During the transient moments of a wedding ceremony, a million thoughts are running through a photographer’s head, whether it is the right angle for each critical moment, the technical aspects of getting the right lighting, or capturing the candid tear in a family member’s eye. This article serves as a general guide for the must-have, should-have, and could-have photography moments of a typical Catholic wedding ceremony.

Each moment in a typical ceremony is detailed below in chronological order and labeled one of the following: 1) “Must-have” – very important and distinct moments, 2) “Should-have” – important moments that are not necessarily critical, 3) “Could-have” – not photographically important moments for various reasons but could be a great shot if taken with a creative eye.

I. The Prelude – (could-have) -The guests file in, chat amongst each other, and wait for the ceremony to begin. This is a great time for candid shots; and an opportunity to make sure you have your settings right.

II. The Processional – (Must-have) – The groom and the best man enter from the side, the bridesmaids and groomsmen walk up the aisle in pairs, the maid of honor enters alone, and the bride and her father (sometimes without) make their grand entrance. The most important shot is the bride’s entrance (as shown in the image above – Shot on a Canon 40D with a 50mm f1.4 Lens at 400 ISO, f/1.4 1/60), but the other entrances should not be neglected.

III. Hymn – (could-have) – The opening hymn is an important ceremonial moment, but not necessarily an important photography moment because an image of open-mouthed people can seem random and a bit ambiguous. In this moment, look for an individual singing passionately or find a creative angle.

IV. Greeting or Opening Prayer – (should-have) – These are great shots that show devotion to the Lord.

V. Old Testament Reading – (must-have) – A member of the family or a close friend reading a passage from the Old Testament is a must-have because it is a distinct, memorable moment.

VI. Psalm – (must-have or could-have) – If a soloist sings the psalm, it is a must-have because it is a distinct, memorable moment. However, if the entire congregation is singing, it becomes a could-have for the same reasons mentioned in the “III. Hymn. 

VII. New Testament Reading – (Must-have) – Like the Old Testament Reading earlier in the ceremony, The New Testament reading is a must-have because it is a distinct, memorable moment involving a family member or close friend.

VIII. Gospel & Homil– (could-have) – The priest reading a passage from one of the first four books of the New Testament (Gospel) and reflecting upon the passage (Homil) are “could-haves” because these shots will look very similar to any other moment in the ceremony with the priest speaking and everyone else listening.

Shot at the St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach, CA on a Canon 40D with a Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye at 400 ISO f/2.8 1/80.

IX. Vows and Ring Ceremony – (must-haves) – The look on the bride while the groom is giving his vows or vice versa will make some of the best emotional shots. For the ring shot, get up nice a close to get a close up of the ring being placed on the finger.

X. The Kiss – (must-have) – The best angle of this will almost always be straight down the aisle, as it gives equal view of both faces. It is symmetrical, classic, and timeless.

XI. Nuptial Blessing – (should-have) – The priest blessing the new union with a prayer is a should-have moment. It is an important moment in the ceremony but not necessarily distinctive, as it can look very similar to the opening prayer. For this moment, feel free to roam away from the couple and capture some of the guests, as in the image to the left.

XII. Sign of Peace (should-have) – The guests and wedding party exchanging signs of peace, by shaking hands and embracing are great, distinctive moments to capture emotion.

XIII. Communion – (must-have) – This is a distinct, important moment; and a great opportunity to capture a high percentage of the wedding guests “participating  in a critical moment of the wedding.

XIV. Lord’s Prayer – (could-have) – The congregation reciting the Lord’s Prayer is important but not distinctive.

XV. Blessing and Dismissal of Congregation – (could-have) – The Priest saying blessings and dismissing the congregation is, again, an important moment but not distinctive.

XVI. Recessional – (must-have or could-have)

The bridal party exiting in the reverse order of the processional is a must-have. Our favorite view of the bride and groom’s exit is from behind as they walk out the door (such as the image on the right, shot at the St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach, CA on a Canon 40D with a 24-70mm f/2.8L USM at ISO 640 f/2.8 1/80. The guests exiting in a random order is a could-have, as it will not be missed but could be a great chance to capture most of the guests as they exit.