As one of London’s top christening photographers, I’ve photographed hundreds of services.
Below, I share the routines I’ve developed over the years.
First, I pack my camera bag.
I take two cameras (Canon 5D Mk IV). This is partly as a back-up camera in case one camera malfunctions. It’s 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 take 6 fully charged batteries with me, so I never run out of battery power.
I also pack 6 memory cards: 2 for each camera, and 2 spare.
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.
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 usually take the following lenses:
- 85mm f/1.8 (the L lens is too slow at focussing in the low-light of 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.
I make sure my shoulders are covered and my clothes are 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. Plus, parking is so often restricted to two hours around central London churches. Taking an Uber gives me flexibility for parents in case they decide on having extra coverage.
On my way, I check through my notes to recap on the family’s priorities for the photographs. In particular, whether the parents want mostly photographs of the close family, for example, of the service itself, or of their guests.
Christening photography calls for a particular skill set. It requires broad wide experience with:
- photographing buildings
- sensitive religious moments
- group shots
- documentary photographs.
GETTING READY PHOTOGRAPHS
If I’m photographing the family getting ready before the service, I photograph the parents and godparents dressing the baby in their special christening garments.
I always look to photograph the special details of preparation, and the family spending some happy time together before the big event:
First, I photograph the outside of the church – looking for interesting angles and perspectives. What are the unique elements on the building?
I head into the church to set the scene by photographing the interior. I look for perspectives that show the beauty of the venue, and what makes it special:
As I walk around the church, I photograph meaningful details. I photograph all the evocative elements: the flowers, candles, the items used in the service:
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. I 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!
I hang back to let everyone get used to there being a photographer around.
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.
As the family takes the baby into the church, I photograph the guests mingling and taking their seats.
I put the zoom lens away as I won’t need it during the service. Next, I 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. Occasionally, I even have to remain 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 photograph the meaningful details. I document:
- the priest or vicar giving the sermon
- those giving readings
- the expressions of parents holding the baby
- close-ups of the baby
- the reactions of the guests.
There’s a lot to look out for, and it takes experience to capture it all!
As the moment of the christening or baptism approaches, I move in closer. I position myself so that I can see the water landing on the baby.
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:
After the service, I’m often asked to photograph group portraits. Group shots might include close family with the baby, extended family with the baby, and godparents with the baby.
Guests are often much more relaxed after the service. This is a lovely opportunity to photograph them laughing and smiling.
LEAVING THE CHURCH
Photographing the walk between venues is another great photograph for story telling.
I always look to connect places in the photography. It helps to tell the story to have photographs of the church, walking to the reception, and the reception venue.
Without these connecting shots, it can feel a real jolt in the sequencing of an album to suddenly be outside the church or at the reception venue.
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.
I look for (and photograph!) any details the parents will want to remember. I make sure to photograph the carefully chosen flowers, the christening cake, the present table, the table decor.
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 they will serve the canapés or food. Photographing the serving platters as they come out makes for some great shots.
Reacting quickly to capture the special moments where a guest smiles or laughs is so rewarding. I tend to use the 85mm lens here so that I can photograph guests close up without physically being close to them.
Discretion is key here. I use my sensitivity to make sure that guests feel comfortable, and that conversation can continue naturally. If any guests aren’t comfortable near a camera, that’s absolutely fine – I leave them be!
I make sure I have lots of photographs of the key guests. Remembering who was sitting in the front row/s of the church, and who were in the group portraits after the service, helps with this.
I also make sure to take photographs that include the setting the scene, and the groups of people mingling.
BACK AT MY DESK: BACK UP
As soon as I get back to my desk, I back up the photographs to my computer and to an external hard drive.
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!
My entire hard drive is also backed up remotely via BackBlaze, every 24 hours.
Editing the photographs tends to happen a couple of days later, so I can review the photographs with fresh eyes. I then spend hours lovingly editing the photographs.
I import the photographs to Adobe Lightroom, and select the most evocative and beautiful images to edit. I choose the images that together tell the whole story, and will help the family to remember this special day in years to come.
My job is such a privilege. I feel so lucky to spend my days like this, recording special memories for families.
If you’re planning your own baby’s christening, do get in touch. I’d be delighted to photograph it for you!