July 14, 2016

Pancake Session: Tips for Shooting in a Dark Church

Happy Thursday friends!

We are down in Richmond today, teaching our (sold out!!) first ever J&M Lighting Intensive PLUS!! And we are SO excited! This stuff just gets us so FIRED up. The idea that we might be able to help change one of the biggest fears & stumbling blocks for photographers (flash!) and allow them to go out and tell better stories for all their clients…and the generations to come! That just makes these six hours of teaching FLY by and makes our teaching hearts so very happy! (Like I said, the Richmond date is SOLD OUT, but if flash is something you know you need hands on help with, we have upcoming dates in New Haven &  just announced Philadelphia!! Grab your spot today!)

Speaking of lighting, we know one of the things that people definitely want to work on the most with lighting is dark churches & ceremonies. So today we wanted to share a few tips for getting your lighting set up seamlessly & stress free during the ceremony! Here we go! (And if you need MORE help with your lighting after this, be sure to click over HERE!!)

One. Try to get at least one of you (this is just one reason of MANY that it’s so worth it to bring at least an assistant or ideally second shooter) to the church early. It allows you to get everything unpacked, set up, and your settings dialed in when you’re not in a rush. Giving yourself that time to do what you need to do means that you can bring calm rather than stress to the day.
Two. Additionally, getting there early gives you the opportunity to get shots that most people miss. One of our favorite images ever is a shot of one of our grooms and his seven brothers from Kentucky singing hymns in a circle before the ceremony began. We don’t get shots like that when we’re arriving just as the bride is!
Three. By getting there early and showing the priest/pastor/rabbi that our light will be staying behind the guests in the form of a one light set up…..we’re actually given permission to use flash in a lot of churches that don’t usually allow it. But just to be clear that we are always getting permission first! :)
Four. Going along with that, we truly believe what we said above! By keeping the light behind the guests rather than moving on our cameras with us wherever we go, we do feel a lot less obtrusive even though it is bigger light. Honestly the guests never pay any attention to it because they don’t associate the click of our shutter at the front with a tiny wink of light coming from behind. So this fits really great with one of our biggest goals of not becoming too much a part of the story.

Five. An additional advantage to bringing a second shooter is that it allows one of you to be up front for the processional and the other to be in the back with the bride & her dad getting those emotional last shots before he gives her away. Also, it’s amazing how many times I’ve been able to save the day by being there to fluff the dress or open the doors for them when everyone else has already gone down.
Six. Especially in a church, we really try to pace how often we’re firing the shutter. We had someone second shoot with us once who just held down the shutter & went for it. It was pretty embarrassing! So we definitely learned from that and now we try to be really conscious of how often we’re shooting, especially with two of us. It’s a great lesson in waiting for the decisive moment, and it means that we can be as unobtrusive as possible.
Seven. Justin & I really like to work the sides for most of the ceremony. It keeps us out of the way and it puts us in a great position to draw our angles for dimensional light on the bride & groom. If we do shoot from the middle aisle, we try never to go further down than halfway. Our theory is that there is NO shot that we can get that will make it worth it to alienate a roomful of potential future brides!
Eight. Check your ego at the {church} door. I think this is good advice for the whole day, but especially so during the ceremony. We try to remind ourselves often that a wedding is not a photo shoot. Yes we’re there to get gorgeous photos and yes we love the couple portraits as much as anyone. But there is a much BIGGER thing happening that day than just a pretty couple in pretty clothes. Two people are starting a life together. They are making a promise for life together. And when you go into it with that purpose and that “Why” in mind, then all of the other “Hows” just have a way of falling into place.

Happy Pancake Day friends!

PS: If you need more help with your lighting and can’t make one of the workshops, DEFINITELY check out our J&M Lighting Bundle!! This includes our J&M Lighting Guide (110+ page ebook & one hour video) our BRAND NEW Lighting the Bridal Details Guide (50+ page ebook & 50 min video), and the BONUS of our Lighting Bootcamp video! You can find everything by going HERE!! 


  1. Shalese

    Loving these videos! :)

  2. Crystal

    This is so helpful! I love referring to my lighting guide. Churches are my greatest struggle. Thank you also for the reminder that a wedding is not a photoshoot! Something to really remember! Blessings to you!

  3. dana todd

    thanks for the info! Can you guys maybe perhaps show on a drawing where you keep the light? is it your pro photo or flash with a diffuser? And does it stay in that one spot the entire time?

  4. Samantha

    Super helpful, you guys are awesome!

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