Postcards from a Wedding

I wrote this post over a year ago and totally forgot about it. Sorry. It WILL be the last post I ever do in regard to anything related to a wedding. Ever. I’ve been out of that game for a long, long while and won’t be going back anytime soon. I’m not even sure I could do it anymore. Anyone who has ever done a wedding knows it’s both a mental and physical game.

CLIFF NOTES: If you don’t want to read this opus the basis is MAKE YOUR OWN IMAGES.

I was asked to write about advice for wedding photographers, something I promised I would never do again. However, earlier in the year(2012) I photographed my last wedding ever and I thought it an opportune time to sign off on this industry and business. This post might seem hard hitting, which I hope it is, but the intention is simply to make people think. As photographers we are capable of so, so much, but in difficult economic times, or trying times for the industry, I am baffled by the level of conformity perhaps best illustrated by the portrait/wedding world. Yes, many weddings are comprised of the same format, preparation, ceremony, celebration, and there are similarities from shoot to shoot, so in some ways repetition, standardization and trends all contribute to an assembly line type situation. However, I spent ten years in the portrait/wedding world and was successful because I did NOT conform. There is power and there is value in unique imagery, just as there is in unique literature, poetry, art and sound. So the next time we find ourselves walking on the same well worn path, let’s turn around, step off or begin hacking a new trail.

I named this post “Postcards from a Wedding” as a tribute to Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas and her “Pictures from a Revolution” film. Yes, we are talking a major stretch between the Nicaraguan Civil War and a wedding in the Caribbean, but hear me out. In or around 1990, when I was first beginning my official photojournalism degree at the University of Texas, Susan Meiselas came and screened this film for the PJ students. My first “photojournalism” class had hundreds of people in it because “photojournalism 101″ was an elective that any communication, art or journalism student could take. Consequently it was a packed house. I was hooked. Completely and utterly hooked. First, the film gave me a feel for who Susan was. Second it gave me a feel for what type of effort it required to do this work, and it also gave me a clear picture of the connection between a committed journalist and the people she was working with.

Susan’s Nicaragua work was also graphic, violent, beautiful and felt like the kind of work that I wanted to make. Years after meeting her, and years after graduation, when I finally had a portfolio I believed in-my first book-I sent her one, unannounced. This was before I had a computer, email, cellphone, etc, so it was mailed to her in a giant envelope. Several weeks later it came back, and it came back with a long, handwritten note. In a nutshell it said “You see the world in a unique way but you have to learn how to make YOUR images.”

Maybe, just MAYBE, there were two or three images in the entire book that would prompt someone to say I saw the world in a unique way, so I figured she was being polite, which she had already proven by writing me back! What I took from her advice was the last part. I had to learn to make MY images. This is easier said than done. I see so much work today, so much, and the overwhelming majority is work I’ve seen before. Finding vision, as I’ve said many times in the past, isn’t easy. And you can find it only to lose it just as quickly as you found it. I know, I’ve done it. Several times.

But let me break this down with the wedding thing in mind. It is a challenge to bring up weddings and Susan Meiselas in the same sentence, but it’s my blog and my soul died a long time ago so I’m gonna go ahead and do it. I’ve written about this for years and normally get crucified when I bring it up, which is reason enough to do it. The wedding photography industry is filled with photographers who aren’t really photographers in the traditional sense, but that’s okay(They approach from a different angle). If someone finds joy in working in an industry then more power to them. However, there is a downside to this little tale if you have wider plans. If you have “other plans” in photography it can be difficult to be associated with the wedding industry, fair or unfair that is the truth.(Just had this conversation again, last week, with another photographer who said he was not getting commercial work due to being known in his area as a wedding photographer.Much to the chagrin of another photographer who didn’t think this could be possible.) One of the ways this can go away is if wedding photographers learned more about not only photography but about themselves. You GOTTA study, work, toil and fight to figure out who you are with a camera in your hand, and frankly most people don’t do it and the industry doesn’t put ANY pressure on them to do so. There is also an unfair stigma associated with wedding photographers. “If you can’t do anything else, you do weddings.” This just isn’t true anymore, not by a long shot, but the IDEA remains and sometimes this can be a real issue requiring educational skills on the part of the photographer.

The wedding industry was the first industry where I listened to photographers tell me they learned the business by going online, in 2005, and copying who was hot. This isn’t good. That might get you a business but it doesn’t make you a photographer. There is one photographer in particular, someone I first heard about years ago, who has been cloned by an entire generation of wedding photographer, right down to his camera and lens. I see dozens and dozens of wedding snaps that all look EXACTLY like his…only not quite as good. But guess what, it’s good enough. The bar is low so people can get away with this. And also, a lot of wedding snappers base their work and credibility on their clients who are mostly people who DON’T look at imagery. They like most things. This doesn’t lend itself to developing a higher standard.

I’m not gonna show you the bulk of the work I did on this wedding(Private), which by the way was the final wedding I will ever do. It’s over Johnny. The vault has been sealed and dropped overboard. I did this wedding for several reasons, but most importantly I did it because I really like the people involved. That’s all I need. Yes, the location was great, I had freedom to do what I thought best, and even though I was the official photographer I was also part of the gang, which makes things far more civil and enjoyable. The images you see here, with the exception of two, were all made with a plastic, discontinued underwater point-and-shoot. The rest were taken with a 43-year-old rangefinder. Why did I use these old tools? Well, I like them, but they also give me the STYLE of image I was going for. And when I say this I mean for THIS particular shoot. I had a very concrete idea of what I wanted the final product to look like the DAY I accepted this job, which was months and months before the shoot. I didn’t just apply my “wedding photography” to this event like all the rest. I’ve done weddings where I shot a grand total of 20 images THE ENTIRE DAY(665 Polaroid), and I’ve done others where I shot digital and shot literally thousands of photographs. I’ve done weddings in black and white only. I’ve done 6×6 weddings, 6×7 weddings, 6×9 weddings, and even used a 4×5 once or twice. I’ve shot Lomo, Holga, Pentax, Fuji, Canon, Leica, Polaroid, Zeiss, Voigtlander, Contax and a homemade pinhole. I used this messy range of clunkers because I had a vision for what the job not only required but how I envisioned the final product. I had this vision because I had experimented enough to know what worked and what I could expect to walk away with, and I was fine tuning my approach and technique to fit each job individually. This is a doable thing when you are doing a total of ten shoots a year. It becomes REALLY difficult when you are shooting 20+ events per year and suddenly conformity becomes a part of the equation. If someone else can do your editing you might be on the path to assembly line.

The goal is to be able to see the final project, which in this case is a book, and say, “I know who did that.” Call it style, vision(overused) or point of view, doesn’t matter. What matters is HAVING ONE. Wedding photographers should demand more. They should rally around those who take chances and set a tone that borders on chaos and failure, not volume and year-end-sales. Could we possibly take anymore of the mystery and experience out of it?

To be fair, working as a photographer these days is not what it once was. There are different pressures and the value of photography, especially in the mind of the general public, has changed and not for the better. There is less appreciation for the process and also less concern with the longevity or impact of the images. But, this doesn’t mean you don’t fight the fight. If you are a wedding photographer you have to educate yourself and your clients to what it is you do, SPECIFICALLY, and why you do it that way. In the long run, it’s all you’ve got. And don’t go thinking this is a rant against wedding photographers because this level of operation is happening in almost all genres of photography. Having an online following or filling a workshop doesn’t make a good photographer. These aren’t bad things, not by any stretch, but what I see happening is people associating these abilities with photographic talent. In my opinion, the best photographers in the world aren’t on social media and they surely don’t teach a lot of workshops. Why? Because they are making their work instead.

For you newbie wedding photographers out there I’m going to cut you some slack. Keep learning, keep expanding your knowledge base. The people I want to direct this post at at the “pros” who have suddenly found themselves in the wedding world. This really started happening about fifteen years ago, based mostly on economic pressures. YOU folks have a responsibility. YOU have the knowledge and experience which makes it truly painful when I see YOU conforming to what the industry is subscribing. When you homogenize your photography to meet an industry with seemingly no quality bar it really has devastating effects and not only on the wedding market, which is some ways is impervious to impact. How many times have I see or heard a photographer from another genre land on the wedding market and make some bold proclamation about “doing things right” only to see the same person six months later churning out the same generic content under the fateful statement, “Well, the clients aren’t complaining.” Weddings offer certain photographers, very good photographers, their FIRST real chance to make decent money, and ultimately for some that becomes overpowering. I get it, but ultimately I don’t get it. It just makes me sad. These folks tend to stop making good imagery, and not just within the borders of their wedding work. They just stop creating or thinking or whatever it is that made them photographers in the first place. This in turn drags the industry down ever so slightly. And then someone else does, and it happens again and again and again, and suddenly the slight variant is a deluge of brain drain. The truth is these people don’t need to do this. Many of these folks came from genres where the photographer has lost all rights, all ability to work in a pure sense, and where they have had to conform, sign contracts and give up on working in the style they dreamed of working in, but in the wedding world you can do ANYTHING you want to do, so when someone gives up, conforms, caves in, it makes it that much more difficult to watch. So if by any strange change ANYONE actually reads this post, take this ONE thing away which is to find that inner photographic kid once again. Stop doing what you think you have to do and start doing what you WANT to do. I guarantee your work will improve and photography will be a lot more fun once again. Photographers have an inherent power I wish they would take more advantage of. Not everyone can do what we do. I’m a firm believer there are the SAME number of photographers there always has been. There are millions of people with cameras, but they aren’t photographers. When you make a unique style, or recognizable style of image, there is a power you can harness and your clients will know and respect this. Your images might not fit every job, but you don’t really want every job. You want the right job.

And stop talking about new equipment. It won’t help and has no bearing on your imagery. I’ve been having conversations with photographers who tell me they are worried about showing up at a job with a 5D Mark III because they are afraid the client has the same camera and won’t think of them as a professional. This is incredible. If your client can make the same image you are making they maybe you AREN’T a photographer? (Buy a 40-year-old camera and you won’t have to worry about this!) Your photographs should be about light, timing, composition and your visual history, but if these items started in 2005 by you copying someone online…you might have a problem.

If you are offended by this post just know….I’m by no means a perfect person or photographer(OBVIOUS), but what I am is a pretty decent witness to the times and to photography. I’ve made plenty of horrible images, some for myself and some for clients. I’ve had successes and failures and this post is simply my opinion. Take it or leave it. I walked away from working as a photographer so that I could work on purely my own work. I fought the downward slide of “professional” photography for the past ten years. It’s doable, but it’s all about education of the client. To do this you need the kind of work that educates. You don’t need a standardized test that EVERY OTHER photographer has.

My advice for wedding photographers? My advice to young photographers?
It’s all the same, and I’ll go back to what Susan told me all those years ago….make YOUR photographs, whatever those may be. In the long run, it’s all you have. You have to get outside of the wedding world and look at the full range of photography being made. Perhaps your images will be more influenced by Sternfeld, Steber, Shore, Smith, Salgado, Seliger, Stanmeyer or Strand than someone in the wedding field. If you don’t know these names(Please, please, please don’t tell me if you don’t know.), start there, look them up and see how you feel.

I walk away from this industry with overwhelmingly positive thoughts because I walk with memories of the people and the true moments that happened far from the glitz and glitter of the reception, those moments when hearts beat fast and the honest decisions were made.I walk with the truth of knowing that I was chosen to be the witness.

PPS: The images you see are the images I printed for MY book of the wedding. A snapshot book. 6×9, 300-pages .

46 Responses to “Postcards from a Wedding”

  1. I really liked your blog post. I really like this thought “Your photographs should be about light, timing, composition and your visual history…”

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinion. I truly respect that.

    • Smogranch says:

      Thanks Sebastien. Light and timing and composition are what make you the photographer you are, but these things typically take time, sometimes years, to figure out and many new photographers don’t want to wait. They want to be relevant, famous, successful right NOW. The portrait wedding world is about marketing and creating a facade of perfection, not about great images. At least in my opinion.

  2. lionelB says:

    Weddings are a very contrived three act play. Pointing a camera at the stage offers only a series of ‘record shots’, the ultimate put down. That is where you will find the pack though.

    Eugene Smith you will find in the scrum at the stage door, Paul Strand will be mulling the sweep of the balcony and Mark Seliger will be lurking in the dressing room corridor.

    For a photographer, the stage is by far the least interesting part of the whole performance.

    • Smogranch says:

      Lionel,
      I always shot in think of a four act play, with the first act being the location. This was hugely key for me. I would spend hours making a portrait of the place, and always devised a specific technique for JUST the location. The prep and ceremony were always fun for me, but the rest of the day was to be endured, photo-wise.

  3. An Observer of the industry says:

    I’ve been photographing weddings for the past fifteen years. In the past few years, as digital has made it accessible for anyone to be a photographer – there’s nothing wrong with that – the number of photographers in the wedding biz has in fact skyrocketed. The thing now is, the 800 dollar guy or girl, is sometimes just as good, or even better than the 5000 dollar guy or girl. So, what’s the difference to the client if that’s the case? The thing is, the work is the same, the same poses, the same post production, everything f*ng the same. Boring, but hugely accessible. And, guess who’s killin it right now? Joe boring, doing what everyone else is, with 9000 follers on FB and twitter. KILLING IT!
    Those doing good work are finding it harder to find clients that A. give a shit B. Know any better.

  4. David says:

    I think part of the reason many photographers who gain experience in the industry conform, even if their intentions in the beginning were noble – to create unique and interesting that tells the story of the couple/wedding – is the same as why many people conform.

    They tried to be different and to stand out, but after being told by other photographers that their images aren’t “technically correct” and their clients ask them if they can shoot images like this one person they’re following on Pinterest.

    It can break one’s spirit.

    It’s even worse with some photographers who conform under the delusion that they ARE being unique, because they generally don’t understand that wanting to be different and making it happen are two different things. If you tell them using PS actions they bought and applying them to every image is conforming, they don’t take it too well.

    I’ve never personally stirred the pot when it comes to other photographers. It’s pointless and makes you seem like a jerk to tell someone what their work is and isn’t, but I understand what you mean

    • Smogranch says:

      David,
      I don’t know you and don’t want to be rude, but this blog is about honesty so I want to share my opinions but want you to know I read your response and can see your point of view. However…..when you write, “but after being told by other photographers that their images aren’t technically correct and their clients ask them if they can shoot images like this one person on Pinterest” you have to know that coming from my background the idea of either of these two things being relevant, OR the idea that I would book a client that said something like that to me is so far beyond the realm of possibility it seems comical. But, it’s not comical it’s important for several reasons. First, I could care less what other photographers think of my work. Seriously, who cares, and any photographer that offers me technical advice is going to be the first person to be ignored. What is technically correct? I don’t even know what that means. Second, any client who asked me a question like that would have never survived my screening process. If a client is hiring you to shoot like someone else just tell them to hire someone else. You should never even take the time to meet with someone unless they are coming to you for a very specific reason, namely to get you to make images for them in the way that YOU make images. Stirring the pot has been a part of photography from the beginning, but in online age the idea of doing this has been so crushed it’s ridiculous. My entire life was dedicated to photography from 1988 to 2010. You bet your ass I’m going to stir the pot if I look out and see something wrong. It’s my responsibility to do that, and anyone taking offense can shove off. But the truth is real photographers don’t mind the pot being stirred because if stirring it helps photography then it’s good for all. Pretenders….ya, I can see them getting upset. After all, they are selling something. Workshops, a facade, whatever. Stirring the pot, also called constructive criticism, is a part of the creative world, always has been. It’s one of the main reasons I tell people I’m a huge fan of actually studying photography, at the university level, which has NOTHING to do with technique and everything to do with learning to talk about your work and also learning to be destroyed by others when they look at your work and don’t like it or understand it. The online photography world is all about the “love it,” “awesome” comment, which is complete and total bullshit. But the moral of this story is your spirit can’t EVER be broken. You gotta stand up and draw a line in the sand. Block out the noise and go make YOUR pictures.

    • David says:

      (I can’t seem to respond to a response so…I guess I’ll just post another comment.)

      What I meant by technically correct is that the photograph looks well exposed and well lit. I know it’s all subjective. There really isn’t any way to determine if something is “technically correct,” but what I’ve seen in A LOT of tradeshows, state competitions, and online forums, is that people are very quick to tell a photographer that there’s “not enough fill light” or “that one strand of hair is out of focus.”

      In a lot of cases it seems to be more about the more mechanical qualities of photographs instead of the content. From my own perception, this leads to nice looking, proficient images that are emotionally sterile in many cases.

      I’m not immune to this. I’ve taken photos that I would consider safe, because I didn’t believe that I had the skills or knowledge to create a well-done image that was outside the box.

      And you’re talking from the point-of-view of someone who has obviously done very well with his wedding photography, so of course you pick and choose who your wedding clients are because you have too much to handle. If I was uber-successful, I would definitely only choose clients who let me make the kinds of photos that I am best at.

      However…I know a few photographers who only have enough clients to sustain them, and these are who I’m referring to. I’ve talked to a few who do get discouraged when a bride contacts them saying they LOVE their photos but then asks if they can take photos that aren’t ANYTHING like what was in their portfolio.

      This is why I don’t do weddings. I’ve only shot one, and that was because the circumstances were such that I was afraid the couple would have a difficult time finding someone else who would be willing, and they came to me first with a small budget.

      And I know what you mean about stirring the pot. I would like to write more about things that I feel are issues in the photo/creative community, but I’m afraid I might come off sounding too cynical or too pretentious for the few who actually read what I write (I’m not a great writer as well so that might have something to do with it).

      It seems like there’s a lot of surface level optimism (Upworthy…ugh…) and coddling that just doesn’t seem genuine.

      I know I probably sound like a very negative person from my original post, and I am trying to be better about it, because there’s a line between discernment and cynicism that I believe I crossed somewhere.

      I just want to say that I agree with what you said and I thank you for saying it, because it’s something that I think gets swept under the rug a lot.

    • Smogranch says:

      David,

      I think we’ve lost our way to some degree. Why are you a photographer? Might seem like a strange question but it’s one that really requires an answer IF this is a long term goal or life plan. Sometimes the most difficult question to answer is “What do I really want to do?” Took me many years to figure this one out, but when I did I finally experienced what it feels like to be free, creatively speaking. Like I said before, I could really care less what other photographers think of my work. I’m not shooting for them, nor am I trying to impress them. Second, the clients you say “no” to are as important as the ones you agree to work with. If you can make unique images you are the one that has the control to do what you wish because clients can’t get your imagery anywhere else. That is what creates value in your work. A lot of “photographers” working today don’t know enough about basic photography to even begin to create anything unique hence the battle of undercutting and uber-promotion. Analysis of the industry used to be front and center but in the age of the online forum the jarring reality of being critiqued has quickly fallen into the realm of the unforgiven.

  5. Erin Wilson says:

    Just wanted to say thanks.

    Peace.

  6. Aaron says:

    Do you like Dan? Daniel?
    Thank-you so much for returning and spreading the table before us content hungry, amateur photographers a veritable blog-smorgasbord!
    It’s been awhile and although I’m sure you’re done and gone mentally with weddings you certainly aren’t done emotionally!
    A fantastic discussion point and reference for photographers and their pursuit-whether as vocation or avocation.
    I LOVE reading about wedding photography!

    I consider the “good ones” (adjust opinion to your own tastes) the fighter pilots of the photography world. One day. One shot. No re-do’s. To craft something that is pitch perfect emotion, authenticity, record, stylized capture…hoowee.

    I hope this is not your last commentary on the topic.
    I have re-read your post “A return to weddings” more times than I care to admit. It is a perfect book end to the salient message in this post. A message that can be repeated at healthy intervals in different ways forever. It’s inspiring, refreshing and all so on point at a time of year that begs for reflection and re-invention.

    Stay hard core. Thanks for not pulling any punches and keeping it real in the “love it” comment world we’re all living in.

    When are you coming back to Vancouver and joining us for dinner?! :)

    • Smogranch says:

      Aaron,
      Thanks for those words. This isn’t even close to hard core. I powder coated this piece with the greatest restraint possible. Alas, it will be my last post regarding weddings. I haven’t been in that game for a long, long while and frankly what I’m involved in now is far more interesting to me. Nothing wrong with wedding photography, but I’m moved in a new direction. Writing this from London and a series of meetings that have turned my current motivation level to “11” so to speak. Wedding photography gets blasted by the rest of the industry, in great part because of the lack of credibility many of the photographers have or don’t have. However, the rest of the photography industry, which is really in dire condition at this point, COULD learn a lot from the wedding folks. I’ve said this all along. So many of the current trends and marketing techniques being hyped in the commercial world all have roots in the wedding world but good look ever pinning credit on the wedding folks who started these trends. Portrait/wedding photographers have always been organized and profitable beyond the commercial photography world, but again, never gone get street cred for that. Online followings, pay sites, video promotion, all first seen by me emerging from the wedding world. As well as photographers asking for real money for what they are doing.

  7. Daniel,
    I have not visited Susan Meiselas’ work in a long time so I thank you for referencing her as you clearly made your point. And that is the beauty of your posts, whether one agrees with your perspective or not, the story can be informative.

    James

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey James,
      Susan deserves a lot of credit for her work, not only the Nicaragua work but also the work she’s done on the Kurds. I leave for Nicaragua in May and her work will be floating in my mind, I’m sure. This site is just one guy’s opinion, nothing more.

  8. joe buissink says:

    Nice!! Simply… nice, and… right on!! Keep it going bro!!

    Joe

    • Smogranch says:

      Joe,
      Long time no see. It’s odd. I live closest to LA yet spend the least amount of time there. Good to hear from you. Tells you how together I am, forgetting I even wrote this post…….

  9. Denis Reggie says:

    Hey Dan – This piece is right on target. This should be a must read for every wedding photographer, especially those new to the wedding photography world. Excellent advice, well written. THANK YOU. Denis

    • Smogranch says:

      Denis,
      Thank you for those kind words. I think this piece benefitted from a bit of distance. Last night, here in London, I had a conversation with someone about photography/photographers. This person was mystified about the “condition” of modern photography and I was attempting to fill in some blanks. What I find interesting is the idea of compromise, and how the idea of being compromised has become an accepted policy. Not for everyone but for a significant portion of the industry. And now I find two generations of photographers who have never experienced a non-compromised existence and these folks get REALlY upset if this is even discussed. Strange days….

  10. Janet Lanza says:

    There is a lot of truth in everything that you say, and I agree with most. I have been a wedding photographer for 33 years and still passionate and busy. I have always felt that the standards for the industry are far too low.(especially in the digital age) This fact has always made me strive harder for quality. Although there is similarity to weddings by no means are they ever the same and the thing that I think gets me every time is the ability to capture real emotion as it is happening. Through the years things have changed a lot with the digital age, but it still takes true talent to get it right in camera in the moment and create something unique for each client. I really don’t like spending time on the computer. Sorry you bagged it because what the industry needs is more people like you.

    • Smogranch says:

      Janet,
      You seriously deserve a medal. I’m not joking. 33-years doing anything is commendable, and just the physical requirements are damn hard. Like all genres, there are those skilled enough to bend but not break,those who can create the unique images and delve deeper into their style as opposed to going with the flow of what is hot. I was never a fixture in the wedding world. I was a fringe character but that was where my rough edges fit in nicely.

  11. Michael says:

    A “yes” and a “thank you” are in order. Well done.

  12. stew says:

    Great post, I have refered to it on a contemporary facebook page. I am not sure how many wedding photographers there are on that group but it will interest me to see the answers

    http://www.facebook.com/groups/RPSContemporary/

  13. Yuri Long says:

    great post. i am not a wedding photographer, but i know quite a few and i think this is actually something that is discussed in some circles, but you delineated things very well. i do portraiture (among other things), and one place where i get hung up is on this balance between making each job its own and having a consistent portfolio. i like to approach each session as having its own life, choosing the camera, film stock, etc. based on the location, quality of light, the look i want, and the client’s needs. so i agree that a photographer should have her/his own style, but also believe that if you’re going to accept a commission, you need to tailor that style to the job at hand. not to mention the fact that i don’t really want to make the same image over and over again. i want to evolve and grow and tend to do a lot of thinking before pulling out the camera. but then i wonder if i’m losing a consistent style with this approach. admittedly, it’s early days yet and i have a long way to go, but i’d love to hear more on this idea of personal style versus using the right tools for the job and how you go about doing that.

    • Smogranch says:

      Yuri,
      Yes, you have to work WITH clients but it’s a balance for sure. As for a consistent portfolio, that is a must in some circles, not so much in others. Recognizable work is the key for me.

  14. Great post. I’m gonna quibble a bit, here and there, but I don’t think I’m actually disagreeing with anything. Also, I am gonna natter on a bit.

    My sense is that most people who hire a photographer for a wedding don’t want some damn art. They want some pictures that look mostly like the pictures one of the bridesmaids got when she was married last year. They don’t care about you, your style, your pictures. They don’t even care about technical quality.

    They care about, basically, two things: when the bridesmaids come to visit, they want the bridesmaids to go “Oooo!” at the pictures; and they want pictures to remember the event. That’s it.

    This is most of what anyone wants from pictures of anything. They aren’t even pictures as such, they’re just memory triggers, a record of some shared experience. Insofar as there’s any desire for a “style” what people want is something familiar and comfortable. If they want a style at all, they want a style that’s a lot like some other pictures they saw somewhere.

    So what do you do if you want to make YOUR pictures, and get paid for it? Honestly, I am damned if I know. The market is small. It’s great that you’re able to make some money at it, but the number of people who want to follow their muse, and the number of people willing to pay others to follow muses, well, those numbers are pretty far apart.

    Me, I’m making my own pictures. But I’m not getting paid for it, and I don’t expect to be paid for it. I am cool with that.

    As an aside:

    Online isn’t all about “great shot”, it’s often more about conformity. Pictures are judged, in many online communities, a) harshly and b) almost entirely on the basis on conformance to the community norms. This is basically the same problem as you’re seeing in wedding photography — people like pictures that look pretty much like “those other pictures, over there.”

    Another mystery with which I wrestle is how to usefully involve other people in ones journey. If you don’t touch other people from time to time, you could wind up making ridiculous pictures of clouds for the last decades of your life. But, if you DO involve others, you run the risk of making Beautiful(tm) Seascapes with primary palette: blue/purple and accent palette: orange/yellow, in the approved over-saturated mode.

    • Smogranch says:

      Andrew,
      You have never met my clients. They absolutely want “art” but not in the traditional sense. What they want with absolute certainty is MY interpretation of their day. They could care less about what their bridesmaids want or like and they certainly don’t want what they have seen before. But you see, these are MY clients and when I say that I mean that they are the very, very, very small sliver of the world that I’m searching for. I don’t EVER work with anyone else. If a client said to me they wanted their bridesmaids to be happy with the work or they wanted me to make something like they had seen before I simply wouldn’t work with them. I wasn’t joking when I said I turned down nine out of ten jobs. Nothing worse than booking something that isn’t right.

      Making your pictures and getting paid for it has always been a part of photography. If you want to do it don’t talk yourself out of it being possible because it is happening around the world everyday. And people are being paid VERY well for it.

      I don’t show work online really much anymore. You have to figure out what your goal is. I know a fair number of very talented folks who would love nothing more than making “ridiculous photos” for the rest of their life, if those photos felt right to them. Artists make art, some for commercial purpose and some because they will go insane if the don’t. I make work because I like the experience of making it. I don’t need to involve anyone, show anyone or get feedback. It’s not why I do it. But again, I’m no longer interested in working as a photographer.

  15. jeff says:

    I do agree. What I usually point out to people is just walk down any main street and it seems most all photos and portraits are the same. Same poses just different faces. All were technically correct, and very nice. Just seem to be missing something. I remember attending a seminar in Minneapolis, it was about wedding photography being shot as a photojournalist doing story. The seminar was new a different. I was new to photography then and thought maybe weddings was direction I wanted to go, is why I choose this particular seminar. When I returned home I tried going to several wedding photographers/portrait studios to get hands on experience, none seemed appealing because all photos Weddings/ portraits looked exactly the same. So I gave up for awhile. Later I got hands on by working with one of those mall studios but I kept trying regular studios. I found one common denominator with all of them chain and private. They all said ” we do things this way because this is what sells. Not a single one would even consider doing “photojournalism style weddings” Eventually I to got tired of seeing same ‘ol, same’ol. I asked myself ” How am I going to learn if everyone thinks the same. I wasn’t living with parents, I had bills, didn’t own my own shop. So I threw in the towel and went to work as a factory rat. In the mean time I practice on 4×5 graflex/ vintage view cameras, vintage enlargers, anything I could get my hands on even a Bronica C (man those things are loud) Now I’m retired and can do like a person living at home and shoot what I want, when I want and if a person doesn’t like my work my style of living isn’t going to change.
    I understand capitalism and some photographers may need to shoot ” The standard” but save room in your portfolio/studio for ” YOUR STLYE”. Wedding photojournalism seems to be the norm now ( 20 years later)

    • Smogranch says:

      Jeff,
      “Wedding photojournalism” doesn’t have any meaning any longer because EVERYONE claims they are doing it and most clients don’t know the difference. “Candid” is another way of saying it. There ARE a FEW photographer who really work this way, but very, very few. And there are a few actual photojournalists doing this work now, some because they love it and others because they have to. Wedding photographers will adopt ANY catch phrase if it leads to more jobs. I found not having anything to do with the label or the industry was the best policy.

  16. I love what you said. I started wedding photography in 2008. I “am” the person you are speaking about.

    Thanks for the push to “make my own images.”

  17. Rachel Havel says:

    Hey, this post is awesome. So awesome. It speaks to the transition I find myself in currently. Your words are true & legit. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Cynthia says:

    Thank you!! very refreshing.

  19. LionelB says:

    I suspect that very few wedding albums get more than a parting glance before they are put into storage. Even then. probably only to check that the expected standardised shots are there, before paying the invoice. The wedding industry instructs that there must be an album so clients conform. There is no actual point to it, beyond doing as everybody else does. It is only beyond that mass market that there is any hope.

    • Smogranch says:

      Lionel,
      It varies. One thing I have noticed is the books that are crazy expensive don’t get seen much. The classic “I paid so much for this I am locking it away” syndrome.

  20. The fact that Joe and Denis posted here shows how far reaching your post goes and how much everyone agrees with you. And you know, you are 100% right. The wedding industry is a complete gong show (and I shoot weddings as you know).

    Thanks man. Love this.

    • Smogranch says:

      Andreas,
      Those guys are just trying to ride my fame. KIDDING. It was nice hearing from both of them, two guys who paved the road that all of us have attempted to walk down.

  21. mike says:

    Great post Daniel. I couldn’t agree with you more. I had a conversation with a young photographer the other night who has a great eye. I told her no matter what, shoot the way you want. Don’t let people try to change your vision. She agreed and promised she would never fall into that trap like I did. Sometimes we live in a monkey see monkey do society. I know you are done with weddings but I really love the way you shoot them.

    • Smogranch says:

      Thanks Mike, appreciate that. It’s a balance of sticking to your guns and being somewhat flexible in regard to someone’s needs. A fine line.

  22. Rusty Tripiod says:

    Wonderful post and happy to see someone shares my concerns. Thanks. You give me hope for the rare opportunities to capture a wedding from my personal visual perspective while bringing in a few bucks. Not many people knocking at my door yet, however.

  23. Sarah Weeger says:

    My husband is a photographer, still shooting some weddings but transitioning into making HIS images… They happen to be in the form of street photography most of the time. Awesome to see him making the jump and raising his own bar, like you talk about.

    Anyways, I’m a web designer myself and I have to thank you for this. Really, THANK YOU for this. This week I started redesigning my own portfolio, just gathering all the different pieces of work I’ve done over the last couple years to get them all ready for my updated website. Before reading this (for the third time actually… Just now it really hit me personally, and not just how I see my husband’s work) I had about 20 projects on my list of designs to post. Now, I want to kick myself in the ass for for it; for talking myself into thinking these pieces were acceptable when I’ve known all along I hate them! That they’re not me, but just the results of keeping the clients happy.

    It’s time to really start fresh, to really start working at my own standards… To start with nothing in my portfolio if that’s what it means. And I can’t wait for it. Thanks for the kick in the ass! The design world needs it, too.

    • Smogranch says:

      Sarah,
      The truth is we all have very limited time to do what we do, and I mean our lifetimes. What is it we will leave behind? Content? The middle ground? Or what we know we have inside that is screaming to get out? I could boil my life down to a dozen images. The rest, well, it’s just not good enough, pure enough or meant to be. Good to hear you are forging ahead!

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