Wedding photographer vicar etiquette

Wedding Photography Gone Wild: Vicars, Photographers and Couples Clash 

A recent online petition calling for a change in how vicars and wedding photographers interact has made waves. It seems the relationship between those capturing and those conducting the ceremonies can be fraught with tension. Who's in the wrong? We hear from a retired vicar, a seasoned wedding photographer, and couples who've been there themselves. 

The Retired Vicar: When Photographers Go Rogue 

Rev Martyn Cripps (77), a retired vicar, estimates he's officiated over 400 weddings, encountering numerous photographers throughout his career. While he found the majority pleasant to work with, a handful stand out for all the wrong reasons. One particularly disruptive incident occurred early in his career. 

"We'd reached the more solemn part of the service," Martyn recalls, "when I noticed a commotion behind the couple." 

The photographer, apparently seeking the perfect shot, was chaotically scrambling over chairs, disrupting guests with the noise. 

"It was pure mayhem, and the couple were clearly distracted and unhappy." 

Refusing to continue the ceremony, Martyn addressed the photographer, insisting they must leave to maintain order. "Amazingly, the couple thanked me afterwards." 

This wasn't his only problematic encounter. Martyn vividly remembers multiple photographers sprawled on the floor seeking unusual angles. One even lay directly in the middle of the aisle during the bridal procession. 

"Perhaps he expected them to walk around him," Martyn muses wryly. 

Over time, Martyn developed a strategy. He'd invite the photographer to the rehearsal, discuss potential shots, and designate areas where they could stand without disruption. 

"If they were discreet, then there was no issue," he summarizes. "Ultimately, my priority was a beautiful wedding for the couple – finding the balance between their memories and the sacredness of the ceremony." 

The Wedding Photographer: Treated as "Third-Class Citizens" 

Lorna Yabsley, a Devon-based photographer with over 700 weddings and four decades of experience under her belt, has become frustrated with how she's often treated at these events. 

"I still get treated like a third-class citizen sometimes, and it's not just by vicars – registrars can be just as bad," Lorna reveals. "It's a long-held frustration." 

Lorna started in the 1990s when a more formal style prevailed. Back then, there was a respect for the photographer's skill. 

"Today, everyone thinks they're a photographer. But even with the same gear, there's a world of difference between a pro and hobbyist," she insists. "Experience, the ability to anticipate moments – that's what you're really paying for." 

Lorna was an early adopter of the now-popular candid style, but it didn't always go over well with church officials. 

"There's a real snobbery towards photographers, like we're a nuisance," she explains. Some vicars become overly concerned about formalities like document signing, resulting in patronizing behavior. 

However, Lorna acknowledges the rise of unprofessional photographers muddying the waters. 

Still, she pleads with vicars, "Don't assume we're all the same." She also acknowledges the kindness of some vicars, stating that the 'princess wedding' trend may exacerbate tensions. 

The Married Couples: Caught in the Crossfire 

Paul and Lorraine recall their 1995 wedding, where their vicar was inexplicably grumpy. Beforehand, he'd given the photographer strict instructions: one photo inside the church, and none in the aisle. 

When the photographer took their approved shot, the vicar paused everything, glaring them down for a full ten seconds. 

"It made the whole situation incredibly awkward," Paul says. 

Peter and Suzanne Heron's 1973 wedding featured the opposite problem: a spotlight-stealing photographer who treated their day like a photoshoot. 

"We had to remind him several times that it was our wedding, not his," Peter remembers. "Despite his insistence on endless photos, he thankfully did a good job. 

The Line Between Memories and Intrusion 

It seems a delicate balance exists between capturing the perfect moments and respecting the sanctity of the ceremony. So, where should this line be drawn, and how can communication bridge the gap? 

The Vicar's View: Respect for the Sacred 

Rev Sarah Hayes (52), who officiates weddings in rural Lincolnshire, believes it's about more than just getting that iconic shot. 

"A wedding is a sacred rite, not a performance," she insists. "The focus should be on the couple and their vows, not the photographer's portfolio." 

Sarah understands that couples cherish their photos, but she finds the increasing demands concerning. 

"Some arrive with shot lists as long as my arm! It can feel like they're more focused on the posed photos than the actual meaning of marriage." 

She worries about becoming an afterthought, a mere prop in the couple's highly stylized photoshoot. This tension often leads to conflict with the photographer. 

"It's vital for photographers to remember who's in charge here. It's my church, my service, and ultimately, my responsibility to ensure it remains focused and reverential," Sarah emphasizes. 

Wedding photographer

The Photographer's View: Balancing Art and Duty 

Mark Simpson (42), a Manchester-based photographer with 20 years in the wedding industry, acknowledges there's a fine line. 

"I adore what I do – helping couples preserve precious memories for a lifetime. But it's also about artistic expression," Mark says passionately. 

He understands the vicar's perspective but feels there can be more compromise. 

"Sometimes you have to push boundaries to get that extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime shot. But I'm also respectful," he insists. 

For Mark, pre-wedding communication is vital. "I meet with couples and establish their vision, but I also outline any restrictions I might encounter on the day." 

This open dialogue usually prevents conflict, but some simply don't respect how a church service operates. 

"There's this new breed of photographer," he laments, "more interested in Instagram likes than respecting tradition or authority." 

The Couples' Viewpoint: It's THEIR Day 

Emily and Tom, married in 2021, understand the complexities. 

"Ultimately, it's our wedding," Emily states. "We paid a lot of money for the photographer, and we wanted specific shots." 

They recall their vicar being somewhat inflexible, impacting the photos they'd dreamt of. 

"It was disappointing because you can't re-do those moments," reflects Tom. 

Conversely, Sarah and David, who married last year, had a wonderful experience. Their photographer liaised with their vicar beforehand, ensuring everything went smoothly. 

"They were respectful of the service but still got amazing photos," Sarah smiles. "It proves it's possible to find that balance." 

Finding The Middle Ground 

Clearly, the key lies in communication and compromise. Pre-wedding meetings between the vicar, couple, and photographer are essential to establish boundaries and expectations. Perhaps creating a simple guidelines list for wedding photography in churches would also help reduce tensions. 

After all, everyone ultimately desires the same thing: a beautiful wedding day, remembered with both joy and reverence. 

The Rise of Unplugged Weddings 

Interestingly, a growing trend may offer a solution to these ongoing tensions: unplugged weddings. This is where couples ask guests to keep phones and cameras away during the ceremony, ensuring complete focus on those exchanging vows. 

A Sign of the Times? 

Rev Katherine Wilson (38), a vicar in bustling central London, sees the appeal. 

"Personally, I love the concept of an unplugged wedding," Katherine reveals. "It forces everyone to be present in the moment rather than fixated on capturing it." 

She notes an increase in couples opting for this approach. 

"They're tired of seeing guests glued to their phones, or even worse, amateur photographers getting in the way during those precious minutes," she says. 

This trend suggests a shift among some couples – a desire to reclaim the intimacy and sacredness of their ceremony. 

Reaction from Photographers 

Photographer opinions on unplugged weddings are predictably mixed. Alex Brooks (36), a sought-after London-based wedding photographer, finds them frustrating. 

"I get why couples want it, but honestly, it restricts my work," Alex admits. "Those candid, emotional moments during the vows are often the most powerful, yet they become off-limits." 

He also worries about guest photos of poor quality flooding social media, potentially tarnishing the couple's perception of their professional photographs later. 

However, Emma Jones (29), a Bristol-based photographer, has a different perspective. 

"I can adapt. Unplugged ceremonies allow me to focus more on creative, artistic shots outside those traditional moments," she explains. 

Emma acknowledges that communication remains crucial. She often suggests couples designate a short period after the ceremony for immediate family photos, satisfying everyone's desire to capture those key memories. 

Guests: To Snap or Not to Snap? 

Guests themselves can be divided on the issue. Older generations often embrace the unplugged concept, appreciating the chance to fully participate in the ceremony without technological distractions. 

But younger guests, accustomed to documenting their lives via social media, might find it more difficult. 

Emily, who recently attended an unplugged wedding, admits she initially felt a pang of disappointment. 

"It's so automatic to reach for your phone at special moments," she says. However, she came to appreciate it. "I ended up being more present and focused on my friends' happiness, which was way better than getting the perfect Instagram shot." 

A Matter of Perspective 

Ultimately, the unplugged wedding trend is about choice, a reflection of changing priorities within our media-saturated world. 

"We may lament the loss of the iconic aisle shot," muses Rev Katherine, "but is it worth sacrificing the true meaning of the moment for the sake of a photograph?" 

Could unplugged weddings be an answer to the vicar/photographer impasse?  

Trends and Traditions – Balancing Past and Present 

The tension between vicars and wedding photographers highlights the shifting trends shaping how we experience and document these special occasions. 

Changing Expectations: From Staged to Spontaneous 

Photographer Mark Simpson, who we met earlier, reflects on how the industry has evolved over his 20-year career. 

"Back then, everything was very formal. The classic posed group shots were the priority," he recalls. Today, the emphasis is on storytelling and emotion." 

Couples crave those candid, unfiltered moments that capture the joy, the tears, and the spontaneous laughter. This, however, can clash with the traditional solemnity of a church service. 

"Vicars remember the old way, where the ceremony was uninterrupted," Mark observes. "They understandably want to preserve a sense of dignity." 

Social Media: Amplified Pressure 

The influence of social media is undeniable. Couples may be inspired by Pinterest-perfect weddings and want to emulate that aesthetic. 

"They see these incredible images, often staged or heavily edited, and assume that's what they should have," explains photographer Emma Jones. 

Managing unrealistic expectations becomes crucial. Emma finds clear communication and educating couples about the realities of wedding photography essential in helping them see both the beauty of candid shots and the limits of what can be achieved during a ceremony. 

Evolving Roles: The Celebrant 

An emerging option for couples seeking a more tailored experience is opting for a celebrant-led ceremony. Celebrants offer greater flexibility with the structure and location of weddings, allowing for more personalized and often less formal ceremonies. 

"Celebrants are generally more open to collaboration with photographers," observes photographer Lorna Yabsley. "There's less focus on religious tradition, which can lead to a more relaxed atmosphere." 

However, it's important to remember that celebrancy is a less regulated field compared to vicars within established churches. Couples should thoroughly research their chosen celebrant to ensure professionalism. 

Respect on All Sides 

Ultimately, finding that perfect balance comes down to mutual respect and understanding. Alex Brooks, the London-based photographer, emphasizes this point. 

"We all want what's best for the couple, so we need to learn to work together," he says. "It can't be an 'us vs them' mentality." 

He suggests a greater willingness on both sides to compromise might be the solution. 

"Maybe vicars could ease just slightly on some restrictions, and in return, photographers accept that the ceremony isn't a free-for-all photo session." 

A Path Forward – Towards Collaboration and Beautiful Memories 

So, how might we achieve greater harmony between vicars and wedding photographers, ensuring those iconic moments are preserved while respecting the sanctity of the service? 

Possible Solutions 

  • Clear Guidelines: National church bodies could consider creating clear and accessible guidelines for wedding photography within churches. This would provide both vicars and photographers with a baseline for expectations, preventing misunderstandings. 
  • Pre-Wedding Meetings: Encouraging, or even mandating, a pre-wedding meeting between the vicar, couple, and photographer is essential. This allows for an open discussion of expectations, shot lists, and any specific restrictions. 
  • Photographer Accreditation: Some churches might consider an accreditation system. Wedding photographers would agree to a code of conduct in exchange for a certain level of trust and freedom within the church. 
  • Designated Photo Moments: Building into the service brief designated times for photographs (for example, after the signing of the register) could be a good compromise. It allows couples vital shots without disrupting the flow of the ceremony. 
  • The Value of Experience: Couples are wise to prioritize booking experienced wedding photographers. Seasoned professionals understand how to navigate church services with discretion while capturing stunning images. 

A Final Word 

Weddings are joyous occasions and should remain so for everyone involved. Photographer Lorna Yabsley reflects, "Despite all the occasional hiccups, I still love what I do. Witnessing a couple's happiness, knowing I have a small part in preserving it, well, that's everything." 

Rev Martyn Cripps, our retired vicar, agrees. Despite challenging moments, he recalls the majority of weddings fondly. 

"You're part of what is often the most important day of people's lives," he reflects. "That's a privilege, and it brings a big responsibility to make it a positive experience." 

Ultimately, fostering a sense of shared purpose and collaboration between those documenting the day and those conducting it can make a world of difference. 

With open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to find a middle ground, couples can both treasure their beautiful wedding memories and uphold the sanctity of this special rite of passage. 

Thank you for reading! 

Do you want to join an online course
that will better your career prospects?

Give a new dimension to your personal life