How to photograph your friend's wedding without getting in the way


  • Sean Cayton
As a wedding photographer, one of the most frustrating parts of my job in recent years are the guests who also want to photograph the wedding. It’s a nuisance, and one that I could do without. Still, I put up with it. And the reason I do is simple: If I were attending a wedding as a guest? There’s no way I wouldn't bring my camera and take pictures.

I would be conscientious about it, though. And I would make sure I was doing it in a way that wasn’t distracting to the couple, other guests and the professional who was hired to make the official wedding pictures, most especially.

Here are a few ideas on how to help document the wedding day in pictures without getting in the way:

Don’t take the same pictures as the professional.

I wish I had a nickel for every guest who stood in the aisle in the way of my shot of the bride and groom exiting the ceremony. The point is, taking the same pictures as the professional is overkill and boring. Your pictures won’t be as good, and there are so many other opportunities at a wedding to make pictures that are personal to you and meaningful to the couple. And I’m not talking about the selfies with all of your besties, either.

Look at the details, for instance. The couple chose these details for you to notice. It could be the wedding colors, flowers, stationary or some touch that was especially creative and made you stop and take a second look. One couple I photographed used a custom-made surfboard as a guest book — a novel idea and a fun picture. Photographing the details as you come across them will never interrupt the proceedings, and your friends will appreciate that you were thoughtful enough to photograph the details.

Photograph moments the professional didn't.

I’m reminded that professional photographers at any wedding have limits. They can’t be everywhere all of the time. They need time to move from location to location, time to take a break and eat. They may have been hired to photograph only certain portions of the day. 

But a guest? Guests are almost always in on the “action" when the photographer isn’t there.

Think about those flower girls and ring-bearers who are usually playing in the dressing room. That’s a perfect opportunity for the guest-as-photographer. Go ahead and take that picture. Odds are good that the small moments that barely get noticed on the day-of are going to be remembered and remarked upon. Your friends getting married will appreciate that you took the time to capture a once-in-a-lifetime moment that wasn't documented by anyone else.

Use video.

Interview the people around you using video. Record their well-meaning thoughts for the couple on their wedding day. Bonus tip: After the wedding, edit the video, post to youtube and send the link to the couple as a wedding gift. They will cherish the messages from friends and family recorded by you. You can do this with people at the table you’re sitting at or when mixing with friends during a cocktail hour. Try it out. It’s fun to do and better than one more video of the first dance or cake-cutting.

The Unplugged Wedding

I recently began seeing notes and signage asking guests not to take pictures, but rather to unplug themselves from their camera phones. Here’s the thing: When someone in the background of a wedding picture is checking their phone and not watching the proceedings, it shows poorly. 

The idea is for guests to be a part of the experience — to pay attention. These signs usually mention that a professional photographer is attending just for the purpose of documenting, and that it’s more enjoyable for everyone when you let them do their job and you do yours. 

I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. If you have nothing to add to the wedding day by bringing your camera, or you can’t resist checking Facebook or Twitter during the proceedings, then leave your phone at home. It won’t be missed.

Colorado Springs wedding photographer Sean Cayton loves remarkable photographs and the stories behind them. You can see his wedding work at, his personal work at and his editorial work in the Colorado Springs Independent. Submit your photo and the story behind the image - no more than two a week, please - to for consideration in upcoming blogs.

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