Dear Wedding Photographers: Get Over It

Dear Wedding Photographers: Get Over It

The Internet is my biggest hero. I don't think my business would ever have gotten off the ground in the traditional world of phone books, landline telephones, relying on a brick and mortar studio to show your work, and direct mail marketing. I'm most certainly a do-it-yourself type of person and the web has enabled people like me to really take that to the next level. I build and maintain my own websites, I set up my business phone number through Google Voice, I have automated most studio functions online, and I share my work directly with clients and prospective clients how and when I want with virtually no overhead. Even with all those modern advances on the business front, the Internet has given us a tool far more powerful than anything Adobe could hope to code into software. The internet has given us community. We no longer have to go on this journey alone.

My first trip after getting serious about photography was skiing in Colorado. I had spent my entire first year of photography shooting local bands in dive bars and I was thirsty to try something different. After my first day, I already had a photo I was dying to share; so, I did a quick Google search to find out the best way to do that. That was the day I discovered Flickr. I immediately set up an account, uploaded my artistic masterpiece, submitted it to a couple groups, and then waited. And I didn't have to wait long. The moment, just five minutes later, when I got my first "favorite," is seared into my memory. At the time, I thought it meant more than it did, but that was enough. I got the bug and I understood the power of putting photography together with social media. Tidal waves of pure ego-driven praise were now on-tap and on-demand.

But then came the comments. I think we all remember our first negative feedback. I don't think it was so much that it hurt my feelings, but more so that I just hadn't anticipated it during this initial period of selfdom. I spent a few seconds contemplating my options, which ranged from deleting the photo to a nuclear verbal strike in retaliation. And then it dawned on me: "I am capable of listening to this feedback and I have the ability to parse it in order to extract useful information that I can utilize for self-improvement moving forward." That's verbatim what I thought. It was only my second day in the trenches of the photography forums and here I was submitting as much of my work to critique groups as humanly possible. I loved when people complained. It made me stronger, it made me smarter, and it slingshotted me ahead of my peers who were also getting into photography at the same time. Thank you, mean-spirited and evil critique artists of the internet. I wouldn't be here today without you.

As time has marched on, I've moved away from critique groups and now, I mingle with the masses. I love to teach, so I spend quite a bit of time in forums and groups for wedding photographers in order to give back. I remember how hard it was for me in 2009 to get clear answers to a lot of my questions. I really do believe that's probably the biggest area where things have really improved from a community standpoint. People aren't nearly as protective of their secrets as they used to be. I think it's because most people have finally realized that there are no secrets in photography. So, thank you for that. I appreciate it. But now, we photographers like to complain. When we're not posting photos or arguing about which cameras are better than others, we're complaining. It's an epidemic and it's really hurting the community and ourselves. I think many of us have lost focus on what really matters.

You didn't ask for constructive criticism, but you got it anyway? Get over it. 

I'm sure most of you are a member of at least one online photography group that has a rule stating: "do not give constructive criticism unless the poster asks for it." And I'm sure you fall into one of two categories: you cringe and bite your tongue, or you give it anyway and someone gets upset with you. I cannot understand why a private community designed for photographers would create and enforce such a stupid rule like this. If you want your ego stroked, just post on your personal and business pages. No one will ever say anything to damage your fragile ego there. I just hope you're okay living with your photography stagnating in perpetual mediocrity for the rest of your life.

Critique is critical and that critique really needs to come from strangers. Friends and family will never tell you what you need to hear, even if you ask for it. Take criticism whenever and wherever you can. Embrace it.

You're upset that people have cell phones and cameras at weddings and they are getting in your shot? Get over it.

You need to remember at all times that a wedding is a wedding. It is not your personal photoshoot. I cannot go more than two days online without seeing a wedding photographer complaining about a guest taking photos. You are the hired professional; so, act like it. In over a hundred weddings, I have yet to run into a single instance where I couldn't work around a guest. Maybe it doesn't match what your original vision was, but that's wedding photography in a nutshell: Plans will change and you must adapt. So, learn to adapt or find a safer profession where someone can hold your hand and make sure you aren't given something you can't handle. I recently shot a wedding where a guest boomed a GoPro directly over the bride and groom for nearly the entire ceremony.

I worked around it and the only shot in which it was remotely a distraction is the one I took purposely focused on it. With that said, I'm not dense enough to realize that just because I have not experienced something show-stopping doesn't mean it hasn't or won't happen. Make sure all your clients sign a contract (yes, even family and friends) and ensure that it has a clause stating you are not responsible for shots missed due to factors outside your control (such as guests getting in the way). I also suggest doing your best to get the shot the bride and groom expect anyway, as well as a wide shot showing the offending party. In any case, stop whining about it online. Weddings are about two people in love and putting on a big show for their guests. You are only there to document the day and at a certain point, you can only work with what you're given.

You lost a client's wedding because you were unprepared? Get over it. 

While you certainly shouldn't "get over it" with regards to your client (not like you could, because they'll probably sue you), no one wants to hear your sob story about how you messed up. Even more to the point, no one wants to hear your attempt at excuses. Chances are someone will screenshot said conversation, which will more than likely be filled with people telling you that you had no business shooting a wedding in the first place. I could only imagine the lack of sympathy to be deafening. Listen. Backing up your critical data is no longer just a good idea; it is absolutely essential. Every excuse you could possibly have has no ground to stand on. Storage is cheap, operating systems can back up automatically, and even unlimited off-site cloud backup can be had for $5 a month.

I once came across an amazing conversation on Facebook from a girl who had a laptop that was stolen by her roommate, and it had three weddings that were not backed up on it. I'll pick out a few of my favorite parts. To reiterate what I said about storage being cheap:

I will never understand why people don't back up their files. 4 TB drives are only $150, so there is just no excuse anymore.

You call yourself a professional? News flash:

This is horrible. Professionals back things up. 

But mistakes happen!

No, this isn't a mistake. This is bad business. This is amateur. 

You'll just give them their money back!

Your client doesn't want her money back. 

But you don't have a lot of money! You just can't afford what you need.

Well, you're about to have a lot less when each one of those brides sues you. 

You've got to get the shot and everyone will just have to get over it? Get over it.

Remember that part in which I said weddings aren't personal photoshoots and that you need to be considerate of others and the wedding experience? That means not looking up the bride's and groom's noses at the front of the altar. Not only is that probably terribly unflattering, but you really should think about what everyone else sees from their seats. Actually, imagine no longer! Here you go:

I know what you're thinking: "Ha. I told you people who stand in the middle of the aisle are annoying and ruin your shot!" Well, I never said that. I said you need to work around them. In this particular case, I was going to do a panorama of the entire ceremony from the back of the aisle. I took the shots anyway, just in case I decided to put it together. But I just kept trucking and took every shot I could around this videographer. It was less than optimal, but that's just how weddings go. He did sit next to me at the reception, so I made sure to let him know that if he continued to do that in the future, he would make it on some photographer's hit list.

What's my point? My point is get over it.

More to the point, get over yourself.  This diva culture needs to end. Learn to realize what your place actually is within the realm of a wedding and stop sweating the small stuff. Let it pass and be positive. I remember reading a blog post by Ryan Brenizer a few years ago titled There Are No Rockstar Photographers and that has always resonated with me. Photographers tend to be an ego-filled bunch. I am no different. I was a trumpet player in high school. We need to be humble and we need to not complain so much, even in private to our peers. The Internet is a power that can be used for absolutely amazing things, but if you're not careful, you'll find yourself moaning and groaning into the void, the echo chamber of the web. Worse than making you seem petty, it is a waste of time. That's time that so many of us wish we had to take more photos. As Henry Thomas Buckle said:

Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.

If it seems like I'm being exceptionally hard on wedding photographers, it's because I am one and as such, it's the discipline of photography I'm most passionate about. I know we can be better. I'm calling us out because I care.

 

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29 Comments

Martin Van Londen's picture

I love it! Someone need to say this stuff. And personally I think in general people need to stop airing out "most" of there personal/business problems on the Internet.

This is yet another article complaining about people who complain about other people—not that I'm complaining mind you. I'm just pointing out the circularity of it all. ;)

Kyle Ford's picture

Get over it ;)

E Port's picture

Kyle beat me to it! Ha

Kian McKellar's picture

This is good stuff. Thanks.

David Vaughn's picture

Every time I see an article about how hard (or not hard) wedding photographers have it.

Christian Santiago's picture

I am convinced wedding photography is for masochists.

Daniel Jeavons's picture

Aren't you just as bad by moaning about this?

Sean Molin's picture

No.

Daniel Jeavons's picture

the singular answer just proves you're a fool.

Sean Molin's picture

Lighten up, Francis. I was kidding.

Anonymous's picture

Lot's of good comment here.It's not about us but about the couple.If there are lots of people in your way they are part of the experience.I always had the view that someone else might get a better shot than me and good for you(the bride and groom) if they do but I will be doing things that they are not in a position to do.I often used to ring the videographer before the wedding to try and be on the same page on the day. There were exceptions.My best critic has always been my wife. She wasn't frightened to tell it like it is.She is not a photographer but is able to put herself in other people's shoes.I didn't always agree with her but valued her criticism.She became my assistant in the latter part of my wedding photography career(I average about 1 a year now).My contract always covered the issue about other photographers interfering with my work and was a satisfactory protection for me.What I find frustrating in the wedding industry and other genres is the endless comments about the best software and workflows etc.In the "good old days" you got it right in camera,as best you could, and then the lab worked their magic.Getting it right in camera and less manipulation of images after the shoot is not popular now. I look at washed out pale images of weddings that have been deliberately processed that way and wonder how much appeal they will have in 10 to 20 years.To me they look like they have faded over time. Admittedly some people like that look. Thanks Sean. Good article.

Ben Perrin's picture

I'm not too sure I agree with part of your comment. Getting it right in camera is always preferable. Stuff up the exposure/white balance in a wedding once and you'll have much more work to do later on. Getting it right in camera I believe is the aim of most professionals and more important now than ever. YMMV.

Sean Molin's picture

I shoot Nikon D810/D750, so I pretty much under-expose 1-2 stops across the board. The first thing I do after an import is batch boost the exposure 1-2 stops for every image. Does that count as getting it right in camera?

I alway teach that proper exposure isn't necessarily want looks best on the back of your camera after taking the shot. "Proper exposure" is capturing the maximum amount of data required to achieve your final vision. Many times this requires pretty extreme exposure adjustments from what the meter or preview would tell you is correct.

Nathan Tsukroff's picture

Generally, the histogram will give you that information. For digital, it's suggested to avoid burning out the highlights. But you lose data in the shadow areas, so sliding the histogram right gives you more to work with on the finished image.

Thats a lot of complaining about others complaining. Get over it.

Sean Molin's picture

Thank you for being the voice of reason. I hope the read wasn't a waste of your time.

Jerry Colbert's picture

I couldn't agree more :) Great article

Thank you!!! Great article. I too have learned to just deal with the issues we run into. Its part of the day. Its fun sometimes getting the people taking pics as to me its part of the story and if I see a group doing selfies, I'll take advantage and get the pic too. Part of what I enjoy about a wedding is the challenge of them. To get the images even when conditions are difficult.

I just shot my last 2 weddings last weekend. I couldn't be happier to be out of the business. That being said, I agree 100% with what is being said in this article. To many wedding photographers bitch and moan about all these things, but they forget that it's not about them. It is about the client, her/his family, and their moments and memories. You are a paid professional. Stop bitching and act like it.

I agree with most of your points and I know exactly where some of the inspiration for this article comes from as I belong to one of the same local FB groups as you. I DO bitch and moan about the selfie stick / cell phone madness all around us, but I do it in private. Doing so in a FB group is like placing a negative ad for your potential new clients to see. Like you, I always include a shot of the guest making a nuisance of themselves. It's in the hopes that they will see the online gallery and perhaps see how obnoxious they look. I do know that is wishful thinking and one can't always cure stupid. Last weekend I publicly lost my cool for the first time at a wedding when I arose from a crouched position only to hit my head on a guest's 70-200 lens. I'm human and I don't regret the WTF that came out of my mouth. It was unprofessional of me, but only loud enough for the offending party to hear and I made my point. This is a good article for us wedding photographers to take in. I hope there are similar ones on the wedding blogs for brides concerning the guests' antics. Nonetheless, I will soldier on. Certainly my hard, photographer head will win out vs. a sea of plastic lens hoods!! :)

Rob Mynard's picture

This is all well and good but i'm a beautiful and unique snowflake...

Josh Rottman's picture

Word. Glad someone said it.

Michael Brinkerhoff's picture

Bravo! As an artist it's so easy to get upset at all the little things that don't quite work out perfectly. I was fortunate enough to work at a local newspaper in the very beginning so I had people blocking my shot, trolling me, and a few people being down right hostile. Once you go through that, a wedding is a cake walk. Just be a nice guy instead of an overly sensitive artist. :)

Easy fix, put in the contract "if any guests interfere with the photography you are not held responesable" done.

Russell Stubbs's picture

I spent 2 long, hard years in school learning photography. The instructors would give us assignments then, guess what? We would critique them. Thats how we learned. So Yeh....GET OVER IT! BTW, I am still learning.

Nathan Tsukroff's picture

Late to the party with this comment, but I want to reinforce the gist of the article: After 38 years and more than 800 weddings, I've learned to embrace the "mama-razzi's" because you have no choice! Everyone and their brother has a cell phone nowadays. I simply smile and gently guide them out of my picture. If a video photographer gets in my way, I'll gently ask them to slide back for a minute or two while I get my shots. Work quickly, and the guests won't have time to get in your way! I'm there to capture weddings of that special day, and I'll capture all the pictures that the timing of the day allows (that's right from my contract). In other words, do your best, go with the flow, and have fun!

Sean Molin's picture

Thanks for chiming in!

Yup, sometimes a reality check is needed. After 32 years, I still need it sometimes, maybe more than most.