Do you charge? Do you refuse?

I find I am often asked to shoot my friend's weddings but feel I cannot accept payment if they are close friends. The money isn't the issue, the downside is that wedding photography is a lot more work than most people realise. You have to be alert all day, talk to everyone, you won't be in any photos, you can't get drunk...

Does anyone here make it a policy to refuse shooting weddings for friends and family? If so, how distant does the relationship have to be before you accept?

Am I being harsh? Should I just always do the shoots for them? Is doing it for free or at a reduced rate devaluing the industry for other hard-working photogs?

I'm not a full-time pro photographer, but I do occasional paid work. I've shot a several weddings but to be honest, I much prefer baby/family shoots. I only do a bit because it helps justify an expensive hobby and I spend my time focussing on my other business.

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    Can this be rephrased into more of an answerable question and less of a discussion? See the part of the faq about discussions. Alternately, it could be taken to Photography Chat (including a new chatroom dedicated to the topic, if you like).
    – mattdm
    Jan 8, 2013 at 18:05
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    I have found that weddings are either an "all-in" or "all-out" venture. In other words don't half ass it. Occasionally shooting weddings isn't a great idea. I won't go into detail in a comment about that. But with that said, if you are all-in, then take every paid gig with clients that you like and for events that you want to do(as your business plan outlines, etc). If they are friends, charge them money because it is a business. If they are family, then put the camera down and enjoy the wedding!
    – dpollitt
    Jan 8, 2013 at 19:18
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    Don't be afraid to say no, once you include planning, the wedding day, post processing you're usually looking at 40 hours of work. At least. If you had a friend who was really into DIY you might ask them for a bit of help or advice, but you wouldn't ask them to spend a week renovating your house while you're off elsewhere.
    – Matt Grum
    Jan 9, 2013 at 12:23
  • @mattdm Sorry, I agree it was a poor question for this site. It probably should be closed...
    – matt burns
    Jan 9, 2013 at 17:59
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    @mattburns: It's definitely interesting, and I think you have some good answers. I'd just like to see it phrased as more of a question about what to do (a practical problem!) and less what do you do (a discussion-starter).
    – mattdm
    Jan 9, 2013 at 18:01

5 Answers 5


This is a highly personal decision. It depends on whether you really want the work, and at what rate. And of course whether you want to attend the wedding at all, if it's a distant relative, or if you'd prefer to attend as a normal guest at a friend's wedding so you can relax and enjoy it. I see your choices as:

  • Decline. Tell them you do not enjoy shooting weddings, but perhaps offer to do an engagement shoot, if that's something you enjoy doing.

  • Accept and charge your going rate, perhaps slightly discounted

  • Accept and do the shoot as your wedding gift

I don't think you should feel guilty asking for payment. Are your friends and relatives getting catering, flowers or a reception venue for free? I doubt it. If it's a young couple on a budget though, doing as your wedding gift is a nice gesture.

  • Yep, totally agree. Sensible options and I like the idea of offering to do engagement photos instead.
    – matt burns
    Jan 9, 2013 at 17:55

I think the question you need to answer is "can you deliver what they expect"? If they would not hire a professional anyway because they cannot afford to (not everybody celebrates a huge wedding - sometimes it is just close family) then if you have at least one backup camera and are the best photographer amongst friends/family you will possibly make them very happy. If they can afford a wedding photographer and you do not deliver what they hoped for you'll be in trouble...

Personally I did shoot a fellow student's wedding once for free. I think he was happy and wouldn't have been able to afford a professional (i.e. without me it would have been just compact cameras). Would I do it again though? Possibly not because I would fear messing up... (though I now could make use of a backup body).

When it comes to charging people, I know that many people, predominantly from the US or UK suggest doing so and I know that I never would/could. Heck, I have shot photographs at the departmental Christmas party and then made them available for free - but then if I mess up I do not accept blame ;) (you get what you pay for :D, everybody is invited to bring their own compact as well). Same goes for family related occasions... I brought along my SLR and then the others got some photos... but then I don't mind.

In the end... it is your choice - and nobody can make the decision for you.

On a side note: I personally couldn't care less about the industry, you're not really competing with other photographers if it is close friends and family. Besides, if you were to regularly shoot a wedding, you would not be able to attend to a regular full time job as well.

  • Right answer. I shot my sister's wedding back in the film days. All were happy afterward, but you also need to be aware of your role as other answers have pointed out. Jan 9, 2013 at 5:17

I am a amateur, but am sometimes thought of as the "photographer" in the family. People pictures aren't my thing, but I do it when there are significant events I would be stuck having to attend anyway. Ususally these events are boring, so I don't mind taking pictures. It gives me something to do and gives me a good excuse to not have to sit there while Aunt Fuddyduddy keeps everyone so spellbound describing here latest ailments and cures and interrupts if anyone tries to change the subject.

The time for taking the pictures is therefore free, even a welcome alternative to Aunt Fuddyduddy. The unpaid time-consuming work is later to post process and thin the lot to ones that are at least acceptable. Others don't understand and appreciate how much time it takes to do this right. This is the real favor they are asking, although they rarely understand that.

I make it clear up front that all they should expect from me is a DVD with the presentable pictures in preview and full res formats. It's up them what they want to select to print, put in a book, or whatever they want to do with any of the pictures. I use my normal system for documenting a set of pictures, which includes a tree of HTML files, several preview sizes, and record of the date/time and other info about each picture. You can pop the DVD into any computer and look over the pictures, drill down to get more detail on any of them, sequence thru the bunch, and retrieve the full res versions for possible printing and the like. It still takes hours to put all that together, but it's a lot less work than what a formal wedding photographer does.

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    I was going to stay out of this discussion as per my comment above! :) but I can't help but chime in here. For once-in-a-lifetime events, I don't think taking photos is the easy part. You have the be at the right place at the right time, without being in the way, and get the right images in the right way. It's a lot of work, and it's hard.
    – mattdm
    Jan 8, 2013 at 21:47
  • @Olin OT: do you hand-create that DVD, or do you have some tool that makes it fairly simple? That sounds like exactly what I wanted in this question: photo.stackexchange.com/q/30504/14042
    – dbreaux
    Jan 8, 2013 at 23:07
  • @mattdm: Yeah, I said that badly. I was more thinking about the taking pictures part being finite and displacing other things that you might just as well want to avoid anyway. Taking pictures well is not easy, but in the case I am talking about the time is essentially free. The time to do the post-processing and labeling and the like is not free. Jan 8, 2013 at 23:08
  • @dbreaux: I have software that makes the tree of files given only the RAW directory containing the raw files and the ORIG directory with the post-processed originals. The descriptions will include what the software can extract from the RAW and/or ORIG files automatically, but if you want to add your own descriptions you have to edit another file. After that, it's all automated. Jan 8, 2013 at 23:11

Shooting a wedding is a lot of work. I don't think you can be a guest and shoot the wedding. Forget drinking, dancing or having fun with your family. You are there to capture the events of the day. You are also going to need to direct your family members when it comes time for the formal portraits. Will they listen to you?

As far as time goes many times I will have 30 hours or more invested in the wedding including shooting the preparations, event, portraits and post processing.

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    Its a ton of work and you can't have any fun. Its one thing to be Uncle Pat who happens to have a camera, its quite another to be the official recorder of a once-in-a-lifetime event. Jan 9, 2013 at 6:29

You can also explain them the limits of what you will do versus what a pro photographer on the job would do, enjoy the party, get drunk, and take loads of pictures and give them 2-3 DVDs full of jpegs for them to print, make an album of on an online album creator service. Then it is up to them if they will hire a pro for the ceremony, too.

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