How to Deal with Family Drama at a Wedding

Photography

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?
Sincerely,
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,
j*