Home »

Hiring Uncle Joe

Over the years, we have heard stories where a couple hired "Uncle Joe" for their wedding photography or video. "Uncle Joe" for our description here may also be substituted for "Co-Worker", "Neighbor", "Cousin", "Family Friend", or any other non-professional photographer or filmmaker.

Most, if not all of the time, it is to save money. Budgeting for an event as big and important as a wedding can be extremely challenging, especially because no couple can be truly experienced at it, assuming it is their first & only wedding.

"My uncle loves photography, and offered to shoot our wedding. He's giving us a huge discount and we'll get all the files to print the pictures ourselves afterwards. We can't really pass it up."

Applying this logic to the other aspects of your day, if your Aunt Anna was an amazing cook, would she be a good caterer for your 150 guests? What if your Co-Worker took her sewing hobby so seriously, loving it more than anything, that she offered to make your wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses?

I have no doubt that Uncle Joe is well-intended and may have an eye for taking pictures, but the art and ultimate product of wedding photography is so much more. Let's follow this scenario through, all events fictional, but based upon a compilation of real-life accounts we have been told of.

Who is Uncle Joe?

Uncle Joe has a regular office job who has always had a passion for photography. He owns a relatively expensive DSLR with 2 lenses, and has loved to take pictures on weekends while hiking, visiting the city, and at other weddings he's been to over the years.

The Morning of the Wedding

He is very excited and confident the morning of the wedding, diligent in arriving early while his niece is getting ready at the hotel. The room is darker than he thought, cramped, and not well laid out. There is so much going on, and he takes a variety of shots. He has never taken interior pictures like this before, and his lens isn't fast enough and the shots are too dark for his liking. Things are moving too quickly to remember what manual settings to use to adapt, so he turns on all the lights he can find, satisfied that it'll have to suffice. He also notices that his lens isn't wide enough to capture the whole scene. He runs to the car to swap it out for his wide-angle, and when he returns, his niece is fully dressed and ready to head to the church. He missed the all of the important moments where her mom and sister helped her into her dress, jewelry, and shoes.

He is the only shooter, and because hair, makeup, and getting dressed for the bride and her bridesmaids ran late, he won't have time for the groom getting ready, so he leaves directly for the ceremony.

The Ceremony

Uncle Joe takes a lot of outside pictures of the church, which he is happy with. The limo pulls up, and he hurries to catch his niece getting out, then quickly gets inside for the processional. The first number of shots of the grandparents and parents being escorted don't come out because in his hurry, he didn't change his settings from outdoors. Realizing such an old church is darker than expected, he turns up his ISO settings as high as he can, and now the wedding party is coming down the aisle, unaware that his pictures are very grainy and details are speckled with noise. Being so caught up and not wanting to miss anything, he keeps shooting the bride and groom throughout the ceremony, but doesn't think to take photos of the reactions of their family and friends during the important moments or any other details of the church. He sees that wide lens makes all the shots now look too much like, so he goes to the back of the church to get his long lens from his bag. Suddenly hearing applause, he turns around and sees that he missed the first kiss and the couple is getting ready to walk back down the aisle to end the ceremony.


Next, on to the family formals. They make their way to a picturesque spot, and Uncle Joe takes only one shot each of the different groups. It takes longer than expected because with such a variety of family and friends, there is some confusion as to who is supposed to be in the pictures, and unfortunately, many important combinations are missed. Also, it's a bright summer day with the sun nearly overhead, and everyone in the groups are squinting with have deep shadows on their faces from the sun's angle. Unbeknownst to Uncle Joe, the pictures are also too bright and overexposed.


The reception coordinator is now ushering everyone in to the reception. Uncle Joe heads inside, exhausted and overwhelmed. He adds his flash to the camera and shoots the grand entrance of the wedding party and newlyweds, followed by the first dance, and parent dances. The flash pointed directly at the couple provides light that he needs in the dark reception, but the quality of light is harsh to those in front of the flash, while leaving others in dark areas where the light falls off, creating shadows where they aren't needed. Uncle Joe doesn't see some of the most touching moments such as the bride wiping away tears of joy as he looks at the back of his camera after every few shots to be sure he got what he needed.

He realizes he's worked 7 hours already, including travel. He figures it's time for a much needed cocktail, followed by dinner, because after all, he's family too. Pleased that he made it to this point, he gives his camera to his son, who also enjoys taking pictures. His son then takes many dance shots, and shots of the kids at the wedding, all with the same flash quality, no difference than a snapshots taken by others with cell phones. Uncle Bob enjoys talking with family and friends over dinner and dessert about his new experience.


Later that weekend, Uncle Joe copies the images from his camera to a USB flash drive, and delivers it to the newlyweds. With the utmost excitement and anticipation, they load up the 900 images on their laptop. The Bride tries to hide her face as she wells up with tears over the disappointment, and knows it's better to express gratitude to her Uncle, who worked so hard for her special day.

Uncle Joe doesn't have the software or skills to edit or retouch images, so all they have are straight-out-of-camera pictures. All together, about 150 of the images are decent, but the remaining ones were too dark, too blurry, too bright, or eyes were closed, or someone was talking or chewing, or it was a simply unflattering angle.

The most upsetting is how much was actually missed. The bride getting ready had a few images, none with her actually getting her dress on. There was no plan or extra shooter to simultaneously shoot the groom so he could have those moments. There were plenty of shots of them at the ceremony, but they'll never see the first kiss. Nor will they see his grandparents holding hands or her mom wiping away tears during their vows. Their parents, grandparents, and extended family won't have the variety and depth of pictures for the day they were all finally together. The three couple portraits have them in a basic "Prom" pose, smiling for the camera, kissing, and of course, a dip of the bride. All of the hard work and attention that went into planning the decor will never be seen because the details of the wedding such as the rings, jewelry, dress, flowers, invitation, church program, cocktail hour fun, table settings, room shots, toasts and cake cutting were not included.

The Results

While Uncle Joe has expensive equipment and has years of experience taking lovely nature and cityscapes, here is what you're hiring in a professional wedding photographer:

  • The ability to plan ahead with you for the proper timing of what is needed to have the complete story of your day told. Your photographer is the common thread across all aspects of your day, who the often times the Officiant, DJ, Venue Coordinator consult with regarding the timing aspects that are needed.
  • Two shooters to capture the couple getting ready simultaneously, multiple angles of the ceremony, including reaction shots, and the ability to be in two places at once.
  • A variety of equipment, including backups of everything. Professionals typically have two cameras they shoot with at once, and their additional equipment is nearby to have on hand as needed.
  • The ability to read and interpret light, which comes with tremendous study and experience. For the variety of locations involved during a wedding day, the photographer needs to optimally use naturally light and know when and how to supplement with artificial light. Even if the camera's readings are saying one thing, the experienced photographer knows her camera and when to work around the settings to get the proper exposure.
  • The ability to quickly adjust to what's going on, anticipating angles and variations in real time. The first kiss can sometimes be only 1-2 seconds long, and catching a tear in the Bride's eyes before she turns away requires experience shooting such fleeting moments.
  • The instinct when to be completely unobtrusive during the touching and emotional moments, along with the experience and personality to efficiently coordinate huge family and wedding party groups through the 30-45 groupings during formals, and get everyone through in great spirits and in time for cocktail hour. This directly impacts the quality of the experience for the couple and their guests, and keeps the wedding running on time.
  • The energy to work non-stop for 10-14 hours without breaks, if needed. This is the typical workday for wedding photographers.
  • Your professional photographer should be fully insured, in case anything goes wrong.
  • Experience with what types of photos and how many of each are needed. This includes everything from creative/artistic images that tell your story, the full documentation of your smallest and largest wedding details, as well as having the extras of the critical shots, in case someone is blinking, talking, or there's something unflattering.
  • The talent and skill after the wedding to process the images to tell the story, which includes retouching, cropping, B&W conversion for some, and delivering them to you in a format that allows you to enjoy them, and share them online and with family and friends.
  • There is nothing worth more than having something tangible such as your wedding photographs. The professional's access to finest print labs for print products and albums ensures that the materials used will last a lifetime. The photographer should have the design experience to create your heirloom wedding album, which will be enjoyed for years and generations to come.

And Finally...

We covered photography here, but all of this also applies to your filmmaker.

The wedding photographer is arguably one of the most versatile and skilled types of shooters. For every wedding with no do-overs allowed, they are a photojournalist, a candid photographer, an artistic photographer, a portrait photographer, and a landscape & architectural photographer, all having to stick to a strict timeline in an environment when the full gamut of emotions, conditions, and people are involved. They are also the invisible thread of the coordination of the event, helping to keep the day running smoothly and on time.

We know that budget is key to your perfect day. We are happy to work with couples to customize their collection to fit within their budget. Quality over product is important, since newlyweds are just starting their lives together, so if needed, print products and albums can wait. You can never recreate your wedding day, so you can never order better quality, creativity, or service after the event. It's simply not worth it not having a professional be your photographer.

Copyright © 2024 Stilwell Photography and Films | 15 James P. Kelly Way, Middletown NY 10940 | 914-443-3678