Feeding the photographer. A debate that comes up time and again over on wedding forums like hitched.co.uk. It’s a question many couples ask themselves. “Do I need to feed my photographer?”
There are strong feelings on both sides of this debate, but surprisingly they’re never as clear cut as you’d imagine. Often it’s perceived that couples are unwilling and uninterested in feeding their suppliers and that photographers are sitting there rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of a free meal. This has never been the case in our experience.
As a couple who married not too long ago ourselves, we have seen this situation from both sides. Day to day, we’re the photographers. Not too long ago we were also the bride and groom footing the bill.
As photographers ourselves we know what an intense day it is shooting a wedding. It’s usually full on, non stop from the moment you arrive until the moment you’re home at the end of the night and unloading the cards. In fact, the build up usually starts at least 24 hours ahead of the wedding as you charge batteries, clean your gear, read through paperwork etc.
On the day itself you may get a chance to sit down and take a break, but your mind is often still working at 100mph. You’re forever thinking about everything you’ve shot so far, what’s still left to do. You’re planning several steps ahead and anticipating what will come next. It’s mentally challenging and can be mentally exhausting.
Physically, 12 hours or more on your feet is tough. Carrying several kilograms of camera (x2!) all day too is tough. Boy do you feel it the next day!
When you’re working hard, you need sustenance to keep you going. You need to remain hydrated and fed. Not only to provide you with the energy you need to keep going, but also so that you have the mental capacity to stay alert and aware. Ready for unexpected moments. I don’t think any of us would dispute that. The question that is often asked though is why should the couple be responsible for ensuring that the photographer is fed? Why can’t the photographer bring a packed lunch?
Arguments such as “I don’t get fed at work”are common. And fair. Most people don’t.
However, the situation and circumstances in many cases are different. Most workers are employed. This means that legally, you’ll be entitled to breaks. Your employer may be legally required to provide you with a lunch break, catering facilities etc. Even the self employed folk amongst you may have the option to eat at home, leave the premisses for a little while or otherwise have access to catering of some description. Even if it’s just a Tesco or Mcdonalds nearby.
Sadly, as a self employed photographer you will not have these options available to you. You wont have a staff room, a microwave, a kettle or a fridge to store your food in on a hot summers day. You can find yourself working in the middle of nowhere, with no shops or facilities for miles. And even if there is a supermarket up the road, can you really risk leaving a wedding to go and pick up lunch? Not many couples would feel comfortable with that and nor would many photographers. Spontaneous events occur so often that it just is not worth the risk.
Wedding venues and caterers understandably will not allow outside food and drinks to be stored in their facilities. Firstly because, well, space. But secondly and most importantly, health and safety. They don’t know what you’ve brought in. Their primary concern is for your health and safety and that of your guests, so the risk of cross contamination is too great.
This means, what are your catering options as a photographer? A packed lunch. All well and good in theory, but not many foods stand up to the “10 hours sitting in the car test.” Especially in the height of summer. Even with a cool bag most things end up in a semi-edible state by this point. There’s nothing like a soggy sandwich to tantalise the tastebuds and give you an energy boost after 8 hours of solid shooting.
A hungry photographer is likely to be a photographer without energy. A photographer with no energy isn’t necessarily going to be capturing the best shots they can because they’re trying to get through the next several hours with whatever energy they have left. A hungry photographer may be a hangry photographer. And no one wants to work with a hangry person!
It’s also rare for a wedding venue to have secondary catering facilities. Many venues who offer exclusive use have one team of caterers working hard to provide your wedding meal. So there’s rarely even the option to purchase something else on site.
Ultimately, a photographers options are junk. Crisps, chocolate bars and cereal bars for example. They’ll keep you going, but they’ll do little else.
In most cases, the only way for a photographer to be able to access a decent meal on site, is for it to be provided by the couple. This is why many photographers will have it written into their contracts. It’s not to be cheeky, rude or demanding. It is usually just the only way that a photographer can guarantee that they will be able to eat a hot meal that day. It’s so they can do the very best job for you. Yes, we could probably all struggle on for a day without eating, but we wont be at our best. Knowing we will be able to eat on site means one less thing to worry about.
Take this example of a situation we have been in before.
We had been booked to shoot a wedding more than 3 hours from home. In order to be best prepared and rested for the day, we booked accommodation locally to the wedding at no extra cost. We didn’t have to, but we wanted to so that we could provide the best possible service to our couple. We travelled up the night before the wedding and stopped at a service station for something to eat. The hotel had no restaurant and no facilities such as a fridge, so we were unable to buy our own food to store and have for breakfast or to pre-prepare a lunch for the next day.
The next morning we were up and out before 9am and on our way to the venue. It was a Sunday, so no shops were yet open. As such we had to skip breakfast and could not buy anything to have for lunch/dinner later on. There was literally nothing we could do in that situation. Away from home and all shops closed. How on earth were we to provide our own food?
We were shooting by 10am and guests sat to eat at 4pm. By this point we had not eaten since the night before. Around 20 hours without anything to eat. Then comes the news confirming that no meal has been provided and there’s no where to purchase food on site. This is at a venue surrounded by fields as far as the eye can see. Then out comes a meal for the DJ who arrived all of 20 minutes ago.
We ended up shooting that wedding until 10pm. An hour after the contracted time, going above and beyond for a second time, just so we could make sure our couple had full and rounded coverage of the whole day. Still no food by that point. We were also meant to be staying at a hotel that night, but having not eaten for more than 24 hours, all we could do was hit the road and stop at a service station on the way home again.
After this event we seriously considered adjusting our contract to require a hot meal as it seemed the only way to ensure we would never be in that situation again. We had gone well above and beyond and we were absolutely ravenous. There was no way we could have provided our own food in that situation.
Now back to our bride and groom days. Did we provide our photographer with a meal?
Yes we did. We provided hot meals for our photographer and both of our videographers. We didn’t do it because we are photographers too and know what it is like working a wedding day. These are our own very personal reasons for wanting to provide our suppliers with food. We did it because:
- We wanted our suppliers to feel like part of the day. In our mind a supplier who is welcomed and treated lovingly will give it back tenfold. You will warm to someone much more if you treat them as a friend and not as a service provider. We hoped the result would be more relaxed coverage, better photos for us.
- Suppliers who feel appreciated will go above and beyond for you. Whether that’s staying later, delivering more photos or whatever, we all like to feel appreciated and we wanted ours to feel appreciated. A meal was an easy way to convey our appreciation.
- Everyone is human. Everyone needs to eat, drink. We looked at it like this: We would never invite someone into our home and not offer them our hospitality. We therefore extended the same courtesy at our wedding.
- In the scheme of things a couple of extra meals was a drop in the wedding spend ocean. We were willing to waste money on throwing bits of paper in the air (confetti) for goodness sake, how could we not want to feed someone after that!?
If you really, really have issues with supplying a meal and it’s a deal breaker for you (in other words, you wont book that photographer if they insist on being fed) relay this to them. If there is literally not a penny left in your budget to supply a plate of chips most will be understanding of this and may be able to make their own arrangements if given sufficient notice. Do just bear in mind situations like the one we mentioned above. Sunday weddings are especially problematic if there’s an early start.
Now before it starts to look completely like we’re saying you should feed your photographer, keep in mind that this is not something we have in our contract and insist upon. Why? I hear you ask. If there are so many reasons why it makes sense to ask to be fed, why don’t we?
The short answer to that is that we don’t want couples to feel obliged. It’s a personal decision. If a couple want to ensure catering is available to us, that’s amazing and so very appreciated, but if they don’t that’s absolutely fine too. Ultimately, we still want our clients to have the choice. That’s what works for us. All businesses are different, all photographers are different and all couples are different, so please don’t think badly of a vendor who requests a meal in their contract if they are going to be with you all day.
We are incredibly lucky to have a wonderful relationship with our clients and 9 times out of 10, yes we are fed, but it’s never expected and i’m sure that for the vast majority of professionals (even those with it in their contract) it’s not seen as a “right” or entitlement. If you are going to be feeding your suppliers, here are a few quick tips:
- Try to find out if there are any allergies or things they cannot have (if they’re vegetarian for example) as the last thing anyone would want is for you to go to the expense of providing a meal only to find that it cannot be eaten.
- Where possible, please relay to your caterer that your suppliers need to be served at the same time as you. Some caterers will not supply any food to vendors at all until yourselves and your guests have finished all courses. This means that food you’ve paid for can go to waste as by the time it comes out your supplier will already be up and back to work ready to shoot your speeches.
- If there is a bar menu available, great! Any hot meal will usually do and bar menus allow some choice if the supplier does have dietary requirements.
- Check your contract. There may be details of what your particular vendor requires. Some will insist on a hot meal but you want to be as informed as possible so you can make any necessary provisions.
Hopefully that’s provided a little food for thought and an insight into why you may consider feeding your suppliers.