How to be a Gracious Guest at a Wedding AND Take Great Photos

How to be a Gracious Guest at a Wedding AND Take Great Photos

I was recently at a friend’s wedding and took photographs as a guest. I admit, there were times it was difficult to resist laying down in the aisle, climbing up on something, and pulling the bride and groom aside to get “the shot”. It went against my instincts as a photographer to see a shot and not take it. How did I do it? I created some rules for myself to tame the [photography] beast within, so I could be respectful to the hired photographer.


Then one of my blog readers submitted some questions that positioned this topic perfectly:

How do we, the aficionado or professional photographer, act when we attend an event, such as a wedding? I want to be the grateful and graceful guest and get great pix. How can I do both during the ceremony? I always try to stay out of the official photographer’s frame, and not distract my fellow guests, but what else might be appropriate?

Let’s be frank. If you were invited to a photography-worthy event, like a wedding, you are most likely good friends with or a relative of someone in the wedding. So bringing a camera – whether a professional-grade camera, compact camera or smart phone – is to be expected.

The one complication is that digital cameras are so affordable nowadays that it seems like everyone owns a camera. Or two. Getting in the way of the hired wedding photographer is an obvious no-no, but can be easy to do when you’re trying to get good shots.


Here are a few tips:

  1. During the ceremony, stay at your seat. Only the wedding party and vendors (ie, the hired photographer and videographer) should be the ones moving around.
  2. Bring a zoom lens or a compact camera that has optical zoom. That way, you can get close without distracting the other guests or photographer.
  3. Accept that you will have a limited variety of shooting points. Instead, get creative with your angles, focal points, and camera settings.
  4. Don’t follow or shadow the wedding photographer. If the photographer is shooting the wedding party or anyone for that matter, go to a different area. Feel free to watch in awe of the beauty that is being captured, but don’t try to squeeze in your own shot. Not only can it be distracting to the hired photographer to have other people photographing her (or his) subjects, but also, it can impact the images! The images could end up with individuals looking in different directions or having more canned smiles, rather than genuine ones, because it takes longer to get the shot when the subjects don’t know who to listen to or look at.
  5. Don’t pull aside the bride and groom to take your own portraits of them. Know that the hired photographer will take those, so take shots that are particular to you (ie, you and your childhood friend, the bride) and do it when the bride and groom aren’t busy with the hired photographer, like during the reception.


If you are a guest at a wedding, then be just that: a guest!

The images you capture should be from a guest’s point-of-view, which can be a wonderful supplement to the hired photographer’s images.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Annie Tao is a Professional Lifestyle Photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area who is best known for capturing genuine smiles, emotions and stories of her subjects. You can visit Annie Tao Photography for more tips or inspiration. Stay connected with her on her Facebook page

Some Older Comments

  • Michele Percy June 8, 2013 04:18 pm

    I'm not a professional photographer, I'm a nurse but, I love taking pictures. I've been asked for many years to be the "second" photographer at a friend's wedding. I try not to let my camera distract me. A young couple with whom I am friends with the parents told me recently "if it wasn't for your photos we wouldn't have pictures of our friends at the wedding. We got tired of looking at pictures of just us". Usually I know many of the guests and the importance of the people in the life of the couple. That gives me an upper had as the photographer meets the couple, maybe the parents and can recognize the bridal party. I also capture the fun others are having at the reception, the looks of the guests at the wedding and those wonderful, sometimes comical times of being positioned for family photos after the ceremony. A zoom is perfect for this, especially with some of my fun friends!!!

    LOVED your blog, just ran across it! Thanks!

  • breathtaking images June 7, 2013 12:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing these great tips and beautiful photos. These are all things that every guest at a wedding should follow.

  • Joe December 3, 2011 04:35 am

    I agree Hyde. to clarify, I was talking about the posed shots. During the 'action' eg, ceremony, cake cutting, bouquet etc you need to stay clear of the pro!

  • Hyde Photography December 2, 2011 03:00 pm

    In response to someone above who stated they saw "no issue in asking the hired photographer if he/she minds if you snap shots while they are working. As long as you stay out of his/her way." ...

    Any polite photographer is not going to forbid you to take snap shots while they are working. However, drawing on my recent experience photographing a wedding, I implore you to keep the following in mind: The aisles are already going to be cluttered with other equipment (video camera, piano, etc) and decorations. Then you add the factor that the hired photographer will be moving quickly from one spot to another just to get the perfect shot. This makes a perfect equation for the well intentioned guest to easily get in the way of the photographer and possibly cost the bride and groom an irreplaceable photo.

    That being said, I LOVE the last part of the article that states; If you are a guest at a wedding, then be just that: a guest!

    The images you capture should be from a guest’s point-of-view, which can be a wonderful supplement to the hired photographer’s images.

  • Ed October 22, 2011 03:29 pm

    Great ideas, especially THINK what YOU would not like (as the Couple, or the hired photographer).

    - What I once did at a wedding is I gave my camera to my child, and told her to take pictures. About a quarter of them were Awesome! One was catching a glass display at table eye level. Another great thing (and what I was thinking when I did it) was I was an adult, me wandering around would be noticed, and be a (unacceptable) distraction for the wedding/reception event. BUT, a child wandering around, wouldn't be given a seconde thought. It was great. I stayed in my seat, and acted a guest, yet my camera captured the moments of the reception. (Reception, not wedding ceremony!)

    Also, take photos from a guests perspective. A pro is going to cover the couple, and some of the wedding party. Guests cover guests, and give a different perspective (P.O.V.) of the couple, speeches given, dances, etc. THAT is where the added benefit comes in. (And I screened the photos before submitting them via e-mail to the new couple.)

  • Ray Carcases October 21, 2011 12:51 pm

    Hi Samantha,

    Being a hero was great for your friends, but what kind of "pro" doesn't have a backup? Even a lesser camera as a backup? Stuff breaks at the worst times. What you did was commendable but, honestly, who did your friends hire? It sounds like they should have hired you but, obviously, you couldn't be part of the festivities.

  • Samantha October 21, 2011 02:32 am

    I just went to a wedding on Saturday after reading this article and it was probably a good thing because showing up with my Nikon and Flash set up made some people think I was the hired pro (not that I minded taking pictures of people & things). The good thing is that the mother of the groom is my mom's best friend of 40 years so when she saw that I was snapping away throughout the ceremoney she asked me for a copy of my work as soon as possible because she couldn't wait for the hired results lol, so I dropped off a disc of about 200 unedited photos and 75 edited photos to her yesterday and she was over the moon happy with the results, something about how I took the kind of pictures women appreciate (ie. the tender moments and the fine details) lol. The good thing is I did it all from my seat at the ceremony and then later up and around a teeny tiny bit at the reception.

    And about the hero stuff; don't knock it. At a friend wedding this summer out on the Toronto Islands the hired photographer and I had the exact camera set up, no biggie. BUT throughout the ceremony as he was snapping away I started to notice his camera was giving him trouble, finally as the bride and groom were about the walk down the aisle I looked at the photographer and saw terror in his eyes as he stood to the side of the grooms men. It dawned on me that something was wrong with his camera and he was going to miss one of the most important shots of the day so I got out of my seat and shot them coming down the aisle so that the bride and groom wouldn't miss out on that special memory. Later on the photographer and the newly weds both thanked me separately; the photographer for saving his ass and to ask me to send him those photos to use in the album he was making, and the couple because they would have never forgiven the photographer for screwing it up or missing those shots because of equipment issues.

  • Joe October 19, 2011 06:04 am

    Every situation is different. Every wedding is different, as is every bride and every groom. To say it's always unprofessional or always OK in every situation is absurd. You do, of coarse, always show deference to the hired pro.

  • Ray Carcases October 17, 2011 10:41 pm

    No matter how cute you make it sound, Uncle Bobbing a wedding is disrespeectful to the hired photographer and very unprofessional to do. I know I'll get flamed for this but it's true. Trying to justify it by being a "hero" or via some other lame excuses silly. Being a professional means you act like one even if you're not hired to do the job.

  • Carmen October 17, 2011 05:10 pm

    I have to do this next month, so thanks for the tips

  • Jorge October 17, 2011 10:05 am

    This article is very helpful for the guests. If the photographer ask a pose to take a photograph then is him who should get the best spot to take it.

    If you think that “Parties is a good place to learn how to take photographs” then you should ask permission and let the photographer do his work; he is on charge on getting the memories for the couple.

    I’ve seen that people who take photographs in events without permission of the organizer, SOMETIMES obtain good photographs. And when pictures are NOT GOOD the organizer never said that, organizer always says: “Thanks for the good photographs”.

    When I got married I hired 2 photographers. Each of them to take different kind of photographs. I asked my friends and relatives to be a guest (and allow them to do their work) and it worked.

    But after reading this article, if the hosts ask me to take photographs in addition to the professional hired then the advise will be helpful! Thanks.

  • Sue L October 16, 2011 02:48 pm

    I love this subject. I will be attending my niece's wedding in November. I thought I would take my 5DMarkII and 24-105 but Im afraid it will cramp my style and how do you carry it in a purse? I would like to dance and would be worried if I left it at the table.. I think I will take my Canon S90 which shoots Raw.

  • Ed October 16, 2011 05:27 am

    Great article and comments. I especially agree with the comments regarding getting shots of things the pro is likely to pass up.

    But there is another side. You could end up being a hero by having at least some of your gear there. Two examples: Years ago at my sisters wedding, the pro was a no-show. Now she has just a handful of crappy snapshots of her special day. I was 7 at the time and in the wedding so I wasn’t yet capable of stepping up.

    But just last month, I went to the wedding of a dear friend with just my 5D2 and a 24-70. I left everything else at home. I stayed very clear of the pro but at one point I noticed she was obviously having problems with her gear. As she was shooting with Canon gear I offered her the use of my lens to see if it would resolve the problem. She declined because she felt awkward using borrowed gear (which I’ll be honest and say I was relieved. But this WAS my friend’s wedding!). She had to resort to an older, low res, consumer camera with a failing battery and a G9 when that finally quit.

    Sometime later she contacted me on Facebook after she saw what I shot. She thanked me for offering to help and told me she was gutted that nothing she shot was usable and that she would never shoot a wedding again. Also that she loved my rig and the shots I got (she went out and bought the same gear shortly after).

    So the bride and groom now have everything I shot and while I didn’t get any of the posed shots they’ll at least have something.

  • Riverside Wedding Photographer October 16, 2011 05:12 am

    This was a great article! I just got back from a family wedding where I experienced the same thing. I made a challenge for myself by bringing one camera body and one lens (a 50mm) so I would force myself to be creative and get out of my comfort zone. I stayed way out of the hired photographer's way and focused primarily on getting shots of our family members; people the my cousin would want pictures of. The funny thing is that the 2nd shooter started stealing all my poses and shots after I was done. Anyhow, thanks again!

  • Trish October 15, 2011 07:44 am

    I couldn't have read this article at a better time. I've got a wedding to go to this weekend!! I am a college student taking a photography class and while I thought about taking my camera to the wedding, I didn't know if it would be a good idea. Now, not only am I assured that I can show up with my camera, I know how not to get in peoples way with it, which was another thing I worried about. Thanks so much for the article!!!

  • Dave October 15, 2011 06:38 am

    So funny. Because I AM a photographer, my friends and relatives always ask me if I want to do the photos at their wedding. After the first go around at this with my oldest sister years ago, I now say no. I explain that I want to enjoy the festivities and share in 'the moment' without the pressure of being THE photographer. Honestly I'd be fine taking NO photos during the wedding and reception, except that I know I'm expected to. So I do what is recommended here, supplement the hired photographer.

  • Julie Cortens October 14, 2011 10:21 pm

    If the bride and groom wanted you to be their photographer they would have hired you. So put the camera away and be a guest. Even if you stay in your seat, the clicking of your DSLR with a long lens is pretty distracting - to everyone. As a wedding photographer I know it is hard - but resist! Enjoy the day - as a guest.

  • chuks October 14, 2011 05:51 pm

    have been following ur lecture on dps and it has made a very great impart in life, must especially the wedding tips thanks

  • Chris Lin October 14, 2011 02:57 pm

    Step 1: Don't get paid to shoot.
    Step 2: Don't shoot.

  • Karen October 14, 2011 11:56 am

    I wish the guests saw this before my wedding... there is nothing more annoying than looking through your wedding album and peoples faces are buried in their cameras. They could have just waited for us to email them through nice pictures that had their smiley faces in it.. One lady stood in the aisle and my flower girl had to walk around her just so she could take pictures with her point and shoot of the flowers she prepared (she was our florist/friend..). I have seen other wedding pictures ruined by orange focusing lights some point and clicks use. I am so glad we had the photographer we did, her camera was the only one I wanted to look at that day!

  • Neil October 14, 2011 11:12 am

    Good comments generally ... but I'd like to remind people that a wedding is not a "photo-shoot." It's an event, that you, as a guest, are asked to attend.

    I'm a photographer, but when I attend a wedding, it is as a minister who officiates, either in a church or in an outdoor setting. I have seen more rude, boorish behaviour from people who felt that "lying down in the aisle to get a great shot" was the main purpose of the event. I have sympathy with wedding officiants who cannot count on people's good sense or decency, and have barred ALL photographs from the event entirely.

    I have way too many stories of Uncle Charlie interrupting the vows to ask the bride to turn a little bit toward him, as well as professional photographers placing lights in the pulpit or placing video cameras right where I am supposed to stand. If you were a sports photographer, you wouldn't interrupt Tiger Woods mid-swing to ask him to smile ... why would you do that during a wedding?

    Please remember, a professional photographer is also a guest at this civil or religious ceremony, and is not in charge. The officiant is.

    I appreciate the suggestions here as excellent ones ... and above all, the realization that you are a guest. In fact, I begin the wedding service by reminding the camera-crazy that "your presence here was what the bride and groom requested ... not your expertise in taking snapshots. In respect for the importance of this event, we ask you to put those cameras away for a few minutes. Your attention is more important than the right shutter speed or f-stop. Your memories are much, much more important than one more photo. Now, since we are here in front of God to witness the marriage of these two people, let's pray."

  • Phyl Fanning October 14, 2011 10:17 am

    As a professional at weddings and similar events (The Minister + the Vicar) .... can I thank you for those hints ... there is nothing worse than your concentration or worse still the couple's concentartion being broken by someone trying to get that special picture ... I take my hat of to those professional and amateur photographers who choose discretion over the desire to get that shot. With a quiet chat beforehand to discuss most of vicars or ministers will happily collaborate to help get thos special shots ... eg .. the register is signed in the church ... a quiet word with the congregation ... "let the photographer do his posed shots ... te you can have a chance to take your own " ... this has worked wonders and has enabled people to get some wonderful shots of their own ... and only adds about a minute or two to the time spent in church ... God Bless. Phyl

  • Wendy October 14, 2011 09:45 am

    Took my camera to a good friends wedding reception as a guest and snapped off about 100 or so shots of things I saw around my table like the cake, flowers, bridal party, people dancing but nothing formal and I stayed clear of the "Professional". I turned it into a nice album thru Mixbooks or Blurb (I don't remember which one I used) when the couple was away for their honeymood. When they returned, it was my wedding gift to them. About a month after I gave them the book they came back and asked if they could get enlargements of some of the photos I had because their "Professional" photographer disappear after the wedding. They never saw any photos and never got their deposit back. To top it off She was highly recommended by several different couples.

  • Judd October 14, 2011 09:10 am

    If you're a good wedding photographer you'll never be a guest.
    If I'm invited as a guest, then I'd enjoy being a guest for once and let the pro handle the photos.
    What would you do with the photos anyway?

  • Photographer Aspen CO October 14, 2011 08:05 am

    Great advice. Wish we could broadcast this to all wedding guests, whether they think they are photographers or not.

  • alex October 14, 2011 07:18 am

    Focusing on the crowd can be great. The professional gets the bride/groom/speeches etc and you capture the reactions from the guests

  • Dennis October 14, 2011 05:23 am

    I am so glad you addressed this issue as I was just at a wedding in California with an ocean front background that was breathtaking. As the bride and groom were posing I looked around and was shocked to see the wedding photographer politely standing back waiting for all the amateurs to finish so he could get the shot he had set up. My concern is that when the photo's are ready from him nobody will purchase them, and I think that is part of the way he makes his income.
    Kudos for your article I would like permission to reprint and pass along to others.

  • Wade October 14, 2011 04:32 am

    Great advice and well written. Thanks.

  • Sandy Solis October 14, 2011 04:22 am

    Having been the photographer a 2 weddings now I'm a "newbie" at the process. However, my one "gripe" was that, at some of the crucial moments of the reception and the bride and groom leaving, my 2nd shooter and I found it difficult to get in close to take the shots we wanted to get. There were so many digital cameras in attendance that we were competing with them. I've decided in the future that I will be more bold and ask them to move so that we can get in close to get the shots we want. Thanks for your article and tips. I've posted the link to this on my Facebook account in hopes that others will learn to be more discretionary in their use of their cameras at special events.

  • Steve B October 14, 2011 04:19 am

    Good rules. I was at a niece's wedding last summer and tried to take shots that the wedding photographer couldn't - family members after the service and at the reception. I did take a lot of good shots of the youngsters dancing at the reception, which the pro was doing also, but I did my best to stay out of her way. Both families and the bride and groom loved the cds I gave as gifts. At my own wedding two years ago, I left my camera at home so I wouldn't be tempted to pick it up instead of interacting with our guests.
    My step-daughter asked me to take photos of her wedding after seeing what I did at her cousin's and grandfather's wedding. I was honored but wisely hired a pro to do it. Too much at stake, and I can still get some photos on the side.

  • af October 14, 2011 02:48 am

    A rule I follow when I am attending an event as a guest is to devote a fixed period of time to shooting, and then put the camera down and be a guest. It's more than just avoiding tripping over the pro, if there is one: it's about spending time being a guest. That's why I was invited in the first place.

  • bycostello October 14, 2011 02:33 am

    lovely images

  • Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier, Kimberly Gauthier Photography October 14, 2011 02:32 am

    I'm a photography blogger and tend to take my camera to all kinds of events to capture fun shots to upload t my site or Flickr or Facebook. I rarely attend weddings, but I do attend a lot of events with my boyfriend where there is a professional photographer on hand and I've managed to remained quietly in the background, focusing all of my picture taking on my boyfriend or random objects.

    I'm excited that I can use these tips when it comes to event photography too. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Barry E.Warren October 14, 2011 02:19 am

    Good advise , I was at a wedding this summer as a guess. Took 250 pics as a guess would see the wedding thru out the day. Got alot of good pic's. Put them on a cd and gave it to the married couple about a week later. They loved it. :>}

  • Amy Cham October 14, 2011 12:20 am

    I keep myself ( husband...) on a pretty short leash when I'm a guest. The last thing I want to do is cause a distraction to the hired pro or confuse guests as to who the "real" photographer is.

    My rules...

    1. No big splashy lenses. The 135mm is great for this...good length but not a bazooka.
    2. No speedlights. If a flash is positively necessary, I have to use the popup.
    3. No more than two lenses.
    4. Stay completely away from portraits and group formals.
    5. No 'working the crowd' for pics or business.
    6. No moving around to shoot the ceremony or 'sit down' parts of the reception.
    7. No trash talking the hired pro's gear or technique (obviously).
    8. Put the camera down now and then and act like a guest! :)

  • SM October 13, 2011 04:43 pm

    All non photographer should read this article too.

  • Greg Berdan October 13, 2011 03:24 pm

    I have been that guest :)

  • Pol October 13, 2011 02:50 pm

    Great advice... thanks

  • Jackie October 13, 2011 02:49 pm

    I also find it distracting and disrespectful to use a flash (in camera or external) during major moments of the wedding whether ceremony or reception. It could take away from the hired photographers shots and their lighting.

  • Sue L October 13, 2011 02:32 pm

    Perfect timing for these tips. I would like to know how to carry a DSLR camera to a wedding without a big hunky camera bag.

  • Kiran @ October 13, 2011 01:23 pm

    Great advise. I've got to learn to "tame" my urge to take a great photo as a guest. I should just enjoy the party instead ;)

  • Joshua Weinberg October 13, 2011 09:52 am

    Also should be mentiond: learn how to turn off the auto focus confirm beep. THIS ALSO GOES FOR THE HIRED PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS.

  • Natalie October 13, 2011 09:51 am

    Good advice. As someone who was married within the past year and had a pro photographer + guests taking photos, I'd like to add this: the couple is likely to get a LOT of photos from the pro photographer of the things they chose to document. While none of my guests were great photographers, which might make a difference, the guest photos I really cherished were of the moments the pro photographers weren't taking. These showed us different parts of the day, enabling us to get a more multifaceted account of it. Yet another reason not to shadow the pro photographers but capture the places where they aren't.

  • Joe October 13, 2011 05:42 am

    Great tips. I agree.

    A) stay clear of the hired photographer, especially if you have a nice camera but if you have a point and shoot, I see no issue in asking the hired photographer if he/she minds if you snap shots while they are working. As long as you stay out of his/her way.


    B) It is a great opportuninity to get some creative/candid shots of the wedding and capture small moments missed by others. You can give the Bride and Groom a different feel and perspectinve that they wouldnt get from the Pro.

    Here are some pics I took at a wedding recently I took as a guest.

  • Katie October 13, 2011 04:58 am

    Great advice. I will say, I've seen it happen the other way too. I've been a guest at weddings, where I was taking a shot (that I thought at least was creative and took some observation) away from the paid photographer (practicing the advice put forth in #4), and he came over and took the exact same picture I did! I felt a little like he had ripped off my creativity (although obviously I was shooting for pleasure and the bride and groom had paid him).

  • Chris October 13, 2011 04:54 am

    I think these are great points for a pro or semi-pro photographer. The only thing I wish is that the guests who aren't pro would follow these rules also. If shutterbugs become more common at events, I could see professionals requiring no other cameras at the event.

  • Gnslngr45 October 13, 2011 03:22 am

    Good advice - especially about the confusion for guests and affecting the hired professional's shots even without affecting the shots (wearing down the smiles of the subjects, unintentionally grabbing their attention, etc...)
    Give the official photographer the utmost respect and leeway - not for their sake, but for your friend's sake (the bride/groom).


  • Ryan K October 13, 2011 02:10 am

    I enjoyed this article. I think the last sentence is my favorite.

    "The images you capture should be from a guest’s point-of-view, which can be a wonderful supplement to the hired photographer’s images."

    As a photographer I think it's fun to have the pressure off and just enjoy the day, still getting kick ass shots.

    Also, I'm a golden rule kind of guy. When I'm a guest, I always ask myself if my actions would piss me off if someone were doing it when I'm the professionall. If it would then that's where I draw the line.

  • Kevinsky October 13, 2011 01:49 am

    Here's a related topic idea: how to be at peace with ignoring the couple's obvious disappointment when you show up at their wedding with no camera at all!
    For those times when your photography skills are the only reason you can imagine why you were invited to so-and-so's wedding.