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. For more information on , see this Catholic Wedding Photography Guide on Wedding Maps.
This article was written in 2008 and updated in 2022 with new tips and images.
Tips for Photographing Catholic Ceremonies
Let There … Be Light
If you’re unable to use flashes during the ceremony in a dimly lit church, we recommend using a wide-aperture prime lens to cover the action, at least whenever possible. If you can use a flash, which is rare, it can still be difficult to create adequate light. The ceilings are often too high for bouncing light; however, you can increase the flash power and zoom in the focus of the flash to get more light. The downside to using a higher flash power is a slower recycle time, which increases the time you have to wait between each shot. To help with this, consider using an external battery pack to shorten recycle times. Regardless, when using a flash, make sure the angle (if not pointed at the ceiling to bounce light) is top-down and high enough to avoid casting shadows across the guests/bridal party/etc.
Let Thy Limits Be Known
Make sure the bride and groom are aware of the church’s limitations so that they know what to expect in terms of the coverage you can provide for the ceremony. For example, regarding the center aisle, many churches limit photographers from getting closer than the last pew in which guests are seated. In other words, if guests are seated all the way back to the last pew, you will not be able to use the center aisle to get close-up shots of the bride and groom, at least not without a strong telephoto lens.
Tips Before and On The Wedding Day
- Ask bride and groom during talk-through for any special events/moments.
- Encourage the bride and groom during the talk through to take a photograph at the end of the aisle (avoid cheering/loudness in church).
- Discuss pre-first kiss line with officiant to be ready for the first kiss.
- Understand if flash allowed in the church and prepare accordingly.
- Understand where are you allowed to walk during the ceremony and follow the rules.
- Respect the sanctity of the chapel.
Step-by-Step Guide to Photographing Catholic Weddings
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 below.
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.
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)
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. 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.
Summary of Program
- Greeting/Opening Prayer
- First Reading
- Second Reading
- Priest Gospel
- Statement of Intentions/Consent
- Blessing of Rings
- Profession of Faith
- Universal Prayer
- Preparation of the Gifts/Sacrament
- Eucharistic Prayer
- Communion Rite
- Lord’s Prayer
- Nuptial Blessing
- Sign of Peace (Usually a Kiss)
For more wedding photography education, see our Wedding Photography Training System in Premium. You might also be interested in these cultural wedding articles: