Churches are amazingly beautiful places to photograph weddings. Some are old, some are new -- each one is unique. On the other hand, these are the places where you will run into all sorts of rules. As photographers, we don't really like rules, but these are the times to take a deep breath and go with the flow.
Here are a few tips to ensure you get the most fun and creative photos no matter what the rules are.
1. Ask questions
Before the ceremony begins, find out where you are and aren't permitted to shoot. Most officiants don't want you anywhere near the front, where you may distract the guests from the couple, so as long as you achieve that, they may cut you some slack on some of the other rules.
Scope out the layout of the church beforehand. They often have all sorts of interesting little passageways. Maybe some of these can lead to new and fun angles during the ceremony. Church ceremonies tend to last a little longer, so you have more time to get interesting angles, unlike the shorter outdoor ceremonies.
2. Look for the balcony
A lot of churches have balconies for overflow seating. Balconies are great for getting wide shots, and they're also a great place to get the first kiss. Since you are a little above the couple, you have a great angle for when they look up at each other.
With the right lens, this is can be the best seat in the house, and it's out of the way. It's also a great place to be if you have some time to take photos of guests. You never know when a young guest is going to get a little antsy and do something cute. From the balcony you can see it all.
3. Be quiet
When the ceremony is an hour-long church service, there is no need to snap a photo every few seconds. If everyone is praying or having a moment of silence, take a photo or two then put the camera down.
Never distract from the couple. It's just bad form. Once you get a good photo of the moment, take a break until the next moment comes along. You don't have to pray or sing along, but be respectful.
The best compliment I can get after a ceremony is, "I didn't even know you were there." When people say things like that to you, you are doing something right.
4. Have your lights set up
You can't use them during the ceremony, but try to have your lights hooked up and in a side room or off to the side. This is so you can make a quick transition from ceremony to wedding portraits. Some churches schedule multiple weddings in a day, so you may not have much time to get everything done after the ceremony.
Once I had less than 20 minutes until the next group was coming in. Also, families, couples and other guests want to get to the reception where the food and drinks are, so the more efficient you are, the better. Once the wedding party has finished the recessional, it's time to go grab your lights and start getting them set up. Having everything plugged in and ready to go will give you some extra time to herd everyone and get more photos.
Read our post on shooting ceremonies in low light for more tips on photographing indoor weddings.
Church weddings can be beautiful, long and sweet. They can give you the time to really get creative, but stay discrete. There is a way to do both.