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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An interesting and very useful article, but with the agency, there were no such problems when I cooperated with them