Published December 10th 2014

You should never shoot a wedding


Simply don't! Unless you are a wedding photographer and get paid well to do it. Or just a guest bringing a camera.

I have shot a couple of weddings in my time, and as far as I know it went OK on both occasions. I didn't get paid (I didn't charge anything, so that may be why) and in one instance I never even heard thanks from the couple.
I did it as a favor to a friend who knew both couples in both cases, and thought I'd help both him and the couple out. I did enjoy it in both cases and learned a bit too – even though the experience wasn't that educating.
Knowing what I know now, I'd probably have charged money in both cases and kept the deals more formal, maybe even with a contract. I wasn't cheated in any way and the couples got what they could expect, and the results were pretty decent if you ask me.

But for different reasons I will never shoot a wedding again unless I'm paid for it or simply snap a few pictures as a guest. And even if I was offered money, I'd probably turn down the offer.

A lot of pictures to go through

Locations can be good or bad

It's a lot of work

Shooting a wedding is hard work!
This comes as no surprise to people who have tried, and absolutely won't startle wedding photographers. It didn't surprise me as such. I knew. But my two wedding gigs confirmed that weddings are not to be taken lightly.

You have to be there on the day, be early everywhere and be prepared. You may have met the couple in advance and may have seen the locations in advance, which can be recommended. I did neither and had to gun it as I went.
You will be running around capturing all the moments and all the folks, setting lights, directing people and simply working a lot physically.
And when you're done you will have drogues of images to work through and have to spend hours at the computer getting them edited. If the couple expects prints or albums, there's even more work.

Be there... and be first

During the day you have to be everywhere and preferably before everybody else. Conditions might not be as you imagined. No space, no light, no time, people blocking, boring backgrounds. You don't know until you are there.
You will be shooting guerrilla style some of the time and directing people some of the time. You will be expected to capture all significant moments and be in the center of things, but at the same time be an invisible ghost who no one notices and who never steals the thunder from the happy couple or the family and guests.

Outside the church

No stress

Personally I had no stress during my two wedding shoots. I have enough routine to know that I can get what I want, and I did manage to get most of the situations that I envisioned including some of those that come and go in an instance.
I also managed to get both formal portraits, group shots and some nice shots of the guests from the reception. I wasn't invited to shoot at the dinner in any of the cases, so there was no cake cutting or bridal waltz for me to catch.
I didn't feel any particular pressure. I trust my skills enough to know that I could get what I wanted – and I think I got what was expected from me.
It was far from what the best pros deliver, but then again... so was the price.

No payment

I did both shoots for free. I get paid to take pictures, but don't always work as a pro. My daily photography is done purely as an amateur. I get paid per image by media and publishers when I sell single images, so charging for the occasion and putting a price on my time felt kinda awkward to me.
One of the couples offered me money after it was over, but I declined. I never even got a thank you from the second couple, and have no idea whether they liked what I did or not. In both cases I delivered a large number of edited and sorted images in digital form, but didn't deliver anything physical such as prints or an album.

The little things

My bad

OK, I was stupid not to accept or charge money for any of these shoots! I drove my car to the church and reception, spent a day working hard and spent lots of time editing images the following days.
I was stupid not to indicate the real value of the job. A professional wedding photographer is expensive for a reason, and considering the expectations from the couples and the pressure on the photographer, it's just fair.
Personally I have a hard time understanding the hysteria surrounding marriages – not least considering the crazy divorce rate. The price people pay for clothes, dinners, flowers... and photographers is simply out of this world. Where I live, half of the couples will split up anyway.

So much for lasting memories.

I sometimes wonder

I follow a few online communities where people post their photography related questions, and I can't count the number of times I have met questions like this:

"I just got a new SLR and a friend of a friend asked me to shoot their wedding/birthday/portrait/whatever.
I'm new to photography and have no experience at all.
What should I do?"


Simple as that: don't do it. If you have the gear and the experience and know the people well, consider doing it, but even then, consider long and well. People act really strangely in these situations, and even good friends and people you thought you knew, can turn 180 degrees and be total dorks if something goes wrong.
And if you're new and inexperienced, the risk of something not working is high.

Just don't...

The money game

These latest months a story has been circulating in the online photo community about Nelson Tang, a US based photographer who shot a wedding for 3,800 USD, but was met with dire demands from the couple asking a full refund and a further 15,000 USD in damages because they were dissatisfied with his work. If Tang didn't pay, the couple would sue for a staggering 300,000 USD!

Luckily for Tang the case never went to court, but it clearly illustrates how crazy this business is. OK, this isn't the US and we have no laws that support these crazy lawsuits, but you can still be caught between a rock and a hard place if you are not careful. In the worst case it can break your bank. In lesser cases you may just disappoint the newly married couple by not delivering what they expect.

Never again

Personally I'll stay clear of all that and never shoot another wedding. I'd probably refer people asking to a professional wedding photographer. There's a surprising number of them out there.
Physically I'm not able to work a whole day like that anymore, but I also think that it's important to send a signal to people that taking pictures is a job and should be valued as such.

PS: The images for this blog entry might seem a little bland and true enough. They are not very representative for the images I shot, but since I have no contract with either of the couples, I don't want to publish photos showing them or their guests in detail.