Church Vs Civil Service

A couple coming together with loved ones, both family and friends to celebrate a marriage is more important than where the service and reception are held. For many couples the choice of venue is dictated by cost, balanced against everything else they want to make their day a success.
I do not need to discuss the religious aspects of choosing a suitable venue. There is a wealth of factual information on-line explaining this aspect of wedding planning.
My blog considers what the photographer can and can’t provide, subject to any controls set by the venue.

Church Service

Couples spend time considering what venues are available and how much they will charge. For many brides their dream wedding will be in a church with all the romantic tradition of stained glass windows, high ceilings, and stone pillars. There is no question that this setting can allow spectacular images to be captured, images that will bring back magical memories of what will be arguably the best day of their life.


However, despite the high costs required to secure a church wedding, it often means that all the photographic memories they might wish for will not be recorded, or they may be limited to a few images before and after the service with guests waiting around by the delay.
To be fair this is not always the case and I will include images taken in churches whereI have been given sensible access. In the second part of this discussion I will consider alternative venues that provide a similar facility but which also allow practically unrestricted photography.
Let’s first consider what my camera can produce shooting a wedding service. I use a Nikon D4 which is Nikon’s flagship pro camera. This camera allows me to shoot in low light without a flash. In addition if I use a long lens and set the camera to silent mode, so I can be virtually invisible if required.
Let me share some of my difficult church experiences. It’s worth noting that I always make a point of visiting a venue before a wedding to discuss rules and understand what I can and can’t do. This is very helpful and can remove surprises and will hopefully allow me to have a little more freedom. Understanding the layout and structure of any location will also make a massive difference.
Typically I will be allowed to photograph the couple walking down the aisle, but then no photographs until the service is complete. I can then photograph the couple walking back down the aisle. Variations to this rule might include being allowed to photograph the first kiss from a distance and reenacting the signing of the register after it has been signed and witnessed for real. Due to legal requirements this last point is typical in all venues although unusually an exception was once made in a church where I was allowed to photograph the actual signing of the register.
Two particularly frustrating experiences included being promised that a door would be left open allowing me to photograph the couple walking down the aisle before the service and then allowing me to get to the back of the church ready to take photographs of the couple walking back down the aisle when the service had ended. Unfortunately the door was left locked and I was trapped in a position that made my job impossible.
My worst experience was not being allowed in a church during the service at all. After everything was complete I was allowed to take a handful of posed shots. On this occasion I was not even permitted to sit at the back and at least witness the service take place.
To complete this part of my blog I should say that there are always exceptions to the above. It is also probably true that the action of some photographers using flash and interfering with the flow of the service will have helped to create problems which should not exist. There have also been a number of instances where once I had explained how I can work, silent, unobtrusive and sympathetic, access within the church has been allowed and beautiful images have been captured.

Civil ceremony

I have yet to experience any difficulties covering wedding photography at a civil service. Registrars are always positive and friendly, and they share the view that this is the couple’s special day and that what they want is all important. My approach is the same. I don’t take advantage of this implied freedom and I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. The result is that couples get beautiful images of the full service. This will include exchanging glances, humour, emotions, the exchange of rings, readings and of course the all-important first kiss. Signing the register with witnesses and walking back down the aisle and into their new life together is a record of their wedding service and completes a photographic story.
So what has been lost? Again I do not want to get into a religious debate or related issues in this blog. Returning to a point made at the beginning, I referred to the “church like” tradition feel of a venue. Can this really be captured at a civil service? The answer is yes, because there are numerous venues that offer not only a perfect location but also beautiful grounds and external features that are arguably not available at many church venues.
I am not going to refer to venues that I consider to be difficult. I would rather list a few venues that in my experience as a photographer, offer something special in and around the Newcastle upon Tyne area and a little beyond. Clearly this list is not exhaustive, but they are some of my favourite locations.


Matfen Hall Northumberland



This venue offers a service environment difficult to match by many churches.   Also spectacular grounds and vistas supporting beautiful outdoor shots.


De Vere Slaley Hall Hexham


This venue offers a great service, location beautiful grounds and a Japanese garden with a stone ornamental feature. As well as a beautiful pond set within a natural grassed area.


As you like it Jesmond



This venue may be relatively small but it is so well organised and beautifully decorated it provides a perfect service location. There is no external area however. It’s only a short drive to Jesmond Dene where there are plenty of trees and greenery.

Newton Hall Northumberland



This venue offers a great service facility with very nice external areas. If time allows it’s not far to the beach.

Alnwick Gardens Northumberland (one image from Alnwick castle)

Untitled-1This venue offers a beautiful service location and also the opportunity to capture exceptional external images. This venue can also be combined with Alnwick castle to provide something really special.

Stranton church in Hartlepool


This is a church venue that must be included. Completely relaxed and with the attitude that the couple should be allowed to have photographs throughout the service.

The sample images above show just how nice images within a church can be if photography is allowed.

No flash was used and with a long lens no one even noticed we were taking pictures.

In conclusion when a couple tell me they have picked a church they usually have no idea that there will be strict rules about photography.  My advice when you are paying so much is find out what your photographer will be allowed to capture. You may be in apposition to negotiate improved access before you part with your money.


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