Weddings - 5 Ways you can be a Working Guest

Weddings – 5 Ways you can be a Working Guest

We all know the reasons why doing a friend or family wedding would stink. One of them being that you’re essentially being asked {or requesting to be} a working guest. Although, there are some reasons you might want to do a wedding you’ve been invited to like:

  • Practice
  • Exposure {pun intended!}
  • A gift for the couple

So how can you manage being a working guest and still feel that you enjoyed the wedding? Consider these 5 things:

  1. Write the vision and make it plain. Get everything down in writing. Discuss how you’d like to shoot each section of the wedding, from what vantage point you’d like to be shooting and, of course, what the end product will be {a disk? A book?}
  2. Getting ready. Will you be there when he/she is getting ready? Consider when/how you will also get ready and whether this will be feasible for you. As a woman, you could even book into the hair and makeup they have going on and get a little help yourself!
  3. The ceremony. You could request to be seated near the front. So you can sit as a guest {with your date} and still get her coming down the aisle as well as pop into the aisle for a couple shots from behind during the ceremony.
  4. The reception. I’d get there a tad early, shoot the venue without any people, get the details and then relax as a guest. Hire a great low-light zoom lens so you can sit at the table and still get shots all around the room from the comfort of your seat.
  5. After hours. If you plan on partying into the night, consider telling them when you plan on ending the gig as the photographer. If people will be drinking, dancing and the lights will be low, you don’t want to leave your camera around while you’re off having fun. Lock it safely away and go have a much deserved party!

Your ability to shoot a wedding as a guest will depend greatly on your own personality. I have a fear of missing something and so I just can’t relax and turn off my brain if I’m meant to be shooting. Which doesn’t make me a good candidate to be both a lovely date for my husband and a photographer for the wedding. My poor husband wouldn’t even get more than two words out of me if I were meant to be shooting a wedding as a guest! Being able to pull it off will also depend on your ability to stop shooting. Know when you got the shot needed and then sit down and have a great time!

Learn more about Wedding Photography with these Wedding Photography Tips.

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Jenny R March 30, 2013 12:22 am

    @Norm Levin, I don't think you can compare photographers with Lawyers and dentists.
    The latter 2 actually write exams and have to pass.
    Photographers usually learn as they go.
    And yes sometimes a couple CAN be broke and unable to afford a pro photographer which is when they ask family and friends to snap and hope there's a good amateur in the family circle.

  • Charles Mackay January 9, 2012 08:06 am

    I was a working guest (non-professional official photographer) at a friend's daughter's wedding last year. It worked better than I expected and I think better than the bride's parents expected too and all were very happy with the result.

    I think the main reasons it worked out well was a combination of the following 3 factors.

    1. A thorough prior briefing session (8 weeks beforehand) at which I found out what they wanted and also managed their expectation in relation to the limitations of my equipment.

    2. Checking out the venue beforehand (a similar time the day before the wedding) with the bride and groom and close family inlcuding do's and don'ts inside the church.

    3. Having backup equipment in case of equipment failure (which gave me considerable peace of mind), even though it wasn't used at all.

  • Ali May 2, 2011 06:56 am

    f-64: Most couples enjoy seeing candids of their wedding from the vantage point of their guests; it doesn't mean that they don't value the photographs from their hired professional photographer. Also, like it or not, we live in an instant-share society where everyone wants results immediately. Candids are usually available to the couple right away as opposed to having to wait weeks for their professional pictures, and usually the candids come without a copyright, so the couple can Facebook the crap out of them. Nothing wrong with that; after all, you probably don't want your client posting your copyright-protected images all over Facebook or other social media outlets.

    The way I see it, the armchair amateurs who second-shoot weddings are doing pros a favor-- they give the couple photos to share with others while the pro edits the "real" wedding shots. A professional wedding photographer should give the couple photos that are hands-down better than the quickie job even the most dedicated hobbyist can turn out the morning after the wedding-- that's the pro's job. Any confident professional worth his/her fee would realize this fact and not feel threatened by guests with cameras.

  • Stephen April 29, 2011 02:55 pm

    thanks for the article, I have family weddings in June then September so was planning on taking shots - I assume they both will have professionals and I do not plan on offering my services, but I will surely send them all of the good photographs on a disc.
    good to know too stay out of the Professionals ways and not shoot oover their backs!

  • Holly English-Payne March 28, 2011 03:19 pm

    I am a former professional photographer who shot many weddings over the years. One thing not mentioned is something I learned to do well in advance of the wedding. I asked the wedding couple to make out a list of the photo combinations that they really wanted to be sure to get. The best time is while they are doing the invitation list. For instance the bride's friends from college, all the aunts, the grandmother with all her grandchildren, things like that. Then I told them to ask their Mom's for the same sort of list. Then I asked them to appoint someone who knows the family well, one on each side of the family to take the list and put the combinations together for me and call me over to catch the shot. This assignment is not for members of the wedding party but an aunt or a cousin that can round people up and make sure they are all there. This is in response to horror stories about wedding photographers that missed important photos. I also encourage guests to make suggestions and to also shoot as much as they want. If they are shooting alongside me, I graciously direct those photographed to look at Aunt Celia with her little camera first and then say, "Ok, now I want you all to look at me and smile even more than you did for her." Guests like to take photos and they may capture something I didn't know to take. (At my own wedding, with a great photographer, my favorite photo was one caught by my cousin!)

  • Bryan Grant March 28, 2011 06:36 am

    64- that's why i think its important to make it clear that you are working as a professional. and i agree dont half ass it either do it right or don't do it at all. let the professional your friends hire do the job they paid for and dont shoot over their shoulder its annoying, disrespectful and patronizing.

    - elizabeth- as you may know being a professional wedding photographer is hard enough. Perhaps it would have been good to clarify the professional/amateur shooting thing at weddings. its a touchy subject for most pros and that is why 64 took offense.

  • Elizabeth Halford March 28, 2011 05:49 am

    @f-64: Hi thank your for your lovely response. I'm unsure why you feel that this article wasn't aimed at pros. The tips can be aimed towards any ability or level of photographer and I never stated whether this advice was for pros or otherwise. Can easily be applied to 'real photographers' who happen to be asked (or hired) to do a friend or relative's wedding. Please read more carefully before you splash your comments about.

  • F-64 stopper March 28, 2011 04:00 am

    Oh another fabulous article that is geared towards removing the authorship of the pro. It his crap like this that seriously tells people to be intrusive. I bet the author of this article is unaware that the filth like this makes people go out and shoot at weddings, hand over images to the couple for free thinking they are being nice with a "gift", and in actuality what they are doing is taking business away from the people there paid to do their job. Print sales are down because uncle Teddy is there with his point and shoot acting like Cartier Bresson and then giving away photos. Great resource on how to steal....

  • Paul March 26, 2011 09:39 pm

    When you love photography partying and taking pictures are the same (this said, taking pictures as a professional and partying are not quite the same though).

  • Paul March 26, 2011 09:23 pm

    Very valid, I've been asked to shoot a friends wedding in June; it definitely blurs the lines!

  • bryan March 26, 2011 02:43 am

    i have shot over 10 weddings for friends. i have charged them all and give them whatever they want as if i was a true professional. of coarse they get a discount. and i stay professional through the 1st hour of dancing. then i start drinking and join the party. Being a friend can be an advantage to the overall photography because they will be more comfortable and you know the relationships in the families and friends.

  • Kelli March 25, 2011 02:55 pm

    Great timing. My brother is getting married next, second marriage for both, very casual wedding in their back yard. He has asked me to photograph certain parts and the bride has assigned other parts to a family member of hers.I am nervous about it, but he's my brother so how can I say no? It's not ideal, but a photographer is not in the budget and if not me it will be someone with a pocket camera, or no photos at all.

    All I can do is the best I can do.

  • Rabi March 25, 2011 12:45 pm

    As has been said, I don't think you should shoot a friend or family member's wedding. If you're an actual wedding photographer, then you'll be too busy working to enjoy the wedding. If you're just an amateur, then you'll probably not do a great job.
    Trying to just sit around like a normal guest and also take photos as the primary photographer is a terrible idea.

  • Glenda Simpson-Photographer March 25, 2011 09:43 am

    I agree with the two Photographers that have posted. What I would add is this, it's a great idea if you want family or friends to take candids for you that you can enjoy. What we absolutely hate is for a friend or family member standing behind or sometimes in front of our camera (we actually had this happen at one wedding) taking the same shots that we have set up. This gets in our way, taking time away from the bride and groom who are paying for our services. It also sometimes causes the photographer to miss a spontaneous shot he would have otherwise gotten with the proper camera and lighting. Ask you friends to focus on special actions between family and friends to help you record the emotion of the day. Leave the formal shots to the pros and everyone will be happy at the end of the day.

  • Chris March 25, 2011 08:32 am

    I think there are some great points in here, I find it hard to not be in "photography" mode any time my camera is in my hand. Weather it is at a wedding, party or car race.

    But really when are we ever really out of photography mode?

  • Cynthia March 25, 2011 08:05 am

    I was a working guest at my niece's wedding in Carmel, CA.

  • Frank March 25, 2011 05:56 am

    Not to mention, Karen, the person with the auto flash whose flash screws up your pictures. Not as much of a problem as it was when you used film, but still an issue.


  • Aspen CO Photographer March 25, 2011 05:53 am

    I usually request that other people with cameras not take photographs while I'm doing the group shots. I can't tell you how many times I used to have someone in the wedding party or family looking at someone else taking a photo to the side of me (switching heads around is no fun). If you want to take images during the reception or ceremony, that's ok with me.

  • Coy March 25, 2011 05:52 am

    I've done this twice as an amateur photographer, shoot the wedding as not only a guest, but also as part of the wedding party itself, mind you not the only photographer but more as a back up or secondary photographer.

    I do agree though that it was a bit difficult to enjoy myself the first time around but the second time it was much more enjoyable. I'm always looking to get practice and exposure.

    For obvious reasons, I'm either not able or not willing to take the "posed" or "set" shots, but much more excited to get those candid shots, especially of the wedding party, that the official or primary photographer is either too busy or not thinking of to take and it's been very well received especially when given to the wedding couple in a digital photo frame as their wedding gift!

    I get responses such as "OMG, these are great when did you have time to take these?!" Or "These are so beautiful and more personal than the set shots!"

    I just hope I don't get in too much trouble when my wedding comes someday and I'm sure I'll be holding my camera too! :P

    I hope this gives some insight. Good luck

  • Virginia Beach Wedding Photographer March 25, 2011 05:08 am

    I've been a professional photographer for over 20 years. I understand other peoples need to capture images at their friends wedding. As long as they don't affect my job, which Ive been paid to do by their friend, Im all for everyone shooting away.

  • Daphne March 25, 2011 05:02 am

    I have never done a wedding shoot before but, have been asked to do two family weddings this summer....two weekends in a row. Crossing my fingers, reading and researching as much as possible and last but not least PRACTICE! Wish me luck!

  • Norm Levin March 25, 2011 04:35 am

    As a professional wedding photographer, (and occasional guest), my experience tells me you've got to pick which role you're playing. Is this article directed at the ubiquitous FWC (friend with camera), who is asked to take pictures of a big event because the bride and groom are cash poor? Or is this for those who just want to bring their camera to get their own photos? If it's the former, then I have little empathy for the wedding couple who impose on a kind-hearted, but unprepared friend to get them what they're not willing to pay for. I find very few, if any, amateurs who are able to duplicate what a pro can do. And that includes the emotional family candids alluded to by some previous comments. Sure they'll snag a few now and then, but their image quality will not likely compare to the pros.

    Now there's nothing wrong with a GUEST who wants to take his or her own photos. But they should understand that if they get in the way, they'll impair the pro from getting his. It's a delicate situation, difficult enough to resolve during the event itself. Saving money is all well and good; asking a friend to photograph a wedding implies a huge risk. Photography is more than knowing how to operate a camera.

    Would a bride ask a friend to act as her lawyer to file a lawsuit for her? Or play dentist and fill her cavity?

  • Rosina DiBello March 25, 2011 04:18 am

    I find it difficult as a wedding photographer to encourage bride's to have a guest shoot their wedding rather than hire a professional. This is by far the worst mistake any bride can make. HIRING A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRPAHER FOR YOUR WEDDING IS TRULY THE MOST IMPORTANT INVESTMENT YOU WILL MAKE IN YOUR LIFE. If you leave it up to a friend you risk keeping that friendship over shots that they missed or completely messed up.

  • Brad March 25, 2011 02:45 am

    I am NOT a professional wedding photographer but I agree with Hgumula, take a few snapshots but leave the wedding pics to the paid photog. Are you really encouraging guests to jump out and take aisle pics when there's a photographer who is being paid to do that?? In my mind this is a big faus pax.

  • Brian F. March 25, 2011 02:24 am

    I did this once, for a relative on my wife's side who was getting married and on a limited budget. They couldn't afford to hire a pro, and between them asking and my wife sort of volunteering me, I ended up taking photos. They were married at a botanical garden, with a reception at a restaurant afterwards. All in all, it was a very good experience. I welcomed the opportunity to try something new and the results turned out pretty good... it was also nice seeing my work as the photo for their thank you card! :-) It also gave me an appreciation for how hard wedding photographers work on a wedding day (and I didn't even shoot the wedding party getting ready!)

    I agree with other posters though, it's easy to get wrapped up in the photographing and lose sight of the main role of being a guest. I didn't mind though, found some time to do both.

  • Frank March 25, 2011 02:14 am


    Cousin "Louie" or Aunty "Jen" should stay out of your way. When I am a guest (which is the only way I ever go to weddings as I am not a professional), I respect the professional's job. I don't shoot the "set" poses, but rather go looking for the things the pro isn't looking for. Intimate family moments off in the corner that I know about because I am family. The kids playing in the center of the dance floor. Also, because I am a guest and because I am not competing with the photographer, I am not so worried about missing a shot.

    Tell Louie & Aunt Jen to go away. A friend of mine, who is a professional, includes it in his contract that no family members can be in taking the "set" pictures with him. He has also told family member that the bride and groom are paying a tremendous amount of money for him to be there to take the pictures. He is not contracted for the full night and that the family member is distracting him making it take longer for him to get his pictures in. Does family member really want to be the cause of the family paying more money for him to stay longer or be the reason that the bride and groom do not get the whole wedding, from start to finish, in their album? Now, he is nicer than that, but it is the gist of what he tells the family members. It usually gets them to leave him alone to do his job. :)


  • Hgumula March 25, 2011 01:56 am

    Kiran - as a professional wedding photographer, I don't prefer it when cousin "louie" or aunti "jen" is leaning over my shoulder at every moment trying to take photos as a hobby when I have been paid to be the photographer. I've even had an incident when they asked the couple to stay in the pose after I was finished. (ugg) It kinda makes my day a little bit aggravating, especially when i have posed the couple and taken the time to get what I want. The last thing I like to imagine is his blog post with great posing and backdrops that I orchestrated.

    As for the article - it is SO hard to shoot a wedding for a family member, as a "guest" and still act like you will be able to put the camera down at some point and enjoy the evening. You will always run back for it if there is a moment you feel you may be missing.

  • Eiranne March 24, 2011 05:32 pm

    This is a wonderfully timely post. My boyfriend's brother is getting married and while I am doing their engagement photos, they will be hiring another photographer for the wedding and reception (per my request). However, I will be doing the getting ready photos and some fun family photos on the wedding day and the trash the dress photos after the honeymoon. Its great because it is saving them money and I still get to be the guest on their special day. Its also special for them because I am giving them all these photos (from engagement to trash the dress) as a wedding gift - not a blender or dish towels, but I think it will do :-).

  • dandwdad March 24, 2011 12:39 pm

    I've never been the paid photographer, but I've been the requested "second." I stay out of the pro's way, use no flash near him/her, I try not to get too many of the shot's the pro is taking. I focus on shooting the family in the kitchen, and those watching the photographer (sometimes funnier pictures there than groom and bride), the little ones running in and out and finally the bride and groom AFTER the photographer stops. There are always moments I get that the pro was too busy moving to the next shot to see happening.

    I'm not sure I could be the primary photographer, but I love seeing all the family enjoy my pics; pus I can take a break when I want and no one can whine "we're paying you ...." {most cases they would be right to whine}

  • Johnp March 24, 2011 09:22 am

    Yes I agree with Chew you can either be the photographer or a guest, you can't be both if you are the only one they are relying on for their wedding photos. Dont worry about getting a seat near the bridal party, you wont have time to sit down! The idea situation would be when a pro photographer is doing the wedding and you can relax and please yourself what photos you take. You wont have the pressure then to record everything, you can enjoy the wedding and aim for a few extraordinary shots instead.

  • chew March 24, 2011 07:48 am

    I'm not a professional wedding photographer but I've done this many times before, for relatives and friends of course and all I can say is that when I'm into this, it's really a nasty situation. =) It's just hard. I find it almost impossible to stop and enjoy as a guest when shooting.

    Great post though.

  • GBBulldog March 24, 2011 06:59 am

    Good post, if a little short. One thing that bugs me about your articles, though... why do you always use curly braces instead of parentheses? I find it annoying (in an OCD way)

  • Frank March 24, 2011 06:44 am

    Great post. I would add in to shoot family members that are not directly in the wedding. Last October, I took my camera to my wife's cousin's wedding. I made it clear to their professional photographer to let me know if I was in his way and I would back off. In the mean time, I did not focus on the "set" pictures, but on the ones that a pro wouldn't be looking for, but a family member might. For example, while everyone focused on the bride and her Dad for their dance, I was taking pictures of the Mother, the bride's sisters, and other family members. At the tossing of the bouquet, I focused on the groom and the other guys.

    I got some great pics doing stuff like that. Things that no one else was looking for. I gave the bride a CD with all of the pics for Christmas and she was thrilled. She has been using them for her FB profile pics. :)


  • Kiran @ March 24, 2011 06:31 am

    Great points especially for people who are new in this business and needs to build a portfolio. Just curious as to what reaction can we expect from the hired photographers in the same ceremony? :)

  • ScottC March 24, 2011 04:21 am

    As hard as it is to enjoy a festival, relax in a pub, take a tour, etc., yet photograph these at the same time, I'd imagine it impossible to do the same for an important (and hopefully once in a lifetime) event like a wedding.

    Great tips though, for any who care to try!

  • Rafael Amorim March 24, 2011 04:00 am

    I was invited for my best friend’s wedding and decided to make some photographs just for fun and to record that moment with my personal point of view... The results were some photos that leave me to end with a printed photo album that I gifted the couple…
    Three weeks later the couple came to me and said that they were a little upset with the contracted photographer… since the photos that he and his team did, weren’t “emotional enough and well taken” as mine… and they asked me for the originals just to have it with them to remember later…
    Here in Brazil, this kind of photograph is a little mechanical and not well creative as the wedding photography over the world… some of those photographers just do the standard "ceremony and reception after celebration" type and don’t make creative, emotional and cool photographs… they don’t feel invited to the wedding… they don’t feel into the emotional part of it! Every time that I do photography I feel into it... I change my perspective to the moment and to the emotion of the event... that will make the difference on every photo!
    Greetings from Brazil!!!

  • carinne March 24, 2011 03:40 am

    Having been to errr 9 weddings in two years (always a guest never a bride! haha) I always take my camera. I've never been the hired photographer for a friend's wedding and I never would want to - too much pressure and it takes away from the day.

    In some cases, I've taken quite a few photos, all just for fun. After the wedding I've always sent a CD copy to the couple and most of the time they appreciate the candids and side shots that the paid photographers didn't get. It's never to draw from the actual photographer, but more of an addition. It has always been appreciated.

    Coming up, though, a wedding from my boyfriend's side - photographing that will be fun, since I will only minimally know the guest list. It'll be easy for me to just blend in and snap shots.

  • barb farr March 24, 2011 02:31 am

    Timely post. My son is getting married next month and my SIL will be shooting the wedding. This post helps me to know when to 'shutter down' so she can have some fun. Thanks.