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 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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…

  18. 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!!

  19. 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 🙂

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. (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!

  23. 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).

  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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 🙂

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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?

  34. 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)

  35. 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.

  36. 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.)

  37. 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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