We all know that different people handle criticisms differently. I’ll never forget when my relatives criticised me for not completely fulfilling a wedding shoot that I had offered to undertake for free (as a token of my appreciation for the bride and groom). I took this negative feedback badly because from where I stood, they not only spoke badly about my work but also insulted my gift for the couple.

Ballet Performance at Wedding reception © Jan Shim Photography

How many of you professional photographers got asked to shoot a wedding as a favour for a family relative and you agreed because it felt like the right thing to do and you wanted the photos to be a personal gift to the newly weds, their family members and friends? That is exactly what I had in mind when I voluntarily said YES but as things turned out, it quickly became the biggest mistake I ever made! I really should have known better considering this isn’t the first time it’s happened but was in fact the second wedding that I had volunteered for FREE and rightfully the last. Not only did I give them several sets of images on DVD but had also produced a high definition DVD Slideshow so they would enjoy the wedding experience better than just looking at prints.

PRO Note: Review and Post processing about 1000 JPEG images and then DVD Slideshow production in a rushed job of a week because the bride and groom reside overseas and juggling several other jobs for clients. A week after family members had screened the slideshow, I received the most damning phone call to tell me that the family was “very disappointed” with me that I had missed photos they expected but were not taken. Their grief included missing photos of bride getting ready in the morning, missing photos of bride arriving in an “expensive” car and criticised the creative compositions in some of the photos.

For the benefit of international photographers and viewers, this was a Chinese/Church wedding and a typical Chinese bride would be up as early as 5 AM to get ready to have her hair and make-up done. I had earlier told them I would not be covering this and it was agreed (or so I thought). Despite this, the matter was brought up during the phone call that a complete wedding coverage would have included the make-up session in the morning, I was dumbfounded and speechless. Next came why there were no photos of the bride and her entourage arriving. The church is newly rennovated and air conditioned (hint: condensation on lens). I would have really gone outside and waited but as things progressed that day, by the time I realised I should have  been outside, it was too late .. the bride had already arrived and it was just not possible to rush outside, risking a fogged lens and capturing nothing anyway. In actual fact, I did just that – I ran outside, lens fogged right up and I had to quickly hop right back back inside, and took the first shoot of the day i.e. photos of the lovely bride and her dad getting ready for the march.

Recently, I discussed this matter offline with a number of wedding photographers and have their support that I had done nothing wrong. Without explicit instructions from the B&G it is entirely up to the photographer to capture the moments as he sees them. A local Bruneian WPJA photographer after listening to my story shared this link:

No photographer likes to be given constant art direction. Remember: you’ve hired a wedding photojournalist, because they don’t style photographs. Not only is it annoying, but perpetual third-party direction also takes away from the creative element of documentary style wedding photography. Directing is the antithesis of the natural, unscripted moment. And, as McGraw adds, the more art direction brides and grooms are giving, the less they are enjoying their wedding—and the fewer natural moments there are to photograph.

Unfortunately, this is quite the opposite of the situation I found myself in that day. Not only were there no instructions because “you are a pro” so you should know what we want but there were presumably many uncommunicated expectations of me deliver. Another wedding photographer said to me “I see that your photographs are more creative than before and are progressing well as a wedding photographer.” Unfortunately, progress on one hand means moving away from what folks here are used to while on the other hand, opening up all possibilities of producing a mix genre of creative and photo-journalistic photographs, much to the surprised disapproval of the family.

I’ll finish up with this observation. Those images that I had not captured are perhaps 3% of the total work I had undertaken. Bear in mind this is a relative shooting for another relative, it is not a professional relationship. However, I think my conduct at the wedding was nothing short of professional. What one considers important is completely subjective. Who is right or who is wrong? The one thing that bugs me is the attitude people have today, instead of being grateful and appreciative for the 97% of the “excellent” (actual comments from several members during screening) work that I produced, it’s more convenient to pick on the 3%!

A word from a happy client …

Jan, I finally have time to view my own wedding photos.

What can I say apart from ‘a BIG THANK YOU’ for capturing all details and moments (I finally know ‘what was going’ on on my wedding days – cos most of the time I was waiting in the room..hehe)

Love your photos since Ee Shu’s wedding pics. As always, your photos are so magical … even my HK photographer & videographer gave u a ‘Thumbs Up’! ~ Adeline


  1. Sounds like a terrible situation to be in. I’ve read all to many stories similar to your’s; a photog friend/family being asked to shoot their wedding for free, only to get it shoved down their throat later.

    That linked article was a great read as well, and points out that we’re photographers, not mind readers. Not everyone wants the same thing, so tell us what you (you being the ungrateful friend/family) want!!

    I don’t think I’ll have the guts to put myself in such a situation having read your horror story. Lessons learned I guess 😦


  2. Jan, I know how you feel. Its terrible when your best efforts, when your “art” style/photos and free time isn’t appreciated.. I had a wedding where, I did my best, i was helping a friend, i explained that, 1. i shoot cars 2. I’m not outgoing, – why i don’t shoot weddings 3. just was worried id miss/mess up something important, with the response, we are grateful you can help, do your best, whatever you do will be great. well, 2200 pics later (film, digital, pre-during-post) a wedding book, the works (we used the booklet as a wedding gift to the couple) the first feedback was – you missed a table at the reception.. well, how did I feel ) I’m sure you can imagine..

    now, when people ask me, i offer to help/shoot on the side, but I’m not there officially, I’m not the 1st photographer, they can have my shots, and do with them as they like, but that’s where my responsibility lies/ends.

    and then I go on to say – anyway, statistics suggest you have a 60% chance of re-marrying, maybe the next photographer will get a better result if you are not happy with my work. (sad, but true)


  3. jan, its sad to hear that your relatives are criticising your work and not appreciating all the hard work that you’ve done for them. better not to try again. lesson learned!


  4. Recently a friend of my wife (who she hasn’t seen for a couple years) wanted to know I was still doing wedding photography. She wanted to ask for a favor. Photograph her daughters wedding that was coming up in 6 weeks. My wife gave her a price and there was dead silence. My wife later got back to her and told her we could work something out (hourly rate and take pictures that were needed).
    Well she was able to get Aunt Helen to take the pictures. I think she wanted us to do it for nothing. Glad the wife gave her a price without hesitation. I have done only two relatives weddings my sister and sister in law (twice for her). When my son got married I hired a pro.


  5. Mr. Shim,

    I have known you for some years. You and I have done business and talked personally as well as professionally. You are kind enough to show me your work in photography and I’m always pleased to see it.

    Everything I’ve talked to you about, you approach with the utmost professionalism. You value your name and what the represents. I have no doubt you did quality work, and for FREE no less.

    Just goes to show you cant please everyone. For they should have been greatful to get someone of your caliber to and if anything, strive to become better at what you do.


  6. I can so identify with your experience…..:( I once shot a wedding, for a friend, with a lot of our common friends in the wedding. All through the wedding, everyone kept telling me how to take pictures….. gggrrrrr… if they had hired someone else they didn’t know, they wouldn’t have said anything, but since they knew me, they were trying to help out so I wouldn’t screw up the pictures….


  7. Jan,

    Working for friends and family is never a good situation. Feelings almost always get hurt.

    Your photographs are stunning and I’m sure you did a very nice job. Take pride in a job well done and try to ignore unfounded criticism.


  8. There was one other thing I had forgotten to mention. I had specific instructions not to post any of the Bride and Groom’s photos on the web. The web is a modern photographer’s medium of advertising. Take this opportunity away and where’s the incentive to provide the service? Many arrangments I know and are accustomed to stipulates that if I did a freebie shoot, I have the right to publish the materials online, all in good taste of course.
    More discussions here


  9. Jan,

    As much as I sympathies with you, I guess you should not have gone that path 😛

    OK….we all know we have to be careful when dealing with Families and Friends, because we can’t just walk out of that relationship (maybe we can) if it turns sour.

    I feel that when you volunteers to shoot FOC for your relative, you have forgotten that even you are not charging, they will still have a certain expectation of your output.
    I guess the money in that equation is being replaced by relationship they have with you but not compromising their expectation.

    I guess when they say ‘Shoot whatever you can’ I guess in their mind their objective was to make themselves feel good about not having to pay you a single but I don’t think they will compromise on the output.

    Money aside, if I were you, I will do exactly what I would do just like a paid shoot.
    1. Show them my portfolio and show them my style and set expectation on the output they are going to receive. If possible exceed their expectation.

    If not then better don’t shoot at all  Not worth the possibility of ruining the relationship.
    Just say: Aiya….how can you ask your relative to work while everyone is having Anchor Beer on that night 😛


  10. Jan,
    First, sorry for the late “contribution”.

    We had sat over coffee on this matter. As an “official” photographer to the same venue for a decade, I’ve become immuned to the nuances of the people from that congregation. Your current experience with this wedding is not to be your last. Your top-notch work must go on. I know your ability and creativity and it must go on. Sweep this incidence under the carpet, forget the snobbery of the “pretenders” and go on. Do greater things. Break the rules. Be your creative self.

    At the end of the day, consider this. 3% of the missed shots doesn’t compromise the very essence, expression and emphasis of the wedding you’ve immortalized in the 1000+ images. It’s isn’t about FOC service to a relative.

    It’s about you having successfully immortalised the 3 E’s of great photography: Emphasis, Essence and Expression.

    Remember, you’ve got the 3Es in your photos. That makes you a pro. Not the expensive car. Not the bridal make up. Not the arriving entourage….

    Take another look. Give it 5 years, 10 max and the expensive car would be coated and rotten with rust. And, those pretenders would have even forgotten about the Bentley…But your 3E photos is forever immortalized in their memories. You’ve done a good job. The real PRO job.

    As for your so-called relatives…well, no more favours.

    Come, have another coffee with me…better, bring a six pack and we’ll drown your sorrows, and then move on…think of better things…plan to make more money, together!!! Cheers, mate. Cheers.


  11. … sorry to hear about it …. well they should at least appreciate what U’r doing …. it’s free btw.. or even if they do wanna comment or critique .. make it a good good critique …. 😉


  12. Hmm.. to tell u the truth, from the first time I met you till today, I’ve seen your creativity in photography improve leaps. Professionalism is first class and quality is top notch. Its one of the reasons why you are one of the few listed professional grade photographers on my site.

    I guess this incident really stems out from expectations not being met and really from miscommunication. Its very typical of ‘family’ to take advantage of our roles as photographers and a primary reason why we do not accept jobs for them unless we are paid our FULL going rates. When asked to do people favours, they accept what we give. If their expectations are higher, they should have paid for it and made it clear when they wanted from you AS a professional. Only then do they have any right to complain when any expectations are not met and only then do we have to make it up to them.

    Photography is a very subjective profession. Clients depend on us provide them with images that records their day and these images are the result of our experience and vision. If they were the wedding photography gurus, maybe they should have bought themselves a camera and covered their own wedding. Even for my own wedding, I greatly appreciated the help of my friends in helping me record those moments for me. No great expectations, just all gratitute.

    In your case, they wanted the full works matching their expectation for nothing. This means they wanted you to work like a cow, waking up at 5 am shooting till 12 am actively envisioning new ways to capture their day, then going home to process their hundreds or thousand images day in / day out for several days (about avg 60-80 hours), produce their prints and album and DVD all for a meal and the honour of being invited/requested to cover their wedding. It must have been such a great honour for God to have them in his church too.

    Enough said.


  13. Simple statement that stands true, you can’t criticize what you didn’t pay for.
    From my experiences in life involving family in business they can be some of your worst critics and quickly turn into different people from what you knew. Rule of thumb…just tell them your busy that weekend 🙂



  14. Jan, We all know that one photographer is never enough to cover one whole wedding event. Ceremonial weddings (fast and furious moving), curious crowd, unspoken thoughts and failed expectation from the wed-to-be and relatives! (worst if its your own relatives!), weather change are some of the common photographers’ challenges.

    If you a a relative and photographer (free service) you also took over some of the role of wedding planner and movie director to tell them to slow down the couple and the activities. They are so anxious to finish the event.

    Don’t dwell too long on bad criticism – it will die away. Tough time don’t last but tough people do. Take this as a challenge than a critic, a challenge will motivate you.

    Bring smiles to the grateful people and those who chose happiness. If you can make a couple happy with memories of their new life that is already an achievement.

    Shoot no more freebies especially to relatives! (nice theme!)

    cheers, Evelyn


  15. sorry to hear about your little episode. I do feel that people around us ask a bit too much sometimes. Just say you’re booked the next time!


  16. Understand your position. I’m not a photographer but a budding videographer and have had an experience that’s quite similar. The beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, I find that most Bruneian’s perspective on beauty in photography and videography is a little old fashioned for my own taste and in most case is VERY different from the artists themselves. We all feel your pain…


  17. Hi Jan, Thanks for inviting me to read this blog. You wanted comment and perspective from a “non-professional” photographer, so here it is.

    Firstly, from the perspective as a photographer, of course I totally understand your angst and pain about the whole saga. I am sure you did your best as a “professional” photographer, even though you did it for free and only as a favour for your relatives. I am also sure the work was professionally and artistically done. The bride and groom should have been much more apreciative of your work and “favour” to them rather than criticised you for the “3%” of photos that you did not take. Did they even say thank you to you after you gave them the photos and the DVD?

    To try to understand the view from the perspective of the bride and groom, one has to understand a bit about Chinese/oriental culture though. Unfortunately, Chinese in general do not appreciate creative wedding photography. I really love the work of professional wedding photogrpahers in the West, but what works in the West, does not go down well in the East. It’s probably a cultural thing, but what most Chinese people expect from a wedding photographer is not creative or artistic photography. What they really want is just a complete “video recording” of the whole wedding event from start to finish. Have your 1D Mark II out shooting at 8.5fps continuously with an unlimited buffer and CF cards and capture everything from start to finish. Actually better make it 3 or 4 1Ds Mark II all shooting at the same time, so you can catpure things from different angles and places all happening at the same time. Like taking photo of the groom waiting at the alter and the bride getting out of the limo at the entrance of the church all at the same time. They don’t really care whether the photos were artistically done so long as 1. you recorded EVERYTHING, 2. you made the bride looked pretty, 3 the groom looked handsome and 4. the guests also look good, so long as they didn’t look prettier than the bride or more handsome than the groom. They don’t really care if you have included a shot showing the hands of the bride holding a bouquest of flowers under beautiful lighting. They want you to shot the bride and groom taking boring photos with every single guests standing in front of some boring, corny backdrop….. and they do mean EVERY SINGLE GUEST. Please don’t miss a single guest!

    Although, I don’t really shot professionally, that’s why I would never agree to do wedding photogrpahy for friends or relatives whether they pay me or not.

    Cheer up Jan, I am sure you’ll do the right thing next time when a friend or relative ask you to shot a wedding for them next time.


  18. Hi Jan,

    Well written, Its practically the fact of life when doing this for free especially for relatives!

    The bottom line, although its a right thing to do for a relatives, it is best not to do that event at all. Why?

    1.) Nothing is for free.
    2.) Expectation is never put through during that event.
    3.) Best never to do that event at all. Clearly you were taken for granted.

    The tragic part is, I bet they never saw the creative art and concept in those pictures.

    Regards,.. Steven


  19. I love the shots on the japanese food…
    Soba looks nice…made me hungry…
    cheers…as always…

    Look at it on the bright side of life:
    Nothing in Life is for Free
    Life is Totally Unfair…At All Times

    A New Beginning is A New Ending, Only if you learn fro your mistakes


  20. That’s so mean of them (the relatives). I ain’t good at shooting weddings and I hate doing it … simply for the reason that it’s usually the oh-so-boring (argh!) stuffs that most people want. Duh! Life goes on …


  21. Thank you everyone for your comments. It’s come to my attention that this blog has reached our neighbours in Singapore through members of ClubSnap forums who picked up my blog. While I am deeply appreciative of the compassionate and philosophical comments, I am particularly interested in experiences of other photographers caught in the situation.

    My experience with these two family weddings has taught me an important lesson, that when it comes to family matters involving future “favours” it’s best to just not bother; there’s enough delicate matters between family members without pushing sensitivity boundaries.

    Folks who want to check out the brewing discussions can visit ClubSNAP Photography Forum


  22. This is one main reason why I make it a point not to shoot for family and friends, not close ones anyway.

    One small mistake could spoil your relations with them. And it does not even have to be a real “mistake”, just a perceived one in the eyes of others.



  23. Jan,

    I can understand how you feel. People tend to remember the “wrongs” (I’m not saying you are wrong but that’s probably how your relatives see it) and ignore the “rights” because it’s expected of you, whether or not you were paid. I have done free shoots as favours. Events, sports and weddings. I have had appreciative friends and unappreciative ones.

    Some complain after the length of time taken to post process, others complain too few photos taken. At the event / wedding, I was treated like some guy who is transparent and yet when it’s time to show the photos, I was like expected to be everywhere. What can I do? I think I have gotten used to be taken for granted. The only time they might (note it’s might) pay attention to you is when you are paid (maybe a lot). And I wonder why it has to be so.

    I have had appreciative ones who printed the image files I sent and have them in the album they show their friends (feels good eh?).

    I feel you don’t owe your relatives anything. You are the pro. You decide what needs to be captured. If conditions don’t permit, fine. Top pros don’t always manage to capture everything no matter how obvious it may seem.

    Don’t let this bother you and bog you down. You have nice works that will probably put mine to shame.

    Take care!



  24. Thanks Eugene,

    The incident is water under the bridge and I’ve since shot another wedding for a client where the groom is Singaporean and bride is Bruneian. Right after the wedding, I headed to Singapore for a 4-day holiday with the family and promptly resumed post processing of the wedding pictures along with a High Definition DVD slideshow. All in all I spread out the work for 3 weeks just as stipulated in the agreement.

    I have recently put together a gallery of wedding highlights from 2004-2006 showcasing images that are creative, dramatic and journalistic, and posted a link on ClubSnap Forum as follows:


  25. Roland,

    “Firstly, from the perspective as a photographer, of course I totally understand your angst and pain about the whole saga. I am sure you did your best as a “professional” photographer, even though you did it for free and only as a favour for your relatives. I am also sure the work was professionally and artistically done. The bride and groom should have been much more apreciative of your work and “favour” to them rather than criticised you for the “3%” of photos that you did not take. Did they even say thank you to you after you gave them the photos and the DVD?”

    Well in a YES and then NO sort of a way. It took me about a week to rush over 1000 images to them and YES, it also included a DVD Slideshow. It’s like anesthesia had wore off after that week and people kinda became impolite as they regained consciousness after the smoke has settled. The way I understand the situation is, they showcase the DVD slideshow to many people and as they watched, people start making comments and I suspect questions raised during that time that escalated into “what kind of photographer is this?” or something more or less polite to that effect.

    “To try to understand the view from the perspective of the bride and groom, one has to understand a bit about Chinese/oriental culture though. Unfortunately, Chinese in general do not appreciate creative wedding photography. I really love the work of professional wedding photogrpahers in the West, but what works in the West, does not go down well in the East. It’s probably a cultural thing, but what most Chinese people expect from a wedding photographer is not creative or artistic photography. What they really want is just a complete “video recording” of the whole wedding event from start to finish.”

    Couldn’t agree with you more! I’ve come to realise one thing. In a number of situations I’ve personally enountered, parents play a role in shaping their children’s minds much to the disagreement of the couple but the couple obliged out of respect for their folks. The photographer ends up having to satisfy both sides. In cases where the parents have a stronger voice, you can be sure very traditions photographs are expected like you eloquetly put, shoot everything and everyone. The part that pushed me over the edge was when I was questioned why I hadn’t photographed the folks that came to church, because they had no idea who came and therefore couldn’t thank them for coming. Suddenly their logistical oversight and shortcoming became my responsibility! Gosh! Insane isn’t it.


  26. I symphatise with your situation. It is indeed hard to please everyone, especially when you don’t have a clue on what they want. You are a very good artistic photographer, but it is your relatives who failed to see that there should be at least 2 photographers for the wedding for what they want. They could have tried to get another photographer friend for free (haha). One covers the event on the artistic side while the other covers the “boring”, “normal”, “ordinary” and “traditional” shots, and perhaps a volunteer who can take reasonably good photos at 5am (haha..)

    Anyway, it is a lesson learnt…… for them and for you……. and us all…..


  27. You know and I know but THEY don’t know, and sadly, customers (relatives included) remain adamantly ignorant about wedding photography (and to some extend perhaps videography too). Every couple wants the best photos of their most significant day, every photographer wants and hopes to give their clients their best work too.

    I know for a fact that this blog is now being read and circulated around on forums and blog sites and it’s also being picked up by search engines. One such site is POTN, a friend in USA notified me about:


  28. Jan Shim,

    I feel for you here. However as a wedding pro you should be aware that in this case it is not a “I hired you a photojournalistic photographer and have seen your portfolio and know not to expect the standard picture set situation”. I think you made a couple of big mistakes.

    Missing the make up session – ok let me ask you this questiion for a paying job would you be there to document this ? You would be there !! that’s what getting ready shots are all about but you did not. This is one of those reasons why not to scrimpe on what is done for a freebie

    You missed the arrival of the bride at the church – I feel that you have to accept the brick bats on this – basically it was a time managment failure; but I suppose you may have some nice candids or details shots for that.

    Brides, grooms and realatives are unforgiving, as a photogrpaher we need to bear this in mind always and be very clear about what they are to expect. Even then there will be issues so we need to dot our I’s and cross our T’s very carefully.


    1. Jan wasn’t a wedding photographer at that time nor is he today. He was a photographer who was just helping his relatives capture images. Experienced wedding photographers know what to shoot and how to plan for it. They also don’t shoot for free. If the B&G had expectations, they should HIRE a proper wedding photographer.


  29. Hi,
    From the way I see it: the root problem is lack of communication: no clear requirement of the shooting style, no detailed itinerary for the photographer to standby at the locations, no agreement of shoot timing.

    I would take these incidents as learning experiences, but it does not stop me from offering complimentary services to friends and relatives. Cheers!


  30. Hi Jan, I understand your frustrations, having shot a few dozen weddings (Chinese and Indian) myself in Malaysia before I emigrated to New Zealand. I have to say though that I do see the point of view of the B&G. It did seem as if you did not prepare yourself thoroughly, and had allowed yourself to be too relaxed and casual about your shooting schedule. If you can shoot a thousand photos, then why miss the guests in the church? Even if that was boring to do so, it seems in hindsight now that it was soemthing worth doing even if you were not instructed to.

    Maintaining alertness trhoughout the day, no matter the circumstances of the business arrangement (or lack of) is primary in the minds of all wedding photographers when they’re on the job, much like an elite sniper. Air-conditioning, and lack of instructions and payment from the wedding party aren’t very strong excuses for missing crucial moments.

    In essence, if you volunteer for the job, do it as if you were being paid, because whetehr free or paid, lots of eyes and ears will note your level of dedication and quality of work. A ‘Pro’ is a pro not only in name and business, but in the mind too. A situation like this may not pay immiediate dividends, but could in the future if you had the right attitude (that this isn’t ‘pro bono’), and thus went on to produce work to the clients’ satisfaction. Of course, it sucks that they could complain when you’d done so much for nothing, but think how much worse the situation if it’d been a paying customer who still owed you the balance of payment and your rep was on the line?

    Creativity is appreciated even among Chinese clients (I know this from my own experience), but just to a lesser degree than in the west. But even in the west, documentary and formal posed shots are still a part of the selection. You do have a very important creative streak, and you shouldn’t lose that or be penalised for it, but you just need to balance that with a realisation that you’re not shooting for art critics or yourself, you’re shooting for ‘normal’ ordinary people, who want a documentary of their special day. If more than 50% of the wedding shots are creative/abstract shots, and not the B&G’s and of their special day, it can mistakenly give others the impression of too much fluff and not enough substance.

    On the other hand, in communicationg what you were willing to cover on that day, the B&G could have let it slip their minds and did not inform the rest of the family, since preparing for the wedding day is a very high-pressure and hectic situation. Also, the B&G must not have shared and shown samples of your work with the rest of the family, thus creating the disappointment. It’s too bad too that you were not in constant communication with the wedding party to ensure you knew where to be and when. I hope that things have finally worked out and smoothed over. Wishing you all the best…


  31. Lastly, for any of you aspiring wedding photographers, just remember this: “Promise less than what they want, give more than what you promised” and everyone will be happy! ;-D


  32. I sympathise with you. i really do.
    But there some factors that we don’t know..
    Like what was the agreement between you and the couple. Did you tell them specifically what you would be shooting for them? Or what they expected you to shoot for them? There’s always a lot of communication between the couple and the photog. Maybe it was because they were relatives that you thought you’d know what they want, or they’d just take what you’d give them? Maybe it’s both parties taking each other for granted. A dangerous thing.
    The bridal make-up is always an essential (or expected) part of a wedding shoot. However you missed it, though you said you told the couple that you wouldn’t shoot it. Still, the fact remains, that is one part of the whole wedding shoot that people want to see.

    I don’t like shooting for relatives cos they always expect a lot, can be very unreasonable, and yet not pay a cent. This irks me, and affects my professionalism. That’s why I try not to take such jobs. Sometimes, you just can’t help it. Still, I believe in doing my best no matter what. So on the times I’m not paid, I still put in my best. Besides, you know you will be judged by what you produce. And word does get around, not just amongst your relatives. Remember, they have friends too. Your reputation as a pro is at stake.

    I don’t doubt your creativity, but I think we’ve got to bear in mind that Asians always expect certain shots. You can be creative with other shots, but the make-up, tea ceremony and arrival of B&G (or individually) are usually expected.

    still, don’t let this get you down. Take heart. We’ve all experienced bad clients. Mark this down as a bad experience and move on. Just try not to take anymore relatives’ weddings!


  33. Ellery Chua,
    Thanks for your comments. The ‘mistake’ excluding the make-up session was a communicated one with the aunt of the B&G (she’s the one who asked me to shoot and the organizer). I had informed her prior to the wedding day that I won’t be be covering the make-up session and she said OK. Remember this, she said OK! I’ve had a very busy week and if you can REALLY understand what I went through that week leading up to their wedding, it would redefine the word BURNT OUT. I only wanted to catch up a bit of sleep as it was going to be another long day. The evening banquet was 2.5 hours drive (return) to the hotel where the reception was held. I spared her the details, didn’t want to burden her with my reasons. Importantly she said OK. If she had insisted that I also covered the make-up, I would have said OK, not one to turn down a request but under the circumstances, I needed the sleep.

    Arrival of bride at Church. If this means standing by the road side of the church entrance shooting the bridal car as it turns in and then getting the shots of the bride getting out with the bride’s maid ushering her to the arms of her father then I’m guilty as charged omitting this bit. I had been inside the (air conditioned) church taking pictures of guess as they arrived and condensation on the len stopped me from going outside so by the time the bride arrived, I began with pictures of the bride with her dad awaiting the wedding march, which I shot from the entrance, a step away from where lens would fog up. To sum it up, there were a lot of a assumptions made about my wedding experience and a ton of uncommunicated expectations.


  34. Chester Tan,
    You are right on the money with your observation! There are two kinds of clients I know, the ones who plan their wedding thoroughly and the ones who leave certain things to chance. Unfortunately for me, I’ve had clients (and relatives) who despite trying to plan for everything, failed to include their photographer – goes to show just how much they value the photographer’s role, responsibility and their obligation to inform and maintain communication throughout the event. I had one particular client who couldn’t make time to meet and discuss their requirements, made the obvious mistake of assuming I knew what they wanted and as it rightfully turned out, the groom made a lot of noise about certain members of his family not appearing as much as he had expected, and so forth. Despite my repeated requests to meet, they were simply too busy to make time. I have only myself to blame for allowing this escalate when I really should have walked away from this assignment. It just didn’t feel right and I ended up soaking up the blame for their misery.


  35. Tigadee,
    Thank you for your comments. You have brought up a number of observations to which I have explained above and given sufficient reasons why it happened but for the purpose of this thread I’ll reiterate perhaps with renewed interest. I’ll start off with this expression – one man’s meat is another man’s poison, similarly what one client sees roses, another sees thorns. It brings me back to the 97% of images capture and the 3% omitted – if one chooses to obsesses with the latter, I’m afraid we are dealing with a much bigger issue here than just missing photographs.

    I had photos of guests when opportunity was there to photograph them as they entered the church and some guests were ushered to their seats. In the meantime, I am moving about instintively looking for interesting subjects to capture. Would you root yourself in one spot taking photos of all guests while opportunistic candid moments are happening elsewhere?

    On maintaining alertness, I’m known to work my butt off inn any event. I hardly take breaks, and do not sit down to eat unless the B&G insisted in which case it would be impolite to not oblige. Even when I am sitted, I’ll have my 70-200 or 100-400 on standby when I see a ‘moment’ with the guests or family table. I think I have also explained myself clearly that payment or lack thereof was not the motivation for this discussion but one cannot ignore its relevance when you discuss weddings and professional photography.

    I did not volunteer. I merely accepted a request from an aunt who has in the past been accommodating when I needed help. Simply a matter of returning favours. I did not for a minute think I was going to do a half-baked shoot at this wedding but note this, it had been communicated that I would not cover the morning make-up, however relevant and important, it had been communicated that I would not cover and that they should get someone to do so .. it was not as tough I failed to turn up. It was agreed that I would not cover it though I gave no reasons at the time. I should be respected for my decision not be made the convenient ‘bad guy’ post mortem.

    I can tell you this. This is one wedding where the B&G apparently no say. Everything was in the hands of the aunt, little wonder there was lack of communication. Clearly she had so much responsibility making sure everything was in order and I do not blame her for failing to keep me informed throughout the event. I’ve seen weddings that were better managed than this. What I did not shoot in the morning I made up with images from the evening banquet. I was supposed to enjoy the evening as a guest as the hotel where the reception was held had provided a photographer and it was someone I know. I had my ultawide EF10-22 and captured what I considered creative and journalistic images of the evening’s highlights.

    These days, I prefer to work in a team of two photographers and occasionally a videographer. Not only does this provide additional perspective, it is also less stressful and exhausting. At the end of it all, a team effort has the element of sharing and caring for a common objective. Lastly, I wish I can say this has been a great learning experience but in all honesty, what this has taught me is a lesson many aspiring photographers will eventually discover – there exists a rule, an unwritten rule, that one should always exercise caution when doing favours for relatives and friends. This is a universal rule that has existed long than anyone cares to remember, until you become a victim then it becomes a law! 🙂


  36. gary,
    I think people in general place way too much emphasis on things they think they can get for free! In fact there are adjectives for such behaviour but let’s keep this discussion professional. Let’s also put things in perspective, I said this and I’ll say this again, I conducted myself professionally during the wedding event and while the bridal make-up was not part of my gallery, I did not “miss” it, it was an informed absence from that morning event, for reasons I have stated above.


  37. Been booked by friend to shoot for his wedding…but didnt expect him to say “give u a red packet”….i mean come on, i already stated i will send u a quotation. Labor and time? So all these are free?

    I wonder what we are doing to ourselves, accepting tokens for so much efforts


  38. I support what u have written.
    NO MORE F.O.C wedding photo taking…
    photographer is always take what they like 2 take and not what ppl critic about…
    like u know jan, sometimes journalists like me also feel so innocent…


  39. I’m an amateur photographer but a professional musician and computer tech. A long time ago a valued teacher told me “If you play for free people think that is what you are worth.” There is a longstanding aphorism among computer techs as well that you should never work for friends or relatives. In either situation (work for free or for relatives or friends) people feel that they can say things to you that they would never consider saying to the musician, tech or photographer that they pay big bucks for. For some reason, paying the going rate intimidates the customer to the point that only serious concerns surface as complaints, nit picking seems to vanish.


  40. Jan,
    Chinese or Oriental weddings are different from American Weddings. Although they said they like photojournalist, they also prefer posing as well. So, it’s a 50/50 styles. I do a lot of Vietnamese wedding and I understand your frustration. It’s a lot of works for Oriental weddings. Up by 5/6AM and wont be home until 12:00 Midnight and pay is not as good.

    In your situation, I would have captured of the bride’s getting ready, but not at 5AM. I would capture it when the groom meet the bride at her house and after their traditional/culture ceremony. I would ask the bride and bridemaids to go in her room and try to pretend putting make up on her, and that what I did most of my vietnamese weddings and all the brides love it. They know it’s not real, but they know I can’t be there at 5:00 AM and they have something to remember in their album.

    Most of oriental weddings, you have to ask the bride&groom to redo what has been happen because many things goes wrong during the event and they still want the shot.

    For example:
    50-100 ppl inside a 14×14 room. No elbow room and the MC standing infont of you blocking the bride and groom when they exchange rings, etc. It’s rude to yell out or disturb others when that happen. Plus, there also a videographer that is in the same room trying to do the same thing.

    For oriental weddings, these are must have shot and doesn’t matter what style they said or prefer.

    1. bride getting ready
    2. bride and her family and sibling
    3. bride and her relatives, such as uncle, aunt, etc.
    4. bride and bridemaids, etc
    5. bride and her freinds
    6. bride and everyone that in her house that morning.
    7. list 1-6 go the same with the groom. Maybe an exception to #1.
    8. Groom and his relatives and friends prepare all gifts and line up at the door to leave his house and entering the bride house.
    9. Tradition culture ceremony event, such as exchange ring, teas for parents and grand parents, gitf/money receive from relatives, etc.
    10. bride and grooms with everyone at the traditional ceremony and the list from 2-6 repeated again with the bride and groom.
    11. bride and groom portrait.

    and that’s 1/2 of it, not considering the church/temple event and reception in the evenning.

    And I always try to avoid to do friend wedding because I am not focusing being a photographer instead of talking by well known friends or respect elders and I miss the shot.

    And as you already know when you doing something for free, ppl that in the receive end doesn’t respect you in whatever you do, doesn’t matter how good your works are, and they always ask for more because it’s free. If they were paying for it, then they would never ask for more because they know they have to pay for it.

    When I first started out, I charge 500 per wedding just to get my feet wet and gain some experiences. The first couple never complain about it because they know I am an amature and it’s not free. 🙂


  41. Greetings Kelvin,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. Chinese weddings are a 21-hour event for me (in the grand rush of things, many forget there’s only 24 hours in a day) and all matters relating to photography are often ignored until the very last minute. More so dealing with relatives they assume you’re the pro and know what they want and expect when in fact it’s far from the truth.

    Concerning the bride getting ready photos, it was communicated to my focal point that I would not be taking them and since I was told it’s OK, the other relatives could take care of that with their cameras, I hadn’t overlooked that part nor was I going to get up at 5am. From personal experience, there were never time to recreate the morning “mood” and the couple along with their helpers are exhausted and the stress and rush to get ready for the “next” activity makes available time that much shorter.

    You made a good point about the distracting element when shooting for friends and/or relatives. Typically in today’s mobile and dynamic work business environment, you have friends and relatives whom you’ve not seen for years because they work overseas so naturally want to engage in a conversation with you. And also the elderly wants to talk to you, ignoring them would be extremely rude. Talking to them would mean missing photographic moments.

    The irony is that clients who pay a lot of money for my work have little to comment because expectations were adequately communicated and there was mutual understanding. Simply put, these are clients who have seen my past wedding samples and knew I would fulfill their requirement. There are plenty of clients who prefer my associates’ photography styles and are prepared to engage them to fulfill their expectations.

    I maintain from the beginning that what I was able to offer my relatives had nothing to do with whether or not I get paid. I attribute ill managed expectations for the fallout. But that’s life!


  42. It is interesting to note that though half way around the world (I am in USA/Midwest Region) photographers can be subjected to similar headaches and insults.

    I have a relatives that request everything and anything from me for free but if I were to ask for a ride I would have to pay!!

    I keep everything now on a professional basis regardless of who they are …. if you want me to bid that is fine but I will only do volunteer work for a charity of my choosing.

    By the way I have linked your blog to mine …. Keep up the good work, you are very inspirational.


  43. I trully understand your predicament.
    Thats why I dont shoot relatives anymore.
    I’ll just bring a camera on the event day and shoot for my satisfaction and files or maybe I’ll send my assistant to do all the documentation for them.
    I’ll be sharing this to my members.

    Thank you for sharing

    Bern Mejias
    Wedding and Portrait photographers of the philippines


  44. keep shooting
    there a bunch of annoying people
    that crowd our life,
    the thing is that WE CAPTURED MOMENTS
    not just for anybody’s satisfaction, but our too…
    so keep on doing well!


  45. Yes I’m slow, in response to a near 2 year old post :p

    I’m happy that 2 years on, you still have a camera or two, in hand and progressed on to BIGGER and BETTER things/subjects!

    I suppose there was an assumption that you were a boring oldie photographer hehe.. Which by the way, if that was what they wanted, they could have gotten someone/ANYone to stand at one specific spot and simply press the button to take shots of every single guest and another someone/ANYone to follow the bride everywhere and take every shot of her and another someone/ANYone to follow the groom everywhere and take every shot of him. hehe… Oh, and dare I add, a “compact camera” :p

    Unfortunately the elderly have difficulties in appreciating the new era creative photography. And when dealing with the “typical Chinese family” be it relative or not, there are usually hardly any words of gratitude or praise but only condemnation. I’m brought up in similar family surroundings and am accustomed to it :p

    If I were to ask someone to take photos for me “FREE” I would be grateful for all the images they presented me with, for which without, I might have had nothing. And furthermore, I have no expectations from a “FREE” job.

    But then, it’s not a question of free or paid… Even if I were to pay a professional photographer, I leave it to the professionals to shoot what they think is best etc.. Isn’t that why we use the term “professionals”? They know best in what they’re doing? Unless of course, as a client you know specifically what you want. I doubt PROS these days would be keen to take on a job as such, where they are directed and told what they should shoot and in what way. It limits their “creativity” and takes away their “signature”.

    I’m rambling.. anyway Jan, lesson to learn and I’m sure you’ve learnt.. NEVER deal with family :p As I was once told, “Don’t hire someone you can’t fire” hehe…


  46. They should be privileged that they managed to have the famous Jan Shim to take wedding photos for them — some more it’s for free since it’s for the sake of relatives. I guess it’s our chinese culture at times to pinpoint the negatives and not focus on the good will and positives of others.

    Rest assured — they are very blessed to have you take their wedding pics.


  47. Sometimes relatives are the toughest to please.

    What went through my mind was ungratefulness.

    “I had earlier told them I would not be covering this and it was agreed (or so I thought).” And what really was or wasn’t set in stone that both parties agreed upon. You can’t change your mind and not tell the other person or have them agree with the new changes if they don’t know. Unless they thought you read minds. Do you? Great talent. 🙂 Just kidding.

    Yes, we all live and learn.


  48. Hey Jan,

    Interesting read.

    I’m guessing this strikes a chord with plenty of wedding photographers, in particular Asian ones. Meeting and rising above expectations is one thing, to do so when they aren’t clear or run contrary to our own style is no small feat.

    In any case, good to have met you the other night. Hard to meet someone as talkative as I am.

    Is this the post that started shimworld?


    1. Absolutely yes. The incident made me just want to tell the whole “world” hence the birth of Shimworld — a life’s journey at shutter speed.

      Come visit me in Seria sometime then we can be talkative and enjoy Soi Heng sambal fried kway teow or Nam Wah’s tantalising wet fried kway teow at the same time away from the maddening crowd of the Brunei capital.


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