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what photogs want YOU to know: wedding guest ettiquette | southwestern pa photographer | wedding tips

By October 2, 2011 24 Comments

Are you ready for some complete randomness-aweful grammar and poor spelling?!!  Read on my friends…read on!

I must preface this post with a little bit of an explanation. Earlier in the year I had shot a wedding for an absolute WONDERFUL couple when a few of the below (I said a few) issues arose. A very friendly guest approached me after “the incident” and made the comment that, ” some people just don’t know the proper etiquette when attending as a wedding guest.” She had clearly been watching what was happening from afar  and could sympathize with my frustration. She said it in as  “I understand how you feel”, approach and THAT got me to thinking, she’s probably RIGHT. Some people just DON’T know and it’s not that they are trying to be rude or make our job more difficult on purpose, it’s just that they simply don’t know! That is the idea behind this post-because let’s face it, unless someone tells you, you will NEVER know…….you can thank me later! Tee he he!

I’m sure I’ll miss a few points in my babbling and perhaps traditions/etiquette are different where you live….but here in these parts (you have to say that with a country accent to get the full effect) we would really appreciate if you’d consider the following when being a guest at a wedding………I was able to come up with the following with a little help from some of my photog friends. I tried my best to keep this lite as I’m not trying to offend anyone but rather shed some light on a topic while adding some humor……because let’s face it…we’ve ALL been guilty a time or two…YES even myself!!  🙂

No matter what line of work you are in, we all have our pet peeves. When I worked in retail, I use to DESPISE when people came into the store and pulled the very bottom shirt out of the pile knocking them all over without picking them up. They apparently missed the labeled stickers on the sides. Imagine my distress when it was the holiday season…and I’m a people person!!!. I’m still convinced (although I’ve never worked in the restaurant industry) everyone should be required to  either work as  a waiter/waitress or work in retail over the holidays to gain a respect for humanity before being able to graduate high school-just sayin. So as you can see….we all have our pet peeves, the things that make us cringe, people/things/etc. that make our jobs harder….even us photographers face the same frustrations at times.

It goes a little like this……
So you were invited to a wedding, you have a nice camera and you plan to take photos for the bride and groom as a present. I hear it all the time, and as a matter of fact, I think it’s sweet! I mean what Bride and Groom doesn’t want to have a million photos of their “big day” -the day they spent year(s) planning, hours and hours picking out the details and forking out lots of money for the perfect vendors. I would if I were them.

Don’t worry if you’ve done any of these things before-you are forgiven…you didn’t know right? BUT now that you DO know…..there is no turning back! You can’t say you didn’t know. As a side note: being a guest at weddings several times myself, I also had to abide by these as well out of respect for the hired photographer. I’m not telling you to NOT use your nice DSLR camera-or any camera for that matter, I’m not telling you to NOT take pictures as a gift to the Bride and Groom and I’m certainly not telling you that  I want you to be a mute and stay away from me all night-because really, I’m a very nice person…I’m just informing you on what is or isn’t frowned upon… least in my own opinion.

Being a guest at weddings myself,  I understand you want to have nice photos for yourself for Facebook, etc……but there are certain THINGS that you can try to avoid doing that may  interfere with the job of the HIRED photographer . I must mention that for me, the Bride and Grooms receive a disc of all their edited images. So you’re thinking…so what! What does that mean? It’s not like the when your parents were married where they will have to purchase images AFTER the wedding……they are getting them already so when you stand over my shoulder and take the SAME picture as me……guess what, they are getting that image on their disc and (I say this in the nicest way)  but my shot will probably be better. 🙂

ohhh and you will notice I go a little overboard with my smiley faces and exclamation points…..sorry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ceremony Ninja’s: This is in reference to the wedding guests who lean out into the aisles as the bride is proceeding down the aisle. They just want to get their shot whether it is with a cell phone (which is more and more common) a simple point or shoot or their “professional looking” DSLR. Let me explain a few things. #1 The bride (and her father) is supposed to be the ONLY one in the aisle. So when I’m trying to shoot my photos of the happy bride walking down the aisle to greet her soon to be husband, the last thing I want to see is you. Now I know that sounds kind of harsh, but it is what it is. I have almost missed several shots due to guests leaning, standing or jumping out in the aisle for what they think is a “real quick” shot. The aisle is off-limits. If you want to get a picture of the bride from your seat…be my guest but please be respectful of your flash….which brings me to #2.

Flashing the Bride + Groom: Using your flash. To put it straight forward…your flash…messes with our flash. Let say that I have my camera metered for the lighting condition at the ceremony and then my flash goes off giving just enough light to expose the photo properly…but Uncle Joe’s, Aunt Mary and little Bobbie Sue’s camera’s flash are all going off at the same time….that’s TOO much flash for the exposure I set to my camera…which means…..the poor bride gets no awesome shots. This doesn’t happen ALL the time, it’s a matter of “timing” but I’ve seen it ruin (what would have been) GORGEOUS shots….and that makes me sad!  🙁

The First Dance: I love kids-don’t get me wrong…..I can prove it, I have one of my own!! I actually enjoy seeing itty bitty’s at the weddings I shoot-they have some of the BEST dance moves EVER……LOL BUT (with few exceptions) there are moments during the day/night where it is inappropriate to let them have free reign of the dance floor…one being the First Dance. I said with few exceptions….with some blended families (or other reasons) it is important for the family-which includes the children- to participate in the first dance. I’ve seen it several times and it can be very touching and sentimental. On the other hand, you have the newly weds who have spent countless hours planning and anticipating the PERFECT day and want to have an elegant first dance..then come little John and Sue running round the two of them laughing and carrying on-sure it’s cute..I mean kids are laughing and giggling, who doesn’t like to hear a child’s laugh-the point is, the attention should NOT be on the should be on the Bride and Groom. The moment went from romantic and sweet….to….chaos! They look at each other as to say, “where are their parents?”…they stop looking at each other and having “their moment” because they are looking around the room trying to see where the kids parents are. In the meantime Johnny falls, starts crying and the entire dance is a circus. See where I’m going. It’s just distracting and depending on the couple-unappropriate. I’m not saying the ONLY way to go is to have an ADULT ONLY reception—that’s not what I’m saying AT ALL. I would just say that as a guest, if you and your children (small children) are invited, please be respectful to the Bride and Groom and keep your children off the dance floor so that the attention can be directed towards the Bride and Groom at certain times. 🙂

Hey Look Here: Also while the Bride and Groom are having “their moment” on the dance floor, please do not walk up to the edge of the dance floor-or ONTO the dance floor with your camera and tell them to “Look Here”. Somewhere there is a photographer trying to catch the moment and every time you do that…we can’t do our job….the same goes for cutting the cake. We understand you want to get a photo-and we aren’t trying to stop you, but when you yell out, “HEY LOOK HERE” it completely takes them out of THEIR moment so that YOU can have YOUR photo……it then becomes about YOU and not about THEM. Please feel free to take your photos, just let the moment happen without interfering! 🙂

Do you have film in that camera?: Asking us technical questions while we are working…not cool. Don’t ask us what our settings are or a question about how your camera works. We are being paid to document the day and we don’t have time to explain to you how to work your camera. I can tell you though….we LOOVE to “camera talk” and I’d love to give you my card so that you’re an email or call with any questions…it’s just the wedding is not the place to learn how to work YOUR camera. I’m sorry your photos are coming out too dark or too blurry, but the cutting of the cake is coming up very soon and I have to get myself ready for those shots. PS: no I don’t have film in my camera…I shoot digital. No I didn’t forget to take the lens cap off and no it’s not a piece of Tupperwear on my flash. 🙂

Monkey Shooters: Standing over our shoulders to get the same shot. I am not kidding when I tell you that I’ve literally  been slapped in the face with someone else’s lens. While shooting family portraits, I’ve had someone stand so close to me that when I turned my face to switch lenses out of my bag, their lens hit my face……no i’m not kidding. They had their lens right over my shoulder so that they could “get their shot”. I mean at that point I wanted to just offer my shoulder as a tripod to them. The other thing that makes it difficult is when you are standing behind us but slightly off to the side and trying to take your picture the same time as we are……because they are unsure of whom to look at first. I have to politely remind everyone that *I’M* being paid a lot of money and that I realize there are A LOT of other cameras there at the moment but to please look at me. It’s not that we don’t want you to have a picture of the group, it’s just that we are trying to get the Bride and Groom the BEST possible photo without having anyone’s eyes wandering away. 🙂

Uncle Bobs: They can be classified as the wedding guest who is also/or thinks that they are also “a photographer”. They have just purchased a camera at Cosco/Walmart/Sears/Best Buy, etc. and it looks just like ours……therefore because they have a nice and expensive camera they are a photographer…because a nice camera takes nice pictures right? WRONG-just like a nice and expensive pair of scissors doesn’t make me a hair stylist. They will tell us how to do our job and remind us that we are shooting into the light or that we should stand over there for the best shot all while telling us how they just shot a really pretty deer in their backyard that morning. Uncle Bob, I love you, I REALY do……and you always have the cutest ties and matching socks BUT please don’t tell me where to stand or how to angle my camera…besides, I think Aunt Sue is looking for you again. 🙂

I took this photo in 2010 when Khara Plicanic gave her Uncle Bob presentation during the last day WPPI in Vegas. She spoke during a 5 minute presentation at “Photographers Ignite” organized by Kevin Kubota and his crew…I just so happened to be sitting up front with an awesome view. I laughed so hard during her presentation! If you’d like watch it-click *here*. Hilarious I tell you, hilarious!


Snap Snap: Wedding guests….snapping your fingers at the photographer as if we are a taxi does not make us want to run over and take your picture any faster. We understand that this is one of the few times that you and the rest of your family are “all dressed up” but I can not be your personal photographer when there are events that I’m being paid to shoot going on around corner. I can’t take time away from shooting the festivities to do a family shoot with you. You look great, you really do and Dad totally looks spiffy in his new tie and you look lovely in purple…but I can’t spend 30 minutes shooting your family photos when the money dance is going on. 🙂 Also, please don’t snap your fingers and point to something that is going on that you think I may not be catching because what you probably don’t realize is that there are at least two photographers roaming around the dance floor covering different things. I’m not running across the room to take that photo because I know my second shooter has it covered. 🙂

The Boss: The Bride is the BOSS…no matter who is paying. I don’t care if the President himself has hand delivered the final payment….the Bride is my boss-the end. 🙂

** Please note: If you do any of the following, the photographer police will not arrest you, a ninja will not appear from the bushes, your camera will NOT be confiscated but the photographer will mostly likely give you the “ohhh NOOOO, you DIDN”T look”! hahahaa!! What it boils down to is: the bride and groom are investing A LOT of money into their photographer (as well as all the other vendors ) for their day. They hired that person for a specific reason and to do a specific job…sometimes guests (unknowingly) can make our jobs difficult when they don’t know the unwritten etiquette. So here are a few. If you are a photographer and you’d like to chime in, I’d love to hear from you, but please let’s be professional 🙂

I hope you’ve laughed a few times while reading this-I tried to keep it as lite as possible. If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time now-I think you’ll get my humor. I chose not to include photos in this post on purpose, because I LOVE my clients and I would never want to embarrass their friends or family that meant so very much to them. I’m not telling you to leave your camera at home, I’m not telling you to NOT take photos, I’m simply requesting that you please respect the hired photographer-whoever that might be! And more importantly….remember to have fun!! 🙂

Now excuse me while I go try to find the cookie table!! (It’s a SW PA thing) 🙂


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  • Lyse says:

    So true. It’s so disheartening to miss the PERFECT shot to overexposure due especially to people’s rampant use of flash on their point and shoots; thereby screwing up all the careful planning and metering by the photog. I’m pretty sure the couple would prefer a beautiful professional shot that they already paid for than a million free low res hasty snaps from well-meaning guests.

  • Jodi says:

    This is very good and everyone should take a look at it. I happened to be at a family wedding (my sis-in-law) and while I’m a photographer, I wasn’t their hired photographer- and I have to admit it was nice to just be at the wedding, not working and not in it. My mom-in-law had asked me to take a few specific shots for her scrapbook and I just enjoyed taking pics of what I wanted for the evening. That said, I tried very hard to stay out of the way of the hired photogs and to be respectful of them. I know how hard it can be. Like you said, it’s more important to make sure the situation is kept about them (the bride and groom) and not about you.

  • maria says:

    Totally and completely a great article!!! How I WISH you could send it with the wedding invites!! LOL

  • Kimberly says:

    I had volunteered to do a wedding for a friend of my mom’s and it was my absolute first one to do. It was a small affair and the reception was at the bride’s parent’s house, so no wedding planner and no pay for me – this was a favor, end of story. The groom’s mom and aunt hounded me the entire time to tell the bride and groom it was time to (fill in the blank – cut the cake, do a toast, dance, etc.). It was a bit frustrating to be dictated to by someone who wasn’t even my “boss” that evening.

    There are so many irksome things I’ve discovered about shooting weddings. Props to all those fabulous photogs who do them all the time!! Great post!

  • Kaylan says:

    while being the second shooter with courtney katherine at a recent wedding, i got the “excuse me” from a family member because i walked in front of HER shot. (while courtney was taking the actual professional shot and i was trying for the perfect side shot) nooo no, excuse me! we are the ones getting paid for this professionally set up family shot, not you honey. not to mention she held up courtney a couple times to get “her shot”, and also tried to take family away for her own photos.
    monkey shooters is probably what i see the most, and cant stand the most!! good post!

  • Sarah says:

    I am not a professional photographer (I have a DSLR that I got from a friend for super cheap, and I can barely use the manual setting), but I DO know these rules and I always try to think about where the photographer is so I don’t screw up the professional photos! I think I’m mostly aware that my flash will ruin theirs (especially when there are professional lights and umbrellas set up). Just wanted to tell you that there are some people who are conscious of you!

  • Michelle says:

    Nice blog! Very good tips there – I wish everyone was required to read. I have actually been “the photographer” of a wedding once – I put that in quotations because I am only a hobbyist, and yes, I did get my camera from BestBuy haha! But I was the only one she had. Well, at that wedding, I had one very nice, but persistent lady who kept telling me who I SHOULD be taking pictures of – get one of her uncles, get one of her nieces, etc (meanwhile the best men and brides maids were patiently waiting) The bride and I had already discussed this and since she knew my personality, she gracefully stepped in and told Aunt know-it-all what I was there to do.
    I think that wedding was the most fun I’d had and if a friend needed a last minute photographer, I’d do it again. But I would never interrupt a professional at work or try to steal a shot. You do fantastic work, btw. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Stephanie says:

    These little suggestions will most definitely be mailed out with my invitations when it comes time to do so. Maybe I’ve got no shame or maybe I’m the type that likes things done the right way. All I know is that my day can’t be exactly how I want it to be if I’ve got family and friends getting in the way. Thank you!

  • Kimberly says:

    Not a wedding photographer here … but from the aspect of a former bride … all those snapshots that my family took – the same photos that my paid photog took except at a slightly different angle – I threw most of them away. Granted this was before digital and they were taken on those cheap throw-away cameras, but still. I don’t need a gazillion pictures of my wedding party with red eyes and bad angles. 🙂

    You definitely made me chuckle several times! I love to take pictures, but I will certainly remember this list next time I get invited to a wedding. And I most definitely have respect for what the paid photog is doing.

  • Kora K says:

    Loooooove this post. I have had a lady follow me around at a wedding before and take all the same shots as me, then she had the audacity to come to the sales presentation with the bride and tell me that the bride doesn’t need buy any of my photos because she already took them and they were way cheaper at wal-mart. =] I guess that it’s more of an extreme example but definitely frustrating.

    I just wish there was a very polite but effective saying that gets my message across without seeming like the crabby photographer. (It seems like I’m always dealing with monkeys, haha )

  • Thank you for this post Jen. They should be printed on large notice boards and posted at the entrance to every wedding venue!

  • Amy says:

    Since you couldn’t be my photographer (pesky Canadian rules!), my photographer did tell everyone that he got the first shot and then let people take pictures of the family shot after him. Then we when went to the site for our formals, he wouldn’t let anyone follow us!

  • Sarina says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This should be required reading for all wedding guests!

  • Oh Bob! 🙂 He lives on!

  • Steve says:

    You “hit the nail on the head” with this post! Just shot my first wedding and I encountered many of the talking points here. I just started my blog and though I’m still trying to figure it all out, I plan on blogging a link to your post here. This is fantastic!

  • […] it.  So, grab your cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and head on over to Jen McKen’s post on “what photogs want YOU to know:” Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  • […] what photogs want YOU to know: wedding guest ettiquette […]

  • Rachel says:

    Excellent X 1 million. you covered it all and in a great way. I have lost many a shot when the bride and father are walking up the aisle because of ninjas using camera phones. thank you for sharing this!

  • Melissa C says:

    Brilliant ! So true ! I’ve put a “camera free ceremonies are preferred” line in my contract now.

  • Jane says:

    Oh my gosh this article is perfect. I might reblog this for my brides this year to read. One of my worst pet-peees is when family members approach me during the day to snap pictures of their kids. “you know, because they are all dressed up and cute.” You’re not paying me, and I am not taking time away from my bride and groom to do a family shoot for you. If you want family photos, here is my card. I learned this the hard way. Last year I did some of these photos and then had the sister-of-the-groom email me some NASTY emails because I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN she wanted those photos for Christmas cards and why aren’t they done yet?? I was not about to release any photos that my bride and groom paid for to anyone besides them for free. What the heck?

  • Beth says:

    A very good friend of mine – who also happens to be an amazing professional photographer who has photographed hundreds of weddings – did our wedding photography for free as a gift to us! I found out later that my mother-in-law stood next to/behind my friend during the bridal party portraits and repeatedly made suggestions and kept reminding my friend to “make sure you’re getting everyone in the picture.” I was mortified!! Thanks for writing this! I hope a lot of people read it!!

  • Jen, I love this. It’s good because it’s so true. I have run into several of these, especially “Ceremony Ninjas”! It is very frustrating. I usually try to have a sit-down with my couples beforehand and ask them how “aggressive” they want me to be when it comes to guests such as this. I do not have a problem stepping in front of the lens of a “Ceremony Ninja”, and neither does my second-shooter, because – as you said – we got paid a lot of money and were hired to do a job. I’ll be sharing this post, in the hopes that we can spread some more wedding etiquette tips elsewhere! Thanks for your work and for being such a great teacher – you are in inspiration! ~ Lindsay with Moments By L Photography, Indiana

  • Occasions! Photography says:

    I love this! With Wedding season upon us, this is an appropriate post to share! Pass it on <3.

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