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. My friend is a professional photographer, and my hubby and I asked her to photograph our wedding. She gave us a deal, and in the end his parents ended up paying for the pictures as our wedding gift. (Which was AWESOME!)
    She did a wonderful job, was professional but fun, and us being friends had no detriment on our quality or timing of getting the pictures.
    If she hadn’t of been my friend, I still would have hired her. But still. Never get anyone to do something for free when it comes to your wedding, unless you are 100% sure you can trust them to deliver. It’s not worth the hassle or pain.

  2. My entire wedding is friendors I think. My best friend is doing our photography ( she also did our engagement session and it was wonderful). She knows what I like, what I want, and we communicate very well. She is doing is as a wedding gift to us. My sister (aka Matron of Honor) is helping me with the reception decor, flowers, cooking, etc. We are DIYing most of the wedding. Our venue is one that the groom’s father runs on Tybee Island…..and is coveted. We got that virtually for nothing. My close friend is helping with setting up and decorating. So I think it will all work out in the end. So I think as long as you have an open line of communication between you and that person, and you can sit down with them and say “okay this is what I want, are you willing and able to deliver this?” then there should be no problems at all.

  3. I am a professional wedding photographer and when I do weddings for free (i.e. Family or close friends) they all sign a contract it doesn’t matter if you are my best friend or my sister. It just protects everyone, they know what I need from them and they know what to expect from me. There is no “he said, she said” because we get it all in writing.

    Great advice.

    P.S. If you do have someone you love shooting your wedding for free (or catering or anything else) please be nice to them. Bridezilla doesn’t really fly when we are only there because we volunteered.

  4. I’m in a position of great confusion right now about my photographer. Photos are honestly second on my list of things that are most important, but when working with a tiny budget finding one is tricky as anything. My grandparents are/used to be both professional photographers (and have done weddings) and when I mentioned that I was looking for a photographer told me that my Grampie was going to be heartbroken if we didn’t use them (for free…) The only issue in this is that a) My Grampie is walking me down the aisle, and b) I actually want my grandparents to have fun at my wedding. Not being stuck behind a camera.
    What does one do in this type of situation?

  5. You get what you pay for, and in this case, you’re not going to get much. Do you really want to save a buck on what is supposed to be the best day of your life? It’s one day, capture it in all it’s beauty the right way because after the day is over, the only things you will have to remember it by are the rings & the photos (and/or video)

  6. I’m a pro and the point should not be if a person is your friend or not. Instead, the point should be is that person actually qualified to shoot your wedding? These are two totally different issues.

    There are good friends who are great landscape photographers but who have never shot a wedding. There are “pro” photographers, e.g., on Craigslist, who are rank beginners who still are shooting crappy wedding photos. There are even experienced and expensive wedding photographers whose style is just not your aesthetic. Paying or not paying any of these people doesn’t change their skills and the likely end result for you.

    If your best friend or close relative is a professional wedding photographer and can show you great examples from past weddings he or she has shot and those photos fit your vision for your photos, and you’re able to work out some sort of arrangement to get him or her to work for a reduced fee or even for free, then by all means go for it. What an incredible gift. I have done a couple of free or greatly reduced weddings for family and close friends and it’s a whole lot of work, but because of the relationship I was happy to do it and save them the expense. But before they asked me they had seen my work and knew it was a great fit for what they wanted in their wedding photos.

    If your best friend or relative cannot show you past pictures of weddings he has shot, then paying or not paying, entering in a contract or not entering in to a contract, makes no different whatsoever. If your friend can’t show you a track record, you’re rolling the dice. You might get great photos. And it might be months/years later and you’re still waiting. It’s your decision but realize that you are taking a bit of a risk on something that can’t be redone after the fact.

  7. I have a BFA in photography, I love shooting weddings, I love using my friends as models, and I love being asked to shoot their weddings- this does not mean I want to do it for free. I’m not saying that I won’t, or haven’t before, but as a professional- I will admit that if you want my services for free you will be on the bottom of my to-do list. And providing me with a piece of your cake or a meal at the event does not count as payment. I have to pay rent and gas, just like everyone else.
    Now, that being said, I think being friends with the bride/groom makes my images better. You are more comfortable and it shows in your smile and poses. It also means that your friends and family know me and the candid images just seem warmer and happier, less staged. It also makes me step up my game because if they are bad, I have to face you for the rest of our lives knowing I ruined a special day (no pressure- right).
    So, please hire your friends and you should definitely get everything in writing ahead of time regardless is money is being exchanged. But if you want a free service, don’t be the douche that asks for their premium package, extra prints, rushed delivery, extra photoshop, ect… (Hint: ask for a friends and family discount rather than free- often we will cut our prices by 50% or more, and because it’s now a paid gig, you are back at the top of my list. Tipping also gets you bumped to the top as well.)

  8. As a (cake) vendor that has also acted as a friendor, I can tell you that sometimes friendors can feel like they’re being taken for granted. Oh so you’re only expecting 100 guests, but you want a wedding cake to feed 250? What we do now when we’re in the friendor zone is to treat it exactly like a vendor. I will set a “gift price” in my head, but I meet with the couple just like they are any other client, no discussion of “free” cakes. If the design they choose is within the gift range then I tell them I would like to make this cake as their gift. If the design they choose is very elaborate and expensive, then I tell them I would like to discount the cake by the gift price as my wedding gift to them. This arrangement has worked out very well for us.

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