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As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

Gear & technique in church

KaramelBeeKaramelBee Member
edited January 2011 in wedding photography
Hi Neil,

When photographing in a church, what gear do you use? Do you use flash (is it allowed in a church? - which technique, since the ceiling is so high) or just use ambient light and high iso's/large apertures and no flash? Any links to posts of yours on this topic will also be very helpful.



  • Its up to the church. When I shoot weddings, I always ask Pastor Deacon etc.
    Whomever is in charge what their rules are. Am I allowed to move around, flash or no flash.
    I also clear this with the couple. It doesnt matter if the Pastor says its OK to move and use flash if the couple doesnt want it. So I clear this with the couple when we meet and sign contract. Then we clear it with church when I go there prior to wedding day.
    I always make a trip days before to the place of ceremony, walk around, look at ceilings etc. Nothing worse than walking into a church for the first time and "Oh no, all dark wood walls and ceiling, and just candle light." Beautiful to view, but a nightmare to photograph.

    I shot an Episcopal Church once, nearly black wood top to bottom and just candle light. I was not allowed to move at all during ceremony. I was only allowed to stand in back. So I was locked on a tripod. Had to use long lens from back of church.
    It was ISO3200 f2.8 1/60th. Super dark. I ended up using manual focus and Live View for these so I new there would be no focus error. The shots in LV tended to be a touch more silent than the norm. And yes, he did ask to listen to my camera. He asked that it not be so loud like the new cameras.
    I assume he had someone machine gunning his ceremony before.
    That said, its the only one Ive shot that was that strict. But rules are rules and we must respect them. He hugged me and thanked me afterwords and apologized for being so strict, but they were his wishes. The couple was ok with it, they were told before contract was signed.

    That said, equipment. Hope you have a fast lens. An 85 f1.8 may be a workhorse lens in dark high ceiling churches. I use a 70-200 f2.8L IS alot! But the 85f1.8 has saved me numerous times. It lets in tons more light and flash than a 2.8 lens. And its sharp wide open.

    I use the black foamie(Neils invention) thing alot. But use my own version of this a ton too. I use the bottom of clothing box inside out. I make a flash snoot out of this with the white inside. I find the black foam thing soaks up a lot of flash(because its black) and in a high church, my 580 EX with quantum battery doesnt have reach sometimes.
    This snoot sends a beam longer distances without spread reaching further away with more power.

    Hope this helps. get there early and experiment, then you'll have a game plan at show time.
  • I shoot in a historic city where we have lots of destination weddings. Most of the couples are not members of the churches and have no idea that the church rules can be fairly strict.

    I don't use flash during a ceremony unless it's an outside night time ceremony or during the recessional. But in the churches, I'll shoot with my Nikon D700 and can easily get nice images using 6400 ISO with my 70-200 2.8 VR. There are often times where movement is prohibited so I'm forced to pick a spot and stay there. Fortunately, I'll switch lenses and at least try to get a few different perspectives so all of the images don't look the same.
  • I shot a wedding on the 27th of December in a cathedral with a 5 or 7m ceiling, it was pouring outside and the mass was at 2pm, there was NO light whatsoever. I used the flash with the BFT because it made the lighting a touch better, ISO 4000 for the up the aisle at 125th and ISO 2500 for the rest at 80th, I have good glass, 24-70 f2.8, only 70-200 F4 though. No priest has ever said to me that I couldnt use flash, but use to shoot without.

    @dmgoodson, ISO6400 even on a D700 has to have noise, or you know something I don't :)

  • dgvdgv Member
    some photographers setup constant lights (the tungsten types) to the sides of the altar at church. This raises the ambient level for comfortable hand held shots. Atleast this way it is not as distracting as flashes going off.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    I'm busy with an article for the Tangents blog on this topic. It should be up in a few days.
  • I look forward to reading that one Neil, as I have a wedding in basically wood cabin type restaurant - low, wood ceilings, dark wood walls, and very low tungsten lighting. I'm heading there tonight to take some test shots because these conditions will make it very difficult to shoot in!
  • KaramelBeeKaramelBee Member
    edited January 2011
    Neil.. Thanks for writing this new article in response to this topic! Will read it through very soon. I also see your latest article on pocket wizards, that exactly is a next topic I wanted to ask you more information about. You are at the cutting edge of your blog readers' next thoughts! ;-) Keep the good work going!
    Karla De Smedt
  • Neil. I noticed in a lot or maybe all, of your church processional examples, they are shot in horizontal orientation. Is that the best? I always shot in vertical and had problems keeping the aiservo in focus as they are walking toward me to shoot them. So should I switch to horizontal and not get the entire body?
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    I mainly shoot in the horizontal format because I don't want to resort to a rotating flash bracket.



    A question .. do you really need the entire body for that type of shot?

    How often do people choose the full-length shot over the half-length shot when picking photos for the album?

  • ikkoikko Member
    edited February 2011
    I used to shoot the processional in portrait but now I do it in landscape, I found that, and especially with the bride and her father, that shooting from far and zoomed in and kinda waist height including guests on the side is really effective.

    People tend to have the phones out to take pictures and have great expressions when seeing the bride in her dress.

    It really works for me...but to do that you need a brightish church otherwise your flash will struggle at that distance.
  • To be truthful, virtually no one orders any processional shots. I just always did it because it was nice to see the bridesmaids and groomsmen coming down the aisle in their full dress up clothes. I have a camera rotating bracket.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    I do agree that barely anyone ever orders them ... yet, you'd better have them, or your client will be disappointed in the gap in coverage. :)
  • True..so I'll keep doing them but change to shooting them in horizontal..getting too hard for the AF to focus on something on the girls or guys as they are moving toward me in dim light. I could focus on a spot on a pew or on the floor and shoot when they reach that spot.
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