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Recently I was at a wedding (my sister in law's) where the photographer that was officially covering the wedding was rude about me supposedly blocking her second shooter (when I was consciously watching the second shooter the entire time in question and was actively staying out of the way of any shot the shooter attempted.) The primary shooter told me to back off to prevent blocking shots. I objected that avoiding being her way is my top priority and that I was watching her second shooter the entire time. She blew this off and continued insisting that I agree to back off even though I was already saying I would stay out her way, just like I had been doing, but yet she kept pushing and seemed to want me to admit to blocking her shooter, to the point of being insulting.

I chose to just appease her and not force the issue because I absolutely didn't want to cause any problems for my sister in law, but the behavior of the photographers had a major negative impact for me personally both because of the rudeness and it causing me to be nervous the rest of the night.

I didn't want to step on their toes, nor did I want to be acting in a professional capacity as I was there primarily to be a guest and distant secondarily wanting to make sure I captured some great moments for myself and secondarily to protect against my sister in law and her husband from being stuck with few or no good images of their wedding, should they have ended up not being happy with the photographers they hired. Normally, I head off any issues pro-actively by talking to the official photographer early to let them know who I am, what my goals are, how/when I will likely be shooting and how they can easily communicate with me if there are any issues, but in this case, it started off on the wrong foot before I could do so.

In situations like this, where you are a skilled professional photographer, familiar with the industry and able to avoid causing problems, what techniques have you found work well for dealing with (or avoiding) an overly aggressive, protective, or rude official photographer who seems more insistent on causing issues than working things out in a way that works for everyone?

Update: To try to narrow things in on more direct answers, please assume the following (I don't care if you think they apply to my particular situation or not, because the question is not intended to be about me, but I want this answer out there to help anyone that might end up in a similar situation. Answers that ignore the question's premise don't provide meaningful data as the question already agrees with those points as a starting point.):

  • In the situation, the guest is (and should be) behaving as a guest. They are getting occasional shots, primarily from a guests perspective or in a way that a guest would behave. (Shooting from at or near their seat, only wandering around during parts that guests typical wander around, not shooting anything of the organized portraits, etc)

  • In the situation, the guest is not actually in the way (and should not be). They are being extremely mindful of their surroundings and will not even raise their camera if they don't know where every working lens in the room is and know that they aren't in a shot, even if they could get a better angle.

  • In the situation, the guest was never anything but polite, professional and civil towards the working professionals, though reasons why the professionals may have seen things as impolite or rude given the above would be good feedback, particularly if supported with a way to figure out if that was the photographer's problem and how to ensure them it will be mitigated.

These three things need to be true before this question even becomes relevant, because if they are not, then the photographer certainly has good reasons to be concerned and the only answer would be to actually address their valid concerns, but perhaps ask them to be more polite.

I'm specifically looking for ways to get things back on a polite footing when you've done nothing but actively try to avoid stepping on toes and yet the photographer is upset and being rude. An example of a valid answer would be "Unfortunately there is nothing you can do without risking a scene, so you just need to cave, even if they are rude and flat out wrong about the situation." (which is basically what I did in this case) though I'm really hoping there are better answers out there.

locked by John Cavan Aug 19 '15 at 13:11

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  • 3
    I've done a major comment sweep through the question and answers here. Please, folks, do not use comments to engage in a discussion over this topic, use chat for that if you feel the need. – John Cavan Aug 18 '15 at 0:07
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    For those who are curious or want to discuss, there is a pretty extensive chat about this topic already around here. – AJ Henderson Aug 18 '15 at 1:36
  • I'm going to be more blunt. If it's a comment after this then it's getting deleted, period. – John Cavan Aug 20 '15 at 3:08

12 Answers 12

62

The hosts of the wedding chose, for whatever reason, to hire the "official" photographers to document their event. As a guest of those same hosts you should respect the choice they have made and make every effort to accommodate your hosts' wishes. If those hired are less than welcoming and courteous to you, you should still respond to them in a way that respects your hosts' wishes to have them shoot the event! As a professional you should extend the same courtesy to the "official photographers" that you would expect in return were the roles reversed.

It doesn't matter if you think your shots would be better or not! They were the ones hired by your host! Not everyone shoots an event the same way. Not everyone has the same vision for what the final product should look like. Not everyone will think photographer A's photos of an event are better than photographer B's. Not everyone will prefer B's over A's either. Even if it is fairly obvious that the hired photographers are what you would consider incompetent, it is not your job to correct the situation. Your role is as a guest of your hosts, so be a good guest and enjoy the party!

If your hosts planned for you to also provide some coverage of the wedding, then that should have been communicated by them (and verified by you that they did so) to the hired photographers in advance of the event. In the absence of such advance agreements, the hired photographer has every right to insist on calling the shots. Depending on how the contract is set up, they may be charging a minimal shooting fee and expecting to make their income on albums and printing packages. In which case your activities may be seen by them as threatening to significantly reduce potential sales.

The way to resolve the issue is to let the hired photographer do his/her job as he/she sees fit. Period. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the way they are doing it.

Just because you don't feel you are getting in the way of the hired photographer does not mean the hired photographer doesn't feel you are in the way. Perhaps they are sensitive to not stepping in front of another camera to get a shot they need. Perhaps at the reception they have remote "kicker" lights set up and your powerful pro grade flash is interfering with their ability to create the lighting atmosphere they desire (Either by placing extra light where it is not desired or by compromising their control of their own lights). Perhaps they are just a little bit insecure about being upstaged by someone with nice(r) gear, or who seems to be (more) experienced, or both. Whatever the case, as a professional it is up to you to help them do their job the way they see fit. If that means backing down, then (absent of any prior instructions to the contrary from the hosts of the event) the professional response is to back down. It is not up to you to tell them how to do their job when such help has not been solicited. It is not up to you to do their job for them when such help has not been solicited.

Personally, if I am attending a private event such as a wedding as a guest and someone else has been hired to photograph the event I would touch base with them before my camera ever came out of my bag. If I'm a family member or close friend to the hosts of the wedding and they have asked me to shoot some shots to supplement the hired photographers, I would insure before the day of the wedding that the hired photographers are aware of this and are OK with it.

39

I have found that the best technique is to leave your equipment at home or at a minimum in your vehicle. Let the paid professionals capture the images they were hired to capture and you enjoy the event as the hosts intended; as a guest.

27

I am going to respond to this as the photographer.

If and when I am covering a wedding or such an event as you have mentioned, I get really frustrated by guests bringing their DSLRs with them. To the point where I have actually spoken to the bride's mother and suggested that I want so and so to put their camera away as I am finding it a distraction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking about the uncle who has a budget/mid DLSR with an 18-55mm Kit lens, and every now and then takes a snap. He is fine. It is those who are not there in a professional capacity, but have the kit and are acting as if they mean business.

I can only put the reasoning down to the pressure of the day and cannot allow to be distracted and make any stupid mistakes, which is what happens!

Now, I did recently have a college student approach me prior to the bride arriving and showed me her new DSLR. She was very keen on learning and very open to everything I asked of her to do. She ended up being a 3rd shooter for me! In between being a guest, she spent a lot of time taking photos, but recognised that she could never be in my, or my assistant's, line of view. I was also very comfortable with her approach and honesty and I invited her to share her photos with me during and after the shoot with a view to including them in the final album.

On the other hand, I have also come across a fellow pro who decided to pull out his Canon with a grey lens (such as the Canon EF 70-200 L) on the day. Admittedly, he kept himself at a distance, but the sheer sight of his kit made me feel uncomfortable.

What was going through my mind? A wedding photo session is a commercial job, not a fine art job that I can spend hours on! Therefore, I will be taking these photos and aim to get them out to the client within 3-4 days with minimal amount of post production. What happens if the other guy spends more time in post production? What if he only takes a few shots, but very carefully thought out shots? Is he going to upstage me? Am I going to lose my reputation?

Admittedly, these are all unnecessary thoughts, but nevertheless, they were there and as it got the better of me, I went over and spoke to him and then the bride's mother!

Sometimes, I don’t charge for the photo shoot, or very minimal and make up the cost in various prints and albums, and therefore, someone else with recognisably high end gear, makes me feel uncomfortable.

As a pro, I would expect anyone with pro gear who is aiming to capture quality shots, those that will rival or better the shots taken by the official photographer, to come and speak to me first and explain their intentions and then I would expect them to ask my permission and ask about areas that they can cover that will not be distracting for me.

When I go for the first consultation with the couple, I always make it clear that it is a bug bear of mine to see another photographer at the wedding and therefore, request them to advise all guests to not bring any DSLRs along as this can be distracting and take my focus away and as a result, the couple may not get the best from the day. This generally does the trick.

Therefore, when I see someone turn up with a grey lens, I get pretty annoyed, specially if they behave like a pro, get in my shots, take my focus away, and try to upstage me!

I don’t believe there is right way to approach this subject, unless it is a similar situation as the college student I mentioned earlier.

I do empathise with fellow photographers who as guests can see that they may be in a better position to capture more pleasing shots, but it is unfortunate that they are not the photographer on the day. I, as a rule of thumb, will never take a DSLR with me - the most that I will have in my pocket will be a Canon S100 pocket camera, when attending weddings as a guest.

To summarize; as a human, seeing a guest behaving as a pro photographer, does affect my mindset and ultimately, it affects the final results, that is, unless there was a prior agreement to having multiple photographers which creates different expectations and a more accommodating mindset.

Professionalism for me, comes into play when I am expected to deliver the best value for money, and if I am distracted, then I believe, that clearly cannot happen!

**

This is my second approach to this delicate question as I feel compelled to provide a second response as individual comments have now been deleted and this post has been locked.

**

I believe that, AJ's question relates more to psychological behaviour that leads to impudence rather than social norms or etiquettes.

Firstly,

"no matter how hard we try, there are bound to be some people who will always be rude!

These same rude people when asked about their behaviour, say,

People who can’t get others to like them, don’t understand how to get along with others

Both sets of comments can have the same meaning to two different sets of people.

The first applies to someone who believes they are responsible for success and failure in their life, whereas the second comment relates to someone who believes success and failure is decided by others, fate or chance. To me, neither of these comments are wrong, they are just a process of thought and where we lay control of whats happening in our lives.

The challenge we face, is to create a meaningful connection between the two mindsets.

Having spoken to AJ, he mentioned that he spent around 15% of his time taking photos, most of which were around his table and as an official photographer, I would not have been too bothered. From everything he mentioned, he remained cohesive, coherent and very precise with etiquette regarding what he was doing, but was responded with rudeness. To me, he took responsibility for his actions, but the primary photographer did not and lashed out at him with rudeness.

Therefore, the question remains, what more could have AJ done to NOT have received such rudeness?

We need to “assume" that the official photographer is a professional and that this business, is her only means of income.

At this point, I would like to clarify; the difference between an Amateur and Pro is that the Pro gets paid. It does not mean that the results from a Pro are any better than those of a keen Amateur as a lot of good amateur photographers can be way better than some pro’s.

When you become a pro, and the business becomes your primary source of income, you soon start to understand, "Risk Management”,”Profitability”,”Time against Money". Good clean shots straight from the camera become MORE important and sitting in front of Lightroom: you start to reduce your time.

Risk Management involves a lot of things including guests that maybe photography enthusiasts who have time to sit in front of Lightroom for hours on end, moving sliders, dodging and burning!

This transition into the world of becoming a pro, can and does alter the mindset somewhat, as you can start to consider any competition as an enemy. Unless you are collaborating, it happens with all businesses, small or large.

In AJ’s situation, perhaps the official photographer needed a more meaningful connection and ensured that he communicated his message in a manner best understood by her. Maybe, she needed for him to position his intentions more favourably for her and at the same time, she maybe needed for him to demonstrate that he understood the importance of the official photographer. Maybe, she just needed to see AJ differentiate himself from other would be competition and created a first impression and credibility that was better understood by her.

Perhaps asking her questions that were focused more towards her; IE.

What are your feelings about me taking a few snaps for myself? ( the word snap may have altered her mindset into thinking you ,”you have all the Gear, but no idea!”

When will it be a good time for me to take a few snaps?

When is it a no no for me to pick up my camera?

As it stands, AJ was NOT going up against an individual, but against a business and as the representative (although, she may probably have been the owner of the business), she decided to respond with rudeness. Maybe nothing would have helped, maybe it was the culmination of a build up of minor issues and distractions that got the better of her.

Either way, her mistake despite all her frustrations and distractions, she forgot that AJ was a guest and possibly only taking occasional shots and if I was in AJ’s shoes, I would have definitely had words with her about her rudeness, albeit, after her job was done, otherwise, it could have affected the final results.

To summarise, I believe that this was an isolated case and there was something underlying that made her behave that way.

12

I believe what you are asking for here is the correct combination of words to make a professional photographer understand your reason and logic, and allow you to keep snapping pictures.

The problem is when you look at it from the angle of the people actually hired to take photos.

Let's try another.

I'm a DJ by trade. My niece is getting married. She didn't hire me to do the music for the reception. I pulled out my turn tables and started playing some of the good ol' classics. The Time Warp, The Chicken Dance, The Macarena. These songs are much better at weddings than the newer crap the other DJ was playing. No one knows the stuff and EVERYONE can't participate!

He came over to my half of the reception hall and told me to stop. I tried to explain to him that I had my volume turned way down, so over his extremely loud music, you could only hear mine in about a quarter of the room, and anyone on his half should only be able to hear his music. It's a massive reception hall and he has massive speakers.

Does that sound reasonable? Or like someone trying to upstage someone trying to do their job?

I mean, if you really want to push it, go to the bride and groom, ask them if they want your photos too. If they do, ask them to mention that to the paid photographers.

Personally, I'd show professional respect and I'd have put the camera away.

10

I would expect a professional to simply say, "Sorry, I didn't realize I was disturbing you," and stop shooting the same subjects at the same time. You can still be in the way, even from behind. People don't like ruining other people's shots. You're forcing them to commit little microagressions against you every time they get in your way or make you move. It doesn't take very many times for that stress to add up.

That's in addition to the stress of not knowing how close you are to the bride and groom, and whether your "amateur" shots will reflect unfavorably on them. They may have chosen to mitigate some of that stress by avoiding disturbing you, until they felt it was impacting the quality of their work.

You have no way of knowing where they might have gone or what shots they might have taken had you not been there. It's best just to give them the benefit of the doubt.

6

I think there's a couple of points here:

  • There's one set of things that a professional photographer might find annoying and another set that might make an innocent guest feel insulted. But since lines are not sharp it behooves both sides to step back and create some sort of a "demilitarized zone" in the middle. i.e. There's a range of behaviors that most photographers may not find annoying but yet I would refrain from just out of an abundance of caution.

  • Even if I am a better craftsman than the one hired, courtesy says I ought to not show my better craft simply because he was the one hired. Note, that I don't think the converse is true. i.e. Just because you have been hired as the pro photographer for an event does not mean you paid the equivalent of exclusive rights to telecasting a sporting event. i.e. My point is there's this zone of excluded behaviors which does not arise out of a privilege, but out of a sense of good manners on the part of the other side. So long as one side does not insist on making it a right and the other side considers it a duty everything is fine.

  • If you are so close to the hosts that you will feel really bad from a hired pro botching up a once in a lifetime event then it is only fitting that you take the time out to let the host know beforehand that you could help them choose the right photographer. Or even to offer to do the event yourself if you feel up to it.

  • Run of the mill cellphones and pocket cameras today are getting so good that anyone who wants to take just that one side shot that the pro-photographer won't be there to cover can easily to it without being conspicuous at all. No one really objects to cheap casual equipment ever. Ergo, it might be a good thumb rule to leave your DSLR behind at home, no matter how good a photographer you are, unless you have been officially asked to cover an event. Or you are motivated enough to pre-clear your photography with the hosts in advance. e.g. Say you are a professional swimmer invited to a pool party, do you go wearing your $10,000 specially-engineered, low-drag, all-body-swim-suit?

  • Expensive equipment is only a part of a good photo. If there already is a pro photographer and you only want to capture that fleeting moment he happens to be not around for, a simple cheap handy camera should do almost as well. i.e. I'm taking the hard line: There's simply no legit excuse to take a bulky DSLR to an event that you are not covering professionally. To be clear I am personally not a pro, and I don't think pro's have any "right" to demand this. But I just think it is a reasonably thumb rule for guests to follow, just out of an abundance of caution.

  • In a somewhat lighter vein why does this conflict arise only in photography? I've never heard of a cook fire up his grill at an event just because he didn't like the juiciness of the steak cooked up by the hired catering team? To answer my own question: Pro Photography equipment has become cheaper and handier to the point where a lot more people own it and it isn't too much trouble to cart it around. And it is precisely this that means we ought to start using this new found freedom more responsibly.

5

There is no nice way to do something unreasonable. What you are trying to achieve is not possible because it is based on a fundamentally wrong premise. It is rude, arrogant and demeaning to approach a professional trying to do their job and suggest you know better.

The way you have responded to answers and comments on this thread indicates that you would not be amenable to guests advising you on your jobs, why do you expect them to take it as any less of an insult?

If you are an accomplished photographer then you should understand their position and if they ask you to stop doing something, out of professional courtesy you should stop doing it even if you don't agree. There is more than one way to skin a cat, your opinion of their technique is not relevant because your host has chosen to trust their judgement.

Adding what was covered in the comments...

You may not be outright saying something to them but your actions are telling the other guests that you don't approve of their work and feel the need to do it yourself. Your hosts have chosen this photographer, you are questioning their judgement. At least you could limit yourself to non-pro equipment like a camera phone and save it for exceptional moments. You may feel that you are not getting in their way, they may be working around you.

4

I suggest prior consultation with the bride and groom. Ask whether they would like you to take extra photos. If they would like you to take extra photos, ask them to inform the hired photographer, in advance of the wedding, and assure the photographer that you will be sensitive to their sight lines etc. If not, leave your camera at home.

Even if you did not actually get in the way, with no prior knowledge of what you would be doing, the photographer may have been afraid you would get in the way at a time when he could not intervene.

By asking in advance, the hosts' wishes can be determined and followed, and there is less risk of misunderstandings and problems between the hired photographer and the family member photographer.

3

What I would do is try not to compete with the official photographer. Multiple similar looking pictures, even if yours are slightly better aren't going to help the bride and groom anyway, probably only embarass them. Take an alternative approach instead. Maybe try to document the event from a guest point of view. Come with just a smartphone or a small point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera. You'll be technically limited, but gear on itself doesn't achieve anything anyway, and you're not supposed to act as a pro and run around everywhere to "get the shots" either. Try to go unnoticed and capture moments that maybe a big ominous pro DSLR would have stifled or an appointed photographer under pressure wouldn't have bothered considering -- expressions, small details, behind-the-scenes, asides.

Now, to the "relational" aspect of your question, if the official photographer talks rude to you while you are just standing there doing nothing or discreetly snapping as you walk, it's clearly a misconduct on their part. Covering the wedding shouldn't be at the expense of guests enjoying it and rebuffing them instead of politely explaining something is just the easy unprofessional way.

3

In lieu of any answers that have really fully addressed the question I'm trying to ask about getting a discussion back on track from a professional photographer being out of control, I did want to share what I've come up with as my way to avoid this problem entirely in the future.

Previously, I relied on talking to the photographer at the first available down time and letting them know, quickly, who I am, what I'm doing (acting as a guest and shooting some photos (not all, or even most of the time) with my camera, but not competing with them or trying to do their job), why I'm not a threat (I'm not competing, it's just for my personal photos and I'll do whatever I need to do to avoid interfering with both their shooting and their business) and how to quickly signal me to any problem I'm causing (just in case, that way there is a safety net that avoids even the slight chance of issue). This, coupled with making rough guesses about their shooting experience based on mannerisms and technique has worked well for the last dozen or so weddings I've attended as a guest since starting to do weddings commercially.

Due to this incident, I'm going to advance that time table to make sure that I check out a photographer before hand to set my mind at ease when possible (if they are good, it's easier for me not to worry) and communicate with them in advance about my background (I do this professionally and can stay out of the way and not interfere either at the wedding or with their business), reasoning (I want to be there as a guest, but I also want a limited number of images that I know I will love, because I am a passionate photographer) and goals (be a guest first but make sure I'm their dream guest) to make sure everyone is on the same page. This should avoid any emotionally charged high friction encounters at the wedding itself, rendering such advice on de-escalation unnecessary.

I'd still love to see an answer with useful ideas for de-escalating a situation that starts out poorly before you have a chance to get things worked out, but perhaps there isn't really a good solution to that problem other than preventative action before hand.

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    IMHO: As long as you see the question in terms of the basic problem is the hired photographer being the only one out of control, you'll get no satisfying answer. – Michael C Oct 13 '15 at 20:31
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I think the answer is clear, if you are not the hired photographer then don't get in that person's way or make it hard for them to do their job. There should never have been a situation nor should it have been escalated in any way. If you are attending as a guest, you should be a guest and not even mention who you are or what you think, unless you have done so with the couple who hired said photographer.

2

When shooting a wedding where you have to capture the right moment, you'll depend a lot on intuition, your reflexes to shoot at the right moment has to work out well. The part of the brain that controls this are the more primitive brain parts, they will be influenced a lot more by irrational factors that may cause you to feel tense. E.g. the mere possibility that someone may block the scene is going to influence the primitive parts of your brain that have been tasked to decide when to press the shutter, they are now telling the higher brain parts that there is a problem.

Even though you may know that there isn't an actual problem (the guy with the DSLR has told you that he'll take care not to block the scene), the primitive brain parts that you rely on a lot here, are hard to convince (they don't have the intellectual capability to understand higher level reasoning), so they keep on sending out alarms. This causes tension, you just don't feel comfortable and you fear that this may negatively influence your ability to take pictures.

Then most people don't have this detailed understanding of why they are not comfortable, the tension they feel may make them interact more negatively, they may then tell you to just get out of the way even though you are not standing in the way.

However, there will also be people who in similar situations won't feel any effects, they may be very comfortable with other photographers being around, simply because they are more used to that. The same brain parts involved in taking fast actions will then be more trained to deal with such situations sending out alarms only when there is a real problem. Typically the more experienced you are the less likely it is that you'll feel tense due to these effects.

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