You’re an expert in photography. You don’t need to be an expert in religion too, right? Well, not technically, but if you’re going to be capturing religious ceremonies, it’s a good idea to know the proper etiquette before you unwittingly breach some cultural taboo. Religious events are sacred; special—and your job as the photographer is to record the event, without interfering with the spirit of that event.
These kinds of ceremonies include weddings, christenings, ordinations, some school graduations, and rites of passage including Bat Mitzvahs or Bar Mitzvahs among many others. If you consider these event photography tips, you can set yourself apart from other photographers, and please your clients even more:
1. Do your research
This should be a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how many new photographers go into an important event without doing some basic research. An event photographer’s job — no matter what the ceremony — is to tell the story through the effective capture of all the important moments. If you don’t know what moments are important — like the breaking of glass in a Jewish wedding or the anointing of the child during a christening — you won’t be prepared to capture it.
2. Dress code
The best thing for you to do is blend in as much as possible. If the church or venue has a website, many times the dress code will be listed. This can vary greatly not only from religion to religion, but from denomination to denomination within a religion. For example, in Christian tradition, you will be expected to dress more conservatively in a Catholic service than you would in a Pentecostal service, where many people wear jeans and tend to dress more casually.
3. Reacting to quiet moments
One of the most difficult things to deal with when capturing a religious ceremony is the quiet moments, typically when the religious leader – the minister, priest, etc. – is praying. You may find yourself asking if it’s appropriate to snap photographs in such a sacred moment. First, make sure you have disabled any unnecessary sounds which your camera produces, and if possible, activate your camera’s “silent shooting” mode, to avoid creating any distracting noises. Many modern cameras will have such settings.
Characteristically, you may snap several shots per second when shooting events. When it comes to these moments, however, refrain from excessive shooting. Instead, take the time to line up your shots, so that it will take fewer attempts to get the images you need for your clients. The last thing you want to do is annoy the guests who are attending the ceremony by constantly firing the shutter.
4. Arrive early
There’s nothing more disrespectful than arriving late to an event, and this is especially true in the case of a religious ceremony. By arriving early, you are giving yourself a chance to accurately survey the environment and establish yourself in a prime position so that when the event begins, you are both prepared and out of the way.
5. Respect boundaries
In many ceremonies, including weddings, the church will have rules and regulations about use of flash and position of the photographer. Make sure you know all the information up front. Ask the organizer for specifics if you need to, so that you don’t break the rules and either upset the organizers or disrupt the ceremony.
6. If in doubt, ask
There’s a reason your client hired you — they trust you to be able to capture this important moment in their lives without taking away from the spirit of that moment. So, if you’re having difficulty finding the information you need using third-party sources, don’t be afraid to ask your client directly. Odds are they will appreciate you taking the time to effectively learn about and prepare for the event.