Guests taking pictures at weddings: Confessions of Uncle Bob

Yesterday was a college buddy’s wedding and of course I had my camera with me. I really wanted to avoid being Uncle Bob so I only put on the 50mm f/1.4 lens and stayed in my seat. I got a few pictures that I could be proud of and feel provided a different viewpoint than the official.

Friend's wedding
For those not familiar with the term, Uncle Bob is a name given for the insufferable guest that most weddings have who tries to out-do the hired wedding photographer. Uncle Bob makes a point of showing off his camera to all the guests while bragging about how much money he spent on it. Sometimes Bob’s equipment is legit- he’s got a pro level camera with his Gold or Red ring lens and flash, but often he comes there with a Canon Rebel Ti (or whatever the Canon entry level cameras are called these days) or his Shiny new $600 Nikon D3200 with the plastic $100 kit lens which makes them feel like a pro.

Uncle Bob’s worst crime however is that he not only gets in the way and enjoyment of other guests, but often he actually blocks the view of the official photographer ruining what could be a great picture. This has gotten to be so bad that many photographers have an “Uncle Bob” clause in the wedding contract because wedding photographers rightfully don’t want to be liable if a guest blocks their view.

While not quite Uncle Bob, because of the advent of camera phones, many wedding pictures have changed from people having fun into people holding up cameras. This has led to a movement to educate couples to let them know that wedding pictures look better if the guests are just enjoying the moment without 20 hands holding up camera phones or in some cases iPads (seriously, leave the f@cking iPads at home).

So what started this? I think I partially blame the old school wedding photography pricing model of charging for prints. Not that there were many alternatives in the ancient film days. Couples were already paying a large fee for the formal and pictures from the wedding so they would often pass on getting candid pictures and especially skimp on getting pictures of the guests. Because of that, guests would take matters into their own hands by taking pictures, and among them was the King Uncle Bob who would hide behind the wedding photographer and steal his poses.

Now days, couples who spend $5000 on 2 wedding photographers with the “works” now days politely ask their guests to not take pictures and ensure them that all pictures will be shared. So is there a middle ground? Can there be peace between the official photog and Uncle Bob? Can cats and dogs live together?

Sure, just follow a few simple Uncle Bob codes of conduct.

  • Do not ever block the view of the paid professional who the couple hired to take the picture.
  • Do not block the view of other guests.
  • If you are in the picture, put your camera down.   The couple wants to see their guests enjoying themselves, not taking pictures.
  • Really, put the camera away unless there is an absolute moment that you want to capture that the official is missing. Don’t be glued to the viewfinder.
  • If this is in a church, wait until the ceremony is over before getting the camera out.  The official photographers have already been briefed about the church rules.  Last thing you need is to interrupt the ceremony by getting kicked out.
  • Don’t use flash!   At least wait until the reception.
  • Once all the official stuff is out of the way, nobody will care so use that time to take pictures of your kids (it’s not like they always dress nice) etc.

 Friend's wedding
Now I admit, in my younger days I may have been Uncle Bob, but I have evolved. In my defense, at my sister’s wedding, I was one of few people(including the official) who had a digital camera so I got pictures that the official didn’t get. I’ve also been to some weddings where the official was a shoot and burn who was sitting down mostly so even though I had the camera in the car, decided to go get it. For the most part though, I go to weddings to enjoy the wedding and if a moment comes, take a few pictures to give the couple and guests something to look at while waiting for the real pictures to come.

Wedding photography as THE photographer is nerve wracking. We should all do our part to help out the official and let them do their job. But it wouldn’t hurt to sneak in a few pictures if you can do it without being noticed 🙂
Friend's wedding

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