How to be a good “guest photographer” at a wedding

How to be a good guest photographer (and not ruin your best friends wedding photos)

So as I sit here in November, still in my t-shirt and sandals, I’m thankful for living in such a beautiful place with a climate that allows the “wedding season” to extend far into October. Alas, it is finally over now… the weather calls for showers today! And, I’ve got no more weddings booked until next year… which will be my 10th year! Wow, time flies!


When I first started shooting weddings professionally in 2007, about a quarter (to a third) of the guests brought their camera with them. (This is based on my visual estimation!)  And, I’m referring to a BIG camera, like mine. Some were even bigger and more expensive than mine was… and I’ll tell you, that was a little intimidating especially when I was just starting out! We all know photography is more than just a good camera, but I often doubted myself and thought: why did they even hire me? Look at all their friends with nice cameras! Never-the-less I kept shooting and delivering my work to the best of my ability.

I thought this trend would increase, and I’d be competing against bigger and faster cameras… but a funny thing has happened… today, when I go to a wedding, almost NO ONE brings a camera! Ok, there might be one or two people who bring a big DSLR, but that’s it. The rest – you guessed it – have their cell phone in hand. While this is of course way less intimidating, it’s also way more distracting to the wedding because now guests are taking pictures almost constantly! They interfere with the natural flow of the event by asking the bride and groom to look at them, and they themselves cannot be captured in the moment because they are too busy taking photos.

Weddings are a big responsibility to capture. The emotions, ceremonies and details definitely provide plenty of subject matter without intruding or asking the couple to pose. The question then arises, how do we capture those moments without getting in the way?

Let me offer my 4 tips for capturing the moment, without interfering:

1. Stay out of sight (and earshot!) during the ceremony.

If you’re a guest, this tip isn’t really for you because you’ll usually be in a seat… (but do be mindful of the hired photographer if you get up to take photos.) As a photographer, you should try to stay back and zoom in to the action with your lens. During a church ceremony, the click of your shutter can actually be quite intrusive as well! So this another reason to stand behind the guests and not up front. There are a few moments that you will want to move to the front to make sure you get a good angle, like the ring exchange, but for the majority of the time just stay far enough back that you aren’t blocking the guests view. If you do stand in front of someone to get a shot, just move out of the way as quickly as you can.

2. Take a LOT of photos; edit out the bad ones.

Anyone wishing to capture “the” moment has to know that it can happen at any time and isn’t predictable. From one split second to the next you may go from an award-winning shot to something completely unusable if the expression is different or someone steps in front of you. The way I have pulled off some of the most amazing photos has been by shooting very quick sequences when something important is happening. Cell phones have a shutter delay and can’t do this… this is where a pro camera will outperform.

3. Know the inner workings of the wedding.

This has everything to do with preparation and nothing to do with your gear. The more you know about the event schedule, the parts of the wedding ceremony and the order things are going to happen, the better you can anticipate what’s to come and the more likely you’ll be in the right place at the right time to capture that perfect moment. If you are a new photographer, be sure to ask your couple for a copy of the ceremony schedule so you can know what to expect.

4. Encourage moments to happen, but don’t force them.

As a photographer or guest, you can get some great photos by encouraging the couple to DO something, rather than pose for you. (I’m only suggesting this outside the actual wedding ceremony, not during!) Many bridal portraits that seem candid had some element of planning to them. For example, you could ask a couple to walk towards a particular spot, kiss each other, and then walk back to you. That way, you aren’t actually posing them in such a way that looks awkward or unnatural. They will carry out the instructions on their own, in their own way, and you can take photos while they do it. In the photo above, I asked the bride to stand right next to me so that the groom could look at her while I took his portrait. They started exchanging some funny comments! This was much more fun (and natural) than just looking at a camera, and the shots are way better!

Of course, there are many more things to know when shooting a wedding, such as the technical aspects of your camera, composition and lighting, but for now we are talking about staying out of the way while still being close enough to get the shots. I hope this has been helpful…

Find out more about my Victoria and Vancouver Island wedding photography services here.

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