When we asked our online Facebook community, “Should you bring a camera to a wedding you are not hired to shoot?” we received a flood of strong opinions. The response wasn’t particularly surprising, considering a large percentage of our community is made up of wedding photographers, and each one attends a number of weddings every year; sometimes, as a hired photographer, and sometimes as a guest.
After polling our community, one thing was made clear to us: Bringing a camera to a wedding that you are not hired to shoot is a touchy subject, and a controversial one. We found that, while the loudest voices yelled “NO! LEAVE YOUR CAMERA AT HOME!” we also received a number of sound counterarguments.
Based on our community’s feedback, we compiled their thoughts and advice into this blog to help our readers think critically before bringing a camera to a wedding they’re not hired to shoot.
As you consider whether or not you should bring a camera to a wedding you’re not hired to shoot, take a second to identify your motive. When we discussed the topic with our community, a few common reasons surfaced.
TO CAPTURE PERSONAL MEMORIES
This is arguably the most uncontroversial motive of them all. Kirsten Swenson brought up the keen point that non-photographers bring their cameras to photograph memories for their personal use all the time, so why shouldn’t you? “My parents even took their [camera] everywhere with them in the 1980s.” she reminisces, “I bring mine because they are my own memories I want to capture and I want better than my cell phone has to offer. It doesn’t come with me to the ceremony, but I’ll definitely have it during the reception.”
Community members that support bringing a camera for personal made sure to define what that looks like. Community member, Nina Pease, shares, “[My camera] stays in my purse for the ceremony and only comes out for the cocktail hour and reception, where I use it exclusively to take group photos of my family and friends.” Virginia Smith offers similar reasons, “I bring my film camera but use it to take close-up shots of my immediate family, since we’re all dressed up, and the oldest close friends and family… unless the photographer is doing close-ups of guests.”
YOU’RE ASKED TO BRING IT
Occasionally, a treasured aunt, neighbor’s son, or photography school student gets hired to shoot a wedding they’re, frankly, not qualified to shoot. This may happen because the couple is receiving pressure to give someone a shot, accept a well-intentioned gift or suggestion, or simply save a few bucks. Whatever the reason, it’s not uncommon for a couple to hire a photographer they simply don’t trust… and then promptly turn to you for help.
If you’re asked to bring your camera because the couple doesn’t trust their photographer, the first step is to try to understand what they’re afraid of, then encourage them to speak their truth and hire a photographer that they do trust. If they’re unwilling to do so, talk to them about the potential backlash. Kaitlin Watkins Bailey offers her wisdom on the topic, “I would let them know that it’s likely in the contract with their hired photographer that no other professional should be infringing on their wedding day coverage.”
If the couple simply wants you to bring it “just in case” something happens, Grant Hobgood suggests, “bring it and leave it in the car.” He offers personal experience, “I actually did this with a film camera and the main photographer’s son broke his leg. I was able to shoot a few frames for the end of the evening and [the couple was] super happy.”
TO IMPROVE YOUR PORTFOLIO
Sam Grimes, a Mastin Labs community member, and a new photographer, asked the group about the appropriateness of using his friend’s wedding as a learning opportunity. This brought up the very controversial motive for bringing a camera to a wedding: improving your portfolio.
If you have a relationship with the hired photographer and feel comfortable asking them to include you in the day, you may not face any friction. If you do not have this relationship, the risk may be greater than the reward.
If you bring your camera with you to a wedding in order to improve your portfolio or practice your photography, be discrete, stay out of the way, and resist the urge to make the photos public. Keep them for your private reflection and learning use only. Take what you learned from that wedding and apply it to future portfolio-building opportunities. Not only can your use of the photos lead to potential breach of contract between the couple and their hired photographer, posting these photos as though you were the hired photographer is misleading and can damage your long-term relationship with the photographer, their network, and potential future clients.
If you have any doubts about bringing your camera for this purpose, an alternative and safer choice is to reach out to a photographer with a complimentary style and ask if you can second shoot for them to build your portfolio. Many photographers begin building their portfolio this way by charging little to nothing for their first few weddings.
Why You Shouldn't Bring Your Camera to a Wedding
Reasons for the “anti-camera” argument ranged from personal, to practical. Some welcomed the break, encouraging photographers to, in Jessica Edwards’ words, “Sit back and enjoy the wedding.” Community member, Valeri Grace, suggested, “Try participating in life instead of trying to capture it.” and Nicole Bourgeois echoed her and added, “[I] want to enjoy myself and not worry about the safety of my equipment.”
Other members recognized how bringing a camera might appear to the couple and the hired photographer. In Jessy Jones’ words, “They invited you as a guest to be involved in the day. They hired a photographer (hopefully) to do the work.” Kaitlin Watkins Bailey agreed, and offered, “You were invited by the couple as an honored guest. You should be fully present. I intentionally leave my camera at home.” Rachel Ashcraft believes it’s in bad taste to bring a camera, insisting, “It’s so rude to the hired photographer as well as the couple.” She continues with a suggestion to hold on to memories of that day by, “[Purchasing] prints from the photographer of the things you would have photographed yourself.”
If you choose to bring your camera to a wedding you aren’t asked to shoot, here are a few rules of etiquette for keeping it classy.
PUT YOURSELF IN THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S SHOES
Think about what would frustrate you if you were the hired photographer and the roles were switched (this shouldn’t be difficult…☺) and do not do those things. Community member, Nina Pease encourages guests to stay out of the way, “I don’t go out of my way to get photos of the couple and I certainly don’t try to step on the hired photographer’s toes by taking photos during any of the big moments.” If the photographer doesn’t notice you at all, you’ve done it well.
Don’t bring a flash, turn off the volume on your camera, and bring your smallest camera (consider bringing a disposable). In Tricia Bovey’s words, “Keep it as discrete as possible”.
ALWAYS KNOW WHERE YOU ARE IN RELATION TO THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Before taking any shots, look around and take note of where the photographer is. Never position yourself in front of the photographer or in their direct line of sight. Use a zoom lens, anticipate their movements, and stay out of their frame. Avoid taking photos during moments when the photographer will be moving around a lot, such as the ceremony or the first dance.
BE A GUEST, NOT A PHOTOGRAPHER
This one should be obvious. Don’t make suggestions to the photographer, rearrange their groupings, or steal away important members of the family making it difficult for the photographer to track them down. Leave your photographer self at home, bring your party self to the wedding.
Always act like a guest. Stand when you should stand; sit when you should sit. Give the couple your full attention during important moments and don’t interfere.
KEEP YOUR CAMERA USE TO A MINIMUM
Don’t walk around all day with a camera around your neck; nobody wants those photos cluttering a wedding album! Read the room and keep your camera hidden during the important moments. In the words of Sean Carr, “Don’t try to document the wedding and you’ll be good to go.”
If you’re a photographer who is debating whether or not you should bring a camera with you to a wedding, we hope this helps you consider every angle and argument. After our controversial discussion, it’s clear that there are valid reasons on both sides. It is also evident that, if you do choose to bring your camera, it’s in good taste to follow rules of etiquette to be respectful to the couple and their hired photographer.
Let’s keep the conversation going! Tell us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below: Should you or should you not bring a camera to a wedding you are not hired to shoot?