Guestographer – When you are a guest at a wedding but also the photographer.
This is me. For a handful of my close friends and family I have had the honour of being a guestographer. I say honour, but let’s be truthful here, they were saving money. And you know what, I’m ok with that. Rather than me spending at least a day frantically searching John Lewis for a £50 gift that looks worth £150, this was my oh so generous gift to them and most of the time I got a nice hotel room out of the deal also. But I also got something out of the exchange and that was expanding my portfolio. When I started up 9 years ago, the experience I got from these weddings was invaluable. I was able to learn so much without the pressure of feeling like I had ‘real’ clients. These guys were happy to be my guinea pigs, so I experimented on them, testing out new techniques like new off camera flash set ups or sparkler shots and heaven forbid fireworks!!
But as the years have passed and my confidence and skills have grown, I’ve found it harder to be a ‘Guestographer’. Neither role gets the full attention it deserves. When I am shooting a wedding I generally don’t stop shooting. I am always seeing things to shoot. If moments are happening then I like to capture them. And when I go to a wedding as a guest I want to indulge in all the details, from the guests to the food. And this is the problem with being a Guestographer. My photography head is always on. So when I’m with my friends and family and I can see moments happening, I either need to abandon my chat with my Aunty Leone, or ignore the group downing shots at the bar that I know would make a really fun image. You just can’t do both. Ok, I could drag aunty Leone to the bar and get her to join in (whom I kidding, she’d be at the bar in the first place!) but the truth is, things will get missed. Either connecting as a guest or capturing the day. That being said, if you have friends and family who are cheap skates like mine (just kidding guys!!) and really want you to do both, then let me give you some tips.
Manage expectations. Show them a recent gallery where you were an actual photographer, then explain this aint what they’ll get. Then show them photos of guests having fun, then explain, this won’t be you. If they are still happy to go ahead then at least you know you are on the same page
What really needs shooting? Have a good chat with the couple and find out where they are happy to compromise, maybe they don’t need the bridal prep, or just a little will do. Or if you are smart like me, wangle an extra night out of the deal and explain how you will be able to get some bridal prep photos if you are staying in the same hotel! That way you can dip in and out of your room and the brides room. You can even start shooting in your PJ’s because they are your homies, then leave them to tart up, before returning for the good bits.
Stress to them that they don’t need a ton of group shots, in fact, this is the one time you can be really firm on this subject, “No more than 4 or else I’m not doing it” (I have assumed you are super close to ‘said’ couple and regularly engage in this sort of hard core bartering process, and to be honest, if you’re not that close, then don’t agree to being a guestographer!)
Consider an outfit change. This can be good for a number of reasons. Once you have shot a wedding in a floaty dress, you will know what a mistake this is. Heed my advice. No one wants to see your spanks while you are shooting down low. I have yet to find an outfit that works as a guestographer and I can’t wear high heels without falling over at the best of times, so I’m not risking while holding thousands of pounds worth of gear. Something needs to give, so put the glam on hold and whack on your normal shooting gear, including those sensible flats. I like to get changed after the wedding breakfast, this way its all good if you spill your gravey down your top, but it also signals that you are ‘off duty’. You’ve likely captured the bulk of the day by this point, and this feels like a natural time to down tools and let your hair down. You can always pick up your gear again for a few dancing and golden hour shots, but it’s good to mentally tell yourself and everyone else that you’ve finished and you can start to commit to the guest part of your role.
Drink, this one will be a personal choice for you. Now, I am my dad’s daughter and can hold my drink like a camel. However, excluding toasts (ok and maybe one at the bridal prep), I personally wouldn’t start drinking until I was happy that I had enough coverage for the couple. I’m a bit of a ‘go big or go home’ kinda of drinker so when I start to drink, once my head goes fuzzy, the photos will likely follow.
Make up – This tip is for the togs who like to wear make up, you will look shit compared to the rest of the guests. Don’t be fooled into embracing the role of ‘guest’ will full commitment, dusting off your MAC make up, priming and contouring every inch of your face. This will end up on the back of your camera and you’ll soon look like XX from clockwork orange. Go basic and top up once your off duty. But keep your lips looking lush, these are still on show, so rock that fierce red pout, safe in the knowledge it won’t melt onto the screen of your camera.
Get yourself a handy assistant. This is a great part about being a guestographer, I get to make my husband work for me. I never have an assistant at weddings but at these weddings I do! He will hold my bag, help me with light stands, bring me drinks when I need one, and even grab me a few of the very rare veggie entree’s! He also comes in handy when you need to be in a photo, at the end of the day, you are also a guest so make sure you are in some of the images. Having a partner or friend that can help with these things will make the day feel a little less full on.
If you have read this far and I have managed to put you off the idea of being a guestographer, here are some final suggestions – offer to hire an associate for the day, the couple can pay there rate and you can edit the images in your style as their wedding gift. Or why not employ your associate for the second half of the day? That way you can rest easy knowing that everything is being professionally captured. This frees you to join in with the shots at the bar and actually take your time talking with your friends and family that you rarely get to see. The only down side is that you can’t hide behind your camera when your husband thinks it’s 2018 and tries to floss on the dance floor while he has a tie around his head.
So there we have it, my little guide to guestographing.
Side Note – Since having kids my guestographer role has massively changed, in all honestly just say no. It’s HELL adding parenting to this role!! Nothing gets you more stressed than trying to shoot a wedding while your son is pulling at your camera straps and has filled his nappy and your daughter screaming for you during the service. And because you’re a sensible photographer and parent (some days!) you can’t even get really drunk to dull the pain of just how tough it.
JUST. DON’T. DO. IT.