Wedding Photographers, Do You Drink on the Job?

Wedding Photographers, Do You Drink on the Job?

It happens at basically every wedding I shoot. I walk into the room to start taking images of the bride getting ready, and the bride offers me a mimosa. After I leave to take images of the guys getting ready, I walk in and the groom offers me a beer. Then, the ceremony is about to start, and a groomsman offers me a shot out of the flask he has in his jacket. Lastly, we are at the reception and both sets of parents and the entire wedding party are offering drinks. I have to assume that most wedding photographers are faced with at least one of these events at every job. So, the question is: do you accept?

When first looking into this topic, I came across a Facebook post where someone asked this very question. When looking at the responses, a good amount of people asked back: “would you drink in an office job?” When I saw this comment, I could see why someone would like to compare wedding photography to a normal office job. You are a hired professional that is performing a job and should act in a professional way. But for me, the two are very different. A normal office job has rules and expectations that say you cannot drink. As a wedding photographer, part of the enjoyment is that it is not a normal day job. In addition, I know a good amount of people that work in an office environment that has a beer fridge in the break room.

One of the other arguments was that if the client doesn't like your images, they could sue you or not pay you, claiming you were drunk and did not perform. Again, I can see this as being a valid argument, but only to a certain extent. I asked a lawyer friend of mine if this was something that could actually happen and off the top of her head, she said probably not. In order for your contract to become invalid, there would have to be some form of gross misconduct. (Again, this was just an off the top of her head answer, and she said she could look into more if I needed, but I told her it was enough for this article. So, don't take this as solid legal advice).

The last argument I’ll mention was that the photographer should have 100% of their attention focused on what’s going on around them. I agree with this to a point, but using this as a reason as to why you shouldn't drink is similar to using it as a reason why the client shouldn't feed you (and we all saw how that idea was taken in the photo community). I feel like there are plenty of lulls in the day where it's acceptable to take a moment and grab a bite to eat, take a drink from your beverage of choice, then get back to work.   

As you can probably tell, I’m all in favor of having a drink or two at a wedding. However, I do think that it’s all within reason. You need to be able to read your client and know whether the offer to have a drink is out of politeness or if they truly want you to join. You need to know if they are the drinking type, or if the cash bar is there just because it was set up by the venue. It also depends on how you run your business. If you are a straight-laced, get the job done and go home type of wedding photographer, then drinking on the job is probably out of the question for you. If you are the type that makes friends with your client and enjoys getting involved in the celebration mentality, then drinking might be something more acceptable. I’m not saying that you can't have fun and celebrate without a drink either. I’m saying that there are different ways you present yourself as a company, and depending on that presentation, it could look unprofessional to drink.

When I say that I think it’s ok to have a drink, I’m not saying that it’s ok to get drunk. There is a very big difference between the two. When reading comments on Facebook, it seemed that most people that were opposed to the idea either didn't drink, or said they “feel drunk after one beer.” So, obviously, if one beer gets you drunk, then common sense says don't drink. The way I look at the situation is like an office Christmas party. You are allowed to drink, but you are still representing your company, so represent your company well.  I also think that drinking needs to be limited. Starting off first thing in the morning when the bride is getting ready is probably not a good idea. Drinking the entire reception and then grabbing a six pack to-go from the open bar is probably not a great idea either (I actually witnessed a videographer do this). My self-imposed rule is that I might have a beer with dinner (which is the same time I’m building a same-day slideshow), but most of the time, I wait until all the traditional first dances and tosses are finished. From here, the only thing left to photograph is the party dancing and the exit; this is also when I like to do some creative nighttime portraits of the bride and groom, and having a drink has been proven to help with creativity.

Even my camera likes to have a drink every so often.

In conclusion, I do think it’s ok to drink as a wedding photographer (or even as a wedding vendor), as long you do it within reason. Make sure it’s not going to be frowned upon by your clients, and make sure you stay within your appropriate limitations. One of the benefits of being a wedding photographer is being paid to have a good time, right? But my opinion aside, what do you think? Do you drink while you shoot a wedding? If you do drink while shooting a wedding, what rules do you have for yourself? Have you ever ran into issues or had any problems because of it?  Sound off in the comments (but let's keep it cordial).

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139 Comments

Justin Haugen's picture

I've had a beer or glass of wine with dinner, no one died and no eyebrows were raised. But 99% of the time I'd rather leave a solid impression with the venue and vendors. I really don't feel like I've earned a beer until I'm at home and unloading my gear from my car into my garage. I'm too focused on working that squeezing in a drink is not on my mind. Hard enough to remember to drink water lol.

I've also partied with the wedding party after my work was done as I was staying at the hotel and it was still early. It really depends on your clients and the vibe. I know some will be hardline "UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES EVER". It's clearly a bigger problem for some more than others.

Never. Represent yourself as a professional.

Simon Patterson's picture

I agree. You can be a professional, or you can drink on the job. Take your pick.

Michael Rapp's picture

I think the best way to avoid raised eybrows etc is to stay away from alcoholic beverages alltogether.
Food and drink are bodily requirements, no question there, but alcohol isn't
Or shouldn't be, to put it mildly. If it is required to enhance performance, it may be time to seek professional help.
The market for photographers is hard and tight enough as is, but to give your competition an extra edge by (however slightly) incapacitaing yourself is like Usain Bolt racing with shackles on his feet.
Furthermore, I believe a client is entitled to a 100% performance by his/ her contractors, and for me this would be a way of kind of letting him down. And me.
If drinking got involved, I'd put away my camera to make it clear that from now on I'm no longer on duty.
Just my 2 cents.

Brenden King's picture

Some people argue that people perform better slightly intoxicated. It can free you of nerves, keep you from doubting yourself, make you more bold and creative.

Some artist and athletes perform or create their best work while under the influence and would say it is like removing the shackles instead of performing with them on.

(I actual agree with you, but I do think there are arguments for both sides)

There are more than 100 medical studies that show health benefits from moderate drinking. Admittedly, few people drink moderately at weddings.

A study of 38,000 men over 12 years found that the type of alcoholic beverage made little difference: Mukamal KJ, Conigrave KM, Mittleman MA, et al. Roles of drinking pattern and type of alcohol consumed in coronary heart disease in men. N Engl J Med. 2003; 348:109–18.

Being drunk or high does NOT make you more creative... just less discriminating.

Brenden King's picture

Less discriminating can equal more creative. It may not increase your inherent creativity but it can keep you from stifling your own creativity. If you don't discriminate your thoughts most likely you will end up doing something you normally wouldn't. Anyway a quick search on the internet also reveals that it might actually make you more creative. here is a link to an article from men's health.

http://www.menshealth.com/health/drinking-creativity

Justin Myers's picture

If the bride or groom give me drinks I always take them. Saying no at a fun reception ruins the mood if somone is being a stiff, but know your limits.

A polite no thank you not on the job, early on and to anyone but the couple, but on long jobs, later on if the party is going and the couple want me too i'll accept a drink have a few sips so as not to offend.

Kyle Ford's picture

Not before the reception usually. And then just one or two. Though there have been more than one occasion where friends have instructed me that I was done for the evening and I would be drinking the rest of the night. That's when stuff like this happens.

Aleksandar Jaredic's picture

I had few drinks on one wedding and then the guys from the band started to pour me drink after drink... I ended up not remembering a good part of the wedding. The pictures turned out just fine though. After that experience I drink ONLY plane water. A lot of water :)

Mike Schrengohst's picture

When I started out I was working for a wedding photographer. He did drink. I would help him at the ceremony and then he would get a few pics at the reception and then he would slam down about 3 drinks and head to his next ceremony where another assistant was waiting. Then I would photograph the reception and head back to the studio. The photographer would do at least 2 and sometimes 3 weddings every Saturday. This was in the Hasselblad film days. This photographer was very high profile and you could only work for him if you could change film fast and could keep up at the wedding and then photograph on you own at the reception.
One evening the photographer gets back to the studio and was pissed about something. I think the assistant at the 2nd wedding messed up and exposed some shot mags. The photographer was completely trashed - he drank at every reception. He got mad at his camera because he could not get the lenses swapped and then once he got - I think it was a 90MM Hasselblad lens off his camera he threw it into a wall where it stuck.
The lens was trashed - it was probably a $5000 lens. The guy looked at it and left. I left it there and Monday morning this guy was ranting and raving about his lens and wanted to know what happened. 5 people including me worked for this guy and I said - "You don't remember what happened" he said no.....
I worked there another couple of weeks. It was crazy.

Wow, that sounds like a whole other thing... but yeah, case in point.

This is kinda ridiculous, to be honest. The negatives outweigh the positives by A TON. I see NOTHING good coming from having a beer or two at a wedding, the perception of unprofessionalism alone, brand damage, etc. just aren't worth the risk. I see bands drinking and I don't ge that either, though I might agree that's less risky (the music sounds good and they're done when the wedding is done). What's the advantage here? Answer, there isn't one.

"what's the advantage"- perhaps a more confident you, who can step in and get the pictures you need rather than erring on the side of caution and missing a shot because of it. If you're a super confident person already then perhaps you don't need anything to take the edge off, but, I have missed more shots due to nerves than I have due to alcohol. I'm not saying do or don't drink, i'm just saying if you understand your mental and physical needs, feel free to self medicate

I don't really do weddings but I do a fair amount of photos in night-clubs, naturally drinking is not really looked down on in that environment, it's just kind of up to you whether you want to or not- but, I can say that interjecting into peoples lives, tapping people on the shoulder for group pictures, getting candids, being brazen about getting the shot, asking people to do something weird/crazy for a portrait- these are not things that come naturally to me

Drinking alcohol should never be needed for professional confidence, and should never be needed to do your job. If you need to drink to do the job, then quite frankly I think you are in the wrong business. Personally, I would never drink on the job, because even if you don't feel impaired, you are never going to think more clearly or react as quickly under the influence. It is just unprofessional.
In some situations, if your photos don't turn out you can just offer another session for free, but when you are shooting a wedding you have to get it right the first time. It just isn't worth the risk to drink on the job.

If you need alcohol to "take the edge off" while working - you have a problem - and you have further underscored my point.

I never tap people on the shoulder for photos, I also have no problem being confident while doing what I do - and I think using alcohol as a crutch is a sad excuse. If you can do it while drinking there's no reason you can't do it without drinking, and you avoid any negatives (and there are too many to list).

Lee G's picture

I'll try not to drink unless it's water or a soda. Maybe during the reception I may have one if offered. I'm in the south so there's usually always drinks getting offered.

NEVER while working.

Ariel Martini's picture

drinking MAY help getting better shots of the party, getting yourself in the same mood of the guests can lead to better photos, if you have difficulty in doing that naturally.

There is nothing wrong with accepting a drink when offered (it's polite, and you don't really have to drink it), but you should not be going to the bar for your own. You are there to do a job. Part of that job is client relations (thus take the offered drink), but nothing else in your job will be better because you had a beer.

There is so much wrong with it....

There are places in this world where consuming moderate amounts of alcohol is not considered immoral or corrupt. Just FYI.

I have no problem with alcohol, at all. On the job? Huge problem.

I'll have a drink or two late in the reception if I know the couple and have put the gear away. At my wedding we hired a pretty popular wedding photographer and flew him out from the west coast. He was staying at our hotel and was drinking with my brother at the hotel bar. They knocked on our door at 3am looking for any extra beer and that clearly left a very bad feeling for us about the whole experience.

Scott Mosley's picture

Sure, we'd share a drink with the clients, common sense will tell you if it's appropriate or not. We only ever do at the end of the reception and politely decline the rest of the day (usually with a joke about keeping shots in focus) but it's important that you read the situation and know the clients well enough to make that determination. On a side note, are you wearing shorts at that wedding Jason?

Andrew Richardson's picture

"are you wearing shorts at that wedding Jason?"
This, this is the question that needs answering.

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