Wedding protocol for photographers

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by natureslight, Apr 2, 2017.

  1. Hi All - I work as a nature and travel writer and photographer. Which is my way of clarifying I know very little about wedding photography. Therefore, it's possible my impression here is totally off. I would appreciate some feedback from those who do weddings professionally so I can better understand protocol.

    Yesterday I attended my niece's wedding at a community church. This is the third wedding I've attended where something of this sort occurred. My niece and her now husband hired a company to do both their still photography and videography. During the ceremony, the photographer and videographer set up in the main aisle to shoot the proceedings. By doing so, they obstructed the view of the minister and wedding party for a good portion of the audience. In addition, the photographer twice interfered with the proceedings by walking between the bride and the groom and also walked in front of the minister twice - both times while the minister was speaking. He also used heavy flash [There seemed abundant natural life from the glass wall behind the alter, but as I said, I don't shot weddings and the flash may have been needed as fill or to balance the light.] that appeared to blind the officiant and attendants. Meanwhile, the videographer was similarly disruptive and, at one point, asked an entire row of people to move aside so he could relocate his cameras.

    During the early part of the reception, as people were arriving in the hall, a number of guests were attempting to take cell-phone pictures of the reception hall. The person who appeared to be the photographer's assistant arrived and immediately began telling guests they were not permitted to take pictures. She was, imo, quite rude in her approach. I well understand that when a photographer is attempting to work it may be annoying to have "civilians" nearby using cameras or cell phones to capture the same scene. However, this did not appear to be an issue at that point since the photographer was busy with the wedding party. When the photographer came into the venue, he began ordering people around, telling them to get out of his way and ordering staff to lower lights and to restrain from serving food. Again, I could maybe understand asking people -- politely -- if they might move should they interfere with his work. However, this did not appear to be an issue. At the very least, I would have expected a professional to behave in a more respectful manner.

    I know my niece has a contract with this particular photography firm. The contract stipulates time, location, type images, and the standard clauses concerning payment, cancellation, etc. No one has yet seen the results of the photography or videography, so that is not what I'm trying to address. Since this is not the first time in recent years I have witnessed what I term unprofessional and rude behavior on part of the wedding photographer, I''m trying to figure out what is considered acceptable. Am I misunderstanding the role of a wedding photographer? Is this type thing common? Should behavior be included in a contract, or at least discussed pre-wedding? Any insight into this situation will be very welcome. Thanks!
  2. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Probably stating the obvious: I think that the sentiment, probably the main purpose of your post, reflects that your expectations of behaviour and conduct 'at a wedding' were not met.

    I mention that to underscore that I would consider that the more important guide to whether the standard of behaviour was met or not, would be the opinion of your Niece and Nephew-in-law.

    Do you know their view?


    And to your questions - I would neither tell guests that they were "not allowed to take pictures" nor "order staff to lower lights and to restrain from serving food". . . nor ever "obstructed the view of the minister and wedding party for a good portion of the audience . . . interfered with the proceedings by walking between the bride and the groom and also walked in front of the minister twice - both times while the minister was speaking."

    Do I think that behaviour is acceptable? No I do not. Nor is it professional. Nor is it required to get the (good) Shot or the (good) Video.

    I think that the ego of some Service Providers can way exceed their station, their role and their task at hand: but that is not limited to "Professional Wedding Photographers" - I have crossed paths with Surgeons and Barristers and Plumbers and Mechanics who display the same traits, considering that their 'performance' is way more important than the Purpose of the Event and they seem completely miss the point that they are being ‘employed’ by the Client to provide the Clients' desired outcomes.

    A salient point is – did your Niece and Nephew-in-law have any experience of how this company worked? - Either first hand, for example as guests at previous weddings, or by speaking to some of the Company’s previous Wedding Clients?

    I mention that because I think that there always has been a lack of adequate research done by many B&G prior to purchasing their Wedding Photography / Videography Package – that is not a new phenomenon: on the other hand I do think that, (in colloquial terms) Wedding Photographers today can get away with a lot more than they could 30 years ago, because of several factors. There have been many societal changes and the need/want for image making and the instant display of those images seems for some people both contagious and invasive and this is only one of those factors

  3. Thank- you, William, for your input. I cannot check with my niece and new nephew-in-law because they are on their honeymoon. I did speak to my brother and his wife about their experience. They were angered by the photographer's behavior, particularly the manner in which he spoke to guests. My niece is a bright woman with considerable acumen in business. However, I have wondered how much research she did into photographers prior to signing the contract. The family first asked if I would be willing to shoot the wedding last year. My response -- an emphatic NO -- was met with disappointment and a measure of anger. But I know my weaknesses and knew they would be disappointed with the results had I agreed to act as official photographer. [ I love photography and am fairly competent in my chosen area, but writing is my strength and I don't delude myself into believing my skills would translate into competence with wedding work] I advised my niece to seek feedback from prior clients before making her choice, but I'm unsure if she did so.

    I have to agree with your assessment of the situation. I hate to admit it, but I'm of an age where my patience with poor manners is very short. I treat my clients with respect and expect the same from those with whom I do business. My reaction to this photographer and his crew was "well, isn't he arrogant." Sadly, you are correct: far too many so-called professionals in many different areas of business seem to share this fault of arrogance. I suppose my idea of having behavior covered in a contract is rather naive and silly. A true professional will always behave with respect. The others...well, they are what they are.
  4. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Maybe naïve, but probably not silly.

    Arguably necessary to accommodate the needs of some in the apparent demise of general etiquette, manners, custom/conformity.

    I think it is a problem for the Photographer too. There is much more to the Business of (good) Wedding Photography than just making the pictures. I think that some forget that primarily Wedding Photography is a “Service” Business, not a “Goods” Business.

    In the bigger scheme of things, though, if the Video and the Pictures are good and your Niece and all the family and friends get joy from those videos and pictures, then the ‘incidents’ will be forgotten.

    What was the Minister’s reaction?

  5. I've done many weddings and it is something of a balancing act. My wife often works with me and she is quite good at bringing the wedding party and family members together for photos after the ceremony. As we are not the primary reason for being there we work quickly and get the job done well but without delay. We are never rude to the people we are working with. We never ever get in the way during the ceremony. I will only take a few shots and am as quiet as possible. Never ever use flash at that time. Sometimes it is necessary to prompt some of those being photographed but rudeness and getting in the way are inexcusable. The day is not about the photography.

    Rick H.
  6. My brother is quite upset over all of this largely because the minister (a family friend) expressed her displeasure over what occurred. She has now banned this particular photographer/videographer from further work in the church. Both my brother and the minister are sending letters to the company for which the photographer works. I'm not sure what, if anything, this will mean, but it can't be good for anyone.

    I agree that if the images and video are good all of this will fade into the background. In the end, what really matters are the images and the memories, which, hopefully, won't include the unpleasantness. My best friend's daughter is getting married in about a year and this incident has me thinking of how to help her avoid a similar situation. As I said above, I've seen some things at other weddings that have left me wondering about the level of professionalism among some wedding photographers (and other so-called professionals of all sort). The one thing I know to do is to talk with past clients about their experiences. I'm now thinking the bride-to-be should also discuss behavior with the perspective photographer, not to insult her/him, but to clarify what is expected on both sides.
  7. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    In view of your thoughts and feelings about the matter (and I entirely agree with you and those who have supported you), when your friend's daughter is choosing her photographer, maybe you could sit in on the discussions and ensure that a high level of professionalism will be maintained. The bride and groom will have many other things on their minds at this stressful time, and it may not occur to them to question the manners of the photographer.
    You could also ask any potential photographers for feedback from other couples whose weddings he has photographed, to ensure that his actions live up to his words. If he is not willing to provide this, I would be wary of using him.
  8. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Yes I agree - "I'm not sure what, if anything, this will mean, but it can't be good for anyone."

    Probably (from my experience), it will be unusual for the Company to turn their method of operation around based upon a couple of letters and a Minister banning them from one location - the point is from a business perspective, the Clients are (usually) the B&G and it will be new Prospective B&Gs which become new their Clients. That's the cycle. And as mentioned many B&Gs don't do an adequate amount of investigative buying.

    If I were you, I would certainly detail these experiences to your friend's Daughter - reference her to this conversation. I am not sure that a discussion about "behaviour" is the best solution when interviewing a prospective Photographer - I would be more inclined to provide a few common scenarios and ask how they typically resolve them.

    I think a salient point is that few 'buyers' (i.e the B&G) take the position that, in part at the meetings with the Vendors they are "interviewing" a prospective employee - then again it is not uncommon that some B&Gs never have even one face to face meeting with their Photographer prior to the day.

  9. I've been shooting weddings for over 20 years and I don't find this type of behavior to be required in order to do the job. I have heard far worse stories, usually from clergy about the behavior of both photographers and videographers. These guys makes my job more difficult (because many have come to expect this behavior and have to tell me not to act that way) and easier (I find it easy to be far better behaved than some other photographers and this books me jobs!)

    At the same time, I have to say that I now see far worse behavior from guests and even bridal party members. I've seen MANY guests walk between the videographer and the bride during her first dance or while she dances with her father. Most guests pay no attention to any of the "formal" aspects of the reception. Introductions, first dance, blessing, toasts, parent dances and cake cuttings are all accompanied by guests sitting at their tables gabbing away or wandering across the dance floor balancing multiple drinks in their hands. Many guests also can't dance without a glass or bottle in their hand sometimes resulting in broken glass and liquid on the dance floor. I have been at receptions where no few than two dozen glasses or bottles were dropped on the dance floor but only ONE wedding where the bride's strapless dress ended up there . . .
  10. Thank you, all, for your input. You've given me a good education. It amazes me that people can hire someone as important as the photographer for their wedding without more vetting! Hell, I write for tourist agencies, travel magazines and in-flight magazines that ask more questions and demand more samples than it seems some B&G's ask of perspective photographers. (and get paid less!) As for the behavior of family and guests...yeah, been there, seen that and it explains why I rarely accept invitations to weddings where it's not required.

    I'm making notes about all of this and sharing them with my friend's daughter (the one who is to be married next year) about all of this. My thought is to educate her and to suggest she discuss not behavior, but as William suggests, propose scenarios and ask how the perspective pro might handle them. I will also strongly urge the B&G to talk with previous customers as to their experience. As I said, all of this has been and education for me. Thanks again!
  11. The minister is certanly justified in banning the disruptors. A chuch wedding is a religious rite. It is not a show. The attendees are not just spectators; they are canonical witnesses. To the greatest extent possible, the photographer should be unseen and unheard in the church and later, at the reception, continue his work as unobtrusively as possible, always interacting with the wedding party and with guests courteously and tactfully.
    Gus Lazzari likes this.
  12. I'd wager my hat that most church wedding attendees who were asked to describe themselves would more likely say "wedding guest" than "canonical witness." That being said, of course a minister has every right to ban someone from her church, though the irony of banning someone, even a disruptive photographer, from a church should not be lost, especially on the minister. In the true spirit of the church, the minister might want to reach out to the photographer, question his behavior, and see if a more productive change in future demeanor couldn't be negotiated.
  13. I'm with Fred on this. If the couple had any specific instructions for the Photographer I am sure they would have discussed it prior. They did meet and talk about all that. However given that the last wedding I went to the couple did not hire a guy to take 1500 pictures with on-board flash. They just had their friends take cell phone photos. I saw the photo album later and it looked fine to me. Maybe Aunt Bee did not make it in there but all sorts of photos were there and many of them were quite fun to see. They even had video of the wedding. All for free.

    When my parents were married they had 1 photo shot on their wedding day. I think they had it taken on the way to the church. The picture is still around after about 100 years. (I am 70). So right in there pretty close. I wonder how long 1500 pictures on a hard drive will last many couples going that route. I can hear the "Poof" already.
  14. AJG


    When I used to shoot weddings, I never shot without consulting with the minister or priest about what was permitted in their church. No matter how hard that occasionally made my job, I always followed their rules and respected the wishes of the bride and groom and their families. It paid off in a lot of referrals from clergy and happy customers. A compliment I frequently received was "I didn't even realize you were there and got that picture..." With today's equipment there even fewer excuses for obnoxious behavior on the part of photographers, since high quality/ high ISO cameras are ready available and not overly expensive. I suspect the photographer mentioned in the OP will have a short career.
  15. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher


    It has been many years--before the digital dawn--that I professionally did weddings. ALWAYS consult the church authorities as to what is acceptable. There are areas that may be considered inappropriate or disrespectful of the faith for a photographer to be prancing about in. The person who is officiating may not want such distraction within a certain distance from the dais or altar that the ceremony is consummated at. Flash may be a discouraged nuisance--or forbidden outright. Part of the role of the photographer and any assistants they may have is to KNOW these things, DIAGRAM the photographic plan, and be as invisible as possible whilst conducting the shoot.

    As a guest, I too have been asked to 'not shoot' certain things--such as the formal setups that the photographer is staging of the couple, and ancillary parties. This is "bread & butter" for the photographer--and should be stipulated in the contract. In essence, those barging into formal setups are 'stealing' the photographer's expertise and skills. I have however gotten some great shots of the interactions between photographers and wedding parties--and felt no remorse because these were not formal 'portrait' captures. Feel free to encourage anyone to take shots that they themselves coordinate after the formals are done...

    At one wedding (one of my nephews), I had some officious photographer try to tell me to stop taking family pictures as the guests arrived at the church. I told him to mind his own business. When he puffed out his chest and started up again, I said "excuse me" and went and found my brother-in-law--who was paying for the entire affair. We returned, and he essentially repeated what I had said... :cool:

    As the hackneyed phrase goes "at the end of the day," it is all a balancing act between the professional and social. The goals should be for the photographer to stay out of the way and awareness of the attendees--and the attendees to be aware of the formal component and stay out of the way of the photographer. The one in this case either needs to deflate their ego, or consider another line of work... o_O
  16. You cannot go wrong communicating with the parties involved.
  17. I agree with @rossb about communication being the key. - I don't shoot weddings professionally. At the one I "uncle /nephew Bob"ed I had too much respect for the church and left the circling of couple and minister at the alter to the groom's father with his non interchangeable 50mm and hotshoe flash.
    OTOH: I guess it is OK to boss folks around when you have to (due to gear limitations) and are hired / shanghaied to capture stills on Hollywood level at any price?

    Speaking from my usual POV: A concert ticket tends to have small print about photo etc limitations on the backside these days. Why don't invitations to church events do the same? My ex dragged me to some nephew's confirmation. I took a seat at the 1st floor, loaded a roll of Delta 3200 into an M3 to shoot as silently as possible. After the confirmands moved in the priest decalred "photo stop" TBH: I was pretty angered! - I do understand that flash might be annoying. Same about certain elderly motordrives or maybe high FPS DSLRs too, but why not borrow the wisdom of American courts in church? - Took some color pictures of that family outddors with the Retina in my pocket, but had hoped to have the M3 empty for them. - Well that event is history. - with contemporary digital it is easier to adapt spontanously.
    Upon professional behavior: Manners are surely key in the long run. - Getting your job done is another. - I have fast lenses and noticed that while the sum of cranked up ISO, wide open aperture and OIS might grant handholdability they don't necessarrily grant great pictures. - If 3 faces sit at a table you are expected to get them all into DOF. - Silhuettes of a couple in front of backlit windows don't look that great either.
    I heard: Play safe with flash to get your bread shots home and try the artsier and more daring stuff when you know you have them. - Seems a good approach to me. An umpteenth shooting guest I can of course do the experimantal stuff to their heart's content as long as director allures aren't too annoying.
  18. IMO, the priest did what he thought was appropriate for the time. It's not just noise that's distracting at these times. It can be the very act of taking the picture. He might have felt he wanted the concentration on the ceremony with as little influencing that as possible. He may have felt it OK for the memories to be mental and emotional and not preserved on film. Or, he may not have been thinking about the memories, but rather the kind of wedding moment he wanted to have. In any case, right or wrong, it's his church so his ballgame. I never mind, when I'm a guest at a ceremony, party, theater event, museum, or other comparable place or event, when photos are banned. Cameras and cell phone cameras have become so ubiquitous that I tend to find a little Camera-free time very welcome, both for others and myself.
  19. I will throw my hat in. A wedding photographer needs to know what the rules of the ceremony will be, agreed. And they follow that of the clergyperson or the venue. Diffidence is absolutely required during the ceremony. What happens at the reception is looser. A lot of this comes down to the experience of the photographer who is hired. If one is catered by the local deli one gets a different quality of service than a professional caterer. I say that admonishing guests has to be handled carefully and again a pro and his or her assistants know this. Now that everyone is camera ready, I think the family that hires should make an announcement if they have special feelings. Othewise it is up to the wedding shooter to follow the rules of the game. Or face the backlash. It is a competitive business and a lot of goofoffs with a Canon are out there I am sure.
  20. Just a general comment rather than a direct post related to this story. I stopped photographing weddings around the early to mid 1990s as the whole procedure was then descending into a sad mess IMHO. I have done a few personal part shoots since then and every time it has convinced me that I was right to get out of, or rather off the Wedding Circus as that is what it has become. Two good friends got re-married a few years back after both their original partners had died. The Groom was a very good friend and not a bad photographer himself and he asked me as a favour, as I was there as a wedding guest, to take along a camera and take a few candid shots as I knew the family and was able to get a few photos I knew he would like. I turned up with my standard kit which in that case was a Bronica ETRS, my standard wedding camera, which immediately upset the 'Official Photographer'. Also the fact that I had got there 90mins before the ceremony and had chatted to the Minister as I had called him earlier in the week and told him what the family had asked me to do. The wedding arrangements had been made by the kids from both sides as a present for their parents, so what contract had been signed I did not know. His attitude was frankly appalling, as was the attitude of another pair of photographers at another wedding a few years back.

    This pair of social retards had been contracted to shoot the ceremony and reception, but the bride had been a neighbour and although she was then living miles away, was to be based at her parents house just 3 doors away from where I live as she had been brought up there. So her father had asked if I would mind taking some shots of the bride getting prepared, her mother getting into a total tizzy, her friends trying to calm everything down and her father getting dressed up in his 'monkey suit' and having a stiffener or two with another couple of neighbours. So a fun morning was had by all and I shot a whole bunch of shots on a Sony DSLR. Everything went great right up to the Bride and father going off down the road in a vintage open top car. I then gave the father a disk with a whole bunch of jpgs as they were going to print off those that they wanted. I thought that was the end of it until I got a letter from the 'Official Photographers', who I had never even met, solicitor demanding that I provide them with the original memory card with all the shots that I had taken. They got my usual 'go stick it where the sun don't shine reply' and a note that the memory card was A) my property and B) had been reformatted and re-used several times since then and what planet were they living on. I also called my neighbour and asked him just what was going on? The story as I found was a problem I had caused by giving them three A4 prints I printed on my Epson R800, one of the Bride on the threshold of the house, one of Bride and Dad sitting in the back of the open top car and one of Mum looking like she was about to have a major panic attack like any good Mother of the Bride! I did not think they were exceptional pictures just good personal shots and a record of that part of the day. The issue was that the quality of my shots looked to be far better that the official photos of the rest of the day and the Groom's family who contracted the photographers had asked them why their quality was not as good as mine.

    The upshot was that I gave them a disk full of the original raw files and said for them to go sort it out. I then got into that awful spiral where they said they could not read my raw files as they used superior Nikon cameras???! Which bit of F-off do you not understand, your Nikon uses a Sony made sensor the same as my camera but you are complaining that my quality is better?? In the end they used an external processing house that I have also used in the past for some clients, who processed the raw files both cameras and 'colour matched them'. I know the guys and when I asked them what they did they said the processed the Sony files as per my camera settings and produced jpgs as near the same as my file and processed the Nikon files to match - Simple!

    The lessons from all this and the previous stories are Simple too A) Don't shoot Weddings! B) if you have to shoot a wedding, even as a freebie favour, then get somebody to sign a document that absolves you from anything and everything that happens as a result. These days I am waiting to hear of some poor photographer getting sued because the couple have divorced over a dispute about the pictures the poor sap took at their wedding!

    Regards Jim with tongue firmly jammed in cheek!
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2017
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