Wedding Ceremony Photography

The Ceremony is a "Non-Stop" Event So Prepare!

Wedding Ceremony Photography

The wedding ceremony photography is for me the most important and most stressful part of the day. You must be able to record the entire proceedings without making too much noise or getting in the way.

You must get the exposure settings right, be in the right place at the right time and try not to miss anything. I am going to assume this is a standard church wedding. However, most can be applied to beach weddings, garden weddings and just about any wedding.

Preparation once again is the key here which is why I suggest that you attend the trial with the couple before the big day. You need to know exactly what will happen and when and then be there to capture it when it does.

There is no re-shoot and under no circumstances should you halt the proceedings to change batteries or anything.

Power Check

10 minutes before the ceremony starts, I always make sure I have fresh batteries in the speedlight. Is there enough power in the camera? I put a clean, large Compact Flash card or SD card depending on which camera I am using. It must be one that I have used before. This is so I know it isn’t a "duff" one that I have just bought.

I have usually already taken a few test shots to ensure I know the right settings. Even if I have done it a thousand times before.

As the guests start to enter the church I take a few shots until I am happy with the combination of exposure and fill in flash. I try to get the exterior background scene through the door well exposed as well as the entering guests.

I make a mental note of these settings as I know I will have to follow the bride from the car right into a dark church. This means remembering to switch on the flash at the right moment and then switch it off again. I usually switch to a higher ISO for the ceremony shots.

Wedding Ceremony Photography and Using Flash

Some churches allow it and some don’t. Always respect the official in charge and even if he/she allows it, use it sparingly. This is a wedding and you don’t want to be drawing attention away from the couple and onto yourself.

You will normally see guests and their digicams or mobile phone cameras firing away regardless. There is nothing you can do about this but just be aware that some flashes may affect your shots so get plenty…especially when the couple walk back down the Aisle.

Wedding Ceremony Photography and The Brides Arrival

No matter what else is happening make sure you are ready when the car arrives with the bridesmaids and then with the bride and father etc.

Wedding Ceremony Photography Brides Arrival
  • What is the weather doing?
  • Is it sunny?
  • Which side of the car will the bride be getting out of?
  • Will you need fill-in flash?
  • Where can you stand for the best shots?
  • Do you have room?

Don’t be afraid to ask the driver to park in a more suitable place if you have obstructions in front of you. They are used to it. Also, take some control here. If need be, ask the party to wait before getting out whilst you get in place but certainly don’t take too long. Everyone is nervous enough.

Take a few natural shots and then ask the bride to pose just before getting out of the car. Cheesy or not you should always play safe and get the shots no matter what.

Look for Irregularities

Keep your eyes open at all times for irregular details such as the bouquet, crumpled dresses, stray hairs etc. Many things can be changed post-processing but you are better off getting it right on the day.

Once you have the shots you need here, make your way to the church entrance. I usually get some shots from behind as the bride walks up the steps or into the church. I then ask them to stop as I myself get into the church before them.

This is where I change my camera settings to "inside" mode and switch on the flash if needed. As the bride enters the church I fire away and you will normally not be alone. Be aware that guests will be all over the place standing, sitting, walking about trying to get the best angle for themselves

Wedding Ceremony Photography Bride Arriving

Don’t spend too long getting the shot perfectly aligned and straight as you can easily adjust this in Photoshop later.

Time is of the essence and you should be concentrating on getting the bride and father smiling at welcoming guests.

This is the first time she will have seen them on her big day and vice versa.

Once she has passed me I get some shots as they head off towards her intended. If using flash I switch off again at this point and up the ISO to get some natural light images.

There is normally time here to get your bearings and check everything whilst the formalities begin. I personally do some "chimping" (scrolling through images on rear camera screen) just to put my mind at rest. It assures me that I have everything so far.

Wedding Ceremony Photography and Your Conduct

Always remember that you are, for all intents and purposes, still a "working" guest at this wedding. No matter how stressed out you get, never get into a fight or heated discussion with other guests if they get in your way.

Accept whatever is thrown at you. Accept the fact that no matter how well you planned this day, things do change and even go wrong sometimes. Deal with it professionally and politely.

You will no doubt be offered alcohol throughout the day. It doesn’t matter how well you have got to know the couple, you are still working. If you really do want to have a drink with them, wait until you have finished your work at the reception. Put all your gear away and join the fun. Let the bride and groom know that you have finished your job and have got all the shots they wanted.

The Ceremony

Hopefully you will have already sussed out the venue and know exactly where you can and can’t go. You should also know the length of the service and have planned your shots accordingly.

Many ceremonies I shoot are between 30 minutes and one hour. This is plenty of time to wander about and get shots from most angles. If allowed I nip upstairs to the organ or choir area for some nice interior/overhead shots. Sometimes with tripod, other times with high ISO and a steady hand. It all depends on your time frame.

Remember to get the important bits of the ceremony and not to "burn film" or digital space too much. It is easy to just keep firing away but if the shots are going to look similar what is the point?

I would hope that by this point, you would know what stages the (denomination of) wedding you are attending actually has. All weddings are different. Many "traditional" couples still add or remove certain sections to make it more personal to them.

Wedding Ceremony Photography

Here are some essential parts of a few ceremonies to remember…

  • Readings by family or friends
  • Bride walking around the groom (Jewish)
  • Handing over the Katubah (Jewish)
  • Religious bit/hymns etc.
  • Wedding Vows
  • Exchanging of rings
  • Signing of the register
  • The Kiss
  • Walk back down the aisle

...and so on. Make a point to know the proceedings before arriving at the church.

Wedding Ceremony Photography and "Post Ceremony"

Most Christian weddings will have the register signing immediately after the service. Most priests or vicars know the score and will allow some time for you to set up the shots once finished. Use that time to ensure you get everybody signing. I usually get one as they actually sign the register and then one set up shot with them looking at the camera.

I.e. one posed, one natural.

Once this is all done it is time to get back into action. The couple are about to walk back down the aisle to music and rapturous applause and well-wishing from the wedding guests. Don’t forget about all those flashing cameras!

On many occasions the couple have looked to me for guidance and waited for me to give "the nod" before they start their walk. That is nice when it happens. I try and walk backwards and about 5 meters in front of the couple as they proceed out of the church.

Wedding Ceremony Photography

Don't stray

Don’t go too far away as the guests will see this as an opportunity to jump in front of you and ruin any shots you may still want to get. A choice you have to make here is whether you want to get the bride and groom leaving the church from behind or do you want to shoot them leaving from outside the church?

I try and get both by taking a little control if possible. It doesn’t always work but is worth a shot.

Note: At this point, remember that your camera may still be set to a high ISO after all those dark church interior shots. I know "some" photographers (ahem!) who have forgotten to check in the past and have shot in bright sunlight at 1000 ISO! Use Auto ISO if available.

As I may have mentioned before, it you shoot RAW you should be ok but shoot JPEG and mess up and you are in trouble!

Suggested Equipment and Settings

For the actual ceremony itself, and if you are indoors, you will need a speedlight with enough battery power and a fast lens/lenses for natural light shots in dark places.

I use Canon's "L" lenses all with a maximum aperture of F2.8. I also use the EF50mm 1.4 for really dark situations but remember that you have extremely shallow depth of field when using these lenses at maximum aperture.


As I normally have plenty of time to play during the service, I try all different lenses for different shots. Generally I find the mid-range zoom like the 24-70 or the 24-105 to be the most versatile. Especially with full frame cameras as the 24mm end is plenty wide enough for most church interiors.

The 50mm is used at 1.4 when I just have to get the shot in a dark place and am not able to use flash. Plus the quality from this lens is superb.

I love the 70-200mm for candid's and shots where I don’t really want to get too close. Times such as if the couple go right to the front of the church behind the altar. Maybe I want to pick out interesting people and goings on in the congregation. I also use it for any activity that the couple do at the altar. I like to stay a good distance away but still catch the action.

Finally, I like to keep an extreme wide angle like the 15mm or 16-35mm on me for times when I can get the entire scene in from the back of the church or up above from the choir area. I also use it for the after ceremony shots.

Wedding Ceremony Photography

Speedlights and Flashguns

Unless your venue has a low, bright ceiling, the walking down the Aisle shots after the ceremony normally need direct flash. That is if it is relatively dark. I use a diffuser or flash softbox for these shots as they soften the effect quite a bit.

The speedlight is also useful for dreary days or fill in flash when faced with bright sunlight. I tend to leave a small diffuser on the speedlight at all times.


With a bright sunny day outside the church, keep the ISO down to 100 if possible. When inside the church I use 800 or 1000 ISO knowing that if I get bad noise or grain, I can run them through Neat Image. This is a noise reduction program that either works with Adobe editing suites or as a standalone product.

Being in sunny Spain I usually got drastic meter reading changes throughout the day. If I shoot aperture priority, I am in danger of the shutter speed falling below the recommended average for hand held shots.

For example;

Say I am shooting outdoors with the sun behind my subject. I'm getting a good reading which gives a shutter speed of 500th/sec for my aperture setting of F8.

I then turn to shoot somebody else who is in the shade under a large tree. The aperture stays at F8 because I am in Av mode (aperture priority). To compensate for the drop in light, the camera switches the shutter speed right down to 30th/sec.

This, hand held and for moving subjects is far too low but unless you take time to check, it is easily missed. Before you know it you have a bunch of shots with serious camera shake.

Switch Camera Modes

To rectify this, if you are in an ever changing environment, switch to Tv or Shutter priority. Set the shutter speed to match the lenses basic minimum needs or higher. I.e. a simple scale means that a:

  • 50mm lens hand held needs a minimum shutter speed of 50th/sec
  • 100mm lens needs 100th
  • 200mm lens needs 200th and so on

Note: Double is actually better (50mm = 100th/sec) but these are the minimums.

So if you set the shutter speed to 125th/sec when using a 24-70mm lens you should be ok. As the light changes, the aperture and depth of field will fluctuate. At least you can be sure that camera shake will not be a problem.

If the light gets so bad and the aperture light blinks and won’t let you shoot, either slow the shutter speed slightly to allow more light in or up the ISO a tad to do the same.

This is a useful tip to use inside the church when shooting available light too. Choose your optimum shutter speed and let the aperture set itself.

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