Wedding Etiquette for Guests | Impact on Photography

Let me share a little story with you.  This is a real story – it happened a few years ago and has had me thinking about photography and etiquette ever since!

I was shooting a wedding for a lovely couple in a beautiful church and they had all their family and friends there to celebrate the day with them.  The ceremony started off like any other – everyone walked down the aisle, shed a few tears of happiness, and then the bride and groom proceeded up to the altar as the priest began the ceremony.  But something was different about this wedding… there was an extra person on the altar!

One of the guests decided that they wanted “good photos” of the wedding, so they got up from their seat and stood on the altar, right beside the priest, and spent the entire ceremony playing the role of photographer with a point-and-shoot camera!  I saw the priest gently motion to this wayward guest to “please be seated”, but alas, our faux-photographer ignored these cues.

After the ceremony ended and the photo session was over (which took about 2 hours, including our travel time) the bride & groom, wedding party and myself all trotted back to the reception hall and got ready for the couples “grand entrance” into the reception hall.  As I was crouched down, waiting to photograph the happy couple as they walk in to the ballroom, I hear someone behind me say “It was a beautiful ceremony but I can’t believe how long they left us alone while they went for photos – that’s so rude!”  Guess who said that?  Our lovely faux-photographer!  She thought that it was rude for the bride & groom to take 2 hours for their formals, yet she thought it was okay for her to stand on the altar during their entire ceremony?  I was floored!  I couldn’t believe it. 


It made me realize that there is an entire population of guests out there who expect a certain degree of etiquette from the bride and groom yet they themselves are totally oblivious to the fact that the same amount of etiquette is expected from them, too!


I think it’s important to mention that I’m not one of those photographers who says “no guests are allowed to take any photos” because I think saying that is absolutely ridiculous!  Cameras are easy to use, affordable, and with a big enough memory card any guest can take hundreds of photos during the day, which would never have happened back in the film days!  Now, does a guest necessarily need to take 400 photos at a wedding they attended?  No… they don’t.  It’s a little excessive.  But in the age of the digital camera, guests take a “shoot now, think later” approach to the day.  Guests would rather shoot too many photos and then delete the bad ones than simply ensure they take the best photos they can at that time.  (Honestly, you did not see this kind of behaviour in the film days – film was expensive to have processed and it was not wasted!)  Either way, the fact holds true that wedding guests love photographing the day because it helps them create memories of their loved ones and friends  and I respect that – but I also hope that those guests offer me (as well as the bride & groom) the same respect by following a few easy etiquette tips to ensure that they don’t interfere with the bride and groom’s official photos while trying to create their own memories.


Leave the Aisle for the Bride

There’s nothing worse than the photographer missing the shot of the beautiful bride making her first appearance as she walks down the aisle because Uncle Joe decided to step out into the aisle, in front of the photographer, to get his version of “the perfect shot” with his cell phone camera.  Even after the bride has passed you by, it’s still important to stay seated because you may be blocking the gorgeous view the 2nd shooter is getting!  It’s the brides day – let her be the center of attention and snap all your shots from your seat!


Let the Professionals do their Job

When you are invited to a wedding, you are invited because the bride and groom want to celebrate with you!  They’ve already hired professionals to do the work for the day – the guests should be there to have fun and party!  Let the photographer worry about getting all the creative or up-close ceremony shots.  Although you have good intentions when you get up out of your seat to get a photo of the couple as they exchange vows, you may be inadvertently getting in the photographers way as they are trying to set up a beautiful shot, or worse, disturbing and distracting the bride and groom during their special moment!


Tagging Along to the Photo Shoot

Chances are, if you don’t know where the formal photo shoot is taking place, or if you weren’t officially invited to it, it’s because the bride and groom have no intentions of having a clan of paparazzi following them.  Going up to the bride and groom (or photographer) and asking about going to the formal photo session with them is considered an etiquette no-no as it puts people in an awkward position.

Also, if you see that the photos are taking place near the ceremony or reception venue, don’t crash the photo session!  Both the photographer and the bride and groom understand that you want photos for your memories; however, these days the couples usually get all of their photos on DVD and will be happy to share them with family afterwards.

Having one or two extra people tagging along to a shoot isn’t the end of the world; however, it’s important to keep in mind that having even a few “extras” at your photo shoot can cause a slippery slope which results in a whole crowd!  Other guests may see the “extra people” there and then assume that it’s okay for them to go too.  Next thing you know, there are 20+ extra people with cameras snapping their own photos while the photographer is trying to create works of art.  Having too many people crowding around the photographer, taking their own photos, while formal photos are taking place can cause the following problems:

  1. It distracts the bride and groom and anyon else who is having their picture taken – they have a hard time focusing on which camera to look at and this decreases the amount of good shots the pro photographer will get.
  2. It puts professional equipment at risk.  In many cases, the photographer will have extra lighting that they set up during the formal photos which allow them to get amazing photos in dark locations; however, when guests are crowding around equipment and fighting for a “good spot” for their own photos, they often don’t realize that they may knock over some very important and expensive equipment (and yes, it happens!  Infact, it happened to me just this past year.  R.I.P. my poor off-camera flash.)
  3. It can ruin the fancy shmancy lighting setups the photographer has set up.  Guests may not realize that light is coming from those weird umbrella-things the photographer has set up so they stand right infront of them!  This blocks all the light the photographer has worked to set-up and will ruin the shots they take.  It’s best to steer clear of any professional equipment.
  4. It can cause the photographer to have a difficult time getting the proper exposure.  This is something that many guests don’t know!  When a photographer is setting up a proper “exposure” of a shot, they start by using their camera to assess the light that’s already there.  After the camera gives them a reading of the light, they then change some other settings in order to create the proper exposure and the perfect picture for the brides and grooms.  When other guests are snapping photos with flash while the photographer is trying to set up their exposure, all that extra light coming from peoples flashes can make it very difficult for the photographer to get the proper settings.
  5. Finally, having too many other cameras snapping with pictures with bright flashes can simply ruin the photographers shot!  If your camera flash goes off at approximately the same time the photographers camera is taking a photo, your flash will over-illuminate the photographers photo and it will have to be deleted.


If you are a wedding guest and feel like the bride and groom are being “rude” by sneaking away for some formal photos, remember that the bride and groom have put a hefty investment into their wedding photos and they want to make the most out of the day by getting the most amount of photos in as possible.  Unless you’ve recently been married, or had children who have recently been married, you may not realize how much wedding photography has changed in the last 2 decades!  It’s gone from “simple, traditional and predictable” to “amazing, artistic and unique”!  You can’t compare apples to oranges – don’t judge the bride and groom for taking time to do their photos if you don’t understand the quality of product they will be receiving!  Formal photo sessions that take place with just a few people in a private location are always more productive – more shots, more poses, more creativity!  Instead of being upset that the bride and groom have left for an hour or two to do photos, you should be happy to know that the couple will receive awesome photos that they will love for years to come!  (Besides, I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to share some of those photos with you since most photographers give their clients online galleries!)


Asking for Extra Poses/Photos

Whether you’re the photographer or the bride, there’s nothing more awkward than having to answer the question of “Can I get a picture alone with you?”  or “Can we get so-and-so in a group photo, too?”.  As a photographer, my job is to respect the bride and groom’s wishes – it is not my decision as to whether or not we can take extra photos because I don’t know if the bride & groom want photos with these particular people (afterall, if they wanted them, they would have made it part of their ‘must-have’ list)  As the bride, it’s very awkward to have to say ‘no’ to a loved one or friend when they make requests for different photo combinations but by saying ‘yes’ to one person you create a slippery slope that results in infite amounts of “Oh, just one more with so-and-so while we’re here…”  If you are a loved one/family member/friend of a couple that is soon to be married and you have concerns about groupings of people being forgotten in the formal photos then you need to talk to the couple before the wedding day – not during the photo shoot!


Room to Work

As I mentioned above, I have no problem with guests taking out their cameras and snapping some shots of their own but it can become problematic when said guests are shooting over the photographers shoulder.  It is simply common courtesy to give the photographer, and any equipment you see them using, adequate room.  Creative photographers will often move around quite a bit during a photo session and we do not want to be tripping over guests.  Please, respect the fact that we need room to work so that we can give the bride and groom the best possible photos!


Listen to, and respect, any special announcements!

Quite often officiants will make several small announcements prior to the ceremony beginnning.  Most of the time these announcements also make mention of photography restrictions.  Sometimes photography restrictions come from the church itself while other times the bride and groom ask for certain announcements to me made (such as “please remain seated, etc.”). 

When you hear these announcements, it’s important to listen to them and act accordingly.  Choosing to act in a manner contrary to the requests made in the announcements is very disrespectful and rude.


Be Polite!

In all the weddings I have photographed, there have been a few where a guest has decided to play the role of photographer despite seeing that the bride and groom have already hired a professional to do so.  Althought I am accustomed to dealing with this type of situation, there are times when it’s quite frustrating because the guest is particularly aggressive and wants to “get in there” to get all the good shots.

Sometimes a photographer has no choice but to very kindly and gently ask a guest to step aside to that the proper photos can be taken.  If you, as a guest, ever have a photographer ask you to step aside for a moment- be polite about it, please!  You need to understand that the bride and groom have made arrangements with the photographer and are paying for that professional work and you have no right to get in the way, no matter how good your intentions are.


Etiquette isn’t just for the Church & Formals

I know I’ve written a lot about how etiquette can affect the ceremony and/or the formal photos; however, guest etiquette is important throughout the entire course of the wedding day!  I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen guests up on the dancefloor during the bride & groom’s first dance or right beside the bride & groom during the cake cutting.  Creating art out of wedding photos is a difficult job (although one that I love); however, having to dodge these stray ‘photographers’ adds an element of difficulty to the job that the bride and groom will not appreciate come their finished product.


Mutual Respect keeps Everyone Happy!

When guests understand their role in a wedding and a photographer understands theirs, and both parties respect that, the day will go off without a hitch!  Mutual respect is so important.  For example, I will gladly step aside after I get my shots of the cake cutting so the guests can get their too; however, I need to be given that initial room to work so I can get those shots!


Amateur Photographers & Portfolio Building

Okay, so I’m getting off-topic ever so slightly but this is important.  If you are an amateur or a semi-pro photographer looking at getting into the wedding photography business and need to expand your portfolio, don’t just assume you can get any shot you want at your friend’s/family member’s wedding.  Like I mentioned above, although your intentions are good, you don’t want to get in the way of the hired professional.  Furthermore, if you plan on using these photos in any type of portfolio (whether online or printed) you may find yourself in violation of the copyrights to the photo (since you are photographing a pose that you yourself did not put the couple in).

You can, however, ask the bride and groom (before the wedding) who the wedding photographer is and contact them to see if you can be their assistant on the day.  Many photographers take apprentices along with them to weddings – when you work as a team you won’t get in each others shots and you can get all that legal stuff out of the way too!


Wardrobe Malfunctions & Other Reception Horrors…

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to delete a chunk of reception photos because a guests strapless dress yielded an embarassing wardrobe malfunction that she may have noticed sooner had it not been for those last seven glasses of wine.  Oh, and let’s not mention the countless reception photos with guests dirty dancing in the background!  Don’t forget – your behavior will be captured in photos and become a part of the bride and groom’s wedding album!


Unplugged Weddings

A new trend is emerging this year called an ‘unplugged’ wedding.  No, this has absolutely nothing to do with acoustic guitars – it has to do with the guests leaving all their technology behind so they can truly enjoy the day!  The movement of ‘unplugged’ weddings is, in a way, kind of sad.  Have brides really been frustrated enough by their paparazzi guests to start this movement?  Read more about unplugged weddings here.



Most wedding guests expect a certain amount of ‘proper etiquette’ from the bride and groom; however, not every guest realizes that their behaviour is important too.  The take-home message from this blog post is that as a wedding guest, you have to remember that a wedding day is about the bride and groom! The couple has worked hard to make their dream-day come true and have hired many professionals along the way to help them achieve that dream.  Although we all respect the fact that you want to create your own memories, it’s so absolutely crucial for you to keep in mind that you need not interfere with the memories the hired photographer is trying to create for the bride and groom.  If we can all respect each others roles and work together, the wedding day will be a success for all involved!

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