I am really happy to talk about the subject of guests taking photos during a wedding ceremony, and if all photography rights should be exclusive to your photographer. In the planning stages of a ceremony, I give couples the option of me asking guests not to take photos and not to post images to social media. What do couples decide? The answer is a mixed bag, but most often its ‘leave it to the photographer’.
I recently delivered a ceremony, where the bride and her little girl, together with the bride’s dad entered the ceremony room to walk up the aisle. Naturally, the little one was a bit stunned but soon settled, and began to dance to the processional music. Yes, this was an adorable moment. BUT what hit me like a bomb was, the groom/dad could not see what was happening because the guests had taken over the aisle with their camera phones to record the moment. In truth, not one person with their phone out realised what the groom was missing.
Since that day, when couples say it’s OK for guest to take photos, I explicitly request guests not to lean into the aisle. The photographer always thanks me. Remember, on a wedding day, the celebrant, photographer, musician, florist etc are all one big team that is hired to do their job, work together and get things right!
I was curious to know what a wedding photographer thought on the subject. Thomas Stewart, a world-leading wedding photographer, is well known for his very clear message (all 26,000 words) about having an unplugged wedding and of course his famous photo seen below. (With kind permission from Thomas)
Another explanation on the impact of guest photography during your ceremony comes from Jenna Kutcher, an esteemed US wedding photographer (retired…a young woman who went on to do other great things). Jenna has very kindly given permission for me to share her views with you. It’s a long read, but hang in there, its worth it <3.
Courtesy of Jenna Kutcher
Hey sweet friend,
I’ve been wanting to write to you for awhile. The thing is, our paths only seem to cross on the weekends and while Saturday strikes and I think of the words I’d love to deliver to you, I forget throughout the week and fail to reach you… until now. Here’s the thing, I have so much to say to you, but I’m never quite sure how to deliver it, because I see you and I know your intentions are pure. So first, just listen to my side, maybe you’ll rethink grabbing out your iPhone or packing your DSLR for the next time you get to witness a precious round of “I dos!” As our generation becomes the most photographed generation on the planet, we have become obsessed with documenting everything: from the minute we wake up to what we eat for dinner. Our lives are shared with the world and while it’s a joy – it’s also become a big problem.
You might not know it, but I’m always looking for you at my weddings. You blend in so well, try to appear inconspicuous, but as I start at the front looking into the crowd, I am trying to pinpoint your whereabouts and plan how I can work around you. Wait, you didn’t realize that what you do impacts me? It does. So while you’re positioning yourself in an aisle seat and clinging to that camera before the bride rounds the corner, I am coming up with action plans in my head. Here’s what you don’t realize: as the professional photographer, we are given guidelines. We can’t use flash, we need to stay put and out of the way, and we must remain discreet while delivering the BEST photos to our clients. So I am sure you can imagine the shock when you’re flashbulbs go off and suddenly our settings are wonky because we had no clue you were ready to strike.
I’ve watched mothers miss their daughters walking down the aisle, I’ve seen grandma’s hiding behind the glowing screen of an iPad, and I’ve witnessed so many moments that were missed simply because someone was scrolling through their camera roll to check out “the shot.” I don’t know everything, but here are a few things I do know: you, my friend, were invited as an honored guest. The couple didn’t invite you out of obligation or because you know how to use Instagram, they genuinely wanted your presence at their day. Whether you’re their college bestie, you used to babysit them and you have horror stories, or you’re their next door neighbor – I’d like to bet that they would far rather see your smiling face than what iPhone you have. So while you’re doing your best to document that precious aisle moment that they’ve probably been dreaming of for months (even years) their professional photos (the ones they will probably hang in their home) will not be of your sweet face but of your phone screen and determined look as you try to nail a Facebook worthy photo – which, let’s be honest, your photos probably aren’t turning out that great anyway.
When I am hired to do my job, my couples are investing in me and trusting me. Trust isn’t something I choose to take lightly so I will go to the ends of the earth to deliver them the photos they’ve been dreaming of. I can tell you a few things: they didn’t dream of looking out into the aisle and seeing you (and ten of your posse) leaning in and holding out your phone in an attempt to be “discreet” and they definitely didn’t envision professional photos with all sorts of screens glowing in the background. When I see you, I feel a little sad, because here I am, a workhorse ready for battle and there you are throwing away an opportunity to be fully present for the very people who requested your presence.
What I don’t want you to hear is this: I am not a bitter photographer who is worried about you stealing my job, not in the least. In fact, I respect your desire to help remember the day! That being said, I think there is a time and place for your documentation (and it might not be in a dimly lit church with a captive audience!) I know my couples love seeing your images, I want you to be in them, but here’s what I would prefer to avoid: I don’t want to trip over you as you crouch in the aisle, I get distracted with you shooting over my shoulder, and I hate having to figure out how to creatively crop you out of the photos because you’re staring at your phone during precious moments. In fact, I am so set on seeing your face I make sure that my clients are given the opportunity to share their photos with their guests, so that not only can you live the day in the present, you can also relive those moments you were a part of for years to come.
So next time you’re inching towards the aisle or your point and shoot is ready to fire, I dare you to just sit back and relax. I was hired to document the day and I take that position seriously, so seriously, I might smile at you (but deep down I am willing you to simply enjoy being a guest!) My clients will thank you, I will thank you, and the photos that you get to be a part of will be a part of their legacy long after your blurry iPhones have been buried in the feeds of Facebook! Let’s not forget about what it means to be a witness to vows!
Let your presence be their present.
The Professional Photographer Hired to Do Her Job
Couples pay a lot of hard-earned money to hire the best photographers, and it’s not ok for the photographer to compete with your guests to do their job! What would it be like if a guest came to the front of the room and read their own random text alongside mine? Or if they popped into the kitchen and started putting a salad together…they would be booted out pronto!! So why is it acceptable for your photographer? Not the same thing? The conversation is happening over on Instagram, and I would love to hear your thoughts!