A day in the life of a christening photographer

A day in the life of a christening photographer

  • First things first – I always have breakfast with my daughter. I have something hot to see me through for a good few hours – often porridge 🙂 If it’s a morning service, I’ll spend the afternoon with my daughter – and if it’s an afternoon service, the morning is dedicated to my little one! Something nice and quiet so I still have lots of energy for photographing the service.
  • The first thing I do when I start preparing for the christening or baptism is to unplug the camera battery chargers from their overnight efforts. I take 4 fully charged batteries with me, so I never run out of battery power.
  • The next step is formatting the camera cards for the day – this helps minimise the risk of a card corrupting. I have two cards in each camera, so each photograph is immediately backed up onto two cards.
  • Next, I pack my camera bag. I take two cameras (5d mkiii) – partly as a back-up camera in case one camera malfunctioned, but mainly so I can have two different focal length lenses on each camera for a good variety of shots (one close-up, one wide angle). I also pack 6 memory cards – 2 for each camera, and 2 spare. I take a lens pouch to wear around my waist, so I can have the spare lenses close to hand in case I need them during the service. Depending on the church, I’ll take the following lenses:
    • 85mm f/1.8 (the L lens is too slow at focussing for a church) for most of the service.
    • 50mm f/1.2 L  for scene setting.
    • 16-35mm f/2.8L for church exteriors and interior shots.
    • 135mm f/2 L for group portraits and if I have to photograph the service from far back.
  • In terms of clothing, I make sure my shoulders are covered and my clothes are formal and appropriate for a church. Photographing christenings and baptism can be a chilly experience, so I opt for thick layers that will keep me cosy. I wear quiet shoes so I can move around the church without distracting anyone.
  • Then, I call an Uber – the bag is too heavy to cart around on the tube for hours, and parking is so often restricted to two hours around central London churches – I want to have flexibility for parents in case they decide on having extra coverage. The trauma of finding enough £1 coins for a parking meter in Kensington put me off for life!
  • If I’m photographing the family getting ready before the service, I photograph the baby getting dressed in their special christening garments, the little details of preparation, the family spending some happy time together before the big event:

    Baby girl smiling and waving, being dressed in her christening gown 
  • On my way to the church, I check through my notes to recap on the family’s priorities for the photographs: whether they want mostly photographs of the close family, for example, of the service itself, or of their guests.
  • First, I photograph the outside of the church – looking for interesting angles and perspectives. What are the unique elements on the building? I include the name of the church in a photograph too as that helps with story telling, especially in albums.
    Exterior shot of a London church with bright blue sky 
  • I head into the church to set the scene by photographing the interior – looking for perspectives that show the beauty of the venue, and what makes it special:
    Interior show showing the ceiling of a Greek orthodox church in London 
  • As I walk around the church, I photograph meaningful details – the flowers, candles, the items that will be used in the service:
    Close up shot showing the gold plate and oil containers used in a Greek orthodox baptism
     Atmospheric photograph of candles lit in a Greek orthodox church in London Colourful close up detail of pink and white christening flowers including roses
  • Speaking to the priest or vicar beforehand helps to ensure the photography runs smoothly. I introduce myself, reassure them that I don’t use flash and that I’ll be very discreet, and double check if there are any restrictions on where I can stand or moments that I can’t photograph.
  • I head back outside to wait for guests and family to arrive – I love these moments, seeing everyone arrive with a sense of occasion and dressed to the nines!Black and white photograph of a family arriving at church for their child's christening
  • I hang back to let everyone get used to there being a photographer around. With a long lens, I can photograph quite close-up anyway, so I often use the 135m lens for this. I love capturing the moments of guests greeting each other, the smiles and laughter of people seeing each other often for the first time in years.Baby smiling and holding her grandfather's hand
  • As the family take the baby into the church, I photograph the guests taking their seats – this is a good opportunity for me to scope who the key family members are, as they usually sit in the front rows of the church.
  • I put the zoom lens away as I won’t need it during the service, and select the lens that’s going to work best from the main position I expect to be standing in during the service.
  • If the priest or vicar has a strict photography policy, I may have to stay in the same spot throughout the service – sometimes even remaining seated throughout. Usually I’m allowed to discreetly move around, though – I make sure only to move during a hymn so that I don’t distract the guests from what’s happening. Whatever the priest or vicar’s policy is, I respect it absolutely.
  • As the service unfolds, I look to capture the priest or vicar giving the sermon, as well as those giving readings, the expressions of parents holding the baby, close-ups of the baby, and the reactions of the guests – there’s a lot to look out for, and it takes experience to capture it all!Joyful father holding his son at his christening
    Godmother smiling as she holds the baptism candle, looking at the priest
  • As the moment of the christening or baptism approaches, I move in closer so that I can see the water landing on the baby’s head or on their body, depending on the religion involved. Again, I find a spot so that guests can still see what’s happening and I’m not intruding on the experience for the family. The moments immediately after the baptism are often very poignant too:
    Priest splashing the baby's head with holy water as he is baptised
    Little boy is lowered into the urn as he is baptised in a Greek orthodox baptism Baby is wrapped in a towel just after her baptism, and is held by her godparents
  • After the service, I’m often asked to photograph group portraits: close family with the baby, for example, extended family with the baby, godparents with the baby. It always feel odd taking these and making the baby laugh to keep his/her attention, after the quiet concentration of the service.Group family shot taken after a baby's christening - framed by the church walls and window
  • Guests are often much more relaxed after the service, so this is a lovely opportunity to photograph them laughing and smiling as they talk to each other, and as they congratulate the parents of the newly christened baby.
  • When I sense that guests are getting ready to leave the church, I head to the back of the church so I can photograph guests walking up the aisle towards the exit. This is another great photograph for story telling – I always look to connect places in the photography, showing where people started from, which venues they moved to next, and the walking shots in between help to explain the journey. Without them, it can feel a real jolt in the sequencing to suddenly be outside the church. I walk with the family and guests to the reception, photographing as we go – this can be a good opportunity to get a close-up of the star of the show, the new baptised baby!B&W photograph of a family pushing a baby in a buggy along a traditional London street with terraced housing and a Victorian lampost
  • At the reception venue, I take both an exterior and interior shot as soon as I arrive – once the party starts, it’s easy to get distracted, so I make sure I always have them first.Signage of the Petersham hotel with a tree and building in the background
    Barman serving cocktails in a glamourous London bar
  • I look for (and photograph!) any details the parents will want to remember – the carefully chosen flowers, the christening cake, the present table, the table settings and so on.Pastel coloured christening cake being taken out of its box
  • Guests often ask me to take a group photograph or one of them with the baby – some photographers don’t like being asked to take these kind of shots, but I’m more than happy to oblige – it’s a special occasion, and guests want a record of them being there too!
  • I speak to the catering team or waiters to find out when the canapes or food will be served – I love photographing the serving platters as they come out.
  • Watching conversations is fascinating – and reacting fast to quickly capture the special moments where a guest smiles or laughs is so rewarding. I tend to use the 85mm lens so that I can photograph guests fairly close up without being physically close to them.
    Two guests mingling and laughing at a christening reception with Aperol spritz Laughing lady with curled hair and natural light holds a baby at her christening reception  
  • Discretion is key here – I use my sensitivity to make sure that guests feel comfortable, and that conversation can continue naturally without me disturbing them. If any guests aren’t comfortable being photographed, that’s absolutely fine, I leave them be!
  • Remembering who was sitting in the front row/s of the church, as well as thinking about who were in the group portraits after the service, helps here to make sure I have lots of photographs of the key family members. I also make sure to have photographs that include the overall scene, and the groups of people mingling.
  • As soon as I get back to the office, I back up the photographs to my computer, to an external hard drive and to the cloud. I keep the photographs on the camera memory cards until I’ve delivered the edited photographs to the family – photographs are important, and back-up is my mantra!
  • I import the photographs to Lightroom, and select the 100 most evocative and beautiful images to edit – ones that together tell the whole story, and will help the family remember this special day in years to come.
  • Editing the photographs tends to happen over the following week, when I can review the photographs with fresh eyes, and lovingly edit the photographs – it generally takes as long to edit photographs as I spent taking them, so it’s at least a 2 hour process to edit the full set of photographs.
  • I’m usually home in time for tea with my daughter – and for a quiet evening playing together before an early bedtime. What a lovely way to spend a day!

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