Wedding Photos vs. Wedding Ceremony

Yesterday, I was thinking out loud. With a bit more time to think as I talked with folks in the social-mediasphere, I see there are actually two issues here, both worthy of much discussion. One is the audience: the photos they take, the lines they cross. Two, and more at the core of the problem, the hired photographer’s approach to photographing the wedding. Here, we will discuss only the hired photographer.

What is the problem? Photographers following the couple down the aisle. Walking right up to the couple during the ceremony, not only blocking everybody’s view, but going where only the two being married and the one doing the marrying should go. Walking back and forth behind the couple, providing a distracting backdrop for the whole ceremony.

Now, having seen such behavior, new couples preparing for their weddings are afraid of the photographer, especially those who want that special day to be special…and actually about them instead of the photographer. The minister may say something, but often it is ignored, much like the teacher nobody respects yelling commands as the children run wild. What is at the root of this problem?

The big church in our town (in the US) does not allow any movement of photographer (or I think to even have the photographer visible) during the ceremony itself. That is made quite clear to the photographer, who even has to sign a contract. Not only is that a clear, direct solution for photographer problems, but it is an unspoken example to the audience: this is reverent, and you are not allowed to get up and take a snapshot.

Now, I think that is probably overkill. That church’s guideline is clearly in reaction to many photographers taking too many liberties. Of course, shame on such photographers. It is unprofessional and irreverent and just plain arrogant. It says, “I have been hired to take great photos and I have a license to kill if needs be.”

It is also a sign of a weak photographer. Any photographer who moves back and forth, in front and behind a couple the whole ceremony most certainly does not understand the essence of photography, which is capturing one or a few photos which tell all that story. They will not be saved in their multitude of photos. I assure you, all those dozens or hundreds of photos are of equal quality (though we all get lucky from time to time and snap something accidentally beyond our skill), so they might as well shoot a couple and get out of the way.

Not only do they not know how to capture the right moment, but they quite obviously lack the skill of blending in and remaining unnoticed. Granted, weddings are tough in this respect: nobody is moving and everybody is facing in the direction where the photographer needs to be unnoticed. Choice of clothing matters…notice lots of photographers/videographers wear black. The noise of the camera matters…a stealthy quiet camera (and not fired like a machine gun) is sure handy for those quiet moments. Turn off that flash! More than those, though, is the movement of the photographer.

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? Well, if photographers made is a necessity to remain unnoticed, plenty of great ideas would come and the quality of the photos would likely improve too:

  • If you cannot shoot a lot, spend more time making the few shots really count.
  • If you cannot move around, think ahead where the couple will be moving and find the best single place.
  • Use different angles and lens lengths from that one location for variety.
  • Hide a camera and remote release the shutter.
  • Use prayer times or when all attention shifts away for a moment to make a quick location move.

And as for the audience/congregation going too far, much of that is the understood rules of the game. They are unspoken, yet clearly seen in the behavior of the photographer. If the photographer has blocked everybody’s view the whole time without any reproach, it will also be fine for me in the audience to walk up front or step out in the aisle for my token shot.

Photographers, just because you have been hired to take good photos, you need to remember your photos are not the most important result of the day. The wedding is chief. You are secondary. Get used to working within certain constraints. It is good for you: your photography will be better, you will get more references (because you did not irritate everybody in the audience and did not steal the bride’s show), and you will provide a better service (not just product) to the customer.

Questions for you all:

Have you had a similar experience? Do you wish you had found a different photographer for your own wedding?

Cooper Strange Written by:


  1. Shaula

    Again I agree. We have gone a long way from professional photographers only shooting posed shots taken primarily after the ceremony. I personally love the “casual” as it happens photos but you are right on target- the photography and photographer are NOT the main thing. And while I’m nowhere near a “professional” I have shot several weddings. Even without training it just makes sense to make every effort to blend in instead of broadcast where you are. But as in many other situations common courtesy does not always prevail!

    Another option we have used to avoid the distracting, moving photographer is to have a second photographer and camera seated near the front of the sanctuary who can take the close up shots during the ceremony. But the close-ups of the exchanging the rings, lighting the unity candle etc even the musicians can be taken after the ceremony if you want a different angle.

    With regards to the cameras in the audience I’m afraid that because of the prolific use of cell phone cameras and social media postings we are never going back to the single photographer at any social event.

  2. 2011-07-14

    You are right on target. Things have changed much, whether that is the proliferation of cell phone cameras and cheap semi-pro cameras (which cost nothing to run unlike the costly film days), or whether that be the photojournalistic approach to weddings (which in some cases) has become a hideous monster.

    I think we can and should show a great deal of reverence during a wedding, and that photographers could grab great photos without disturbing that reverence too much. Of course, I might just be shouting in the wind unless other photographers actually hear the message.

  3. Shaula

    Perhaps part of the problem is the general lack of respect for marriage? or could it be lack of respect for any formal ceremony? Certainly many church services routinely lack respect and reverence in dress and conduct… along with graduation ceremonies and other assemblies.

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