Getting Along with Wedding Photographers When You're the Photographer-Guest

Getting Along with Wedding Photographers When You're the Photographer-Guest

Wedding photographers make the worst wedding guests. I know that when I’m at a friend’s wedding, I have a hard time turning it off. And no one should make me - least of all the hired guns photographing the bride and groom for the day. If that sounds blasphemous, let me explain.

I’ve been a hired gun and I’ve been the guest - and there are some general rules of the road that wedding photographers and guests should follow to ensure that everyone gets along, enjoys the day, and produces the best photos possible.

If You're the Photographer, Let the Guests Shoot

There’s no reason to ever ask a guest to leave your vicinity if all they are doing is simply taking photos. They are the friends and family of the people paying you to be there - what is it going to look like if you’re asking them to leave? As long as they’re not jumping in the shot, let them snap away - just make sure that you’re asking the bride and groom to always be looking at your camera. If the crowd is particularly thick during a portrait session, I sometimes ask the guests to let me get the photo first, and then I step aside and let everyone else step in to take their own photos.

I had this situation from the guest’s perspective at my cousin’s wedding last year - during the portrait session in a large courtyard, the photographer noticed me a good distance behind him with my orange Panasonic Lumix GM1 and 14-140mm lens. I was shooting from at least 20 or 30 feet away from the photographer with what is a small-sensor camera and a glorified kit lens. Still, the photographer walked over and explained that he set up these shots and that I could not be there photographing. He mumbled something about copyrights and his poses. This is after the bride and groom clearly indicated it was OK for me to be there, but he continued until he was yelling at me to leave - because he feared that a guest with a tiny camera who was standing a good distance away from him was going to get the same photos he was with his professional lighting setup and full-frame Canon cameras and lenses. It wasn't a good look for him.

If you’re yelling at a guest and you’re the wedding photographer, it’s probably time to find a job where you don’t have to deal with people.

If You're the Wedding Photographer-Turned-Guest, Respect the Photographer

That doesn’t mean blindly follow a wedding photographer’s unreasonable requests to leave, but there are times where it is reasonable. If you’re in the background of the shot and they ask you to move for a short time, or if you’re getting so close that you’re bumping into them, then it’s time to give them some space. If you’re at the ceremony, don’t jump into the aisle. And for the love of all things cameras, don’t pepper the hired photographers with questions about gear the entire wedding.

What you can do, however, is ask politely if you can set up your camera here, or if they’re going to be walking over there - a little communication can go a long way, and will put the photographer at ease if they see you creepin’ in the corner of a portrait session - they’ll know you, they’ve talked to you.

At my brother’s wedding a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to set up a video camera at times to record certain things - and working with the photographers and videographers was easy. They were communicative, friendly, and even, when time allowed, showed me the best spots to set up for a shot that also would not get in the way of their movements. That’s the way it should be. A big shout out to LK Photography for their positive attitude towards the guests. The photographer would even call me over if he knew something was going to happen that could be a good photograph.

A fun moment at my brother's wedding that the photographers pulled me into because of my previously friendly interactions earlier in the day.

A fun moment at my brother's wedding that the photographers pulled me in to photograph because of my previously friendly interactions earlier in the day.

Don't Forget, You're Supposed to Have Fun

It’s your family and friends up there getting married. Just remember that there are people paid to take the photographs and so it’s OK to put down the camera and enjoy the moments without looking at them through the viewfinder.

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22 Comments

Anonymous's picture

My son will be getting married next year. I WON'T be bringing a camera. Not out of any concerns you mention but I just want to BE there.

Nick Viton's picture

It can't hurt to have your gear in your car, just in case though. I was a guest for a wedding a few years ago and made it a point to myself not to bring my gear, for the same reason you mentioned. The photographer was present during the ceremony but was only there for a few moments at the beginning of the reception before leaving for the rest of the night. He missed out on great photo opportunities all evening of the reception that I know the bride and groom would have loved. I gladly would have stepped in to cover that for them. I still kick myself over missing that.

Anonymous's picture

As a guest, sure. As the father of the groom, no.

Yes Nick, but the couplemay not have want the photographer there for the night. I was at one of my best friends weddings where the photographer did not get any shots of the ceremony. Seeing the missed shots I was getting 'hot under the collar'. It was only after the wedding when I found out that the couple instructed the photographer not to photograph the ceremony for religious reasons.

A funny aside, At my wedding we asked for no video to be taken. But guess who videoed the whole ceremony? Go figure!

Nick Viton's picture

Yes, of course, they may not. Simply leave your gear in the car in that case. But they also may... that's what your gear in the car would be for. Just in case.
Although, it would suck if your gear got stolen out of your car that evening!

Christian Berens's picture

It's a constant struggle! Especially when you see the photographer doing something "wrong" or they could've done something "better."

I usually just leave my camera at home as well.

I 100% agree with this article!

I don't attend weddings without being paid.

Michael Holst's picture

You must be everyone's favorite guest

Amber Marlow's picture

My contract states that guests aren't allowed to shoot over my shoulder for the couple shots specifically. It changes the dynamic so much, I've found, so I don't blame that photographer. Especially if you were just setting up behind him without any communication.

Way better to introduce yourself and ask, like in the second scenario. It sounds like you being there after a proper introduction actually enhanced the dynamic of the photo team, which is awesome.

So you were rude at your cousin's wedding, and polite to LK Photography, and you had a better experience at the second... makes sense.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I thought 20-30 feet away from the photographer with a small Panasonic was pretty respectful. Completely different angle as well. If I was over his shoulder, then I would deserve what he threw at me, but certainly I didn't nor would I treat any guests who wanted to take pictures that way.

I don't understand why any photographer guests would like to take photos of the couple during portrait. Is it so the photographer can cherish these photos forever on his mantle? I double it. It's photos of somebody else. Or is it to deliver the photos to the couple to show them what you had captured? Which is weird too. The couple already hired somebody else, so to do this seems like a show off. I get it when guests take photos and post the funny or happy moments on facebook as memory. But during portrait shoot? Nah, doesn't matter how far you are, still disrespectful with strange intentions. Pro wedding photographer don't do this because they have shot so many weddings, they just wanna sit back and relax at weddings.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I guess I should clarify a bit - I only take these kinds of photos with close friends and family. They know I'm a photographer and they want me to do that anyway - they'd like to see my spin on it and I'm often not hired as the photographer for the day because I'm their friend and they'd rather me not be "working" and just taking photos when I want to and enjoying the rest of the day.

With friends and family that aren't super close, I generally don't keep the camera out. Maybe pull it out and shoot from my seat or something.

I had a talk with my brother and his wife today - after their wedding, they were telling me they scoured every social media channel and every place they could to see what their friends and family shot for them. Their photographers won't get the photos back for about six weeks, but their friends and family post a few quick ones right away because they're close to the couple and want to share in their day by sharing photos - why not make those quick ones look good? As long as it's not getting in the way of the professional, there is no harm.

Yes, the professional photographers were paid to be there - which is why I could choose to be without a camera during critical family ceremonies (like the tea ceremony) and choose to photograph when I wanted to - like cutting the cake, above. The paid photographers have to shoot everything - but that doesn't mean at the exclusion of everyone else.

My father was at the wedding and shooting pictures all over the place on his cell phone - he said that if any photographer ever came up to him and told him to move away because they have a contract saying no one else could take photos - he'd ignore them because he didn't sign any contract and he'd tell them to take it up with the bride and groom that did. Perhaps that's a bit extreme, but I think he makes a good point.

Michael McCarty's picture

Respect the other professional photographer hired and leave you camera at home. You would expect the same.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I wouldn't though. There are friends and family of the guests, they are more important than me. I work with and around them, not the other way around. All I would expect is that they not jump in front of me, pretty much.

if the couple wanted to hire you, they could have. They made the choice and you should accept that. It's not professional to interfere in any way with the photographer they hired. And no matter what is said to everyone in the pictures, some people will get confused as to where to look when there is more than one person shooting.

The problem is, and i know I'll make some people mad... There's a lot of wedding 'pros' that are pretty bad. Just amateurs taking a check that know the drill of how the day goes, maybe cribbing some poses/setups from a book or YouTube tutorial. Last wedding i went two there were two. It was painful to watch them shoot. From constant chimping to lack of timing in when to shoot to lack of knowledge in posing ... I'd casually brought a single camera with just a wide prime and in the end gave the couple about 200 shots that really blew away what they got from the 'pros'. Respect is earned, not given.

the thing is, the wedding couple hired the photographers, not you.. They looked at their work and chose them. Did you see their final work? I doubt it. Yet you provided 200 images. If the photographers were selling enlargements as addons, you may have interfered with their contract and income. That's not cool or professional.

This a really crappy mindset.... Regardless of how bad or good they are, you are trying to one-up others so you can feel good about yourself. Why do you need more respect from the couple? and why do you need to make a point of making others work hard to earn respect, with you in the way? This is a innate need to put others down to prove your own worth... I get it. I know how it feels, but doing it (even spending time and effort) and rationalizing it is completely different. So strange.

It's a real ass who shows up to a wedding with a 140mm lens as a "respectful guest."

A Panasonic micro 4/3rds 14-140mm lens is only 3 inches long - NOT your average full frame 140mm. I wouldn't put down the sensor in the GM1 though - maybe a bit of poetic license. The GM1 is a very capable camera in spite of its tiny size.

Enjoyed this. My son is getting married in the summer, and it gave me lots of food for thought. Am not a wedding photographer, and do not want to shoot it. Might have my Panasonic GM5 somewhere around.Will connect with the hired hand. Hopefully there will be one.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Congratulations to your son. To me, the GM1/GM5 are two of the most under-appreciated cameras of their time. They definitely punch above their weight, considering they are the size of a deck of cards.

Rob Mynard's picture

I think that in the past the main reason the photographer didn't want the guests taking their own shots would be because they wanted to sell more prints, but this would now be such a small percentage of photographers. When I shoot (and most modern wedding photographers), the couple get all the edited high res files, and an online gallery that all the guests have access to, because of this a lot of my clients request "unplugged" weddings where guests are asked (by the couple) to not bring a camera and not use their phones.