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?

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

  1. I’m coming at this from the other side, having been a friendor myself! I did the invite design for a very close couple of friends.

    I think one thing to make sure you do if you have a friendor is to be really honest from the start about what you expect. Talk to them and explain exactly what you want. It’s much better for both of you to work out early on if you aren’t on the same page than when it’s too late! Your friend won’t want to let you down!

    If you aren’t sure exactly what you want, tell your friend that too. Chat to them about it, they might be able to help. Have a proper meeting about it, even if it’s over dinner!

    I have to sleep now but will check back tomorrow and write a longer response!

    • My partner and I friendored. My partner took the photos for a friends wedding. He has lots of experience with outdoor photography, and was not expecting any issues having photographed a number of outdoor weddings before with beautiful results. At the last minute (1 week out) they changed the venue to inside a dark church, we couldn’t afford the $500 external flash it would have needed in that situation. The ceremony photos are not great, they were not happy, now let me just say they are not bad, they are clear, there is plenty, all of the important bits are there, no blurs, they are just not standout.My partner did the best he could and I lightened them as much as I could with photoshop. I honestly think it was not fair on us, we did the photos totally free, film and digital, printing, large prints, I spent hours photoshopping after work for 3 weeks after the wedding. They could not afford a photographer so we stepped up to the plate then paid the price, a friendor needs as much respect as a charging vendor, friendors need to be informed, you need to listen to them when they say what they are good at, don’t expect miracles when you give them 3 days notice for changes that are outside of their area of experience. The bridal shoot however was fabulous, the photos were gorgeous and didn’t need any touching up, we went outside for them and they were perfect.

  2. Gah, this makes me nervous. I am asking a friend to photo our wedding – the payment is her airfares and accommodation – likely to be around $500 all up. She is a photography student who is starting up a business, and while she’s done engagement shoots before (and the work has been pretty good), I don’t think she’s done a wedding before. We were going to ask someone else to take photos as a back-up, and after reading this I am definitely going to get her to sign a mini-contract, or at least clearly specify what we expect from her.

    I guess on the plus side, when I think about it, though I love looking at wedding photos of other people, I can’t imagine lingering over a whole album of photos of ours. I doubt we’d be likely to put a giant photo of us on display either – it just seems a bit narcissistic, or maybe just says something about my lack of self-esteem. If there’s 20 decent photos of us and of family, and some nifty Instagram photos of the details, I’ll be fine.

    • As a professional photographer I highly caution you! Understanding the flow of a wedding and having a handle on the timeline is of utmost importance. Anything can happen at any moment changing your day and often times it is the photographer who people turn to to know what to do next. We need to be able to switch lenses on a dime, adjust our exposure for different lighting situations, wrangle unruly and sometimes uncooperative family members and guests, know what’s happening when (cocktail hour, first dance, speeches, parent dances, cake cutting). That doesn’t even take into account the editing, which for a professional can take months. Where will they end up? Will you have an online hosting gallery? Will they be archived? Are you satisfied knowing that you may never hold an actual print because you have you images on a (gasp) DVD?! And just as you love looking at other people’s photos so too will people love looking at yours, maybe even small people who look a lot like you 🙂
      I wish you a beautiful, happy day and I hope this will help you ask all the right questions so you get everything you deserve out of your photography!

  3. I hired an acquaintance because I knew her (and liked her pictures) and wanted to support her independent business.

    She charged more than she was worth for sure, it took me months to get the pictures from her (we did pay her full price, no discount at all, so the lack of service was really uncalled for), it was impossible to contact her throughout the planning process and after the wedding (she never answers her phone, voicemailbox is often full and when it isn’t she doesn’t return calls anyway, doesn’t respond to emails because she claims she doesn’t get them half the time and doesn’t bother to resolve this issue with her email and had the gall to tell my mother she didn’t want to be contacted at her part-time job, when it was literally the only way to get ahold of her). She also at one point said she would have an assistant also taking pictures, but on the wedding day didn’t have one and never mentioned it. Her rates were the same as what she told us they would be with an assistant. We signed a contract, but we never got a copy of it.

    Whether you’re hiring a vendor or getting a favour from a friendor, make sure you ask around with other people who have gotten that service from them to see what their experience was.

    Just because you think you know someone doesn’t mean they’ll be a good vendor, so check around. Especially when you’re paying them.

    We also had some really good experiences with friendors, though. We had a quartet of our friends sing for our ceremony (no backup plan for music), but they are close friends and great singers, so we knew we could count on them.

    We also hired a friend to make our cake (we offered to pay her more, but she only wanted cost of materials), but again, I’ve known her for years, and I followed her blog while she was at pastry school, so I knew what she could do.

  4. I’m a musician, and while most of the wedding work that I do is for strangers, I have been asked to play at a few friends’ weddings. When I have done this, I’ve been glad to do it for free but was pleasantly surprised by a $20 bill in a thank you card. I’ll throw in two more cents by saying that for really close friends, sometimes I prefer not to play for them. Playing means I can’t wear what I want (I’m a cellist, and that can be restrictive to the wardrobe if I don’t want to flash everyone!), I have to bring and keep track of my instrument, which takes up as much space as a person, and of course there’s extra pressure to do well because it’s for a friend! We’re using canned music for our wedding, as most of my friends are musicians and I don’t want them to have to work. I’d rather they just enjoy the day as guests.

  5. I think favors, like medicine, are best in small doses. Big favors make me uncomfortable and strain the friendship. So I might be open to a friend taking my engagement picture but not spending the whole day “working” my wedding. Do you want to bake my wedding cake? Maybe. Do you want to cater the whole thing yourself? Maybe not.

    I know I’ve read a thousand DIY weddings on this blog where the whole theme was “doing it together made it better”. I’ve read about a million amazing favors on this blog that only served to strengthen the ties of those involved but… for me… small favors, please.

  6. My brother and sister-in-law had a bad experience with a friendor. He was the photographer, and while he did show up and take the pictures and got them back to the bride and groom in reasonable time, the pictures themselves were a terrible disappointment. They looked like snapshots. Nothing remotely special about them and not always in focus, and none of the bride and her parents. Bro and sis-in-law ended up having professional pictures taken in their wedding duds months later.

    On the other hand, the same sis-in-law and my oldest sister did the cake for my other sister’s wedding. Not only was it professional-level gorgeous, it tasted amazing. The sister getting married bought the ingredients, and that’s all she paid for it. Difference is, sis-in-law and my oldest sister are perfectionists who would never have done any less than their best, especially for family.

  7. I’ve provided music for a number of my friends’ wedding ceremonies, free. I am really happy to do this for them and I would never dream of asking them to pay me, even though I do sing at weddings for pay.

    Often they have a particular song in mind and no idea where to get the music for it. In two instances, the music did not exist beyond just a recording, so I spent 2 hours transcribing by ear. When a person has hired me to sing their wedding, they have to provide me the sheet music a certain amount of time in advance, or they are limited to music that I can get easily. It’s actually quite a bit MORE work to sing for a friend because I don’t want to say “no” to these special requests.

    If you’re having a friend provide music for your ceremony, understand that it’s more than a one hour commitment. Take the time to personally thank them after the ceremony. And make sure that what you are requesting is reasonable!

    • Exactly.. with any vendor, it’s more than what’s seen on the surface. I saw someone say “It’s just showing up for a few hours and giving me a disk.. what’s so hard about it?” It’s so much more than that. 🙂 Or at least it is to anybody who values the job at hand.

    • i had a friend do a song she had to learn and i gave her a $100 gift card in her thank you card when she wouldn’t let me ‘pay’ her. i totally knew she was doing me a BIG favour!

  8. I have a shitty memory, without pictures to remind me of my life I would forget anything that’s happened more than 5 years ago… So I’m a obsessed photographer of events (from a dinner with friends to weddings). People have often told me how my photos of their weddings were great and, in two cases, better than the professional photographer’s. So imagine my stress when I couldn’t take pictures of my own wedding! So I hired a good photographer AND made everyone with a camera my friendor. No room for missed photos…

  9. Also be wary of the friendor of a friend. My friend agreed to let the best man’s wife do the cake because she needed portfolio practice for her new business. On top of that the woman whined her way into the wedding party and spent more time arranging flowers than working on the cake, which my friend had to pay for twice because the baker used the first payment for everything but the ingredients for the cake. Then the woman threatened not to make the cake at all if the bride didn’t pay for her to come to the bachelorette party she wasn’t even invited to!!

  10. Thanks for this post. I will also have friends who will take photos and videos of my wedding for free and the advice in the post and in the comments section will help a lot 🙂

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