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 .

Periphery

I’ve shot a fair number of weddings over the years. By industry standards, not many at all, but in normal human terms I’ve seen my share.

The wedding photography industry, at least to me, is a strange beast. It’s hugely successful, which is nice to see in a rapidly shrinking professional photography world. I just never fit in. But, this isn’t really a surprise to anyone. I remember my parents telling me that THEY never fit in in life, so I’m not sure why I would have expected anything different. I did weddings for a variety of reasons. I always had the client in mind, but I also had my own feelings front and center while I was navigating my way through these shoots.

I would end up in little places, during little moments and I would know I was where I needed to be. I tried to make photographs that summed up these little “encounters” but the client was not always what I was thinking about. I would let my mind flow to whatever region it needed to flow. Sometimes the influence was music, other times literature. I would see daylight visions of different times, eras and regions. Imagine daydreaming, or creatively daydreaming, in the middle of the shoot. Maybe that is the best way to describe it.

In some cases these images became critical later on. In other cases they were never seen or used, but regardless, they were very important to me.

This little grouping is one such case. I think the elements caused my little adventure. The wind, the cold, the water. It was grand, and allowed just a little “pop” in my brain. I was freed, for just a few moments. Click, or “clunk” I should say, as I was using the Hasselblad. A respite. A moment, just for me, but perhaps for someone else. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Wedding Book….

THIS POST IS A BIT DIFFERENT.

I promised myself I would never do another wedding related post. I’m breaking that promise. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I like weddings. I like photography. I THINK I’m writing this post because of what has happened AFTER this event. I’ve been called to do other shoots, three actually, and I said “no” to all of them. I’m done. I’m out. I won’t be shooting another wedding. What you are looking at here represents my final shoot. But, don’t feel bad, I’m just choosing to explore new ventures.

I had a long post written, and I’ll admit it was a bit preachy. I decided that the positive of this world far outweighs the negative so I’m breaking this down into essential information. Things like that cover image was handheld on a folding camera. I shot that image the day before the wedding as I scouted the location. I could FEEL and SEE this image coming and the idea of it consumed my entire being. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. I practiced my steady breathing, holding the camera to my eye, holding it, minute after minute until my non shooting eye was blurring and pained. The sky snapped and crackled and then broke loose. I nailed it, or maybe it was blind luck.
The basics……………..
This shoot started with a great planner and a great client. Due to my past relationship with the planner I was encourage and given complete and total freedom to work how I pleased. I was given complete and total freedom by the client. I shot 100% film. I never touched a digital camera. I did the edit and design of this book.

This book is a Blurb 6×9, printed on color paper and is about 238 pages. It looks beautiful. It’s small, informal but yet tells the entire story. This book was in my mind the entire time I was at this event. Each press of the shutter representing a potential page, a potential critical piece of the puzzle.

What never enters my mind during a shoot like this is anything to do with the wedding world, industry, etc. I unlearn everything I’ve known about what I’m “supposed to do.” Otherwise, what comes out on these pages isn’t me. It’s someone else with my branding. I can’t allow that to happen. And besides, that would be boring. If you can’t open this book, know that it was me, then I failed the client and myself.

I should have been able to sell this post with one, two, maybe three images, but I thought I would bonk you on the head more than normal. This bonking is a way for me to stress to you the importance of doing what it is you do. However strange, however simple, as long as what you are doing behind that camera is how you truly feel. For me, I feel like Leica + Hasselblad + TRI-X + real moments. My subconscious mind is littered with the baggage of the wedding industry, but my front line mind pushes all this nonsense aside. And then I’m free.

I tile images. I don’t bring a strobe. I shoot one slow photograph at a time. I make each moment count. I put critical elements in the gutter. I put a lightning shot on the cover. I invent a title for the book. And I think….long and hard about how the event will unfold. I can’t sleep the night before. I rehearse how I will perform. I visualize. I know that when the bride and groom comes through this house at 4:13 PM they will be backlit going into a dark inside so I will drop the M6 and 50mm and will pick up the M6 and 35mm and my exposure will be 125th at 2.8 and I will have ONE chance at the photo.

I know that my longest lens is a 50mm so I will need to be close, very close but you see I can make myself invisible. I can be right in the middle and no one will know. I will be quiet yet the conversation in my mind will be deafening. I make plans for the light. Plan A. Plan B. Plan C and I secretly pray for rain. Rain makes good photographs. It rained at my wedding. Some people think it means good luck. For me it meant getting wet.

There are other photographers working here, which is a load off my mind. We all meet prior and discuss the plans for the photographic invasion. I guess I’m a squad leader but when the snapping starts we are all basically on our own. I like this part of the process and I like watching other photographers work. I wonder if they too are talking to themselves.

The camera goes “clunk,” “clunk,” “clunk” one slow, laborious photo at at time. I can see people watching me as I load and reload and reload the Hasselblad. I think maybe they think I’m crazy until someone comes over and says, “I am so happy to see you shooting film.” “I love film.” Me too.

There are certain things I do not take for granted. This is a HUGE day. This day means so much to so many and I have a responsibility. I owe a lot to many but the critical factor is making THESE images. It might not seem like it on the surface but after the smoke has cleared and the glasses have been cleaned and reboxed there are only a few things that will remain. Love. Family. Life. Photographs.

I break the day into mental boxes. I see four phases I will need to live. I will be four different people. I will be the location. I will be the preparation. I will live the ceremony and then I will end the night as the celebration. Little boxes, tiny boxes checked off my list. Being in the now is what I concentrate on. Then my load gets a little lighter and I move on. It works for me. It may or may not work for you.

I always put the film in the same pocket of the same bag. As the light changes color and gets lower I take my first look at how swollen the pocket is. It feels great. And the best part is not knowing. Not being entirely sure. I can’t, after all, see any of it. “I’m sure you got so many great images,” people say as they stare at the pile of film. “You never know,” I answer. “My fingers are crossed and tonight I will light a candle.”

I’m married, so the actual process of what is happening is not lost on me. I see things that other people miss. That is my job. I see the light. And I know there will be little to no memory of a lot of this stuff, at least without me being here. I remember almost nothing of my wedding. I do remember the rain. I do remember I looked and felt like Herman Munster in my stiff suit. I could see the relevance in the faces around me. The ceremony wasn’t just for my wife and I, it was for everyone. I feel the same way about this wedding, all the weddings. They are greater than the sum of the parts. They mean more. They last forever.

My breath comes in short gasps. My clothes are soaked with sweat. I drink Coke. I never drink Coke but I do now, by the gallon. My hands are twitchy. I can feel the caffeine and sugar fueling the rest of my night. All around me is fun. Lots and lots of people having fun.

I get home and a few days later I get the email saying the work is online. I download. I edit, sort, print. And then comes this book. I know the sequence in my head. I work quickly. I’ve done many books. I like simple, clean and graphic. I mix the somewhat expected with the completely foreign. The book is my final reminder of why they hired me. It should make people think. Like putting lightning and storm on the cover.

The book is fat. The book is small. The paper is white, uncoated and reproduces the imagery really well. I know this book is going to look good long before I see it. Then the doorbells rings and I hear the Fedx truck racing off into the distance. “Hmm, I wonder what that could be,” I ask myself as I tear a hamstring RACING to the front door. It never gets old. Now it’s official. There is a book.
So, if you ever wondered what does through my head during something like this..now you know. I can’t stress enough how important great planner/great client really is. Without those two elements..these images, this book do not happen. I would love to tell you who the planner is but I know if I put their name on this post……the crazies(photographers) might try to contact this person. Would they ever forgive me? If you haven’t seen or made one of these trade sized books you should give them a try.

That Moment

I remember my moment. About to get married. Suddenly, I can’t remember anything. It just went right by. And then I was married. I look back on the images and have to relive what happened by running my hands over the paper and trying to put two and two together.

This image is a friend of mine, who I think is having his moment. Getting ready. Blinding light. A hour before the ceremony. A new life outside that window. He just has to get ready for it.

Did you have a wedding “moment?”

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.