Photographic Faux Pas

Below is a YouTube video that was brought to my attention.  In this 41 second clip, a minister admonishes the photographers at a wedding ceremony for being too intrusive during the service.

I think we can all agree that photography, especially at weddings, can be a bit intrusive and at times perhaps even irreverent.  At the same time, I know of very few people who would out-right ban photography, because capturing those special times in our lives on film – or perhaps more likely memory card – is important to us.  While it is hard to tell from a 41 second clip whether the actions of the photographers did in fact warranted such a strong reaction from the minister, it seems to me that the minister went overboard in his reproach.

I wonder what you think is proper etiquette for photographers during church services?  What is acceptable and what is unacceptable?  Where should they stand?  When should they not take photos?  Please comment below with your thoughts on photography during liturgy so that perhaps we can all avoid the photographic faux pas displayed above.


  1. One of the difficulties with correcting photographers and members of the wedding party at either the ceremony or even at times at the rehearsal is that that conflict is forever etched in the memory of all who are present. As a priest you become a catholic horror story no matter what else you have done. This presider was not catholic by the way he was clothed for the ceremony, but the point is the same.

    I witnessed many weddings over the years and used to joke that I was becoming allergic to rice (even though we did not allow rice to be used on the church steps). I suspect that most couples are not as invested into the religious significance of the wedding as we would like. The question that should be asked though is “Will this ceremony leave people with a positive view of you and the church or will they forever think of you as an idiot?”

  2. He’d really be stressed out by Italian photographers for weddings and the like and Vatican Photographers at papal events. Back home, though, in my parish, we have wedding directors who have a copy of parish guidelines that they are to send to the photographer and then again give it to them in person either at the rehearsal or the wedding day itself. She is also to intervene if necessary to correct the photographer. Photographers are forbidden to enter the sanctuary or be behind the priest and wedding party at any time, but I have never had to correct anyone during any of these events during a ceremony as the wedding director is quite capable and discreetly so but firm. Sometimes the photographer tries to by-pass the wedding director and I tell them I’m not in charge, the wedding director is. Works out very well!

  3. Most wedding photographers I’ve encountered were pretty decent/professional folks. They introduced themselves before the ceremony, asked about restrictions, etc. Realising they, too, have a job to do, I recommend moments during the ceremony to “catch” and the best positions for them to do so (always discreet and out of the way). For vows, rings, nuptial blessing I stand on floor level with my back to the congregation and the couple faces out, not just that ‘stationary’ photographers get good shots of important moments, but allow the couple to appear to be the ‘celebrants’ of the sacrament of marriage.
    However, there have been other photographers…. like the one who wanted to stand beside me during the distribution of Communion…. or the one who blinds lectors with incessant flash… or the one who tells those presenting the gifts to “hold it!” so he can snap a pic… or the one who takes photos standing on a pew… If possible to do discreetly, I inform these photographers that if they dont stop, I’ll discourage future couples from employing their services.
    But as bad as some, few photographers can be, they are no match for the godmother of the bride. Talk about mulier fortis!

  4. If this minister was trying to preserve the dignity and decorum of this service, he did just the opposite. Few would have raised an eyebrow at the presence of the photographers, but I’d imagine that everyone went away talking about how the minister acted like a pompous ass.

  5. My parish has a great deal of young families with school-aged children, and therefore various large celebrations throughout the year such as first Communion, first reconciliation, Confirmation, graduation, grandparents day, May crowning, etc.

    As a liturgy director, and as a parent of school-aged children, I see the value in people wanting to take photos and videos. It’s a sign that they find this event meaningful and important in their lives. So let’s squash that with strict rules and lecturing about not taking photos! No.

    Instead, I try to focus and channel that energy. Example: Parents often want to take pictures during first Reconciliation. Some have even followed their child into the confessional to take pictures while they are making their confession! That’s a problem, but comes from a good impulse to document and make memories of the event. So a couple of years ago, I added a simple ritual to the service that doubles as a good photo op.

    After each child makes his or her confession, they go with their family to the baptismal font. First, they sign themselves with holy water. Then, they light a small taper candle from the Paschal candle and place it into a large copper bowl filled with sand. As the 50+ candles are added to the bowl, the light grows brighter. They are taught that reconciliation renews the graces of their baptism, and the baptismal water and light are a sign of this renewal. It’s a beautiful ritual, meaningful for the children, plus is presented as “the appropriate time” to take photographs. It’s a win-win, and people have responded very positively.

  6. Most photographers knopw how to conduct themselves, but some are liabilities.

    One of my most memorable weddings as organist was in a church where there had been no resident choir for some time and apparently the organ had not been played for some time either. I had never been in the church before, and had been hired along with a guest choir and director to embellish the ceremony with music.

    A little way into opening hymn, one of the largest front pipes came crashing down across the console, missing me by a matter of inches. Wow! We moved it out of the way and carried on, hoping that no further pipes would be dislodged…. >eek!<

    A little while later, while I was in the middle of accompanying a choir motet, I was literally pushed off the bench by a photographer who then jumped up on the bench in order to get a better angle for his next shots. I was dumbfounded. The choir director told the man to get off the bench and leave at once. He refused. The tenors and basses then took hold of him and frog-marched him down the choir loft stairs and out of the church altogether, slamming the doors loudly in his face. In the meantime, I started improvising on a soft and slow version of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" while we awaited the return of the male singers so that we could continue with the piece that had been interrupted.

    You couldn't make it up.

  7. When I worked as the wedding coordinator in my parish, we had guidelines for both the photographers and the florist. I don’t remember having any problems with the photographers.

    In recent years, for the Easter Vigil, we’ve had a photographer hired by the parish to catch those special moments with the RCIA folks. We’ve explained this beforehand and asked the RCIA folks to please ask their families to refrain from taking pictures during the liturgy. The parish photographer knows where to go for the good shots without becoming a distraction. Since he knows about lighting and film and such, he takes the pictures without flash. The ones I’ve seen have always come out quite good.

  8. I have found that almost every photographer is OK as long as you take the time to explain the norms and show him/her what is OK and not OK. I was perhaps more liberal than some presiders, but I had my limits. I don’t remember having to publicly correct a photographer, since they came to me before the ceremony and asked what my guidelines were.

  9. When my niece was confirmed, I stood as her sponsor. I can still remember the bright light on the video camera pouring over the bishop’s shoulder, blinding candidates and sponsors alike. It was appalling.

    That said, one of my relatives made a clandestine video recording of our wedding (at the time it wasn’t permitted in my parish, and she was so discreet I didn’t know it existed for more than a year). I recently watched it for the first time (just after our 21st wedding anniversary) with my two sons. There was a lot of grace in that moment, for us and for them. A way to grasp how the sacramental event that they grew within began.

  10. I love this topic and would like to address it at length but in a bit of rush today. Ordinarily I assume that wedding photographers are professionals and know how to do their job discretely. I try to stay out of their way and they usually return the favor.]

    We don’t know the back story here. The minister comes off like an ass, but what happened before? There could have been quite a lead up to this, and a history that we don’t know. Also the minister may have provided the couple with clear guidelines and they were ignored. If the couple and the minister were given the information in advance that would have justified the minister’s behavior in my book.

    On the other hand here in 2013 we are living in a world in which everyone is walking around with a decent camera in their pocket; everyone takes pictures all the time. I think we’ve grown immune to the camera as a distraction, cameras and their operators have become sort of invisible to us.

    It’s not the 20’s where a camera flash was tantamount to an explosion. I maintain that at ceremonies such as this the videographer is really not distracting anyone – except the minister himself. Which is part of the reason why he comes of as an oaf. I agree with the comment that the minister disrupted the service much more than the videographer did.

    This is a great topic, and I hope it is sill an active string this evening when I have more time.

  11. When we go to our Cathedral in Rochester, New York for Confirmation one of the welcoming comments from the rector of the cathedral has been that while we are in the shadow of Kodak Park, we are asked to be present to the Sacramental Moment and not the Kodak Moment. With Kodak’s restructuring I’m not sure if the announcement will change, but I’ve always found it a good approach. The Kodak Moment is wonderful to catch, but we shouldn’t miss out on the Sacramental Moments either.

    I also work with our First Communion candidates and encourage the same with their families. We encourage photos before and after the liturgy so we can jog memories later on, but to create those memories in the here and now.

    1. @Don Smith – comment #11:
      I agree completely with Don, and not just because I grew up in Rochester. There are plenty of opportunities for pictures before and after the liturgy itself, as Lilliam and I found out from our own wedding. The liturgy is for us to live and remember the old-fashioned way.

  12. I can only recall a photographer or two over forty years who was a problem. They customarily approach me before the service and ask for guidelines. I usually just ask them to be as unobtrusive as possible, that they can take flash pictures during the procession, and that they can take as many other pictures as they desire as long as they can do so without flash and without being distracting. After noticing last weekend that nearly everyone was holding a phone/camera to capture the procession, I asked before the opening prayer if they would refrain from using cameras during the ceremony. I wasn’t snarky and people complied. The minister in this clip is a true jerk. He apparently thought the ceremony was all about him.

  13. Count me among those who very strongly prefer that pictures not be taken during sacramental moments. Those should be direct experiences, not mediated through photos afterwards.

    Over 25 years ago, my best friend got married. There was a videographer present. After the wedding and the reception, the wedding party gathered back in someone’s home. Including the couple, which surprised me. What surprised me more was that we all watched the video – it was like dailies, in a sense. And as I watched the couple notice things in the video, I realized they were losing their own experience (they had not even had one night to have it fully enter their long-term memory in sleep, one of the most important roles of sleep each day) and substituting this mediated experience where they were judging themselves in light of this group reaction. This sensitized me to the problems our culture has in preferring Memorex over Live, and in my career I have seen how this plays out in insidious ways.

    Another way one can notice this: when people experience something horrible, and describe it as if it were a movie. No! It’s not! It’s REAL!

  14. We have a recommended “designated” photographer who knows the “house rules”. If there is a request for friends to also be allowed to take photographs then they are also given a copy of the “house rules”. The “designated” photographer and the parishioners who act as guides etc to the happy couple etc are pretty effective at keeping the photographers in line. As the celebrant my focus is on the couple and the ceremony, I avoid giving instructions to those attending the ceremony. The rehearsal is the place for getting the message out re “house rules” and etiquette. And here in Japan you are faced with a people and a culture that have no background whatsoever on appropriate behaviour in a place of Christian worship.

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