Formal Wedding Photography: 3. The Ceremony

Getting to the church ahead of the bride is not just about getting your equipment ready. Introduce yourself to the ushers, and let them know what you are going to be doing. You will need a spot in the pews (on the bride's side if your flash is on the left of your camera) with a clear view of the aisle without guests blocking your shots. Have the ushers keep your sight lines clear when they are seating the guests.

Meet the groom and best man, co-opting the best man just as you did the maid of honour at the bride's home. If you have not already met the priest (minister, rabbi ...) introduce yourself and discuss your movements, shooting requirements, and any restrictions they may have on what you are doing during the ceremony.

Leave your equipment cases at the back of the church, carrying only what you will need. Keep it light and versatile.

Be outside to meet the bride and her father as they arrive. Get a shot of the two of them in the back of the limosine, and/or getting out. After the rest of the party has entered the church, have the father opening the door for the bride, with both looking back at the camera. This shot is a classic known as "The Last Look at Freedom". (Make them aware that you need to get into the church and in position before they enter.)

Just before the procession of the bridal party, you get into the section of the pews reserved for you by the ushers. Shooting from the side you can capture multiple images of the bride's maids and maid of honour, and the bride with her father.

If there is a flower girl or ring bearer, step into the aisle and get the shot as they approach your camera. Remember that these are little people, so keep your camera position REALLY low. After the shot, get out of their way. Do not impede their trip down the aisle.

After the bridal party has passed, step into the aisle again and get a couple of shots of the bride being handed from father to groom, then step to the back of the church.

Remember that you are a part of the day, but that you should not intrude on it. As you move around the church, do so decisively, but quietly. Do not rush, as this will create a distraction. Do not try to sneak, as nothing is more obvious and attention getting than a skulker. If you move at a normal pace, without fanfare, to position yourself for your next shots, you will not be noticed. Keep your movements to a minimum, moving only when necessary. Do what you need to do, then become invisible.

You will now have a few minutes to do some overall shots of the ceremony. If there is a balcony, use it. Use available light only if at all possible. WIth lots of windows and sunlight streaming in, try to keep the shots high key. Use a soft focus or diffuser to add to the effect. If the shots are low key, your matte box will work well.

Get your overalls, and any exterior shots you need, then move up an outside aisle (usually the left side) to get into position for the exchange of vows and rings, the blessing, and the first kiss. Remember to angle your shots so both the bride's and groom's faces are visible. Usually you will be using flash for these shots, so wait for the critical moment, and take a single shot.

If there will be a communion, it will be shot from the same position. If the entire congregation is to receive communion, then you will have additional time to retire to the back of the church for overall shots.

Position people for the signing of the register and take your shots as it is being signed. Do not try to repose the signing afterwards. It never works. People are willing to take a few seconds, with direction, to give you a good shot for the bride, however after the register is signed, they just want to get out of the church. Placing bouquets on the altar or table can give you a more pleasing composition. If you are shooting a wedding in a synagogue, be aware that the register is not signed afterwards, rather the wedding contract is signed prior to the ceremony. These contracts are often beautifully illuminated documents, and you should never pass up the opportunity to photograph the signing. (It goes without saying that as a wedding photographer, you should be familiar with the order of service which will be used for the ceremony. If not, make sure you are by the time you have to cover the wedding.)

Finish with a shot of the bride and groom leading the recessional. You need to be in the aisle before they start to move.

Although nothing says 'Happy Day' better than newlyweds ducking a shower of confetti, most venues frown on this practice. Regardless, be ready for the shot if it happens.

Before you leave for the location photos, let the best man and maid of honour know who you will need and where they are to be. You go directly to the location and await the arrival of the wedding party.