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Proud pup mom, type A creative, lover of the outdoors, Top Chef fan girl, and wedding and portrait photographer. Welcome to the blog!
HI, I'M RACHEL!
This post has been a long time in the making. Today I’m giving you (all the tea and) all the tips on feeding your wedding photographers.
Disclaimers: 1. your planner, coordinator, and band/DJ need to be fed too. Anyone who is staying throughout your reception and who is working 5+ hours consecutively (that includes prep and work) needs to be provided food during the reception. 2. When I say ‘photographers’, know videographers are also included in that.
I’m writing specifically about photographers (and videographers) because there are specific logistics for us. This post is for couples AND for caterers. I’m choosing to write this post now, after an especially challenging year of trying to get food at weddings.
I’ve seen so many photographers post about this on Instagram. I’ve also chatted with several wedding planners about it. One luxury planner in D.C. shared the theory that there was a lot of turn over in the catering world during the pandemic, so the newbies aren’t as familiar with the process of feeding vendors. It’s not my business to figure out how to run a catering company. But it is my job to communicate why feeding your wedding photographers is important. So that’s what I’m doing in this post.
Note: the food pics are not associated with a bad food experience. They’re simply fun photos of food at weddings.
Why Your Photographers Need to EatA wedding photographer is working for eight or more hours consecutively. It’s strange that I have to say this – but you would be shocked at what I’ve seen/heard people say on this topic: eating is a basic human need. Humans need food to fuel our bodies. Hence, photographers need to eat on wedding days. Period.
This is a physically active, strenuous, demanding job. We are running, walking, crouching, bending over, standing, directing large groups of people – spending eight hours on our feet. We’re also ‘on’ all day. We are staying friendly, personable, accommodating, talking loudly – and a lot! In addition to that, it’s mentally taxing. We’re making hundreds of split second decisions throughout the day. It’s emotionally taxing. We’re holding space for all types of emotions. Then there’s the weight of being responsible for a whole family’s wedding day memories. All of that mental and physical exertion works up an appetite!
I always eat a large meal right before I enter the venue. So at hour 9ish, I’m eating a full meal in my car. That keeps me satiated for around five to six hours. At which point I’ve burned through that large meal and am ready for more fuel to get me through the rest of the night. Make sense?
The Impracticality of Expecting Photographers to Bring Our Own FoodYou may be thinking, “OK – I get that you need to eat. But why can’t you bring your own food?” Great question!
Like I said, we are at a wedding for eight or more hours. Where are we supposed to keep our food that it will not spoil for eight hours? It’s not like we’re guaranteed access to a refrigerator. We would pack the food when we leave our house, drive – sometimes 30-60 or more minutes to the venue, then we’d work for six to seven hours before we eat. So that’s eight or nine hours our food would need to stay fresh. Not impossible, but problematic.
And where are we storing it? First, we already have so much gear to carry and we’re running around from place to place. Now we’re supposed to carry around our food in a cooler as well? That’s not practical and sometimes it’s not possible. At some venues we could leave it in our car until we need it – but is it summertime and 90+ degrees outside? At other venues, like hotels with valet parking or where we get dropped off by a ride share/partner/friend or have to park down the street, we don’t have access to our car. And think about it: is this what you want your photographer spending time worried about and doing? This would be a major distraction!
And where are we heating it up? Are we butting into the bustling kitchen to ask to use a microwave? Some venues where your caterers are set up in a tent, there probably isn’t even a microwave. Not to mention – have you ever been in a catering kitchen or talked to someone working in one? It’s chaos in there and those people are in no mood to help a photographer find a microwave. We could eat a cold meal – like a sandwich. But after working for six ore more hours, a cold sami ain’t gonna cut it!
Why the Couple Is Responsible for Feeding Your PhotographerNow you know that yes, photographers DO need to eat on a wedding day. And you see how problematic and unrealistic it is to expect us to bring our own food. If we aren’t going to bring our own food – where is our food going to come from? We are relegated to a venue (sometimes a very secluded venue) – we can’t leave because we still have work to do. It makes sense that the food we eat would come from your caterer, who is feeding everyone else.
In addition to the logistics of it, your photographers are busting their tails for you. Most photographers I know go above and beyond to take care of their couples on their big day. We literally put blood, sweat, and tears into giving you a wonderful experience. And yes, we are getting paid for it. But there’s the human decency factor here. I would want to make sure someone who was working that hard for me was well taken care of – and the least of that is making sure they are fed a hot meal in a timely manner.
The AgreementI don’t actually leave it to the goodness in people’s hearts to feed me on a wedding day (and it must be said that it is in most of my couple’s hearts to do so! Love y’all!). I put it in my contract. In my wedding photography contract – any wedding that is five or more hours – it states very clearly that the couple is responsible for providing two HOT catered meals (one for me – specifically vegetarian; one for my second shooter).
Why do I specify ‘hot’ meals? Because often caterers try to feed vendors what’s known as a ‘vendor meal’. These are often boxed sandwiches with cookies, chips, maybe a little cold pasta salad. These are cold meals and they’re all the same. It’s usually turkey and cheese on white bread with no condiments. It’s like what your mom packed for your school lunch when you were ten years old.
I don’t eat meat. So in the past when I’ve been given these meals, there was not much for me to eat. At the end of working for six or more hours, I now had no substantial fuel for the rest of the evening. And why is it OK to feed a child’s lunch to an adult working all day on their feet? This is why I specify that our meals need to be HOT.
Second, I note that we should be included in your head count and that we are eating the same meals your guests are served. Specifying that our meal is ‘hot’ is not enough sometimes. Because the other thing I’ve seen caterers do is provide a casserole as the vendor meal. Technically, that is a hot dish. But that means all vendors are digging into the same casserole. And if you’re late getting to it, what’s left is a sloppy mess. Again, that is not acceptable and often not even filling.
Third thing specified in my contract, and here’s the part directed at caterers:
PHOTOGRAPHERS NEED TO EAT WHEN THE GUESTS EAT
Once again for the caterers in the back: PHOTOGRAPHERS NEED TO EAT WHEN GUESTS ARE EATING.
I do put that part in my contract with the couple and ask them to specifically address this with their caterer. But there is no guarantee the catering manager will abide by this on the wedding day – and many times they don’t. And on a wedding day, the last thing I want to do – and won’t do – is address this issue with the couple when the catering manager gives me a hard time about getting our food. (I will address it with your coordinator though!) Once it’s the wedding day, the couple is not involved with this. BUT they are affected by it.
There is a break of photographable activity during the meal. (And I don’t photograph people while they’re eating.) We have a short window of about 25-30 minutes where nothing is happening that needs to be photographed. So this is the perfect time for photographers to take a break to eat.
Typically, toasts start towards the end of the entree, while people are still eating. That means the photographers need to be back in the reception room to photograph the toasts. Which means we have to be done eating by this point, because from here on out, we’re continuing to shoot more events – cake cutting, parents dances, first dance, open dance floor, etc., until the end of the night.
The problem arises when caterers refuse to give the photographers their food at the beginning of meal time when guests are eating. We get told, “we can’t feed you until all of the guests have been served their entrees.” And even worse, “we can’t feed you until all of the guests have been served their entrees so we can make sure we have enough food to give you.”
Caterers – why wouldn’t you have enough food? That seems like an extreme lack of planning on the caterers’ part and like they are now making their problem my problem. Why is it not part of their process to have food ready for the vendors – at least the photographers – at the beginning of the meal? It’s confusing why after catering so many weddings they don’t know that photographers need to eat at a specific time. It’s unacceptable.
Not to mention, if the couple has paid for both me and my second photographer to have a plated meal – why would the caterer not have two plates of food that their clients paid for? That doesn’t seem acceptable either.
So the position I end up in, after having worked for six or more hours on my feet nonstop and feeling very hungry, is that I either have to suck it up, wait to be served, and risk not having time to eat before I have to get back to work. Or I have to plead my case to a disagreeable catering manager. I often have to check in multiple times, basically begging to eat. It’s a really stressful experience and one I absolutely loathe. Imagine working all day and then having to beg someone for food.
Everyone is working in service of the couple. It is in service of the couple to have 1. photographers who are satiated so they can function properly to photograph the rest of the night’s events and 2. photos of their toasts.
I may seem fired up about this – and I am. This has happened so many times over the years, but 2022 was especially bad. There was one wedding where the catering manager would not give us our food until 15 minutes before we were scheduled to leave. So we worked for seven hours and 45 minutes before we had anything to eat – and bonus, it was 9:45pm by the time we ate. Double bonus – they didn’t have my vegetarian meal and served me chicken. So the only thing I had to eat, I kid you not, was a couple roasted potatoes and carrots. (They didn’t even give us one of the salads.) It’s not like I had time to wait for a vegetarian replacement meal at that point!
At another wedding, the caterers refused to serve us until all the guests had their entrees. So we were waiting and waiting and waiting. When we finally got our food, we scarfed it down, went back into the reception room only to find it was the tail end of toasts! That was the mistake of the (inexperienced) DJ for not waiting for us, the venue coordinator for not coming to get us (she was probably eating somewhere else!), but also the caterers for making us wait so long to eat.
I have stories like this from about half the weddings I photographed in 2022 and probably about a quarter of the weddings each year prior to that. It’s a major problem and affects my ability to do my job at my best.
Make feeding your wedding photographers a priority by explicitly planning it out with your caterer. Let them know your photographers are included in your head count and pay attention to the types of meals they need. Explicitly let them know it’s imperative that they eat at the beginning of the meal because they need to eat in time to get back to photograph your toasts. Let them know this is an important detail to you.
And caterers, provide the photographers with their hot, individually plated meals as soon as the guests’ meals are being served. Make this standard practice.
Did this post get you excited to book your own wedding, micro-wedding, elopement, or engagement session?! If yes, send me a note and we can chat about what you have in mind: contact me
Hi – I’m Rachel! A wedding, engagements, and headshots photographer in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and northern Virginia. I love helping individuals and couples feel comfortable and confident in front of the camera. If you’re a dog owner, that’s a plus! I’m currently booking 2023 portrait sessions, micro-weddings, and elopements, as well as 2023-2024 weddings.
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