Last week, someone pointed me in the direction of a story on the BBC website.

On the front page was a feature about wedding photographers and a signed petition calling on members of the clergy to stop being so rude and unhelpful to photographers.

I have to say that I found this story, and it’s prominent coverage, not just on the website, but I believe on television also surprising. At first a bit annoying. Or is it a sign of changing times? Either way I have sympathy with the clergy and other officials.

There has always been stories of the difficult official, but I have to say in my own experience over the decades, and those of other photographers spoken with over the years, these are far from the regular occurrence that I think article suggests.

Mulling it over, I had to go back over a decade to think of an occasion where I had a difficult official at a wedding. And in fairness, the occasion I recall was at a civil event, which today make up the majority of wedding ceremonies and therefore not a member of the clergy.

I wonder if this is another sign of our changing society, in that many people increasingly feel ‘entitled’ to have everything on their own terms; photographers included? Sadly, this may well be generational from what I can see and in this particular instance, I really have to ask the question what are photographers really asking for or expecting?

In any area of professional photography you have a framework and guidelines that you are expected to work within. Always been so. It is not unreasonable baring in mind the legalities and the emotional importance of a wedding, that there is a structure and way of doing things. We as photographers have to respect that, and remember as much as we enjoy what we do and feel an important cog, it is not our day.

So I feel sorry for the clergy who have been described as some kind of dictatorial group, who gain pleasure in belittling photographers. The reality is you cannot as a photographer expect to move around freely. This is a legal ceremony, and one where its beauty and emotion of those concerned are being understandably looked upon by those attending with fascination and interest. A moving around photographer simply does distract.

As a professional photographer you should also be able to adapt to circumstances. I am one of the practitioners who still uses flash when I can for its benefits from the front where I capture the couple. In much the same way that countless photographers have done with shooting weddings over the recent decades. I understand that one of the issues raised was that some members of the clergy do not allow for flash use. Well, that is also understandable, because from their point of view, it could seem potentially distracting  not only themselves, but all those attending.

But in my experience the reality is if you do it properly and choose your moments, people soon get used to the flash going off and it slips into their subconscious and does not detract. The videographer may not like it, but if they or an official object, you should be able to adjust your technique and cover the event with ambient light only if requested to do so. Todays cameras are better at that than those we have had previously, but your technique must also be right. And importantly ask before things start, so you know where you stand (in all senses) and can decide on your ‘modus operandi’.

I do want photographers too succeed. And a good wedding photographer should be highly respected, as so many skills are needed. I suspect this may also be showing that many photographers, understandably are still learning the wedding photography craft, which has to grow through experience and challenges. No matter what anyone tells you there is no short cut on this one.

So let me tell it like it is…You do not become a wonderful capable wedding photographer and really proficient until you have covered significant numbers of weddings. Simply because of the various scenarios that can happen and the time needed to experience those, learn from them and cope. It can take years depending on how often you do so. So again, I would refer back to my previous comments about really having plan ‘a’ and plan ‘b’ to give yourself ‘wriggle room’ as and when needed. After all that is what a professional should be able to do isn’t it? But before you begin to wiggle anything… forward planning. Find out what you need to be aware of before you start.

But back to ‘attitude’. Last year one of my neighbours an ardent enthusiast came and asked for some advice, as a family member had asked him to cover their wedding.

I stressed too him upfront the utmost importance of speaking to those who would be officiating. His was a church wedding, and I’m pleased to say that although the day was stressful, as it always is, he managed to navigate the day and capture some wonderful images that everybody was very pleased with.

But by speaking to those in charge on the rehearsal day (or even before the ceremony), he got a clear understanding of what he could, and couldn’t do after outlining his plans. In our discussions we looked at shooting with or without flesh and from different positions. So in essence, we just made sure that from a photographers perspective, everything was in place that should be for the service pictures depending on what the official said. Plan ‘a’ and plan ‘b’.

My experience of those conducting things is largely of courteous people who also want me as a photographer to succeed. But they do appreciate the proper respect of their role and jurisdiction. If you are going to put yourself forward as a wedding photographer, you really do need to plan, think things through be organised, but ultimately, the one skill that I think is invaluable is simply being a good communicator.

When I think back to that last occasion where an official had attitude, it did not stop me getting all the pictures I needed, because with some charm, humour and the ability to show respect, I was still able to shoot from where I wanted and how I wanted. That same official had already and amazingly reduced the bride to be to tears. As a photographer I knew that my attitude, not the officials, would define if I succeeded. Which brings me to my final potential observation about this.

I can’t remember exactly when it was, but certainly for the last couple of decades, there has been a sea change in the way many approach weddings. Before that, it was actually quite formalised from the photographers perspective, the same shots captured at every wedding pretty much.

‘Reportage’ has become the norm for many and I understand that it has an appeal. Capture the moment in its spontaneity, and I like that, but alongside formal images. Together they make a fine combo. But I have noticed that a large number of those who prefer to shoot only reportage style, tend not to be the most vocal or outgoing photographers. So in essence, they play to their strengths, but importantly, their comfort zone.

But just to reiterate something from above, if you are going to be a wedding photographer, then I have to say having the ability to communicate and not be a wallflower is going to be invaluable, not just with officials but everyone throughout the event. And if you expect to be able to move around a wedding service in effect ‘reportage’ style, then I think you are not showing the respect you should to the wedding party, their guests and of course the officials unless they agree. You simply are too distracting. Ask beforehand by all means but it is not the ‘norm’.

I think it was mentioned in the same piece that the said clergy are only too happy to let young children run around making noise? Well thats not quite the same thing is it? The first port of call there is surely for parents to be… well parents. Or is that again a sign of changing times?

I should just say to end, that any photographer who has experienced problems as outlined in the news article with a rude and objectionable official has my deepest sympathy. But we simply cannot have photographers feeling they are entitled to do what they like, when they like pretty much during a wedding service. We are part of the day, an important cog certainly, and should be respected for that. But it is not our day and we do need to get over ourselves sometimes.

Best wishes and good photography,

John. (11/03/24).