Guest Photographers at Weddings
The wedding photographer is tasked with a stressful, difficult job – take great photos of a constantly evolving, mobile event (with no re-takes or do-overs) and do it with grace and confidence. Experienced photographers, as well as most new photographers and photo novices who try shooting weddings and end up quitting understand this pressure. Being a wedding photographer is a job kind of like being a rodeo cowboy; it looks exciting and fun, but behind the scenes the preparation and expectation, as well as the physical and psychological toll required to complete the job can be overwhelming.
So imagine adding one more challenge to the balancing act: other photographers. It seems like a recipe for disaster.
Scenario 1: The Sniper. You’ve photographed the bride and bridal party as they stroll down the aisle toward the altar. You settle into a nice spot where you can quietly capture some intimate photos of the bride and groom exchanging vows. As you focus the lens of your camera on the bride and groom you realize that in the background (behind the bride and groom) one of the guests is moving around trying to get a photo of the wedding couple, and he’s in your frame, essentially ruining the shot!
Scenario 2: The Paparazzi. It’s time for the toast. A large group of guests assemble around the bride and groom to “clink” their glasses in celebration of the new life that has begun between the bride and groom. As you glance around to find the best place to position yourself, you realize that the large group of people is tightly packed around the bride and groom and many of them don’t have champagne glasses; instead they are donning cameras and are intent on getting photos.
And, unfortunately, there are many other situations where guest photographers will challenge your ability to get the best shot at a wedding, such as during formal photos and other important events involved in the wedding ceremony and reception. So how do you avoid having problems and focus on getting the best shots while being courteous and respectful to the bride, groom and their guests?
One word: Preparation.
The first thing that you as a professional wedding photographer can do to prepare for a wedding is to meet with the bride and groom. Listen to what they want from you and ask them questions if needed. Meeting(s) with the bride and groom can be your opportunity to explain how important capturing photographs of their wedding day is and how you appreciate them choosing you over other photographers. Obviously, it’s not good to scare the newlyweds, but it’s definitely ok to define yourself as “the” wedding photographer. It’s important for the bride and groom (and anyone else attending the wedding, for that matter) to know that a professional photographer (you) are being paid good money to provide photographic coverage for the wedding. And as such, the photographer should be given free license and full authority to photograph everything, free from limitation, i.e., free from guests hanging out of the pew into the aisle trying to get a cell phone snap shot of the bride.
Obviously, human behavior is unpredictable. And we can’t tell guests what to do. We want everyone at a wedding to have fun and enjoy the day. But at the same time, it’s important for you as the photographer to empower the bride and groom with this knowledge of photographer privileges so that they can share it with others who will be there on wedding day. Because ultimately, if I’m following the bride down the aisle as her official photographer, and a guest hops out in front of me to take a picture (believe me, it’s happened), there’s no undoing the shot.
Now let’s talk about insurance. We live in the digital age where the way we photograph everything is different. In the old days (picture the 1980s :)), getting “the shot” was of the utmost importance. Photographers had to make sure everything was ready and right before pressing the shutter button on their camera. After all, there were limitations; each roll of film that was used costs money, and there was a finite number of rolls of film that any photographer would bring to an event. In addition, equipment used for low-light photography (which is needed for most weddings – think dark, candle-lit rooms with few windows) was not as good then as it is now. These days we have high powered flashes, an abundance of fast lenses, great editing software and amazing technology for processing light in cameras.
In 2011, I can shoot a wedding continuously and go home with 3,000+ images to choose from (note: I don’t usually shoot that many). Having the ability to use top-notch equipment and shoot digital with almost unlimited capacity for images means that I am bringing an insurance policy to weddings. I am hedging my bet, insuring that I will get lots of great images from each event, thanks to technology. So even if someone steps into the shot, 9 times out of 10, I’ve already gotten a very similar shot prior or after the instance where someone stepped in and blocked my vantage point. The same reasoning goes for the “sniper” scenario above. Problem solved.
So what about the paparazzi? Again, part of the solution to avoiding the paparazzi scenario is education. Brides need to let their guests know that it’s ok to take photos, but that it’s also important to her and the groom to allow each important event during the wedding to be captured appropriately by the official photographer who is being paid to cover the event.
The second part of the solution is assertiveness. Be courteous but assertive when you are charged with photographing an event. It is obviously very important to your client to have photographs of their event and they have put a lot of faith in you (the photographer) to act in their stead to capture those precious, meaningful moments. Keep that in mind when you politely ask guest to give you a little space.
You can also advertise that you are the official photographer, albeit in a somewhat quiet way. You don’t need a bullhorn to announce to everyone your intentions (ok, maybe during formal photos). All you need to do is look the part. Have you ever been to a costume party in full costume? I’ve always noticed that if you attend the party donning a special costume, you get treated differently, perhaps even better than if you just showed up wearing what you do every day. So do the same at a wedding. Show your clients and their guests that you are serious and professional with your work. Dress up and include a lanyard with an ID badge with your company’s logo. People make judgments every minute about the way a person looks, is dressed or carries themselves. What judgment do you want your clients to make about you?
Ultimately, I don’t have a solution for every possible shot. Every now and then something or someone will find itself in your shot when you don’t want it there. Your job as a wedding or event photographer is to show up for the event prepared for the worst, expecting the best and ready to handle anything that gets thrown at you. I’m sharing all this because it has worked for me, and I’m certain it can work for anyone else. Good luck with your shooting!