I hate puppies. I hate little girls with flowers, rainbows, the colors pink and purple. I also hate kittens, dresses, and sunshine…
Okay, you caught me. So I DON’T hate any of those things… Not crazy about some purples, but other than that all those things seem pretty nice I guess. One thing I don’t really like? Shooting weddings.
I sparked something of a conversation on Facebook yesterday when I tweeted (to my wall) about how frustrating it is to be (especially in the south) a photographer who isn’t first and foremost a wedding photog. I take the occasional wedding (I will discuss WHY I do this later in the post) but generally I try to avoid them.
Being young, and only a noob photographer (1.5 years since I decided to invest in a good camera and give it the ol’ college try) I am pretty much an unknown. So you are probably wondering what kind of professional suicide I am trying to perform by turning down really, really, REALLY good money and even better exposure (weddings tend to multiply exponentially if you are in any good, from what I hear) when I am essentially broke and jobless.
I can shoot weddings:
This is a wedding I shot last spring. It was my third or fourth and It was a beautiful event with kind, creative, cool people who were great clients. But was a struggle for me the entire day. I ended up getting a few images that I really loved, but in the end it made me realize that wedding photography is not where my heart lays. And you know, I don’t think it is the pressure or the low pay (I was just starting so I was pretty cheap BIG mistake!) or the long hours of hard work. I will work for no pay, higher pressure and longer hours without even a second thought, on some projects. I think it simply just isn’t what I like.
As photographers we all have to shoot things we don’t like every once in a while. That comes with the needing a paycheck. And I know I learn a lot with every wedding I shoot. But why don’t I take more?
I really LIKE doing editorial, portraiture, and lifestyle work and I have never been big on weddings. I don’t want to establish myself as a wedding tog when I want to end up as an editorial/commercial tog, but really it comes down to vision.
For me, vision is the number one most important thing I can bring to work with me. Now some of my works have stronger vision than others, but it is something I strive for in every shoot.
Weddings are not about my vision. Nor should they be. They are about the brides vision, about her moments and memories. It doesn’t matter what I think, I can’t walk up to her in the middle of the ceremony and say, “excuse me, can you just turn your chin up slightly? Yeah I need more light in your eyes. Thanks. Great, proceed.” Nor can I tell her which dress material will photograph best in a church with north facing windows (can anyone answer that? You get a free high-five and maybe a stick of gum if you get it right) or say, oh let’s try that shot again…Right, go back up the aisle and start over.
I have SO MUCH respect for wedding photographers and photo journalists. Both are capturing a story and both usually just have only one chance to get the “shot.” My strength is not in that “capturing” my strength is in the “creating.”
Is it right to charge someone a lot of money (even at discounted rates, wedding photography involves a lot of money simply for the amount of work and pressure that come with the territory) for an artistic service you feel you can’t perform to your normal standards? I don’t think so.
So if weddings and photojournalism are so similar, why am I willing to do photojournalism and not weddings? I had to think about this one for a while. It never really made sense to me until I was in New York and I got this shot….
At the time I was working for our student newspaper. I knew we would need a shot of our media-dept trip to the city to accompany the story in the paper. But, I also knew that New York is one of the most photographed places in the world. While on the plane to La Guardia I thought about how to “capture” the city and yet “create” a moment that was fresh and yet familiar but unique. This image came to me almost immediately. On our last night in the city, with the help of my good friend, JT (model) I got the shot. It made the front page of the paper, along with being published in our Alumni Magazine. Sometimes in journalism there is room for both your vision and the greater story. I don’t have the kind of talent it takes to do that in most weddings so I just refer people to the photographers that do.
Now about the weddings I DO take-
Every once in a while I will get a request from someone who I just can’t turn down. Usually these are from friends or clients who know how I work and want me specifically for that reason. They are willing to let me have a little freedom and be the bossy (cough — but cute and quirky) photographer that I am. They are laid back, easy to work with, and trust in my skills and talent. Finding clients like that is rare for someone as new to the business as me so I am always grateful, but I even turn down some of THEM! But I never put them in my portfolio or try to use them as marketing for more weddings.
I believe the industry is full of amazing wedding photographers who WANT to shoot weddings, and I am not one of them. I would never want to take business away from them and I am okay with that. For some reason people seem to get offended about that. No one ever asks me why I don’t shoot landscapes though… (because I don’t really enjoy it) or table top products (because I am terrible at it).
If you are a photographer, there is a myth going around that you must do it all. You must shoot anything anyone will pay you to shoot. But how much time is that taking away from the work you are passionate about? We all have to pay bills, and by all means do what you need to do, but if there is a kind of photography that you don’t see your self doing and you can do something, ANYTHING to avoid doing it, then don’t do it. You will burn out if you are not making work you take joy in making. Do not lose sight of the art in our job. That is why we became photographers in the first place, right?
For the record: I am booked for two weddings in the next 12 months. I am actually looking forward to shooting both of them. So, see? I am not totally heartless!