Guest Photographers or: Why You Should Have an Unplugged Wedding

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Last year one of my friends got married and I was so thrilled to be her photographer that day. What was even more amazing was that she had an “Unplugged Wedding” after seeing pictures and hearing my rants over the years about well-meaning guests whom have inadvertently (or heck, even completely on purpose) ruined images.

Prior to the ceremony, the officiant read this, “Welcome, friends and family! Good evening everyone. Please be seated. Dan and Jennifer invite you to be truly present at this special time. Please, turn off your cell phones and put down your cameras. The photographer will capture how this moment looks — I encourage you all to capture how it feels with your hearts, without the distraction of technology. If Dan can do it, then so can you.”

I can’t tell you how many happy leaps of joy my heart did when reading this! The guests all obeyed and even after the ceremony many decided to keep their arms down and their hearts open and enjoyed the day instead of being an observer from behind their cameras.

Recently “Guest Photographers” came up in one of the photography groups I am apart of online and someone asked what the big deal is — why wouldn’t we want more people capturing images for our clients? I thought this was a great question!

I don’t have a single problem with guests taking images and sharing them later on with the couple. It makes me happy to know there will be other pictures and photos of moments I may have missed or alternate angles that I couldn’t cover.

I also completely understand that some have a love for capturing images and enjoy taking pictures at weddings they are guests at.

However, my heart breaks when a guest ruins an otherwise lovely image or jumps in front of me when I’m capturing a key moment from the day. It completely slays me when this happens because while I am not remotely egotistical at all, I am fairly confident that my image would have been better than the one they captured.

In the past 6 years of being a professional wedding photographer, it’s also been sad to watch the progression from seeing smiling, encouraging and happy faces as the bride is escorted up the aisle to faces hidden behind the backs of cameras and cell phones that line the aisle.

These are all reasons why I am elated when I hear of couples opting for an Unplugged Wedding – or at the very least an Unplugged Ceremony.

I also want to add this: if you are a guest at the wedding, please make sure to withhold posting pictures of the Bride & Groom online until AFTER the ceremony.

I can’t tell you how many “first looks” have inadvertently happened online before the wedding because a bridesmaid or groomsman have uploaded pictures to social media before the wedding and a Bride and/or Groom who were killing time by browsing Facebook saw their future intended before the ceremony. Don’t do it!

Also make sure with the couple that it is OK to share the images on social media, sometimes people prefer to keep things quiet due to varying factors and you don’t want to cause undue stress.

One thing there is absolutely NOTHING I can do to combat is a flash from a guest photographer’s camera. There is rarely anything that will save the image and no repositioning will change the outcome.

This is just one of the hundreds of images of the wedding processional that I’ve had ruined from a camera flash (I also rarely, if ever, use flash for the ceremony so the light you see here is ALL from the one camera’s flash):

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This girl’s father literally shoved me aside and gave me grief because I was blocking his daughter from standing in the aisle to get an image:

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This sanctuary only had one aisle and very little room to move due to a small space being full with guests. I took this image to protect myself later in case the clients were upset that I had to stand slightly off center for a portion of their day. Also? The Nintendo DS made the LOUDEST noises when it took pictures. It was crazy.

Since this image was taken 4 years ago the DS’s have been replaced with iPad, which are a million times worse when it comes to eyesores.

This kid’s Dad yelled at my second shooter during a wedding and shoved his kid up in front to make sure he got an image with his iPhone during a destination wedding in Cozumel (Note, he wasn’t a guest of the wedding, just a guest of the resort):

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This whole situation broke my heart. In many churches, photographers are HEAVILY restricted as to where they can go for images and the Heinz Chapel is perhaps one of the strictest I’ve ever worked at:

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We are only allowed to be outside of the sanctuary in the door opening where the center aisle is and in the balcony. We are not permitted to move during the service.

My second shooter thankfully was in the balcony but it didn’t make these guests go away but luckily he was able to get images of the service where you could SEE the bride and groom.

I argued, begged and pleaded for the church lady guarding me to at least allow me to go into the side aisle so I could get a clear shot of my clients when these guests jumped into the aisle but I was not allowed. Instead I just had to take what I could get and cry a bit on the inside.

Another image of a guest who jumped in front of me during a ceremony where I could not move to get around him:

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The flashes don’t quit for the service either and with the white dress there isn’t a lot I can do to save these images:

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This almost made me cry. Not kidding:

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I had my eye on that gentleman since he was standing up on the altar with the bride and groom during the service but I was able to zoom and crop around the couple so that he wasn’t in too many of the images. Then after the pronouncement of the couple and he swiftly moved and stood RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME during the first kiss.

I jumped quickly to the side but I missed the quick kiss and luckily still was able to capture the hug after but I still am SO SAD that I missed their first kiss. I sure hope he got it…

I also felt doubly awful because I had to jump in front of guests view of the couple and during a ceremony my goal is to never block a guests view. I apologized profusely after the wedding and thankfully they all were very sweet and understanding.

While this image wasn’t completely blown out, the shadows are bothersome from a guest’s flash:

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Back to the Heinz Chapel and as you can see, the guest did not move for the majority of the ceremony. I’m still sad when I look at this image:

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It doesn’t matter what kind of camera – how big or how small – the flash is almost always too bright to work with once it is fired:

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Standing in the aisle always makes me sad because your attention immediately will go to that person and not on the subject of the image:

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I really cringe when guests try to take pictures during formals because not only am I generally under a time crunch but the flashes ruin at least one or two shots for each batch I take:

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Eyes also tend to wander and rarely do I get everyone looking at me at the same time when there are multiple cameras present. This is the only time that I will sometimes tell guests that they have to stop taking pictures and I have been told off more times than not when I’ve had to do this.

However, my priority the day of the wedding is on my clients. I don’t care about the sale of the portraits but I do care about the quality of the portraits and if there is a circus going on behind me it rarely ends well for everyone involved. So, trust me when I beg and plead for you to tell people to put their cameras down and go enjoy the cocktail hour while we take some portraits with the special people in your life.

The reception generally is a time when I can quickly move if a guest decides to take pictures, but when can I not move around it? The special dances:

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Although I have to say, this little old guy does warm my heart a bit. He was pretty cute with his disposable camera even if it was a bit distracting with the winding.

Another guest deciding the first dance is a great time for that portrait of the bride and groom:

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This is another one that makes me a sad panda when I look at it. This guest came up at the last bit of the Father/Daughter dance and there was no where I could go to get her out of the picture:

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Luckily I have numerous beautiful images from the dance but the last hug is always my favorite.

Another pet peeve of guest cameras during the wedding? THE RED (OR GREEN) DOT OF DOOM! These focusing beams are quite irritating because again, there’s not a lot that I can do to get rid of it outside of turning the image black and white (which still will leave a light circle). There’s quite a few images that I’ve had to toss due to these beams, this is just one of the many:

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Bottom line: my priority the day of the wedding is on my clients. They have paid me their hard-earned money to make sure I document their wedding and when an overzealous guest gets in the way, it makes me sad.

I think often people don’t realize what they are doing and my writing this post was in hoping to educate even a few people that will take this advice and either have an unplugged wedding or think of the professional before jumping in the aisle for that shot.

About the author: Corey Ann is a wedding photographer based in North Canton, Ohio. Visit her website here. This article originally appeared here.

  • Andy Laverghetta

    I’m not commenting on yours, but I have been to a couple weddings with photographers who look like pro photographers and photographers who are showing up to the office on moderately-casual Friday. There are two weddings in recent memory where the photographers REALLY exuded professionalism. My own wedding photographer looked very good in fashionable black, and the other two weddings had photographers in very professional black business suits. Of course, it’s also about the feel for the wedding…if it’s outside and near a beach or something, it’s different. When I photograph a wedding, I won’t wear my tuxedo, but I’d like to be somewhere between the wedding party and the top quarter of the guests.

  • Andy Laverghetta

    From what I can gather, it’s asking guests to not use electronic devices at a wedding. This can include cell phones for communication (unless emergency) or photographing, or cameras pretty much at all during important points. If somebody has a small camera and sees the bride and/or groom later and they want to get a quick photo of just the two, that’s fine, but it’s mostly in order to keep full attention on the ceremony and experience in general.

  • Andy Laverghetta

    As a certain kind of professional photographer, when I step back and look at it as a friend or family member, no matter how much better the pro photo will look than the ‘best-friend-from-college,” there’s something to having your very own photograph in your possession that you took to prove to yourself that you were actually there.

    Of course, I don’t think it would be proper to expect the photographer to use everybody’s camera in a line similar to what the tour guide does on a trip to some historical monument.

  • D.G.

    A couple years ago I would say that was the case. These days I’ve only seen them at the reception. Hopefully as sensors get better and better, you’ll see them even fewer. Personally, I hate using a flash in a non-portrait setting since it feels like a beacon saying “Hey! Look at the photographer!” which isn’t exactly helpful for natural-looking pictures.

  • Bo

    MJAH.. having shot weddings for years, Im totally familiar with the problem, but I simply don’t agree, guests get so much joy out of taking pictures and in todays connected world lots of them are twittering and posting images live.. let them live in the world they live in.. Im typically hired to document the brides event, for better or for worse.

  • Joe Molieri

    IMO if you’re a pro ranting about the need for an unplugged wedding you’re a pro I would never hire. I’ve shots tons of weddings, hindu weddings in particular, with camera crazy guests. I plan appropriately, always carve out time and locations to get my shots, and politely work with guests to get the shots I need. 1 ruined shot because of a flash is rarely a big deal. You should know if a flash ruined a shot and you click again. Out of a 1,000’s of pictures I don’t think one picture will make or break someone’s wedding album. The decisive moment made sense with film, but with digital, forget it. There’s a bajillion “decisive” moments.

  • Rabi Abonour

    I definitely still see photographers using flash (though recent trends towards shooting wide and more documentary-style have helped).
    When a photog is using lights, it is way more disruptive to the videographer than the other way around.

  • Rika

    Wanted to throw into the discussion that I was a guest at a wedding where the photographer and her assistants pounced on anyone with an SLR and told them they weren’t allowed to photograph the wedding since she was getting published on a blog. We felt like she was extremely rude and crossed the lines in a very selfish way and made many of the guests upset with her territorial attitude. If it is an unplugged wedding, it should come from the bride and groom and not the photographer. Photographers can be jerks too.

  • viki reed

    THANK you for talking about this. FINALLY! EVERY event I go to, i have a stack of shots of a photo of a photo within a smart phone/ipad/cam, etc. People standing in front of me like architecture, elbowing me, moving in front of me. The flash intrusion is amazing and even more when I line people up for the formal group shots and next thing you know a cousin or uncle is standing where I need to be and not moving as he takes 16 bad pictures with his iphone.

  • Kristin

    Thank you so much for posting examples for this article as well. I have made it mandatory for my clients to have unplugged ceremonies and they all agree when I explain why. But now I can show them why as well. I also have NO PROBLEM telling guests to put their cameras away at certain times of the day as well. It drives me up the wall that these ‘sharp shooter’ family members and guests seriously believe that their images are gonna look better than yours. I have literally said, “Listen my couple saved up their hard earned money to have me here, please don’t ruin it for them by not letting me do my job. Your job is to relax and have fun”. They are pretty much ashamed of themselves when I say that. Thanks again!

  • Shannon

    I am getting married in august and i am sharing this with all my guests before hand!!!!! thank you for the insight!

  • RF

    Totally agree with the unplugged article. But I would also say that couples today (we’ve been married 10 years and my husband officiates weddings so we go to a LOT!) seem to want the professional photographer to capture EVERYTHING and sometimes it seems that they forget the day is also about celebrating the day with friends and family rather than ‘in front’ of friends and family. One couple kept their guests waiting two extra hours at the reception while they finished photos and then had ‘photo opps’ with the photographer during the reception. They didn’t even make it around to the tables before people started to leave. I think brides and grooms miss out trying to capture these manufactured memories instead of creating memories and allowing the photographer to capture them as they naturally happen.

  • earl jules

    I’ve been to two weddings where we’ve invited photographers to come and take pictures for free . . . several of whom are professional photographers. It did provide us with a variety of angles from people with serious photography skills and concerns. Both outdoor events, so no flashes were required. . . but fill flashes were used from time to time … each photographer knew what to expect from the others… and they all agree to submit all their polished photos to the bride…

    We end up with several dozen (at least) photos from all angles from which to choose the final collection for printing in the wedding book. . . for one of the weddings, we ended up with 1200 images from 5 different photographers involving the set up of the tables and chairs in the morning to the final dance about 10 PM…

    I’d say the more serious photographers one would have to overcome the compulsive, impulsive, and clueless guest, the better the collection of photos might be, no?

    Then again, I don’t make a living from my photography … so my approach may be a bit more laissez faire than many professionals might appreciate… (grin)

  • earl jules

    perhaps it’s an indication of the caliber of people who were invited up there in the first place. . . (sigh)

  • earl jules

    there’s a lot to be said for a monopod, an articulating LCD viewer, a shutter cable, and a live view function… no?

  • Mariah Milan Maui Photographer

    Great post – I have had so many of the same experiences and it’s really sad and awful.

  • Bradford

    Wow thanks! I too brought this up on Linkedin as a discussion a few weeks ago. Exactly what I was referring to. Im sorry you had those images like that, but am glad to have something for clients to SEE why!

  • sarahb44

    And this is why I don’t want to become a “wedding photographer” and just do portraits…I don’t think I could have the patience for that and I would probably end up either yelling at people or crying lol :P

  • Guest

    yeah and someone said $200 was too much for a wedding…they said “well what if we only want just a some pics before, some pics of the ceremony, some pics of the party, and the first dance, and first kiss, and the toast?”….really?

  • sarahb44

    i recently have run into a situation where someone asked me to do a wedding because I am a “new photographer” and they don’t have much money and “don’t just want a random friend with a point and shoot camera to take pictures”. They said even $200 is too much money…but I have never professionally photographed a wedding before (helped a friend once before with an SLR but had no formal have completed college)..I really need the experience and I don’t know how I can get away with charging more (since there is SO Much involved and stress and contracts etc) because nobody knows me and i need experience. Kind of in a a “i dont know what to do” situation..because I need the experience badly..but I also don’t want to work for free.

  • Peter

    Fantastic answer and you forgot to say that because “spiralphoto” probably puts the cash in their pocket, and more than likely dont declare it to the authorities just like other weekenders.
    Tax department should crunch these people big time.

  • Peter

    “Spiralphoto” probably puts the cash in their pocket, and more than likely dont declare it to the authorities just like other weekenders.
    Wouldnt even consider insurance or business costs and wouldnt have lenses and bodies that are required for low light heavy usage work.
    Tax department should crunch these people big time.

  • sarahb44

    LOL! hahaha that’s hilarious

  • danica003

    There are several photographers that you can consider these days. You can check on Nick Rose photography for better results of photos on your wedding day.

  • Lexie Salieri

    I must say, I had no idea. Now that I read it, it sure makes sense, but I had never thought of that. Thanks a lot, you just convinced me that no other camera that the paid photographer’s one will be allowed during my wedding!

  • ilo_photo

    You have to be joking if you expect a hired photographer to have to go to that kind of length just to get ridiculous birds-eye shots like that. I might not have deleted the pictures, but I don’t think what Jen K did was out of line at all.
    Also she writes, “eager and naïve in college,” which makes me assume this may have been quite a while ago and articulating LCD screens are definitely not an old-school feature.

  • ilo_photo

    No, you DO pay for those bodies every month. Unless your version of paying for things means not eating or living in a house for 2 months while you buy your next camera body.
    If you save up beforehand to buy a new body (which a real pro does at least every two or three years, likely more), then you ARE paying for a new body (a percentage of one) every month. If you go ahead and put that new body on a credit card, you are paying for a new body every month AFTER that purchase.
    There is no way you can keep your costs of business at 25% ($500 of 2000 as you mentioned) and run a legitimate, self-sustaining (i.e. you’re not pulling money from the day job you likely have to buy new gear or advertising/website fees/etc), popular and successful photography business.

  • Cindy Louise Allen

    That’s interesting but the studio we hired sent a photographer that happened to be retiring soon. He didn’t do a good job and if we hadn’t had so many wonderful family and friends taking photos at the ceremony and the reception, many wonderful precious moments would have been lost forever.

  • Cassie

    Could always go mostly unplugged and then after the main stuff has been photographed let the guests go in, let the photographer ‘direct traffic’ maybe?

  • shoobe01

    I might care even slightly about a wedding photographer’s opinion if:

    – They didn’t almost invariably use flash also, sorta ruining the ceremony.

    – They didn’t almost invariably dress way, way, way less formally than the guests.

    – … and bring too much equipment, left laying around. The caterers know to hide their spare stuff under tables or back rooms.

    – They didn’t get in the way, a lot.

    – Oh, and they always use serious pro cameras in serious pro mode so have really loud shutter noise.

    And, lest you think this is a new-tech social media issue: Ha! I have been to weddings in past decades where there were disposable cameras on the tables. We’re SUPPOSED to take photos.

    Lastly, wedding photographers more often than not take such lame, hackneyed photos that on at least 3 occasions the amateur shots we took are preferred to the pro shots. Once it was just a well-composed video of the ceremony with an N95 (while seated, without getting in anyone’s way, but I had picked a seat with a good view), but mostly I or my wife bring the DSLR everywhere anyway.

  • E

    My wedding photog made me sign a contract that said he could tell my friends and family to get out of the way under these circumstances. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t used him…I tried to explain my friends and family aren’t tacky like that. Not a single camera in any of the crowd photos. Meanwhile my tacky photographer wore jeans to my formal wedding and I had to go tell him to stop eating so he wouldn’t miss the cake cutting at my reception. What a pro…. :(

  • Jeff

    Frankly, it is just a matter of time before the two mediums merge and high quality stills will be grabbed from the video taken. Red One units are already pulling highly printable images from the video recorded as large as 11X14. As things get better, and more compact, those that dont learn BOTH facts of the business will be trampled under foot by those that do.

  • Shannon Wonderfeld

    I think the best reason to go unplugged is so that guests can actually be present, instead of documenting the experience to look at later.

  • Kat

    I suppose I’m fairly lucky because we got married in an old manor where flash is absolutely not allowed at all except from the designated photographer. So the photos weren’t ruined by the flash and the guests had their happy snaps.

  • Anon

    *taking pictures at weddings where they are guests

    Please, please, please: if you are posting something on a public forum, it is a TRAVESTY to misspell and/or use incorrect grammar. Ending a sentence with “at” sounds wrong because it IS wrong.

  • Nancy Simpson

    Last year my husband I were married. We requested our ceremony be
    “unplugged”. Unfortunately, I was the brunt of many unkind kinds
    comments from people who would not have regarded the photos as “fond
    memories”. It was our wedding. We had every right to request an
    “unplugged” ceremony.

  • earl jules

    ant, I had it wrong as well. . . I thought unplugged meant “free for all”; everyone take their best shot…

    it appears it is just the opposite – everything electronic is unplugged (shut off), and let the professionals handle the imagery; the guests and family should sit and just experience the pageantry of it all. . .

    I can appreciate both views . . . although, my laissez faire tendency draws me to everybody flash the couple NOW! (grin)

  • earl jules

    my daughter’s outdoor wedding was shot by everyone we knew with a DSLR … two of whom were professional wedding photographers in their recent past (they left for greener fields because of all the unnecessary drama); two of whom were advanced amateurs; and our son (who sold cameras in days of old, during the introduction of digital cameras, but was never a professional photographer) who was using a DSLR camera I bought for him for the first time . . .

    we ended up with close to 1500 photos of the venue, bride and groom preparing, neighbor who also catered the event (he is a professional chef and traded services for my son-in-law to put in a three level water feature in his yard), the guests arriving, eating, and dancing to the DJ … all for the cost of an invitation, without an incident amongst any of them, who had never met each other before wedding. . .

    we also bought disposable cameras for each table for others to take pictures and have developed for themselves – and perhaps a copy for the wedding couple as well. . .

    of course, outdoor venues are a bit more leisurely than ornate church venues and the outdoor environment does permit the free movement of the photographers up and down and around the couple. . .

    so just because some invite friends to take pictures for free, they may very well surprise the couple with the cameras they own and the experience they possess. . .

  • earl jules

    * * *
    looks like an f/7.62 (NATO standard) with a 20X zoom lense with a lense hood to eliminate sun flares/flashes of light interfering with the shot. . .

    is that a Manfrotto bipod accessory under the barrel . . . ?


  • earl jules

    * * *
    don’t put words in my mouth, ilo_photo… I’m perfectly capable of making a fool out of myself without your help. . . (grin)
    * * *
    I certainly do not expect a hired professional photographer to handle all that . . .
    all I said was that there is a lot to be said about those things . . . and I’d add a GoPro as well…
    * * *
    which is what I did for our own daughter’s wedding – yes, it is permitted for the dads to take pictures of his own children’s major life events, no? it was a fun wedding and overhead video of the dance floor full of dance instructors and former students made it even more of an unusual event…
    My daughter even choreographed my dance with her, and the dance with her husband . . .

    so in addition to being a laissez faire event …
    it appears we were also avant garde to boot. . .

    and yes, I enjoy the candid and unusual view of things … which is probably why stoic, posed, white wedding dresses, and dark suits with ties have never really appealed to me.

    I can appreciate the article, but as many have voiced in their own words … adapt and chill or you’ll have ulcers before you’re 40. . . (no medical evidence, simply a speculation).

    until that time. . .

  • Chuck Coverly

    What do you think people did 20 years ago without cell phones? Your life isn’t going to fall apart if you can’t stay connected for 30 minutes.

  • cuteshannon

    Fighting against social media is like trying to stop a
    freight train. Try using something like
    a photofiesta kiosk. That way guests can
    upload a professional image or two to social media without disrupting the event,
    and hopefully they can keep their cellphone in their pocket – where it belongs.

  • David Hovgaard

    Get use to it. This kind of thing is only going to get worse and eventually the photography profession will be relegated to the dust bin of history. Your work is a case in point it is all on camera strobe there is no modeling or use of light it is DMV photography with a little better resolution. I am sure your clients love it because they have been conditioned to believe that bad photography is good photography. If you want to see good photography look at the work of Joseph Karsch, Arnold Newman or Edward Steichen to name just a few. You can also look at the work of the Hollywood still photographers from the thirties, forties and fifties. These people were good not because they used film but because they had a sense of light and they used it to make great photographs. Most of the photographers I see today have no idea how to use light and that is really too bad. Buy some lights learn the difference between a main and a fill light and what a kicker is. Use light to make images don’t just line them up like you are taking id photos. One last thing I personally don’t like doing things the hard way if you know how to use light you get everything you need in the image and you don’t have to spend hours making your work presentable in photo shop. This is the whole reason we used lights in the first place.

  • Willams Jeffery

    my name is Clara
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  • Andreas

    I am an amateur photographer, and I use a DSLR to close family and friends weddings to take photos and prepare a small digital album for the coupe… Now before taking my camera, I check with the couple to make sure everything is fine with them and I always take my photos with a telephoto so that I am standing behind the workplace of a photographer. In my country people pay a fortune to have a professional photographer in their wedding and most of all I want to respect their money. In my wedding, I told the photographer that I gave my cameras to friends who knew how to handle them to take pictures. And I specifically asked hm to feel free to let me know if someone was interfering with his work because I told everybody that the first one to choose an angle is the one being paid for.

  • Andreas

    I forgot to mention that the professional did an amazing job… but my friends gave me angles the professional couldn’t have taken… :)

  • Jay


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  • It’s Just Me

    That’s $2000 for about three days of work, total. On an hour-per-hour basis, it’s still quite good after expenses.

  • Wedding videographer

    Everything that this person says about guests with camera phones and cameras, videographers feel about photographers.