When the Groom Says No...


Wedding photography can be extremely intense and stressful for any photographer. It requires the ability to adapt to situations immediately and to be creative, and sometimes it means working with tough personalities. But what happens when everything suddenly comes to a screeching halt at a wedding?




Author's Note: Names and locations will be held confidential for the purposes of protecting identities for this posting.

A wedding is an event that is a high point in the life of anyone's life. It's such a personal, exciting, and life-changing moment. The bride is dressed and prepped to be perfect. Every little detail needs to be immaculate; the food, the decorations, the shoes, etc. Rightfully so—it is her wedding, and nothing should go awry during this special moment.

This wedding, I believed, would be the standard routine, no different than the others I'd shot. I traveled to the bride's house, photographed the dressing of the bride, the shoes, portraits of the bride, looking out the east window, family portraits, etc. Much of this was shot outside at the magic hour, on a rooftop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The images were gorgeous and I thought to myself, "This is perhaps going to be the best wedding I've ever photographed."

And the images would've looked great in my portfolio.

"Look over here, arch your face that way, hold it, beautiful! One more. Perfect." Those are the typical phrases that come out of my mouth during the pre-wedding shoot.

Then the trek to the wedding venue began.

The rest of the day was standard procedure; shoot photos of the venue and the bride exiting the limo, go back and forth between the bride's and groom's quarters, photos of the rings, some candid moments, etc. Then the bride walked down the aisle, and what came next is something no wedding photographer dreams of or wishes upon any client.

"I do." she says.

My telephoto lens was aimed at the bride's face for the next part. I always like to include a photo of the expression of the bride's face as the groom says, "I do."

In the life of a photographer, the world moves by at 1/1000th of a second at F/1.4. This had to be the longest thousandth of a second I've ever experienced, as the groom paused.

"No. No...I can't. I'm sorry." He said.

No expression I ever shoot will compare to the shock on the bride's face—It is burned into my brain forever. As the wedding turned into chaos, the viewfinder left my eye and I put the camera down, as the movie "Runaway Bride" suddenly popped into my head—with the obvious switch of genders.

So what do you do in a situation like this? Do you keep shooting? Do you stop taking pictures? At that moment, I stopped taking photos. Ethically and professionally, in my opinion, this is the best decision any wedding photographer can make.

No wedding photographer ever wishes for events like this to happen at a wedding for obvious reasons, and they most likely think that it will never happen to them. But it can. Some of the photos from that magic hour session are the best I've ever shot, but they will never see the light of day.

When I talked to photographers and others about this, they were all in shock. Most never heard of this happening. Has this ever happened to you at a wedding? How did you, as a photographer, react? Let us know your insights in the comments below.


As cold as it seems, my business and financial stability does not have to be compromised by an unsecure groom or bride. Always  demand full payment a week before the event and get a lawyer to read your contract and save you from a posible lawsuit.

Two stories I have are closer to the "wedding" you describe, but not even close:

1. The ceremony took place, but, the photographer couldn't find the church in time to document the actual ceremony, (even though he,(me) did photograph the bride in her house getting ready), usually the wedding would not go on without the photographer there, but I think the Justice of the Peace had to run to a funeral afterwards and couldn't wait.

SO...when I arrived, 5 minutes after it was over, I got them to walk through it one more time......It allowed me to produce some staged photos and the
Bride and Groom were not too angry, maybe  because I'm sure we have all witnessed weddings where the photographer was using a noisy Hasselblad and it interfered with the intimacy.(I usually used my Leica M4  for those
shots, because it was the quietest film camera in existence).

2. the second unusual wedding was where there was a big fight
going on about who should walk the bride down the aisle.

After that issue was somehow resolved, the family pictures were almost impossible to organize because everyone wanted to get photographed with the bride and groom but the families would not stand next to each other.

The final book had no group shots or table shots, just the couple by themselves.

BUT Chris your story "takes the cake".


I can't believe you have it in your contract to get paid in that situation!  That's not fair at all.  It's generous and kind of you, but completely unecessary.  

This did happen to me once.  Except he called it off over the phone, right as I pulled up at the bride's house.  I never once pulled out my camera.  And I pulled their engagement photos off my blog that night.  But, as per my contract, if the wedding gets cancelled within 240 days of the wedding, I keep the retainer fee and they pay for my costs (in this case, travel expenses).  I could have shot another wedding that day, and made twice as much - so I didn't feel bad keeping the retainer.  And they were friends of mine even, and they felt it was totally reasonable (not to mention it was what they agreed to in the contract).  Doing something so foolish is costly, and foolish decisions have consequences.  I suppose it's still less money then they would have spent if they'd gotten married that day, and got divorced a month later (had that happen to one of my brides also).

It is the most horrible feeling though.  I can only imagine how much more intense it was for the bride, and for everyone there that it happened in front of them all.  Privately, an hour before the wedding was bad enough - but at the altar!  How awful!  That poor woman...  :(

 If I was that groom and my photo was used to illustrate that story?  I'd be pissed.

And you'd publish these photos....why? They are certainly recognizable...if that is the groom..... 

No, never happened though I suspected it would once.  Had a best man not show up once, had several incidents with drunk guests, but your story is the ultimate.  I'd feel horrible for the Bride

I got scolded at a recepetion once for shooting what I thought was the Groom dancing with just another guest... turned out it was his "girlfriend".  Everyone knew she was there, but me.  The father of the Bride threaten not to pay me what was owed if that photo showed up in the proofs. 

The worst I have had happen is the Best man forgetting the Bride's name during the toast. Hopefully that is as bad as it gets.

And now, the question, did you get paid?

That is the craziest story I ever read on Insights!  You have send this in to magazines!