The invite that’s really not that inviting

A reason to celebrate? Maybe not if you've been asked as a guest to take photos too

Spring is in the air when a young man’s fancy turns to love, and perhaps marriage. And onto those three little words that are guaranteed to strike fear into every photographer’s heart: “Bring your camera!” On their own, an invite to a keen photographer to bring your beloved camera to an event is usually refreshingly welcome, meaning you’re safe to take photos without fear of a jobsworth or copper from wrestling you to the ground as a suspected terrorist or kiddie fiddler.

A lovely summer's day and a candid shot. Easy. But candid? Really?
A lovely summer’s day and a candid shot. Easy. But candid? Really?

But when those words are hand-written at the end of a wedding invitation, then beware as you could be entering into a whole world of pain. First of all, you have to carefully translate the invitation, working out precisely why you have really been invited. If it’s because the bride knows you’re a keen photographer who would relish the chance to take some candids, then you’re probably onto a winner.

Do a bit of sleuthing and if it turns up that the bride has already booked a proper pro wedding snapper, and you’re there to capture those unguarded moments between chatting to friends and scoffing as much free grub as you can, then all is good.

But if it’s anything other than this, then like it or not you will quickly become the official photographer and will speedily be embroiled in the strange parallel universe of weddings. Where the bride transforms from the ‘normal girl who works in an office and shows a modicum of good taste’ into a manic Bridezilla, intent on living out her fairytale princess fantasies. Instead of her usual life of jeans and trainers, decade-old Ford Focus and throwing a few drunken shapes on a dancefloor fuelled by WKD, suddenly she’s replete with unflattering regency-style bodice dress, a horse-drawn carriage, groom in top hat and tails and performing a slow waltz which leads onto a fully choreographed routine like she’s seen on YouTube. All while quaffing vintage Krug. Then there’s speech making, a fancy cake, table favours with sugared almonds, flowers in a colour to match the “theme” of the wedding, special gifts between the bride and groom, the posh cars, the canapés on the lawn, the tiaras and the tantrums.

Most brides have spent years planning their weddings down to the last detail, pouring over wedding magazines and spending more money on a single day than most people scrape together to put down as a deposit on a first house. That’s how important this day is to her and her Cinderella fantasies. And if you accept the “bring your camera” invitation, you are suddenly a vital part of the illusion that this is how the bride and her family normally live. And the subtext is that you’d better live up to it and not ruin her day by not only delivering the pictures, but appearing to be the consummate professional. If she does admit you’re not a hired pro but a friend or member of the family, it will only be to show what a marvelously creative and bohemian circle of friends she moves in. At no time will the “he’ll do it for free so if he cocks up it doesn’t matter” line be used.

If there really is no way out of it, you have to accept that you have just taken on a massively high pressure job, that can’t be repeated, that proper pros charge upwards of £2000 for. You won’t be able to relax and enjoy the day at any time, because as soon as you do the bride will rush over and ask for “just a quick pic of me and my Mum and Sis and Nan and Grandad”. A very formal pic, of course. The sort of photography that she expressly said she didn’t actually want.

Yes, more than likely she’ll say she wants just natural, candid pics. But don’t believe her. Actually she’ll still want all the traditional shots of – in no particular order – with dad before leaving for the church, getting out of posh car, with bridesmaids outside church, walking in, walking down the aisle, exchanging rings, signing register, first kiss, walking back down aisle, a zillion group shots, the receiving line, the speeches, cutting the cake, the first dance. The list goes on. She’ll also want pictures before she leaves for church, and the dancing at the end. Giving you a working day of around 12 hours, plus the days afterwards of downloading, processing and working out how to deliver the pictures. All for no money. Well, apart from the extra money you’d have to spend on cameras, lenses, flashes and memory cards as a backup.

So before you accept this poisoned chalice of an invite, just image what would happen if you turn up on the day and forget to bring your camera. If you genuinely believe the bride would nonchalantly shrug her shoulders and claim she’d actually forgotten she’d mentioned you should come armed with kit, then your role – and enjoyment of the day – is not in question.

If it’s anything other than this, then here are some suggestions of three little words that you should consider sending to the bride on receipt of the invitiation. “My camera broke” would be a good one. Or “I quit photography” maybe. Or if you really can’t get out of it, then “price list attached” should get the desired result.

*First published in Practical Photography magazine