How to Photograph the Bride Walking Down the Aisle
The wedding ceremony processional is considered by many professional photographers one of the most important moments of the big day. Also, this is the most challenging part of the ceremony where many professionals get in trouble. Here is how to photograph the bride walking down the aisle.
1. Clarify the Rules with the Priest or the Wedding Officiant
It is very important to be aware of the rules established by the church or the officiant regarding photography. While the Christian Orthodox Church is more lenient and allow the photojournalist to move around and use flash, it is a well-known fact that the Catholic Church has strict rules regarding photography. As such, it is a good idea to asked the couple to provide you a copy of the church rules for the ceremony. That will allow you to bring the right equipment so that you can deliver high quality imagery.
Among the directions that impact the photographers' activity here are a few:
The photographer shall not use flash in the church. The photographer should not step inside the sanctuary during the ceremony except to capture the signing of the marriage documents. The photographer shall not block the groom's view of the bride.
Here is a sample of guidelines that are common for Catholic ceremonies:
In order to maintain clarity with regards to the Cathedral's photography policies, please ensure that your wedding photographer and videographer receive the guidelines.
Flash Photography Guidelines
Photographs by either professionals or guests may be taken at the following times only: the entrance procession (besides the priest, not blocking or behind), of the exchange of rings, the signing of the register, the recessional.
No photographs are permitted during communion.
No photographs are permitted in the sanctuary after the ceremony.
All other times, the photographer should remain away from the public eye.
All video equipment is restricted to a position outside the sanctuary. Video cameras must be on a fixed tripod and remain in the same position throughout the wedding ceremony. No gimbal rigs or drones are allowed. No artificial lighting may be used in the church.
Any photographer or videographer who ignores these rules will be requested to leave by Cathedral security.
2. Ensure You Have Available Parking
Having a parking spot for your car is common sense but often finding one right before the ceremony poses a challenge for the photographer. Generally, on the big day the churches parking lots are full. As such, the artist is forced to park far away from the church, and he could potentially miss the bride's arrival.
3. Establish Where You and Your Second Shooter Will Be Positioned
To be able to capture the beautiful moments that occur during the processional, it is crucial that you discuss in advance where you and your second shooter will be positioned during the ceremony. There are a few scenarios that are dramatically impacted by the church rules.
In the first scenario, the second shooter could capture the processional from the front of the church, next to the groom and the priest. You need to ensure that you have a solid second shooter with whom you documented many weddings. In this scenario, you will be able to catch the bride walking down the aisle from behind, the back of her beautiful dress and more important, the reaction of the groom when he sees the love of his life.
Once the lead photographer takes his shots, he should take a lower stance so that he does not appear in the images captured by the second shooter. Also, if you plan to follow the bride closely, make sure you do not step on her train or cathedral veil.
An amazing succession of images can be captured from the balcony as well. The downside of this option is that you will miss the moment when the father of the bride hands her over to the groom and when the latter lifts her veil.
If you don't trust the abilities of the second photographer, please use the following.
In the second scenario, the lead photographer and the second shooter are positioned at the end of the aisle and capture the processional from their spot. While you might think the images will look alike, it is very common nowadays for the guests to immortalize the bride walking down the aisle using their tablets or cell phones. Therefore, having two photojournalists document this moment is not overkill.
4. Ask the Bride and the Wedding Party to Walk Slowly down the Aisle
This is probably the most important tip in this article and it saved me a few times. There are a few reasons why it is advisable that the bride and the wedding party to walk slowly. Often, the beautiful bride is so emotional that she rushes towards her groom. Also, she might be late to the ceremony, which will make her walk fast down the aisle.
If that is the case, you are in trouble. First, because it is hard to acquire focus in a dark church when the subject is moving towards you. Second, if the light is dim, you will be forced to use one or more of the following techniques to achieve a proper exposure. Use a high ISO to counteract the lack of light in the Cathedral to maintain a higher shutter speed. That will result in grainy images and a perceived for quality of photographs. Alternatively, you would use prime lenses and shoot wide open at f1.2 or f1.4 to maintain a decent ISO level (under 3200). If that is the case, your depth of field will be very shallow and if your subject is moving fast, she will cross the depth of field quickly and be out of focus.
We generally use two camera bodies on which we mount a 35mm and an 85mm prime lens and we shoot wide open at f1.2 or f1.4. Here is where the crop sensor shines as the depth of field is a bit wider than that of a full frame camera.
When the bride enters the church, we use the 85mm lens to catch those moments and when she reaches the middle of the aisle, we switch or camera bodies and use our 35mm lens. This is another reason to ask everyone to walk slowly as it takes you 5 to 10 seconds to switch the cameras.
5. Have Plenty of Room on Your Cards and Spare Batteries in Your Pockets
I love using 264 GB SD cards as they allow me to capture the whole wedding on one card. You don't want to switch cards during a key moment such as the processional, the first kiss, the ring exchange, first dance or the parents dances. I know professional photographers who shoot on smaller cards and have to run during one of the above-mentioned stages of the wedding to switch cards.
Also, please make sure that you have at least a spare battery for your camera and your flashes on you. If your battery dies, it will take you at least 30 seconds to run to your camera bag and replace it and you will miss the whole processional. I know this is common sense, but it happens to every single one of us during our career. Myself, I learned this the hard way when my flesh died during the first dance in a pitch black venue and I had to run to change my batteries. Fortunately, I knew my equipment by heart and I was able to change my batteries in 10 seconds in complete darkness. It is a great idea to practice at home so that on the special day you master that process.
6. Focus on the Moments
The processional is a very emotional part of the day and you can expect to see the couple laugh or cry. You need to be focused on the main subject and forget about distractions such as an aunt pulling her tablet and walking half of the aisle or an overzealous videographer or guest who jumps in the middle of the isle capture the best shot.
Just wait patiently until the bride passes them and then take your photograph. It is very common for the bride to wave at her guests and make sure you capture that.
7. Don't Forget to Photograph the Groom and the Guests' Reaction
A professional photographer tells a complete story of the day and captures the same scene from different angles. In our studio, we capture both the action and the reaction in this scene.
When the bride walks down the aisle, take us a second to photograph the groom's reaction and that of the guests. If you shoot in a small church where you don't have time to do that, talk with the groom before the processional and ask him to look towards the church entrance and to smile. You will use that shot in the bride will thank you for that. It is always safe to ask the groom to give you that picture and sometimes that image looks better than that taken during the processional.
8. Use a Wide-Angle Lens to Create Leading Lines
As you can see in the image that opens this article, using a wide-angle lens creates leading lines that emphasize the importance of the bride and directs the viewer's attention towards her. A good idea would be to kneel in the middle of the aisle in front of the groom (if that is allowed). Please make sure you're not using the on camera flash for this shot is you will blind both the groom and the priests. Neither of them will be happy. Practice this shot for the processional to make sure you know where to be positioned as you will have about five seconds to document this moment.
9. Use Black and White Processing for Candid Photos
This is a trick I learned from a photojournalist that became one of the best wedding photographers in the Greater Toronto Area. Often, the colours distract the viewer from the intensity of the moment and to preserve the candid nature of the picture it is always a good idea to convert the image into black and white. That also helps when the church has large stained-glass windows that throw off the white balance. Also, when there is plenty of daylight entering through the large translucent windows and that is mixed with the tungsten light coming from the ceiling lighting fixtures, the result is less pleasing. Here, black and white with look amazing.
10. Ask the Videographer Not to Block Your Shot
Before their wedding day, it is always a great idea to introduce yourself to the videographer if he's not part of your team or you haven't photographed weddings together. That ensures that you are not obstructing his view and he does not block yours. After all, you are members of the same team in need to make sure that you both deliver amazing imagery for the bride and groom.
11. Place Your Camera Bags at the Entrance of the Church Out Of Your View
You need to make sure that your backup equipment and your camera bags are not visible in your shots. Otherwise you will have to spend a lot of time in post processing to Photoshop them and many of the images will be ruined.
We always leave our bags in the second pew to the left as you enter the church so that we have access to them in the don't bother anybody. Generally, the front of the church is occupied by the family and guests and you don't want to leave your bags there. After all, many of the couple's friends will get married soon and you don't want that camera bag left in front of the church to be the reason why they don't hire you to photograph their special day. Also, many churches do not allow the photographer to come close to the altar during the ceremony so if you run out of batteries or cards you will be out of luck.
Follow the above-mentioned guidelines and you will be able to capture outstanding images during the processional, photographs that the bride and groom will cherish for the rest of their lives.