Church Photography Restrictions

Whenever I meet a couple who are getting married at a church, one of the questions I always encourage them to ask their officiant "What are the church photography restrictions?". Most brides and grooms are very surprised when I explain that it is very common to have specific rules and those rules can vary wildly. I've been to some churches who say "Do what you like as long as you get great photos" to "No photography at all full stop."

The reason I encourage couple's to ask early on is so they can factor these rules into their wedding plans. So there are no nasty surprises on the day of their wedding. That we're all on the same page and I won't get an upset phone call from the newlyweds asking why there are no photographs of their wedding ceremony.

Common restrictions which us wedding photographer's must adhere to are:

  • No flash photography
  • No moving around once the ceremony has started
  • Stay at the front at all times behind the vicar/priest
  • Stay at the back at all times
  • No photography at any time

So what can you do if you are imagining you will get photos of the full ceremony but your officiant refuses? Once the ceremony starts, the vicar or priest is in charge and he/she can stop the ceremony at any time. As a professional wedding photographer we simply are not able to ignore the rules we are given and it would be unfair to ask us to do so.

The best time to deal with these restrictions is well before the wedding. My tips would be to firstly ask the official when you are booking the church. If you don't like those rules, you can speak with them at this time to see if you can come to an agreement. Churches often introduce these draconian rules as a result of bad experiences with previous photographers.

Indeed I've heard some terrible stories of photographers who have run around the church distracting from the solemn occasion. Or they've machine gunned their way through the ceremony firing their flash a million times turning the church into a nightclub experience.

What I suspect has happened a lot in the past is that couples have asked a friend with a camera (FWC) to photograph their wedding. He/she has no idea of how to behave. Since the church officials cannot easily tell a professional from a FWC, they enforce draconian rules on everyone. The loser is ultimately the bride & groom of course who lose out on precious memories. It also seems incredibly strange to me that I would be prevented from photographing not just an important part of the day....but THE most important part of the day. The whole reason we're all there!

If you can agree a compromise with your vicar/priest/official then it's always a good idea to follow up in an email or get it written into your contract so you have proof. I've had weddings before where the couple have discussed it, reassured me that I can move around and do whatever I need. Then on the day I'm told I must stand right at the back and not to move.

By far the most common rule is simply no flash and don't run around. Again, this is where hiring an experienced wedding photographer will be crucial since they will have the right knowledge to know most of the time, flash is useless in a church and the correct gear to shoot in low light situations.

what can we do if the church still says no?

If you've tried your best to persuade them and they refuse to budge then your options are unfortunately going to be limited. Here are pretty much your options.

  1. Accept you won't have photographs of the ceremony itself.
  2. Change the church to another. Due to family reasons this may not always be appropriate
  3. Build some time into your schedule to recreate the key moments after the real ceremony. So ask your vicar/priest and photographer to mock up the main parts such as the exchange of rings and kiss once the legal ceremony is over.

If you are not getting married in a church then in general things are a bit simpler. Typically civil ceremony rules are slightly more relaxed (although not always). It is common for the registrar to ban flash and moving around but it's almost unheard of to ban photography. Otherwise the principles are very similar to church. Thankfully I've noticed a definite improvement over the last couple of years. It seems the registrar's within the Derby and Nottingham area's are fairly relaxed when it comes to photography. And rightfully so.

I'm a wedding photographer, any tips for me?

There's two types of attitudes that wedding photographers adopt. The first is: "I will ignore the rules and do what it takes to get the photos for my customer". And the second is: "I will respect the house rules that I'm in"

I'm definitely the latter. Let me explain. Sure, you might feel it's your duty to get the shot. After all, the couples have paid you to photograph their wedding. Not the church. However, if you've followed my suggestions above, the couple should not be surprised at the rules. And by getting married at the church, they've accepted the rules. So if the rules are 'no photos' and the couple have accepted it. We've really no skin in the game. And breaking the rules is plain rude.

Secondly, photographers ignoring the rules set for them is exactly why churches get more and more strict with the next photographer. Until they get to the point where they just ban photography altogether. Or ask you to wait outside with a verger guarding you. "That's the next photographers problem" I hear some of you say.

Well here's the're right. But you're also the next photographer.......... By ignoring the rules, we make it a vicious circle for all of us.

So don't do it. Be respectful and do as you're told. That's my tip.


Hopefully the page has helped you understand what restrictions might be in place during your wedding ceremony. And that sadly photographers are often limited in what we can do.

With the above tips, I hope you can find a workaround any church photography restrictions which the vicar/priest has put in place so you can get the best possible photographs of your wedding day.

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