How to Deal with Family Drama at a Wedding


Dear Jasmine,
I recently had a wedding where the family of the bride was terrible. Terrible as in half the bridal party threatened to not walk down the aisle right before the ceremony because the bride’s brother showed up. So terrible that the wedding coordinator for the country club came over in the middle of bridal party portraits to say she was kicking some people out of the reception. The whole family stood on the steps of the club and screamed at the bride for letting them be kicked out. Needless to say, the mood was ruined for any photos.
They hired me for a set number of hours, and there was no time to add portraits in later. They are from out of town, so a day after session is not an option. I know it is not my fault at all. If they are not satisfied with the photos I did get, there really is nothing I can do but point out that things were way beyond my control. I can be pretty good at lightening up a situation, but there was no way to do that here. How would you have handled a situation like this?
Wedding Photographer Turned Referee

Dear Ref,
Oooooh, this is no fun. At all. My stomach turned just reading about this turn of events. I can’t even imagine how the bride must have felt…how awful. And though your letter was asking for advice, my first reaction is to address who it affects most: your clients.
The main thing is to keep their feelings as the utmost priority and tread carefully to ensure you don’t unearth bad memories. I firmly believe I’m a curator as much as I’m a photographer, so it’s my job to put together a story in the strongest way possible…even when it seems daunting.

In light of this, I wouldn’t have left the wedding without getting–at least–10 extra minutes of portrait time with the bride and groom alone. Regardless of how crazy her family made the day, it’s your job as a wedding photographer to steer the ship in the craziest of storms.

I would have done one of two things:
    1. Asked the bride and groom to leave the reception during dinner for ten minutes to catch the last of sunset. I’d explain that a few minutes together could recalibrate their night and refocus on the importance of their day. I’d promise that 10 minutes together could change the entire scope of their wedding photos…and then I’d deliver.
    2. If the bride and groom couldn’t get away from the reception during dinner, I’d ask them to step outside just before my contracted hours were complete. Leaving without the appropriate amount of bride and groom photos is the absolute last option for me. I’d explain that I’d have off-camera lights set up and we’d be able to capture beautiful night photos. I’d request for my second shooter to buy two glasses of champagne for the couple to drink as we enjoyed the moonlight and then I’d shoot like all get out. Are OCF photos my favorite at night? Well, no. But they’re better than leaving without capturing what I’ve been commissioned to as a professional photographer.

I hope you never have to face this scenario again, Ref, but if you do, please remember to leverage your curatorial abilities, educate your clients what 10 minutes can do for them, and capture what you need before you depart from the wedding.
Steer Your Ship,

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  1. Joan

    August 5th, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Great advice! 🙂

  2. Cheryl

    August 5th, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    I have 22 years of experience photographing weddings. We all learn in our business that there are some clients which just aren’t a good match for us. I can tell after a consultation if the couple is a good match for me. Always follow your gut. I have had brides in and after talking with them I’ve often said, "I’m sorry we’re just not a good match." Always follow your gut…it’s always right. Raising your prices or have a minimum hour rate of at least six hours on a Sat will get you a better quality of client. If their willing to pay more they will want the photos and less drama. You shouldn’t feel bad. You did the best you could have. Feeling sorry for the bride because her family is physo, well we get that. In a few weeks I have a wonderful bride who confided in me that her mom is a drunk and caused problems at her sister’s wedding She has a plan and that’s going to be that. I had a wedding in June where the bride was 1.5 hours late for the wedding. We got the minimal photos but I just kept smiling and remember it’s all about the marriage, not the wedding. Sometimes we all forget why everyone is at this place. It’s not for the free food and….well maybe for some it is but it shouldn’t be…lol The best thing to do is make sure you get your package paid for two weeks before the wedding and do your best.

  3. Linda

    August 5th, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    I love how you suggested to even tell the bridge and groom to just give you 10 minutes so that you can make sure that you at least have some nice shots of them. After all, it’s there day. Thanks for the advice. Let’s hope I never need to use it.

  4. Sara

    August 5th, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Great Post! 🙂 Thank you Jasmine!

  5. rollee

    August 5th, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    In some way or another, I have experienced ‘crazy families’, after all our works involves people and people are like chocolates.
    This disaster escape plan handbook is well written. Thank you j* 🙂

  6. Todd Gianguzzi

    August 5th, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Jasmine, in this situation would you have stayed past your contract time and completed the pictures? I dont know the circumstances but what stood out to me is "they only hired me for a set number of hours". Was there an opportunity to stay? Best to all

  7. Christina De La Torre

    August 5th, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    I shot a wedding a few months ago where the entire bridal party and even the MOB were trashed before the ceremony even begun. Getting them all to focus during pictures was impossible let alone to get them in the correct poses. As soon as my contracted hours were done I high tailed it out of there just before the police showed up to deal with the rowdy bridal party. Whew! My biggest lesson is that now I interview my clients just as much as they interview me. No photographer should find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.

  8. Norma Skinner

    August 5th, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    Great reminders for a hugely stressful situation.

  9. Asia

    August 5th, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    I wish I had read this before last Saturday. Not only did the first look turn into a fight, but their portraits after that were very very fake. When I would ask them to whisper something sweet into the other’s ear it would be about how the wedding day was failing and how the groom was being irresponsible. *sigh*

    I should have asked for 10 fresh minutes during the reception.

  10. Cramer Imaging, Pocatello Photography

    August 5th, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    OOOOOO, wince, shudder. Reading this gives me some nightmares about wedding photography. That is some great advice about how to deal with the situation, Jasmine. I will try to keep it in mind should I ever find myself in some kind of similar situation in the future.

  11. Mahesh Shantaram

    August 6th, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Late! Late! Late! I’m 2 months late to this post. But thanks for sharing. Let’s hope the next disaster is the one that never happens 🙂

  12. Christine

    August 7th, 2014 at 1:55 am

    Thank you for this answer! Even though they had hired me for a set number of hours, I would have been willing to add on as long as it took to get more photos, but they wouldn’t go out again for any more. In the end, she said she loved her images, so I guess it worked out. I have had several couples who seemed amazing at the consultation and then turned out to be very different on the day. Rolling with it is all I can do!

  13. Lori

    August 10th, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I agree – make sure the bride and groom are taken care of first and everyone else comes after.

  14. Matthew Leland

    August 10th, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Such great advice. I would have totally panicked at what to do to help make their day special again.

  15. Leon Bailey

    August 12th, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Geez, what a story. I had similar situations before, but not to that extent. Takes real patience to deal with that kind of disaster. Great advice as always J*

  16. tonya

    August 25th, 2014 at 1:58 am

    to shoot weddings and not deal with family drama is impossible …roll with the punches

  17. Anna

    September 11th, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Steer the ship – great advice!

  18. bruidsfotograaf

    September 11th, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Great post I dont know how I would have handled the situation. I think i would have documented it the way it was. Offcourse i would love a nice lovely wedding but if things go wrong i dont think its my duty to interfere. I find your suggestion about taking them outside for 10 mins after dinner a good idea. Perhaps things calmed down and at least you have some portraits then