Friends as wedding vendors pros and cons: What I learned from getting our photos for free

Guest post by dreemwhrld
Pictures of a Picture

Shortly after my husband and I were engaged, we ran into an old family friend who I hadn't seen in probably over a decade. We chatted for a bit, and she enthusiastically offered to photograph our wedding for us free as a gift. I had to restrain myself from jumping down her throat with my “yes.” Photography is important to me and my family, but we had a relatively small total budget, and there was almost nothing in there for photos, so I figured this was perfect.

It is now almost four months since my wedding, and though I have lots of pictures from my friend of the wedding party posing, some from before the wedding, and a couple from afterwards, I still have not seen a single picture from her from the ceremony. Not. A. Single. One. This wouldn't be that big of a deal except that we asked for an unplugged wedding ceremony from our guests, so NO ONE ELSE took pictures for those 20 minutes. And goddammit, I want to see my ceremony. That's why we did the damn thing!

And… there's nothing I can really do about it, other than keep sending messages every few weeks. Because I've never given her a dime.

Offbeat Brides, here's what I've learned from my experience of having friends as wedding vendors:

Pros of friends as wedding vendors:

  • It's free, baby! That means you can put the money you would have spent with this person elsewhere. Or it means you get to have this item in your wedding, instead of not having it at all. So yay!
  • If your friend is also a professional in the field they've done this before. They know what they're doing. You can (hopefully) rely on their professional opinion for some qualms or issues that may come up.
  • You're friends (or family)! That means you already have a relationship with this person, and they know you pretty well. So even if they don't know every tiny detail of what you'll want, you're hopefully going to be close to the same page on this.
  • Because you have a relationship with this person, they might see donating their gifts as a reason to step up their game. “This is my gift for my friend's wedding! I want to make sure they have the best results evah! Must make it awesome!”
  • One less vendor that you have to sift through, sort through, interview, and nag about pricing. Tick! One more thing off my checklist.

Cons of friends as wedding vendors:

  • It's free. Yeah, I know this is in the “pro” list, but it's also a con. See, when you pay someone to do something, often times they are then legally required to do that thing you paid them to do. If you're not dishing out the dough, well, you don't really have a legal leg to stand on. Not only that, but you don't have that sort of unspoken “Hey, I paid you for this, so I expect a certain level of results” thing going for you either.
  • They may do this for a living, or they may do it just some of the time. In my case, it wasn't a full-time job for my friend. And though I'm mostly happy with the results I have so far, there are a lot of the pictures that, had she asked me to tilt my head down slightly, would have ALL looked much better.
  • Because you have a relationship with this person, they might see donating their gifts as a reason to slow up their game. “This is my gift for my friend's wedding. They're saving money by having me do this, so they'll understand if I can't get to it right away. They know me, they'll be cool with it.”

Now, if you look at those lists, the pros outweigh the cons. Kind of. I'm sure you all could add some pros and cons to that list. But here's my takeaway for you guys on all this

If you're using friends as wedding vendors, here are some things to consider:

  • Consider paying your friend a small sum of money. This could be $20 or $200, whatever you think you can afford (or whatever you'd already budgeted). This gets rid of the whole “They did it for free, so I have no sway over them” concept. But make sure you give it to them in a form or fashion that SCREAMS vendor payment (i.e. don't get the check while you're having dinner together and then say “Hey, can we put this towards the photography?”)
  • Treat your friend-vendor like a vendor. What does this mean? Have formal meetings. Get a CONTRACT. Oh gods, if I'd just had a contract with a deadline… Get things in writing from them. There's less of a chance for confusion and mis-communication that way. This includes a back-up plan.
  • Separate (wedding) business from pleasure. If you're going to a vendor meeting, you don't usually talk to them about the other aspects of your life as well. If your friend is not taking the lead on this, then you should. That's not to say you can't still have your friend/relative relationship. Just make sure both sides know when you're talking wedding business, and when you're talking pleasure.
  • Your friend is going to be working for your wedding. Think about that. Is this a person that you want to be working on the day of your wedding, or do you want them to enjoy and celebrate with the rest of your guests?
  • Know your friend-vendor. Just because they're a good friend/relative doesn't make them a good photographer/caterer/officiant as well. Are they going to fulfill the role you've given them with vigor, professionalism, and your vision in mind, or are they going to be lax, miss appointments, and not meet your expectations?
  • And most importantly, know your priorities. If this friend doesn't work out, or doesn't quite do the job you hoped they would, are you going to be crushed, or is it not that big of a deal? If you weren't going to have this vendor because you didn't have the budget, and now you will because it's being offered for free, you're probably in the clear: “It worked? Great! It didn't work? I'm cool with that, no biggie.” However, will you be crushed and broken if it doesn't work out? “What? No ceremony pictures?” If this is a super important aspect of your wedding, consider hiring a professional, or maybe get a recommendation from your friend to get you started elsewhere.

Anyone else have tips when it comes to using friends as wedding vendors?

Comments on Friends as wedding vendors pros and cons: What I learned from getting our photos for free

  1. My advice is not to accept anything that REALLY matters to you as a gift from a friend without planning a back-up. It just is not worth it to jeopardize the friendship when you are devastated that something does not turn out.

    • I totally agree with this. My uncle did our wedding photography, which worked really well because photos didn’t make our (respective) top five things we cared about. If we had been hugely invested in high quality photography, we probably would have been upset with what we got back.

      Our wedding photos have a family party vibe (for example lots of shots of people with their mouths hanging open), and I have a five minute video of my uncle and aunt talking about how to use the video camera off-screen while shooting a close up of my aunt’s shoe. Because for us this was truly a gift (if they hadn’t done it, we wouldn’t have had anything, and that would have been fine), we found these things both funny and sweet.

      It’s worth thinking about what exactly you want to get out of using a friend/family member as a vendor, are you more interested in a professional result made affordable or having them participate in your wedding?

  2. My experience taught me to not even bother. I had a very good friend who, for years, talked about how she wanted to photograph my wedding, would do it for free, etc etc etc. Well when the time came, she offered her services for $900! I didn’t bring up all those times she’d said “free”, but she explained that now that photography was her business and no longer just her hobby, she certainly couldn’t go around giving out free wedding photo packages because everyone would expect them… as though I’d TELL EVERYONE that she was doing it for free. Whatevs. Her shitty attitude ended up driving us apart a bit, and it was pretty awkward and upsetting. She ended up RSVPing “No” to the wedding anyway, as another of our friends is getting married the same weekend in Iowa (we live in Ohio) – guess it’s a good thing I *didn’t* hire her because I’d be screwed in the end anyway!!!

    On the other hand, our DJ is a good friend and he offered right away to do it for free. I was ready to pay and told him I would, but he insisted on giving us his service as a gift. We signed a contract too! In this case, having him offer and having the contract makes me feel safe.

  3. I’m donating my services as a back-up photographer for a friend of a friend’s wedding. I took photos at the hen party so they know what I’m able to do and what I’m like (it’s the reason they asked me to photograph the wedding).

    I’m nervous about it, but I’m definitely on the more conscientious side of the fence:-
    1 – this is someone’s wedding. This is important!
    2- if I do a shit job, I’m not only disappointing the couple, I’m disappointing the friend who put me in touch with them in the first place.
    3 – they are compensating me for the travel costs, if not my time – I wouldn’t charge them anyway as I’m not a professional.
    4 – I’m so paranoid about losing their photos (this happened to another friend when her photographer’s camera gear was stolen) that I’ll be uploading them as fast as humanly possible just to get them off my hands!

    But/and thank you for the tips. I’ll do my best not to be That Friendor.

  4. If you’re going to go the free or cheap route and use a friend as your photographer, then I highly recommend using two friends (or another cheap alternative like a student building a portfolio). If Friend A fails to capture a key moment than Friend B might get it! This way you’re less likely to be upset with anyone important to you for ruining your wedding day photography.

  5. We had ups and downs with “friendors”

    The good side: my father in law owns a film school so his school provided free lighting for the outdoor tent. I guess because he is the father of the groom, there was a certain level of expectation. He did not disappoint. Additionally, husband’s friend is a professional musician who offered to play violin at our ceremony. He did an ALMOST perfect job, and I am very grateful! We did communicate A LOT, I sent him multiple videos of what we wanted, and I got the music to him early. In both cases, communication was key.

    Bad Side: Students at my father-in-law’s film school (headed by my sister-in-law) were supposed to do the wedding video. I have never seen any footage (and we’ve been married two years). A wedding video was never THAT important to me, so I am not too disappointed, but it definitely would have turned out differently if we’d just paid someone to shoot and edit. I did not use a “friendor” for my photography, but my friend did. Her uncle offered to shoot the wedding for free, and he did, but the quality was very low. He did not have up-to-date equipment and followed the very tradition “stand and smile” technique. She did not get any “in-the-moment” shots, and I know she is disappointed. For me, the BIGGEST down side to a “friendor” is lack of control. At the end of the day, your friend is doing you a favor and you may not get the quality you were hoping for. If it’s something you are willing to let go of (like a wedding video) – go for it. If it is something you will be disappointed over (like photography) – pay someone and have it done YOUR way.

  6. Good points. I just called my friendor (an old high school friend with a nice camera from his day job) to do a sample session and go over contracts. If he flakes on me or if I hate the pictures, my plan B is to encourage a plugged-in ceremony. Amazing what iPhones and Instagram can do these days lol

  7. This is a super helpful post! Thank you! I am planning to ask one of my bridesmaids (who I would call a semi-professional baker) to do my cake/cupcake combo. I hadn’t thought of making out a contract (I haven’t approached her yet), but that’s actually a great idea, especially since it would protect her as well. I was planning on working out payment with her, since she’ll already be traveling for the wedding and I don’t know what kind of equipment she may need to either bring with her or buy once she’s here. And also because I think she deserves to be paid for what she does. I’m not concerned about quality because this girl is a phenomenal baker/decorator, and we have a very open relationship so I don’t think either of us will be trying to avoid hurt feelings when we’re hashing out what exactly it is I want and what exactly she needs to be able to deliver that.

    I’d love to know what people think of this idea – is asking someone who’s also a bridesmaid to do the cake completely nuts?

    • As a bride who is baking her wedding cakes, I would say it’s not completely nuts, but I’m probably crazy! It probably depends on what other tasks (if any) you are assigning to her during the pre-wedding days. Keep the rest of her load extremely light, and make sure she has hair/make-up/prep time in her schedule.

      • High five from another bride who baked her cakes! I have had friends work as vendors and have worked as a vendor for my friends. We are all creative professionals though (photographer, letterpress printer/graphic designer, sound engineer, etc.). As a letterpress printer, when I did my friend’s wedding invitations and stationery, they paid for materials and I donated my time as a gift.

    • I think it depends on how many other items the particular bridesmaid will have to contribute to the remaining parts of the wedding (ie: engagement party; bridal shower; various gifts; travel to/from another place, etc). Asking somebody, who already has a very important function in your wedding, to take on another role may cause them some anxiety or stress.

      I’m asking my bridesmaid, who’s also very literary, to do a wedding reading. But I gave her an express out (ie: if it will be too stressful, no worries). But I would have strong concerns, personally, asking a bridesmaid to also take on such an important task as the cake. In my case, she’s a former lit major and has done poetry readings – and won – so this is not a big stretch.

      But I think, as everyone seems to have said, it really depends on your relationship with this person as well. She might be totally cool with the idea and offended if you didn’t ask, but I’d suggest not putting her on the spot (ie: ask via email; give her time to think about it so you don’t expect an immediate response; and all those other good ideas others have suggested such as a contract or paying a certain fee/cost, etc, etc).

      • I don’t think asking a bridesmaid to do a reading is a stretch at all. Seems like that would be the FIRST group of people to lean on for readings. OTOH I can also see having a non-wedding-party person be asked to do a reading for the express purpose of including them without having them in the wedding party.

    • Personally, I’d be a bit stressed if I was asked to do the cake as well as be a bridesmaid. I’d feel like my attention would be too divided for me to do either task well. But your friend may not mind at all. I guess just keeping the lines of communication open is the way to go.

    • My maid of honor insisted on making my desserts (multiple kinds of vegan cupcakes and cakes) as my gift. I tried to tell her no, because I wanted her to play with me, not be working. But she really wanted to. So how it worked out was that I did almost all the shopping and paid for the ingredients ahead of time according to her detailed list. Then she super organized herself to prep some of the frostings at home (out of state!), drive here a few days early, and squeeze in baking amongst my mother-in-law’s aaand my caterer’s kitchen needs and all of the fun events. She is a super duper organized type A determined person, and I think she was still a bit stressed! If your friend isn’t super excited to do this, she will probably have a really really hard time. I would suggest simplicity, and maybe having her only do part of dessert (we ended up getting dessert gifts from two other parties too, which helped a lot).

    • I very much agree with setting aside time for your bridesmaid to get ready! Send her help if she is working down to the wire. I did all the flowers for my brother’s wedding- grew them, harvested them the morning before, processed and arranged them the morning of the wedding. As a bridesmaid I got to the getting ready place- where all the other ladies were drinking mimosas and laughing, having had 5 hours to prep – 20 minutes before the ceremony. I am incredibly proud of all the flowers and they looked fantastic in the pictures, but my hair was a wreck 🙂

  8. We have also had mixed experiences with friendors- I have had TWO friendor photographers crap out on me already – after the first one I learned to get a contract – after trying to get a contract from the second only to have him back out instead – we ended up hiring a professional and my mind is a lot easier now. Having someone take the pictures is one thing but having them care about getting them back to you is a major issue that my friend-photographer-bride-friends have all had.

    Our officiant on the other hand is my cousin-in-law who is a minister and I could not be happier that we have him, he knows us, he likes us and he wants our ceremony to be perfect because it’s family. He won’t forget our names and understands out values!

    I think it comes down to what the friendor is doing and how much you need from them. Its one thing to have someone make sure no one messes with your ipod but another completely to have your cake not show up.

  9. Ugh, two and a half years later, this subject still makes me upset.

    See, we used the photographer that my mom worked for as our wedding photographer. My mom paid for her hotel rooms (as she brought…3? yeah, 3 helpers with her. They were her friends, my mom was her best helper). Her portfolio was decent, nothing amazing, but reasonably solid. Little did I know that my mom did ALL the best shots. But key word was free, plus my mom would have been butthurt if we went with anyone else. So that made our decision.

    I was given 2 cds of images, about 1400 total. Out of that, there were maybe 20 that weren’t blurry, the entire second backup cd (taken by the helper) was completely useless. The video? I watched it once and cried because it was so awful. The videographer turned the video camera. on. its. side. Because she thought it worked like a camera. Half our ceremony is a video of the sky, the other half you can’t hear because of the wind (granted, not their fault). All the specific photos I requested were done wrong or not at all. I have no pictures of guests because the helpers were too busy fruitlessly flirting with my (gay) brother-in-law and drinking. The girls never introduced themselves and they were privy to some incredibly private family moments, incredibly unprofessional. The overall quality of the photography was a huge bummer. We have 3 photos that we have on display in our house now.

    I also was told I’d receive an actual album full of photos, never received that (we had a falling out with my mom about 7 months after the wedding and that was just a by product, I guess). The video, I can’t even watch. The worst part is that it’s the last video of my dad before he died 5 months after our wedding.

    So my experience with a friendor was…awful. My advice: see a portfolio, get something in writing. If you don’t trust someone, its not worth the free service. Photos of our wedding were very important to me, because eventually memories fade. Now I just get annoyed when I look at what was supposed to be one of the best days of my life. I’m glad I was there and remember some stuff, but geeze.

    However, we did have our friend who was also our tattoo artist get ordained & married us. That turned out well, even though he was so nervous he messed up my name twice. We figured we trusted him enough to put something on our bodies permanently.

    Also, we didn’t have a specific bartender. We had a venue that was DIY and we supplied the booze. A bunch of our friends are bartenders professionally so they each jumped behind our makeshift bar for awhile to help out. This was completely unplanned, but worked splendidly.

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