Why I Ditched Wedding Photography for Conceptual Photography

Wedding photography burnout is real. For nine years, weddings consumed my life, documenting every bouquet toss and first kiss. I was burnt out and needed to make a drastic shift. 

My wedding photography career started on a whim. My husband, David, and I started our wedding photography career in 2013 when a friend of a friend called us up in need of a wedding photographer and was wondering if we could assist. As a fresh-faced 22-year-old with a photography degree in hand, I was desperately searching for any job that I somewhat enjoyed and could pay my rent. It felt like a stroke of luck. With a single phone call, David and I found ourselves booking our very first wedding. Little did we know, that gig would set off a chain reaction. Wedding after wedding, our calendar filled up, until we found ourselves shooting 30-plus weddings a year for nine years.

There's no denying that wedding photography is great money, but it is a lot of hard work. The repetitive nature of capturing the same type of event week after week began to stifle my creative spirit. Eventually, it got to a point where I felt like I was on autopilot. I knew every shot I needed and exactly how to get it without giving it a second thought. With nearly every Saturday booked and seven-day workweeks becoming the norm, editing sessions intertwined with exhausting shooting days. After nine years of photographing weddings, I knew I couldn't do it anymore. I'd hit my limit.

I was burnt out. I was in a creative rut. The joy and passion I felt for photography just wasn't there anymore. I knew I needed to make a drastic change, but with all of our weddings being booked a year or more in advance, I wasn't really sure how to get out.

In the midst of the whirlwind that was 2020, our once bustling wedding schedule came crashing down, leaving a trail of cancellations, downsizings, and rescheduled events in its wake. At first, my heart ached with disappointment, but then I recognized the unexpected gift hidden within the chaos. For the first time in my adult life, I had an abundance of free time, and I finally had the time I needed to create and redevelop my photography career. 

Image courtesy of Jada and David Parrish | https://www.jadaanddavid.com

In February 2020, we moved into a large new photo studio. For months, it sat empty because there was so much uncertainty surrounding everything, and we were scared to leave the house. As time passed and our new reality set in, David and I decided to take advantage of the unused space and our newfound "free time.'' We began experimenting with studio photography, something neither of us had much experience with. 

The studio became our playground, a canvas for experimentation and growth. David and I made a deal. His focus was going to be lighting. My focus was going to be posing. Our goal was for each of us to perfect our chosen skill set with the hope of elevating our studio work. 

What started as stylized portraits on seamless paper backdrops quickly evolved into elaborate sets and conceptual shoots. Mine and David’s creativity was running wild. Stepping away from wedding photography and diving into studio photography allowed me to fall in love with photography all over again, but for entirely different reasons.

Image courtesy of Jada and David Parrish | https://www.jadaanddavid.com

I fell in love with the slow, meticulous nature of studio photography and the level of control David and I had over every aspect of the shoots. With every click of the shutter, we pushed our boundaries, expanding our skills and breathing life into our photographic vision. The ability to perfect posing, adjust lighting and move at a slower pace in order to fine-tune and truly master the shot was so refreshing. David's lighting was evolving and getting better with each shoot. My posing was getting more precise and intentional. I was able to connect with my subjects in a much deeper way than I ever had on a fast-paced wedding day.

We found ourselves in a thrilling phase of uncertainty, unsure of what exactly we were bringing to life. It felt so right, though. We both felt alive, energized, and inspired in ways we never had before. Even though we were at a loss for words when it came to describing what we were doing or why we were doing it, we knew we had to keep going. It felt too good not to.

Image courtesy of Jada and David Parrish | https://www.jadaanddavid.com

As 2020 drew to a close, weddings started making a comeback. The hiatus had allowed us to rediscover ourselves, and there was no going back from that. So, we made a big announcement: no more new wedding bookings for us. We were determined to honor our existing contracts and finish what we had started, but the game had shifted. It was all about embracing the newfound version of ourselves and staying true to the journey we had embarked upon. 

We spent all of 2021 developing a creative portfolio. We completely rebuilt our portfolio with work that feels true to who we are and began attracting a whole new type of client who truly values our creativity. Now, we find ourselves collaborating with musicians, crafting cover art, and showcasing our work in galleries.

What started as an unexpected pause in our wedding photography journey became a transformative chapter. This new career path has opened doors we never imagined, allowing us to travel, collaborate with incredible artists, and live our passion to the fullest. It's crazy to think that none of this would have been possible if we hadn't taken that leap of faith, followed our hearts, and said goodbye to wedding photography once and for all.

I'm a photographer. I always will be. Photography is such an expansive field with so many niches and avenues to explore. If you feel burn out starting to creep in, don't be afraid to take a detour and explore a different type of photography. Switching things up can breathe new life into your work. Embrace the challenge, follow your gut, and let your camera lead the way. 

Jada Parrish's picture

Jada is a photographer and director specializing in conceptual portraits. Her work is known for its bold, colorful, and surreal style. Her creative style of portraiture lends itself nicely to work in both fashion and the music industry. She is one half of the creative duo Jada + David.

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Interesting story and a very interesting portfolio but how do you make money?

Thanks! Finding clients definitely is not as straightforward as it was with wedding photography. It took some time but our new work has been attracting musicians and we photograph alot of album covers now. It fits in the fine art world too, and we sell our work in galleries.

I have no doubt they can find clients. If you watch their videos, they are perfect duo with their own personal skills and since they know they can combine them intelligently, they have lots of power.

Thank you so much! Really appreciate the support!

great question!

The covid pandemic came at the time of my burnout as real estate photographer. I switched to landscape/travel for the stock industry. It's not easy money, au contraire...but I realised things had changed and I had to make a change too.

Totally relate to that. It’s cool how photography is such a big field with so many needs to be met. There are so many ways to make a living with it and it gives you the flexibility to change things up within the field. Good luck with your landscape and travel photography! That’s a really cool pivot.

Yes, the change is relatively easy...what is more complicated is finding new clients.

Keep pushing! They're out there. To me, part of the fun is figuring out the new game. Keeps you on your toes. You got it.

I started doing wedding photography over 40 years ago, just for friends, and quickly realized that weddings were not the genre for me. The couples were wonderful to deal with and were delighted by the results. The issue was the MOB (Mother of the Bride) in every case. What a PITA they were!!! I had to bluntly remind one that I worked for the couple, not her, and was answerable to them, not her. I've never regretted making the decision to drop wedding photography altogether.

My toughest tongue-biting moments at weddings are the folks blocking the aisle with their phonecams.

OMG YES! That is the worst.

Haha I would agree with that. Weddings are such emotionally charged events. It can be tricky trying to please everyone.

People always ask about the bridezillas and I always tell them. Brides are mostly chill. It's the moms you got to watch out for. I once had a mother of the bride tell me I could only take pictures of the bride and groom. I checked in with the bride and groom and they were like just ignore that. I spent the rest of the wedding looking over my shoulder for her anytime I had to take a photo without the bride and groom in it.

If you're burning out working 7-day weeks and making more money than you need to live modestly and happily, you're just booking too many gigs.
I shoot occasional weddings and other social events, and I like doing it, but I decided long ago that the stress level is not for me, at least not on a full-time basis. So, I gravitated to corporate events. Many of the same skills and a similar variety of shots, but way, way less stressful, and virtually zero hand-holding with the client before, during, and after. I enjoy the challenge of making candids look good, and the slower pace allows me to get creative with venue shots, details, and unusual perspectives. Been doing it for 20 years and could happily do it for another 20. One big benefit: I get to work with the same folks over and over. The familiarity and team spirit, and not having to chase new clients all the time, makes work more relaxed and socially pleasant. I shoot travel & landscape for a fun change of pace.

Yes repeat client are key. You can't develop the same trust quality with weddings or anything that requires finding new client for each job. I got keys of various properties and even companies emails. Of course they can track my activities but they know they can relie on me for their projects.

I totally agree! Repeat clients are the best. It makes shooting that much more fun because of the relationships you develop.

Overworking wasn't the sourse of the burn out so much, it was more of a creative burn out. I am definitely someone who goes all in with my work and my husband and I did it together which made it even more fun. I think what really got me was the repetitiveness of it all. While each wedding and shoot was different because of people involved, they were all so similar. Creatively, I was bored. If covid hadn't happened and given me the time to explore something else and see what life was like without weddings, I probably would have kept with it doing it a lot longer. Discovering other genre's of photography was so refreshing, and I really love the work we are doing right now. But I think the one thing I've really learned is that it is ok to make a change when you feel like you need one. I've never photographed corporate events, but I can totally see your point. Sounds like you have a really great setup!

What type of corporate events ? Parties and fund raisers ? Does it pay you enough ?

Conferences, awards galas, trade association seminars, and, yes, fundraisers and parties. I'm also working with an agent now who's sending me weddings and other social/private events.
It would pay enough if I were smarter and more disciplined about business development and if I didn't have two small kids and a 140-year-old house that demand 95% of my attention. This is where the agent is really helpful, and even though I get a lower rate, I'm happy to be busier, plus, I don't have to negotiate proposals or process my images (though I do like processing my own work).

I loved this article and checked out your work on Instagram- amazing! Bold, colorful, and artistic. I shot weddings for about 8 or 9 years and made the switch to commercial photography around 6 years ago. I love my new field so much. I loved weddings when I shot them but then I got burnt out. Creatively mostly. It was too redundant.

Also it's great to see another female writer!

Thank you so much! Yes - I totally relate. I loved shooting weddings so much, but after a while the repetitiveness got to me. I love your work too and that you were brave enough to make a change when you needed one! Definitely not the easiest thing to do.

"If you can't beat the fear, do it scared!"

Pros of weddings-- big market, plenty of work. Cons of weddings-- you don't get to fulfill your vision on every gig. Burnout

Yup! I got to a point where I was just on autopilot.

What you describe is career progression. You did your time. There was a friend of mine that retired from the army and graduated with a degree that landed him into human resources. He'd alway say that burnout from a particular position was likely to occur after three years. You have to find new challenges after the grind of weddings every weekend.

I really like that thought process. Since making the change, I definitely feel like I have grown and progressed in my photography career. Having new challenges to overcome really promotes growth.

Brilliant and validating article. Have you gained your weekends back now that you are not shooting weddings? That was the biggest reason for me to stop offering wedding photography as a single parent.

Yes! Weekends are back and it feels incredible. At first, it felt super weird, and I almost felt guilty for not working because I'd become so conditioned to do it. Working every weekend really took a toll on my relationships, particularly friendships because I was just never available to do anything on the weekends. I can only imagine how hard it would be to balance that with being a single parent.

I photographed weddings for 14 years. I was so done with it. It wasnt the work itself. I pushed myself to always create something new at each job. I got the basics and created new images with my locations.
I just got tired of dealing with unreasonable MOB'S who hung a bad review over my head in exchange for something.
When I started in weddings there was no digital photography or online reviews. Hasselblad was king and we didnt give clients negatives. Reorders were a large part of our income.
Once digital came into play it was a whole new ballgame. My studio photographed between 80 to 100 weddings a year with multiple shooters. The money was rolling in.
But I dont miss the unreasinable clients.
I would bust my butt for 8 to 10 hours, produce great images, never miss a moment. Unless Uncle Bill decided to stand in the aisle or suddenly jump in front of me. Or the bride was 2 hours late.
I travelled up and down California for jobs. It was fun back then. Young and full of energy.
Havent picked up a camera in 7 years.

I remember shooting weddings in the 90s. I split between the Hasselblad 500c and canon slr.

Wow yea, I definitely see how weddings before digital photography came out were much more profitable. People really do expect a lot out of a wedding photographer these days, and the number of photos you end up delivering compared to the pay seems off. I am sure you have a lot of great stories from all of those experiences! I do think it is a young person's game. It takes a lot of energy.

Listening to the video I don't hear a story about "burnout". I hear the story of another business abruptly impacted by the pandemic. These folks were incredibly lucky to stumble into actual paying photo work right out of college. Truly the first time I've ever heard of that happening. If weddings are not your mojo and you can make a living another way, do it. But if you are good at weddings and enjoy some aspects of it, perhaps diversification along side some other genres is a better plan.

Thanks for watching the video! The pandemic was definitely a catalyst for making the decision to stop shooting weddings. I was so caught up in the grind of it all and booking as many weddings as I could that I didn't really have time to process how much I needed a change until the pandemic rescheduled or cancelled almost all of our 2020 weddings. I realized how completely uninspired and burnt out I was with wedding photography. I think there may be a limit to the number of weddings a person can shoot, and for me it was right around 300. I definitely needed a change. I go into more detail about it in the article than I do in the video.