Should you Photograph your Friend’s Wedding?

When you are a passionate Street Photographer you become “The Camera Guy” in your group of friends very quickly. Soon they notice that your pictures are becoming better with every click and appreciate your images. Instead of asking a professional wedding photographer they ask you to save the memories of one of their most important days of their life. What seems like a great honor also raises a lot of questions and self-doubts if photographing your Friend’s Wedding is worthwhile or not.

Would my images be able to meet their demands? What happens if my camera breaks or if the weather isn’t ideal?

These are some of the thousands of questions that might rush through while photographing your Friend’s Wedding before you get asked. After finishing my first little wedding reportage, I want to dispel your fears and encourage you to simply go for it.

The Challenge

Street Photography and photographing your friend’s wedding are very similar in its style and way of taking images. As a Photographer, it is your duty to capture candid moments that put a smile on the face of the viewer or turn the eyes of the bride wet.

In terms of photography, there isn’t much a change, but your responsibilities differ a lot. Your  friend’s wedding is one of the most anticipated days in the “soon to be” married couple. They requested you to fulfill this job and you are in their obligation.

Before, you were just a lone wolf on the street photographing whatever came to your mind. If you didn’t feel well you could just skip your photography walk and delay it to the next day. Uninspired days come and go and you were fine coming home without an image that you would show in public.

This is a luxury that isn’t feasible for a wedding job. You have to perform, no matter the circumstances. Are you not feeling well, did you not get enough sleep the day before? It doesn’t matter. Is the location surrounded by hoardings and in a pretty bad shape? Who cares.

The only thing that counts is your results expressed in the pictures. It is your job to create the best reality – often even more.

Friend Wedding - 1

Your Skills as a Wedding Photographer

Did the paragraph before hit a nerve and made you feel even more insecure if you should take the job? In my opinion, you shouldn’t be. As a Street Photographer, you already have the most important skillset that is required to shoot a wedding. That is your eye and the instinct of capturing emotionful scenes.

In general, I would split wedding Photographers into two categories. The ones that started as Portrait Photographers and tried out the wedding reportage and Documentary Photographers that simply added weddings to their repertoire.

From my own experience of the wedding photography market, the majority of photographers started by taking portraits and later delved into the candid wedding market. In my opinion, they have a huge problem. That is discovering potential scenes and covering them as quickly as possible. They are used to arrange a scene, take multiple attempts and if it doesn’t fit in the end they can try to manipulate the image in photoshop.

An approach that is far away from the reality that is photographing your friend’s wedding. In addition to that, they often lack the true meaning of being close in Photography. One of the most recommended lens for wedding photography something around 70-200mm. Indeed a great range that covers a lot of possible distances and seems very flexible. But how will the viewer immerse in a scene when he always feels like the picture has been taken from a bystander far far away?

One of the most annoying pet peeves I noticed when browsing through different portfolios was how distanced I felt from the action. The pictures weren’t bad at all. They were relatively well composed, featured something in the foreground and had a nice background. Nonetheless, the bokeh rich images didn’t sparkle my interest or embraced the emotions that were present that certain moment.

I do understand, that you should use the best tool available to you and some zoom lenses like the 70-200mm are a good fit for large churches or other open spaces where you want to cover the area very fast. But in controlled spaces, you should zoom with your feet and get real close with your camera. The key is to get as close as possible, while still being “invisible” and not stealing the show from the couple. Nothing is more annoying than a wedding photographer who behaves like the event is his stage and tries to steal the attention for himself.

As a Street Photographer, on the other hand, you all already know the points I mentioned before. You are able to be immersed in a scene, without being disturbed.

You can spot an interesting scene and photograph it quickly, due to your practice on the street you won’t miss many opportunities. Instead, you’ll get your picture on the first few tries and be super efficient.

All the things that are important on the street translate to the wedding reportage. When your goal is to get candid images and display a true documentary of your friend’s wedding ceremony, then you shouldn’t influence the scene too much by yourself.

Friend Wedding - 2

Keep it simple

Therefore I recommend you to not to experiment when doing shooting your friend’s wedding. You only have a compact camera with a 35mm lens? That’s great and everything you need for the documentary. Don’t even waste your time about thinking about getting a professional DSLR and a whole new setup.

One of the most important things for a one-time big event like this is that you should be familiar with your gear. If you have been shooting with your setup for quite some time, then why change it? People like your style and portfolio that you build with the gear that was available to you and they book you because they like it. There is absolutely no need to rent or buy other gear or lenses because you might feel peer pressured into it.

The truth is, that probably 90% of wedding photographers specialized in portraits before. They have no idea how documentary photography works. You are the expert in this field and if it works for you – fantastic. Recommendations about longer lenses or top of the crop bokeh often come from people that did portrait work before and feel that things like that might be important there too. That is not true – Documentary work is different.

In terms of gear, I’d advise you to get familiar with a flash, if you have the time to learn it before. On the location, I used the flash very modestly bouncing it from the ceiling on a very low setting. This is not the time to experiment or create super artsy images. The flash is just there to provide some additional light to support the scene, but shouldn’t be the main light source.

Other than that, be sure to carry some spare SD-Cards and batteries. Even though you might not be Street Photographer that takes a lot of pictures on the street like me. When I am out for 2 or 3 hours I usually come home with 20 to 50 images. But when I shot the wedding I got over 1.000 images in the first hour thanks to the burst mode. That might sound a little extreme, but when you want to make sure to not miss an opportunity you will feel the same and rather take more images than contemplating about the missed ones.

Narrating the Wedding Day

Let’s come to one of the main takeaways that I realized after browsing through the over 1.000 images afterward. That is introducing transitional images in your story.

When you think about wedding photographs you probably have a big list of shots already in your mind. Of course, the wedding kiss, the dance or the walk in are important images that you need to have. Other than that what might be important pictures to tell a fluent story? Here come transitional pictures into play.

Before, you only thought about images of a specific scene, but depending on the size of the wedding it might take place at various locations.

The wedding day for you as a photographer might start with the bride getting her make-up done, the groom hanging out with his best man at some place and what happens after that? Suddenly the next image is them inside the church or wherever the ceremony takes place?

That seems very unnatural and doesn’t connect the story at all, it seems very interrupted and throws the viewer out of the reportage. Think of it like cutting a movie, you can not simply take hard turns and jump from location to location without raising questions. You rather have to introduce the places that you are shooting at. As another example take classical screenplays, where you first describe the location and then let the main actors do their part.

The transitional images don’t have to be outstanding images itself. But they are important to tell the story in a way that the viewer can follow it without being disrupted.

Consider What is important for the Client

Your opinions about great images might differ from the Client’s perspective. What you would rate as “non-publishable” could be super important for the married couple. Not every image needs to be a keeper to be a part of the reportage, some are valuable because they are a simple documentation.

Think about the uncle of third-degree who drove across the whole country to visit the wedding. Although the image of him isn’t anything special to you, the presence of the uncle could be an important part of the wedding for the couple and therefore you should keep the image.

Photograph what is important for YOUR FRIENDS – not yourself

It is not easy to know which persons are more relevant to the bride, so trying to capture every attendant, leaves space for the client to decide afterward which of the documentary pictures he wants to keep and which just unnecessarily fluff the wedding series.

In General, communicate beforehand what shots and which family members are a crucial part of the ceremony and you will have a much easier time to create something that satisfies your clients. Don’t be arrogant in trying to do everything by yourself just because you are the photographer and know it all. Consider your clients as your co-workers and ask them to assist you in the editing process of the images.

At the same time, don’t let them influence your work too much. It’s a thin line between fulfilling a client’s wish and losing your own identity in the images. Sometimes you have to preserve them from mistakes that they might be regretting in the future. So listen to your clients, but also guide them in the process of taking the wedding portraits for example.

Should you Charge for a Friend’s Wedding?

You know your friend for a very long time and you are happy that he finally gets married and invites you to take the responsible job of photographing the ceremony. Should you charge him money or does this fall under the small favor category that is free?

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong or weird for charging money even though it is a good friend you are working for. Wedding photography is a highly responsible and stressful job. Not only mentally but also physically.

The physical aspect is often forgotten but think about the setup for a second. During the ceremony the guest is sitting comfortably in their chairs while you are walking around, figuring out the best perspective to get your images.

As a Street Photographer, you know how important the perspective is for your images. Shooting only from your eye-level will mean that you will most of the time look down to the wedding guests. That means you spend a lot of time crouching down and remain there like a skier that is on his record pace.

Although I am not an unfit person by any means, that resulted in cramps very quickly and muscle soreness for the next days.

The physical part is still probably the easier stress to deal with. Shooting a wedding is a very responsible photography job. Compare it to a commercial, when you mess up the damage can be valued in hard cash and you need to cover the cost to do it right another time.

But how can you value a messed up friend’s wedding series? When 30 years later the bride has no tangible memory of her wedding that she could show her grand-kids. The damage is invaluable and therefore shooting a friend’s wedding is a very responsible task.

The day before, you probably will have a sleepless night and I am pretty sure I was more nervous than the groom himself.

It is only fair for your friends to compensate you for your performance. As a Photographer, you will also have not a single free minute or be able to enjoy your friend’s wedding like any of the other guests will be. And after finishing the job on the location you also have to spend countless hours sorting out the images and post-processing them.

How much you want to charge is up to you, but a professional Photographer easily starts in the 4-Digit category, so you shouldn’t sell yourself short on that part.

Friend Wedding - 3

Know your Assets

Just because you haven’t done a wedding before shouldn’t hold you back to try it out first. You have to start somewhere and photographing on the street already gave you enough practice to test your skills. Practice that most other wedding photographers are missing.

Simply say Yes

Street Photography is hard and you have to fight against every resistance possible. People might be hostile, the law is not on your side and on some days nothing of interest is happening. In comparison on a wedding day, everyone is open and willing to be photographed. A lot is happening, the atmosphere is filled with emotions and action in front of your lens. You only have to take the chance and say yes for the first wedding shoot.

If you are still not sure, if your friends won’t like your images – remember they came to you to shoot their wedding. They choose you as the photographer because they already know your style and like your images. You aren’t supposed to do anything wildly different or try a totally new style. If they already like your other documentary work be confident and earn that valuable experience.

Stay Curious

Sebastian Jacobitz

Street Photography