Recommendations for photographing a christening

This week I replied online to a plea from a photographer wanting information about how to photograph a Christening. He had been persuaded to fill in for another photographer, and, although a good landscape and architectural photographer, and aside from pictures of family and friends, he was walking into new territory.

I have photographed christenings before, and, other than the unproductive time sitting and waiting during services, the event is actually pretty enjoyable. To that worried photographer I commented how I would photograph everything and included a suggestion not to make things complicated and to have fun.

I advised that he should to be as versatile as he could be, and I suggested he leave his fixed focal length (prime) lenses home. Today there is lots of interest in using non-zoom lenses like 50mm, 35mm or 85mm. But in the limited space of a family packed room or child’s bedroom I prefer a short zoom like 24-70mm or even something wider like my 16-85mm that allows me lots of versatility without the hassle of carrying and continually changing lenses.

I am not concerned about a wide aperture because I want family members to be in focus so lots of depth of field is important. I always use a flash, and with small children keep the diffuser cap on and aim toward the ceiling so the light bounces around filling the space, and I shoot like I am at a sporting event, quickly making exposure after exposure in hopes of catching that fleeting smile on the infant’s face. Nevertheless, I’m always patient; I don’t want parents to get frustrated as they try to entice the perfect expression from their child and advise them its ok to do something else and we’ll try again later. I learned years ago that when photographing children one needs to just wait until they are ready.

Modern photographers suggest a second flash held by an assistant off axis for more flattering light. I surely agree if there are two of you. If I can I will use a second flash, but in tight spaces, or a room filled with people, finding a place for a stand-mounted second flash becomes a problem and in situations where family is important, I would never presume to clear the room so I can be an artist. In my opinion it’s all about making each place and time work.

The photographer also questioned about the church and restrictions. In a Catholic ceremony like he was about to participate in I suggest finding the priest before things begin, introduce himself, tell him he is working for the family and ask what the rules are.

I have been working in the same town for years and am familiar with most clergy, however, even when they recognize me I still ask them if there is anything they would rather I refrain from doing, and after I am done I always, always take the time to thank them. I want their trust and to be remembered as the kind of photographer they like at their church service.

During the baptism I am continually moving around. I use a flash and choose shutterspeeds like 1/125 or 1/160 of a second so I can incorporate ambient light. I want the priest in the picture as much I can, and position myself so both he and the parents are visible. Fortunately, it’s possible to lighten those in the background during post-production.

Photography inside a church is much the same as any indoor location. Light the subject, try getting as much as possible in focus, watch the subject(s), make them look as good as possible in the photograph, be patient, capture as much of the action as possible, and have fun.

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