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 hope it’s okay if I offer my two cents as a vendor. I personally give free photography sessions to my VERY close friends on a not uncommon basis. Or I offer up huge discounts on the products they buy. But, here’s the thing.. My friends WANT to pay me because I am an experienced professional photographer that produces professional results and they respect me. The last wedding I shot was for some of my brother’s best friends. These are people who have partied at my house. I did give them a small discount, but they pretty much paid me full price and we (of course) had a contract in place, and etc. I have treated them with the same level of professionalism I would treat any other client.

    I have had a couple of other ‘friendor’ experiences, back in the beginning. My very FIRST wedding I shot was free, for a friend. I had zero wedding experience prior to that. I actually paid quite a bit out of pocket to make sure I did things ‘right’ (mostly right, looking back at it) as far as equipment and everything went. Sometime around that time, maybe shortly after, another friend said they were getting married and I was like hey, I’ll shoot your wedding and engagements and all for $200. I was really stupid and the communication was poor and it turns out her wedding wasn’t until the FOLLOWING year.. So I had full year and a half of additional wedding experience by the time her wedding rolled around and I actually ended up shooting TWO engagement sessions plus their wedding.. for $200. And I told her that I had misunderstood originally, but it never seemed to matter. I felt pretty upset over the fact I knew that she paid 4x more for her dress than she paid me. Honestly, all these years later it still sticks in my side just a tiny bit that I never felt valued for what I did for her.

    As a ‘friendor’ it is the worst to feel like you’re taken advantage of. I have plenty of ‘friends’ (aka acquaintances) who like to come to me and assume just because they know me in some fashion, that I’m going to give them a discount. I don’t give people discounts when they ASSUME I’m going to. Again, these are people who want to take advantage of me. This is my business; and this is how I make my living. I don’t have another job. Shooting a wedding is hours upon hours of work and it’s physically exhausting. I don’t want to mess around and socialize when I shoot a wedding, because I am focused on doing my job correctly.

    Outside of my first wedding, the only other wedding I have shot for free was my brother’s wedding. I shoot anything for immediate family (including my husband’s siblings) for free. I would not shoot a friend’s wedding for free, but anybody who really valued me wouldn’t WANT me to because they understand how hard the work is.

    Obviously, my opinion is from the point of someone with a lot of experience so it’s not going to be the same as someone who is just starting out. As I said.. my FIRST wedding ever was free for a friend. I think I did a good job for a first wedding, but you have to realize it’s a major YMMV type situation. And yes.. even with a friend. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS GET A CONTRACT!! If you value your wedding photos OR your friendship, GET A CONTRACT. Don’t let what should be a fun and fabulous day become a thorn in your side (or your friend’s side). Always have very open communication with them and be honest. I want my regular clients to be honest with me, and I’m always honest with them.. I would expect the same of any friend.

  2. We ended up have three friendors, but every one of their jobs was not something i considered super-critical. two friends sang – but, they didn’t NEED to, and my cousin made my wedding cake – she makes cakes as a side job and is wonderful at it. i wouldn’t have had a cake at all except that i wanted to support her, and tried to hire her (they all ended up gifting me their skills – but i approached them all as a ‘hire.’)

    There were a few other things that people offered and I just said ‘oh, thanks, but i have already hired someone and paid the deposit.” Those were for things that i REALLY REALLY wanted/needed to happen, i decided i wanted someone I didn’t know personally.

    All three of my friendors were spectacular and added a lot, but for me i wanted a clear professional relationship for anything that needed to be a certain way.

  3. (back again! So many great comments)

    As a friendor, I found it really helpful to chat about what my friends wanted and to have exactly what was expected written down (even if just in email form). This way it’s much easier to make sure you both know what the plan is and I was able to refer back to it to check I was doing what we agreed!

    I’d never be offended if a friend asked to see a portfolio or other examples of my work. It’s just treating me as a professional. So I think it’s pretty reasonable and a good idea, even if just to get some ideas flowing!

    It makes me super happy to be able to help out my friends and be a (small!) part of their day, but equally, had I disappointed them it would have haunted me! So for both your and your friend’s sake, be totally honest about what you want and be specific so they can give you their best work!

  4. A friend of ours offered to do our photography – she’s not a professional, or even really a novice. Just your standard person-with-a-camera. I thanked her, but honestly? Did not even consider it for a NANOSECOND. Photography is super,super important to me, and I did not want to put that kind of pressure on a friend. Also? I know this friend’s personality. She is loving and giving and kind… and also kind of a flake. I was stressed enough waiting for her to get her BM dress made, and she never did get the song arrangement done that she had promised…

    A couple more cons to think about:
    -If a vendor screws up, you can feel okay about being upset and angry. You can leave a not-totally positive review (though be careful with that…), you can send an email saying you’re disappointed. If your Aunt Patsy ends up presenting you with awful pictures, is it going to strain your relationship? Are you going to feel guilty for being disappointed with her work? Are you going to be ticked at Aunt Patsy every time you see those awful orange tinted photos?

    -If your friend or relative is doing something labor-intensive for the wedding, like catering or photography, they aren’t going to be able to relax at the event. For some people, that might be great – I’ve heard some say that they *prefer* to be in the kitchen or whatever. But if your friend-vendor is going to miss out on some fun times and catching up with old friends and family they haven’t seen in years, it might not be the best idea.

    All that said, we did use a friend for our officiant, and it was awesome. It worked out because he had officiated a wedding before and knew what he was doing, we were able to talk about it in a professional business-like manner, we paid him for his time, we were very clear with our expectations, and probably most importantly? We wouldn’t have been absolutely devastated if he would have messed up (like we would have been for the photographer).

  5. It’s been friendor city for all three weddings I’ve been in (ummm, let’s see here: free photography and music and food at the first one, free music and decorations at the second one, free invitation design and videography and music at the third one, and mine will have free invitation design and videography), mainly because we as a group tend to the creative and poor. I think the only problem that’s come up before is that the videographer friend runs notoriously late completing projects, so it was a good eight months before the video got back to that bride.

    I think it works for us because we don’t expect more than friends can give — we’re receiving a gift of services we already admire. The photographer of the first wedding took shots that were in no way professional, but they’re of an artistic style the first bride really liked beforehand. The music at the second wedding was a rock song the couple liked, arranged by me for the instruments the wedding party played. Only one of us was a serious semi-professional musician, and that’s what the ensemble sounded like — but that’s also exactly what the couple expected: their amateur friends playing for them out of love. The invitations for the third wedding were designed by a professional artist in the group, and looked exactly like her work looks, quirky and unique. The bride didn’t expect the artist to use a completely different style. As for mine, I’m using the same late-running videographer as the second wedding, and I just won’t expect the video until my first anniversary. 🙂

    I think if I really didn’t like the way my friendors go about things, I’d find someone different to pay for them rather than expect them to change miraculously. But I do, so… once more into the breach!

  6. This!

    Also, my brother got married about a fortnight ago and they asked our step-dad to be their photographer because they knew he wouldn’t charge them.

    Step-dad said yes without hesitation coz he was eager to help but he ended up getting exluded from a large part of the ceremony and reception (for example he wasn’t going to be in the photo with our parents & step mum until I stepped in and took that photo myself) and he was stressed out beyond belief that he’d let them down not getting enough pictures of just the two of them because they ignored his recommendation that they set time aside for photos.

    It really taught me that even if someone’s falling over themselves to help you out, with all-day jobs like photographers it’s worth getting someone separate so people who might be willing to do it for free actually get a chance to celebrate with you.

  7. I think in situations like this it is always better to get someone to do it, there is always options of different price ranges of photographers. That way everyone is happy

  8. My general rule is that if we’re close enough that you’d invite me to your wedding, I shouldn’t photograph it, and if we’re not close enough for me to attend as a guest, we’re not close enough for me to shoot it for free.

    HOWEVER. Two years ago one of my best friends got married. It was a short-notice, tiny ceremony in a park, because he was going into the foreign service and he and his fiancee needed to be married before he left on his first assignment. I was the photographer, best man, bride’s make-up artist, and florist, and it was one of the best weddings ever. In the end, they were thrilled with the photos. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    That same friend is going to be a groomsman in our wedding. His now-wife is an amateur baker and offered to make a wedding cake for me and my fiancee. I said yes immediately because it’s something she loves doing, she can do it in advance so she can enjoy the party, and I don’t have any huge expectations for what my “perfect” cake looks like.

    Now, if any of my friends offered to do my photography, I’d tell them that they can totally bring their camera if they want, but that I’m going to hire someone to be the official photographer so all my talented shutterbug guests can enjoy the party. Photographs are REALLY important to me and I wouldn’t want to risk not getting what I want and potentially losing friendships in the process.

  9. I’ve been the friendor. I do not enjoy being the friendor.

    I’ll shoot (for free) friends’ family portraits, grad portraits, kid birthday parties, whatever, but nothing as important as a wedding again.

    I’m not a professional photographer–I’ve been paid to do work, but it’s not a full time gig whatsoever and I’ve done a grand total of three weddings. One was paid (they chose me because I’m a student with a good portfolio–cheap labor), one was my sister’s (bridesmaid + photographer actually only = photographer), and one was a friend of a friend.

    Said friend-of-friend is the reason I won’t do the friendor thing again.

    Well before the wedding–months before–we laid out in writing that she’d have a CD with all the raw photos after 3 weeks as well as between five and ten “key” photos edited at that time, with the rest to come within 3 months (I know that’s unorthodox; I knew that I’d be busy around that time, but she wanted something to show off on her honeymoon a month after, and she’s the one who suggested the arrangement). Literally less than three days after the wedding, she was messaging me on Facebook asking if I had “happened to get around to” her photos yet. She literally asked every other day until I finally gave them to her three weeks later as agreed. I ended up editing 10 photos for her (the max outlined in our contract), and she asked why there weren’t more. I pointed out the contract and that I’d have them in due time, and she basically “I know, but…” I made a point of giving her the rest of the edited photos exactly 90 days after the wedding.

    I worked just as hard as I would for any other shoot, and I’ve never been accused of not doing satisfactory work or better. And I’m not trying to horn toot here, but I was damn proud of my work at this wedding. There were several last minute things and falling outs and uh-ohs throughout the event (they just didn’t plan out details and didn’t communicate everything with everybody), but the photos didn’t reveal that at all–everybody but the bride praised them up and down, including the groom (who tipped me very well after the shots came back). The bride’s response, other than the aforementioned where-are-the-rest, was “Thanks.”

    I’m sure not all brides are quite so demanding and not all weddings are quite so… hodgepodge, but I just felt very slighted. If she had paid me five thousand dollars to shoot the wedding I wouldn’t have done a better job (well, I may have been able to buy better equipment with the deposit, but you know what I mean). I felt like she felt that since she didn’t pay me, she didn’t have to treat me with respect, and that just isn’t cool.

  10. As a professional photographer obviously I support going down the professional route no matter what. However, I have shot family wedding’s and done small favours for people but the key for me was I always charged something. I think if you do it for free most people expect everything for nothing. I found that by charging you were able to stand your ground, have a proper contract written and actually know exactly what you are being hired for.

    In the end it is a personal preference, but if you pay someone you will definitely get a much better and more professional outcome. I think the fact that people on this thread have said that photography was not in their top 5 things is honestly just crazy.

    So the question I put to all the brides out here that are in the above category is, why would you value something so low which is the one and only thing you will really have left after the wedding? I am not saying going and book the most expensive photographer in the book but I think putting a value on your memories that you show your children and their children and their children’s children is probably a VERY important thing.

    But, each to their own. Just want to get a bit more understanding as to why sometimes photography can be so undervalued 🙂

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