The Dark Side of Wedding Photography

You’ve potentially seen some posts on socials that are our industry’s equivalent of the #metoomovement. Photographers and other suppliers are speaking out about times at weddings when they felt harassed, abused, threatened, or undermined. This Instagram post from photographer Kim Williams is a sobering read and I admire her for speaking out and opening up the debate on this subject.

Sad to say that of course over the 20 years that I’ve been shooting weddings, I have been in far too many situations that have been unacceptable. From casual sexism to full-on abuse.

At one recent wedding, a guest called me intolerable names to my face in what I can only assume he thought was a jolly bit of repartee. It wasn’t, it was very offensive and I called him out on it. But I did wonder afterwards how would I have handled this if I was a lot newer to the industry?

Because yes, there’s a darker side to shooting weddings and I think it’s great that the subject has now opened up for discussion.

We are vulnerable. Of all the suppliers involved in a wedding, we are the ones that are with them for the entire day. We also carry thousands of pounds worth of equipment with us, so our kit is vulnerable too.

We are often on our own – I was at that recent wedding but luckily there was a friendly videographer who became my ally for the day.

Plus we have to at points, get the strangers at these weddings to carry out instructions. We’ve all got techniques that we use in order to command 100 people into a group photo or to round up rogue relatives for the family lineups.

I don’t know any photographer that loves this part of the day but we do it because we know these photos are important to our clients. It means that people’s point of contact with the photographer is being told what to do and folk can be all kinds of weird about that.

One of our members recently posted about sparklers and how ‘The photographer wants everyone to go outside’. The perception that the photographer wants this photo or that is hilarious. NO, WE DON’T! Your hosts want all these photos, the people paying for your dinner do. We don’t go home and wallpaper our downstairs loo with photos of you. We are just doing our job.

We also go into their environments and quickly have to build a rapport with many different people. That could mean being in a hotel room with a bunch of lads getting dressed.

We only ever have a connection to the couple ahead of the day, we’ve no idea who the people connected to them are and how they might behave.

Then throw alcohol and potentially drugs into the mix. There we are still trying to do our jobs in a professional manner and look after our precious cameras whilst all around us, people are partying. Even the most respectful person sober can switch into complete-dick-mode when they’ve had too many shots.

Then there’s getting home, often late at night. This is the part of the day where I feel most vulnerable. From getting back to my car in a pitch-black rural car park to finding my way to the train station in London.

I shot a wedding on the night of the London Bridge attacks when the city went into lockdown. As we arrived at Victoria station, there were announcements that if commanded to evacuate we were to leave all bags on the floor and run for the nearest exit. It was terrifying.

Anyone driving on the M25 very late on a Saturday knows that it’s a playground for boy racers. They often chase each other at high speed just for kicks and it’s scary if they are on the road at the same time as you.

Tips to Help Wedding Photographers Stay Safe

But over the years, we all learn from all of these experiences and have some tips that might help others to protect themselves as much as they can. Kim also posted some terrific advice on working with your couple to keep yourself protected.

I would add some tips on more general safety –

  • Always let someone know what time you are expected to be home.
  • Use the Find My Friends app or drop a location pin on WhatsApp so that you can be tracked.
  • Be smart about where you park your car. Bear in mind that you will be traveling back to it in the dark.
  • If I ever feel unsafe, I call my partner to stay on the phone with me until I get somewhere where I feel more secure.
  • Always have the means to charge your phone so that you are not traveling home with a low battery.
  • Have your business card in your camera bag so that if you ever became separated from it, it could be traced to you.
  • If you do not have a second shooter, make friends with the other people working at a wedding. The co-ordinator, the venue staff, the videographer – they could all potentially be your ally.