be the wedding guest, not the photographer

You’re a photographer, but at a wedding as a guest? Well, then just be a guest.

A recent article on the Off-Beat Bride blog, dealt with the topic of the unplugged wedding. They mention some brides now request guests switch off their cameras, and rather be in the moment and enjoy the wedding. I truly want every photographer, whether professional, amateur, or at any level, to read that article and take it to heart.

If you’ve been to a wedding and observed the people there, you will surely have noticed the barrage of cameras. It is especially prevalent during key moments such as the bride entering the ceremony with her dad. What you’d also notice is that as soon as the bride has swept past any guest with a camera, they are immediately checking their cameras. Engrossed in the image on the back of their cameras with their heads down, they give the bride and groom only a further glance again as something to photograph.

What spurred me to comment on this now, is a discussion on Facebook between a bunch of photographers (myself included) about this article on Off-Beat Bride. What aggravated me was when one of the photographers said that she *will* take photographs regardless, and the hired professional photographer must just deal with it. Such arrogance! It’s now all about the other person’s compulsive (?) need to take photographs, rather than it being all about the bride & groom’s day.

my perspective as the hired professional photographer at a wedding

Other people’s cameras don’t bother me at all. I’m probably one of the friendliest easy-to-chat-to photographers you’ll find at any wedding. If you have a camera, come chat to me during a quiet moment at the reception. Similarly, I’m very okay with others taking photographs, but there are a few times that I do insist I get preference, or that I’m the only one taking photographs.


1. With the family portrait session, let the hired professional photographer be the only one taking photos.

It’s not a territorial thing when I insist that I should be the only one taking photographs during the portrait session. Rather, it is a practical matter.

For example, if a bridesmaid in a family group gave her camera to a family member to snap the group as well, then it is 99% guaranteed that she will be looking at her camera instead of mine.  This means that everyone will be looking at my camera for the group shot … except her. Strange how the psychology works – I can repeatedly say, “look at my camera!”, but the moment I lift my camera, that person will look at her camera instead. My experience with the 600+ weddings I’ve photographed by now, says this is a near guaranteed thing to happen.

Others taking photos during the formal session also slows things down.

So, I really insist that I am the only one with a camera at the family portraits. As I said, it’s not a territorial thing. It’s a practical matter.


2. Don’t obstruct the hired professional’s view of the processional or other key events.

The two photos at the top clearly shows what trouble it can be if a guest blocks the photographer’s view. (Yes, I did get a clear shot when they were closer to me.) In this case, the gentleman purposely took a deep squat in the center aisle to block me, took his shots and then slowly checked his camera’s preview … only getting up as the bride got closer. He did this on purpose, passive-aggressively blocking me. The reason? When the wedding party started to enter the church, he got up and stood in front of me, and I quietly asked him that he shouldn’t stand in front of me. He took affront to this, and there we have it. Beautiful. He somehow got it in his mind that I was competing with him.

You’re the guest. The bride and groom hired someone else to document their wedding day. If you interfere in some way with the hired professional photographer, (especially if it is intentional),  it is inconsiderate towards the bride and groom.


3. As a guest, you really don’t *have* to take tons of photographs as well.

I’ve been told this story numerous times by wannabe photographers – how the professional “lost the film”, or the professional’s camera jammed, or how the professional was so pathetic that “none of the images came out”. Of course, the kicker to this story is that the wannabe photographer saved the day. I’ve heard this so often, that I do think this is more in line with “alligators in the sewers of New York” type of urban legend. This story is then also used as a reason to explain why the guest or family member *has* to take photos. You know, just in case the hired professional’s camera jams or “film gets lost”.

I can tell you the flip-side of this story, which is much much closer to the truth … for every story about the wannabe photographer saving the day, there has to be thousands of anecdotes about photographer-guests who spoil things. (I wish I could freely post photographs of guests behind the altar, or just intruding in the background with a camera.)


4. Don’t put emotional pressure on the bride to get permission to also be a photographer at the wedding.

“My cousin has a camera and would like to take photos. He / she won’t get in your way. Is that okay?”

Yes, it is okay, but not ideal.

While you will probably get permission from the bride or groom to also be a wedding photographer (and not even just the guest-with-a-big-camera), they are more than likely just agreeing with your request so they can avoid feeling uncomfortable if they had told you “no”. But really, it’s not ideal.


5. My advice?  Be the wedding guest, not the photographer.

So you’re itching to bring along your camera and some lenses … and you’re just itching for all those moments waiting to be captured … but just remember that with the camera in your hand, you’re not really part of the wedding day and the day’s events. You’re now more of an observer. On top of that, you’re likely to be a distracting element.

Put your camera away. Be part of the day. Enjoy it. Dance, laugh, have a drink, chat with friends. Make some new friends even. There will be other better opportunities and events to photograph.

Be part of the memories. Be in the photographs!


other articles on wedding photography

70 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1André P. says

    I’m on the wedding photography business in Angola and I have some even more extreme experiences related to this subject.
    It is becoming usual for some guests to bring their own professional photographer to the wedding! Can you imagine that? Sometimes it looks like a red carpet event. On the last wedding there were 3 different professional teams.
    You have to fight to get a decent group photo. There is always someone looking at the other photographer’s camera. Not to mention the mess during the processional. We’re like paparazzi trying to get the shot.
    Nevertheless, my experience with the guests is not so extreme. It is not very usual to find a guest competing with the photographer. Most of the people just like to enjoy the wedding.

  2. 2 says

    This is a brilliant article. I totally agree with everything you say – I too have no objections to other people taking photographs, except when it interferes with my job to achieve the best results possible for the bride and groom in as little time as possible. The thing that bugs me too is that a huge percentage of those photographs taken by guests will be looked at once and then more than likely dismissed, but in order to get that shot, they might have destroyed a moment I was trying to capture for the wedding album.
    The worst incident that I’ve experienced this year was a bridesmaid who refused to get out of the way of a bride and groom shot I’d carefully planned and posed – even when asked and after I’d waited a minute or two for her to get her shot – so I was forced to shoot around her and not get the best shot possible. The exceptionally annoying thing was that there is no way her camera could have handled the difficult lighting situation and as I was leaving she gave me a filthy look as if I’d wronged her.

  3. 3Halefa says

    I so much learned your first part. While taking photos of bride and groom and later the family in the church, the waiting family-members took pictures, too. I have a lot of photos, where every person on the photo looks in another direction. I really often had to say “Look at me!” to get at least a bit of attention.

  4. 4Lisa says

    Let’s face it. The real reason the majority of the guests take pictures is to undercut us in the industry and give the b&g images thinking that they are saving them money so they don’t get ‘ripped off’ by wedding photographers.

    Why else do you think uncle bob is attached to your hip? Not to give you back massage lol.

  5. 5Ambar Hadi says

    Hi Neil,
    I have the same problem when taking wedding photo. The most difficult part is if the one who blocking my view is from their family. How do you deal with this situation ?.

    Ambar P. hadi

  6. 6Pat Reynolds says

    That is just the best article Neil! It’s a pity it couldn’t be published elsewhere so that the general public can read it – not just we photographers.

    The best wedding I have photographed (and was also an invited guest at)was one where the church minister politely announced that there were to be no cameras used during the ceremony. The professional photographers (me included)were asked during the wedding rehearsal to shoot only at specific times and we were asked to remain in discreet locations at all times. At first I thought this was very limiting but it turned out to be such a beautiful ceremony – with no flash lights going off and all the guest sitting quietly, completely in the moment and enjoying the special moments. The bride and groom still got all the shots they needed but without ‘overkill’.

  7. 7 says

    How about when you are invited as a guest to a wedding and then are approached by one family to take photographs of the wedding.

    I keep telling them that I don’t want to do it that I just want to watch my neice get married. I tell them I am not a wedding photographer and don’t want to be one. But they keep asking.

    Now they are trying the guilt route by saying that they cannot afford a photographer and will not have any photos of the wedding. Do I stick to my guns or give in? My 3rd option is to not go to the wedding, which is starting to be more attractive.

  8. 8 says

    A great article and something that has happened to me a few times and I have only shot a handful of weddings in comparison to you Neil (great name by the way and correct spelling ;-).

    I have a wedding booked at the weekend I will politely ask that everyone let’s me shoot the family shots first and then they can take pictures because I have had the problem before. One wedding I counted something like 15 camaras behind me taking the same shot… Why?! Enjoy the day and let me do my job. :-)

    Keep up the good work, love reading your blog.

  9. 9 says

    In response to Mark Coons, don’t give in to the pressure. If you do you’ll not enjoy the day and maybe all parties will suffer if your photos are not up to their expected standards.

  10. 10 says

    Great post Neil. How about the teenage ZAP shooter at the party, supplied by the DJ. Under foot all the time. You forgot them. What about the DJ that offers FREE or cheap photography? On Long Island ALL pro photographers have lost business to DJ’s, Uncle Harrys, and guests with cameras. I even heard a newscaster on TV, at the time of the Kardashian wedding, say brides are taking their own photos these days. No need for a pro photographer.

  11. 11Martin says

    Thanks Neil for yet another informative article. My opinion (as an amateur) is that it should be fine for guests to take pictures as long as they do so in a respectful manner. This would include disabling flash, not taking pictures when requested not to do so and not getting in the way of the professional photographer. I think that the very fact a guest wants to take pictures signifies the importance of the occasion to them. More often than not, the average guest does not get access to the “pro” photos and/or they need to pay for them. There is also usually a delay for the “pro” to publish his/her photos and by that time aunt Mildred, who could not attend the wedding, is getting impatient to see some pictures on FB. Ultimately I think that both the “pro” and guest should be considerate of each other – the guest wants to capture some memories from the day and the “pro” needs to be able to do his/her job unhindered. Perhaps if the minister announced some photo ground rules to the guests, before the ceremony commenced, it would avoid a lot of frustration for the “pro”.
    I have to admit that I asked on two occasions if I could take some photos at a wedding when I was a guest. I spoke to bride/groom, minister and the professional photographer as to when it would be appropriate for me to take pictures. On both occasions I did not take during the service as I consider that inappropriate. I also did not ask for any posed photos but rather shot in the background. Being new to photography, my intention was to get a small amount of experience taking photos of a bride to make a start on a portfolio. For a “new” photographer wanting to get into wedding photography it is very difficult to get experience and being a guest at a wedding does offer a small opportunity. These days, approaching a “pro” to be a 2nd shooter or assistant usually requires some type of portfolio or proof of competence. On that note I would be interested to hear if you have any recommendations on how to gain experience in wedding photography? Thanks again for all the value you add to the photographic community.

  12. 12Trev says

    Part of my contract:

    4. EXCLUSIVITY and OTHERS: It is agreed that The Photographer will be the exclusive commercial photographer providing still images for or at this event. Others may take photographs or record video as long as they do not interfere with the duties of The Photographer. It is agreed that the Photographer will not be responsible for time or images missed as a result of such interference.

    10. CHURCH, RECEPTION, CATERING VENUE RULES: The Photographer is limited by the guidelines of the ceremony official and reception site management. The Bride & Groom agree to accept the technical results of their imposition on The Photographer. Negotiation with these officials for moderation, changes and adjustments of certain guidelines is the responsibility of the Bride and Groom; The Photographer is to be notified of any changes.

    I also verbally explain the problems associated with many guests actually walking out into the aisle to ‘snap’ the couple and if I miss shots, so be it.


  13. 13steww says

    I agree with almost the whole article. You wouldn’t expect an enthusiastic amateur to turn up in his football kit and jump onto the pitch at a professional match so why at a wedding? You wouldn’t elbow the mechanic off someone elses car and start trying to repair it so why at a wedding?
    The only line I don’t agree with is “Put your camera away. Be part of the day.” It is possible to take a camera anywhere, to any event and not be obtrusive , not get in anyone’s way and I wouldn’t enjoy the day without my camera. I’m not interested in formal shots of the wedding party – that’s what the pro is hired for – but I do want pics of distant friends and relatives I might not see for a while. Also as a non drinker my camera saves me going insane as everyone else around me gets plastered.
    Weddings are often in lovely locations and so shots of that pass the time during the interminable wait for the formals too.
    In conclusion, be polite, respect the pro, don’t shoot during the ceremony but of course take a camera – why wouldn’t you?

  14. 14Jason P says

    I think it’s an international phenomenon. I don’t live in the US and when I read the excellent article by Neil, it clicked with me immediately.

    The real reason is not that the Uncle Bobs want to spoil the wedding, but consciously or subconsciously, they want to have the images immediately. In this fast-paced and digital world, no one bothers waiting for days or months for the images to arrive. By which time, most people will see the prints, and immediately chuck it away in the drawer or some hidden corners of the home.

    Uncle Bob also loves photography and can’t contain his enthusiasm to take good pictures. Let’s face it. Photography is not rocket science. The only difference between a pro and non-pro photographer is that the latter decides to earn money from photography. It is not necessarily true that he possesses skills which are far superior to the amateur. As much as we are guests participating in the wedding, some want to go a step further and record good images with the skills that they are imbued with.

    But having said that, I certainly don’t support guests who hinder the pro photographer’s job. Please, he’s hired by the couple so do respect him. And I agree with Neil that you should give yourself a break. Enjoy the wedding. Don’t work!

  15. 16 says

    Thank you, Thank you. Great article. When we enter into a contract with the couple or their parents we highlight the clause that states we are the only photographers allowed to photograph the Pre-Ceremony photos, simply for the reasons you have stated in your article. We tell them that during the Reception we don’t mind their guests snapping photos, as long as it does not interfere with us doing our job. I just learned last week from a Bride’s mother, that the Bride’s aunt had made lots of photos at the wedding and had emailed lots of guests that she was starting her own business and had posted her photos and was encouraging people to buy the prints from her. This prompted the Bride’s mother to confront the lady and demand she remove the photos or else face a lawsuit and even worse, a severe ass-whipping. God love her!

  16. 17 says

    It helps to have an assistant, especially during the formal shots, to politely ask the guest photographers to hold off taking their photos until the professional has captured his/her images. The assistant needs to be polite but firm in their request, and basically just stand there until the guest photographer(s) comply. Most guests will comply rather than create a commotion in front of the bride and groom.

  17. 18Bill says

    Neil, I completely agree with your sentiments. But insisting on on your preference at certain times during the event is easier said than done. How do you do this? Do you have language in your contract like Trev has (above)? Do you discuss this with the bride and groom ahead of the wedding and leave it to them to police their guests? Or do you fight back the crowd when you feel you need to at the event?

  18. 19Bart says

    I certainly agree with the sentiments in this article, though there is one story I’d like to tell here. I was once at a wedding of two friends who had initially asked me to take photos for them. I had said ‘no thank you – please hire a pro’, for all the obvious reasons. They went ahead and did so, but got completely ripped off. The photographer came to the event with this camera: and was regularly talking on his cellphone, even during the ceremony (!) evidently missing or even himself ruining some of the special moments. It was truly shameful and the couple was afterwards happy to get the few photos I had taken even as an amateur who had read books with titles such as ‘off camera flash’ :-). I am sure this is a complete exception, but true story nonetheless…

  19. 20John says

    I normally lurk in the background but I had to add my comment and say what a excellent article this is (As is the ‘the unplugged wedding’). My wife and I shot weddings for a number of years in the pre-digital age. Some of the point-n-shooters were bad enough back then. I have been to a number of weddings recently and have noticed the phenomenon you are talking about. Everyone and their brother has their digital camera or cellphone up to their eye trying to capture the wedding. I am a people person, but some of these folks would really try my patience.

    And it is not only weddings. If you go to a birthday party or the zoo or many other places you will find people more concerned about ‘capturing’ the moment with their cellphone or digital point-n-shoot than they are about simply experiencing it. Their loss.

  20. 21terry says

    This brings up alot of issues,but the pro photographer has to deal witha lot in the event of a wedding!People should have common sense and realise that the bride and groom hired the photographer for there style and standard of work!If that was nt the case they would not bother hiring a photographer and just ask guests to take as many shots as they like.The reason they dont do this should be a obvious one,i personally would not like to see the wedding album after.As for a comment made about photography not been rocket science and the only difference between a pro and non pro is that the latter decides to earn money from photography.
    This Makes me laugh and is the kind of atitude that makes couples think uncle bob can save them money and do the job just as well.
    If that was the case why would you be on this site looking at information,and neil and every other great photographer with great technical skill vision and a master at there art would be out of work and you would nt need to be looking at the tagents….

  21. 22 says

    I agree that during the ceremony and formals… Guests should not interfere or even be moving around even during the ceremony. Sit and enjoy. During the reception though, I have been guest at weddings shooting groups of friends that are just guest too because it’s the first time since college or high school or work 25 years ago since they have seen each other (reunion type things). Most wedding photographers miss out on the guest moments and brides and grooms have some times only see a guest for 5 minutes or don’t even know if the person showed up until they see guest photos and know that person was there and having fun too. But I believe if that as a guest and a photographer, the bride and groom are already taken by the paid photographer… I’ll generally just capturing other guest.

  22. 23Irvin says

    I’m not a pro, but if I were I’d have a talk with bride and groom and have them ask people to avoid taking pictures throughout the ceremony. A little drastic, perhaps, but it is the only way to keep things under control. As an amateur photographer pre-dating the digital revolution, I have never taken a single picture when there is a paid pro to do the job. In fact, I never take a camera to any event where I’m not the ‘official’ (always unpaid!) photographer. I don’t know about others, but I have 100% respect and admiration for professionals photographers. One thing is to take a nice picture here and there – anyone can do that. But to deliver consistently good photographs under pressure and without a second chance separates the ‘men form the boys’. At least in my book.

  23. 24 says

    To quote from my friend Ulysesses:

    Be the best wedding guest ever.

    “It’s exciting to buy a new DSLR, and it’s even more exciting to use it! However, if you’re a wedding guest busily snapping photos with your new SLR during a warm or intimate moment at your friends’ wedding, then you’re not only missing out on a deeper sort of sharing in their experience, but your actions are also having a negative impact upon what would otherwise be beautiful professional photos that they’ve invested so heavily in. ”

    Follow the link to read further.

  24. 25 says

    I can usually spot the spray’n’pray guest shooters before they get too invasive. Luckily, I’m 6’3″ and if I have to use that to my advantage, blocking out anyone behind me, I have no problem doing so. Like others have said in above comments, most of the guests are respectful of my doing my job; it’s the few clueless people you have to watch out for and shoot around (or in front of). As for guests looking at another camera during group portraits, I always make it a point to put my camera down and just wait, not saying anything, until the guest has gotten their shot. This usually results in the offending party realizing they are holding up the show and they stop getting in my way.

  25. 26 says

    Very much agree, particularly with the key shots such as group shots and cake cutting, that a gaggle of cameras pointing at the subjects confuses them and leads to ‘eyes all over the place.’ With shots where it’s just the bride and grooms, such as cake cutting, I generally get the MC or toastmaster, DJ, whoever, to ask that if guests can wait a moment until the pro has taken their shots, they’ll get plenty of opportunity afterwards to step forward and snap away.

    It’s one of the reasons that reportage work is much more satifying and preferable for me than the ‘formal’ shots – people have a hard enough time, it seems, looking directly at you when requested without having other distractions!

  26. 27steww says

    I’m starting to find some of the responses here bizarre. Some of you seem genuinely irritated by people being passionate about photography and having it as a main hobby and interest. Is it perhaps only ‘pro’ photographers who are allowed this?
    The love of photography, the passion for photography is what sells Neil’s books and creates hits on this blog. As someone very astutely observed there are great photographers hugely talented who do not choose to make a living from it and there are pros whose work is tedious and uninspired.
    This happens everywhere, there are professional plumbers who can’t plumb and home handymen who produce work of exceptional quality. Drop the snobbery you are spoiling the comment section here.

  27. 28 says

    I shoot weddings professionally and my way to handle this situation is to make it clear to the bride and groom that there are things out of my control, i.e. guests that choose to stand in the middle of the aisle during the ceremony. If they have any friends or family that they know are photographers or own a camera they can’t put down that they should kindly let them know that they are paying for a photographer and would like them to be able to do their job. Brides and grooms are always very understanding and want to protect their investment as much as I want to be able to do my job.

    It’s really a matter of wanting to be able to deliver a quality product to my clients. I don’t mind if others capture images of the day, just be mindful of the professional who is there with that one objective and mission.

    How can you fault people for wanting to take pictures? After all, it’s that drive that got most of us here in the first place. It’s just a matter of precedence when it comes to the wedding setting that needs to be minded.

  28. 29 says

    If the couple has hired a photographer — an experienced photographer with a good portfolio and good client references — then the photographer should get priority to take the important photos at the wedding first. Otherwise, why hire a photographer in the first place? The bridal couple should gently inform their guests to let the photographer do his/her job.

    A good photographer, however, should be able to get the important photos quickly and then get out of the way to allow the guests to take their pictures (because there will likely be guests who will take pictures anyway).

    Bart’s story is very unfortunate. His friends were scammed and should be going after the guy to get their money back.

  29. 30Ulysses says

    I applaud Neil for posting about this worsening issue. It’s always with a bit of caution that photographers bring up this sort of topic because it’s bound to be interpreted by a few as snobbery, an ego trip, or a quest for territorial rights. It’s absolutely none of those things. If you think it is, then you’re only looking at things from the guest’s side of the lens and not really looking at the entire set of consequences of the guest’s enthusiastic quest for his own photos. They’re usually completely unaware of their distracting effect upon the couple and upon the photographer’s efforts to create an emotive story in the photos.

    Note that Neil is NOT addressing the person who is seeking to get a couple of photos in a quick and undistracting manner

    The primary concern for the pros is the integrity of the couple’s photos. They’ve usually invested quite heavily in their photography. While any pro worth his salt will be able to deal tactfully and professionally with any type of situation including the paparazzi of guests snapping away at the couple, Neil is talking about the needless and selfish type of guest who is far more concerned with obtaining their own photos than the concern for what the couple actually wants. So his article (as well as my own brief article that he links to in the Comments section) is an appeal to the impassioned amateurs to go ahead and take your photo, but then chill and yield to the couple’s wishes and yield to the pro who is trying to fulfill what he’s promised. There’s nothing snobbish about this request nor the opportunity to educate enthusiasts about their impact on the wedding day. This is about everyone working together for the couple’s sake. This isn’t about the quality of the pro’s work, nor the possibility that the happy amateur might be better with his camera. What matter’s is that the couple has actually paid someone to be there to photograph the event, whereas everyone else is invited to simply be guests and enjoy the couple’s happiness, a good meal, and a few drinks.

    A wedding is no time to go whole hog to practice with your gear, nor is it a time to build personal portfolio material. We recently photographed a wedding where some of the guests kept their SLR cameras snapping for literally six hours straight, sometimes climbing on chairs to gain more angles, interrupting the couple’s dance rather than letting them have their own space together. And if affects their expressions for several minutes afterwards before they fall into an emotive rhythm again. Time lost, and moments stolen, all because someone was more interested in getting his snapshots for Facebook or other online postings than interested in what the couple actually wants. So yeah, that’s a problem for the pro and for the couple. If we can alleviate some of that via education, then hopefully this will lessen the problem for at least a few of our couples and result in higher quality photos that show their guests simply being great guests, who are connected and more involved with the couple than with their own camera LCD screens.

  30. 31Lori says

    Good for you! I totally agree with you, the guests should be the guests. Candid shots at the reception are one thing but to be disrespectful to the bride, groom and the photographer that has been chosen to be there is ridiculous and annoying! I also think as a guest at more than 8 weddings this summer that it is distracting to the other guests to have more than the professional standing up or using a flash to get the perfect shot. You are right, such arrogance is awful.

    I have enjoyed seeing your photos on your website and if I wanted a photo from one of the many weddings I have attended I would purchase it from you or one of the other professional photographers.

  31. 32Bogdan says

    Maybe this should go in the Shutterbug/ Popular Photo type magazines… along with the “You can do it”, “Point, shoot, upload and sell… it’s as simple as that” articles they feature regularly…

    Sorry Neil. This is a battle one cannot win. You’re fighting with massive marketing departments at all the major electronics manufacturers AND media outlets whose only goal is having an imaging device in the hands of every single individual on the planet.

    No amount of education will ever get rid of this. We’re talking about the kind of people who will not listen anyway so there are only two ways of dealing with this in my experience. I first try and survey the place, see who’s spotting what kind of equipment and quickly befriend them, see how they shoot, offer a few tips and move on. With the right people this will have the effect of them understanding and respecting my space (and sometimes shooting over my shoulder but I’m not bothered by that). With the wrong people I simply change lens appropriately and walk in front of them to get my shot.

    We’re always two shooters and the other one is my wife. For whatever reason no one will ever bother her, not even the female paparazzi we sometimes encounter (must be a “Sisters are doing-it for themselves” thing).

  32. 33Scott says

    For those of you who can’t resist the lure of bringing your camera to the wedding, I’ll offer one more thought. Take the role of a second (or third) shooter. 2 years ago, a friend asked me to bring my camera to her wedding, and also to be the primary photographer after their professional photographer left for the day. As long as the pro was there, I kept my distance and generally looked for a few very specific photo ops. For example, during the ceremony, I stayed right at the back and used a 200mm F2.8 on my 1.5 crop DSLR. Not something that any pro in his or her right mind would actually do, but it forced me to look for details that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Doing this, I was able to stay clear of the pro and also have some fun in a beautiful setting.

  33. 35Libby says

    Hi Neil, With utmost respect to you, while the article is in your usual brilliant style, unfortunately you are preaching to the choir here. You should try to ensure that this article reaches the Bridal portals. Because unfortunately it will not reach the thousands upon thousands of idiots with their new digi Rebels who jump out into the aisle in front of working photogs. I have countless images of Uncle Bobs and Aunt Millies. And when I used to shoot weddings (retired from them in 2005) sometimes I would just roll with it and shoot a few of the moron because there was no chance of him getting out of my way anytime soon anyway.

    At my last wedding in 2005, I suffered a fractured rib from being elbowed by a gigantic woman trying to get her own cake shot. I am 5’3″ and about 135 – she had 4 inches and 100 pounds on me. The jab in the ribs was deliberate I am sure because I had kindly asked her to step aside earlier that day. That was it for me and I went back to shooting commercial. Food and industrial equipment usually don’t try and take a poke at me. I did have a problem with a live lobster once though ;-) I was due to exit the wedding game anyway for various reasons. Some of the new shooters coming in don’t realize what a grueling job it can be sometimes.

    When I attend a wedding, I have been known to offer to carry a gear bag for someone working solo. And other than that, I use a Leica M8 to take a few snaps. I did have one paid shooter as me what kind of camera that was as he had never heard of it. Oh well.

  34. 36 says

    Great article Neil and very true and have experienced this myself but not that bad. Actually my way to counter this is to attend the wedding rehearsal and get to know everyone, this way they know me and it lessens any kind of situation or problem because I am not just a photographer that shows up on wedding day.

    I know that not all photographer do attend the dinner rehearsal but I do. It also makes the formals easier because they know me already.

  35. 37Dany says

    Great article Neil !!

    Your completly right ! On some specific moments some guests just feel the needs to take THE picture themself … it might be very anoying for the hired photographer … and finaly for the clients …

  36. 38Sofian from Germany says

    Hello Neil,

    I am totally agreeing with Libby, try to spread this article beyond your blog.

    Some people seem to forget what is the most important aspect of a wedding: Acting for the sake of the bride and groom!

    In my opinion, taking some photos with your DSLR as an amateur during a wedding should not be problem. But you have to take care, that you are acting sensitively and ensure that you are not disturbing neither the the professional photographer nor even worse the cerenomy.

    Kind regards

  37. 39 says


    Looks like we are victims of bullying sometime or the other.

    And I thought it only happens in India…We carefully plan a shot or are shooting into the rituals and there jumps a self appointed orgainzer / guest photographer…all hell breaks loose.They do not understand what harm it would have done to the wedding.The biggest losers are the newly weds themselves.

    We also try and talk to the couple in advance and tell them guest photographers are not welcome in the photographers path…well they might shoot from their seats at the most.

    Seems like a universal terror.Like the comments above, this issue should be addressed in a larger forum.

    Good job Neil.


  38. 40 says

    I’m just an amateur and really I do not like to go to weddings (friends or family does not matter, I do not like!). But the few times I went (without camera) I felt sorry for the official photographer and how most of the guest were making his (I assume not easy) work more difficult ! Nice article Neil.

  39. 41Mike Z says

    I have no problem just stepping right in front of someone when they do this. Everyone has a camera these days so I actually try to let them take a couple shots first so they will get the hell out of my way, but if it takes too long and they’re just standing there fumbling with the camera, I step directly in front of them and say “Everyone look right here!” and snap away. Usually this works well for me and helps avoid problems. It helps put the guests in their place too because even the annoying ones who bring a bigger DSLR/lens/flash combo are embarrassed that they were standing there like a child trying to put the square block in the circle hole. (lol at the guests who shoot direct flash with a stoffen, like it actually does something)

    I’ve only had a few experiences where I needed to be firm with someone and tell them to stop. Neil you are right, it usually is some opportunistic prick with a cheap suit and enormous smile who thinks they are going to save the day. On one occasion when I used my “step directly in front technique” after I said “Everyone look right here!”, a guest side stepped me and said “No everyone look here!” so after he took his shot I took him by the wrist and firmly told him that this was my job and that while I don’t mind him taking some candid shots later on, that I did not want him there for the formals. He listened. Really most people, even the more boisterous type will stand down if you are firm with them.

    Thanks Neil for the great post!


  40. 42Anthony says

    nice post

    as the wannabe photographer though i love taking my camera to a friends wedding to gain more experience, I make a point of never getting in the way of the professional photographer, i take my big zoom so I’m clearly out of the way, the one thing that gets to me is that the photographer feels threatened enough to get right in front of me taking shots, or his lighting assistant gets in my way, its like they don’t want anyone else taking photos at weddings. I know they are getting in my way on purpose as I’m taking photos of things in a completely different direction and they will move to get in my way. lol

    All i like doing is taking the candid shots that the photographer doesn’t do a lot of, the ones where no one is expecting their photo to be taken. I’m not saying they are all like that over here but I’ve run in to one photographer a few times and he does the same thing every time. you can just see he’s not happy I’m there with my camera, just do what your paid to do and stop worrying about me as I’m not in your way nor am i taking business away from you as they have already paid for the packages and your not getting the shots I’m getting anyway.

    one particular thing i remember was setting up a shot with the brides maids while the paid photographer was off taking pictures of the bride and groom, i remember him basically running over and standing right in front of me and took the shot i had set up. Even the bride and groom said to me later that they thought was a bit rude as they saw it happen..

    I wish more of the photographers were like you over here Neil.

    I fully respect that paid photographers have a job to do and i would do nothing to get in the way of that but gees relax about others that are clearly not in your way.

  41. 43 says

    Anthony … you’re not going to like my reply.

    In “setting up the bridesmaids” elsewhere for a posed shot, you are over-stepping, even if in a subtle and unintended way.

    Here’s why … people’s limited attention span and endurance for photography. I can see what might happen. By the time the hired photographer gets to photograph the bridesmaids, their interest in playing up in front of the camera is diminished. They’ve been here already. Aaaagh, more photos. And so on.

    People in the bridal party, and the bride and groom become what we call, “all shot out”. They’re done. They are tired of posing for the camera and smiling. Even for candid shots. There’s pressure on them to stop and smile for the camera. It becomes too much eventually.

    Taking groups of the bridal party and posing them for your shots … sorry, you are over-stepping. I would find it annoying. I wouldn’t act like that photographer did, but it is annoying behavior.

    Once the photo session is done, and the bridal party is done, and the bride and groom is done with the photo session … then perhaps. But still, posing people for your photos? Are you shooting for your own portfolio now?

    So while you’re not “taking business away” and other things you’re saying to justify using a wedding to practice your photography a bit, it is a distraction, even if unintended.

  42. 44 says

    please read the title of this post.
    please listen to what Neil said replying to your comment.
    i’m an event filmmaker and guest photographers like yourself don’t think you are getting in our way, but believe or not, you do more often that you think.
    why do you want to receive “credits” for your photos? you are a guest for the couple’s wedding. I don’t think they expect you to focus on taking photos more so than being there as a guest.
    if you want to take photos during weddings, submit your resume and portfolio to professionals around your area.
    my 2 cents.

  43. 45Ulysses says

    There are a lot of “wannabes” out there, and I applaud them for their enthusiasm and for their efforts at trying to be discreet when using their own cameras. It’s at least an effort. However, this issue is not about finding a position out of the photographer’s way. It’s also not about being a threat to the photographer’s business because by the day of the wedding money is not really an issue.

    However, I’d completely agree with my friend, Neil that going around and behaving as a photographer by setting up groups for shots goes above and beyond the call of being a “good guest” because it does indirectly interfere with the photographer’s job for which he’s already been paid, and which he WANTS to fulfill for the client and for their parents and for their friends.

    Seemingly harmless efforts on the part of guests who happen to be photo enthusiasts are actually much less than helpful to the photographer, and they actually only serve to produce what I like to call “photo fatigue” on the faces and expressions of both the couple as well as all the guests. People’s tolerance for the camera begins to wane through the night (and sometimes can actually turn outright hostile in the very worst cases).

    All of this is besides my other point that photos taken during emotive moments these days are often littered with people in the background who are much less involved in The Couple’s moment, and much more interested in focusing on their own hobby. Heads bent down looking at their LCD screens, confused expressions as they try to figure out how camera functions work, amber auto-focus lights that ruin the ambient atmosphere of the venue — in other words, what would otherwise be AMAZING shots for the couple so often become a good photo of the couple with a background of people who simply aren’t as “into” the wedding as the couple and their photographer.

    Will any of this change because of my comments or Neil’s or even those who agree with us? Probably not. But it’s still a real shame. I wish people were more aware of the consequences of their actions, and that they at least cared.

  44. 46Anthony says

    Thanks for your feedback Neil

    I should have better explained that particular scenario a little better, that wedding was actually a family members wedding and I was asked to be a second photographer by the bride and groom and I get what your saying, every other wedding that I have taken photos at I’ve never asked anyone to look my way, I’ve always been the discrete one 10 – 20 meters away from the group taking photos of them looking the other way more to capture the big picture of real people not in posed positions, 99% of the time no one knows they are getting their photo taken by me at weddings unless I’ve been asked to take photos.

    I know what you’re all saying about photo fatigue, I to have been a groom and know how much my cheeks hurt by the end of the day lol.


  45. 47 says

    Great to reference this post Neil. We read that one too. It’s quite a dilemma as to recommend to the B&G that people don’t use cameras is quite drastic. One point that you didn’t touch on though is the web / Facebook. People want to take photos and share them later on (compact camera) or even straight away (mobile phone). The professional photos probably won’t be available at least until the couple get back from honeymoon. Perhaps we photographers should take a few snaps on an iPhone throughout the day and live blog the proceedings to Facebook. We generally have the best angles and composition etc. as we’re in the right places. Even if it’s only 10pics to capture the spirit of the day, at least the guests have a taster to share and discuss. It might even encourage them to put their cameras away!? No, probably not :) Perhaps this approach plus strong guidance to put the camera down at least during the ceremony, confetti and formal shots. Guests with cameras taking fun group shots of their own or little details that the photographer won’t see is great and to be encouraged.

  46. 48 says

    Reading about this article now reminds me of this funny 5-second short.

    I see the point in Kevin Aires’s statement about instant connectivity to the internet/Facebook with mobile phones. I notice people send photos from concerts or parties straight to Facebook a lot, and it is probably happening with weddings. I know that photographer Thom Hogan has remarked that such connectivity is missing from Nikon and Canon cameras.

    I read an online article about a trend to make the guests photographers on purpose by leaving disposable cameras at the guest tables. (Don’t know if the trend is recent or not). If the bride and groom did that and also hired a paid photographer, that is just going to be a logistical nightmare.

  47. 49Trev says

    “I read an online article about a trend to make the guests photographers on purpose by leaving disposable cameras at the guest tables. (Don’t know if the trend is recent or not). If the bride and groom did that and also hired a paid photographer, that is just going to be a logistical nightmare.” by Stephen.

    Yes Stephen, that’s been around for a long time, even in film days, they would leave either a 12 or 24 frame film disposable camera [shoot once with it and break it open to retrieve the film], and the tendency still exits even with little digital packs.

    The trouble was, and still is, that people shoot crazy stuff, inside toilets, etc. etc. and with film, the poor B&G were paying out big bucks to get the film processed only to find 95+% of the frames totally useless garbage.

    I often tell the couple when I ask if they are using disposables, not to bother, as nowadays there are fantastic point and shoot digis which guests can grab those spontaneous table shots without any cost to the couple.


  48. 50 says

    Hey Neil! Great post. I laughed so hard while sitting here at work. I cannot tell you now many times I have almost missed a shot because of an Uncle Bob. One of my weddings last October here in Las Vegas, I actually missed the b&g’s first kiss! Uncle Bob jumped out of his seat and IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ISLE! They only held the kiss for about 1sec and it didnt happen a second time. I felt terrible. However, the bride loved my work and me, and didnt mind at all. She actually felt worse than I did actually.

    I would love to repost your post on my blog with your permission. Annotating your information and linking your site. Let me know if this is acceptable.

    Thanks again!

  49. 51 says

    Great post as usual Neil,

    It’s annoying and frustrating for the designated photographer and most of the time, the aggravation increases when you start creating the album or prepare a print.

    This article should be propagated in wedding (bride) forums though, as most of us here – the photographers, can only nod and agree with this but the culprits and clients aren’t aware of this issue.

    I HATE taking group shots because of all the Aunt and Uncle Bobs out there, odds are GREAT that you’ll have the bride/groom/parents never looking at your camera in all shots and eventually resort to cloning eyes and stuff.

    Dave Tong
    David’s Simple Photography

  50. 52 says

    My wife and I just went to my friend’s wedding, and the guests with cameras phenomenon happened, just like this blog article. It was predominantly camera phones. I specifically did not bring my camera but was asked by my good friend in the groom’s party at arrival to take pictures for him to chronicle the event using his point and shoot camera.

    The couple hired a photographer and videographer for this event. The videographer didn’t seem to be affected, but the photographer had to maneuver through the few cameras with flash. Fortunately, the formals at ceremony were mostly uninterrupted, so the paid photographer could do his job. At the reception, however, there were more guests that arrived and more cameras. This proved even more challenging for the photographer.

    It dawned to me that the guests want memories of the event of their own, and most of them probably don’t even see the wedding couple’s photos. To the guests, they are still experiencing the moment, even though from the paid photographer’s point of view, the shots will not come out the way he/she wants.

  51. 53 says

    Excellent post Neil. I’ve lost track of how many weddings where an Uncle Bob or the father-in-law’s well-meaning photographer friend came into the shot. Maybe we should request that they wear black to blend in to the background…

  52. 54Peter Marin says

    Great article Neil, I deal with rude and disrespectful snapping guests each and every wedding we do and it seems to get worse with each one. Luckily for me, I have a very good assistant (wife) that helps deal with this for the most part, especially for the formals, portraits and cake cutting…….which I can guarantee 100% that if I look behind myself there will be a sea of guests with arms out stretched looking at their lcd screens. We’ve even had a few guests follow us in their cars for the location shoots and hide in bushes with 70-300mm kit lenses, no joke…it’s happened more than once.
    At the end of the day, you just deal with it. Can’t affor to let it get the better of me on the day.

  53. 55Joe L. says

    I was shooting this wedding few years back…bride just ready walking down this short aisle and I couldn’t even tell you how many aunts and uncles in the middle the aisle (5 or 7?)…The priest said “please move back to the pews so the bride can come through” (yes it was that bad)…before the priest can finish some aunt stepped the veil…and bride’s veil got yanked off!!

  54. 56 says

    On the topic of ‘who’s the artist and who’s the audience?’ I suggest you stop what you’re doing right now and download a copy of PressPausePlay ~ it’s a remarkable documentary about where creative arts at the moment.

    After watching it (twice) I feel I have a great understanding of the Guest Camera phenomenon (which bugs the sh#t out of me too).

    It will eventually go away, but meanwhile you have to make peace with it. This film will help.

  55. 57 says

    reading you essay, i see i had a very nice position in a good friend wedding.
    there was a pro photographer, wich let me say did a stuning job, and my fellow “demanded” that i brought my camera and shoot some nice pics of them. he always like my pictures and would like to have some taken by me at his house. so, there i went.

    I thought: there will be a guy to the “standart” photos, so i must look the oposite way in order to get something original and beautifull that he, the pro, would not get. After all, he doesn’t have eyes in the neck.

    With my mind set, grabed the tiny D3100 with sigma 18-200 and me faithfull YN467 and just worked as sniper, walking far and taking advantage of my high stature, mostly picking expressions or facts nobody was looking at, like the eyes of the groom while the bride is walking in (nobody looks there :D) or a candid kiss groom mother gave father. I even framed the photographer in some good moments :D

    i think a counscious heavy-amateur or pro guest can add some very nice images to a wedding portifolio, exactly because he is not bound to take “that” picture and is allowed to have more freedom to the artsy side.

  56. 58Smiley says

    Thank you for this…. after the wedding I covered today, I needed the confirmation that I was correct in asking a guest to be in the photos rather than behind the camera :) It was awkward and hard to do, but I had to speak up, and he thanked me later for it.

    Thank you.

  57. 61Carl says

    A bit of polite dissent here Neil. I hate to dissent since I love your commentary, education, website etc, but here goes.

    I feel like this is like a snow plow driver complaining that it is cold outside when he works or a defense attorney complaining that he has a lot of his clients that are criminals. The nature of the business is what it is — and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are right when you say it shouldn’t be that way.

    I won’t dispute with you that there exist the vengeful/spiteful individuals. However, I would suggest that the vast majority *are* experiencing the wedding in a meaningful and satisfying way to them. I have been the the hired wedding photog only a couple times out of reluctance as I prefer portrait and scenery generally, and many times been the enthusiast shooting family or friends.

    The hired photog was never going to get a print out of me. I may print one of mine or more likely just have a few saved in Lightroom as a collection. The images I share with the couple are not taking away from the formal prints you were going to make for them. When I walk around with my 85 f/1.4 at f/1.4 shooting available light or bounced minimal flash of candid moments, most wedding photographers will not be getting those kind of images.

    People *enjoy* photographing and documenting their lives. Digital photography has opened up what had been a privilege now to many. This allows for incredible emotions that are relived by looking at photos and videos from years ago that that enthusiast photographer took. You aren’t there however because you love their wedding. Their guests are there because they love the couple and their wedding and they want to remember and experience it.

    Opinion shared with a gentle smile :-)


  58. 62sheri j says

    SOOOO, you thought cameras were obtrusive…. now we have to contend with people with ipads & tablets… they are WAY larger than the cameras and anything behind the tablet is not going to be visible in your shot and it is about the worst eye sore in your critical key moments on the wedding day. A recent wedding of mine as I was going through the shots, guests are seated, during ceremony I have freedom to walk around towards front and get what would have been an awesome shot of the mother of the bride watching her daughter get married… but you can’t see her face because she has a camera in front of her face, she was like that most of the entire day until she hit the dance floor, so I have lots of images of her with a camera in front of her face. When my daughter gets married someday, trust me, I will make sure that this doesn’t happen at her wedding. I love photography… but I have to be IN the pictures as part of her big day.

  59. 63h says

    I was working on a speech to open my reception with and wanted to incorporate some gound rules (without rambling on but to get my point across). To let the guests know that if they must take photos to keep their flash off and remain in their seats. How can I word it and in what way if what I want to say is (and not in so many words). That basically our photographer and videographer are taking specific photos/footage under our instructions and (without being rude) don’t want people stood where our hired professionals are stood.

    I would also like in some way to give the same (but shortened) instructions for the ceremony itself.

    I obviously don’t want to offend but it is mine and my partner’s day and it’s our photos and video which is the most important to be perfect. Guests can go to a hundred weddings, a couple only gets married once.

    So far I have got:

    To ensure our photographer/videographer can meet are needs fully, please follow our…

  60. 64 says

    It might have some effect as a slip-in note with the original invitation.

    But do make it more conversational and with a tinge of humor, rather than such a formal statement.

    Also, instead of pleading the case for the photographer, ask the guests to enjoy the occasion instead of at a distance through the viewfinder.

    Check the linked article to The Unplugged Wedding for some ideas.

    Best of luck there!

  61. 65tati says

    as for group shots at the altar… I sometimes put my camera down until the various friends or relatives have got their shots, so that it is clear I won’t be shooting until they have finished. That usually makes it clear that they should stop. Some other times… I just have people looking in different directions:(

  62. 67Bogdan says

    I agree almost completely with you Neil except one thing: *I* am the friendliest easy-to-chat-to photographer at any wedding :-)

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