You know what, I hear this too much: guests with cameras, smartphones and tablets are going to totally ruin your wedding ceremony. Or at least, your wedding ceremony photos. And the problem I have with that is not that the brides and grooms don’t want a bunch of cameras and handheld devices in their wedding photos. That’s fine if that’s what is important to them. My qualm is that the idea doesn’t usually originate with the bride and groom. A wedding vendor, often a photographer, introduces the idea.
When a wedding vendor makes a recommendation like this, they’re probably doing so for their own ends. Photographers, for example, in theory, have something to lose from this whole revolution in personal media. We fear it might damage what we do, or that it will taint the perception of our work when others are snapping off their own pictures. Of course, a professional photographer’s images ought to look astoundingly better than what someone just took on their phone. I digress. Photographers also come with their own vision for how your wedding day should be portrayed, and guess what, most of us were forming that vision before anyone was holding their cell phones up over a crowd. So when we envision the work we want to create for you, it doesn’t usually include a bunch of electronics in the shot.
I would be lying if I said those were not things I have worried about before. But I’ve come to the conclusion that telling people to put the kibosh on guest photographers at their wedding is not the right response. Of course, if that’s what my client envisions, I’d support them, but I wouldn’t give them the idea. The reason is twofold.
First, I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate for a photographer to bring their own vision with them to a wedding, much less to impose it. Of course, to a degree artists cannot turn off their ‘vision’. Their skill, in one sense, exists within the framework of that vision. For a photographer to ask that you limit your guest’s ability to take pictures is like them asking you limit your guests to only wearing the color blue. They should marry their innate vision and talent to the beauty of the wedding they are shooting, not bend the wedding to their own vision.
Second, wedding photography’s most deeply rooted value is about history—helping you to remember, and others who follow you to connect. Wedding photography should be beautiful, but the wise couple will make sure it’s firstly historical. Right now, as far as history is concerned, we’re living in a fascinating and fleeting time. Imagine a photo taken in the late 80’s, of a bride on her wedding day talking on one of those giant old-school cell phones. Imagine being that bride and seeing that image today, how many memories, not just about the wedding day, but about life at that time, must it evoke! Imagine being the child of that bride and how deeply fascinating it would be to wonder about life at that time. Similarly, the phenomena of carrying cellphones and cameras will fade as technology inevitably gets smaller and more integrated. These early days of massive communication will look fascinating in just a few decades.
So, my feeling is that the way your guests pull out their phones and cameras and snap away at your wedding is a fundamentally unique part of our culture today and one with a likely, if not ambiguous, expiration date. It’s my belief that it’s an important thing to respect in deciding how to represent a wedding day in images, especially if our client hasn’t volunteered any concern about this.
One only slight exception is perhaps when a friend or family member who wishes to build their portfolio at your wedding. These folks can sometimes get in the way, and we usually don’t like when someone is shooting over our shoulder at something we’ve worked hard to set up. But, personally, I still welcome these folks. Heck, I was once a photographer at someone else’s client’s wedding and it was important to my development that the hired photographer was inviting to me. As a photographer once did for me, I only ask that those people briefly interface with me before the wedding day so we can coordinate. I am typically more than happy to help make some space for these people to work toward their goals.
Photographers differ on this topic of guest photographers. If you’ve hired or are hiring a photographer, I recommend you ask them what their opinion on the matter is. If you have no feelings one way or the other, I suggest you lean on the side of history and culture over style.
If you’re a photographer who’s been parroting this idea that guest photographers, cell phones and tablets are bad—stop and think about why and whether that’s really true. And if you have stopped and thought about why, and especially if you disagree with my conclusion here, I’d love to hear about it and continue the conversation! Find us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!