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.
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).