I've come to the conclusion that The Church of England and Amy Winehouse have a lot in common with one another - both have the potential to change the world, yet both are hell bent on destroying themselves.

Less than 12 months ago the Archbishop of Canterbury passed a new ruling called the "Marriage Measures" it was designed to bring Church Marriages into the 21st Centuries. In brief, the couple no longer had to show a direct connection with a specific church or parish. At last the penny had dropped that couples wanted to marry in pretty churches and so the "Idyllic Churches" were freed to offer their marriage services to all couples. Well done I hear you cry, at last. The Church had seen the writing on the wall and decided to compete with the registry office. One budding Vicar has even started marketing his church on Ebay, I like that... no its not disrespectful, its pragmatic.

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However there seems to be a sinister threat to the Archbishop of Canterbury's hopes for attracting more couples to church for their weddings. There is an alarming trend which could become the dominant view in church unless halted very soon. Worse still it is being implemented as swiftly and efficiently as could only be achieved in a dictatorship.

A bride stands at the altar speaking the most important words of her life so far, “I do”, and whilst she will have her personal memory, she has been banned from having any wedding photographs. With alarming regularity, unswerving authority and without appeal, Church Vicars are saying “No” to wedding photography during the marriage service.

To make matters worse the couple often only find out at the rehearsal. The question then is who do you speak to? What do you do? The Vicar is the face of the church and often an impassable brick wall. I have seen a Vicar leave the groom standing at the Altar, take the bride to one side and tell her in no uncertain terms, “No photography in my church”.

Before I say anything I ought to share my credentials. I may be an award winning photographer, and I am... But I was also a Baptist Minister (Vicar) for ten years and have a degree in Theology (The study of God) from Oxford University and in those years I married dozens of couples and managed many wedding photographers.

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So why are Vicars banning wedding photography in church?

Well it seems for three reasons:

1. The bad behaviour of photographers

2. Photography disrupts the service

3. Photography during a wedding service is simply irrelevant.

“We all encounter bad behaviour in life,

but we don’t focus on it.”

It is true, some wedding photographers can behave badly, climbing over the pews, pointing a lens in the Bride’s face as she say “I do”. One wedding photographer I heard of, stopped the service because his camera malfunctioned and he wanted the minister to do it over again for his backup camera.

So I do sympathise with vicars because some photographers behave badly. But the old saying about “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” springs to mind.

In the Bible, there was a time when the Apostle Peter was fed up with the way he was being treated and he asked Jesus, “How many times should I forgive, seven times.” His reply stunned Peter, seventy times seven, In other words never stop forgiving.

My Policy: Is to agree with the Vicar where Elise my partner will stand at the front of the church and where I will stand at the rear of the church. Without exception Elise never moves from her position unless invited to by the Vicar and I only move if its been agreed beforehand.

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“When disruptions happen,

professionals adapt and move on.”

It was my first service in my first church and I announced the wrong song. The church sang one song the organist played another. I was really annoyed, I wasn't sure what to do, and I felt everything went down hill from that point. An elder member of the congregation said to me "that was fun, at least it made everyone think about what they were singing."

A decade later, in the middle of my sermon a toddler walks up to the platform and grabs my leg. The congregation found this disruption incredible funny. So what did I do? Get annoyed. No. I picked up the toddler and quoted Jesus’ words “The Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”. Then I used the child’s innocent action to explain the kind of life God is looking for from us adults.

Disruption happens, and you can’t always prevent it. However Vicars are trained professionals and are able to adapt and move on. They choose how to respond to disruptions, either use it for good, or become frustrated by it, either way it’s their choice.

The biggest disruption caused by wedding photographers is undoubtedly the use of flash. The flash on your compact camera is bad enough, but a professional flash could be a hundred times more powerful. It can distract the Vicar, the couple, even the whole congregation if it goes off thirty or forty times during a service.

Our Policy: Has been to invest in high speed cameras. Each of our cameras and lens costs in excess of £5,000 but the benefit is 60, 70, 100 photographs during the service virtually silently and without flash. Likewise, we never use continuous shooting. We take single key photographs of expressions, the rings going on, precious moments. Most photographs are taken during hymns or as the congregation stands or sits so no one hears us.

“A picture paints a thousand words,

and God knows that….”

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I always loved the fact that Jesus did His first miracle at a wedding. Kind of tells you how important your marriage is to God, doesn't it.

Now the argument goes, we never used to have photography in church, so we don’t need it now and anyway they didn’t have photographs in Jesus’ day.

Well the world moves on as the Archbishop of Canterbury knows. Today we live in a world where photographs are a central part of our world; consider TV, Web, Facebook, all now part of daily life, all photographically centered. Let’s face it Jesus preached to thousands without a P.A. system, yet you won’t find a church these days without one, or without central heating or electric come to that! Technology simply opens up opportunities and this is a wonderful opportunity for the church to create a memory that will matter the most in a couple’s life.

I always think its tragic when you look through a wedding album and see the bride enter the church, turn the page and everyone is throwing confetti. Where’s the most important moment of this couples life together? Where is the history of the moment, the beauty of the kiss, the joy, the excitement…?

Does God approve of wedding photography? I never speak on behalf of God because He can speak for himself. Just consider that in over 90% of Jesus’ teaching he “painted pictures” in words for the people, they're called parables. For the first 1600 years the church used “The Stations of the Cross”, icon-pictures of the 12 most important aspects of Jesus’ life to teach their congregations the truths of the Bible. What lives on in the world’s consciousness about Jesus are His parables like the Good Samaritan or the Lost Sheep, truth in pictures. What better truth, than the love of two people, pictured forever.

When a couple are going through hard times, they will often get out their wedding album to remember that precious day. Maybe its to help remind them of why they got married, or the vows they made to each other, or their commitment... whatever the reason, what will their wedding album say when the page where they were supposed to say "I do" is blank?

This years 35% of the church weddings we were booked to photograph have either changed church venues or moved to hotels because Vicars banned wedding photography... how sad is that... how Amy Winehouse is that?

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My Advice to Couples:

  • Ask the Vicar at your first meeting for the church’s guidelines on photography.
  • Book a full-time professional wedding photographer who is a member of an International Association like the MPA or BIPP. This will mean that they have to abide by a certain code of conduct.
  • Remember there are hundreds of cheap weekend warriors who have bought cheap digital cameras and now call themselves wedding photographers. You are more likely to run into problems with these photographers.
  • Book your wedding photographer as early as possible and work out where they want to stand in the church, then communicate that to the vicar in person. Telephones and emails are not good ways to communicate issues that affect the service, so meet the vicar at the church and show him where your wedding photographer will stand.
  • Book a wedding photographer who doesn’t need to rely on flash especially during the wedding service
  • Get your wedding photographer to write, telephone or meet the Vicar to confirm that they won’t move during the service, and they will not use continuous shooting and that they will respect the solemnity of the service.
  • If having done everything possible to way lay the fears of the Vicar and yet (s)he refuse to have wedding photography then you can contact the Bishop. If you Google the Parish name where you are getting married the Bishop for that Parish should come up, call him/her and ask for their help, they are usually very helpful. Alternatively you can contact Emily Shepherd, Director of Communications at email: eshepherd@diocant.org

My Advice to Vicars:

  • Set a written church policy and give it to couples and their wedding photographers at the very first meeting.
  • A church’s guidelines could require the use of a qualified wedding photographers who belongs to an accredited association like the MPA or BIPP.
  • If the wedding photographer behaves badly report him/her to their Professional Body, who will take action. Just a thought, forgiveness allows the good guys to carry on with your trust; just-consequences is what is due to badly behaved wedding photographers which should come through their professional body (Their god, "Vengeance is mine says the Lord")

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For more on Wedding Photography Birmingham or Wedding Photographers Birmingham please see the Birmingham Wedding Photographer website at http://www.imaginethat.uk.net

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Great Forum article.The feedback I mostly receive from clergy is unfortunately, due to the amount of part time, in experienced, unprofessional, wannabe photographers, deluding themselves they are professional and simply don't know how to conduct themselves in church, has lead to this worryingly increasing stance.
I have to say that I have never come up against a vicar who has been obstructive, although I have heard of some absolute shockers. As with all things in life, if approached with empathy and tact, you can achieve almost anything. If I may however, I would like to go off track slightly and mention registrars. It is nearly a matter of course for registrars to ban photographers from photographing the signing of the register as it happens and since I work in 'reportage style' I hate setting up a posed shot afterwards. I have contacted the main body for this sort of thing and was told that "as far as they were concerned it was against the law to make a 'mechanical copy' of a legal document". Taking a picture of someone signing a legal document is not a mechanical copy and yes, I have checked the definition. For photographers, this must be a bigger headache. What can we do?
I'm a civil wedding officiant. Frequently, a photographer wants to take a photo of me notarizing the marriage license. In Florida, the bride's and groom's Social Security numbers are on the license. I make a point of covering that section of the license so identity theft by anyone seeing the photo afterwards is not possible.

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