Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Reviews of photography products that enhance the enjoyment of taking pictures. Published frequently but irregularly.

Shooting The Minister Tweet This   Forward This

21 September 2013

As we were finishing the saga of how we managed to burn a DVD of the wedding video with chapter markers, the made-you-look story of the moment was of an Episcopal minister turning around mid-ceremony to tell two cameramen to go away.

The videographer and the photographer were both apparently shooting behind the minister, when he turned to ask them to leave.

"Where do you want me to be?" the photographer asked.

"Anywhere but here," he said. "This is a solemn assembly not a photography session," the minister explained. "Please move," he added, turning to the videographer. "Or I will stop."

The videographer uploaded the moment to YouTube. And, in what must be a sign of the times, the minister was applauded and the photographer defended with equal enthusiasm.


Naturally we thought of the wedding ceremony at the heart of the video we shot earlier this year.

We shot video with two cameras along with two still photographers who shot the ceremony. It too was outdoors, under a tent on a dock by the water. Not a church, that is, but an event venue.

Many of the same elements, let's just say.

During the wedding, of course, all eyes were focused on the couple and the bridesmaids and the groomsmen and the celibrant, who kept things moving along with patience and humor and the requisite solemnity as well.

Mother of the Groom. One of our favorites.

Our eyes, in particular, were focused on them plus the crowd as we scooted up and down the side aisles and along the back row of the seated guests. We made it a point to stay out of the photographer's way, even consulting with them briefly before the ceremony to be sure the locations we scouted during the rehearsal wouldn't be in their way. They hadn't attended the rehearsal or we would have worked it out then.

So we were conscious of where they were but focused on the action. Until, that is, we started editing the wedding ceremony clips.

As we shot the bridesmaids coming up the center aisle and taking their place left front, we shot silently from the left aisle, out of everyone's way. But in every clip, one of the photographers stood at the foot of the aisle to shoot the bridesmaids.

During the ceremony, the same photographer went up and down the front aisle, crouching down to shoot the couple facing each other. We had a camera set up at the back of the seating area slightly to the right and zoomed in on the couple, avoiding the direct aisle shot. But the shot is often interrupted by the photographer walking into the frame and dropping down.

Although it wasn't part of the ceremony, both photographers shot continuously during the three toasts, as well. Our angle on those was confined but they weren't in our way. What we noticed most of all was the sound of those shutters snapping through the toasts.

Matron of Honor Toast. A video still.

Not, keep in mind, during the event, but afterwards as we ran through our clips over and over and over again during the editing process.

That gives us a rather unusual view of the problem.


Much of the debate about the minister's behavior casts him as either a relic from the pre-industrial age or as a prophet channeling the true spirit of the ceremony. Likewise, the photographer and videographer are cast as either simply doing the job they were hired to do (if perhaps not very professionally) or as soul-sucking paparazzi.

The word to focus on there, though, is "cast."

Let's change hats. Say you're neither the bride nor the groom. Not the minister. Not the photographer, not the videographer. Say you're the director.

The scene is a wedding. The minister got that right. It isn't a photo shoot. Church or outside, it doesn't matter. No one put a seamless behind the minister. No three point lighting with monoblocs and a "turn a little this way, dear, please ... that's it, perfect" from the photographers before the vows.

As the director do you want to see two cameras at stage center rear behind the main action? Of course not. We don't call it "upstage" for nothing. It's distracting. You blur that background. You hear birds and maybe some bees. You insinuate some meaning into the scene.

A wedding, solemn as it is, does not dispense with theater.

We suspect things would have proceded as the videographer expected, though, had the still photographer not been making such an audibly disturbing racket with his camera. The videographer, after all, was shooting from a tripod, which would have been evident to the minister before the ceremony started. That would have been a better time to suggest another shooting location. The rehearsal would have been the proper time, though.

But once the minister turned around, he had to ask both of them to move. Not to stop shooting, notice. But to leave the area behind him. And go where? "Anywhere but here," he told them.

Which is not terrific as a stage direction, but he's just the minister, not the director.

A director might have had the couple face each other rather than the minister. So both the minister and the family can see the faces of the bride and groom. And the photographer doesn't have to sneak into the scene to get the shot.

But the minister is right. The photographers shouldn't be upstaging the action. They aren't part of the show. They're recording it. Shoot from anywhere but the stage, he tells them.

What you see from the photographers in the video as well as the photographers at our wedding is no sense of the stage, no theater chops.

A wedding, solemn as it is, does not dispense with theater.


Let's put this in a little informal but historical perspective.

Our earliest family wedding images are from the 1920s. They are studio shots of bridal parties. There's one per wedding, a formal arrangement with the bride on the left and the groom on the right, the rest of the party arrayed alongside them.

1920s Studio Shot. No minister.

It was probably taken at the studio before the wedding, the flowers fresh, everyone at their best. It's hard to imagine these hardworking people dressing like that twice in one week.

In the 1950s, the photographer still hadn't made it into the church but he got the shot of the couple in the limo after the wedding and formal group portraits at the reception. The cake cutting, too.

It just so happened that the father of one bride was a pharmacist who worked at Owl Drugs then and had access to the latest photo gear, including a Bell & Howell 16mm movie camera. So his daughter's wedding had color footage taken outside the church by a buddy as everyone arrived. In those candid clips, you can see what the world was like in the 1950s.

And it's memorable today even to the newest generation in the family. Passing the church on a recent tour of the city, one of the youngest observed that's where the movie was made. As if it had happened yesterday.

1950s 16mm Frame Grab. The only color image of him.

In the 1970s photographers got into the church after the ceremony for formal shots on the altar after the ceremony. But there were, with professional wedding photographers at least, formal portraits taken at the homes of the bride and groom before the ceremony as well as candids taken at the reception. A few of those still hang on our walls.

The idea was to sell prints. So the more photos of more people the more prints you might sell.

Video wasn't feasible then but it became so in the digital age. And that seemed to open the door to photographing the entire event. Video, though, is unobtrusive. It's silent and doesn't have to have auxiliary light. Still photography is noisy and loves a strobe. Just ask Gary Fong.

So an event (not just weddings but keynote addresses and product introductions and anything else done on stage) can be easily recorded as video without intrusion but when you let those still photographers in, they run all over the place making a racket and distracting the audience like stage crew that forgot to put the murder weapon on the mantle.

Reception. The full cast assembled.

Even when there isn't a stage, there's a stage. Take those toasts at the reception. Someone stands up at their table, everyone falls silent. Except the still photographers. Sure, a handful of shots as they steady themselves for the toast is legit, but there's no need to shoot through the whole toast. As any working photojournalist can tell you. Be ready in case something happens, but you don't need 150 shots of a toast.


We treasure our formal family wedding portraits. Yes, they're posed and they reveal very little about life in those times. They are a fantasy, a fairy tale, an expression of the very brightest hopes. And if we tear up when we look at them, it's because we know now what happened. The good and the bad. How life intruded. What happened in Act III.

We also treasure that old color movie, since digitized. The great grandmother we had only seen in a cotton dress scrubbing the kitchen floor on her knees now standing proudly in front of the church in her fur, dabbing tears from her eyes. The majestic fenders of the limousine parked in front of the church, as if it were ready to negotiate all the turns in the road ahead. A grandfather walking nervously to the corner by himself, turning to smile at the camera, the only color footage of the man. The amusement of seeing our ancient relatives as kids. That was the overture, certainly.

The formal portraits, the candids. The hopes, the reality. That's what we treasure about those images.

And you can't see a photographer in any of them.

BackBack to Photo Corners