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A Professional Photographer’s Guide to Being a “Friend-ographer”

By Adam Kuzik on January 6th 2014

I attended a wedding as a guest recently; specifically the spouse of a guest. A rare occurrence, and one that I really wanted to enjoy. That is, until I got there and soon realized that the photographer situation was, well, kind of a train wreck. I knew that the photographer was the bride’s friend and had given the couple a ‘good deal’. Of course, I previously checked out this photog’s work and, although this shooter seemed fairly new, both my wife and I conceded that the bride and groom would be in good hands. I’d also like to reiterate, I was there as a GUEST ONLY: It WASN’T my place to step in, interfere or get involved in any way — I didn’t even bring a camera. That being said, watching this really unfortunate situation unfold gave me occasion to reflect on the duties and responsibilities of a “Friend-ographer”.

Wedding Photographer

First off, let’s get one thing straight: If you wouldn’t have been at the wedding as a guest then you’re not really a friend of the family. This is an important distinction as I’d like to believe that true friends act in certain ways towards one another. The friend-ographer has been given the important responsibility of capturing the memories of the day. As a true friend of the family, you have a higher duty to go above and beyond! If you’ve offered the ‘family/friend discount,‘ what you’ve really done is taken any considerations for remuneration, coverage time and retail costs of deliverables off the table. Your job is clear: Cover the wedding, the entire wedding, like the professional photographer you profess to be. This was not the case at this wedding.

Wedding Pavillion

Both new and experienced photographers know that the wedding day is full of important moments. From the mom lacing the dress, to the first kiss, to the father-daughter dance, the photographer’s duty is to capture these once-in-a-lifetime moments. So, when I found out that the photographer ‘peaced-out’ before the cake cutting, dances and bouquet toss, I was embarrassed for our profession. Even worse, a family member with a point-and-shoot was drafted to cover the remainder of the wedding. The final nail in the coffin was overhearing the spouse of the ‘drafted photographer’ tell him to cover all of this because it was missed at their wedding. (Yikes! Yes folks, this actually happened and all I could do is watch.)

[REWIND: A Note to All of You Elitist Photographers]

Wedding Cake

One might argue that the friend-ographer’s early departure was on the bride and groom, but I disagree. Assuming that the friend-ographer would have nevertheless been there as a guest, all of these things should, and would have been covered. Furthermore, friends have an inherent responsibility to look out for one another, no matter the circumstances. Finally, as a professional wedding photographer, you know better. You know how to shoot the story, always keeping in mind how the wedding album should flow. In the most basic terms, this is what we do and why we get paid.

I could soapbox this topic for while, but we all know that this story isn’t going to end well. At some point people are going to be looking at the newlywed couple’s photos and ask why there’s a difference in the in the photos? The answer: because the photographer, the bride’s friend, left early. [Even writing this paragraph made me shake my head.]


What’s the solution? I propose this:

A Professional Photographer’s Guide to Being a “Friend-ographer”

  1. Predetermine what your family and friends’ pricing is and stick with it. Other businesses might do cost or cost plus “x”. Don’t be embarrassed to do the same.
  2. Only offer your family/friends’ pricing to family and friends whom you would attend their wedding as an invited guest. There should be no question about this.
  3. It can be hard to get a family member or friend to sign your contract/service agreement. Nevertheless, ensure they have at least your terms and conditions. I recommend giving the bride and groom both a hard and email copy. Giving of your services and products is a generous gift. Ensure that there is at least a general understanding of the retail value of it.
  4. Not everything has to be gifted: Consider having things, including your production, second shooter and album costs covered. Things like travel and accommodations can be negotiable.
  5. Maintain your workflow with your family and friends. If you shoot with an assistant, don’t shoot alone for your family / friends’ weddings.
  6. Work with your bride and groom with the same expectations as your clients. Collaborate on things like the schedule for the day, family photo list, etc.
  7. Notwithstanding your coverage agreement, cover the entire wedding day, from start to finish — THIS is part of your gift.
  8. If you’re required in family formal photos, have your assistant or second shooter take them. Do not delegate another family member or friend.
  9. If you haven’t done this yet, have redundant backups of EVERYTHING from gear to batteries to files.
  10. Remember, you’re a professional wedding photographer. Act like one.


Let’s Get the Conversation Started

  • What do you think?
  • How do you handle family and friend wedding photography requests?
  • Was the photographer’s early departure on him/her or the bride and groom?

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Adam Kuzik is the founder and owner of Studio 35 Photography + Video based near Calgary, Canada. He is a professional wedding and commercial photographer as well as an industry educator.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. CL

    I went over what my prices were before shooting a friend’s wedding and reception, everything agreed upon, deposit made. They knew that once the deposit was used they would need to purchase the rest, etc. Gave her a great deal on prints, etc. When it came to paying the bill (above and beyond the deposit), well, let’s just say that now I am getting the cold shoulder. She paid the outstanding bill, but, whined about being broke and not able to order her larger prints that she wanted, etc. etc., and now is not talking to me. This is the way that she is, and, I knew that going in, but, did it anyway.

    I don’t feel bad about charging her for what I have done (and they are happy and excited about the photos), but, it is too bad for her; that she does not realize that this is my business and I do have to make some money at it, and that she is going to let that come between us.

    Sad, but, that happens sometimes when you are a ‘Friend-ographer’.

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  2. Stephanie

    The images in this post, except for the cake images, do not seem to be professional quality, and are out of focus on my color-calibrated 17-inch Macbook Pro. Are these supposed to be examples of the work of the “friendographer” who has just started out?

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  3. jerry

    This is as old as photography itself. Many years ago I solved the problem of being invited to a party only to be asked to bring a camera along. I found that friends and relatives “with real jobs” considered you as not much more than a hobbyist. Even though they didn’t have to pay my studio rent, overhead and equipment costs, etc. It finally dawned on me to ask the question…”Do you want me to work your affair or be a guest? Because I can’t do both.” But I would add, “I know some very excellent photographers that I could recommend, they know me and should be able to give you a good deal, why don’t I give you a few phone numbers and you can use my name when you call them.” That usually took care of the situation and if the invitation as a guest didn’t come well then those people weren’t really friends.

    I know if you are new to this business and you want to make your chops and get the experience and portfolio images you have to extend yourself. But remember this…If you go there to work, you work, no dancing and NO DRINKING. And if you are a guest than party hardy…..

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  4. Dustin M.

    That’s a great article Adam.

    I’m not a pro photographer, but I am in the financial services industry where some of my clients are friends and family. As you can imagine, working with people’s money can be tricky. When I work with friends/family, I put it like this: I know we are friends/family, and to me that is the most important thing. I would not want to compromise that. Therefore, if you decide to do business with me, I want you to do business with me because you see value in my services, not because we are friends/family. By the same token, I will treat you just like any other client, and give you my all. And if for some reason, our business relationship isn’t working, I’m not going to be afraid to end it, because I am unwilling to lose you as a friend. In fact, I’ll find you a new financial professional, as our friendship is the most important thing.

    Setting the expectation early and creating and acknowledging the respect and value of your services is key in any professional/client interaction, especially with people you already know from a non-business relationship. Part of setting that expectation early is being able to clearly communicate and verbalize your value as a professional. If you can do that, working with friends and family shouldn’t be a problem. (Its funny – being in the financial industry, I think it is hard to communicate value. (Ie: when a client says, “why should I work with you when I can invest my money on my own?” – I have to explain why I’m worth paying to advise them on their money) I have found that communicating value of professional photography way way harder.) In addition to being a good professional, and good business-person, is knowing your limits, what your time is worth, not being afraid to ask questions and saying no. I think that helps avoid this disastrous situation.

    Again, great article!!!!

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  5. Morgan Glassco

    Man this blog was written for me.

    What happened yesterday? 1 friend I am invited to the wedding asked me to shoot the ceremony (not reception) and a co-worker I would otherwise not know/hangout with inquired about my pricing.

    I think I handled it well and stuck to my prices for the co-worker and will be compensated some for the ceremony of an actual friend, but truthfully I would prefer to be shooting then sitting and watching the ceremony anyway. Still have to see what that compensation will be anyhow.

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    • Adam Kuzik

      I hear ya’ on rather shooting than sitting! It feels weird hitting up the bar. But, I guess take it when you can get it. :-)

      Thank you for your comments!

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  6. Mike

    This story rings bells for me too. I feel I have to comment.
    I am an amateur photographer that is getting fairy good, but still making some silly mistakes. I am not wholly confident on doing a wedding by myself yet although I know I am about ready to take the plunge. I have done a couple of second shooter parts and done a good job with them.

    I too have been invited to a family members wedding as a guest and asked if I could take along my camera to get a few decent shots only to find that once I got there I was expected to be the MAIN photographer with no knowledge of the events and how they were transpire. As I was there to take a few extra shots I only took a few bits of kit. Had this been properly organised and myself prepared then they would have had a full day of decent shots. It certainly does highlight the fact that family & friends (and many brides/grooms) do not really have a clue about the amount of effort that goes into making these images perfect. The end result may only be a couple of dozen images but preparation, timing, position and knowledge of the equipment is certainly key & I believe its that what they pay for more than the images! Of course the images are what they will have the rest of their lives. But herein lies the point, the images are for ‘the rest of their lives’, surely getting them right is as important as the ceremony?
    There is a lot of expectation on ‘a few pictures’, this is what many people don’t understand. Anyone can take a reasonable picture. However an excellent picture and a reasonable picture are worlds apart.

    I have come to the conclusion that the wedding has to be perfect but the photographer in many cases is considered ‘a bolt-on’, that is wanted but they don’t want to pay for. They want it perfect, but its an after thought. It really shouldn’t be this way and friends that know you are a photographer should really know you better than this, I have to ask the question – did the really pay attention when you have talked about it in the past?

    Thats my two cents.

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    • Adam Kuzik

      Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts! All the best in making the plunge to pro! It’s a lot of hard work.

      To try to answer your question, do these types of brides pay attention? Not unless you sit them down and say: “Look, we NEED to go over things….” Ultimately, as the friend-ographer you’re probably going to be building a lot of the schedule, shot list and locations yourself. That seems to be just the way it is. But that’s what you do for family and friends!

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  7. Marty

    I completely agree with Brian.friends or family, does not matter one bit. Yes you can give them the friend discount, but as for as business is concern. Everyone involved still need to conduct themselves as if they were dealing with a non friend member . The bottom line is that usually family members or so called favor weddings often put the photographer at a disadvantage and i have seen it all to many times where family or friend feel they don’t have to abide by the rules. Dealt with this a year ago as a favor for my lawyer friend. Never again. If you want to be respected, Take your business serious and make sure others respect that . I have turned down weddings where their was a bride or family member that was like dealing with the wicked witch. Oh by the way, regardless if friends air family. I always get a deposit.

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  8. Bryan Hudson

    This couldnt have come at a better time. Im leaving tomorrow for Oahu to shoot a friends wedding and am pretty stressed out. The biggest problem I found was that because I am a ” friend ” they act like the rules changed. I waive the deposit fees, give a great discount but in return I am treated like they have no commitment to an actual business where they need to have decent communication and follow through….

    I had to sit them down the other night and basically say look Im friend but if you want to have this done right you need to play by the rules. It wasnt taken well at first but after I explained to them that it has taken four months to even get a breakdown of the wedding night, locations and coordinator contact info ( which by the way I received this morning and leave for Hawaii from LA tomorrow to shoot it….) they understood my point.

    Having the wedding party take kindness for weakness IMO is almost as bad as the photog skipping out ( SMH….maybe not but a kinda close ).

    In all seriousness though, if we’re going to help a friend out as a business then the game has to played the same. Id be pissed if a friend offered to help me ( in anything ) and then bounced out. Thats not really a friend at all.

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    • Adam Kuzik

      Hey Bryan,

      Glad this was helpful!

      Really happy to hear about a case of solidarity on this topic. Isn’t it funny, in this day and age how so many people undervalue what we do as wedding photographers?

      Good luck and have fun in Oahu!

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