Confessions of a COVID-Era Wedding Photographer

Think hosting a celebration mid-pandemic is hard? Try shooting one.

Photo by Firstthingsfirst/Getty Images

Ever wondered what it’s like to photograph a wedding during a global pandemic? We have, too. So we went straight to the source, reaching out to dozens of local pros to fully understand the scope of their experiences. And while many vendors raved about courteous clients who went above and beyond to keep all attendees comfortable and safe, the stories shared by other area experts paint a much darker picture. Here, one photographer—who spoke with us on the condition of anonymity—shares her observations, in her own words.

Luckily, this year most of my couples were able to hold weddings on a smaller scale. I was so happy for everyone who was able to get married and bring light into everyone’s lives during this time, but it also brought out the worst in the industry, in my experience. Don’t get me wrong: I love my couples and I know that they all went into their weddings with the best of intentions. But the weddings were not safe—in any way, shape, or form.

The life of a wedding photographer is shooting usually two weddings per weekend every weekend from late spring to late fall. Those weddings have gone down from maybe 150 to 200 [guests] to about 30 to 50 people on average. If you do a little quick math, that means that I am in close contact with about 60 to 100 people a weekend, being about 240 to 400 people a month. During a pandemic. The guidelines put in place may have aimed to make it safer for those getting married, but [did] not at all [protect] the people who had to work [the weddings]. Couples think about the people they’re inviting; they feel safe with them and know what [those people] have been doing. The vendors don’t and are a complete afterthought.

One of the weddings I [worked] included well over 25 people—the limit at the time—but the bride didn’t care because it was a backyard wedding and wouldn’t be regulated. Actually, nearly all backyard weddings I photographed broke the rules. [At this wedding,] no one wore masks, and [the bride] told us that she [wouldn’t] tell people what to do. Another bride [I worked with] asked for all masks to be taken off because they’re ugly in pictures. It [makes for] an incredibly stressful day. I don’t expect a bride to stop her ceremony halfway to tell people to put their mask on and I understand that people want their picture-perfect memories, but it just sucks all around.

I would say that 50 percent of the weddings I attended this [past] year were completely devoid of pandemic [precautions] as a whole. I was the only person wearing a mask, including other vendors, at these weddings. There were parents, grandparents, and friends coming from all over at each of these. The potential risk there is huge. As a photographer, I have to take pictures throughout the day, which usually [involves being] in the room where people get ready. So stick about 10 to 20 people in a hotel room with no one wearing masks, and that’s what [my job] looks like for the first three hours. The ceremony and portraits are less nerve-wracking. But then you eat with strangers at a table and the dancing comes; everyone is sweating everywhere. Guests are polite and want to chat with you, which is great but dangerous, of course.

The other 40 percent of weddings started off safe, but after dinner, people have already taken off their masks to eat and keep them off to dance.

Ten percent of the weddings [I worked] were actually safe. One of my brides had only had her family in attendance, and they all tested negative prior to coming. I was so grateful, I almost cried.

As a wedding photographer, you are taught to only work with people that value you. I thought that’s what I [was doing]. This year, I learned that people value my work—not me. Those are two very different things. I was in consistent quarantine and got tested constantly, hoping that I would somehow test negative because unemployment was not enough to cover my rent. Plus, backing out of photographing someone’s wedding last-minute is a horrible thing to do. There was no choice but to photograph these weddings and put myself and my family in extreme danger. I will honor the contracts I have throughout the next year, but I have found this year to be incredibly jarring. People were insanely selfish. I will be transitioning into safer forms of photography as soon as possible.

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