Camera Etiquette at Weddings

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We’ve all seen it. It usually doesn’t happen until the reception but all of a sudden people pull out their cameras and start firing away. You would have thought the paparazzi had arrived. I’ve seen people three-deep around the table where the bride and groom are preparing to cut the wedding cake. So crowded that the official wedding photographer has to almost muscle his or her way through the crowd to be able to capture the event for the bride and groom.

This photo along with the other two included with this article show a number of attendees with cameras. I don’t see any problems except for flashes firing when the “official” photographer is taking a shot. Have some fun and see how many cameras you can find in each of the images.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re a guest at a wedding.

1. Always remember that this is the bride and groom’s day. Some would say it’s the bride’s day and the groom is just along for the ride but it is their wedding day. If you’re at the wedding you’re probably part of the family or a friend of the happy couple and wanting to take photos with your own camera is understandable and usually encouraged. Still, it’s not your day, it’s their day and if you keep that in mind, you’ll probably conduct yourself accordingly.

2. If the bride has hired a photographer to photographically capture the memories, her parents or the bride and groom have spent a goodly sum of money to get the best photos they can to remember the day. That means that the “official” photographer is being paid to capture the best possible images and as such, has the right of way. Don’t try to shoot at the same time. Two flashes going off at the same time rarely result in good photographs unless the photographer is using both of them.

I’ve observed professional wedding photographers that handle this well and those that act like the wedding is all about them. Most professional wedding photographers recognize that many of the guests want to take photos with their own cameras and try to accommodate the snap-happy guests. The best I’ve seen politely explains the “rules” and makes everyone happy in the process.

For example they explain that for each pose or grouping, the pro will take 2 or 3 shots and then allow the guests to take photos before moving the wedding party to the next grouping or pose. Or, he or she will say, let me get the bride and groom cutting the cake and then I’ll move out of your way and have them cut it again. These are the photographers that everyone likes and everyone has a good photographic experience.

3. Many venues, especially churches, have very specific rules about when, where and how photographs may be taken. One of my daughters was married in a church were no one was allowed to take photos during the ceremony. Once the ceremony was completed the wedding party came back in and the photos were taken as if it were during the ceremony. Some churches and some other venues don’t allow the use of flashes.

Acquaint yourself with the venue’s rules relating to photography and follow the rules.

4. Imagine an outdoor wedding and off to the side you notice members of the wedding party and the professional photographer taking photos. Don’t go running over with your camera and join in the shooting. Most professional photographers sit down with the bride and groom (and parents) and talk about what photos of the day are wanted. Odds are that the photographer is fulfilling the wishes of the bride and groom and your presence, if wanted, would have been requested beforehand.

5. Refer back to #1 above. It’s not your day and if there is a shot you’re just dying to have but weren’t able to capture with your own camera, ask the couple and they will probably be more than happy to provide you with the photographer’s contact information so you can purchase a copy of the photo.

These are just a few of the things to think about when you’re a guest at the wedding of a friend or family member that will make everyone’s experience more enjoyable.

My disclaimer is that I’m not a wedding photographer, I’ve never photographed a wedding and don’t really have any ambition to be a wedding photographer. I admire those photographers that specialize in weddings because it’s a discipline that requires both artistic talent and extreme patience.

All Photos:

Adamson Estate Wedding Pictures by Avangard Photography on Flickr Creative Commons

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  • jnana

    This is a huge issue always. In the Middle East, we have another issue which is that the bride and many of the ladies present observe hijab and wouldn’t want anyone else looking at pictures of them. Alot of weddings I’ve been to recently announce that taking photos is not allowed- the professional photographer takes pictures of everyone and the bride and groom later on send everyone their pictures so that way everyone’s happy

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic article, Steve!  I have no desire to be a wedding photographer either – I know my limits and patience is not one of my virtues!

  • ohno studio

    As I posted over on Neil Van Niekerk’s blog a little while back, you’re sort of preaching to the choir here in directing this towards photographers. This article should be sent to the various “bride sites”, and if their was such a thing as a “guest etiquette site, then to them as well. Good photogs know better. I have reigned in a couple of over anxious shooters who just got their digi rebels over at the Best Buy as a courtesy to the paid shooter while a guest at weddings. Here’s the post that Neil wrote a while back 

    I retired from weddings in 2005 going back to strictly commercial work. One of the reasons was because I was elbowed out by an enormous rude woman jockeying for position for the cake cut. I suffered a fractured rib. That was it for me.

  • Steve Russell


    Thanks for the link to Neil’s blog.  I think he and I would get along quite well since we agree 100%.  Here’s how much I believe in this stuff.  This weekend I’m going to the wedding of the daughter of a friend.  My very good friend who is a professional wedding photographer is photographing the wedding.  I really wanted to take my camera and photograph people taking photos and getting in everyone’s way and use them in this article.  Then I thought that would make me one of those people in everyone’s way.  So, I wrote this article before the wedding and my camera will stay home while I go as a guest at the wedding.