So, you’ve been invited to attend a wedding as a guest.
For whatever reason (good or bad) the couple has decided to hire someone else to do the professional photos.
Should you bring your good camera or leave it at home entirely? What is okay to do and what isn’t?
We are wedding photographers who were recently invited to a wedding as guests, so we had to wrestle with these questions as well. The last thing we wanted was to be a hindrance to the main photographer and to be considered an annoying Uncle Bob.
We thought we’d help make the process easier for you. Here’s the Photographer’s Guide to Being a Good Wedding Guest from The Modern Tog.
What are your motives for taking photos?
This is the ultimate question, and you need to be completely honest in your answer to make sure you act appropriately at weddings.
Here are several motives you may have and how to handle each situation.
“I just want a few photos for myself of close friends and family”
I actually think this is just fine when you are only doing it for personal use. If it’s something you’d print and put up on a wall or in an album for yourself, and if you follow the guidelines below about what is appropriate, then go for it. I don’t care if you shoot with the Nikon D3s or your iPhone if you’re not causing problems or getting in the way.
“I want to get more images for my portfolio”
I understand this motive. I mean, if you’re just starting out in business, it’s hard to book a wedding if you don’t have wedding images in your portfolio.
However, it’s completely wrong to do this in the photography community.
Do not use any image you take at the wedding to promote your business in any way.
Don’t put them in your portfolio, don’t blog them on your business blog, don’t even put them on your Facebook business page (or on your personal page with your business tagged in them).
It deceives your potential clients into thinking you were the hired wedding photographer, which is a lie.
Even if you say you were there as a guest, it’s better but still something that would make the blood boil of the hired photographer so I’d avoid it unless you asked them for permission beforehand.
This is a great way to burn bridges early on with other photographers who may otherwise become your colleagues and send wedding referrals your way in the future, so trust me, it isn’t worth it.
It also means you may get in the way of the hired photographer, who may be trying to be unobtrusive and a bit farther back, for important shots because you are competing to get the best image. This simply isn’t fair for your friends or family members getting married as they paid for the other photographer to capture the moment and you may have just ruined it without even knowing it. The photo above is a great example of this, an otherwise gorgeous shot that was ruined by a guest who was just taking photos.
Many photographers also have clauses in their contracts that prohibits other professional photographers from shooting wedding images for this very reason, so if you’re using it to promote your business in any way you would be breaking their contract and could put them in an uncomfortable situation.
For full disclosure, we did this with a family member’s wedding early on without realizing why it was not a good idea (had I known, I would not have done it).
I understand why you’d do this, I know that lots of people do this, but now that you know it’s wrong you are responsible to act appropriately. And if the couple who invited to you their wedding has forwarded this link on to you, I can guarantee that they don’t want you to use any photos from their wedding to promote your business.
I’ve had couples call me frustrated and stressed out because a family member used their photos without permission to promote their new photography business and they were not comfortable with this. It broke our contract and they never signed a release for their family member to use them commercially.
So I had to call this other photographer, who simply didn’t realize why it wasn’t something they should be doing, and explain.
They were incredibly gracious about it and removed the photos, but don’t make your friends or family have to deal with this later on. I don’t fault that other person as they simply didn’t know, but it was awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved.
“I am disappointed/bitter/angry/frustrated that they didn’t hire me to shoot the wedding”
I’m not going to say that this isn’t difficult. It’s especially hard if they didn’t hire you because they couldn’t afford you and you know you’re a better photographer than the one they hired.
But it’s not okay to try to prove to them that your photos are better. You’re simply taking photos to make your own ego feel better which is incredibly selfish.
You may be tempted to “save the day” later on when they see how bad the hired photographer’s photos are and how great yours are, but this is a very easy way for you to justify getting in the way of the hired photographer so for the most part I’d say to put the camera down.
“The couple asked me to take some photos because their Mom hired a photographer friend that they don’t think will do a good job”
This is really hard, and I’m sure there’s a range of varying opinions about how to handle it (in fact, feel free to leave one in the comments below).
In all honesty, the couple needs to find some courage to talk to Mom and explain their concerns. Best case scenario would be for them to break their contract with the other photographer and hire you to shoot it instead if this was really a true concern.
While I realize that this probably won’t happen, you’ll need to think about how you feel about the situation. You could respond that you’re not comfortable doing it (and explain why).
If I were asked to do this, I’d probably tell them that I would take a few photos from my spot as a guest, but that I couldn’t promise anything unless they wanted to hire us as the main photographer and explain that I’m not comfortable doing so otherwise with a different primary photographer there.
9 Guidelines for Taking Photos at Weddings as a Guest
1. During the ceremony, stay in your seat.
Do not stand up to take a photo while everyone else is sitting down.
Do not go in the aisle (even the side aisles).
By all means do not go onto the altar and ask the bridesmaids to move over a bit so you can get a clear shot of the bride and groom. (True story – I’ve seen this happen and it is NOT okay. I was mortified and in shock that they had such nerve.)
If you can’t get a clear shot, then simply enjoy the ceremony and buy one later from the main photographer.
2. Turn the sound off on your camera. The “beep” made by the camera is distracting and rude, especially since on most cameras it can be turned off. If it can’t, don’t use it during the ceremony.
3. Do not shoot over the photographer’s shoulder. Don’t ask the photographer to move so you can get your shot.
4. Ask the photographer what their policy is on taking group photos while they are doing the formals. Some photographers allow you to shoot while they are shooting as long as you are not asking people to look at you instead of looking at the paid photographer. There’s nothing worse than to have a group photo of 8 people but to have the mother of the bride looking at a different camera. Not cool, so if they say not to take photos, then don’t.
5. If taking photos of the groups is allowed, do not ask the group to stay there longer or suggest adding another person to the group or rearranging the group. There’s a limited amount of time to take photos, and the photographer has already worked the groups out ahead of time with the couple, so don’t make them late or annoy them by taking up this time.
6. Do not suggest shots or poses to the photographer. No, putting the groom up against a wall and having the bride frisk him is NOT an “awesome” photo, and no I do not have time to take it (another true story).
7. Don’t ask the photographer for tips. In fact, I’d go so far as to not even tell the photographer you’re a photographer during the wedding. If you’d like to network, simply ask for a card and contact them later instead.
8. Do not go with the wedding party to take wedding party photos and portraits of the bride and groom. Ever. If you’re in the wedding party, leave your camera on the party bus!
9. Don’t ever forget that you’re there to enjoy the wedding and celebrate with the couple, not primarily to take great photos. Put the camera down, talk to the friends and family you haven’t seen in ages, and just enjoy life without a camera in front of you. Trust me, it’ll be okay.
What is your experience?
How do you feel about taking photos at a wedding where you’re not the hired photographer? Have any stories of “Uncle Bobs” that you want to share? Join the discussion in our Facebook community or leave a comment below!
Feel free to share this post on your own blog or Facebook page as long as you link back and give credit to The Modern Tog as having written it. Special thanks to my awesome photography colleagues in WI for sharing their advice and images for the post! They all rock!
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