The Off-Duty Dilemma

wedding photography

The one night I think I’m out, a wedding pulls me back in.

The ceremony’s almost over, and she hasn’t moved. The official photographer—the woman who’s being paid to shoot—is sitting in the back, looking almost bored. Once in a while she halfheartedly lifts the camera to her eye and takes a shot. 

What is she doing? Should I do something about this?

***

Vance and Lindsey are great friends of mine, and both have delightfully theatrical tendencies. When they invited me to the wedding, I knew I was in for a marvelous time. They asked me if I wanted to be the official photographer, or if I’d prefer to come as a guest. Without hesitation, I chose guest. I wanted to enjoy this evening without having to be “on.” Besides, I told them, I might bring my camera and take a few shots for fun.

Anne and I haven’t been out on a grownup date for a while. The day of Vance and Lindsey’s wedding falls right after our daughter starts kindergarten. I want, for once, to enjoy my wife’s company at a wedding without having to set up lights and round up guests. I’m never good company when I’m working. Too much to do.

But tonight, dammit, I’m going to do it right. I resolve to keep my camera away from my face until somebody specifically asks me to take a photo.

As we walk into the small, stylish restaurant, I notice the official photographer. I remember that she took Vance and Lindsey’s engagement photos at a park, and they turned out pretty well. I don’t immediately clock her as the official shooter. She looks about 17 years old, and she isn’t carrying much gear. I ignore these red flags, find a seat, and settle in to enjoy what I hope will be an entertaining ceremony.

Lindsey and Vance don’t let us down. The ceremony starts with a dance flashmob – bridesmaids clapping, nailing their choreographed moves to Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” An adorable floppy-eared dog trots down the aisle as the ringbearer. There are laughs and tears and playful tension—all the moments you want from a wedding. And I’m loving every moment of being a guest.

Yet as the ceremony comes to a close, I can’t help thinking I should jump up and start shooting. The official photographer is parked in the back corner, in no position to get a good angle on anything. 

She’s carrying one camera with a 50mm fixed lens. She has no way to zoom in. I can tell from the angle at which her flash is pointed, it has to be picking up a blue-gray hue from the painted ceiling—it’s bound to look horrible on everyone’s skin tones. There’s no way she’s getting good shots. Either she doesn’t know what she’s doing, or she’s not even bothering to try.

As much as I’m horrified, I also feel bad for her. I remember the early days of my event photography career, being in over my head like she is now. Flash in hand, no clue how to use it, praying that by some miracle the pictures will be up to snuff.

I’m certain that when Vance and Lindsey see this woman’s photos, they will be crestfallen at best. Homicidal at worst.

But I keep my promise to Anne. I stay seated, hands off the camera (except for a few quick shots of Lindsey with the ringbearer dog).

The canine ringbearer.

The maid of honor, Lindsey’s best friend, is also a professional photographer. She hasn’t been shooting either, since she’s been heavily involved in the ceremony—she’s the one who started the flashmob. In the receiving line, our eyes meet. We both glance at the official shooter and shake our heads gravely. I ask, “Do you think we should say something to Lindsey?” We both agree it’s probably not a good idea to bring our concerns to her attention right now. (Principle #2: Reduce stress for others.)

I motion to my camera. “I think I might take a few pictures of my own,” I say. The maid of honor puts her hand on my arm, opens her eyes wide, and says, “Yes! Please do.”

I catch up with Anne at the bar. She’s just gotten herself a drink when I discreetly explain what’s going on with the official shooter. She understands. She knows what I’m going to ask. 

“I’m sorry,” I say, “I can’t not work.”

Anne nods. She shoos me away to get some shots during the cocktail hour.

After a few minutes of sneaking around, pretending to shoot just for myself, I bite the bullet and commit to working the wedding like a professional. I start openly asking people if they’d like a picture. I take photos of Vance and Lindsey (especially Lindsey) any time it looks like they’re enjoying themselves.

The bride and her father.

I make a point of avoiding the official shooter. I’m not looking to make an enemy. And the truth is, I feel bad for her.

As the cocktail hour ends, I put away the camera. I decide I can safely return to being a layperson. For once, I’m glad that every guest has a camera phone and they are all collectively documenting the reception.

I sit down at our banquet table next to Anne. By now, most of the romance has fizzled out of our date. “Did you get anything good?” she asks. 

I nod, give her a kiss, and thank her for lending me out to our friends. The rest of the evening is absolutely lovely.

My wonderful wife Anne on the night of Vance and Lindsey’s wedding.

As expected, the official photographer’s photos turn out to be… unsatisfactory. I give Vance and Lindsey my photos and my condolences.

Part of me wishes that I’d accepted Vance and Lindsey’s request to be the official photographer in the first place. It’s a crime that they ended up without a single decent shot from their glorious flashmob. Still, I’m glad I could give them a gift of unexpected pictures. I took some unexpectedly meaningful photos of other people that night as well.

And I’m glad I had a chance to take my wife on a date. Even if I spent part of it on the clock.

Barefoot and wet on the busiest day of their lives

wedding photography

Does the stress of the wedding day give some couples the courage to kick off their shoes and get soaked?

On three separate occasions, I have seen wedding couples walk barefoot, on purpose, into a body of water on their wedding day.

On each of those days, the couple also had family members or members of their bridal party remove their shoes and get in along with them.

In none of these instances were the wet feet premeditated. No one had a plan for what to do when they stepped, dripping, back onto dry land. No one had a towel handy.

I love it when couples have a spirit of adventure on their wedding day. But after they’ve spent hours getting dolled up, why give in to the urge to go wading like five-year-olds, and take their equally dolled-up loved ones in with them?

I think it may have to do with how people respond to stress. Let’s face it, a typical wedding is about the most stressful happy occasion there is.

Let’s quickly put the stress in perspective: Take the whole concept of marriage out of the equation. Imagine it’s an ordinary weekend. You’re off work, and the moment you wake up, someone hands you a To Do List with everything that wedding couples have to manage that day:

  • Supervise and approve the work of a bunch of independent contractors
  • Get yourself and a group of people to several locations (sometimes without being seen by the person you’re closest to)
  • Be on time to each location–if you show up late at any point, people may be frustrated with you and/or assume that something has gone horribly wrong
  • Visit with every one of your relatives, and their plus-ones, in the span of a few hours 
  • Let photographers and videographers follow you around all day
  • Get dressed up in formal wear and/or elaborate makeup; maintain your pristine appearance while taking care of everything on this list
  • Stand in front of a large group of people while they watch you have a series of personal, tender moments
  • Host a party attended by many people whom you love dearly; talk to all of them because you may not see them again for years

On any other day, just one of those items would be a significant source of pressure. And on top of it all, you’re going to make an official lifelong commitment to your soul mate.

Everyone deals with wedding stress in their own way. Looking at that list, it’s easy to understand why most people stay focused, follow the plan, and don’t even consider getting wet.

But for some, the wedding fills them with a sense of opportunity. A license to act on any whim they like. For these people, the buzz that accompanies the wedding day is about two drinks’ worth of “what the hell, let’s do it.” 

I’ve seen all kinds of reactions to wedding day pressure. I get them. I get every one. But I sigh with admiration when I see people who can turn that stress into a spontaneous barefoot celebration. For these adventurous souls, the question is “Why wouldn’t we wade into a lake on our wedding day?”

If you’re that kind of couple, then God bless you. I tip my hat to you, and as a photographer, I absolutely adore that you give me great moments to shoot. I’d just like to offer one bit of advice:

Bring a towel.