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.

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