Photography Articles: Uncle Bob or GWAC

This article explains two common photographer terms. Although both are typically meant in a derogatory way to discuss amateur photographers, remember that we were all beginners at one time and that we are all learning every day through new experiences.

Both terms refer to inexperienced photographers who are working beyond their skill levels, but they are typically used to refer to a photographer in a specific setting, or context.

What is an Uncle Bob?

An "Uncle Bob," or his female equivalent "Aunt Sue," is typically a person that you will meet at a wedding. They may have better camera equipment than the hired professional photographer, or they may have the worst camera of all the guests, but what earns them the title is their attitude and behavior throughout the day.

Uncle Bobís typically come in two flavors. The easiest to get along with is the eager-amateur who likes to follow the main photographer around to learn how to do things. This isn't a problem, so long as they donít get in the way. But, after time passes they think they are now friends with the hired photographer and after 15 minutes of Q-and-A they are practically on the payroll. They have then achieved Uncle Bob status.

The worst Uncle Bob is the bossy relative or friend who actually interferes with the photographerís efforts. The eager-amateur is just a pest, at worst, who is chatty. But the Bossy Bob may never say an actual word to the photographer themselves. Instead, they will redirect the posed family photos after the ceremony or rearrange the bouquet toss setup. I even had an Aunt Sue one time who instructed the wedding party to go to a completely different location for photos, and she didnít like how we had posed the wedding party since they would not all fit into the frame on her camera (borrowed from the bride) as the lens wasnít wide enough.

Most of the time the Uncle Bob is male and thankfully they seem to fit into the first category. You learn to almost like this kind after youíve had a wedding or two in a row with the pushy kind. Uncle Bob often has a really nice camera, better than yours, but he just bought it two days ago and has no experience with it meaning lots of questions about the buttons and settings. Uncle Bobís are often technology or computer hobbyists and enthusiasts. Wedding photographers are often not highly technical, but lean more to an artistic interest. This differing perspective often leads to sort of an inability to communicate on the same wavelength making their questions and suggestions (which to them seem perfectly normal) very out of the norm to a professional wedding photographer.

The GWAC

The GWAC: "Guy/Girl With A Camera," however is a different breed of photographer from your Uncle Bob. Typically, professional photographers may never actually meet a GWAC in person as the GWACs often lurk in the shadows and on the fringes of professional photography.

The GWAC is a person who represents themselves at a particular level in order to falsely obtain something. Some GWACs are pretend wedding photographers posing as professionals to get money. Some charlatans take the money and run, while others do show up only to uncaringly take bad pictures.

The worst are the GWACs who pose as studio photographers to get models to take their clothes of for them. No, sadly, I am not kidding. There are GWACs out there who do this kind of behavior, and it may surprise you that some operate legitimate studios by day taking senior photos and family portraits.

You should always do your homework on anyone you are going to trust with your money or your body. However, donít rely on accreditation or organization affiliations. Most of these photographer organizations just want dues from its members and donít do anything to police who is claiming to be a professional. While it may cost someone a few hundred dollars to join a few of these groups they can stand to steal several times that amount and hurt many people in a short period of time.

GWACs give honest and hardworking photographers a bad rap for their unethical practices, and with the growth and popularity of the internet for finding a photographer it makes it a little easier to pose as something you are not. However, I think many of us professionals have too quickly developed a very skeptical eye towards every other photographer out there.

While GWACs are not an urban legend, I feel that the term is being used at times a little unfairly. Some studios list their competition as GWACs when they simply just have fewer years in the business. We all had to learn somewhere and so long as a person is not lying about their experience, is not trying to defraud a customer, and is not overreaching in their promises versus skills then they arenít a GWAC in my book and I wish them the best of luck.

So, how many of you have read this and now feel kind of guilty about something youíve done in the past? Donít worry if you were an Uncle Bob once, thatís water under the bridge. Now you can learn from that and grow to be a better photographer.

How can I avoid being an Uncle Bob?

On behalf of wedding photographers everywhere let me start by saying, "Thank you!"

Weddings are a great time for photographs and everyone who wishes maybe they had made a different choice in college or was told they have "an eye" for this kind of things brings their best gear with them. Personally, I think thatís great that you are interested in photography and you smartly realized that a wedding is a great opportunity for beautiful photos. Welcome aboard!

But, donít let your eagerness cross the line into pushiness. At a lull or other good opportunity when you wonít be interfering with a shot, introduce yourself to the hired photographer and let them know youíre not an "Uncle Bob." The best time to do this is when you see the photographer or photographers standing around a camera bag changing batteries or lenses. This is usually a time when we donít think weíre going to miss something. And, if you use the term "Uncle Bob" we will have a good laugh and know that youíre an okay kind of person.

Ask how they handle posed family photographs. Sometimes the professional lets everyone else get their shot first, others prefer to get their own shot first. By simply asking this one question you will have taken a great weight off of their shoulders and they will likely now be sure to ask if you got your shot before moving on. This is important since there are many philosophies on how a professional should handle the guests and this will vary greatly from wedding to wedding and asking opens the door to get more information from the hired photographers.

Itís okay to ask for a business card, too. Professional photographers have all had at least one referral from an Uncle Bob because the family looked to Uncle Bob for input since they are the familyís photography enthusiast (aka shutterbug).

After that, just stay out of their way and they will likely notice this respect from you and, if theyíre a good photographer, respond in helpful ways. If the hired photographer is a jerk to you then thatís all the more reason to cut your own path and take your own photos anyway.

Shooting over the shoulder of the hired photographer just means more pictures of the same thing. Instead, if you go out and find your own angle, you may surprise yourself and get better shots than the hired professional. Youíll never know until you try.

When I go to the wedding of a friend I do take along a camera or two and a decent lens or two, but I personally avoid the hired photographers and even avoid speaking to them if possible: Iím there for a good time and not work. I know they are busy and really what do I have to talk about? Without exception this has had an interesting impact on the hired photographer: they end up following me around! I donít know if it is like a woman playing hard to get, but it just seems to attract the other photographers and drive them crazy.