Troubleshooting: The Perils of the Amateur Photographer

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Photographer Elena Wolfe likes each of her wedding photos to tell a story and form part of a visual chronicle of a couple’s big day. But more and more, Wolfe says, if she’s not careful, the stories her lens captures can be all about people taking pictures. “Parents will have an iPad in front of their face recording the ceremony and they’re not reacting, they’re not present,” says Wolfe, who photographs weddings in Connecticut and New York.

Indeed, in our selfie- and social media-obsessed world, it has become standard procedure for wedding guests to snap photos with the zeal of paparazzi or shoot video with the detachment of a news crew. In doing so, guests can unintentionally wreak havoc for the professional photographers hired to record the wedding.

One issue is that during key moments—walking down the aisle, cutting the cake, first dance, etc.—the pro photographer’s view can be blocked by someone else taking a photo. “Everybody wants to capture the bride as she walks down the aisle, but so do the photographers,” says Stephanie F. Carmody, founder and principal wedding planner of Très Chic Events. “A clean shot can potentially be disrupted when guests lean into the aisle.”

Wedding photographer Robyn Blasi says that most of the time she can get the shots she needs despite these casual photo-takers but, “Occasionally, guests do get in the way, causing me to miss shots, or just be in the shot and ruin it. During receptions I can usually work around everyone, but it’s very difficult during ceremonies.”

Being in the shot and ruining it by taking a picture and not reacting, is not something most of us think about when snapping away at a wedding, but it can cause a lot of disappointment for a couple when they see their photos says Wolfe. “It’s not how you want to remember your day as a couple, to see cameras and iPads and iPhones in the aisles. You want to see guests and their faces.”

Once in a while guest photo-takers can be rude or aggressive—at one recent wedding Wolfe was pushed out of the way while trying to take the cake shot—but generally guests are polite and friendly, even if they are a hindrance.

In addition to blocking shots during ceremonies, guests with cameras can detract from cocktail hour family shots. “During family pictures, guests will come and try to side shoot and take pictures and eyes are all over the place, people are not sure which camera to look at,” Wolfe says.

Robyn Blasi

Elena Wolfe

Overeager guests can unknowingly make things difficult for your hired professional photographer. Robyn Blasi and Elena Wolfe both have had important shots ruined by a guest inadvertently stepping in front of the camera.

Elena Wolfe

Elena Wolfe

When you look back at your wedding album, would you rather see your guests happily watching and enjoying the ceremony or glued to their phones and cameras?

The flash from a guest’s camera washed out the shot of the couple at the altar Wolfe was trying to take. No amount of post-production can save this image.

Blasi has encountered similar issues. “If I’m setting up group portraits, I will kindly ask the guests to hold off and let me get my shots, and then they are welcome to take their own pictures,” she says. “Coming up to the couple or families during portrait time is very distracting. Cocktail hour is usually the only time we get for portraits, so any mingling takes away from that.”

In part because excessive photography and the problems it can cause for hired photographers, many couples are opting for an “unplugged” wedding where guests are encouraged to leave their phones and other photo-taking devices in their pockets or bags.

Whether you go the unplugged route or not, Carmody advises making your stance on photos and social media as clear as possible ahead of time. “We suggest communicating your feelings with your support system, bridal party and family, and also adding a friendly reminder in the ceremony program or again on your wedding website,” she says. “You can also get creative and make fun signs at the wedding telling your guests either not to take pics or display your wedding hashtag for guests to post on social media.”

“A nicely written note or poem in the program or on a chalkboard works wonders,” Blasi says. “Unplugged weddings are becoming more and more popular lately.”

Wolfe adds that sometimes people forget what’s written on the wedding website or invitation and might miss signs the day of the wedding. As a result, she suggests asking the officiant of the wedding to make a brief announcement regarding photos.

Ultimately, Wolfe says it’s important to remember the wedding is a celebration and it’s a good idea for guests and professional photographers to be polite to one another. “Our job is not just to make it enjoyable for our couple but for their guests as well,” she says.

Photo Etiquette Checklist: 

Agreeing on a few guidelines before the big day can head off photography problems before they start.

For Couples:

Selfie examination Discuss how you feel about social media and photo taking during the ceremony and reception. Do you want guests posting photos to Facebook during the event? Do you want an unplugged event?

Here comes the bride’s photographer Talk with your photographer and see what he or she has to say about guests taking photos. Are they okay with it? Do they have any suggestions for restrictions?

Spread the word Whatever you decide, make to sure to communicate to your guests any and every way you can, whether that’s through a website announcement, signs at the wedding, a brief announcement at the start of the ceremony, etc.

For guests:

Easy on the draw While some couples don’t mind guests taking photos, wedding planner Stephanie Carmody says, “General rule of thumb is don’t whip out your phone unless you get the green light from the bride and groom.”

Eyes (Not Cameras) on the Bride If you get the okay to take photos, avoid an aisle seat where there’s a potential to block professional shots. Also try to keep photo taking to a minimum and avoid having your camera out the whole time.

Relax about the résumé Some aspiring wedding photographers will shoot at the weddings of friends and family members to get shots to use as résumé builders. This is not an appropriate time to build your photography portfolio says photographer Elena Wolfe. If you want to break into the wedding photo scene, Wolfe suggests contacting successful wedding photographers and asking to work with them as a second shooter.

(This article was originally published on a different platform. Some formatting changes may have occurred.)

This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of The Connecticut Bride

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