I have somewhere in the area of 30 cousins, many who have yet to get engaged or be married (if they choose to)- it seems like I, the professional photographer in the family, would be a natural fit to photograph their weddings, right?
It's easy to think that hiring a family member to photograph a wedding would be a natural fit and a smart choice, especially since you're doing family a favor by giving them business. I would even say that this would be a smart choice if your family members are dress makers, florists, bakers, or maybe even ceremony musicians. Those are all jobs that can easily be done before the wedding, or at the wedding in ways that don't necessarily detract from the family member doing their job well, while also enjoying the opportunity to see other family members during a special occasion. Wedding photography, however, is quite different.
As a wedding photographer, I need to have a dedicated and objective eye on everything that's happening around me. Moments are happening out of all corners of the room and I am there to capture them and preserve them for the couple and the families. When I'm surrounded by family I know and people who haven't seen me in a while, they often want to catch up with me, which distracts me from the job at hand. Naturally, I want to catch up with them too- but then I'm not paying attention to what's happening in front of me. It's also really difficult to ignore someone who can call out your name from across the room to capture a photo of them, when really the most important thing happening is somewhere completely different in the room, but could easily be missed when being pulled in different directions by people who are comfortable making additional personal requests for themselves, because you're family and they just expect it.
When there's a family connection with the people at the wedding, there's a tendency to focus on and capture the people we are most familiar with, rather than remaining completely objective to both families and observing them all as unique and interesting in their relationships to each other as well as the couple. I figured this out early on when I was just a guest at weddings and noticed that all of my images centered on one side of the family that I knew best as well as the friends I was most familiar with, almost excluding everyone from the other side of the family at the wedding. It was much easier to be objective at friend's weddings than it was at family weddings. Likewise, when couples have shared photos from friends & family that were taken at their weddings while I was the professional, I noticed the same tendency over and over, to only document the people that were most familiar to them.
When I'm a hired as an outside professional, I have the most objective view of all the relationships and important people in the room, and can approach both sides of the family with the same level of attention and dedication. I can take in the silly quirks of family members and document them instead of rolling my eyes and walking away because I've already seen them behave that way a million times before at other family events. I can appreciate the over-attentive aunt instead of being frustrated by her desire to make everything perfect. I can delight in a kid's antics instead of scolding or correcting him as a family member. I can just observe, document, and be present, rather than judging or assuming things that I may or may not already know. Point blank, I can provide the best service and coverage possible when I can remain objective and be held accountable to a professional standard.
If you know someone who is considering a family member to document their wedding, please share these insights with them. I want them to have the best wedding photography experience possible, and avoid making any mistakes that they might regret in the future. To all of my family members who I've had to say no to, please understand that I'm looking out for you, and that I may still bring my camera and shoot what I can with one lens and no flash so that I don't disrupt the professional images being captured, but that it's nearly impossible to be "on my game" when being distracted by our family members!