The Situation

So many choices…..

I wrote this post a MONTH ago, then decided not to post it. But, things kept happening and I thought I would share my experience. My goal is not to bag on the wedding industry because it is one of the strongest industries left in photography and has become refuge for thousands of photographers who can no longer support themselves in their native genre(And if this allows them to create their own work then fantastic). There are many positive things about the wedding photography world, including some great photographers, social media pioneers, workshop pioneers, branding and marketing pioneers, but with these have come the vast homogenization and capitalization of the business. I think this is only natural. Anytime someone ramps up production, it is nearly impossible to maintain initial quality.

A friend sent me an email……

“Hey, I’m getting married next summer, have some ideas for the photography, you think you can do it?”

Well, not sure I can, but let me check around for other photographers in the area,” I said. The area my friend lives in is a familiar one to me, and I HAD friends in the area. I wasn’t sure any of them were still there, but I figured I would be able to quickly go online, search a few things and find a direction for my friend to move in.

Thirty one photographers.

I looked at thirty one different photographers online. All of them local to my friend. I thought maybe I would have to search three or four, check some of my old friends and quickly find a good match.

Thirty one photographers later I had to send an email to my friend saying, “You can’t hire any of these people.”

Now before you go thinking I’m a hater I need to clarify a few things. First, I did not expect this AT ALL. Again, I figured I’d go online and bingo, find a good match. Second, I’m not looking for photo-Gandhi here, just someone with a point of view who has a recognizable style That’s it. Again, pretty simple.

But here is what I found.

1-Almost all the work I found looked EXACTLY the same. It was made with the same lenses, the same cameras, in the same angles, with same tilts, and the same backgrounds and on top of it…all the same post-production filters. If anyone is using that faded, old photo look, PLEASE stop. EVERYONE has the filter, which in essence takes away any interesting residue that filter had in the first place. It’s a filter. It’s a button you push, and it does little to nothing to make the images interesting.

2-All but ONE of the websites were of the same design.

3-All but ONE of the blogs were of the same design. And, the blogs were not blogs they were simply areas where more images were posted, all the same images, at the same size and in the exact same fashion, and the blogs told me NOTHING about the photographer.

4-Photographers that used to be good had traded good for volume and THEIR work now looked like everyone else. (I found this painful). I see the upside to this folks, the upside that is an upside native to ONLY the photographer. Everyone else has to endure the idea of conformity.

5-ONE photographer had a recognizable style. This is a GOOD things folks. Only problem, his style was a perfect blend of Larry Fink and Taryn Simon(two REALLY good photographers), so if you KNOW either of these two people then the idea of wedding photos looking like this…well, it feels a little second hand. And, I realized when something is THAT stylized, how is that going to look in ten years? How about 50? Frankly, I think it is going to look like 2010. Now, this is debatable, and again, I give this photographer props for at least blazing their own idea. Would have loved to see more pioneering looks, but alas there was JUST one.

6-There was a MASSIVE amount of phony talk and quotes and sayings. Everyone was saying all the right things, only problem was their work all looked the same. Blogs carried most of the phony baloney. Don’t use the word love, it’s redundant. Don’t call your work “Art” that is for others to decide. In 41 years I’ve never been to an art gallery and seen wedding work.

7-Ninety percent of the “wedding photojournalism” was posed. And I mean REALLY posed. The description “wedding photojournalism” has little value any longer. Nothing wrong with posing but just call it posing.


8-Two of the sites crashed my browser.

9-Too many sites had MUSIC. Why? Why for the love of God do wedding photographers put music on their sites? You realize of course I’m either listening to Pandora or iTunes so when your wedding tune comes blaring in it is suddenly mixed with Metallica or Audioslave and sounds like the end of world. Just go ahead and take that off please, and I’m speaking for %99.9 of all humanity.

10-It was apparent to me, very apparent, that the vast majority of the wedding sites I found were created by photographers who have never studied photography. Now, again, I can see both sides of this. First, this could be a great thing. “Hey, no need to study, I’m getting work and shoot all the time.” Photography is now open to ANYONE. There is ZERO barrier to entry so if you tell people you are a wedding photographer…then you ARE a wedding photographer. Okay, the flip side. This is total BS. When you don’t study photography, or understand it, or have vision, or a style…the problem is…it shows in YOUR WORK. Hence me looking at THIRTY ONE DIFFERENT SITES. Folks, studying photography, learning photography, isn’t a bad thing. It’s a GREAT thing. And fun. Just because you are getting work doesn’t mean you SHOULD be getting work. Think about photography and ask yourself, “Am I aiding this business or watering it down?”

11-Branding is out of control. First of all, most of the sites were branded and stylized to the tenth degree. Again, branding…a good thing, but people you GOTTA be able to make pictures, and I mean GOOD pictures, not the exact same thing that everyone else is doing. And let me stress this again. THE EXACT SAME THING. Your ultimate brand…is your photography, not your letterhead, logo and packaging materials. I see this in all worlds of photography, but nowhere as much as wedding/portrait. Again, logos are cool and I’m a sucker for a great box, package, etc, but man, what is INSIDE the box is what is gonna last.

12-Being a destination photographer was being used as some “badge of honor,” but the work looked EXACTLY the same as the work made at home. EXACTLY. Look, if you are going to Thailand or Greece to shoot a destination wedding, well, why don’t you MAKE something that looks and feels like Thailand or Greece? Let’s think about Greece…..hmmm, let me see. I think cliffs, DEEP blue sea and lots of white. So why the heck would I use the old faded photo filter?? People?????? Am I going insane over this stuff?????? YES, the answer is YES. You flew halfway around the world and used the same filter you used at the local bowling alley back home??? WHAT?????? And look, this is 2010, I’ve taught workshops where I was the ONLY person in the room who hadn’t been to Everest base camp…EVERYONE travels. Using this as a sales tool is a little 1918. When it took 3 months on a ship to reach the motherland…now THAT was travel.

13-This is only going to get worse. With equipment prices falling, many folks looking for second jobs, and the quality bar reaching the Earth’s core…the days of the visionary are nearing an end. Photography and fast food are nearing critical mass. Lucky for photographers, Americans eat fast food, on average, twenty times per month.

14-Not a film shooter among them. This could mean something or nothing depending on your view on the “old ways.” You know me, I prefer the stone age over the space age, and when I see RAMPANT blown highlights, including many of the wedding dresses, combined with that embalmed skin tone I begin to lose it. People, this is basic photography and exposure. And yet, there it is, all over the place. A few sites had major splash pages void of highlight detail. Glowing skin tone highlights with fringing, banding, etc. Before you condemn the “old ways” just know that NONE of this would have been accepted before the advent of the “new technology.” Look, I know how tricky it is to keep highlight range when you are moving fast and shooting digital. Many times I’ve sat down at the computer to begin a “salvage op.” I see a lot of this sloppiness covered up with….what else…filters and post production, but again, that is like trying to hide from a missile strike by standing behind a tree.

So, I wrote my friend and said, “You can’t hire a wedding photographer.” Yep, I did. “You have to look outside the wedding industry, find a real fine-art shooter, someone who will look at your day with NEW eyes and not INDUSTRY eyes.” “They might only shoot ten frames but at least you are going to get ten interesting photographs.”

People, I’m puzzled by all this. I’m still amazed at what I found. I keep finding myself thinking, “Go back and look again,” and then I see pages of purple, clicked on sites and know I don’t want to. I fear that wedding photography has been commoditized to the point of no return.

Now for me, it doesn’t matter. I’ve got ONE more wedding to do and then I’m done. Moving on. But I think for anyone remaining, do what I did, pick a city and take the ride. Great work takes time and I don’t think much of what we are doing these days is given the time it needs to excel. And if you are shooting 30-70 weddings per year, how are you able to give the time you need to create something unique?

And I’m as guilty as the next person. I sometimes make bad photos, prints, books and decisions, but I know now the only thing that really matters is I give those images the best chance of success and by success I don’t mean exposure, branding, packaging or distribution. And, I learn from what I did wrong, correct it and make sure it doesn’t become an accepted part of my practice.

I also found myself wondering, “Who is hiring these people,” and by the looks of it… MANY people are. But again, as a photographer, if you are comfortable hanging in the 80% range, okay I get it. For me, I want to be in the 8% range, otherwise…I feel like I’m wasting everyone’s time. If anyone can do it, then why should I? If I have nothing to say, then why say anything at all?

Now, this entire post can be, and maybe should be, dismissed by saying, “Who cares?” If people are getting work and their clients are happy then who cares? In this case, I do because my friend is in the middle of it. Like I said before, I’m done with shooting weddings, have a single mission left on the books, but I do care about what goes on when my amigos are involved. In the past few months I’ve found myself as a rep of sorts when the phone rings, the email pings, when clients call about weddings. “I’m not able to do your job but let me find a photographer for you,” I hear myself saying. I just can’t stand the idea of a good shoot going to someone who is part of the mainstream mass manufacturing of wedding imagery. And I have to say, my referral list is very, very short.

127 Responses to “The Situation”

  1. Doug says:

    So…who did he hire? Why don’t you do it?

    This is another post that hits it dead on though. Weddings (and the photography of them) should be more about people, less about “styling” and in general, stuff. Who cares about stuff? I care about people and feelings.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Doug,

      You bring up some great questions. You are right, weddings are about style, flash and workflow and it shows in a lot of the images you see. Why don’t I do them? Most of these people would never hire me. The flip side, I do about 10% of the weddings that come my way. I look only for those that fit me, the others, I pass along. I never wanted to do more than ten a year, at my MAXIMUM, because I knew I would never be able to stay creative if I did more.

    • Doug says:

      Sorry, should have been more specific. Why don’t you do THIS wedding for your friend.

    • Smogranch says:

      First, I’m not in his town at that time. Second, I’m only shooting one more wedding, then I’m done shooting weddings.

  2. A says:

    Weddings suck. Wedding photography sucks worse. Wedding photographers suck even worse. Blogging about wedding photography is the worst of all.

  3. MIke Brice says:

    Your comments are funny especially coming from someone who uses Livebooks and Photoshelter – doesn’t get much cookie cutter than those two sites.

    • Smogranch says:

      Yep, you are right, don’t forget my blog, WordPress based. I did take steps on LB and Smogranch to make them mine, but ultimately you could argue they aren’t.

      But, most importantly, I would hope you can see something in my images that doesn’t feel cookie cutter.

    • Hi Dan, last time I checked you don’t profess to be a web designer. So why waste your time and resources on a custom website. Cookie cutters can be a wonderful thing if the cookies taste good. Just focus on your passion and keep up the good work.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Jason,

      Yep, that is what I’m doing. The crews at Livebooks, Photoshelter, etc are doing a great job. I want to shoot, not design sites.

  4. Amen brother! I really enjoyed reading that! It’s very sobering and someone had to say it. When they teach workshops, wedding photographers always tell you how you ought to automatize automatize automatize your work to reduce the time you spend on editing; and I thought I was the only crazy maniac who still believed art required time and attention!

    Glad there are still some artists among us =)

    • Smogranch says:

      I’m not an artist. Really. I wish I was, and I have friends who are. Am staring at work from a friend right now, and it’s art. I’m just a guy with a camera and ability to type. But thanks for reading. I’m not a fan of the automate method. I think when you do that, you can see it in the work.

    • Stacie says:

      I disagree that you are not an artist.

      Also, lay off the unicorns.

    • Smogranch says:

      Well, you are being kind, but I don’t see it as quite the same thing. Not better or worse, just different.

  5. Eric Jeschke says:

    Good points. I think re: #14 that most of the “photographers” you are describing are just listening to the mantra that shooting RAW means you can correct any exposure errors in post. And they are believing that the camera’s metering systems are always close enough.

    Personally, I’ve never trusted auto metering much. I shot for 20 years slide film and I had to learn to deal with the real meaning of clipped highlights and blocked shadows. That and I shot with an all manual camera. I got really comfortable with spot metering and doing everything possible to nail the exposure at the shutter press. I feel that has served me well, especially in the early days of digital when the dynamic range was just about exactly like slide film: 5 stops or so. Things are better these days but you still have to use care. The thing is, there is a great tool built into every digital camera now in the form of the live histogram. There is no excuse folks! I wonder how many of these photographers are using it. If you are in the mindset that you have to shoot 2000 exposures then probably you are NOT using it, and just hoping that there will be enough decent ones in the huge set afterwards, which will be a royal pain to sort through anyway.

    Anyway, your main points about branding and sameness are the main issues. I’d gladly suffer some blown highlights if the image offered something unique. One reason I keep dropping by here..

    • Smogranch says:

      That’s a good point. The highlights…little in comparison to the image, but your point about exposure is a good one. But, alas, I don’t think many folks care, just moving too fast these days. A few years ago I went to NYC for a company that sells the CBL lens, a calibrator for your camera. I knew after about an hour at Photo Plus it wasn’t going to work, selling it out of a booth I mean. PHotographers, I realized, didn’t really have any idea what it meant. “I shoot RAW, ” or “I have a gray card,” was all I heard. I realized then that color, up front, corrected, didn’t stick. I said, “Do you know how much time this thing will save you?” Nobody wanted to know, or hear. They were okay with sitting for hours doing color correct and tweak.

  6. Glen says:

    Milnor, While I don’t know you from Adam I did look through your work. Some of it real nice some rather average and then everything in between. As photographers we do what we can these days to survive and thrive AND to keep stoking the fires of the passions that made us pick up a camera in the first place. When you post something like this it just makes you look cranky and your work tired instead of inspiring. Blogs are great for rants and we are all guilty of a few at times. This was your time. I’ll forgive you your trespasses. It’s not only “nice” to have a personal vision but essential and it is what separates those “with” from those “without”. For those that toil in the “aged photo pink filter” allow them their process. I guarantee we’ve all been there along the way to greater visions and ultimately better photography for all.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey, if I get “some real nice, ” then I hope I’m on the right track. I’ve always figured the vast majority of work I do will fail, that great images come along very rarely. Me rant? Never………….. I’ve seen this building for ten years, so I finally decided to voice my findings and see what happens. I figure as long as it creates dialogue then I should go for it. And for me, this is what blogging is about, being able to say what you want regardless of the fallout. Thanks for reading.

    • dude i love how everyone is getting so defensive. i’ll be the first to agree with you that 90% of “photographers” who are “wedding photographers” are not really photographers at all. and that EVERYONE in the wedding industry should want to improve. everyone is looking at what everyone is doing. i think the second you stop caring about anyone and what they are thinking and start shooting for YOURSELF, you work will start to shine. IE stand out and become your own. don’t get me wrong, i love shooting weddings. why? because i have not found any other field that allows me to basically shoot personal work in so many facets. yes, it is for the client of course, but as professional as the work may be, to me it is totally personal work.

  7. Jeff says:

    Thanks for this! This sums up what a lot of us have been talking about offline for a couple years now. I’ll admit to being guilty of a lot of these infractions when we decided to go full bore back into the wedding photo business 4 or 5 years ago. It was easy to look around, see what the, supposed, big names of wedding photo were doing, and copy. It seemed to work for them, right?

    The downside is that everyone was doing the same. And as more people got into it, the more everything looked the same. The past year or so, we’ve tried to break free from this and do what we do. It’s still a process.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Jeff,

      Hey, like I said in the piece, I’ve done the same. I think it is easy to fall into that world. But, you bring up an interesting idea, about copying…..writing something about this as well. Again, I think in some ways it’s natural, and accepted, but ultimately, I think it’s a dead end.

  8. peter says:

    thanks for posting this. I respect you, your work and your opinions and that’s why I started following u on twitter in the first place. so thanks for taking stance.
    as much I try to stay creative and original I’m guilty of some things you mentioned so personally it’s good to be reminded and re-focus.

    • Smogranch says:

      Peter,

      I am too. I’m not above anything in this photography world. I’ve done plenty of shoots I’m not proud of, but I realize how critical it…..can be…to get beyond this. Wedding are particularly open to this kind of mass homogenization, perhaps more so than any other genre. I was just posting my particular experience, and since posting I’ve heard from several others that they too have had the exact same experience.

  9. Reiner says:

    Hi Dan, just had a quick look on the (little) iPhoto database I’m logging for 4 years now and I have to say my black and white silver based images stand out, but… would they be standing out in past times too?
    What did a old days MF (Hassy?) shooter lugging tons of 120/220 color & B/W film had as a result from his/her wedding shoots? Square uniforminess? I really don’t know. I wasn’t around in the 50ies/60ies/70ies to be able to judge but it’s possible it gave the same effect of not one standing out. Of course über-massive amounts of digital imagery didn’t do it any good at all. We’re heading for the video capturers picking out the 500 frames they were able to gather by fishing with their nets. The game of more,more,more,… applies to every aspect of our daily life: cars with LCD televisions, cars which speak to you,washing machines which communicate only through a 60fold drop down menu,programming this,programming that… We’re heading to a digital artifact, my 5cts. When it comes who will know, but it will come that’s for sure. I hope not being arround then!
    I looooooved reading your post. Kick them *ss! (oops)

    • Smogranch says:

      Reiner,

      Just had this conversation with another photographer this morning. Lots and lots of NEW things. I think for the most part all this stuff is really great. I think what we DO with it is where things get a little…odd. But, that is just me. I always find myself saying “Oh man, this is great,” and then six months later I toss it on the scrap heap. I would imagine we are only going to have more and more choices as we move forward. What I told my friend is that I like to focus, not solely but partially, on a few people who don’t participate in the “all things modern” world. I like to see how they work, how much work they produce and why they do what they do. I’m always amazed. So I try to walk both sides, staying tuned in, but not always getting in the game.

  10. Alisa Greig says:

    great post! thanks for sharing–such truth. finished off my last wedding recently and am too, moving on :)

    • Smogranch says:

      Alisa,

      Alright, we have things in common. It’s funny, the idea of moving on, in the US, is often times viewed as a bad thing, but in other parts of the world, it’s considered routine. Do this for a few years, do that. I’ve done this my entire life, so I’m used to it now.

    • Hey Dan, You’ve mentioned before that you are moving away from portraits. Now you are getting totally out of Weddings as well. What’s up next on the Smogranch? Did you win the lottery?

    • Smogranch says:

      Nope, I’ll keep a handful of portrait clients, but not take any new clients, and yes, moving on from weddings. Going to focus on doing documentary work……
      I would not be opposed, at all, to winning the lottery. Any numbers for me?

    • Ha! I’ve never even bought a ticket. I did once win $12 on the nickel slots in Vegas, but that is about the extent of my gambling career.

    • Smogranch says:

      Me neither, but maybe I should.

  11. I have to agree that most wedding photographers are NOT standing out. It sounds like it’s worse in your friend’s market than it is in mine. (I’m in the ‘burbs outside NYC.)

    Now I am not a photographer, so take my comments with a grain of salt, but…

    There are two points your article doesn’t mention.

    1) Wedding photography is a unique beast. You’re dealing with a stressful situation, potential bridezillas, people wrangling, lighting and conditions you have very little control over.

    I’ve seen talented photographers who weren’t familiar with weddings absolutely lose it under the time pressure and stress of the day. Relationship ability is critical to wedding photography and is often appreciated by the client more than outstanding photos. (Sorry, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Crappy photos and an ecstatic client.)

    2) In many markets, brides and grooms simply don’t want unique and sophisticated photography. We can get away with more artistic, edgy wedding photographer here in NY, but do you think that’s going to fly in Tennessee?

    It wouldn’t make sense for wedding photographers to offer something their clients didn’t want. Their business wouldn’t be around for long if they did.

    I think wedding photographers get a bad rap in the photo world. They even secretly think of themselves as “sell outs” because they’ve abandoned artistry in favor of the bottom line.

    But does photography have to have a unique, individual style in order to be valuable? If a bride and groom are willing to pay for “homogenized” work, isn’t that proof of its value?

    Thanks for stirring the pot. I think we all need it.

    • Smogranch says:

      Stephanie,

      Thanks for taking time to write that, much appreciated and a great insight into the wedding world. I agree with what you said. I once had a client who said, “I can’t hire you because wedding photography isn’t supposed to look like that, and I need to do what everyone else is doing.” I don’t think this is rare. I see so many people doing what they THINK they are supposed to not but not necessarily what they WANT to do. And yes, pleasing a wedding client, most of the time, is a very easy thing. People who don’t look at images on a daily basis aren’t typically looking at imagery in the same way a photographer does. This is precisely why I think using clients as your only sounding board is a slippery slope. How many times have I heard photographers say to me, “Oh man, my life sucks, but my clients aren’t complaining.” This always gets me. There has to be more.
      And no, I don’t think photography has to always be something grand. But, I’ve never known a single photographer to ever pursue this craft that told me from the get go, “I’m okay with shooting average work.” Photographers, at least in my experience, are driven people who have something to say. But I just don’t see that this much in the wedding industry in particular. I see mass conformity because the market is driving.
      I don’t have any answers. I just observe and report. Again, thanks for writing, you came in from a unique angle and I appreciate that.

    • Kristy says:

      “Photographers, at least in my experience, are driven people who have something to say. But I just don’t see that this much in the wedding industry in particular. I see mass conformity because the market is driving.”

      BINGO…this entire article reminds me of the movie The Time Machine. I like things simple and perfect in camera, if thats a dying breed then I dont want to be a part of the new trends.

      Thanks for this article, definately makes me evaluate my own work and keep myself in check, I love reading all the comments as well, all valid opinions!

    • Smogranch says:

      Thanks Kristy. Yes, the comments add so much to all of this. Thanks for reading.

  12. ANDREAS says:

    I’ve been saying the same things here in Toronto. It’s all the same and boring. I feel sad for many couples that get boring and simple imagery of such an awesome day.
    PLEASE do not remove this post. It’s pure gold. Of course, the haters (those that have no talent) will criticize you and say you’re being negative. You’re not though.

    • Smogranch says:

      Andreas,
      Stephanie makes a really good point, a lot of people are okay with that work because it is safe and somewhat expected. I get that. It’s just sad, for me anyway, when I see photogs who used to have vision who have conformed. We all need money, I get that, but it’s still painful to watch.
      The others, I think are just people taking advantage of the fact that anyone can do it. There no longer is any hoop to jump through.
      But, with having said that, if auto repair suddenly became simple, I might have a go. Have always wanted to be able to work on a car.

  13. Suzanne says:

    A lot of the “sameness” in photography is not limited to weddings, and I think is a result in a lot of ways to the sameness of equipment and lenses. As a former photo editor, I couldn’t tell the difference between a Nikon shooter or a Canon shooter based on the transparencies on the light table, (yes, back in the day) but I think that all their lenses, and they way the function in terms of auto focus, etc., almost makes one take “predictable” pictures. In fact, I think the whole “sameness” trend can be traced back to auto focus lenses, but maybe that’s for another blog post.

    Add in the bridezilla mentality who is keeping up with the Joneses, and wouldn’t know a good photograph from a bad photograph if it slapped her across the face, and you have this weird market.

    I tried what you did, and looked up a few Boston area (my neck of the woods) wedding photogs, and honestly, I didn’t see a lot of blown highlights, but I did see a lot of poorly made snapshots. Distracting backgrounds and such. Folks still making snapshots, and not really seeing what they are photographing. I suppose a tree coming out of the bride’s head is preferable to blown highlights and cadaver skin?? Or maybe the highly stylized, highly filtered photo shop action is what clients want. (Make me look like, I don’t know, Halle Berry!! Uhm… but you don’t, and never mind how overly stylized media pictures are, giving brides really unrealistic visions… ok, again, for another post!!)

    I’ve thought about approaching this market, but I’d offer the couple fifteen hand made gelatin silver prints max for a boatload of cash, but honestly, I like having my weekends to photograph my own kids, and have found other ways to make a living to pay for this photo habit.

    • Smogranch says:

      Well Suzanne, as usual, you bring up great points. But you, for example, are a good example. When I see your work I KNOW who did it. It has YOUR name all over it. And when I look around the kids market I see much of what I see in the wedding market….in a word…conformity. But again, anyone can do it. Few have vision.
      There are wedding photographers I can recognize immediately……very few. Same with portraits. You are one I can identity.
      This is what I LOVE about photography, seeing someone who has taken the time to figure out who they are when they are holding a camera. Once you do that, you can really work in any method you want. But, sadly, I don’t think many people take the time to think it through. It’s too easy to just buy a digi cam and get started.

  14. ANDREAS says:

    Give 20 rolls of BW Film to most “wedding photographers” – tell them to shoot the wedding from the heart, and capture emotional, historically important family photographs and I predict a quick weed out in the industry.

    A wedding is not a place to be “artsy”. Ring shots, details of shoes, toes, make up being applied close up shots of the food, silly photographs of people making faces, jumping in the air with sunglasses on, and the dreaded tilt shift lens fiasco…no place in proper wedding photography in my opinion.

  15. Christine says:

    As a relatively new photographer, I have to admit that this post scares and intimidates me. I don’t want to be the one “watering down” the field. I want to find a unique voice and create images that show my vision. But, it’s hard to build that voice. Sometimes I feel lost in a sea of images without any idea of what’s good and what’s not. It’s only easy to see what’s popular.

    As someone who loves photography but can’t afford to go back and study it formally, I have to learn on my own and I do that by coming to sites like this. But, I have to admit that your words give me a crisis of confidence. I have no idea how to avoid Being “that photogrpaher”

    I’d love to hear more from people in the field about how to build that unique vision and point of view. Because, trust me, not all of us are trying to be the same as everyone else. – we’re just trying to learn.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Christine,

      First, don’t be afraid or intimidated. Far too much energy required for those things.

      Your situation is a good thing, an opportunity. You know what you want to do, you just might not know how to get there. Every single photographer goes through that same situation. This is the fun part. And to make you feel even better, I’ve been in your situation more than once. I thought I knew what I wanted, did it for a while and then realized it wasn’t the right path. So, I started again.
      The reality is you don’t ever really have to figure it out. You can work, get jobs and be very successful in photography without every really finding the answer to what it is you really want to do.
      However, taking time, thinking, writing things done and finding the answer….much more fun in the long run.
      The key, at least in my mind, get rid of all distractions and answer the question, “What is it I really want to do?” It might sound easy, but in most cases it isn’t. And, getting rid of distraction isn’t easy either. We all live in multi-tasking insanity, which doesn’t help to find clarity.
      Take some visual chances, start a personal project.
      Photographers tend to come up with great things when their ideas come from within.

  16. mike says:

    wow. Daniel, we’ve twittered back and forth about last week when my fiancée and I started looking for a photographer for our own wedding in June. It is a process that, honestly, sucks.

    I can’t speak from the same credentials and experience as many here, I’m a plumber who picked up a camera one day and something came alive in me. I’ve been shooting “commercially” for two years.

    But those two years have made me, well, a snob when it comes to photography. I hate 99% of the wedding photography I see. When I first started I shot weddings because I just wanted to shoot something and my friends were willing to let me butcher their wedding pictures. Being at heart a trades person I learn by seeing something done. Then doing it over and over and over again until I don’t completely suck at it. So I looked at wedding images and said, “Ok, that is how it is done.” The more I shot, the deeper into looking at other genre’s of photography the less I liked wedding images. So now that I’m looking for a photographer for my wedding I’ve looked at about 50 or 60 photographers in my area and not a single photographer stood out in a good way. The $500 photographer’s images looked just like the $5000 photographer’s stuff. The only difference being that the expensive photographer shot at better venues with prettier people. And don’t get me started on what it is like to deal with some of these folks. It’s like walking into a used car dealership 50 times a day.

    It’s not that the images were “bad.” Just, well, I dono. There was nothing that drew me in. Nothing that stood out. There were tons of “totally fad actions” and “tilt-shit” images.

    Homogeneity is something I think the “industry” is stuck with. The blogs and zines won’t publish unique work. The consumers take their cue from the blogs, and in turn the photographers (producers) respond to the market.

    Like Christine above I find your post challenging, and even discouraging. I’m just a plumber in his late thirties who finds doing photography to be a kind of therapy. How on earth am I to ever produce anything that isn’t mediocre? I’m yet to feel that anything I have produced approaches anything like “art.”

    But then again, I look at it as a process of growth. I also have the luxury that most “pros” don’t have. I have a day job that pays well. I don’t need or want to shoot more than 10 weddings a year. I can experiment. I can try to walk the fine line between producing images that my clients want (the homogeneous, market driven product) and working toward finding my own vision. I’m already starting to experiment. I’ve been lucky to find a portrait client here, a wedding client there that will let me slip into that personal space and shoot from the heart.

    While I think the “industry” is stuck, I think as individuals we still have freedom to experiment and try to capture images, not just snaps and share with others what we see.

    Rambling, I know. But round about now. This post and my own frustration with finding a photographer along with some personal reflection on image making is having the result of 1) changing my basic business practice and, 2) driving me toward that rabbit hole of trying to understand my own vision of the world.

    That vision may or may not include a unicorn.

    As far as my own photographer for my wedding. I’m leaning toward handing one friend my Holga’s and another my film bodies and my step children the fuji instax. I’m sure I’ll get images just as technically good as what I’m seeing thus far but at least these images will be original.

    • Smogranch says:

      Mike,
      Wow, sorry to hear about your situation. Sorry you haven’t found that it person. I find that comment about the $500 and $5000 photographers looking the same, and the used car salesman thing. I hear that a lot from clients around here as well, being sold quantity and technology.

      But alas, you said something very interesting.
      “But then again, I look at it as a process of growth. I also have the luxury that most “pros” don’t have. I have a day job that pays well. I don’t need or want to shoot more than 10 weddings a year. I can experiment. I can try to walk the fine line between producing images that my clients want (the homogeneous, market driven product) and working toward finding my own vision. I’m already starting to experiment. I’ve been lucky to find a portrait client here, a wedding client there that will let me slip into that personal space and shoot from the heart.”

      This is it. You are ahead of the game amigo. You don’t NEED to work full time, and by the sound of it, maybe you don’t WANT to work full time with photography. I think this is actually the best case scenario. Your already testing what you want, experimenting, and the client here, client there, is exactly the way to do it, at least in my opinion. I see so many people pack themselves up with clients that doing original or interesting work falls by the wayside and becomes something they dream about getting back to at some point. It rarely ever happens without drastic change.

      I think you are doing it right. Go slow, figure out what you want to do, HOW you want to do it and then work on your terms, not the terms of an industry that may or may not provide you what you need.

    • Josh says:

      Mike, as a wedding photographer in the trenches trying to educate my clients as much as I can (“trust me, this little old Leica camera may not look like much miss bride, but it will do a much better job than that machine gun of a camera in my other bag…”), whomever you choose to document your day will welcome your appreciation for their work. Congratulations, by the way!

    • Smogranch says:

      “trying to educate my clients….” this is a very important point.

  17. Richelle says:

    Thank you for posting this. I shoot weddings and families and it is so easy to get into a rut… to shoot the same thing for each event. I always try to remember that for my couples, it is their only wedding day and they want unique images that show who they are and tell the story of their day. I’m always trying to grow as a photographer and expand my knowledge. As you said, it is easy to feel content when you are busy and stop learning and becoming better. For me that would never be an option… I still have so much to learn! Thanks for this and I think I’ll remove the music from my site now. =)

    • Smogranch says:

      Richelle,

      I think that’s it, knowing that no matter how long we do this, there is a lot to learn. And not getting complacent with the work.
      I have a friend, Egyptian, her father died. She said to me, “The day he became content he died.” I asked what she was talking about and she described this hunger, this searching, and then one day he lost it and with it his drive to live. It always stuck with me. I think about happy but not content. That’s what I’m aiming for.

  18. It’s funny that you should write this, right now, like this, with these words.

    Though I can’t paint the entire wedding industry with a negative brush (and I know you’re not either), I have become completely disenchanted with it. All the hyped up marketing, the egos, the subpar work and inexplicable rush to conformity – all of which has become status quo – has left such a bad taste in my mouth I won’t soon be able to be wash it out. And I’m trying, believe me.

    So I’m done.

    Exactly one year ago I picked up my life in southern California (Orange County to be exact – you know, where all wedding photographers reside) and moved with my wife and son to Portland, OR. Of course that meant that I had to begin to rebuild my business from scratch so to speak, but at the end of the day I realized that I just had no desire to invest the energy in doing it. Shooting weddings full-time is the last thing I want to do.

    So what’s a guy to do?

    Get a full-time job doing something else. Or at least a part-time job.

    So yeah, I’m currently in the process of re-entering the “standard” workforce. Artistically I’m going to devote my photographic pursuits to personal projects and the occasional family portrait, which I still enjoy doing quite a bit. I’ll take the occasional wedding as well if I get approached about it, but I will also relish in the freedom to pick and choose the clients I take without the pressure of having to depend on that money to live on.

    I know that you have said here and elsewhere that you think this is the best way to go in order to really open yourself up to what’s photographically possible within you, and it’s somewhat prophetic to me that I should now find myself in that place.

    So from this point forward, my only task is to hone my photographic vision, and the only person I need to shoot for is myself. Let’s hope that I won’t have to stray from that path anytime in the near future.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Wayne,

      Man, Portland…I keep hearing about this place…..

      Actually, I’ve been in the same situation as you…sorta…twice in my life. Once ten years ago, and once two months ago. And, both times I made drastic changes, and I can’t speak for the second time because we are early days yet, but I can speak for the first, and I have to say, it was the best thing I could have done. Ten years ago I quit working as a photographer for five years, and during this time did the best documentary work I’ve ever done. I realized I couldn’t work as a photographer and do this work. Sounds odd, but it’s true. Same thing happened two months ago, and I did the same thing, stopped my commercial photography. This time around, even though it took me another ten years to figure it out…it was easier to do, and more fun. We’ll see what happens.

    • Dan- you ought to make a trip to Portland sometime. You might even fall in love with it and move up here sometime as I did. Though of course you wouldn’t be able to call this community SMOGranch anymore, as – would you believe it – we actually have clean air up here.

      I’m looking forward to hanging around a while and seeing what work you produce now that you’ve excised yourself from the commercial market.

      What kind of work did you pick up if you don’t mind me asking? No need to answer if I’m prying too much. Feel free to shoot me an email too if you don’t want to answer here. I’m just curious to see what path others have chosen as I’m trying to figure out which path of my own to take.

    • Smogranch says:

      Wayne, I’m afraid to go to Portland for just that reason. For me, Santa Fe is my “real” home. I love it here. A great photo-community. Clean air, great subject matter, etc.

      As for prying, no, not at all. I’m working part time with Blurb, the publishing company. I’ve been doing events with them for several years, so it was a natural step for me. The people are great, the products are great and the job is a challenge for me. Consequently the only photographic work I’m really focused on these days is my own. I’ll find that link to my project post.

  19. joe buissink says:

    Things have changed. Oh boy, have things changed!! However… there will always be an opportunity to create art from the heart at a wedding. Always :)

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Joe,

      Yes, in some ways weddings are a great place to experiment. It takes trust, the right client, a certain level of education, etc, but it can be a fun journey. I once did a wedding in SB, client calls, “Just the two of us, and our dog and we don’t care about photos of us.” It was a great location, people were interesting, creative, etc. I shot the entire thing on a Crown Graphic and Type 55. Shot about ten images the entire time. It just felt like the right thing to do.
      As for me, art is a tricky word. From moment to moment, I’m not sure what it means. I see it thrown around with abandon, something I’ve done as well in a crackpot marketing scheme several years ago. I think I did it more out of frustration, but it doesn’t really matter. I see things in life I THINK are art, but perhaps only to me, other things that I KNOW aren’t, but I’m told is.
      To burn this world down with ultimate cliche, beauty, I’m told, is in the eye of the beholder.

    • joe buissink says:

      Yep. and so is ‘art’…. it’s in the eye of the beholder.

  20. Icy lazare says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. As a new photographer in the wedding field, I struggled between shooting how I want to shoot and fitting with the rest of the crowd. Sometime I think you need to do something in a certain way in order to know that is not the way you want to go…Your post has been bookmarked and will be a permanent reminder that I didn’t choose the path to be like everyone else…
    HAve a Wonderful Christmas and New year.

    Icy from London

    • Smogranch says:

      First of all, never known anyone named Icy, so nice to meet you, and thank you for those kind words. If this post can help you, be a reminder, allow you to succeed in some way, then that is more than I can ask for.
      But, I think your mindset is a good one. Be you. That’s all. You’re Icy, not Dan, or Mary or Bill. That is the great thing, we all see differently, think differently etc, so why not explore that.
      After all, we are a creative field, why not act like it?
      I say go for it. Have fun.

  21. Merrry Christmas Everyone…no more commenting about this today..go be with family =)
    Joe..nice to see you chime in here.

    • Smogranch says:

      No, no breaks………………………….I’ll be checking Christmas DAY!
      Actually, I probably will be. This for me is way more fun than my real life. And, I’ll be so stuffed with food I’ll probably be incapable of physically getting off the couch. Here’s to the feast.

  22. Noelle says:

    This article was linked on FB by a fellow photographer, so I followed and read :) Your work is very beautiful and moving. And this blog post was definitely food for thought. I don’t necessarily agree though that wedding photography isn’t art. For me, capturing a wedding is about story telling and seeing details and moments that no one else sees the way I saw it. It’s about telling stories of life and love, and capturing moments that pass so quickly one might not remember until they see the image. I do agree though that the wedding and portrait industry has gotten out of control with people who see it as an easy way to make money. More than anything it’s heartbreaking, not because I’m worried about competition but because the majority of those people don’t value 1. the art of photography and 2. they don’t shoot from their heart. This past season [although not shown on my site because I haven't updated for the year, so don't judge :)] my style really changed and I really shot with my heart and not what I saw in other’s work. It’s too easy to try to be someone else behind the lens. But this year I learned to shoot from my heart and I also decided to take on more personal projects. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut because all I’m shooting is weddings and portraits, so the only way to stay creative is to shoot for just me from time to time. And I completely agree with you that so many photogs take on so much work that creativity becomes less of a priority and it’s more like herding cattle, just get it done and over with. Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your work truly is beautiful. Merry Christmas !

  23. Bonnie Berry says:

    I LOVED this post. Music to my ears. I love that people like you are pushing everyone to be better. Because if we are not striving for that, why bother shooting at all?

  24. Candace says:

    Thank You for posting this, very interesting read, and the comments are just as interesting.

    Up until a year and half ago, photography, to me, was about me, and my vision. I wasn’t interested in shooting for anyone else, and actually, paid no attention to the online photography community in regards to photographers making a living with their photography. It was SO easy for me to shoot exactly as I wanted, from them heart.

    Then I decided to make a business out of photography, and that’s where everything changed. I completely agree with your points, but I feel it reaches not just to wedding photography, but across the board with portrait photography, be it families, couples, animals, babies etc. Once I started taking in clients, I realized how much the status quo is exactly what clients are looking for. Sure they may appreciate the more creative shots you take, but when it comes down to it, that’s not what they want. Of course, there are the few clients out there who want the more creative shots, but in general, not so much.

    So then I find myself at shoots thinking about what the client wants, and less about observing the situation and photographing the way I see it.

    Since this way of photographing is new to me, I’m freshly struggling to go back to my roots, and blogs like yours, posts like this, and seeing work done from the heart by photographers is just what I need to keep my focus grounded, because I’m already surrounded by the status quo enough.

    So for me, I’m trying to find the middle ground. Shoot what clients want and be able to pay my bills, but also shoot what I want and fulfill myself. Then, only showing to the world that which I feel is the best representation of me, and as time goes on, the hope is that it will draw in the clients that will pay not for the status quo, but for me.

    Love these posts that get people talking and thinking!

    • Smogranch says:

      Candace,

      This is a REALLY great point. I run into so many people who are so adamant about working as photographers, long before they really have any business doing so. They have this vision of what it means, of being able to tell people, “I’m a photographer.” I tell them, “It is very different to go from loving photography to doing it for a living.” In MOST cases, I think people would create far better work if they DIDN’T work full time.
      Case in point, me. I’m done doing commercial photography. No more weddings, portraits, commercial stuff, etc, I did it, I’m over it. Need to move on. I’m ONLY going to work on my own projects. I now have a part-time job.
      Now I’m not saying this is the right path for everyone, probably far from it, but it isn’t a charade. I realized……..yes, I realized, I can’t work as a photographer and make great work. Most clients don’t want it, don’t know what it is, and might not even be interested in it.
      And, I’m much happier working on my own. I do my best work when I’m NOT on assignment.
      I was thinking about it the other day, I would love to GO to a wedding, not as a photographer, just as a witness, to see how different it would look and feel if I was NOT part of the process.

  25. Hey Dan,

    I have been thinking about this whole thing for about a month and it was all sparked off by a performance by Andrew Bird at Ted

    http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_bird_s_one_man_orchestra_of_the_imagination.html

    If you don’t want to listen to the amazing music, you can skip right to minute 6:20 where he starts talking about a new song he is writing which is about “Feed back loops”. This is what got me thinking. Basically it something feeding off itself till it destroys itself…..Like an audio feed back loop.

    I think this is what the wedding industry is stuck in. The feed back loop, incest, feeding off it’s self and I hope new ideas get injected into that loop before it is destroyed. But in all fairness, this can be seen in almost any consumer industry. Business sees what the customer wants and they hand that up even though it means copying whats already out there. Look at design, TV, movies, books, food…..It’s exactly like what you are talking about with 92% being all the same and only 8% trying to be fresh.

    Another thing I would like to point out is all the flak actions and plugins get. You say everyone is using them so it makes all the images look the same. How is that different if everyone is using the same film? Jose Villa comes on the scene and everyone starts using Fuji film and over exposes the colours by a stop. How different would the work of 50 photographers be if they all use TriX and a Lieca? Myself I say the photographers would stand apart on composition, lighting and so on……same can be said with actions and plugins. I have a suspicion that that route just gets looked down on because it is “just a push of the button”.

    I guess it’s all relative to your view point, we all can agree that the wedding industry is becoming stale, but really there is a silver lining….It does help those that want to be different stand out more :)

    • Suzanne says:

      Good points, David, but I think what Dan is getting at.. is make it your own. Nothing wrong with using a plug in or an action, but give it your vision. I think there’s a big difference between the work of, say, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander and Garry Winnogrand. All Leica users shooting Tri-x. And their work is each their own. And agreed… there’s a sameness to the movies, TV, a lot of music, and when someone really uses their own voice, suddenly it looks fresh.

    • Smogranch says:

      Yep, Suzanne, totally agree. The technique becomes less relevant when the photographer has gotten to a level that goes beyond the “how.”

    • Smogranch says:

      I think what you are talking about all refers back to photographers working hard enough to find their own style. I laugh when I see the Contax 645 selling for more than it did when it was new. If you gave 50 photographers with no vision the same gear and had them look at each others work, yep, you probably would get work that all looked alike. That is my point. When you copy somone, you will get a copy.
      I was at a trade show earlier in the year, watched a presentation at a booth. Photographer, who I had never heard of, was talking about what brides want. It was packed. People taking notes and cheering. Photographers work……exactly the same as anyone else. People were eating it up. So it’s no surprise to me that everything looks the same.

  26. Ned Jackson says:

    I think there are some thought provoking ideas in this post – every photographer needs to look introspectively once and a while, but at the same time, it’s unclear to me what you think the ultimate goal of wedding photography should be? What makes a wedding shot on 10 rolls of film superior to one shot digitally? Isn’t the moment the real art?

    What do you want out of your wedding images? Is it not enough to capture the feel of the day, the emotions, the nuance… There are a lot of talented photographers out there who work to do that. Is there a lot of crap out there? Of course… but you’re painting with awfully broad strokes.

    In the not too distant past, wedding photography, and wedding photographers for that matter, were the bastard stepchildren of the photography community. Scorned for their lack of artistic drive and canned stock poses. “f8 and forget it” right? Wouldn’t you agree that wedding photography in general has come light years from those days? I don’t see many people looking back to the 1980s as lessons in “how to shoot a wedding.” The wedding photographers who inspire me are the ones who tell the story of the best. You can’t judge that by looking at their “greatest hits” gallery on their website. Ever seen an album from LaCour?

    • Smogranch says:

      Ned,

      For me, isn’t about film or digital, it’s about a photographer getting to the level of creating unique work. That’s all. I rarely see this in photography, which i think is somewhat expected, and I VERY rarely see it weddings, for a variety of reasons I mentioned before. I think what people expect is native to the individual. I probably expect things that you might not, and vice versa.
      And let me say, weddings are STILL scorned for their cheesiness. Notice how many weddings images I have online? This is for a reason, this is because I was losing commercial jobs because my name had “weddings” attached to it. When I started I had doc and weddings on the same site and it was killing my doc business because people were saying, “He shoots weddings, he isn’t legit.”
      Is this accurate? Hell no, but is this stigma alive and well. You bet your ass. This is really changed since my early days, late 90’s, but it’s still there, and when I look around at what passes for “good” wedding photography I totally get it. You have to put yourself in the position of the person hiring for these jobs, who in many cases today is primarily managing a budget. If something goes wrong, it comes back to them and the “Why did you hire this person?”
      And as for the “how to shoot a wedding” from the 1980’s. I don’t know. Maybe. My wife’s parents were married in the 1960’s and the photographer shot transparency which was then converted to 3D and printed on glass plates. The entire wedding came in a beautiful carrying case with battery powered viewer. You plop in a image, press the viewer and it comes to life. It is, BY FAR, the coolest thing I’ve seen in wedding photography. And I tell you what. The photographer probably shot 100 images the entire day, and he NAILED it. He got moments, emotion, things in the air, fleeting kisses…….in 100 photos. The photographer had SKILL, understood light, knew what he wanted, and created a feel that happened LONG before the 3D turned it into something magical.

  27. Kirsten says:

    I don’t think it’s just wedding photography…if I see another online photography exhibition with the subjects being rural, white trash folks I’m going to pull my hair out. Obviously every industry has it’s cliches, I just think that now that viewing/sharing photography is so easy, we are going to see a whole lot more of it because people are able to share their work before they found their own “voice”, get a gallery show or start a “real” biz.
    But I have to say, it’s awesome to see some of the work that is coming out of some those same people that 20 years ago would never have been able to get into photography. Pretty interesting time for artists!

    • Smogranch says:

      Kirsten,
      Yes, every genre has the chasers, people watching the market and asking, “what is going to get me published?” “What is going to get me a show?” The abstract urban landscape is what comes to mind for me, at least in the photo-art world. How many art school students are shooting portrait series and abstract urban places right now? Why? It’s getting published, getting shows and winning contests. AND, this work can be done……….wait for it………..wait for it……very QUICKLY.

  28. Leigh says:

    Right (@$%^ on Dan! Gave up weddings 3 years ago. Never felt a part of the wedding “industry”. As Ernst Haas once said, ” The limitations of photography are in yourself, for what we see is only what we are.”

    The wedding photo industry has made a phenomenal amount of money off of people by making them believe if they buy this product or that one or listen to these gurus that you too can make lots of money doing what we do. This is the American way. We have a long and colorful history of selling people this line of thinking. You too can create something with no effort or very little effort.

    It takes much more time & sweat over a long sustained period of time than the average American is willing to spend to find an authentic voice. The actual making of a photograph is not hard, making a picture that makes a person think, feel or see something that’s what’s hard.

    Turn off the outside photographic world’s influences…..find a subject matter you’re curious about and start working it with whatever camera system floats your boat and see what happens. And for god’s sake have enough respect for photography to know what came before you, there is a rich legacy that you should spend sometime appreciating and understanding.

    • Smogranch says:

      Leigh,

      You are so right about that. Getting good takes a long time, in most cases, and most people are just not willing to do that. People want success, and revenue, right now, and consequently we shouldn’t be surprised when shlock work becomes the norm and becomes accepted. The tired old phrase about being “dumbed down,” is tired and old but also right on the money in a lot of ways. “Oh, you are a photographer?” “I am too.” “Really?” “Sure.” “Where did you study?” “What do you mean?” “Where did you study photography?” “I have a 5D Mark II.”
      I’ve said this many times before, but it is easier to get work today if you DON’T have a style. Just shoot cheap, generic, digital content and you will get work. I guarantee it.

  29. I can tell you from my own personal experience – when you shoot for yourself, when you show your own work, and you only present that to clients – you will get LESS people calling you weekly. However, there is a silver lining here. Those fewer referrals are stronger because they want exactly what you’re doing and have done for their close friends. When someone says “Oh you shot so and so at such and such a venue and are you available”? I usually know right away – not gonna work. If they call saying “I love your bw imagery that you shot of my best friend” or something that points to my style of image making then I know thats a good start to potentially a right fit with the client. As hard as it is not having the phone ring daily, its far more rewarding when it does because of the connection to the work….besides, I’m not interested in shooting 50-60 weddings a year anymore. Those were some pretty crazy times…

    • Smogranch says:

      Andreas.

      This is exactly right. Fewer jobs, but better jobs. But, this doesn’t always fit the “Model” of weddings, where folks are concerned about quantity of jobs and again, maximizing a different biz strategy. Ultimately, at times, what gets lost…the images. When I first started with weddings, I was so shocked ANYONE would hire me I took just about any job that came in. This lasted three months. Three months. I said, “Nope, never again.” From that moment on , I took ONLY the jobs that fit. I probably turn 9 out of 10 weddings that come my way.
      What I did was partner with selective people in the biz. LA, SB, Palm Springs, Hawaii, etc, people that I was able to work with and let them understand who I am when I’m taking pictures. Now, when they send me someone, the client has been screened at least twice. I’m not easy to work with. It has to be the right fit or I politely say, “You know, I’m not the perfect match for me, but I know who is.”
      As a buddy told me when I got started, “The jobs you say “no” to are more important than the jobs you say “yes” to.” He was SO RIGHT ON THE MONEY. I thought he was just giving me a total cliche line of crap. He wasn’t.

  30. Jim OReilly says:

    Dan,
    Thanks for this post. Although I have followed your blog in its various incarnations for a few years, I have held off on registering here, but when I saw a post that netted 60+ comments I figured that I would jump in.
    I’m a hobbyist at best, and a lousy one at that. I am uneducated in academic photography with the exception of one college darkroom class and the some 200 monographs I’ve collected from my favorite artists. When I started taking photos I was asked by two couples on a budget to take photos at their wedding because I was that one guy who had a DSLR. I accepted not because I thought I could do it but because I didn’t want an awkward moment. In the end the first wedding sucked and the second one was fun. However, like I said I am not a photographer. I knew that regardless of how long I kept trying to shoot weddings I would never deliver the pictures that capture the essence of the place and of the day to my hardworking clients who were paying me well.
    With that said I will say that I have enough photographic knowledge to know when I see a picture that does capture essence, so I would like to comment on two posts from above.
    Glen: You have a great site and a great talent. I interpreted Dan’s post differently. I don’t think that the content of this post decreases the quality of Dan’s work or makes him sound cranky. I consider Dan’s post to be a gift to the large pool of working photographers that perpetuate the bland and generic “cookie cutter” method – of which you and Dan do not belong. This gift is in the form of a message that says look: there is an immense amount of generic, lousy, weekend warrior style wedding photographers out there who want nothing but a paycheck and do nothing to further other photographers and photography as a trade. This is like a brain surgeon becoming a doctor but not wanting to learn how to do any surgery that wasn’t in his med school text book. Recognize this. Study it. Then challenge yourself to rise above it and show your clients and yourself that you stand out from the rest and that’s why you want to shoot their wedding.
    Christine: Please don’t be intimidated. Consider what I said to Glen. Begin from the bottom up and identify 10 wedding photographers whose work you think is low quality. What makes it low quality? Make a conscious effort to incorporate workarounds to avoid their mistakes into your own workflow. Identify 10 wedding photographers whose work you consider to be of the highest quality. What makes it great? Use methods – read interviews with them – do anything to incorporate and blend elements of their style into your workflow. Some people will get up in arms about this. Tell them to go ask Paul McCartney or members of the Rolling Stones how they wrote their music and learned to play their instruments without influences from other artists.
    Now that I wrote all that I think I might give weddings another shot…. I just picked up a Canon 1DMK18. It automatically recognizes the bride and groom’s face and uses this to predict their movement and photograph them at multiple focal lengths at 75fps in perfect darkness even when they are in separate rooms. By the time the wedding is over the camera is outdated – it uploads its pre-edited pictures to facebook, tweets that the pictures are available, sells itself on ebay, and mails me the 1DMK19.
    Jim

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Jim,

      I have to say, anytime I write about weddings I get twenty times the traffic of any other style post, even when I think the material is far superior. And, just so you know, I’ve been called a lot worse things than “cranky.” I wrote a post about how the iPad was cool, but not essential for a photographer and you would have thought I insulted the heart of all humanity. The list of what I was called was long and colorful.
      But, what is so great about a post like this….dialogue. I will gladly take a few lumps to get a discussion going.
      Your exercise is a good one. Even though I don’t remember a time of going out trying to copying a specific photographer, I know the residue of Mann, Kratochvil, Smith, Steber, Harvery, Allard, Brady, etc, are all with me each time I make the motion of taking pictures. And I think identifying what you identify with is a very important step along the way.
      I think a lot of folks in the wedding biz never do this, never even consider finding a style because you really don’t have to. And, it probably doesn’t fit into the maximize your profit strategy. I get it. Again, this is one of the reasons why weddings are unique, and I have a feeling what many of the other genres are experiencing now.

  31. Sean says:

    Really interesting post. Thank you for writing it.

    I’m with Christine and Mike on this. You’re post is inspiring and frightening. I’d like to think that the photographers you mention deserve to be cut some slack, especially if they are new to the business or are just following market trends, but then again they are charging for their services…

    I started getting back into photography about 5 years ago and basically started from scratch. I didn’t know where to begin so started looking at websites, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, watching tutorials etc. I learnt a lot and if I wouldn’t be at the point I am now without them. But it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve realized that taking advice from people on popular blogs etc. is a vicious circle. Everyone takes advice from the same people, everyone looks at each other to see what’s in fashion, and as a result the wedding photographers you describe in your post are born.

    I spent a year shooting weddings here in Japan and one thing I did notice when it comes to wedding photography is that although it’s getting more difficult to spot unique styles among individual photographers it is still quite easy to spot different shooting styles based on culture. This is obviously a bit of a generalization and there are exceptions of course, but it’s quite easy to spot the difference between a U.S based wedding photographer and a photographer in Japan. Even the non-Japanese wedding photographers here tend to develop a Japanese style. Me included. I don’t know if this is a cultural thing, whether it’s because of what the clients want or what they think they want, or indeed whether it’s a good or bad thing. But weddings weren’t for me so I quit.

    Three weeks ago I was in India shooting portraits. I had a great time, met some fantastic people, got plenty of portraits I’m happy with and didn’t get Delhi-belly :-) Perfect. Except for one problem. With the exception of one morning shooting the way I really wanted to (from the heart), without any preconceived notions of what I thought I wanted, all of my portraits look just like anybody else’s. You know the ones – old guy with no teeth, a funny beard, but amazing eyes. I knew it was going to happen and it did. Before I left I told my wife that I had to get those shots out of my system and think I did to a large extent. I needed to do it so that I could move on to the next step, whatever that might be.

    The whole trip brought up some questions about what I really want to shoot and why. I still haven’t found an answer but I do know, as you are always pointing out in your posts, is that you have to be yourself. Copying styles and modern trends is great for business, as the wedding photographers seem to know, but it’s not good for your soul.

    As I mentioned in a tweet the other week – to which you replied – I seem to be changing direction every five minutes. Over the last week I’ve come to accept that that’s who I am and I should embrace it, not get frustrated. Every photographer should develop their own style and hopefully the weddings photographers in your friend’s area will eventually realize this.

    • Smogranch says:

      Sean,

      You are right on about a few things. One, style. It really IS easy to develop a routine or normal style, especially today when we have such easy access to the rest of the world. I’m writing a post right now about the idea of copying other photographers. When I got started, to view other peoples work, I had to go to the library, the newstand, etc, and even then, it was slow. I don’t ever remember a single time going out with the idea to copy someones style or work. I don’t think that would have ever occurred to me.
      Your India situation…I think that is natural. My main question…how much time did you have? This gets completely lost in modern photography, where “doc” students are doing entire projects over a weekend…..I’m not kidding. I saw a show recently, that I looked at and said, “Man, this is so thin,” and on the write up the “kid” said he really thought he had knocked it out of the park because he spend an entire weekend shooting it. And, people were gathered around to tell him how great it was. Doing truly GREAT doc work takes a lot of time.
      I was listening to this Larry Towell thing the other day, a guy who I think is one of the best photographers ever. He starts out by casually tossing out the idea, “Well, I worked for ten years on this project……and if someone hadn’t come to me and made me do the book I’d still be working on it,” or something along those lines. You just can’t substitute for time like that.

    • Sean says:

      It was my 5th visit to India but the first time with the sole purpose on photography. I gave myself 12 days to go shoot, and get a feel for places I hadn’t photographed and the main purpose, like I said earlier, was to get some shots out of my system. I wanted to clear the air so that the next time I can go I can really concentrate on what I really want to shoot, whatever that might be.

      I’m into India for the long run (20 – 30 years, hopefully more) I just need to find my feet and discover what I want to get out of it.

      How do you personally decide on a project?

    • Smogranch says:

      Okay, I’ll write something up. I did a post a while back about something similar. How I do projects. I’ll dig it up.

    • Sean- I am jealous of how many trips you’ve been able to make to India. I’m hoping to make at least one in my own lifetime.

      Now there’s a great topic for discussion you’ve brought up about how one decides which projects to pursue. I would love to see Dan post his thoughts on that as a post if it’s own.

    • Sean says:

      Wayne – Regarding India – Just go. Go soon. You never know what’s going to happen (in India & in your life).

      I’d love to hear about Dan’s project picking process – PPP :-)

  32. Evan Baines says:

    I’m pretty confident that professional photography as we know it will be dead within the decade. On the commercial side, there will be precious few specialist photographers, but rather creative professionals who provide a broad spectrum of design services in which photography will play a part. On the wedding and portrait side, there will be a few major chains, and most of the remainder will be part-timers, with only a very small handful able to maintain viable full-time businesses through a combination of great talent, great skill at self-promotion, and a bit of luck.

    Photography has always been too darn easy from a technical standpoint (as compared to the other visual arts) to achieve merit purely upon the basis of technique. Quality in photography is and always has been inextricably linked to both the content captured, and the perspective from which the image was recorded (physically and perceptually). The problem is not that there aren’t enough photographers doing interesting things with their work. The problem is that there aren’t enough people with a unique perspective and voice, who are willing to seek out compelling content. Techniques and tools (whether off camera flash, film, ultra fast lenses, photoshop) are always a more convenient substitute for creating images that actually say something.

    There aren’t that many interesting people, so there aren’t that many interesting photographers. There also aren’t that many interestED people, so this isn’t a huge market for good photography anyway. :)

    • Smogranch says:

      Evan,

      I wish I could sit here and dispel your thoughts, but I have to say, I think you might be RIGHT on the money. I don’t see portrait/wedding going away anytime soon, but the commercial side of the business could potentially be done as we know it. I used to do a fairly solid amount of what I would call small commercial work. Smaller clients, but good ones, and I don’t do a single one any longer. All of them have gone with prosumer photographers who are literally doing the shoots for 1/10th of what I did them for, and are giving away their high res files. None of these photographers know about usage, copyright, licensing, and the clients are more than happy to make sure they never know. And why should they when the photographer is willing to walk in with a disc and say, “Here you go.” But, the odd part, I could care less, because ultimately, I don’t really want that work. Never wanted it, it just happened to fall in my lap.
      The only thing that bothers me is when those clients try to convince me how great the work is. Being me, I just say, “No, sorry, that is complete garbage and you know it.” But you know, putting myself in their shoes, I kinda get it. If the bad photography doesn’t impact your bottom line then perhaps it really doesn’t matter. Plus, the life span of modern, commercial photography is what….two weeks to two months….so if they get a crap shoot, for super cheap, and get rights, then no big deal, go shoot something else. And, if they get lucky and get good work then they look like a genius.
      That’s why I tell people, big difference between shooting what you love and shooting for a living.

    • Smogranch says:

      And yes Evan, the world is filled with uninterested folks, and many of them are in positions of power. A lot of folks are simply trying to keep a job, and I get it. Budget, budget and budget. I used to do email blasts for commercial/editorial work, something I think is about as useful as ice fishing in the fountain at the mall. Right before the economic crash I did a blast, and right after. I would say 1/3 of all names, AFTER the crash, were no longer there. It was UNREAL.

  33. Hmmm… I hesitate to ask about your opinion of my site… :-)

    Loving my Dan moments in the morning though!! Tell your lovely Amy that I said hi!

    Scott

  34. Kristin says:

    well, I have gone through a number of thoughts and emotions after reading this. First I was just angry. I hear a lot of complaints about the present wedding photography world and it just seems like a waste of emotion. Why don’t people just focus on what they want to do and forget about it?? but I do sort of get it and maybe that in itself stirs something in me… I have been taking pictures for over 10 years, started with film in college, learned the basics and in the beginning, I didn’t have vision exactly because I was still figuring it out but I had guts because I had no idea what I was doing and had no expectation of myself and absolutely no interest in trying to do what anyone else had done. About a year ago I decided to try and start a photo business, it’s been really slow going but I have another job. and it is totally different shooting for someone else and it is challenging my ability to keep my instinct alive and creative. I am also interested in wedding photography and have 2nd shot a few weddings and am steering myself in that direction and I can say to some degree it is one of the more difficult situations to be creative in. You are trying to capture a fast paced event, the style is somewhat dictated by the day and the personalities of the people involved, and I think the only way to interject your personal creativity into a wedding is to already be very established in your style, it needs to be second nature, which takes many many years and changes along the way… I never thought of wedding photography as something extremely creative though. And while you see cookie cutter I actually see some interesting work being done, more interesting than I thought wedding photography was, maybe my expectations were really low or maybe that is because I never really looked at wedding photography but I always thought of it as pretty formulaic. I also think a lot of these photographers do see themselves as different and alternative and do care, maybe they are delusional or maybe not, I can’t say… but I do see a lot of this being pushed by popular blogs. Whether the photography is good or not doesn’t matter, it’s about the “themes” or about people they want on their blog and it’s very strange to me. and I do see some photography that looks like it is shot on auto but they get jobs… I just don’t want to be discouraged by other people’s work, good or bad. I do want to find my own voice in my work and I certainly don’t want to be part of the masses and that scares me, what if I am…? I just don’t want to stop taking pictures. and about blogs and websites being the same, I have to say to get one designed is really expensive and I don’t have the money to get some individualized sites so for now that’s what I need to use, templates enable me to at least show what I got. and lastly couldn’t your friend hire a photographer from out of town if the one’s in town were so horrible?

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Kristen,

      Well, sorry to make you mad, but sometimes it turns out to be a good thing. My goal with this post was to simple record an observation. I wasn’t complaining exactly, just venting frustration at trying to help a friend and being unable to do so.
      However, what I”m writing about, the conformity, the lack of vision, these things, have an effect on anyone making images, and not just those in the wedding field. Anyone walking around with a camera, declaring themselves a photographer and interacting with the public will influences how people feel about the actual field of photography.
      When I first moved to California, Orange County specifically, I was coming from the documentary world, newspapers actually. It seemed that EVERYONE I met was a photographer. I’d go to a party and people would introduce me and everyone I met would say, “Oh your a photographer, so am I.” “Really, wow, great, who do you work for.” “Well, I work in a law office but I take a lot of pictures,” or “Well, I have a nice camera.” That was all it took for someone to associate themselves with being a photographer. This has a HUGE impact on how people view our field.
      In the portrait field, how many people have I seen buy 5D Mark II’s and suddenly, literally overnight in some cases, begin to call themselves a photographer. You could literally train a monkey to shoot with a modern camera, and get in focus images, but does that make the monkey a photographer?
      With the wedding industry, and I’ve said this before, if the industry gets to the client first, I don’t even try for that client. Damaged goods in many cases. And not because that client isn’t a good person, but the industry sells everything but unique vision. It sells conformity, quantity, technology and anything slick and overly stylized.
      That ain’t me.
      But also to your point. Making images and making images for a living are two entirely different things. I’ve known my fair share of super-successful, super-unhappy photographers. It’s an odd thing when something you love becomes something you no longer love.
      I was a hot tub installer once. For three months. I liked doing it. I like physical labor. Did I love it? No. Did I miss it when I was finished with the job? No.
      PHotography, for me, is way beyond that level of endeavor. It means FAR more to me. It’s my spiritual belief in a way, so when I see it being trivialized, I’ll sometimes say something about it. Not that me saying something has any effect, but it’s nice to at least hear a dialogue about it.

    • Kristin says:

      so when is one considered a photographer? who can say when one is a photographer? is it when you make money? is it when you have a body of work? It is when you have a show in an art gallery? Is it only if you know how to operate a film camera? I know when I go out into the world with a camera or without one I see things, I see things I think are “beautiful”. It could be a garbage stack but I see something in this world so when I decide to document it with a camera (whatever kind that is, digital, film or toy) am I suddenly a photographer? Was I more of a photographer when I was in college doing art pictures? Am I more of a photographer now that I’ve been paid for it a few times? It’s a weird thing… I do get what you’re saying and I don’t think anyone holding a camera is a photographer and the market in every digital medium is becoming over-saturated. The same thing is happening with music, it is becoming an mp3 that anyone with garage band can make but an actual musician could use the same tools, so how do we separate the two? this is important to me too because I really want to create quality work whether for money or not and I’ve been sucked into the use of actions, should I say overuse, and now I am pulling back. I find a really good photograph doesn’t need it, now I find myself simply trying to get a photo to look simply beautiful to my eye. I don’t want to create a “genre” of images. There is something that sets apart timeless from trends. and I guess I now consider this post a good thing. It is something image makers should think about. There was a certain point in my life when I didn’t even want to try and make images because there were so many people doing it. Our world is more and more saturated with image. How do we set ourselves apart and do something original, unique with perspective when there is so so much out there? It is daunting to me but I can’t put the camera down so I guess I’m contributing either to the crap or hopefully something other…

    • Smogranch says:

      Kristen,
      I think that is up to the photographer to decide. I certainly am around plenty of working photographers, but as I said before, depending on the genre, you really don’t need to know much about photography to be a photographer. I’m around folks who are working all the time, that I personally don’t think really know that much. But, they are happy, working a lot, etc, so hey, great. Then, there are others I’m around that I”m in awe of, who are making truly unique content and have a voice when they have a camera in their hand. Those folks, for me, are the ones of interest, in terms of knowing more about them, collecting their books and prints, etc. I know tons of people putting out music from their garage who I wouldn’t really consider musicians of note, but they call themselves that. I think this has been going on since the dawn of time. There was probably a caveman, with a club, who said, “I’m the total badass dino slayer,” who talked about it in the cave, maybe even taught a workshop about it, in the cave, but who had probably never slayed much more than a tick. Did we have ticks back then? I hope we did. Lovely creatures.

  35. In some ways we are all complaining about issues in the biz. Why? Maybe because there is a lot to complain about. I’ve decided that I won’t be putting energy into voicing my opinion on what I think is wrong. Everyone knows it, and to be honest, it is sort of a waste of time to put that much energy into it. The bottom line is that there will always be .. crap ..and there is no point in worrying about that because really..those couples arent the ones that seek us out.
    Case in point: met a couple yesterday who looked at a lot of websites online but kept coming back to mine because it was different. They hired me because I presented work that “wasn’t wedding industry influenced” – her exact words.
    Stick to what you love to shoot..in the end, it will work out. Compromise and do what everyone else is doing…cater to the lowest common denominator and you may make a bit more money…for a while…but you’ll be miserable and hate what you do.

    • Smogranch says:

      Andreas,

      My response is “yes and no.” Voice it if you want to. If no, then don’t. If yes and it contributes to the conversation then go for it.
      Also, there something about photography that is different from a lot of other pursuits. I’ve met plenty of photographers who really know little to nothing about photography, who are working all the time, being taken advantage of with rights grabs, contracts, unsustainable rates, etc, that are happier than you can possibly imagine because when someone asks them what they do, they can say, “I’m a photographer.” There is still a romance attached to that statement. You can produce sub-par work, make a living, and if your goal was to avoid going back to your old job, then you might consider this kind of work a smashing success. That’s okay.
      But for others that isn’t enough, it is for these folks that modern times are especially difficult to swallow. When you see sub par, formulaic work being not only presented by the ten fold, but celebrated and promoted. I don’t see viewing an opinion about this stuff as a bad thing, either positive or negative.
      But, no doubt, your time might be better served if you focus on something else. For me, I’ll probably keep doing both.

  36. Cassie says:

    I liked this post. It was a refreshing change from all those smug photographers who insist you’re not a REAL PRO if you don’t have the right lens, the right education, the right equipment, the right website or branding, and so on, infinity.

    I very rarely look at other photographer’s work outside of those I know “personally” because I hate how it makes me feel. I want my look to be my own, and I know when I saturate myself in others photography, it creeps into my own images, seemingly against my will. This was something I struggled with a great deal when I was just starting out — it reminded me of nothing so much as how I had to quit reading my mom’s Harlequin Romance books as an older teen because they were legitimately making me feel like the whole world should play out like that. Looking around at the internet superstars of photography, it’s easy to imagine that one needs to nail a certain style to succeed, so in the same way I tossed those awful novels, I steer clear of the popular sites and blogs (and workshops and actions.) It’s the only way I know to remain as authentic as I hope to be.

    I’m aware this is rambling and possibly pretentious, but I wanted to say thanks for believing in and standing up for VISION. It’s important to me, and it’s nice to have someone validate that in such an eloquent but accessible way.

    • Smogranch says:

      Cassie,

      Well, I hear ya, but I also think that looking at work is VERY important. I’m writing something about copying work right now. I look at a ton of work, but I don’t think it plays into my field work…all that much. What it does for me is DRIVE me to work for. It’s a good jealousy I think. Oh man, wish I WOULD HAVE DONE THAT kind of thing. I’m not copying the technique, I’ve got my own, but I’m trying to usurp the drive, the creativity, the thought and the depth of the work. I was at a museum show yesterday, 107 or so images out of a 600 plus print collection. It didn’t really do it for me, although it was a GRAND show, because I wanted to see the depth of ONE style of work. That for me is where it is at. Making a great image can be easy. Now do it twenty times. A different story.

  37. Robb says:

    As always, a breath of fresh air coming here and reading this. You somehow know exactly how to put my thoughts into words on this subject. Maybe it’s just the frustration I’ve felt watching some people I know “become” wedding photographers by buying gear and attending a few seminars. Now their work is exactly as you described, and they’re busy as ever.

    Hopefully at the point that I get married, I’ll be able to talk you into coming out of retirement… A roll or two of Tri-X, and one pack of Fujiroid in a land camera. That’s all I ask. Or maybe shoot the whole thing on the fickle Samurai…

  38. I would like to address the concept of taking “interesting” photographs for clients. It is what I want to do now in this stage of my photography but it wasn’t always so. I used to photograph weddings in the 1980s and my goal was not to take interesting photographs but rather to “simply” make everyone look terrific. Of course this had to be done in a relatively short time and under poor lighting conditions (high noon direct sun) and with people who were very uncomfortable being photographed or were stressed to the gills (no one has seen a real “mama grizzly” until they have met the mother of a bride). I took the responsibility seriously … often this would be the only time the couple would ever have photos of their grandparents and such and of course I wanted to accurately document the day as best as possible. So how did I accomplish my goal? First I took courses from photographers I really admired and copied their technique including lighting, posing, and method. They told me to take studio lighting equipment to the wedding, to take candids with a special flash that had a 10 pound battery that you slung over your shoulder, and to use the best medium format camera possible. So I did all of those things and my pictures looked very similar to the pictures of my mentors … but they did not look like the pictures of other local photographers because they just took photos on the fly with a 35mm and Vivitar flash on their camera. So I don’t think it is necessarily a sign of low quality when a photographer copies another photographer’s work … true, the work won’t be interesting but in the case of wedding photography I don’t think most clients want what I would find interesting. I saw them wanting instead solid craftsmanship like photography. (Another example where that would apply is the business portrait … a business person does not want an interesting portrait but a straightforward photo that implies the subject is a solid citizen.) Being a craftsman photographer instead of an art photographer is not at all a bad thing and takes education, practice, and skill; I wish in fact that more photographers were craftsmen at what they do. But craft and art are two different creatures. If your friend was looking for wedding photography that had artistic merit I agree that he/she needs to look outside the wedding photography pool; if they are looking for a craftsman photographer I think they can find a good one within the industry. Your thoughts about the conformity of photographers’ work really hit a nerve with me though with regards to portrait photography. I can understand it when it comes to wedding work because of the constraints of a wedding and what most people want but I cannot understand it when it comes to general portraiture. The work I see by so many photographers is so boring and uninspired. (Do you know what is worse than the Old Photo filter? It is the various “retouching” filters where with one push of a button all the skin blemishes and wrinkles disappear … of course all the skin pores and shadows that define the face also disappear and the person is left with mush for a face.) Portraits are supposed to have personality but I see so many portraits where everyone has the same generic look. Portrait photographers don’t have the same constraints as wedding photographers do … they can choose the length of time of the portrait, they can choose the time of day, the location, they can pre-plan the photo session with the subject … a huge amount of freedom and yet they just snap the same photos over and over again. Well, it is catching up with photographers as more and more studios are closing because their work is not different enough from the consumers who have their own DSLR. I could actually understand the conformity if photographers were selling this work and earning decent wages but they aren’t. In many cases I see photographers selling prints for less money than I charged in the 1980s (and I wasn’t expensive). I think the only way for a portrait photographer to be financially successful today is to find their own voice. Thank-you for establishing this website as I am sure it will help photographers think about who they are as photographers. I returned to photography after a long hiatus and I found it was not easy to find my own voice … it was too easy to be dazzled by digital magic, amazing cameras, and the work of other photographers (although very talented) who drew me away from listening to my own creative soul. A couple of exercises that might help someone: 1) When looking at other work take note of photographs where you feel a real emotional response and analyze why. This is different from admiring the quality of a photograph and is totally subjective. 2) List 5 adjectives that apply to your favorite work and that you want to see in your work; this helps you define your style with words. Thanks again for this great website!

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey George,

      First, you studied. You saw something and studied. That is a great first step, but for some reason gets bypassed these days as the barrier to do this work has completely fallen away. . I think we have all copied someone or something at some point in our career. I don’t remember ever going out with that intention, but I’m sure the residue of my favorite artists is there with me all the time. In weddings I see work being copied down the exact same location, lens, filter, etc, and the original being copied isn’t any good or original to begin with. And it works because of what you describe, the 90-10 ratio of people either not knowing what they want or being driven by what they are “supposed to do.”
      Here is my little secret. I shoot for me. Yep. Selfish I know. But it’s true. If I shot entirely for the client I wouldn’t never have began work as a photographer in the first place.
      How many times during my PJ days did I hear, “We don’t care what it looks like, we are just trying to fill a hole on B1.” Well, that doesn’t lend itself to inspired, signature photographs. I see the same with portraits, weddings, and other genres as well. The bulk of the great work I see being done is done by folks who dreamed it up themselves, and in many modern cases, are doing it themselves, without the strings of the fickle.
      There is GREAT work being done today, it just might not be getting any play or exposure because the bulk of the imaging world isn’t really concerned with that these days. Check out the other genres, not just weddings, and you’ll see. It’s only natural for an industry to change, so I don’t really see this as entirely bad.

      As for the retouching filters, I’m sorry, in my opinion, those are not only bad, they are sick. I see retouching as a disease, plain and simple. And when I see kids or babies with no pores it makes me want to scream. Even images where the eyes have been sharpened and the color intensified. It’s just out of control, and I don’t see ANY reasonable excuse for it. Heck, I saw a climbing magazine two days ago that had a spread on someone I was really interested in reading about. The images looked seriously like a cartoon. The HDR crap they published was a disgrace. It literally looked so unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the real world I could not believe a magazine which represents everything sacred about the rock of the Earth would publish anything like that. But obviously, they for some reason were enamored enough to do it. I knew a guy that had a velvet Jimmy Hendrix poster too, looked just like this spread.

      Again, we see traces of this everywhere. Look at TV commercials. I just want to say “Okay, take the computer away.” And look, there are computer composite artists doing truly unique work. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about lame work being pasted over with more lame, cheesy technique, then pawned as “art.” Sorry, doesn’t fly for me.

    • Hi Dan,
      What surprises me most about horrible retouching (blazing white eyes and teeth, no skin texture, etc.) is that the average consumer thinks it looks good and so does the photographer. Perhaps people are so hungry to look “better” that they gobble up any image that eliminates what they perceive as imperfections. I would hope that consumers could be educated though when they are shown the difference. But there is no excuse for photographers not having any discernment … I see prints entered into competition at my local PPA group where the heavy hand of the “Dynamic Skin Softener” filter has been applied (even on a baby) and the other photographers applaud it. No one says, “this portrait has been totally ruined!”. I don’t understand that. (I do believe there is a place for retouching in portrait work but the retouching should be invisible.)
      I think the difference between uneducated photographers today and uneducated photographers when I was working in the 1980s is that today there are simply so many more of them. In the 1980s there were also lots of bad photographers who never bothered to study light and composition and gave photographers an unprofessional reputation. Digital cameras have swollen the ranks of these people who put out a shingle calling themselves photographers when they are no more than a person who owns a camera.
      I wish I had your insight years ago that you should shoot for yourself instead of just for your client. It is not selfish at all because when you do shoot for yourself you create work that is of a totally different caliber and that can only benefit most clients. The work I did for my wedding clients was very competent and it was good work but eventually I got burned out because I was entirely focused on pleasing them and the success of the photos entirely rested on their judgment instead of my own. Now 25 years later I have taken my studio equipment out of storage, bought a digital camera, and am taking portraits again but I am taking them for myself this time. It’s a learning process in itself but it brings back all the meaning and enjoyment I felt when I first picked up a camera.

    • Smogranch says:

      I think you are right. There are so many photographers today, it’s pretty unreal. When I moved to CA it seemed that everyone I met was a photographer. Today, even more so. Retouching is very interesting. I’m not opposed to all of it, and there are a few people doing it who are real artist. There are a few in LA, I’ve seen their work. But, I think the level of retouching we are seeing today, and praising, it simple absurd. Most people in the public don’t know, or want to know the level of retouching being applied. I’m not talking blemish removal, I’m talking total reconstruction. For me, just far, far too much. We have the tools and are living in the comedy time we will at some point look back on and laugh.
      I think you have to shoot for yourself, at least in part.

  39. Daniel,

    Thank you for this informative post. It really is just a heads up for everyone. Being that photography has become so accessible. It enabled almost everyone here in the states to be a photographer. Hey, even I went back to photography when the digital revolution came about.

    I started photography when I was around 12 years old. Working on black and white film. Developing both the negative and the prints in a darkroom. It was a good experience, but the process was very laborious. Chemicals has to be temperature controlled. Exposure on the enlarger has to be timed right and focused right. Now with digital it just made it so convenient.

    But come to think about it, the convenience of digital should make us experiment more in our images. Pursue something different and compelling. Then again that is the hard part. Being bombarded with images from the internet, everyone tends to copy what the rockstars of photography are doing.

    I think this trend is not only in wedding but also in fashion. Almost all beauty shots are the same. Its just the model that is different. The lighting is the same, modifiers are the same plus the background is the same. Thats why it was like a breath of fresh air when I saw images from Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller who uses just straight flash in their images. It simple and different. But that was taking it to a different level. Its not flattering but it does sells and makes it compelling.

    Roman

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Roman,

      You used an interesting word. Convenience. That for me is very telling. That experience you mentioned, of working in the darkroom, for me isn’t laborious at all, that is what makes it so interesting. There is nothing I enjoy less than sitting down at a computer to begin editing my work. For me, I’d much rather process the film, print contacts and then focus on making a print of the best image or two.
      I think the convenience of digital has also come with other words, works like trivial, temporary, abundant, free. I think digital changed the DNA of what imagery means.
      Me personally, I like making things, tangible things. So the analog method is the best for me. But, for many of my friends, they love the new route. Thanks for writing.

  40. Evan says:

    Hey Daniel,

    I have mixed feelings about this. First and foremost, I agree that most wedding photography thsee days is fairly cookie-cutter. It’s ridiculous. I’ll be honest, I picked up my first camera less than 2 years ago and have been fortunate to shoot over 100 weddings in that time, whith over 50 booked for 2011 as of right now, while I am waiting for my next consultation. Through all of my work I have been able to learn much more than anyone could sitting in a class room. While I can appreciate photography schools for lighting, composition, exposure, studio work, etc, I don’t think they can teach unique wedding photography. Most product photography looks like it came from one of thousands of commercial photographers. Why? Because they were taught that way.

    I’m 20 and have shot “destination weddings”. Heck, one of my sample albums is even from one wedding I did in Cabo. What gets me the most are the Craigslist photographers. The one’s that are shooting weddings for $300 for all day coverage, shooting, burning to disk, and that’s it. I had been fortunate- I learn fast, was constantly looking at other photographers’ work for inspiration, and invested in gear that was going to allow me to do what I want to do. I’m not really taking a stance here, just writing down my thoughts. On one hand I completely agree, but on the other hand I don’t.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Evan,

      Thanks for writing. If you are happy shooting what you are shooting and how you are shooting it, good for you. I’m glad.
      It all depends on what you are looking for in your photo-life. In my opinion, anyone can shoot weddings. Anyone. So getting work in this field isn’t difficult. Making great photos is a bit harder, but again, when you shoot a wedding you are in one of the most predictable, easy situations you can be in as a photographer. Sure, there are surprises, things that might not go as you planned, but overall, it’s an extremely predictable situation. It’s a great opportunity to create images that reflect who you are. What I’ve found is many folks in the wedding world don’t know, and might not care, who they are. You don’t have to find your style. Just shoot mainstream and book work.
      An education on photography isn’t about learning to be a wedding photographer. In fact, I’ve never spoken with a single photographer anywhere who studied photography and had a class on weddings. There are many reasons for this, some kind, some not so kind.
      I wouldn’t be so quick to say you have learned more than you would have had you been sitting in a classroom. It’s just apples and oranges.

  41. Daniel says:

    As a wedding photographer myself, I can say that your work is much better than anybody in my area. I haven’t seen your wedding work but I can probably guess that it would by far exceed anything that is produced in our industry.

    That said, you address your own points. It’s something we talk a lot about in the wedding industry… commodity vs. art. You’re arguing for photography as art over commodity. Most wedding photographers treat it as a commodity vs. art.

    My own personal background is not in photography. I never studied it. I have an MBA. I spend most of my time working on the marketing/business aspects of our business rather than refining art.

    Why?

    Because 1) you need exceptional talent to produce art. 2) most brides can’t afford art.

    Even if every wedding photographer today decided to focus on art… not shoot as many weddings in order to maintain creativity.. go to school etc… there will be a WAVE of new wedding photographers who will be willing to commodify wedding photography. Commodified wedding photography is all that will exist because that is what most brides can afford. Every single one of your points can be related back to the fact that brides can only afford this type of cookie cutter photography.

    A bride’s average budget in my area is 2k -3k. If all wedding photographers only shot 10 weddings max like you said you would in order to maintain creativity, they would all be starving.

    Some of your points:
    – all websites are the same: because photographers don’t have enough money to spend 2-3k dollars on a custom website so they buy templates for 2-3 hundred dollars.
    – no recognizable style: wedding photography has to be formulaic because brides want to know exactly what they’re getting and they seriously complain if you don’t give them the exact photos that you’ve shown on your website. A bride would rather have 100 decent shots than 2 great shots.
    – branding: brides can recognize branding… whereas a LOT of the time they can’t recognize good photography.
    – phony talk: it’s not really phony because these photographers actually believe it and brides love it.
    – wedding photojournalism – is a farce. Posed photography can be reproduced whereas true photojournalism is too inconsistent.
    – music: sorry but brides love music. We receive TONS of comments about how the music on our site sets the mood.
    – film: too expensive and not practical. Again.. its volume.

    Conclusion: Your point 4 is right on… it is commodification… but its more than that. You said in the comments to shoot for yourself. Wedding photographers don’t. We shoot for the brides and grooms because it’s their day and maybe contrary to popular belief… we actually care about them.

    Wedding photographers really love their brides and grooms. They really want to please them and a lot of wedding photographers have close relationships with their couples. We know what those couples want and unfortunately, most brides don’t want art. They want pretty pictures of themselves and their husband. They want pictures that will make them remember how young they were. They want pictures that will keep their marriage spark alive when it’s tough. They want pictures of themselves. They don’t want art. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  42. Josh says:

    Check out the work of these guys:

    http://www.imageisfound.com
    http://www.jeffascough.com
    http://www.studiocastillero.com
    http://www.cliffmautner.com
    http://www.maxwanger.com

    I could list many more. You really think these people are no artistically? I’ve seen your stuff. You shoot good stuff, but I would argue that these people can shoot just as well as you do if not better. I don’t think the wedding photography profession has 0 art and everyone’s websites look the same. That’s just not true.

  43. Yvette Roman says:

    Hey Dan!
    Just wanted to let you know that I:
    1. shoot film
    2. have a bfa in photography from Art Center College Of Design
    3. wish that a unicorn with pretty sparkles would come and live in my back yard
    4. shoot weddings.
    Just sayin.
    XOXOX
    Your Girl Yvette

  44. Andrew says:

    I see that its not the really the photographer who is only part of this story but our clients as well. We are actually all in this togother. The wedding industry is really just a small picture of our western cultures and values where we want everything to be always happy, fun and surreal. We are obsessed with creating utopia and people will pay a lot of hard earned cash for it too. We have to create a moment not wait for it. We don’t want to focus on what is real, true, and believable. That would be boring, or would it? I onced heard a photographer say that why do we photograph weddings and not funerals. Why shouldn’t we photograph funerals? What is it about our society that says we should only capture happiness and joy but not sadness and grief?

    • Smogranch says:

      I’ve shot funerals. From the famous to the unknown in a mountain village in a culture not my own. Funerals make great pictures for the same reason weddings do…emotion. I think people feel they shouldn’t photograph these simply because of learned behavior. We are told “that is not what you do” and we fall in line. It’s true of many things in life. Sometimes the hardest part is unlearning what we have been trained to think.

  45. Tom says:

    Your observations are spot on. To really get your freak out boiling go into the field and see wedding shooters at work. You probably have. Watch the posing going on, it makes people look like clowns, it’s nauseating. How has this aesthetic from hell formed? I was thinking of doing a Blurb book of collected web photos called “brides and clouds”. Unfortunately (or fortunately) there are millions of these images all over the place. Big dark angry dramatic clouds over the heads of smiling brides. Is there a hidden message here? Maybe we’re wrong on this whole thing.

  46. clark becker says:

    Yes I do hate the wedding industry, It is fast food. The problem is I enjoy shooting weddings. That puts me in between a rock and a hard place. I enjoy the love in the air and being able to tell the story of the day. The last wedding I shot was fully film, all shot with a blad. Because of that wedding I got a lot of enquiries about shooting other weddings. After talking to the, soon to be brides, and having them really liking my work, I finally tell them my price and they ever talk to me again. My prices are not crazy but my cliental base is just not big enough. It is very hard to get out of that when all the other photographers under sell themselves all the time.

    On blogging, I fall into that one all the time. I have a website and blog, but i hate blogging. It is the best way to market now though. I find myself just posing pictures and not anything else. When i started my new blog I promised myself that i would not just post pictures, and actually let people know who I am.

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