This is a post I’ve wanted to write for years, because we’ve been asked a few times from other photographers how we handle photographing weddings for friends and family. It can be a sticky situation, and I can honestly say we learn something new every time we shoot a wedding for a close friend.
We’ve been so lucky to be able to photograph every one of our best friends’ weddings. We learned something from every one, and by the time we photographed my best friend Casi’s wedding, we had this friend’s wedding thing down pat. Casi and I knew Ian was gonna pop the question soon, so we’d sort of already discussed Nate and I shooting it. After many past mistakes at other friend’s weddings, these were the “rules” I sent if we’re to photograph their day:
1. Nate and I will shoot together. One of us can’t be in the bridal party. After photographing a larger wedding when Nate was a groomsman, I learned I’m never ever ever ever ever ever ever shooting without him again by choice. He’s 1/2 of my brain, and I like to think he couldn’t do it without me, either. :)
2. Let us make your timeline! We really try to do this for all of our brides, but it’s essential for the wedding of a close friend. It ensures there’s plenty of buffer time during essential parts of the day so we make it as relaxing as a wedding day can possibly be. We also want to be able to visit friends, dance, and actually eat dinner at the reception.
3. You knew this one was coming- They must do a first look. (Unless they’re having a 90 minute cocktail hour.) The biggest benefit of us photographing a wedding for close friends is to actually get to spend time with them on their wedding day and get really, really good photos. First Looks also make it so after the ceremony, we’re able to fly through family photos and our friends can go relax or enjoy the rest of their cocktail hour. (And let’s be honest- If it’s my best friend’s wedding, I wouldn’t hate a glass of wine!) First looks then give Nate and I a chance to breathe, photograph the reception hall before guests come in, and set up our lights.
4. We. Want. Cake… Please. :)
Those rules may seem a little strict, but that’s what we’ve learned works for us. Of course, every wedding is different, and when your best friend elopes in Africa, all of the above kinda gets thrown out the window. :)
Payment can be an awkward thing between friends. Do you charge, do you do it as a “gift?” The thing you have to keep in mind is that while yes, they’re your best friend and it may feel odd to charge anything, remember how many hours you’re planning on working. For us, I know if we’re shooting a free portrait session for a friend, that’s about one hour of “work” on the session day. But it’s also ~4 hours of work after the fact between culling the photos, editing, burning to a disc, putting together a slideshow, and getting photos ready to be blogged. On a wedding day, that’s 8 hours of shooting, and ~32 hours of work after the fact. That’s nearly a week’s worth of work for my friends! On top of the time investment you’re also potentially losing out on another wedding job! We don’t have a hard and fast rule for this, and every wedding has been different. I think for our friend Nick’s wedding, the one where Nate was a groomsman, we had him cover our travel expenses. For Casi, I charged a very low hourly fee, but something to cover our hours in front of the computer.
Lorie got married in Africa- Her wedding day was a total of 2.5 hours of shooting, a glorified session. We were paying our own way to Africa, but she and Jon did so many things to thank us: I’m talking a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti, and a two-on-two mentoring session with our favorite photographers once we got home. I think we got the better end of the deal, to be honest! ;)
Family weddings are a trickier matter. Maybe you’re in the wedding, in which case you can’t really shoot it. Maybe you want to actually visit with family members you haven’t seen in years! We photographed my brother’s wedding and it was the most perfect scenario ever: It was a smaller wedding in Oregon and they didn’t have a DJ at the reception, but a string trio. I never felt like I was missing out on the party, and other than cake cutting and toasts, there were no other events to cover during the reception. Nate and I were able to sit with my family and while we always had one hand on the camera to not miss anything, I still felt like I got to enjoy the day. In hindsight, that’s the only kind of wedding I’d photograph for a family member- Intimate and relaxed, or an elopement. ;)
Nate’s sister recently got engaged and is currently planning her wedding for early next year. To my surprise, Jessie insisted she didn’t want us to shoot her wedding, but instead be in the bridal party. I cannot stress how excited I am for her wedding- I mean, Nate and I were guests once at a wedding when we were first dating, but that was almost 10 years ago! I can’t wait to get all pretty in the morning. And wear a bridesmaid’s dress! I get to be in some family photos, and actually have a drink at a loved one’s wedding. And then have dinner with Nate and some more wine and dance. To every. Michael. Jackson. Song. Played. It’s gonna be a good day.
… But let’s be honest- We’re totally sneaking in our cameras. :)