Wedding photography in a church
Advice for Couples | Advice for Photographers

Understanding Photography Restrictions at your Church

Many brides and grooms are quite shocked when I ask them if their church has any photography restrictions.  Often times brides and grooms don’t know there are photography restrictions until their photographers inquires and they ask their officiant about it!  By the time the couples inquire about possible restrictions, they’ve already set a date, sent out invitations and even started their marriage prep-courses through that church so regardless of their officiant’s response, they have little choice but to simply respect it.  So what’s a couple to do?

Wedding photography in a church
A shot from one of our recent weddings; a large (and gorgeous) church with a few restrictions to have to work around.

Some churches have no restrictions; they allow the photographer(s) to move anywhere (including on the altar) as well as use flash.  Some churches ; however, place quite strict restrictions on the photographer including:

  • No flash photography
  • No standing on the altar
  • No standing at the front of the church (must shoot from aisles only)
  • No moving during the ceremony (pick one place and stay there the entire time)
  • Must stay behind the very last pew
  • Must only shoot from the balcony
  • No photographer at all

So what happens when a bride wants full ceremony photo coverage yet her church is placing restrictions on what the photograph can do?  Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question as every situation is unique; however, we can provide you, the bride and groom, with several tips to help work around photography restrictions at churches.

  • Before making your church booking official, ask about photography restrictions.  If your pastor/priest/officiant says that there are restrictions that you are uncomfortable with, consider choosing another location or another officiant within that location.
  • If you cannot choose another location for the ceremony, have an open discussion with your pastor/priest/officiant about how strongly you feel about having full ceremony coverage.  Perhaps the officiant has strong feelings about their restrictions because of unfortunate past experiences with unprofessional photographers and after a frank and open discussion, you can come to a compromise.
  • Always make sure that your restrictions (or lack thereof) are written in your contract.  This way, incase a different pastor/priest/officiant ends up marrying you, you have proof in writing, that you are allowing to have a fully photographed ceremony despite the potential restrictions this new pastor/priest/officiant may want to place on you.
  • Your photographer should have gear that allows them to shoot fairly well in low-light situations; that way, even if flash is restricted, you’ll still get a decent quality photo.  A little background knowledge for the bride and groom: When a photographer is shooting in low light without flash, there are two things they tend to do to help get properly exposed images.  First, the photographer uses a “fast” lens.  This means that the hole in the lens that the light passes through is really big, therefore allowing a lot of light through.  The “fastest” lenses are of professional quality which is just another reason to hire a professional photographer with professional level gear.  Second, the photographer will set the ISO of the camera higher.  ISO refers to how sensitive the camera is to light.  The higher the iso, the “grainier” the image looks, so it’s a bit of a trade-off between light sensitivity and quality of the final image.  Professional level cameras are capable of shooting at higher ISOs without nearly as much “grainy texture” to the final image as amateur or mid-level cameras.  Again, another reason to hire a pro with proper gear!

If you can’t find a way to compromise on imposed photography restrictions at your church, your options on how to proceed are limited and include:

  • Change locations; find a new ceremony venue that does not have photography restrictions
  • Stay at the same location and, with your photographer, re-create the important moments post-ceremony
  • Stay at the same location and simply accept the fact that your ceremony photos will be restricted

What you cannot do; however, is ask your photographer to simply “break the rules”.  As photographers, we are professionals and must behave as such, especially within a community of fellow wedding professionals (like officiants!).

Some photographers offer “sneaky” ways to break the rules, including taking a “divide and conquer” approach where they bring in several assistants and everyone is shooting; the basis behind this approach is that the “church lady can’t yell at everyone at once”; therefore, between all the shooters, you’ll get all the photos you want.  In my personal opinion, not only is this completely unprofessional and disrespectful behavior, it still doesn’t guarantee you photos because many officiants will actually stop the ceremony and call out the person/people who are misbehaving and refuse to continue the ceremony until their behavior is rectified.

Although having photography restrictions at your church may not be ideal for full photojournalistic coverage, open communication with your officiant as well as partnering with a knowledgeable and courteous professional photographer can help ensure the best possible outcome for the situation.


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