Working as a wedding photographer is often an exercise in mutual respect with other vendors who have parallel, yet sometimes different, priorities in serving the bridal couple and their family. Most of time everyone is on the same team, but occasionally we photographers run into rules that don’t serve anyone properly. When those rules come from the church, it’s often hard to explain them away.Today I’d like to address rules regarding the photographer’s position during a church ceremony. So here goes my open letter to churches.
Most of you guys are fairly easy to work with. My critique is geared towards a small percentage of churches that seem hell-bent on proving a point that photography is a barely tolerable byproduct of a wedding day.
Though I may find some rules to be frustrating or even unnecessary, I do expect there to be rules and am generally happy to have some restrictions if it best serves the sanctity of the religious ceremony. Really, I am.
The first area where these rules becomes a problem is in their diction, either written or spoken. I’m an adult with a great amount of respect for my clients and the customs they’ve chosen to follow for their wedding. Please, don’t assume anything less. I sometimes am given a list of rules that lectures me by saying things like, “This is a church, not a photo studio,” or refers to some of my potentially more obtuse actions as “a nuisance." I’m not a 13-year-old boy with impulse control issues, so talking to me as such is just rude. I would never be condescending toward another vendor, yet I seem to be the victim of bad attitude quite a few times during wedding season. It's a pretty basic idea, but if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice in return. Actually, I'll be nice either way.
My next biggest bone to pick with the church as a venue is when processional rules are set up to make my job harder, and for said struggle to take place in the direct gaze of the guests.
It's plain and simple. The best place for me to stand/kneel during a processional is at the head of the church between the first pews and the sanctuary. Not only does this provide the best available line of sight to the bridal party as they proceed, it assures that during the majority of the procession, guests' heads are turned away from my position. Even if I have to escape between some standing groomsmen as she approaches the end of her march, I’m less in the way than anywhere else and am able to slip along the often-empty side pews.
Placing us “halfway down” the aisle leaves us sticking out of a pew, obstructing the procession and in the direct view of the guests. Without question, I am more noticeable when I’m standing next to a guest with one foot out in the aisle clicking away. Furthermore, I’ll then need to exit my processional position by walking right down the aisle passing guests the entire way.
Cosmetically speaking, this gives me less time to photograph the bridal party entering, and gives me less depth to work with. So really, it’s a lose-lose situation that a lot of churches seem to require in order to “keep us out the way.” I’ve yet to be required to photograph from such a position where it was actually aiding in keeping me discrete. It just doesn’t work. Sorry, guys. I’m not making this up. I don’t want to be seen. I’m not making this about me. I’m trying to make this better for us both. Promise.
From here, really there isn’t a lot to complain about. If we are given decent access for photography even from the rear of the center aisle, we’ll be happy. Some additional wiggle room to shoot from the side or a choir loft to assure some variation is always a plus, and we’ll do it with the quiet and cunning of a ninja.
I realize that this isn’t likely to make it into the hands of a lot of clergy or church coordinators, but I can’t help but put it out there. I think that explaining calmly and politely to church officials BEFORE the wedding that these rules don’t seem to serve the greater cause all that well is something we should all be doing. It probably won’t lead to any sudden revelations, but over time maybe less of us will be standing with Aunt Linda on our hip while we jut out into the aisleway?
What’s the worst or most pleasant church set-up you’ve experienced as a photographer or cinematographer?