Note to the Reader: This article specifically focuses on HTM's experience in/working with the Catholic Church, but is applicable for most church weddings as well. That said, every couple has their own vision and HTM is welcoming to all couples looking to photograph their union in a meaningful way.
Whether you've had your heart set on getting married in the same church as your parents since you were a kid, or you've been dreaming of celebrating with a full Mass since becoming engaged, one thing always becomes quite clear early on: if you want to marry in the church, you'll have to play by the church's rules.
...and, in my experience, nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Catholic Church.
Therefore (for the modern bride/couple wanting to be married in the church) choosing your wedding photographer AND reception space should rank high on your list. These two components will offer you the most perspective and balance to the day itself and here's why:
1) Limited Ceremony Décor & Architectural Challenges
First and foremost, when marrying in the Church, it's important to understand you aren't just saying "yes" to the tradition and rituals themselves. Or even a yes/no to including a Mass. You are also saying yes to whatever the sanctuary looks like as ceremony décor guidelines are often very limiting.
And depending on when the last remodel took place this could lead to a wide array of factors to consider. For instance, sanctuaries that were updated in the 80-early 2000s often love to use bold carpet colors like green, blue or red. Moreover, cathedral-like venues tend to forgo the bold carpets but are often overall darker locations, due to their sheer volume in size.
The lack of windows or addition of stained glass are also factors to be considered. In that case, if you are a church (or Catholic) bride marrying in the church, you'll want to look for a photographer who can really make the most of the space as it is. Who can capture the parts you love and can help hide the parts you don't.
For instance, check out the before and after below. In this wedding, the bride wanted to marry in the same church as her parents and grandparents before her. That also meant accepting the GREEN tile floors with banana YELLOW walls that went with it.
In this case, the way the images are edited is as important as how they were shot.
Or these images for instance, where the altar is decorated with a BEAUTIFUL glass window that backlights the portraits in a tricky way. Again, understanding lighting and how to edit it and the glass' color really impacted the final images for this bride:
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No one wants their wedding gown looking yellow in photos - nor does a bride want the aisleway chopped out due to it's color -- especially when she's sporting a Cathedral length veil. So understanding lighting as well as how to balance color in the editing process was incredibly important.
Still not convinced? Check out this wedding ceremony before & after...
Ceiling Can Light Distractions Removed
2) Bridal Suite Portraits: Working Within Sunday School Room(s)
Okay, so I admit it -- Bridal Suites in the Sunday School Room are definitely a pet peeve of mine, but it's understandable why the church nearly always does it. I mean logistically it makes sense - it's an unused room during the wedding that is easily accessible and keeps the bride hidden away. On the flip side however, it also means toys, play furniture and generally limited windows. But that's ok...it's workable with the right help.
The Room Itself...
vs. Framing The Best Shots...
So love, to help make the most of the space there are a few things you and your team can do:
Let your photographer know beforehand so they can scout out ideas before it's time to shoot.
Have your bridesmaids/crew arrive ON TIME so they can work with the photographer to clear out an area (preferably by a window) designated for the "getting ready" shots.
If you have a choice in which room you're able to get ready in, choose the room with the MOST light and the LEAST amount of things in it.
And if all else fails, if/when it doubt, snap a pic and send it to your photographer for help before the wedding day. A good photographer will have some ideas on how to make the most of the space and really help you, your gown and the "getting ready" moments shine.
3) Respectful Vendors With Proper Gear For The Job
In most churches, there are not only rules for the bride and groom, but also their vendors - and more specifically the photographer(s).
Therefore it never hurts to be working with a team that understands how seriously these rules are to be taken and how to make the most of what they're working with. This is when experience within the church as well as understanding the proper gear go a long way towards capturing the ceremony the way you want to remember it and not necessarily the way it was.
4) Strict Timelines + Location, Location, Location
As noted above, when opting for a church wedding brides often go into it understanding there will be at least some limitations to what they can and can't do to the altar/chapel/sanctuary/narthex.
Therefore, for the bride/couple wanting to add more of a personable vibe to the day overall, the wedding reception venue is a great place to do it! Mixing a formal Church Ceremony with a rustic barn, chic ballroom or industrial style wedding reception is a great way to customize the vibe.
For instance, after working with Rebecca, we figured out that she wanted both traditional altar shots as well as some modern stunners from her day.
Off site wedding receptions also allow for more of a variety in your final gallery as well as customizing the overall feel of the day. For instance, a couple opting to marry in the church will also (in my experience) want to utilize the altar for formal family photos. However, as anyone who has been in or shot at a church wedding knows, the time available is oven limited due to service start times, etc.
Therefore it's critical not only to have a proper timeline of the day planned ahead of time but to also plan for outdoors or off-site portrait location to maximize coverage while respecting church rules. The reception location thereby offers an excellent opportunity to take advantage of in this regard.
For instance, check out Rebecca, the bride below. In the first image we took advantage of the beautiful stained glass at the altar. Then, in the next image we put a slightly modern flair on things by maximizing the use of the outside grounds after the ceremony.
Finally, before sneaking into the reception for the big announcement of Mr. & Mrs. we took a few stunning sunset shots at their reception venue. All three sets were taken in a period of about 1.5hr but look at the impact...
By understanding the church's expectations and sharing the information with your photographer early, you can work together to make the most of the time you have on church grounds / in the chapel as well as plan on alternative spots to round out your gallery, if need be.
Remember, no challenge or rule is final. Every obstacle you run into while planning your wedding can be managed and handled. The trick of it is to be able to plan ahead and share the information early with any wedding vendors helping with your timeline.
Okay girl - now get off your phone and go get after it! Happy Planning, Sis.
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Hey there - I'm Chelsea! A coffee worshipping Hoosier native, just trying to raise a kiddo and capture vivid memories in central IN for my families & brides. To see more of our work, make sure to FOLLOW us on Facebook and Instagram & sign up for our VIP club to get first dibs on open session date! Curious about me? Dive into my story of how I flushed my comfortable Fortune 500 Marketing Career to take on the life of a SMB owner at HashTag Memories Photography!
Or maybe the idea of photos stresses you out? Check out this blog post where I get REAL about how shooting a session of my own kiddo taught me how to help YOU mitigate Mommy Session Stress - or this one where we share basic planning tips & FAQs to help set you up for success on your next shoot.