one may take shot's on the photographer's formal set up...I love doing wedding's ,and my job is to get the best for the Bride and Groom...

One easy solution to the three different lights would be to deliver black & white "Classic" images  .  .  .

I agree with all that you said
I am an advanced amateur. I shoot weddings for friends that I know can't afford a photographer. I do not take money for my work.
Churches and wedding venues are notoriously difficult environments to work in and get great images with many people wanting to get their moment for the bride and groom. I try to respect the space of the pro at every wedding I go to. They have a tough gig.
In the situation you were in, could I suggest mounting pre focused cameras one with a wide lens and another with a telephoto lens on tripods or stand ( even table top tripod on a Table close to the action). Get some members of the congregation to act as test subjects to set your composition.
Then remote fire the cameras without you having to get in the way during the service.

I would also suggest a disclaimer in your engagement letter Stating that the wedding venue is a difficult environment to photograph in and the images may not be of the standard you would like. If you choose to charge them for the images, that is you decision. At least the couple know how difficult the assignment is.
I hope this assists

- Sam, you know I'm into photojournalism. So that means I am ablleutosy in love with that last picture. ABSOLUTELY LOVE. It looks like it should be up in a book. The processing is perfect, and you have captured the emotions so well. This is such a gorgeous place I love how old the building is! I'll have to say, though, after taking Jon and Sarah out to NYC for a few hours last week, I'm not sure if I can do NYC weddings. It's WAY too hot and humid for my liking. You, on the other hand, are born and made to do this! Keep it up, I love to see your work!

At the last minute I was asked to shoot a wedding in a wedding hall. It was so dark that even my 5D @ 1600 iso with a 70-200 F2.8 stuggled to get enough light. I used 2 580's, one camera and one bounced off the low ceiling. They saved the day. I also used my 1DMKIII at 3200 with a 17-35 F2.8 for close ups.  The wedding chapel said the brides liked the low lighting for atmosphere. The bride and groom were thrilled with the results but if I hadn't used the 580's it would have been hit or miss at best.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the practice run through a week before (the day after I was contracted) so I was prepared on the wedding day.

Be prepared whatever and ask questions.

One other commenter mentioned it, but is there any advice on how best to deal with churches (and there are MANY of them) where some of the light is natural (windows) and some of the light is incandescent (usually; occasionally even fluorescent)?  Even shooting RAW is a challenge with mixed sources.  Obviously one way out is with a flash, but what if that is not permitted?

With today's digital cameras, mixed light is not the issue it was in the days of film. You have so much control in comparison, you can work it  out.

Assuming you cannot get the interior lights changed (that would be possible but only with work and money) I would do a pre-shoot test. I would try all color balances available while looking at Live View and selecting the most pleasing one. See what the key light looks like for the couple and the official.  Base your color balance off that. Their skin tones and the dress are the most important. The colors of the location are less so.

When processing, de-saturate the off colors or add color if necessary.

I have never liked flash pictures at weddings. The result is a bride with white dress and then dark black background. This is a terrible combination. During my last wedding half through the ceremony I decided to turn the flash off and up the ISO. I realized that the grain was going to increase but so be it. The results were great. The pix were natural like we invision them and not the harsh background that starts a couple of feet behind the subject(s). With every photo the entire background was lit naturally. And keep in mind that we as photographers are super critical of things like graininess, skin tone, white balance, etc. However, for the average person all they are interested in are the subjects........the bride, uncle Joe, cousin Tom, and the like. I would take my high ISO pix anyday over some of the professional wedding photographer's flash pictures which to me totally takes away from the bride's beauty. I even took one high ISO pix and zoomed in (post editing) until I just captured the bride's head. Grainy? Yes. But it was soft and a very acceptable photo. The bride and her husband love it. Since then I have been a high ISO fan and typically can obtain good photos up to about and ISO of 3200 (Nikon D700). As for my flash I put a light sphere on it and it improves the photos at places like the reception hall extensively as the skin tones are warm the over all effect is pleasing. Raw flash? Never again.