A while ago, I put forward the idea of photographing weddings in exchange for non-money payment. I figured it would be a good way to meet interesting people around the world and also an outlet to experience the culture of wherever the couple were. Anya was so frustrated with the all-business-no-niceness model that she had encountered from a lot of photographers she had already looked at and was excited about the prospect of exchanging something with me to photograph her and Srijan’s very small and intimate NYC ceremony in Central Park. I had spoken to them via Skype a few weeks earlier and I knew that this was exactly the kind of thing that I imagined myself doing. Besides the fact that the wedding was a mere 8 hours after we landed in the USA from a 30 hour journey from Melbourne, it sounded perfect.
So many people out there are probably have strong opinions about this business model – effectively, we’re back to a bartering system. But in this case, the kindness and generosity shown to Kristen and I more than made up for the fact there was no money exchanged. In fact, after we finished photographing for the afternoon, Anya and her mum and dad invited us to their celebratory dinner as not photographers, but their guests. Alas, Kristen and I were severely jetlagged and both suffering from viruses so we accidentally slept past our alarm and missed the whole event, but random acts of generousity like that restore one’s faith in the world a little more. Both families will be having ceremonies in their home countries (Anya is Sri Lankan and Srijan Nepalese) and I was asked to photograph either or both of these weddings as a result of meeting and working with Anya and Srijan in NYC which was deeply humbling. Unfortunately, their dates clash pretty badly with my bookings in May so I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to experience another amazing cultural extravaganza!
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been speaking to Anya’s mum via email and she has asked us to come and stay at their beach house in Sri Lanka when we’re visting over the new year. Again, this is not something we ever expected or even felt we deserved. They’re simply opportunities that happened because by chance someone saw my post and I valued something other than money for my time and services. I guess the point of what I want to say without hopefully sounding too sanctimonious is that opportunities open up to you when you put yourself out there in the world. These things are random and they’re not things that you can ever predict or expect. You simply have to do it and just see how it goes.
Last Friday, I received a text message half way through Radiohead’s show at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. It was Alicia telling me that her and Tim were somewhere about 15m in front of me and excited about how amazing the show was. I’d known that Radiohead was a love for Alicia and Tim (they traveled to Sydney for another of their shows a few days earlier) and being one of my favourite bands of all time forever and ever, it was inevitable we’d be friends. And they decided to have their honeymoon in Sri Lanka so I had a pretty good feeling these two people were good at making excellent decisions! Granted, it did take nearly 9 years for them to decide to get married so perhaps they’re not so fast on the decision making (a running joke in their family), but having gotten to know them a bit better over the last few months, there’s no doubt at all it was the best decision the two of them could have made together.
Besides memorable underpant wedgie adjustments, dog poo on wedding dresses and the largest wedding photographer in the world trying to fit into the smallest space in a wedding car moments, it was just a beautiful day for a pair of wonderful people who are going to have a damn fine life together.
I woke up at 1:30 am on my second night in New York City a few weeks ago. I could hear the cars rolling past on our street here in the leafy Brooklyn suburb we’re staying in and was wide awake. Perhaps the jetlag was still getting at me but my mind was whirring away at 100% and there was no way I was going to be able to sleep again. I laid there with Kristen beside me thinking I want to put into words what I was thinking, a “serious” blog post about the ethics of selectively blogging weddings, and formulated what I was going to write; this is the outcome. It took me a few days to write but I think it sums up my sentiments pretty accurately. As with my last ranty post, if you’re not interested, scroll to the bottom, there’s a picture of a cat.
Firstly, you need to know that writing blog postings (specifically blog postings from weddings I shoot) take quite a lot of time. I have a bunch of Photoshop actions that speed things up for me, but even then, selecting images from the 500-800 I deliver to couples, resizing and compositing them together when needed, uploading and writing the text takes me a minimum of an hour. You might see that I like to write something meaningful with my posts but alas, it simply isn’t possible in a time-poor world we live in. Sometimes, I just have to chuck the images on there but I’m honestly trying hard to write text with the images each time. However, one thing that I never do is pick and choose which weddings appear on my website, I blog all of them. Yes, every single one. I met a lovely couple of few weeks ago who seemed genuinely surprised that I did because, so many of my weddings had interesting, unique and diverse people and surely I had simply cherry-picked the most attractive/skinny/interesting couples to appear (not their exact words, but I imagine it was what their sentiment was).
One of the bits of advice that I’ve seen in a lot of places is “only blog the weddings that match the kind of work you’re after”. That is, one must selectively blog. I appreciate that sometimes we get busy (for example, I have 10 weddings next March, I’m already fearful of how I’m going to be able to blog all of them), but the idea that only some weddings are “blog-worthy” confuses me somewhat. There is very much a completely valid idea that you need to show off work that attracts a certain kind of client. Everyone (and when I mean everyone, I mean the new-wave of non-traditional wedding photographers) wants to photograph interesting weddings. Ones with nice looking couples who wear funky clothes, have their wedding in an amazing venue and fill it with cute and handmade details. These are the weddings that you see posted on all of the wedding blogs around the place and drive traffic to your website. But the reality is, not everyone fits into this mould and not everyone has the time, money or desire to have a wedding like this. But at the end of the day, photographers are hired to photograph what’s there and I thankfully don’t know a single one of us who doesn’t put in 100% when they’re at a job, regardless of what they’re photographing.
But what if you shoot a “boring” wedding, what then (and I use the term “boring” very loosely)? Well maybe it’s time to reassess why you’re getting bookings that you don’t want to take. I completely agree that photographers should be working with selective audiences, ones that they feel comfortable with. I do this all the time, it’s out there and clearly visible on my website (go ahead, read it in the text box below the image slider on the front page!). I don’t specify that people need to look cool and have lots of details at their wedding but certain kinds of people find me more appealing than others, simply because I’m out in the open about what they can expect from me and what I expect of them. For example, my info sheet that I send out to potential clients makes reference to marriage equality being important to me and I hope it is important to them too. If the couple are anti-marriage equality or even ambivalent on the issue, it’s decidedly possible that I will lose a potential client. But I’m ok with that, because I want to work with people I can connect with and our value bases need to be close for that to happen. Remember, as a photographer, I spend a HUGE chunk of my day around the couple and their families, we have to be able to get along, it’s essential for any chemistry that I can portray visually. This is why my “branding” (more than simply nice business cards and a logo), is focused on delivering people something more than simply nice photography. I like to think they get a nice PERSON doing nice photography and most people I have ever worked for say just as much which is always lovely to hear.
So what’s the problem? Well I think the attitude of selectively blogging only certain weddings is not a good starting point. But it’s a challenge, I’ll be the first to admit it. It’s something I battled internally for months and also discussed repeatedly with Kristen. Should I blog everything? Or just my “best” weddings? But at the end of the day, it bottled down to one single question, and the answer to me was clear.
How would a couple who didn’t get blogged by their photographer feel?
Would this couple sit there and think that their wedding simply wasn’t good enough to be featured on the photographer’s website? Were they too unattractive? Did the photographer not try as hard to take nice photos? Was their venue sucky? Pretty much every single question they had would be focused on some sort of perceived inadequacy. I think that there’s something fundamentally wrong with a couple who’ve just experienced the happiest day of their relationship having to think these sorts of negative things weeks/months after their wedding; it’s just not right.
Basically, at this realisation, it made sense that it was unethical to accept someone’s money and then later decide they weren’t “good enough” for you to show as your clients. That’s effectively the decision we make when we consciously decide not to blog a wedding. This of course excludes the circumstance I mentioned above where the photographer simply doesn’t have time to blog or if they feel their photographs are not of a professional standard that they would willingly release. But if the latter is true, I’d expect some sort of compensation to be offered to the couple (either monetary or offer of reshooting). But to be honest, I don’t know a single photographer who stuffed up so badly that they had nothing nice to show at the end of the day.
Anyway, the point of this post is my feeble attempt to dispel the idea of selectively blogging. If you’re getting clients that you don’t want to (for whatever reason), there are other harmless and more ethical ways of getting the clients that you DO want than simply choosing not to blog the weddings you don’t want and distressing your clients.
– Research what your model client looks like and find out how you can make yourself appealing to them.
– Become the best damn photographer you can be and make people want to hire you.
– Run at a loss for a while if it means investing in the best gear/computing/backup systems to ensure that a technical glitch can’t damage your business and reputation.
– Find out what makes you different from the competition and really focus on those points as a big selling point.
– BE NICE!
I don’t want to toot my own horn too much here but I have nearly 40 weddings booked for the next 12 months and I’m honestly looking forward to every one of them. I’ve met 90% of the couples I’ve been booked by and I like all of them. The ones I haven’t met, I’ve gotten to know via email, Skype and Facebook and I’m quietly confident that as long as I get fed at the reception (I get very hungry!), I will have an amazing day with the couple and hopefully take some great images for them.
As I’ve posted before, the wedding industry sucks. We can all do our part to make it that one little bit better and as photographers, I think this is a great starting point. Make a commitment to blog everything you physically have the energy to blog. Make people feel good about themselves, remember, that’s what you’ve been hired for in the first place. And most importantly, treat people the way that you want to be treated, I think that’s a fine way to lead your life and run your business. Let me know what you think, discussions are always welcome here.