Why won't the wedding Registrar allow me to take photographs during the signing of the register?

I often see other wedding photographers on Facebook or Twitter, or even in person, asking why Registrars and Vicars do what they do during a wedding ceremony. Why won't they let me take photos of the couple signing the Register? Why won't they let me take photographs at all? Why won't they let me use flash? Why do they make me stand at the back of the room?

I'm in the unusual, perhaps unique, position of having been both a Registrar and a wedding photographer, so I thought it might be a good idea to write a series of articles explaining why Registrars do what they do.

Signing the Wedding Register

Why won't the Registrar allow me to take photographs during the signing of the register?

This is the most common question I see, so it's the obvious place to start. There are a couple of main reasons for this rule, so I'll talk through them below.

Sensitive information

When photographers ask why they can't take photos of the signing of the register they are often told 'data protection.' As some photographers know, this is not actually the case. However, the register can nevertheless contain sensitive information that the Registrar would rather not be photographed, or even seen if possible.

Chatting to the Wedding Registrar

Wedding registers contain up to 200 'entries' which were completed at other weddings. There are two entries to each page, and when the page is open there may be up to four entries visible. Each entry has personal information to each couple; their full names, their fathers' full names, their home addresses and their occupations. Some people might not mind that other people could see and read their details, but many would. That might especially be the case with famous people, or people working in particular professions (I have married people in the SAS and high ranking and undercover Police Officers, as well as several famous people - actors, comedians and writers for example).

All that means that a Registrar will ask you to wait until the signing is over and then substitute the real register for a dummy or simply turn over the page, before taking your photographs.

The register is a vitally important document

As a registrar you have a duty to look after the register, which holds the original wedding entries of up to 200 couples.

Signing the Wedding Register

Civil registration began in 1837 and Register Offices hold the birth, death and marriage registers of everyone in their district from then until the present day. If anyone asks for a certificate the registrars have to check the original register before they issue the certificate to ensure that the information is correct. As you can imagine this information can be vital in terms of confirming inheritance, family line and any number of other legal details, so it is important to keep the registers in good condition. This starts at the wedding itself.

I always used a dummy register in place of the real register for the photos. It meant that the real register was with me at all times and couldn't get stolen or damaged.

Here are just a few things I have witnessed at weddings that could have harmed the register:

  • The couple using their own pen and getting ink on the register
  • The photographer repositioning the bride's wet flowers artistically on the register
  • Children ripping the pages, putting their chocolate covered fingers on the register, stabbing the pen into the register and being sat on the register for photo
  • The registrar being called away due to a medical emergency and having to leave the register unattended

As well as swapping the register I always had a dummy pen at hand too because Registrar's ink is impossible to get out of a wedding dress!

So there you have it, one of the main reasons why Registrars do what they do. If anyone has any other questions about wedding registrars please leave a comment below and I'll answer the question in a future blog.