There are a lot of frustrating moments we all experience as photographers. Things we all know like missing that perfect shot by mere seconds, equipment failing just as the sun drops below the horizon, flashes not firing, memory cards corrupting, not booking that big job we quoted… the list goes on and on. I shoot weddings, so when things go wrong they can feel amplified ten-fold. For a long time I was like a sponge for negativity. It soaked into me, and it got under my skin and rattled me. Murphy’s Law used to kick my ass, and I never felt like I could stop it. Then my son was born, and everything changed.
Please know that I am not suggesting that having kids can make you a better photographer, nor am I telling you that a photographer without any kids is somehow worse. What I want to do is tell you why my kids completely and totally changed my entire world, including my work as a photographer.
Parenting is hard. I don’t even have older kids yet, and it’s already the hardest thing I’ve ever done. (My son is two and my daughter, as I type this, is less than a week old). When you are responsible for small humans, you very quickly get the thrill of experiencing every possible emotion at the highest level. In a typical 24 hour period you might feel joy, anger, sadness, elation, frustration, intimidation, and an incredible surge of adrenaline followed by an unimaginable bout of pure exhaustion. It is quite literally an emotional rollercoaster.
In all of this chaos though, exists a really important lesson. You are forced to learn to even out the ups and downs, and to find calm in the turbulent. To put it simply, you learn to be patient. That’s where the link between parenthood and photography lies. Before my kids, I was on edge. I would get frustrated at weddings, and it inhibited my ability to create the images I wanted. Little things like the makeup crew running 25 minutes late, the bride’s brother going missing during the nine minutes we have set aside for family formals, unhappy bridesmaids refusing to shoot out in the rain, bad light at the hotel, rowdy groomsmen, rude DJs, missing vendor meals, all of these things would eat at me through the course of a wedding.
I had no idea how to be patient because before I had my kids, I never really had to learn. There’s something very empowering about being the photographer who brings with him a sense of calm. I have had many of my couples tell me that in the thick of the wedding day, when things were on the edge of unraveling and the whole timeline was breaking down, that I was the only thing that kept it all together.
I remember specifically a wedding where all of the bridesmaids’ dresses had gone missing. They were stranded somewhere on a mysterious FedEx truck, and we were 90 minutes behind schedule. The old Eric would have gotten upset, frustrated that “my” photo time was being cut, and now things were going to be much harder than they had to be. Eric the dad just took it in stride. This is a wedding, it’s a happy day, and there’s no reason to get upset. I just had to hustle more during the group photos. It was that easy.
Having kids is amazing. It’s the most rewarding and challenging thing a person can do. My son and my daughter are my entire world, and there is nothing more important to me than their happiness and safety. It’s also very grounding. Suddenly, you realize that the small things in life that go wrong mean nothing. So when the battery on the limo dies, or the air conditioning at the venue breaks in the middle of July, or the tent for the reception half-collapses, I just roll with it. I’m a photographer, and I take pictures for a living. There’s no reason to make it into more than that.