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Photography Question 
Scott McCord

Attend Wedding Rehearsal?

As a wedding photographer, I always go to the rehearsals. People always seemed to be surprised that I'm at the rehearsals because they tell me they never see other photographers at rehearsals.
I am wondering if you other wedding photographers out there attend the rehearsals or not. Personally, I find it a pain because they are always disorganized, take forever, and never start on time. And it keeps me up late Friday nights getting my gear ready for the next day. That being said, I do like seeing how the ceremony is planned so I don't have any surprises the next day and I can also step in and make a suggestion if I see something that's going to interfere with my photography.
So, what do you other photographers do as far as attending rehearsals?

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10/31/2008 8:58:07 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  You're exactly right Scott. I've shot two weddings in my career and planning is the key to success. Besides, watching the disorganization, while it can be amusing, lets you know what you will be in for when they try and pull it off.

It's really the same as scoping out any other venue in advance. Knowing where people will be approximately, AC outlets if you need them, vantage points, camera angles, the buffet tables, (jk), and seeing who the key players are is always important.
Take it light ;>)

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10/31/2008 9:42:29 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  I'm in the catering business and have NEVER seen a client's photographer attend the rehearsals for ceremonies contracted through our facility.

The photographer(s) will only show up on the day of the event.

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11/1/2008 3:18:41 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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Carlton's Gallery
  Hi Scott,
I don't attend rehearsals either but I do meet beforehand with whoever I will be working with (getting the groups together and scheduling) and will also check out the venue(s) to see what my lighting challenges will be so I can prepare for the event. I still take everything with me anyway because lighting and situations can and do change but having a basic equipment list to start with saves time.

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11/2/2008 12:58:04 AM


BetterPhoto Member
  If I shoot a wedding, I always attend the rehearsal for some tech prep. I've learned that there's no better way to get good shots of a ceremony. If you are unfamiliar with the venue being used, You can prep, especially for the lighting. You can talk to the minister and find out in detail what the rules are for such things as flash and movement during the ceremony. Also, you will be able to find a good vantage point before the crowds arrive. I have found that most venues will reserve you a place so that you can get good shots, while being out of the way during the actual ceremony. I whole heartedly concur that it's a great idea to attend the rehearsal.

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11/2/2008 11:54:18 AM

Scott McCord   Mark,
I attend the rehearsals for the same reason. We had a wedding on Sat. where I attended the rehearsal and even though I knew what was going to happen during the ceremony, the pastor made a last-minute change by moving the groomsmen in front of a chair where the bride and groom were going to sit. Had I not been there, the groomsmen would have completely blocked me from every vantage point. I was able to point that out and resolve the situation. Also, something that happens at EVERY wedding is that the attendants want to walk right behind each other while coming down the aisle. This gives the photographer no chance to capture the following attendants coming up the aisle because the couple immediately in front of them is in the way. I always iron this out at the rehearsal so I allow myself enough time to capture each couple coming down the aisle.

And on occasions when the wedding is far away from where I live and I cannot get to the rehearsal, I have noticed a big difference in my capturing the images. It's much harder when you aren't there to give feedback beforehand.
I wish not to attend the rehearsals, but I just don't see any way around it as far as preparation goes.

And it's becoming more common for officiants to not allow flash. And many times the bride and groom will tell you it's okay until the night of the rehearsal when the officiant tells me no flash is allowed. In fact, I'm usually the one who tells the couple that flash is not an option by request of the officiant. It always gets me that the official photographer can't use flash, but the guests are sitting there flashing away. In fact, I had one pastor tell me that flash was not an option although he fully expected the guests to use flash. His comment was, "I don't have control over the guests, but I do have control over the hired photographer."

Guess you just gotta go with the flow and adapt to the situation you're given.

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11/3/2008 7:38:17 AM

Bruce A. Dart   Hi Scott,
Ah the stories that can be told about weddings!! I have lost count of the number which I have photographed in the past 30 years, but it is well over 500. And just when you think you have "seen it all," something else pops up. Most professionals do not attend the rehearsals, although I do know one of my friends who does attend them for all of the previously mentioned reasons. As a business, I need to be concerned about the hours spent away from the studio and whether or not I get paid for what I do. I already spend anywhere from 6-8 hours or more at each event. I have an additional "prep" time to be sure my equipment is ready to go. Afterwards, sorting files, getting previews ready, designing an album, etc. takes about another 20 hours before you deliver the product. There are ways to streamline all this but the point is that there is already a LOT of time involved here. Knowing the event and seeing the church are a must. Conducting yourself as a professional is also imperative. We all have egos, including pastors, but we all have a job to do. If you ever want to do another wedding in the same church (as a BUSINESS, repeat business is essential) then you must at all times be professional -- even if it seems like you are dealing with idiots. Like the pro athletes, your job is to get it done when called on. No excuses! Fast film (now digital ISO), fast lenses (as well as telephoto), and tripods will point you in the right direction. And you need them all. In all but a few churches, you can get the few shots you need of the ceremony without flash. In some churches, flash is allowed but still, don't overdo it. A wedding has not been staged just for you. It is an important day in the life of (hopefully) one of your long time customers. Many of the "issues" of weddings are handled in a consultation with the prospective bride and groom when you "book" the wedding if you know what things to look for and questions to ask. Are you lighting a Unity Candle? Are you presenting flowers to the parents? Is there anything else special scheduled? The answers sometimes vary by denomination but the geographical region is also a factor. Different areas have different customs for ceremony and receptions and you should have an idea of what to expect. Treat the people involved with respect and doors will usually open. Just for the record, the processional and recessional are not usually considered parts of the ceremony where flash is prohibited. Once the wedding party is in place and the bride is in the front of the church is when the flash usually stops. Often you can get a photo with flash of the dad (or whomever is giving the bride away)giving her a kiss. From then on, for me, it is available light until they come back up the aisle. Another important consideration in some churches, depending on the time of the ceremony and in some cases whether or not there is another ceremony either before or after the one you are photographing, is whether or not you can get back in the church to do the "formal" photos. Once in a while, other services are scheduled and people start arriving for that before you finish. Most photographers (and some have) could write a book about their experiences at weddings. At a wedding this summer, the pastor and I were quietly commiserating about how disorganized this particular bride happened to be.... and then later in the day she turned out to be one of the only brides to give the photographer a $200 tip in addition to the usual fees for albums and coverage. You gotta go with the flow!! Amen.

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11/4/2008 5:02:20 AM

Greg McCroskery
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/27/2003
I always attend rehearsals for the many reasons mentioned above. It always goes smoother on wedding day as a result. One thing I also do at the rehearsal (didn't see this mentioned) is to coach the bride and groom to face each other when lighting the unity candle -- that moves them a little apart and allows everyone (including me) to see what's going on. Otherwise they stand together with their backs to everyone and look like they're stirring soup!
I use my practice of attending rehearsals 'at no extra charge' as a selling point.

God Bless,

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11/4/2008 1:48:57 PM

Rachel Larson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/3/2005
  Hey Scott,

I also attend the rehersal for all of the same reasons already mentioned. There have been a few that I haven't attended due to the travel that was necessary. (I only wanted to make one trip.) I completely agree, that they are rarely on time and fairly disorganized, and sometimes I even question myself at the time why I came...but they are also helpful in meeting more of the family, and refamilerize yourself with the venue.


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11/6/2008 12:31:24 PM

Scott McCord   Bruce,
You make very good points and it seems like we are of the same opinion as far as wedding photography goes. Although I like to have flash available during the ceremony, I actually do a lot of natural light photography during the ceremony - it's more "romantic" as far as the style of the photograph goes. And I agree about most officiants not considering the recessional and processional part of the ceremony. So it's really not that big of an issue. I guess the only beef I had about it was the way some of the officiants approach the subject. I mean, I understand there are some completely unprofessional wedding photogs out there and if the officiant has not worked with you, then they have no idea how you handle yourself during the wedding. I was told by one pastor that he had to stop the ceremony because the wedding photog was standing next to him on the stage, shooting over his shoulder...can you believe the nerve of that photographer? It's the couple's day, not the photographer's...and the guests should be focused on them, not the idiot photographer walking all over the stage.

I also address many of the "issues" during consultation. I must say, however, that every once in a while I have clients who let it all go in one ear and out the other and when wedding day arrives, they do exactly opposite of what we agreed upon - even if we just discussed it prior to the wedding. There's when you gotta go with the flow.
And I had my worst case of this a couple of weeks ago when the bride and groom turned Jekyll and Hyde on me and completely did opposite of what we agreed upon (two hours late for rehearsal, two hours late for formal photography, 45 minutes late for their own ceremony, etc.) It was a nightmare and for the life of me, I could not persuade them to keep on schedule. Their answers to my suggestions were a flat "no." But we made it work nevertheless and did our job.

You do exactly as I do when it comes to the unity candle. When I first started weddings a few years ago, I quickly grew tired of the throw-away back-of-the-head unity candle shots. That is one of my main discussions on the night of the rehearsal and it has made a huge difference over the years. I walk up to the unity candle the night of the rehearsal with the bride and groom and suggest to them where to stand when lighting it. They seem to follow my advise 90% of the time - and the other 10% is just nerves getting the best of them, making them forget. The unity candle shots got much better after I started addressing the issue.

When I posted this topic, I never intended to stop attending rehearsals, even though they make me crazy. But after hearing so many comments of surprise that I actually showed up to a rehearsal, I thought maybe I was the only photographer going to them. At the very least, it really impresses clients and their parents - who usually are paying the bill.

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11/6/2008 4:01:37 PM

Bruce A. Dart   Scott,
Certainly the topic of weddings among photographers will undoubtedly generate discussion!! LOL. Attending rehearsals was never a "bad" idea but one of time -- and sometimes duplication. As with anything pertaining to wedding and other photography, do what works for you. There are a number of things at weddings where I photograph from the back of the church during the ceremony -- and the unity candle is one (tired of the back of the heads)-- and I also pose a shot later of the bride and groom where I can direct it and get a great available light shot of them lighting the candle together. (Arms around each other, lighting with the outside hands -- whether or not they actually do it that way during the ceremony -- the same as I do with the cake cutting shot.) I learned very quickly, by the way, when posing the "ceremony" shots later NOT to get an empty church behind them as background. Then that posed shot alternates with the actual ceremony from the back, giving two different perspectives and more interest. There are also LOTS about weddings that indeed MAKE YOU CRAZY but that is what we do as photographers. While I do not have a BP web gallery yet I do have one at if you care to look. I need to update images to more current ones but those on the site generally depict what I do. Best wishes to each of you. Keep it clickin'!!

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11/6/2008 4:31:08 PM

Ian Lozada
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/22/2005
  I should start by mentioning that wedding photography is my primary business. For my style, I've found that attending rehearsals is actually a detriment to good work. When I go beforehand and start looking around, what happens is that I start thinking about what shots I'd like to take. The problem is that my work is strongest when it's organic-- brides book me because my work is about capturing emotions and the unplanned.

The second the images become about my preconceived notions of what a wedding should look like, I'm dead in the water.

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11/10/2008 5:17:12 AM

Scott McCord   Ian,
I understand your point, but when I attend the rehearsals, I don't plan out my shots. I look for things that would impede those spontaneous moments. For instance, let's say the father really gets emotional giving away the bride and a beautiful exchange takes place. If grandma in the wheelchair is placed directly between you and the subjects, then your potential for that spontaneous capture is gone.
Another example...some recent clients decided to participate in feet washing rather than a unity candle because they are very devout and thought it represented their beliefs better. It was a very emotional moment. However, if I had not been at rehearsal, all the groomsmen would have blocked them from view from not only me, the photographer, but the entire congregation. There would have been absolutely no way for me to get the shot (short of standing right there with them) because the groomsmen had essentially built a wall around them.

I use rehearsals to remedy those problems and make sure I have my camera settings down so I can more successfully capture all those "organic" moments.

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11/15/2008 11:02:59 AM

ANTHONY CAROLINA   I personally attend the rehearsal for technical reasons. I also take my assistant with me. The cost is part of the package. it also helps me to know how to get to venue, alternate routes in case of traffic, street closures, and approximate travel time.

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12/8/2008 2:22:42 PM

John G. Clifford Jr
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/18/2005
  To the photographer who was irked because he couldn't use flash even though everyone else in the place could... what would happen if you did use flash? :-)

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12/9/2008 12:55:16 PM

Scott McCord   I would be banned from shooting in that church again because I would have disobeyed a direct request from the pastor. It has already happened to one photographer. And it would be tough to explain to a potential client that you can't shoot their wedding because you're banned from that church.

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12/11/2008 9:50:12 AM

Bruce A. Dart   John,
Scott is right. There are different standards for professionals, primarily because they are going back to the church for other jobs. Other people don't have to worry about being invited back if they disobey the pastor's instructions but the pros do. 'Tis far better to bite your tongue and be able to go back another day!! When the pastor complains about the flash, it puts you in a much better position to say, "It wasn't me!!" I had one pastor who actually had an eye disorder and if he saw a flash would have had to stop the ceremony for about 20 minutes because he literally couldn't see. That is rare, however. At any wedding you want to always LOOK and ACT as a professional. No matter what!! Period. It will pay big dividends in the course of your career.

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12/11/2008 1:50:43 PM

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