Warning: Church Weddings May Seriously Damage Your (Photographic) Memories
If your wedding photography matters to you enough to hire a professional wedding photographer, and if you're planning to get married in a church, you may want to think carefully when choosing your church. It's been happening increasingly of late. I arrive at a church wedding, go and politely introduce myself to the vicar, only to be told "There's no photography at all during the ceremony so you'll have to stand at the back and not take photos. I'll call you forward when they're signing the register." Some aren't actually that polite. Some are quite rude. It happened several times recently. On one occasion I was attending a wedding at St Stephens Church, Tonbridge where the vicar was brusque, and dismissive. He told me to stand at the back of his dimly lit church and not take any photos during the ceremony. I politely protested and he conceded slightly, allowing me to take some photos but without any flash. So with the camera at as high an ISO setting as I could muster without sacrificing all the picture quality, with my shutter speed stuck at around 1/20th of a second and my best paparazzi lens image-stabilised and at full zoom, I decided to go for quantity to ensure I got at least a few good shots. But it was worth it to hear the vicar going on and on about sex in his address; not a sentence could pass by without at least three mentions of the word. My how the congregation squirmed, especially those with children present. I was also invited to be photographer at a friend's wedding at the Parish Church of St Cosmas and St Damian in Keymer, West Sussex. At the rehearsal the guest vicar said I wasn't allowed at the front and that I'd have to manage from the back; and possibly I could come down the left-hand aisle and get some beautiful images of the back of the bride's head. The church warden then intervened and pronounced chapter and verse of parish policy, stating that no photos were to be taken at all during the ceremony. Apart from this the rehearsal was a shambles, with the vicar totally unfamiliar with the very standard order of service. So on the day of course I took photos, this time electing to go light and using just my trusty Canon 5D and my lovely 50mm f1.4 lens. The church warden's glares didn't phase me at all. I wasn't being paid so I was there in the capacity of friend and private individual, not as professional photographer. If there had been any complaint I would have pointed out that the little envelopes the couple had been asked to supply with cash payments for all involved would have provided much interest to the local branch of HM Revenue & Customs. Perhaps if more of the money made it into the church's accounts, they'd be able to afford a new sign to replace the tatty, weathered one in place currently. Of course, on both occasions I was able to get some good shots, but not without some cost. Unless the couple turn away from the vicar, they mostly present a rear-view to the camera. Standing at the back I'm forced snap away almost continuously, and the shutter on the 5D isn't the quietest thing in Christendom. Were I standing near the front and using carefully bounced flash, I would be able to approach the job surgically, taking only a few shots at strategically chosen moments. I'd be able to get close-ups of the exchange of rings. Above all I could capture the emotion of two people declaring their love and commitment before all their family & friends. All is not lost, however. The Catholic church appears to be generally much more welcoming to photographers. I'm not entirely sure whether it's policy or luck of the draw, but all my Catholic weddings have started with a priest who meets and greets me with a broad smile and an invitation to do what I like, stand where I like, move around at will, take as many photos as I like when I like, with or without flash. But even in the Anglican world, just as it's the people you deal with in companies who make the difference, the right clergyman can work wonders. Take Father Martin Morgan at St Margaret's Church in Rottingdean, for example - not only is his church lovely, ancient and characterful, Father Martin is a treasure in his own right. With his vaguely Hancock-esque glibly humorous outlook on life (legend has it he was once a script writer for Frankie Howerd), and his genuinely warm attitude to his congregants, happy couples and even photographers, Father Martin Morgan will do everything he can to help your photographer to get the best possible photographs . He even tells fabulously funny jokes at appropriate moments, such as when the bride is having a little wobble. Of course this is my personal experience with him, but I think he'd be the same with any well-mannered photographer who knows his job and introduces himself properly. I may however be in a small minority of photographers who do this. Unfortunately Father Martin is also in a minority. Hopefully when he retires he'll run some sort of priest training college where he can teach clergy to serve their customers in the same way he does. Lord knows the Church of England needs it. The moral of the story is this: if you're planning on a church wedding, and if the photographic record matters to you, make sure you choose a clergyman and church who will share your cares instead of stamping all over them. You're their customers - so demand a service. Jon Silver is a wedding photographer in Brighton & Sussex.
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