The Ballad of Uncle Bob ~ Wisconsin Wedding Photographer

Ok, sit down. It’s confession time.

Are you sitting down?


**deep breath**

I once Uncle Bobbed a wedding.

There. I said it. Man… I feel a weight off my shoulders. I’ve carried the guilt of having once “Uncle Bobbed” for YEARS.

Backstory: This was back in 2008. I had BARELY just started Type A. In fact, I’m not sure if I was properly registered with the state yet (man, I was just chock full of amateur screw ups!)

One of my closest friends was getting married. I didn’t even have it in my head to SHOOT weddings yet, really. Frankly, I was as clueless as clueless could be and my whole idea going into my friend’s wedding was “this chick is gonna PAD HER PORTFOLIO”

Yup. I was going to use a wedding I wasn’t hired for to shoot wedding images.

**Insert audible groan from the peanut gallery here**

Now, ignorance of the “law” is really no excuse for bad behavior. I should have known better. But, I didn’t….which leads me to think that lots of folks packing up their D40’s and their 60D’s to tote to the next wedding they’re invited to in the hopes of getting a money shot for their new Facebook “business” page don’t really know better either. Or, they do and they’re just okay with being numpty heads. Either way, I thought it would be helpful to put together a little “Are You or Aren’t You” test…..print it out and take it yourself if you’re planning on attending a wedding any time soon as a guest.

So, what IS an Uncle Bob? “Uncle Bob” is an industry term referring to any non-hired photographer at a wedding that insists on shooting the thing anyway. Regardless of their gear. I’ve had Uncle Bobs that had better gear than I did…..I’ve had Uncle Bobs that used their cell phone like it was going out of style. Uncle Bobs can be male or female, young or old. Most tend to be distant relatives of the couple….or significant others of bridal party members (ahem….like I was. LOL). They are like the mosquitos of the wedding industry. Seemingly, the more you swat at them….the more they tend to buzz around.

So here’s a fool proof way to test your Bobby-ness. And if you find you have Uncle Bob’d, I say do 10 Hail Mary’s….a Glory Be….an Act of Contrition…..and never do it again!

1. You Pack Every Piece of Gear You Own
If you show up to a relative or friend’s wedding as someone OTHER than the hired gun with 4 external flashes, every lens in your arsenal, a light stand and a softbox?

Yeah, you’re probably an Uncle Bob. If you want to bring your camera to a wedding, that’s probably fine, most folks do. But there’s a fine line between snapping a few candids of your fellow guests and setting up a mobile studio.

2. You Plan on Surprising the Couple With a Gift
I hear this ALL. THE. TIME. Uncle Bob decides to shoot over your shoulder all day, print the images up at Walgreens, and surprise the couple with his artwork.

Uncle Bob, they would probably prefer the blender off their registry. I dunno, that’s just a guess. If you were the superior wedding-shooter you believe you are, they would have hired you to just shoot the wedding. Am I right?

3. You Plan on Putting Your Shots Up on Your Business Page
Ok, this is….like…mortal sin territory here. Let me explain why. Modern wedding vendors rely on word of mouth and Facebook/Internet exposure to market their businesses and get more paying clients. When you do this for a living, you really look forward to picking your favorites from wedding shoots and putting them up for the world to see….in hopes many people will see them and say “Hey, awesome…I want to hire that person too”

Now, I’m sure you have a similar thought process. I want the world to see MY shots and hopefully say “Hey, not bad…I’m gonna get Bob to shoot my wedding”…and maybe they’ll even PAY you! Holy BUCKETS!

Here’s the problem. If you were not hired and paid to shoot a wedding, you’re being a big liar liar pants on fire if you put your business name on shots you chimped off the hired gun from the side lines. Just to lay it all out there. Your business did not shoot this wedding. Period. People are going to see the professional shots from a particular wedding….and then your shots…and wonder “So, who really shot the wedding?”

So, if you want to get wedding experience without being a big fat liar : )….second shoot for someone. Wade into the water before you go belly flopping in. Belly flopping stings.

4. You’re Being Disruptive
Now, here’s where I find folks really don’t know where the line is. If the hired shooter is busy directing a group to stand a certain way, look a certain way, hold their bodies a certain way… stepping in to co-direct or move them to suit your needs or what you find “better” is just….ugh…no. Just NO. Even if you think the hired shooter is a moron who has no idea what they’re doing. You have a right to your opinion, but a wedding day probably isn’t the day to step in and assume their duties.

Think of it this way: Lets say you LOVE music….and you’re an audiophile, like my husband (who pretty much criticizes every DJ we come across). You go to a wedding thinking “I can’t believe they hired such and such DJ. They SUCK….I’m much better”….so you bring your own music collection, your own gear, and you set up your own booth right next to the DJ.

Regardless of how much better you may think you may be, how disruptive will that be to the flow of the day to have TWO DJ’s vying for attention of the wedding party?

Yup, its kind of the same thing with Uncle Bob. Wedding parties are hard enough to corral and direct without two cooks stirring the pot.

5. You are PHYSICALLY in the way.

Yes, during the ceremony, standing center aisle will probably guarantee you a pretty good shot of the first kiss.

It also blocks my guaranteed shot of the first kiss. So, yeah…..

Also, on a similar note, I’m pretty sure the bride doesn’t want the ambient glow of cellphones lighting her entrance into the church. She’s much rather see the adoring faces of her guests.


6. You’re MISSING stuff

If you’re so busy chimping all the shots you got or worrying about when the couple are going out at sunset, you’re going to miss the event. Trust me. When I shoot a wedding I’m not PARTICIPATING in the event the way a guest who was specifically invited for that purpose would. I am wolfing down the probably-expensive meal so I have time to catch the speeches, I am concerned with lighting and angle, I’m running around like the proverbial headless chicken.

You were invited to share in a moment in someone’s life….not photograph it….SHARE in it. That means put your phone down and WATCH these moments that the couple have meticulously planned over the past year or so.

So, You’re An Uncle Bob. Now What?

If you’re sitting here reading this going “Oh crap. I’ve Uncle Bobbed. I feel like a heel. Now what?”

I feel ya. Been there. Like I said, I once Uncle Bobbed too. There is hope for all of us.

First, think of the couple next time you’re invited to a wedding. They want you there to participate in their day, not work.

There are also plenty of other better ways of adding weddings to your portfolio without being a pain in the butt. Second shooting, assisting….etc. There are a lot of photographers out there (myself included) who are happy to take new photographers under her wing, under most circumstances, and allow them to keep what they shoot for me under my business, for their portfolio.

Now, with that being said, don’t assume that because you are starting your own business that the hired shooter at the next wedding you attend wants to mentor you….especially right then and there. We’re WORKING. We don’t want to be rude, but dude…..think about your own 9-5 job and add a person next to you asking you a billion questions that you didn’t agree to train….yeah, it can be a bit distracting.

Approach someone outside of their work day that you admire and inquire about assisting. Start small. You have to get your foot in the door and work your way up. There’s no fast track, no matter what anyone says.

And on a final note, be aware if a hired photographer may want you to just put your camera away and enjoy the day. Some of us throw more subtle hints that others. Some of us are cool with just saying “Um…dude….I’m workin’ here”. Most of us have clauses in our contract to cover this sort of stuff. But, we WANT to be happy and helpful on our client’s big day, not running interference….so it’s SO much easier if you just test yourself, then check yourself. :)

Together, we can lessen the impact of Uncle Bobs for the NEXT generation : )

Andrea (member of the infamous A-Team) surrounded by well-meaning "second shooters) 

Andrea (member of the infamous A-Team) surrounded by well-meaning "second shooters)