Over the past several years, wedding photography has become a fashionable, well-sought after way to make a living thanks to the ease of digital cameras, computers and software.
At the same time, wedding photographers more and more market themselves as "experts" to other wedding photographers with workshops, lectures, gadgets, software and photographic plug-in "actions." Photographers don't just compete against one another, photographers now market to other photographers in orer to gain popularity, notoriety, money, create hype and status throughout the world.
After 12 years of documentary and photojournalism experience, and now entering my 10th year in the wedding industry, I have never seen such change like the past few years.
In November, Junebug Weddings posted a call for submissions for their Best of Best 2010 wedding images. The post read, "We will bring the most breathtakingly beautiful, emotionally touching, technically masterful, downright hilarious, outrageously innovative, and ridiculously AWESOME wedding photos of the year to fabulous couples and photo fanatics everywhere. We'll be choosing 50 of the most outstanding images from 2010 and we're calling out to photographers all over world to participate; that means you!"
I will start off by saying, I was not the gentleman who wrote Junebug Weddings regarding their call for submission for the Best of 2010. I have been asked this questions several times. If you recall, I went public with my concerns on Twitter within 30 minutes of the contest results, and engaged in a public, open dialogue with Christy Weber regarding my thoughts. I had no reason or desire to create a temporary email address or write an anonymous threat letter to bully the ladies who run the blog. I was more than happy and proud to have my name behind my concerns. And my intent was merely to bring light to an issue plaguing the industry.
No, I did not win an image. Am I mad? Nah. In this field, if you can't take daily rejection, you need to move on. I would still write this post even if I had won an image.
It never occurred to me that I could enter images taken at workshops, nor images from "collaborative editorial shoots" with other vendors, or even "test shoots" with hired friends who are stepping in as models wearing a white dress. The line, "and ridiculously AWESOME wedding photos of the year ... " to me meant wedding photos. You know, those events we are handed over incredible sums of money to create high-art for the client who invested. Yea, those events which are typically held on weekends.
Personally, I know of three people who won images whose photos were not from weddings. Two were from workshops, and one was a friend/model which was shot on a weekday. Not only does Junebug need to define their call for submissions guidelines better, but the ladies need to be much clearer about what constitutes a "wedding," As of right now, their definition of wedding goes beyond the actual wedding day and does not necessarily mean it was even a wedding to begin with. As long as there is a lady in a white dress, the image is eligible for entry. I can appreciate a post wedding shoot with the hired client, and feel that still is "legal." But to police a workshop image or friend-for-hire image is going to be tough. Really tough. In order for a contest to be legit and more important, respected, I beg Junebug to face this issue with intent and seriousness. And I appluad the ladies for already taking this issue to their own blog and devoting a post to the topic: What Constitutes the Art of Wedding Photography? Real Weddings vs. Styled Shoots vs. Commercial Shoots.
This issue has been a complaint of mine for years. And now is my time to finally share my concerns regarding a major issue that is running ramped in our industry. Because of the rise of wedding blogs, and their hunger for daily content, we now have to define what is a "real wedding" or an "editorial shoot" so the viewer can decipher the difference while satiating their appetite for inspiration. It is just like high school when we had to engage in discussions about what is the meaning of "truth" or "love" after reading such stories like Catcher in the Rye.
It is important to note that wedding bloggers are nothing more than online magazines. Thus, their concerns and goals are similar to a tangible magazine: sales, click rate, hits and advertising revenue. As we all know, photographic images are key to sales. Studies show that the most read stories of any newspaper are ones with images. Photography is the most important to any companies brand and livelihood.
Over the past 7 years, workshops have exploded among the "names" in the industry holding 1, 2, 3-day and even week-long retreats offering newbies a chance to define their craft while shooting fake weddings with Ford models at workshops around the globe. I have watched many photographers put these images on their blogs and personal web pages as if they shot these images at a wedding event on a Saturday. Why is this problematic? First off , it is lying and misleading your potential client. False advertising. And it is misrepresenting your ability to make pictures under deadlines and real time. A bride is going to expect this level of imagery from her wedding.
When you have 1 day or 7 days to work with incredibly hot, gorgeous women whose makeup has been overly done for the shoot, the "bride" is a size 1, and the "groom" is also a professional model and both know exactly how to act, pose, stand, and be confident in front of a camera, you have an experience in front of you that is not equal to the reality of a wedding day. A potential bride sees these images, and does not know how to decipher if they were a real couple from a real wedding or not. When you have several days and all the time in the world to take pictures of models at workshops, you are doing yourself (the photographer) a disservice to your craft.
Think about it. My clients are not models. They have no idea how to pose. They are rarely size 1, they are insecure about being in front of the camera, it is typically hot out in the summer, the groom is sweating due to his tux in July heat, we only have 1 hour to hit 2-3 locations because they don't want to miss the cocktail hour, the wedding party is not cooperating, I AM HOT, I am STRESSED beyond belief and can barely work myself out of this puzzle. If I don't get kick-ass images for my clients, then their investment of thousands of dollars, expecting compelling imagery, has gone to waste. I will be in trouble. You better be able to deliver. You do not have days. You have 15 minutes to a few hours. There are no excuses on a wedding day.
Thrilled to be a former photojournalist, this part of the wedding is nothing more than an old routine for me. The rules of journalism are so strict that I could not even move a glass of water 4 inches to get a better shot. And I am honored to say, never in my journalism career did I tamper with reality. I was forced to make compelling pictures by a process of elimination and solving pieces of the puzzle, while on strict deadlines, in order to bring back compelling pictures to my editor so I would not get fired.
So my question is, what are these blogs really offering brides and grooms? Inspiration? OK, that is valid. But inspiration and non-reality seems to have won over reality. Thus, now when a blog posts a wedding that is "real," the industry has coined the term, "Real Wedding." But even then, most of the images the editors choose are the same types of imagery we see over and over: mostly the couple in empty fields, shot with tilt shift lenses, and rarely showing their event beyond a few "lovely" portraits and TONS of detail shots. There is a lack of documentary photography displaying their day which is the core of what a wedding is REALLY about. Where are the ceremony pictures, toasts, dancing, preparation, socializing at the cocktail hour? All I see are pictures of couples with balloons, old luggage, staring blankly like American Gothic, against brightly colored door frames in gritty neighborhoods.
Taking compelling documentary-styled pictures while things are unraveling in real time is not easy and not for everyone. And not everyone has the gift to be an artist. Sure, if you keep doing it, you will get better. Luckily, photography is technical, so anyone can master it to some degree. But not everyone is given the true gift of the craft. Just because you LOVE photography, does not mean you can be a photographer. Thus, the digital transition has allowed people to think they can make a living doing their hobby. And why not weddings! The client is pretty uneducated, and if they hire you, you get a few thousand bucks. #Score.
I am thrilled that the wedding photojournalism trend is dying down, and more fashion trends are rising. And as a lot of people move towards this new trend, I plan on sticking to my roots and how I shoot best. I have often been rewarded when not going with the flow and agitating my expertise. I urge new people to shoot more. Shoot often. Shoot your friends at parties, your family on vacation. Get used to movement and the obstacles they present. Build an insurance bank so when the reality hits on a wedding day (can't get far enough away from the subject, it is backlit, there is no light, people are in your way) you have experience and resources to draw upon. Force yourself to figure out how to make compelling pictures without setting anything up.
After 24 years, I have an insurance bank so large, I draw on this at each and every wedding. Practice practice practice. What's better than a workshop? Shoot along side a friend at a wedding. The best part? It is free and won't cost you $2000. And you will be dealing with the exact obstacles and realties you will face on your own. Arm yourself with real experience, not a 3-day workshop with models. It is easy to make pictures of a model posing like a sexy vixen hanging off the side of an airplane. Learn to pose, fight the elements of hot or cold couples, unable-to-pose couples, natural "beauty" and major time constraints.
I promise, you will grow in ways you never expected. And the work you deliver to a client will yield something similar to your web site. A web site is not only a personal vault, but your free ad like in a newspaper or magazine. Treat it as so, and promote where you are in your talent. You won't be left behind, I promise. People will hire you. And when you make it to the big-time, you will feel great knowing you did it yourself. Honesty. Growth. Passion.
Photographer's marketing themselves to others in this this industry tends to take advantage of insecure, uneducated newbies who think that if they buy this next DVD, attend this workshop or purchase certain books that they will gain the fast track to success. I have witnessed one photographer who shared with me how he got caught up in all the photography workshops, DVDs, books, conferences and after several years found himself broke with no money. Literally. His skills were no farther along than when he started. There are no shortcuts to creating great art and being a fabulous photographer. Re-tweeting the famous photographer's products for sale and their marketing schemes does nothing for YOUR craft, and only puts money in their pockets. That is the point. Most often, you have been taken for a ride. You will not rise to the top by befriending them.
I challenge you to dig deep inside yourself and find inspiration from within. It will make you stronger in the long run. Your goal should be to nurture your business and your art. Practice. Practice hard. And practice often. If you listen to your heart, ignore the trendy styles promoted by bloggers and shoot from your soul, you might just find incredible success is waiting for you. Being a follower will make you mediocre. Being a leader of yourself will make you unbeatable.
This is my 2 cents.