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Does your church have a wedding photography policy?

*Update to this post at the bottom of the page

If you’ve booked a professional wedding photographer you are probably hoping to have some photos of your wedding ceremony. Most churches and registry offices will have some sort of photography policy in place and these can vary wildly, from being very relaxed to extremely restrictive.

Whenever I take a wedding photography booking I will always contact the church or registry office to check what I’m allowed to do on the day. Sometimes I’m given permission to walk around and use a flashgun on my camera throughout the whole service, in other venues I’m told not to use the flash, to stand in one place or not to take photos during certain stages of the ceremony. Everybody has their own ideas of what is appropriate and I’m happy to go along with that. Whatever is agreed, I’m quiet, unobtrusive and don’t disrupt the wedding.

However, after a recent experience with a local Sussex church, I’ve decided to point out to my clients the effect that these agreements can have on their record of the day. I took a wedding booking a few weeks ago and was asked by the groom to sign a photography agreement with the church. The agreement was very limiting, absolutely no photographs during the ceremony, I was to stand in one place and not move until escorted by a verger etc etc. I would be allowed to take some posed photographs of the signing of the register but nothing else.  This meant that the couple would have no photographs of their wedding ceremony at all. I discussed this with them but it was their local parish church and they decided that they wanted to go ahead.

This weekend I received a letter from the vicar banning me from taking any pictures at all! She seemed to think that I had altered the photography agreement before returning it, I hadn’t, all I had done was to sign on the dotted line and return it. It was a very hostile letter, quite surprising from a vicar, even more surprising as I had done nothing to deserve it. The situation is still unresolved. The wedding is in the middle of August so, even if the couple decide they would like to change churches, they may have difficulty finding somewhere.

Whatever restrictions are made they are going to have some effect on the photography. Churches are generally quite dark, so a no flash policy means the photographer is going to be using camera settings that may cause camera shake, bad colours or  grainy effects. If they are told to stand in an alcove and make sure they are not seen it’s probably not going to give them a very good viewpoint to shoot from. Sometimes these policies can seem a bit mad, the photographer is told not to use flash on threat of eviction, then as soon as the service starts half the guests pull out their cameras and the flashes start popping.

The point of this story is that some vicars, priests and registrars just don’t like photography or photographers in any shape or form. It’s really worth checking how your venue feels about this before you make a booking. For some people the ceremony is a time that shouldn’t be disturbed by anything, others would like some discreet photos taken of the occasion. If you do want some photos of your ceremony, check your church or registry office photography policy before you make the booking. It’s your day.

After the wedding…

I managed to get the ban lifted, after the vicar realised that I hadn’t altered the agreement. It turned out that the document had been photocopied and the big red ‘NOs’ had faded out of the text. So the wording read ‘I understand that …. photography will be allowed during the ceremony’, instead of ‘NO photography’. I don’t think many photographers would have done this and expected to get away with it. A bit of common sense might have fixed the problem, but it took three weeks of letters, emails and unanswered phone call to sort it out. I was offered no apology by the vicar, even though she had caused the couple some serious anxiety and threatened my livelihood.
On the day she was even more difficult than I expected and, by standing right in front of the bride and her father, prevented me from taking photos even before the ceremony began. This seemed so intentional that I’ve made a formal complaint to the Archdeacon of the diocese.

David.

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Simon Fazackarley - I’ve found 2 extremes of churches, many will go out of their way to ensure awesome photos! A few have even asked, in the middle of the ceremony if I wanted to come closer :)

Then one quite recently, sent me a book of rules & regulations, then pulled me aside as the bride was arriving & said ‘I don’t want to see you – at all!’ ‘If I see any part of you, at any point during, I will stop the ceremony & ask everyone to leave’

Hows that for pressure, shooting through a doorway, from outside of the church :)

Jon Roach - Just dealing with this myself – “no photography from arrival of the bride until signing the register”. Not quite as extreme as Simon’s experience! My preferred approach is to ask the couple to lead on this – they tend to have more leverage than the pesky photographer, and there’s less backwash if the vicar’s intransigent.

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