Dear Wedding Guest – An Open Letter – Wedding Planning Advice

Dear Wedding Guest,


Allow me to introduce myself.  I am a Professional Wedding Photographer.  Your dearest friends or family searched diligently for me, basically interviewed me, then hired me.

This will probably offend you, rub you the wrong way, maybe even make you a tab bit angry.  Welcome to my world.  Allow me to educate you on a growing problem, one that you, and only you, can stop.  I’ve resolved to keep it more REAL and RAW this year.  Tip toeing hasn’t worked, so maybe some to the point blunt-ness will.

You see Brides and Grooms have invested thousands in not only this day, my services most specifically, as once everything is done, the glitter has settled, and the sparkler smoke dissipates, my images will be all that is left to remember this day by.  Please allow me to do my job.

Even if the couple doesn’t insist, post signage, or have the ushers and minister advise everyone to keep their devices off because this is one of those AWESOME new trends of “An Unplugged Wedding” act like it is.

You may think this is not new news, you know who I am because you see my equipment and I trying valiantly to as silently as possible traverse the ceremony, so why am I writing you this letter?

You see I’ve been planning weddings and floral designing for them since 2001.  The last 6 have been spent capturing these one shot moments for Brides and Grooms.  Needless to say I’ve been to a LOT of weddings.  I’ve been to close to 75 just as a guest, then I’ve been in about a half-dozen.  I’ve seen it all.

Your behavior though in most recent years is what is so disconcerting…increasingly troubling.  Thus the reason for this letter.

Hear me out, I’m not angry, I can’t stop you from ruining your friend’s or family’s wedding images.  When they ask later why this image isn’t included I’ll show them, explain to them how you ruined it, and that I couldn’t salvage it so it wound up in the unusable pile on the culling room floor. (Photog speak for best image selection process)  I can do A LOT with Photoshop…unfortunately accounting for every.single.rude.thing. you can do to ruin an image isn’t one of them.

Somehow we’ve shifted from a society that respects a solemn occasion where everyone sits politely through the ceremony, actually engaging in the ceremony through their undivided attention, to something more resembling a paparazzi frenzy at the latest red carpet event.

These actions that in far too many cases literally RUIN our one chance at our Bride’s “must have” shot.  And for what?  A horrible, grainy, slightly blurry, iPhone image you stuck your arm into the aisle to catch then slapped a filter on because that’ll make it better? An image where the flash on your new camera shouldn’t have ever fired, which was probably banned anyway by the venue, which I abided by/am equipped to handle, but no not you.  Rules don’t apply to you it seems.

Left: the @BraskaJennea Instagram image taken the day of, Right: The actual camera image they'll have for life.  Note the iPhone's grainy images and orange lighting in the Church Sanctuary.
Left: the @BraskaJennea Instagram image taken the day of, Right: The actual camera image they’ll have for life. Note the iPhone’s grainy images and orange lighting in the Church Sanctuary.

You had to have that image so badly you accidentally flashed the bride so brightly as she passed that not only in your image does she look like a ghost, but in my paid for, professional, image she’s now wearing “white out”.  There’s no recovering from a “white out” spill ya’ll!

Yes, I’m talking about your blatant disregard for the sanctity of the ceremony, and the duties of those who’ve been entrusted, PAID, to capture the day.  On what planet would the iPhone image quality above on the left be worth ruining a B&G’s professional images for?

Then of course there’s your unexplainable urge to shoot over my shoulder during family formals.  Thank you so much for creating “shifty eyes” as people struggle (though I don’t know why they struggle…my camera is bigger, and I’m clearly the professional so they should only look into MY lens but I digress) to choose which camera to look at.  I appreciate the extra work I’ll now have to do to face swap in with another image, hopefully, where they were looking at me in.  Thank you for that.

As for after the ceremony that too is all too often a “feeding frenzy” as the first ant to the picnic wants “Just one picture”, then the next ant shows up, and then there’s a whole “Receiving line” of ants wanting to take “just one”.  To quote the popular YouTube lady “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!”.

We’re on a TIGHT schedule. We’re fighting available day light 99% of the time, and you, being the star of this day, obviously, just HAD to have that “ONE” image.  Thank you for robbing the Bride and Groom of the best light for their portraits.  They’ll cherish your “ONE” over their images together, I’m sure.

Thank you for your grumbling also during the cocktail hour or reception, that my second shooter overheard you annoyed, and loudly, proclaiming “Well I guess the photographer just thinks it’s all about them huh?”, “Good grief I’m starving!  How long does it take to take a few pictures?”, “Well since I’m never going to see them because they think pictures are more important than greeting guests I’m leaving. I don’t have all day to wait around at a wedding.”

Really.  We hear you. Thank you for once again proving you think you are the center of this day.  I’m glad to know the beautiful magnitude of this man and this woman following suit in matrimony isn’t wasted on you. 😉 (That’s a whole lot of sarcasm…in case you haven’t picked up on it already.  Ha!)

YES, you are literally the bottom priority of this day.  Seriously.  Yes, I just said that.  The LAST priority on a wedding day is the guest.  You are there for them, they are NOT there for you!  Now, before you go off in a tizzy that that’s rude, you “gave up your Saturday”, bought them a gift, etc… let me explain.

On a traditional wedding day the pecking order goes like this:

FIRST, and I mean ABSOLUTELY TOP PRIORITY, are the BRIDE AND GROOM.   I don’t care if you sit there 2hrs because the Bride wants “Oh just this one last shot”…we’re doing it.  I don’t really run this show you see…the groom doesn’t either, trust me he’d probably rather be right there with at the reception talking smack about “how much longer”…the Bride is the one cruising this ship, I’m just along to capture the ride. You can chill.  Pop another shrimp cocktail, toss back a beer, and socialize. We’ll be there literally as soon as we can! (Hey, in most cases we haven’t eaten all day….or drank anything…we’re ready for the reception before the ceremony!)

Next is the Ceremony.  Without it you wouldn’t be here at all.

Post Ceremony the Family comes in third place today, via Family formals.  We’re not really a fan of them wither….trust me….but they’re an absolute MUST for Weddings.  You HAVE to have pictures with His family, Her family, and BOTH together as they are now one family. And of course all the sections of those families as requested by the B&G.

Maybe hate is a strong word, they’re simply just the hardest images of the day to capture.  You see we know most of the people in them don’t want to be there…”I hate having my picture made”, “I’m starving! Can we cut this short?”, “How many more?”, “UGH! I just sat down!” We hear it all, and have to happily photograph faces that rather read of a funeral than a wedding.

Alas, we must all power through.  These images WILL be framed.  If no other images get framed, the family formals!  Gifted to grandma, mailed to aunt Sue in Denver, proudly displayed in dad’s office. These images MINIMUM take 15 minutes…and that’s for small families.  For larger families, or Moms wanting images with extended family who came in for the wedding, we’re looking at a good half hour Max.

From there it’s the Bridal Party’s place in line.  They’ve invested a ton of time and money to stand beside their boy, or their girl, they too were hand chosen to help rock this day.  They’ve stood in broiling sun in 3 piece suits or floor length gowns, they’ve dabbed sweat, fixed hair and make-up, they’ve walked and stood in painful shoes for longer than their feet care to remember anytime soon.

While you were sitting comfortably in a chair or pew, they stood, probably in pain because they didn’t want to tell their Bride the shoes she just LOVED for their dresses made their feet want to bleed…and they’ve been standing for quite a while on this day already.  They deserve killer images with their friends now too.  Sadly they only get about 10-15 minutes as we’re trying our hardest to make the reception ASAP.

Finally it’s back to the first priority I mentioned above.  After everyone is dismissed (read: out-of-the-way 😉 ) it’s FINALLY time for these newlyweds to get their images…the most important images of the day.  This IS THEIR moment.  These are the prizes of the day. What they’ve waited for.

Thankfully many Brides and Grooms are opting to do “First Looks” to knock all pictures out before (barring family portraits unless everyone can there in time beforehand), but still here in the South superstition reigns, so don’t get comfortable that every wedding will have receptions immediately following because you assume they went the First Look route. It’s about 50/50.

Once we wrap those most important portraits then, and only then, is it almost your time.

Before you still reside the First Dance, Father Daughter Dance, Mother Son Dance, and hopefully them actually grabbing a bite of the delicious cake and food they’ve spent so much bank on!

FINALLY it’s YOUR time.  See, last priority of the day.  Socializing with guests. That’s actually what receptions were for!  Did you know that?  The purpose of the reception is for guests to celebrate with the new Bride and her Groom. That’s the time to go photo crazy.  That’s what that time was set aside for. To rejoice with the couple in their new life together!

My job is to capture this day. Not yours. You’re a bonus. I’ve been the “bonus” before. But I promise you back then I never would’ve dreamed to treat a photographer like you all treat us now.  The audacity with which you place your own want for a picture before that of the Bride and Groom’s images.

You’re literally leaning, or STANDING, in front of us IN.THE.AISLE., sticking your arms out, holding your phone, iPAD, even camera over your head, with no regard for the Bride and Groom’s images they’ve invested so much in having captured professionally. (Now, even if a friend or family member who’s new/”building a portfolio” is shooting you still should offer them the same respect…they’re new…they don’t need anything else making this already insanely difficult job any harder!)

You’re taking them by the hand, forcing them to take a picture with you as we’re trying to complete their portraits with “it’ll only take a second”, and they never want seem rude so they oblige.

So, I urge you to please control yourselves. Leave your camera at home, or in the car until the reception, turn your phones off and keep them in your purse or pocket.  Trust me they’d rather see your FACE in their images as she’s coming down the aisle than that iPhone, tablet, or camera….plus you just look strange!

PLEASE, for the love of everything beautiful and right with weddings, remember you’re JUST.A.GUEST!  It’s not about you!  It’s about them, it’s about their memories captured forever by the person they’re paying to capture them professionally.  Go crazy at the reception, but before then help me help them.  Be a FACE not a device in their moments.  Most of all JUST BE PRESENT, help them celebrate, and help me (and my fellow photographers) give them only the most emotionally beautiful memories we all can…unimpeded!

Undeniably some of you will still think you’re going to save the day with your second-hand images, so you can win some imaginary game of “I got it first”/(more like you got it worst) so that in mind here’s a list of Wedding etiquette Guidelines to preserve the B&G’s one shot deal memories:

1)  My Brides and Groom’s families and friends get this pep talk after the rehearsal, here it is for the whole world to use.  “Treat the aisle like a roller coaster.  Keep all arms, legs, heads, electronic devices inside the row at ALL times. I’m looking through a lens, normally a telephoto, I CANNOT see you when I’m tracking the stars of this show through it. Be warned: if you’re leaning in, sticking out, etc…  I’m not responsible for what may happen when I pass you and you disregard this common sense rule.

2) Act like your camera or phone hits a wall everytime it tries to come above your shoulders.  If we can’t see it, we can see you, and they’d rather see you than your device! Do not, I repeat DO NOT, hold it up to your face during any of the major moments where you’ll be seen (i.e. Bride coming in, rings, kiss, coming back down the aisle, etc….)

3) KILL YOUR FLASH!  It won’t do you any good from the distance you’re sitting anyway, except to blind the Bride and “white out” her dress.  Put your finger over it just to make sure it won’t pop up.

4) WAIT! Save it for the reception.  You’re not allowed to steal my poses and lighting ideas.  It’s poor taste to interrupt the couple to be needy anyway, and you eating up their prime time lighting we’ve scheduled

5) If the B&G don’t follow to the reception or cocktail hour they’re DOING PHOTOS!  Chill.  Enjoy the reception music or cocktail hour (if there is one, there’s a reson it’s called an HOUR) because at minimum shooting family, bridal party, and Bride and Groom takes 45 minutes for small families, and that’s only giving about 15 minutes to the B&G…don’t they derserve more than that?  My B&G’s are told to expect no less than an HOUR!  The B&G need a good 30 minutes at least when no First Look is done.

6) Finally RELAX.  This is!   If you get zero images for yourself that’s ok! It’s not about you!  Just eat some cake, chug come sweet tea or some punch, and wait patiently until the images they’ve paid me to capture are ready.

Party on party people!  Let’s rock some weddings in 2015!






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