Getting the picture (9): United in joy and suffering

Whether joyful, sad, or solemn, some services come with special occasions—and thus have a unique set of requirements all to themselves. Here are some things the photographer can do to ensure that the event is a memorable one.

When two believing individuals come together and decide to stay together, they often find their way to the altar together as well. And as their family grows, they are quite likely to bring a little person along with them to the altar in order to present him or her to God and the congregation. And of course, no one would want to forget to have a photographer at their baptism or wedding!

Whichever is the case, the following tips apply.

  • Plan and consult: if you find out well enough in advance what is planned before, during, and after the act, you will be in a better position to snap your shot at the right moment..
  • Be at the altar early: especially in large church auditoriums and other halls, your choice of location will be a big factor in a successful (or failed) search for the right subject. The important things is to ensure you have a clear view of the faces of the bridal couple or the person being baptised.
  • Shortly before the “amen”: restraint is required during the actual holy act. Only after prior consultation with the officiant, and always only near the end of the act—if at all—should you ever take two or three shots, without a flash.
  • Nearer, still nearer: don’t stand in the third or fourth row only to be annoyed at the backs of all those heads in the photo. Of course, you can’t get too close to the participants either. Best to use the telephoto lens.
  • Shift your perspective: document the event as both a personal occasion (detail shots and close-ups) and a congregational occasion (overviews and long shots). Calmly change position from time to time.

These instructions also apply for ordinations, appointments, assignments, and retirements. However, it should be noted that ordinations are handled very differently in different areas. For this reason, the number one rule is to ask!

Congratulations are supposed to show happiness!

The photographer has quite a lot of free rein after such occasions—especially when it comes to the congratulations following the service.

  • Capture emotions: these are primarily reflected in people’s faces, but also in their gestures. When taking photos, don’t restrict your vision to the people doing the congratulating, but also keep an eye on the people being congratulated! One way or another, it is helpful to change positions often.
  • Trigger a burst: when people express congratulations or bid farewell, there is usually a lot of movement—and before you know it, the perfect moment can get away. Continuous shooting (or burst mode) increases your chances of capturing the best moments.
  • Pay attention to your exposure time: unfavourable lighting conditions can cause rapidly unfolding events to become blurry and look shaky in the photo. This is because the automatic exposure is too long. The fix: set your exposure time to 1/160 or less in programme mode TV (Canon) or S (Nikon, Sony, Panasonic).

Sympathy with sensitivity

Funeral services, memorial services, and even interments have their very own set of rules to follow. Reverence and respect are the order of the day.

  • Maintain decency: close-ups—even with the telescopic lens—are a non-starter. These photos are intended to protect the intimate sphere of the mourners—not put their grief, suffering, or tears on display.
  • Keep a distance: capture overview images of the congregation. Better yet, take photographs of the church auditorium from back to front. That is one way to avoid making portraits of the mourners.
  • Create symbolic images: floral decorations, candles, a book of condolences, the photo of the deceased, an opened Bible, a verse from the hymnal—all of these images speak for themselves.

Anyone who approaches these demanding tasks with such a degree of empathy will master them.

Photo: Oliver Rütten