Should you get a friend or family member to photograph your wedding?

15th August 2015
We all have a friend or family member who's handy with a camera, so when you start your wedding plans it's natural to consider choosing them as your wedding photographer.

Is it a good idea?

As with most things in life, there are pros and cons. Mostly cons, though!

However, in June I photographed my cousin's wedding and it was a fantastic day, I thoroughly enjoyed doing it and they were absolutely delighted with the results. It was my wedding gift to them and they put me up in a nice hotel for a couple of nights. Everyone's a winner! In fact, I'm photographing that cousin's brother's wedding next year.
So it all worked out fine. Why was that?

...When should you get a friend or family member to photograph your wedding?
The first reason it worked out so well when I photographed my cousin's wedding is that I'm actually a full time, professional wedding photographer. I specialise in wedding and portrait photography. Some people who are handy with a camera might take some nice holiday photographs, but a wedding is a whole different bag of bunnies. I've spoken with a full time sports photographer who admitted he was a disaster when it came to wedding photography and he refuses to ever do it again.

Similarly I'm not great at wildlife photography because I can't sit
still for long enough and the wildlife probably hears me munching through my little box of snacks!

Wedding photography is very specialist. You have to be entertaining, relaxed, polite and diplomatic, yet not shy and cowering. You need to be able to gain the attention and cooperation of 100 people or more at once. Did you know there are certain things photographers are not allowed to do at a wedding? For example, they can't take photographs during the signing of the register. The photographs you see of couples signing the register are done afterwards as a 'fake' signing. Those are the kind of things only professional wedding photographers actually know.

How do you get the best photographs of people hugging? Again, only professional wedding photographers know the secrets to this.

How do you set up a confetti photograph?

What order should you do the group photographs?

How should photographers position people differently depending on whether it's sunny or cloudy?

How should a bride hold her bouquet?

How many buttons should a groom do up on his jacket?

The list goes on and on. These are the things professional wedding photographers learn over the years. A fantastic landscape and travel photographer will be completely bamboozled, no matter how great they are with their camera.

The photographer must treat your wedding with deadly seriousness
I treated my cousin's wedding just like any other client's wedding. I scouted the venue with them a few weeks before the big day, even though I had a 160 mile round trip to go there. I sat down with the bride and groom to discuss exactly what they were looking for, the schedule, the best spots for photography etc. etc.

At the wedding I was completely focused on creating photographs and only really chatted with my family during lulls in the proceedings. Even then I was using that time to get group photographs of the people I was chatting with. That's perhaps the main advantage of choosing a family member or friend to photograph your wedding; they already know many of your guests, so they might find it easier to get certain images. They already have a relationship and a rapport with the people they're photographing.

The obvious reason for choosing a friend or relative is it's likely to be free or cheaper than a professional. That's half the benefit of having these people in your life, we all help each other out. I've had friends and family fix my car before, for example. That's fine because they either fix the car or they don't. If they can't fix it then I can still take it to the garage. No problem. The difference with your wedding photography is that you can't redo it, or change your mind. It's a bit like getting your mate who's good at building stuff to build an extension on your house. Is the risk worth the potential savings?

...And that's one of the questions to ask yourself
How important are your wedding photographs to you. If the worst happens and you're not happy with the results then how upset will you be? If you're not too worried then that's fine. Just be aware that that's how I felt when we got a friend to photograph our wedding back in 2003, before I even owned a camera. The photographs were very poor, but I didn't really mind at the time. I was young and already in debt so I simply couldn't afford a photographer. Now I'm older I wish I could turn the clock back and give someone a pile of money to re-photograph our wedding. We had a stunning wedding in Malaysia (my wife Asliza is Malaysian and was a wedding planner for a posh hotel at the time) and the photographs don't do justice to the day at all. Asliza looked spectacular and I would really treasure having photographs of us looking our very best on the happiest day of our lives.

Another question to ask yourself is how damaging would it be to your relationship if you weren't happy with the results? Also, would you rather have them as a proper guest so they can enjoy the day like everyone else? Is your relationship good enough that you can tell them if they're not doing something the way you want it?
If you feel happy and confident about all that then it's worth sitting down with them and working out a plan...

Be clear about what's expected.
You and the photographer need to be crystal clear about what's expected. The photographer shouldn't spend half the day chatting with friends and family and going to the bar. They need to realise that they're not a guest, they're working. They MUST take it seriously from start to finish. If you trust them to give your wedding the dedication it deserves.

A wedding photographer needs backup equipment. Equipment WILL fail eventually and if it happens at your wedding and they don't have backup cameras and lenses then you're in a world of trouble.
Churches and wedding receptions are extremely gloomy places. Your photographer's camera will need to perform excellently at very high ISO ratings. Do they have a full frame sensor on their camera? Do they know what that means? Are they able to bounce their flash or use off-camera flash? Make sure they won't be using flash during the ceremony or they'll receive the wrath of the minister or registrar. But without flash they'll need to know the law of reciprocity to ensure they avoid having blurred photographs.

So, should you get a friend or relative to photograph your wedding - yes or no?
My short answer is 'only if you really don't care about your wedding photographs and won't regret it if the photographs don't turn out well'. Also, if you simply don't have the budget, like we didn't - but even then I'd urge you to consider if there's something else you could cut back on to create more budget for the photography. I've never known someone regret their choice of seat cover, centre piece or bouquet... ...and is it critical you arrive in a classic car? The only thing that really matters is that you enjoy the day and that you can relive that joy through the beautiful photographs you've captured.

Here are some of the photographs I captured for my cousin...

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