The vicar, the registrar and the wedding photographer

With Benjamin Toms


The title sounds like a dirty joke, but today’s feature article is about respect and negotiation. It’s about understanding different perspectives on marriage and working with some very key people to create wonderful memories of your marriage ceremony.

I’ve met some amazing vicars at weddings: the ones with beaming smiles who make guests feel incredibly welcome and the ones who make a little joke to diffuse tension around the room. The same goes for registrars, and I was chatting to Kent wedding photographer Benjamin Toms about the lovely registrars and vicars he’s worked with too. This feature article is based on our conversation and with his excellent and generous advice.

You’ll have seen beautiful ceremony photos on wedding blogs: the bride walking down the aisle, the first glance between bride and groom, the exchange of rings, the ‘you may kiss the bride’ moment and the occasional giggle as a toddler joins in with the ceremony perhaps. One of my favourite images is of a pew full of bridesmaids smiling with tears in their eyes… but it’s not an image you’ll see at every wedding.

Another image you may have seen is a floor-level shot of the entire church aisle with the bride and groom exchanging vows in the distance, as if the photographer was right at the back of the church and had to quietly slide the camera across the floor to take a single shot of the bride and groom. You want yours to be at the front capturing every moment? Then you need to read this:

Your marriage is a joyful occasion, and also a serious one. You’re promising your lives to each other, in sickness and in health and until death do you part… and for some more traditional officiants (priests, rabbis, registrars) this doesn’t sit so well with the photography side of things. Vows shouldn’t be taken lightly and while you will both be perfectly aware of the gravity of your words, some officiants can see photography as a distraction.

Always ask your photographer about ceremony photos. Ask your officiant too. Be aware from the very beginning that there might be a limit on the photos you’ll get – this often comes down to both the officiant and photographer.

A good wedding photographer won’t get in the way. He or she won’t be too close; he won’t dash around distractingly; he won’t take dozens of photos while you’re saying your vows. A good officiant will be open and honest about the photography they’ll allow, and will manage your expectations.

Ben and I agreed it’s very important to be respectful of your officiant’s wishes. If they’d rather limit photography during the ceremony even to specified shots, then it is their choice to do so, and their reasons come from a deep faith and tradition.

A registrar too may have their reasons for limiting photography, once again because marriage is a serious business. If you’re able to speak to the person you know will be marrying you, do ask how many photographs they’ll allow, and where your photographer will be able to take them from during the ceremony.

Most often you’ll have to live with the answers you’re given to these questions but if you have your heart set on particular images you could try to negotiate, or you may need to consider a different venue for your marriage.

Key things to consider:

An experienced photographer is likely to have shot weddings at your church / venue before. Ask your photographer if he/she knows the officiant’s stance on photography before you book either.

If you have special reasons for wanting particular photographs – perhaps your father is giving you away and he’s unwell, for example – then discuss this with your officiant. See if they’ll allow you more leeway with images.

Look for real weddings on blogs from your venue. Have other brides and grooms been photographed from a mile down the aisle, or always from the front? Doing a little research can be revealing: perhaps a particular photographer seems to get the best results every time – but don’t assume.

If your photographer hasn’t shot a wedding at your venue before, don’t worry (this can be a good thing in many ways) – but do make sure you speak to everyone about photography during your ceremony. See what’s possible, what isn’t, and if there’s any flexibility.

Never book a cheap photographer. Town halls and churches aren’t the lightest of places, and I can guarantee one thing: you’ll only get great ceremony photos if you book a good photographer who has the right lenses to shoot in natural or low light. Using flash during any wedding ceremony is distracting and pretty disrespectful.

Horror stories?

We’ve all heard horror stories about photographers being told they can’t shoot during the ceremony. I heard of one church where photographers are required to sign a disclosure before the ceremony. Registrars have been known to stop ceremonies mid-flow if they feel the photographer is taking “too many” photographs.

The only solution is communication. Be informed. Know your officiant and your photographer. Ask them. This way you’ll get the images you expect from your ceremony, and you’ll have nothing to worry about on the day.

More wedding photography advice by Ben:

  1. Your wedding through the eyes of a photographer
  2. The two best moments of your wedding day?
  3. About those group shots… invisible on blogs, unmissable for your memories!
  4. Why documentary photos are the key to a unique wedding

Benjamin Toms Photography – more information and pictures!

As an English Wedding Blog sponsor, Benjamin Toms Photography has a dedicated page right here on the blog:

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Claire Gould

Claire spends her days writing - either in beautiful calligraphy or online. She lives on the edge of the English Lake District only minutes away from the beach, where she loves to escape and unwind. Claire's calligraphy can be found at Claire launched the English Wedding Blog in November 2009 - it's been a top 10 UK wedding blog ever since, with a regional focus we hope you LOVE.



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