Four Tips for Photographing a Family Wedding
Since photographing both my sister and my brother's wedding this past summer, I have been emailed so many times asking me how I approach photographing family weddings. Did I charge? Did I enjoy the day? The list goes on... I'm excited about this post today to hopefully answer all the questions that have been rolling in after both my brother and sister got married within two weeks from each other (and I photographed both of them!)
First things first, the weddings were both very different. My sister opted for a very simple let's get married on a mountain type of wedding day. They had a reception later in the fall but for their ceremony, they wanted it intimate and without the fuss of a large scale wedding day. I will say however, even "small scale" still feels like a big wedding day for the photographer. Regardless of the "chill factor", it's still a lot of work! Did I enjoy the day? Heck yes. The ceremony was a bit stressful for me because my two year old was not a fan of her mom trying to take pictures. She wanted to be held the whole time. My Husband was unsuccessful in trying to get her to settle down so at one point I was standing on a table with Riley on one hip and taking pictures with the other hand. #momboss. My sister wasn't planning on even having a photographer and I'll throw a little disclaimer out there: She is my best friend and there's no way I wouldn't have been there with my camera in hand.
Here's how that looked... hah! My brother in law snapped this and SO glad he did! MEMORIES. Riley was a HOT MESS. And it was like 100 degrees so I can't really blame her. Looking back on this moment though I just love it. Sometimes life is all about A&I... adjust and improvise! We got through it and the photos we SPECTACULAR.
What the guests saw...
What the world saw...
So I want to share my top 5 tips on how to photograph a family wedding and what I learned from my own experience!
If you ARE considering photographing a sibling's wedding (or even one of your close friends) then this post was made for you! Something I also want to mention right out of the gate is that photographing ANY wedding is hard. That doesn't change, even if it is family. When I got into photography I told myself I'd never want to photograph immediate family weddings HOWEVER, that changed when the time rolled around. I WANTED to be there, behind the scenes, doing what I love. Weddings are high stress no matter what, and it can make people grumpy as heck. If you think that photographing a certain wedding would ruin a friendship/friendships, don't do it. It's just not worth it.
TIP ONE: Don't do it for free.
Just because it's a family wedding, doesn't mean you shouldn't be compensated. If you're like me, this is what I do for a living. I've definitely learned my lessons along the way, but I truly believe that it shouldn't matter if it's your brother, mother, sister, best friend, or cousin... you need to charge. My oldest sister made a really good point when I first asked her what she thinks I should do and she said, "Well either way, you're missing that date for any other wedding because you will be attending no matter what SO it's up to you if you want to work or not!" So yeah, even though that IS a day I wouldn't be able to fill with another wedding for more $, it doesn't change that photographing it is a ton of work.
I did not charge for my sister's wedding. The understanding was that I'd take a few but not really be "on". The truth is, you're always on as a wedding photographer. I couldn't "half ass it"... I was all in. Every relationship looks different and I can tell you right here and now that no matter how extravagant or simple hers might have been, I still would have done it for free no questions asked. They spoiled me in many other ways to say thank you, including a very sweet VISA card for a weekend away with my Husband. Yes, please. Caitrin and Nick weren't even sure if they would have a photographer and expressed that they didn't really think they needed one. I was NOT going to let that happen.
It's not that I'm not close with my brother because I am, but that was a bigger wedding and one that I either wanted to just be there as a guest OR be compensated for my time and talent as a professional. I gave them 30% off my full package price. I felt good about this. It was enough to cover my time, other wedding related expenses and hiring a second shooter. No I didn't earn as much as I would on a regular wedding, but I felt good about offering what I do for a discount.
Disclaimer: all my siblings are officially married so I won't be faced with this choice again in the future (I hope!). Going forward, no matter WHAT the relationship, everyone will pay my full wedding package prices. This is my career and I've realized after this past year (2017), I have to continue taking myself and my business seriously. I wouldn't do anything differently with my siblings weddings if I had a do-over.
TIP TWO: Hire a second shooter that you love and trust.
I did not use a second shooter for my sister's wedding for obvious reasons BUT I did for my brother's wedding! I had already photographed a beautiful wedding in Mexico with my friend Kelsey and we worked flawlessly together so I really wanted her with me for my brother and his wife's wedding too. Connor, Natalie (his now wife) and I came up with an agreement with the discounted price that once dinner was served, my camera would go away and Kelsey would take over until our agreed upon time. We had SO much fun together ALL day! I absolutely adore Kelsey and completely trusted her to wrap it up strong for me without and worry. I ended up having an absolute BALL, drank a little too much and went skinny dipping in the Icicle River at the end of the night, hah! I truly feel like I got the best of both worlds behind the scenes with Connor and Natalie while also enjoying the party.
I can't express enough the importance of hiring a second shooter. I would even go as far as saying also hire an assistant! If I were to do this over, I would have had an assistant with us throughout the day as well to help with bags, etc. Whatever your arrangement with your family member might be, at the very least charge enough to cover this expense because you will be sorry if you don't!
TIP THREE: Treat it like you would for any other client.
I went into both days with the approach that even though it's family, I am still a representation of my brand and business. I wanted both my sister and Natalie to have the same experience any of the other #emmarosebrides would have. A lot HAS changed since this summer in terms of my workflow and client gifts, etc. but I made sure they had a copy of my Bridal Magazine (before it was ever printed I sent a PDF), customized wedding day questionnaires and timelines, and a thoughtful gift. I ended up ordering them both awesome little albums from Artifact Uprising and for the price I was super happy with the results, so were my siblings and their new spouses!
TIP FOUR: It's very important to be present in the day.
While I was taking pictures, I made sure to put it down for certain times like family portraits. I gave myself a little leeway at cocktail hour to mingle with the guests because I knew almost all of them. I didn't want to miss these moments saying hello and hugging friends and family I had not seen in a long time. And once my camera was in the bag for dinner and reception, I LET myself just be present. I trusted in the process and my planning of a second shooter to allow me to just enjoy this special time with family and friends.
Along this line, remember BOTH sides of the family when you are photographing candids and moments as they unravel. Since you are related to one of the parties, it will be easy to gravitate toward familiar faces for photos. Make sure to give BOTH sides the attention they deserve!
And a little bonus... if you can, photograph ALL the details before the wedding day! Then while your family member is getting ready, it's much less stressful knowing all your important bridal details are done.
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