Friday, March 05, 2010

Keeping The Faith: My 15 Steps For Shooting Weddings In Catholic Churches

Good Morning Everybody,

Viddler CBTL In case you missed the announcement yesterday, I've posted the video of my  web-cast  at Viddler right here.  You can also click on the image too. The presentation lasted almost two hours - I tried to jam as much information into the presentation as I could. 

We have been getting "RAVE" reviews so plan to give it a "Watch" today or over the weekend. Here are a few comments from those that attended:

"Awesome webinar David! I can't wait to get my copy of the book. Thanks to everyone involved in taking the time to broadcast it!"

"I just listened to today's web-cast. I greatly value and appreciate the wealth of information you constantly share." 

"Great webinar, David. Just like your book, not something I would want to miss."

"Excellent web-cast...this is an awesome way to enjoy my birthday...Relaxing at home listening to great photographic information."

Thanks everybody for the very nice remarks.

Check back on Monday for another BIG announcement;~)

OK, let's get right on with today's post.  Here we go...

Keeping The Faith: My 15 Steps For Shooting Weddings In Catholic Churches

A lot of folks have read my two part series entitled, "12 Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 1" and the follow up post "12 (14) Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 2."  Both posts created quite a bit of conversation - just read the comments following each post.

        What I consistently hear from priests, ministers, and rabbis is that so many photographers don't know, and many times, don't respect the proper protocol in these various houses of worship.

This week I want to begin a series that walks you through what you can do or should do and what you should not do when photographing a wedding.  I'll break it down by denomination so you have a good reference.

Ceremony 3This series is not just for new photographers, it's for all photographers shooting weddings these days.  Depending on your level of experience you may  not have been exposed to all the faith communities I'll cover over the next few weeks.  I hope this series gives you some insights on just what to expect when you walk into your next wedding and how to conduct yourself ethically and professionally.

Today, we'll start with catholic wedding services.  Hit the "Read More..." button below to see my 15 steps for shooting a Catholic wedding ceremony.

Keeping The Faith: 15 Steps For Shooting Weddings In Catholic Churches

Catholic services are probably the easiest to photograph.  The wedding service is typically an hour long service complete with a catholic mass.  The Catholics call it a Eucharistic celebration. 

It's probably the longest service of any wedding services I'll cover in this series.  And, that explains why it is the easiest to photograph - you've got plenty of time to capture your images.

So, what are the shots you need to get?

First, before taking any photographs, you want to head up to the sanctuary, introduce yourself to the priest and ask if there are any rules and regulations you need to know about when shooting a wedding in this parishes church.

Usually there is never any problem, but it’s always good introduce yourself and to ask.  At the same time, I also let the priest know that I will only be using flash at the processional and recessional and NEVER during the service.

I also ask permission to come up the left side aisle to shoot the "gifts" being brought forward by special relatives of the bride and groom without flash, of course.

This too is usually never an issue, but I'm convinced the priest appreciates my asking.  For the wedding photographer, this is both a sign of respect to the priest and his church.  And, more importantly, it validates your professionalism to your art and craft; your client; and the house of worship in which you are working.

I’m starting the list from the point of the bride and her father walking down the aisle. I typically don’t shoot each attendant walking down the aisle. I prefer to have already captured an individual image of each attendant  during my pre-shoot. This also applies for any Grandparents.

1. Father and Bride coming down the aisle - flash OK here.

Some catholic churches restrict where the photographer can stand for these shots.  ALWAYS RESPECT THE CHURCH RULES!!!   I usually take up my position about 1/3 down the aisle in a nearly empty pew.  As the bride and her father get closer, I discretely step into to center of the aisle and fire off a few shots both full length and zoomed in for a closer shot.

Ceremony 42. Father of the bride presenting his daughter to her groom - again, flash OK here.

After capturing the image of the bride and her dad, I quickly make my way to the front of the church and take up my position in front on the first set of pews left of center. As the bride and dad get closer, I grab a few more shots of both of them, a few shots of mom gazing upon her daughter, and then the "hand off" from dad to the groom. 

That wraps if for this section of the ceremony. Next, I quickly and quietly make my way to the back of church TURNING OFF my flash as I do so.  READ MY LIPS HERE - NO FLASH SHOTS DURING A SERVICE - EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ceremony 93. From the back of church I follow the action. After a few readings the priest will call up the wedding party to join the bride and groom whom usually always have a seat up near the altar.

I take up my position in the back of church and run my full gamut of lenses - 8mm Fisheye to 70-300mm super long telephoto.  Occasionally I make my way up the side aisle to try and capture a really close up shot of the couple too - only with father's advance permission.

Ceremony 104.  Don't forget to get a few "balcony" shots.

These images just add to the variety of images you get to present to your clients.

DAZNOTE #1: Some photographers don't know when the catholic service ends and sometimes get caught in the balcony as the priest announces the bride and groom to the congregation and they start making their way back down the aisle - - BIG mistake, you will miss one of the most important shots! Stay alert!!!

DAZNOTE #2:  Yes, this is a lot of "running around" during the service.  And, yes, wedding photography is very "physical."  Hey, that's what you were hired to do.  But, ALWAYS remember to do it quietly and discretely. 

Oh, BTW, if you ever drop a filter in the balcony and it hits the floor with a loud ringing sound, ALWAYS look and point at the videographer like he's the one causing all the commotion - just kidding ;~)

Ceremony 75. Next up after the exchange of rings will be the "offertory procession."

I typically grab my Canon 5D Mark II fitted with my 24-105mm IS lens and head up the left side aisle to the front of church stopping at the far left of that first pew.

I can easily zoom in from that vantage point and capture the shot.  And, I am discretely and unobtrusively out of view for most of the congregation. The camera is set to ISO 6400 so I've got plenty of "shutter speed" to stop the action and get the shot.

Ceremony 66. Be sure to get a few shots of the "readers" and the priest when they are in the pulpit.

The client never buys them, but I still feel they are part of the story.

7. Get a few shots of the host and chalice being raised.

But be sure to do it discretely and quietly without too much commotion. After the "offertory procession", the "Eucharistic celebration" begins.  This is the most important and most sacred part of a catholic service.  Always remember: you are a professional. I sit, kneel, and stand along with the rest of the congregants. 

The sitting, kneeling, and standing is a "catholic" thing but by going through the same motions as the guests present, you show your respect for them, the bride and groom, the priest, and the church in which you are working.

Ceremony 118. The "Sign Of Peace."

These are cool pics if you can pull them off.  Right after the Lord's Prayer - the Catholics call it the “Our Father". The priest will ask everyone to wish their neighbor a sign of piece.  For the congregation, it's usually a handshake while you say, "Peace be with you.”

For the bride and groom and mom's and dad's it's hugs and kisses.  Be sure to get the shot of the bride and groom as they hug and kiss.  After their hug and kiss, they will head down to wish their parents, sometimes grandparents and wedding party "peace" too.  It's always hugs and kisses all around.  It's also  a pretty emotional time during the ceremony. This just means there are great images to be captured - all without flash of course. Thank goodness for high ISO cameras!

9. Communion photographs.

I will sometimes make my way up the left aisle of the church and discretely get a few shots of the bride and groom, parents, grandparents, etc. receiving communion.

DAZNOTE: Catholics receive the "Body Of Christ" under two forms - a small round host and a sip of wine.  I find the sip of wine from the chalice is the most "photogenic."

A few more shots and we are wrapped up.

10. Get a few shots of the bride and groom in front of the Virgin Mary's side altar.

Most every Catholic church has one so know where it is so you don't miss this shot. After "Communion" and a short pause for prayer and reflection, the music will pick up again - it's usually "Ave Maria."

The bride will be handed a small bouquet of flowers and both the bride and groom will make their way to the Virgin Mary's altar and place the flowers at the base of the altar. They will then pause and pray for a moment or two and then head back to the center of church.

11. Final blessings.

After the bride and groom return. they will stand, turn, and face "Father" - that's what you call a priest in a Catholic church.  Father will raise his hands and arms over the couple and give them the his final blessing.  Be sure to get a shot or two - remember, no flash.

Ceremony 1212. Down the aisle shots.

After the blessings, the priest will introduce the newly married couple to the congregation.  The will stand there a moment or two - not very long at all.  Get a quick shot - no flash!

OK, now it's time to turn your flash back on. As the bride and groom begin their walk up the aisle, you are making your way down the aisle about 1/3 of the way.  Now start walking backward and start shooting away.  Get some shots of them full length, shaking hands with guests on the way out, and some zoomed in close-up images.

Remember, you are keeping your distance from the bride and groom walking backwards all the time and getting all the necessary shots.  Just be sure not to fall into any low lying baptisteries or run into the videographer.

It takes a little practice but you'll be confidently walking backwards in no time.

13.  The "KISS shot."

I never stop the processional and ask the bride and groom to kiss.  If it happens, it happens.  If not, that's OK too. I do my best to NOT intrude into the happenings of the day - just a bit more professional.

14. Altar Returns.

This is a term photogs have used for years to define the group shots after the wedding ceremony. You've got to be extremely head's up at this time, get the shots quickly, and get the wedding party on the way to the reception. 

Many churches will have "time limits" (maybe 30 minutes) on how long you can take for these pics. Know the rules, honor them, and get the job done quickly and  professionally!

15.  "Thank Yous" after you pack up and before you leave.

Make your "Thanks Yours" to the priest if he is still around and any other church personnel still around. It's the right thing to do and they appreciate it.

Folks, that’s about it.  It always comes down to respecting where you are working, honoring the practices and protocols of the faith community, and be a true professional all the time.

Next week I’ll cover Jewish services. See ya’ then.


Related Links:

"12 Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 1"

"12 (14) Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 2"


WPPI 30 Hey gang, that's it for me today. We are packing our bags and heading to Las Vegas tomorrow for the WPPI 30th Anniversary Convention.  It's always one of my favorite conventions with over 12, 000 wedding and portrait photographers expected.

I'll be hanging out at the Westcott booth signing my new wedding book and doing three lighting demos - Monday and Tuesday at 1:30 P.M. and Wednesday at 11:30 A.M.  Come on by and join the crowd or just say "HI".

I'll also be hanging with my buddy, Grant Oakes at the Tafota booth again doing book signings.  Plan on stopping by and say HI there too.

On that note, gang, I'm out of here. 

We've got bags and books to pack - see ya' in Las Vegas!!



  1. Hey David,
    Excellent post. This is subject matter many of us need to read.

  2. Hello Dave!
    Thanks for th insight into Catholic weddings and the proper protocols to observe. Most of our weddings have been protestant or Indian weddings (a whole different category!). These are some excellent ideas to have in mind while shooting weddings. Thanks for the insight!


  3. Most priests here do not want photos taken during the Eucharist. Not a problem, one of the things to check when visiting with the priest.

  4. David, very good you got it right. I might suggest that you pick up a program or more correctly a worship aid from the ushers. Most Catholic weddings I have been involved with, including my own, have a program. This will give you the order of the Mass and allow you pre-plan where you need to be and when. Also not ALL Catholic weddings involve a Mass. Something you should ask about before the wedding. Thanks for taking the time to do this, all photographers who shoot weddings should know this. Also ask the Bride, because during marriage preparation at the parish she was most likely given a booklet with guidelines for photographers at weddings. These are supposed to be given to the photographer. How do I know? I printed the booklets.

  5. David,

    I haven't shot any Catholic weddings yet, but this was great. As someone who was married in Catholic Church, this all came ringing back to me and made a lot of sense. With your guidelines, I'll be be sure to capture more important moments. Thanks for sharing!

  6. As a person involved in my church, thank you for what you have said about asking and following protocol.

    I am Anglican (Episcopal if you are south of the 49th), and we are closer to Catholic than most.

    One thing I would add is "dress". Most attendees will be in suits and dresses -- a suite or sport-jacket for men is reasonable, jeans and tee-shirt are not and make you stand out like a sore-thumb -- which you do not want to do.

    Dennis Smith