tips for photographing in a church

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by marissa_wunch, Oct 21, 2009.

  1. Hi everyone! I've been asked to photograph a Sunday service at a church - the service itself, people's faces, a bit of interior, documentary type style photos. As I understand, it's a small church with few windows, probably converted from a private house. I have a Canon 5D and a Canon 24-105 1.4 L series lens. I have a canon 430EX flash but doubt they will let me use it during the service (maybe before and after to photograph people). I also have 17-40mm 1.4L series lens but probably don't need to take it with me if the room is so small.
    If you have any tips for photographing in such small spaces, I would really appreciate it! I think there will be some candles involved as well, so not sure what to do about the white balance. I was thinking of doing a custom WB but since I will be moving around the room a lot, probably not a good idea. My plan is to use ISO 1600 or maybe even 3200 at F8 or F5.6. If I get to use flash, I will lower ISO. I usually do landscape photography so this is totally new to me.
  2. I have a canon 430EX flash but doubt they will let me use it during the service (maybe before and after to photograph people).​
    Ask the person officiating the ceremony. Of all the weddings I've photographed and attended as a guest I think flash photography was permitted during the procession and recession 99% of the time and during the ceremony 80+% of the time. Some churches limit where the photog can stand during the ceremony.

    A monopod will offer a compromise between stability and mobility.
    If you find you're shooting by candlelight at ISO 3200 at f/8, maybe f/8 is the wrong place for you to be. While I appreciate the value of depth-of-field as much as the next person, you have two f/1.4L lenses. Bring both and plan on embracing your wider apertures. Accurate exposure is more important than depth-of-field OMO.
    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video
  3. I would find out what the actual lighting will be like during the service. I think your expectation for using ISO 3200 and f8 or f5.6 is unrealistic, unless you are on a tripod and people aren't moving. I could be wrong, though if there is much light coming through windows.
    You may have to rent a couple of fast primes to be able to go mostly hand held (maybe on a monopod) and to be able to photograph people without motion blur.
    I would shoot RAW and deal with white balance in post. If there is any daylight coming in the room, you will have mixed lighting anyway, and custom white balance will change depending upon where your subject is.
  4. Do as Henry suggests and talk to the officiant. There are different rules for "official" photographers and guests who are snapping photos.
    Most churches / officiants now will tell you exactly where you can and can't be...and what / when you can and can't shoot. They will also tell you if flash is allowed before, during or after the ceremony. My experience is that 90% don't allow flash of any kind during the ceremony and the 10% that do allow it - it's not needed with a fast lens.
    99% of the churches I've shot at allow flash before the ceremony - including the procession / recessional. There always is that 1% that won't allow flash at any time...
    Shoot in raw and worry about the wb in post processing. Use a monopod - if you have one and shoot the candles at a slower shutter speed (1/50) just make sure to change it back when done.
    5d is a decent high (above 1600) iso camera. You can / should be able to deal with any noise issues in post processing cleanup
  5. I would like to point out that there is no 24-105mm f/1.4L or 17-40mm f/1.4L lens. These are both f/4, not f/1.4. This is difference of 3 stops, so I want to bring attention to this error.
    Theses are great lenses wide open, though, and you might consider shooting them all the way at f/4. This is 2 stops better than f/8. I would shoot RAW with White Balance on AUTO to handle odd and frequently changing light. This will only require minor adjustment later in post. For the rest, I think all the best suggestions have been covered.
  6. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    “there is no 24-105mm f/1.4L or 17-40mm f/1.4L lens”
    I took the lens nomenclature to be that the colon (“:”) was omitted and a period (“.”) was inserted in error, rather than implying they were each F/1.4 lenses: especially as there was no “f” used.
    EF 24 to 105 1:4 L USM
    EF 17 to 40 1:4 L USM etc
    But it is important to clear this up, in case one was expecting to use F/1.4.
    “I also have 17-40mm 1.4L series lens but probably don't need to take it with me if the room is so small”
    I disagree.
    If the Church is small, then there is more likelihood you will want the wide especially for “a bit of interior, documentary type style photos.”
    “any tips for photographing in such small spaces”
    If you need to go wider than 28mm, then try to keep the main subject closer the centre of the frame and get about head level with them – foreshortening is your enemy, especially of you are working close.
    “My plan is to use ISO 1600 or maybe even 3200 at F8 or F5.6.”

    You cannot really have a plan, until you know the light, at this time all you have an hope – do not bank on an hope. Go have a look at the same time of day the service will be held . . . and then plan for “three stops less” – if there is a storm outside.
    I think a monopod will be your friend if you are around 1/50s or slower and you use the wider zoom.
  7. Shooting for the church is different than just shooting in the church or during a wedding, etc. They may well be amenable to enhanced lighting, etc. Since it's a staged shoot, a commercial so to speak, you might want to consider, with their help, not trying to shoot during an actual service but during a mock service which allows for better lighting, better selection of positions, retakes, etc. This also allows the selection (or exclusion) of individuals who may or may not want to be used in promotional advertising and minimizes the "release" issues.
  8. A flash isn't going to cut the mustard here because it would be too much light. You need to use a wide angle lens and shoot it wide open. If you can rent a wide angle f/2.8 lens that would help you a great. Also, try to use a lens with vibration compensation or use a tripod. Fast lenses are going to do the trick here.
    For white balance, just shoot in RAW and correct in post. You will need the exposure latitude to make corrections for the darkness anyway.
    Good luck.
  9. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I have shot indoor functions, (which this is), for many years, using bounced or diffussed Flash - I cannot understand why using a Flash would not cut the mustard and be too much light?

    The EF24 to 105F/4 L IS USM, is an "IS lens" (Image Stabilization).

    The EF24 to 105F/4 L IS USM, is the widest lens Canon makes, with an IS fucntion, which will mount on a 5D.

    It is very important to realize that, especially when shooting at high ISO, one needs to be quite accurate with the exposure “in camera”.

    To assume that there is a great latitude to later correct, incorrect exposure in post production, is exceptional dangerous, perhaps fatal, if one wants to provide a quality, saleable product.

    Especially noteworthy is that if one attempts to correct underexposed images when using High ISO, most likely one will encounter, amongst other problems:
    >vastly increased and noticeable noise
    >poor shadow detail
    >poor mid-tone contrast (goes to richness of skin tones)
    >washed out blacks

  10. Good move to come on here for some advice. I’m trying to envision the lighting situation in a small church with few windows and candles in use. I’m pretty convinced it’s going to be fairly dark to quite dark. If so, and they don’t allow flash during the service, you have a couple of choices: faster lenses or slower shutter speeds. You’ll probably want to use both approaches.
    Your current lenses, opening only to f4.0, won’t let in the kind of light you’re going to need here. So, get (borrow, rent, purchase) one or more faster lenses. The best “bang for the buck” is the 50mm f1.4, but in a small church, this may not be wide enough for what you want. Another choice would be a 24-70mm f2.8 zoom, although this is a lens which does not always perform perfectly. Some wide prime, while more expensive, would probably be the best choice (sorry, I’m a Nikon guy, so I’m not that familiar with Canon lenses).
    Once you settle on this lens, a good deal of practice is in order. The key thing is to get a feel for real-world depth of field. Do some practicing at home, with different f stops, to see what depth of field you’re going to have. As you know, the farther away from your subject you are, the deeper your depth of field, and the wider your aperture, the more shallow your depth of field. You’re going to want to shoot wider, to get more light, and in a small church, you may not be able to get as far back from the subject(s) as you would like, so it’s important to have a feel beforehand for how shallow your depth of field is going to be.
    Then, prepare to use slower shutter speeds by bringing a tripod (preferable) or monopod (less preferable) to the church.
    With faster lens(es), a tripod, and a flash on hand, you will be better prepared to deal with whatever the situation demands.
    Best of luck,
  11. I would advocate for use of the 17-40L for sure, with the 24-105L being used for candids and more subject isolation. I frequently shoot during service at my church, and often the lighting is less than ideal. Even with my humble 400D, I get pretty decent shots at its max ISO of 1600. I do deploy my 50 f/1.8 frequently and I am also allowed to use flash, so that makes a big difference. I prefer to shoot sans flash and only pull it out when I want to be totally sure of a keeper.
    <p>Now that I have my 5D2 (smile) I haven't yet had a chance to try it out at my church, but from the night shooting I've been doing, I expect great results. The 5D1 is no slouch in the high ISO department either. I reckon ISO 1600 at f/8 or even f/5.6 will not be achievable (without flash). If you are allowed to use flash, then the two lenses you have are sufficient IMO. If you can get your hands on the "nifty fifty" - Canon's EF 50 f/1.8 lens - it will definitely stand you in good stead.
    <p>I've noted that several posters have assumed this is a wedding rather than a church service. I wouldn't advocate for a posed "faux" service as that, IMO, is not a truthful representation, ironic when you figure it is a church you're shooting in :)
  12. Do as you please regardless of what the "officiant" tells you. I know it sounds "ballsy," but what is the minister going to do if you start shooting with flash or go wandering? Stop the proceedings and throw you out? I think not. When I was shooting weddings 20 years ago, I did everything gonzo style. I ignored the "rules" and did as I please. I was not popular with the priests/ministers/rabbis, but I got the results. If they confronted me afterwards, I feigned ignorance or misunderstanding of the rules. I shot for UPI in Vietnam, so I was not--and am not--intimidated by anyone.
  13. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "Do as you please regardless of what the "officiant" tells you. I know it sounds "ballsy," but what is the minister going to do if you start shooting with flash or go wandering? Stop the proceedings and throw you out?"
    This advice is ill-informed.
    Yes. I have seen the proceedings stopped and I have seen the Priest ask an offender to leave the premises – as is his right so to do.
    Also, if one reads the question carefully, we note that this is not a Wedding, but rather it is is a gig to Photograph a Church Service - so the “Client” if you will, is the "Officient" - (not the Bride & Groom as per a Wedding).
    Directly ignoring a request by one’s client would be a sure method of disenfranchising the client and certainly tainting both business and personal relationships with the Clergy, Church Management and Congregation.
    Also, it is my opinion that disregarding Church Rules for a Wedding does more harm than good for one's business – YMMV.
    I haven't done any War Correspondence (if that is what is alluded to) but I have shot over 1500 weddings and driven 3 successful W&P studios.
    I have friends (and have had friends - now passed)
    (Oct 26, 2009; 02:37 p.m.)
    These guys do - and did - the real deal, in strife stricken lands and warzones - they are very tough, but they are the first to acknowledge that there are rules . . . and then there are Bottom-Line Rules.
    Inside a Church is not a Warzone - though many through history have attempted so to make it.
  14. I've personally been thrown out of a wedding ceremony by the officiant, even though the supposed offense was not my fault but the fault of the videographer's photographer. It happens.
  15. My experience is that I was never booted out, but I really never did anything outrageous. I just pushed the envelope with flash, positioning, wandering where I wasn't suppose to go. I got dirty looks, but I think the officant would have been too embarassed to correct me or throw me out. The couple would have freaked and gone "postal" at the priest, minister or rabbi.
    Yes, I did do combat photography in Vietnam for UPI. After that experience, some supercillious "officiant" was not going to intimidate me. I did some rock concert work but back then access was easier, nothing like the nightmare it is today.
    I haven't shot a wedding in 20 years and don't miss it at all. Now with digital, the clients expect a burned CD with all the "proofs" by the end of the big day. I don't need to deal with that. God bless those of you that have the stomach to do it!
  16. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I think there is a total difference in the literal meaning and also how the masses generally would read and interpret:
    "Do as you please regardless of what the "officiant" tells you. . . I ignored the "rules" and did as I please. I was not popular with the priests/ministers/rabbis, but I got the results. If they confronted me afterwards, I feigned ignorance or misunderstanding of the rules."
    "I really never did anything outrageous. I just pushed the envelope with flash, positioning, wandering where I wasn't suppose to go. I got dirty looks, but I think the officant would have been too embarassed to correct me or throw me out."
    The former literally means there is no limit to one’s actions and bullish behaviour, conveys little or no respect for the Physical Environment (Church), or Occasion (Wedding) and states that blatant falsehoods are the singular method of recourse if and when confronted.
    The latter implies a systematic and balanced approach, which pushes the envelope, after first determining: the Terrain; the Risks; the “Enemy's” Capacity, and then calculates the likelihood of one’s success with all actions one undertakes.
    I think these two answers are entirely different.
    I certainly understand and appreciate the second - but not the first.

  17. I still disagree. In my experience, officiants are not too embarrassed to throw you out, and couples will not freak and go ballistic at the officiant. They will watch as you are thrown out. Take into consideration that things have changed in the last 20 years. It is fair to say that officiants and churches are probably more active is curtailing photographer actions.
  18. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    On the matter of how things change . . .
    Where I work (Aus.), there are Churches (of different denominations) which now have a “No Photography Rule.” during the Wedding Service.
    Church Wardens or Members of the Church Council are usually at the door and when a anyone passes with a camera in hand they are reminded of the rule. Anyone using a Camera during the Wedding Service is removed.
    Over the course of my Pro life, this fashion has grown, not greatly, but certainly grown. It appears obvious that the Councils / Priests / Ministers etc, basically got sick and tired of the Snap Crackle and Flash disrupting the Wedding Ceremony as ALL folk (Congregation included) flaunted the “No Flash Rule”.
    The advent of DSLR (and camera phones, too) which employ an automatic Flash in the “Auto” shooting modes has a lot to do with the inadvertent rule breaking – many folk just do not know their Flash is going off or do not know how to stop it doing so. . . .
    But clearly the actions of some Professional Photographers did contribute to these outright bans.
    Interestingly, there are ways around this issue – at least with a few of the Churches in which I have photographed Weddings over the years. Firstly, I think that the rapport developed over the years is valued - and favours and latitudes are provided on that trust which builds over time. I guess the same could be said about rapport that a War Correspondent builds over time – that rapport would allow access to areas and liberties given that others would not have.
    Secondly a formal introduction, approach and request before the event, I know has worked for those who have no prior rapport.
    To be clear when I wrote: “I certainly understand and appreciate the second - but not the first.” . . . the meaning I was conveying was:
    I certainly understand (am sympathetic and tolerant of this point of view) and appreciate (recognize that this is a valid way of working) the second – but not the first.
    Personally, I still choose to continue to work by building rapport – and that means obeying the rules of the location in which I work.

  19. I cannot conceive of a no-photography policy during the wedding ceremony, of depriving the couple of a visual record of their big day. I had no idea that things could get that restrictive. 20 years ago, the rules were scant. Things have gotten more draconian for photographers.
    My experience was that Catholic Churches were the most lenient, many with no rules at all, at least where I'm based, in New York City. I remember a sign in the 1960s that was in the foyer of St. Patrick's Cathedral that said flash photography was specifically allowed, but to please clean up and do not leave spent flashbulbs and film cartons in the pews. The Protestant churches usually were more restrictive. Back then, the Episcopalian cathedral in NYC, St. John the Divine, had a strict no-flash policy and it is a huge, cavernous, dimly lit place; I don't know about now. St. Pat's, where you could use flash, was unbelievably lit up, almost like a sound stage.
    The last "church" event I photographed was a friend's son's christening about 2 years ago. It was in a Catholic parish in Manhattan. The pastor said the only rule he had is that there were no rules, I was free to do as I please, walk where I want, use flash, not use flash, use a tripod if I want, etc., just don't trip over anyone or stumble.
    The churches that had rules, I found, imposed them more for the convenience of the officiant than for the protection of the participants' event experience. A pastor banned flash because he just didn't like flashes going off while he spoke, or forbade you from entering the sanctuary because too much movement made him nervous. The reasons seem arbitrary and capricious, and really benefited no one while really hindering the proper recording of the event.
    I agree that building a rapport is important, you can skirt the rules easier if the pastor or whomever knows you do not go crazy. After shooting in Vietnam, I was in no mood to have someone tell me what I could and could not do. I felt it hindered my creative freedom and if I thought I could get away with breaking the rules -- after sizing up the situation -- I did. If the pastor approached me afterwards in remonstration, I was effusive in my apologies.
    Building rapport in covering Vietnam certainly helped, but we had virtually no restrictions, not like in the Persian Gulf or Iraq wars. If you could hitch a ride in a copter to the action and the pilot had room, you climbed aboard; of course, you knew it could always be your last ride on this earth, but that was the job. Today, with embeds and the like, it's totally different.
    BTW, I love Australia. Many fond memories of R&R there 35-40 years ago.
  20. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I think that experiences gained in the Vietnam War changed many people's moods, I do appreciate this fact - not first hand - but certainly within my close circle of friends and colleagues.
    I am very glad you enjoyed Australia.

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