I have been a wedding photography since 2014, and I can assure you I would not have stayed in this job if I had continued to shoot the way I did in 2014. There is nothing inherently wrong with the photos (aside from my own cringing while looking back at my beginning work).
I treated weddings as events - a job that I needed to systemize so I could repeat success over and over again. I didn’t know that was my goal, but as I created timelines, made client booking systems, and email templates, I was headed towards reaching it. I say “headed” that way because I never “arrived”. I was frustrated by my inability to master consistency. My instagram feed felt sporadic, the lighting/backdrops of my weddings were unpredictable, the presets i made in Lightroom seemed to never work more than twice, and my email templates never covered all of the information each client requested from me. I was feeling exasperated, and these feelings can still creep up today.
I think it is necessary that I say that none of these goals that I set or expectations I put on myself are necessarily bad. none of these things are necessarily wrong or bad goals. They are the most practical ways to reach maximum efficiency. But the point of writing this post is not to talk about maximum efficiency. I wanted to write this for the wedding photographer who is bored and losing touch with inspiration.
I’m not one to talk about efficiency or consistency. You can ask my friends… I may be capable of writing lengthy goals, drawing vision boards, and making epic to do lists… but ticking everything off or reaching the goals - lol, forget about it!
In 2016, my best friend and I signed up for a workshop in Nashville called “Unposed”. It was the first workshop thrown by Love Is a Big Deal (Josh and Meg). We were both nervous and not sure what to expect. I am so glad for that small leap of faith, because Meg and Josh changed the way I photographed couples forever. They sparked a little flame in me. I felt challenged, as well as reminded, of what my job is and should be.
What began as a new way to approach posing, morphed into a new way of approaching weddings completely. I started to dissect why I loved weddings, even though I have never been a frills and “bridal” kind of girl. What made me cry so much during weddings? And, why, years into this career, did I still squeal when I drove by a bride coming out of a church - when i didn’t have any connection or knowledge of who they were?
I’ll tell you what I landed on and finally get into the grit of this post. I love weddings for many reasons. Firstly, I love that weddings cross all cultural, political, and socio-economic boundaries. It isn’t an American thing, or an Indian thing. Parties and marriage are universal! Following that, family is universal. No matter who someone is, they get to experience a handful of the same moments. Whether it is the groom seeing his bride walk down the aisle, the father walking his daughter down the aisle, a mom hugging her son, a sister standing by her sibling, an uncle hugging his sister while celebrating his nephew’s marriage, or a grandparent watching the next generation’s family start - it is just so special! It is surreal that you will have the opportunity to play multiple roles throughout your life.
On top of that, this is a day that represents a lifetime commitment that two people are making to each other. OUT OF THE WHOLE WORLD, they found each other, with no blood or family obligation leading - just cause they like each other’s company and think their partner is just the best thing since sliced bread. They are choosing to say, “Until death do us a part.” I know, statistically speaking, the chance of marriage for people is high, but it’s pretty freakin’ wild when you break it down. Worthy of documentation.
Okay, now with the emotional/family aspect of a wedding written out, let’s talk about the EVENT itself. As a vendor, I am appalled at the wedding industry’s normalization of spending THOUSANDS on one day. I’ll binge watch “Say Yes To The Dress” and starting thinking, “Hmmm…. a $5,000 budget for a dress seems low, but I’m sure they will find soooomething.” Like what?! Usually I have a newsflash moment when I realize how crazy it is that I just thought 5k for a dress was “low”.
With that being said, let’s talk about why we have weddings. What’s the purpose? At its core, weddings are not a new concept. Weddings date back to the earliest communities. Weddings were not coined by any one culture, however the first recorded evidence of a marriage was in Mesopotamia around 2350 B.C!! Crazy. That is what is so cool about weddings. It didn’t need an inventor, because us humans have been celebrating love, big decisions, and changes in life since the very beginning. I don’t believe you have to spend a fortune to celebrate, but I do think there is value to throwing a big ole party. Different cultures celebrate in different ways, and some people stay closer to the core values then others.
So what the heck does this have to do with not getting bored as a wedding photographer? For me, it has everything to do with not getting bored. If I am constantly seeking out unique moments that represent that couple's core values and purpose, then each wedding becomes even more special and memorable in my eyes.
If your goal becomes booking trendy weddings that will provide consistent magazine worthy images, you will get bored. I did. As I’ve started growing in my understanding of humanity and the reason we do the things we do, the more I fall in love with documenting each person’s history. That is what we are doing as photographers. Documenting history. Sometimes it feels predictable and moments feel irrelevant. However, when you get that text a week after the wedding that someone who was present has passed away suddenly, you find yourself up late at night, frantically scrolling to find the last images taken of that person. Those are the moments I am reminding of my role.
You may find yourself overwhelmed- overwhelmed with how quickly life is gone - overwhelmed with the thought “If I had known, I would have taken more.” If all you have to offer is beautifully arranged images of rings and dresses, or “vogue cover” wedding party shots, then you will start to feel empty. Empty in documenting one of the most important days in a person's life.
Hear me when I say, I TAKE THE RING SHOTS AND DRESS SHOTS AND VOGUE COVER PHOTOS TOO, but I have made that just the top layer. My mission is to reach beyond the top layer, and seek moments in corners, moments that might not look special in the moment, but on Mother’s Day, it will be. On the anniversary of a death, it will be. On a birthday, it will be. To a child, 50 years later, it will be. To the couple on their 70th anniversary, it will be special.
Do not limit yourself by believing your job is limited to consistent feeds and galleries. You will get bored of white walls, blush dresses, eucalyptus stuffed bouquets, and dreamy mountain backdrops. Not because those things are wrong, but because it all begins to look the same without the personalities and people infused in images. I don’t think people want their wedding gallery and photos to be indistinguishable to the next couple. Each couple is a unique set of individuals with unique families with unique stories. When you begin to approach each wedding with this goal in mind - to honor the unique aspects of the couple and their families, you begin to find beauty and diversity within every wedding, extravagant or simple.
It is not easy to shift your approach, but it will save your creativity, your dedication, and will keep you in the game much longer. I used to be disappointed by color choices, venues, and even the looks of a couple. It’s awkward to admit that, but I would be dishonest if I did not. We all have been there. When you look up that church… with green carpet and no windows… it’s only normal for your artist heart to sink a little.
However, as I’ve shifted my purpose and goal of each wedding day, my perspective has changed. Now I want to take on ANY type of wedding! Weddings have become more exciting, and I welcome the different challenges and aspects of each . It’s an honor to capture history. Their history. Even if the dress shot isn’t ideal, it’s their dress. Even though the ceremony isn’t in a cathedral, they won’t care - it’s their cathedral. You know when that one photo slips into the gallery that you meant to remove because it’s not quite right? Maybe it is slightly out of focus or the coloring is just off…..AND out of all the photos in that gallery, they make THAT ONE their freakin’ cover photo or profile picture for ACTUAL years!! Why do they do that!? Because they are looking at the content (even when they value your artistry and style). They see their history.
SO where to even start?!?
1. Begin hunting for your “WHY”, outside of money and magazine status. Search hard. Figure out what you love about weddings. Is it a sustainable “why”?
2. LEARN! For me, Unposed was the start of my outlook and approach changing. I highly recommend their posing cards. Not only do you get awesome ideas of prompts, games, and techniques to help deliver natural images, you get online access to a community group of photographers who are looking to engage in conversation, seeking constructive feedback, and brainstorming new and fun ways to make clients comfortable and creating unique images *I’m not paid to say any of this, I just freakin’ love it* You do not need Unposed. It will not fix all your problems. It is a tool - a fantastic tool, to add to your belt!
3. Make your “MUST” lists of images you take at each wedding. That one stays the same for every wedding ( i.e. the mom buttoning her daughter’s dress, all of the groomsman together, the bouquet toss, etc.). THEN before each wedding, brainstorm special photos you want to *try*- unique to that couple. The day before a wedding, I am on www.shootandshare.com/inspirator and searching inspiration to see what I could make possible for this couple. If it’s a downtown wedding, I’m pulling up urban inspired shots. If it’s forecasted to rain, I’m hunting my favorite photographer’s blogs, Pinterest boards, and Instagram saved images for dreamy, rainy day wedding inspiration. I’m spending time imagining what would make this couple feel like their images are special and what matches their personalities! What is her dress like? What can I do to make sure they have fun? Are there any special relationships in their family I need to be sure and capture? What can I do to make sure they have moments of relaxation, breathing, and soaking in the day? I merge the lists in order of events on their timeline and save it to my GOOGLE KEEPS. I look at this list as much as I can/need during a wedding day in order to keep me on task AND inspire me.
4. Yo, BREATHE. Take a moment before you start the wedding day, and remind yourself that today is for them. Today is work for you, but for them, it’s a day they may never experience again. Today, they chose you to document their history. It’s okay if the lighting is tungsten, the carpet is green, or whatever. You work with what you can and do your best to photograph it well. This is not just for your portfolio. Take a couple of deep breaths in the car and then head in and freakin kill it!
5. SHARE! Share the powerful moments you captured, even if the images are not your most dreamy shots or look consistent with your feed. Even if you don’t want to post it on your Instagram, share with your best friends. I text some of the images I am stoked about as I edit them. Honestly, it’s pretty standard for my closest friends to receive photos of the back of my camera during a ceremony or that night when i should be in bed. To celebrate sending off a gallery I usually text the link to my besties. Sometimes I don’t realize an image’s worth until someone else reminds me of it. Often, they see the content over the technical faux passes I can be blinded by.
6. EDUCATE your clients. Sometimes your couple will need a reminder that you are there to document the day. I am so thankful for the couples who trust me, and do not question what I photograph, but most of the time that is because we’ve talked extensively about this! If it rains, that is a part of their wedding day. If they can’t find the rings, that is a part of their memories. Don’t forget to capture the in between moments, and don’t forget to tell your couples that is a part of your job!
7. CHECK YOURSELF. When you get an inquiry and dash to Facebook to snoop and read of the cheap venue they booked, or receive the text that they chose THAT color for bridesmaid dresses….. check yourself! What’s your purpose? What’s your “why”? Instead of asking who your ideal client is, begin to ask yourself if you are the ideal photographer for them. What can you change? THIS idea was one of the best takeaways from the Hustle and Flow workshop I attended. They really made me change the way I approach client care and bookings. If a couple values you and respects you, that is the ideal couple. Period. Check yourself constantly.
I feel like I’ve written a novel! I am not surprised if very few have made it to this last paragraph. I hope you found this helpful as well as inspiring. I think the wedding photography industry can eat you alive, especially if you went into it to make art and experience humanity. It is easy to burn out. I will never claim to be an expert; I recognize that this is MY approach to avoiding burn out. #4 and #7 have joined my regular habits. I have days I don’t like this job and I wish I could quit still, but then I remind myself of my “why” and my mindset and approach continues to change.
Sesson’s mom helps her with her dress before the first look. It was so special to see them taking a moment to soak it all in.
Anna attempted to get a photo with her nephew a few times. I think these are more expressive of his personality and energy then anything. I love that he will have these when he grows up!
It started raining on the morning of Chloe and Denzel’s wedding. I just love the story telling aspect that comes with a rainy wedding day.
Kali + Danny’s rehearsal dinner. There were so many powerful moments and stories shared.
Jacqui spent the beginning of her day getting ready at her and her sister’s house.