There is no such thing as the “One Size Fits All” photographer

There’s something in the water folks! It seems the last-minute scramble for soon-to-be-wed couples to secure a photographer for September is in full swing. Over the past month, I have been excitedly approached by several people, some who are couples that are getting married, and others who know engaged couples that are looking for a photographer to capture their special day. It never fails that they quickly have a rather perplexed look on their face when I respectfully decline and offer to point them to some fantastic photographers that I know who would be able to help them. You may have a similar look on your face now as well. After all, with how sour the current economy is across the board, who in their right mind would turn down good paying work? I will… and I will give you some insight about why!

One of the most interesting revelations I have experienced since making the transition from hobbyist to semi-pro is a surprising majority of people who I meet, automatically (and probably reflexively) make the assumption when they hear I am a photographer, I by default shoot weddings. Well intentioned acquaintances have excitedly called me saying something to the effect of, “Hey Dan! I found you some work! I know someone who is desperately looking for a good wedding photographer! Give them a call!” At live  events I typically get at least one happy couple ask if I shoot weddings. There’s obviously some really good marketing push going on by my Wedding Photographer brothers and sisters (yes I do see us as all one big happy family), because it seems the general public automatically is associating the Photography profession with the specialized field of Wedding Photography. While that’s a great thing for wedding photographers, it poses an interesting challenge for those of us who choose a different specialty.

Event Shoot. Photo by Liss Flint of Flint Prints Photography.
Shooting the Fife & Drum Muster

For the record, I am truly grateful for anyone expressing interest in hiring me! I see that as a big compliment to my style of photography; that they like my portfolio enough to approach me for a project. One of the toughest things I have to do is turn down work like this, especially when the economy is tight. What is the most delicate way to express to someone who you are not accepting the honor of capturing their most amazing day of their lives?

One of the more recent responses to my deliberately tactful declines went something like this, “Why the heck don’t you do weddings? You have a great camera… it’s easy money for you!” Ah! But therein lies the key. A great camera does not make a great photographer and therefore great wedding photos! Again, great marketing (this time by camera manufacturers) leads the general public astray. There is so much more behind being a great wedding photographer (or any kind of photographer for that matter). My approach is to show them a view into the life of a photographer… from both perspectives.

Diane Parsons, an amazing wedding photographer and owner of Coventry, CT based Parsons Photography, explains this nicely:

“I became a wedding photographer because it seemed like a natural transition – I have worked weddings for over 20 years in different capacities (catering and wedding planning) and have been taking photos pretty much all my life.  I am obsessed with weddings – I love everything about them…and it’s not the flowers, colors, dresses, etc.  It’s the psychology behind it all.  When you look at one of my photos and ask ‘how did you know they were going to do that?’ it’s because I would anticipate the shot…I knew something was coming.  I know a wedding time line from drafting up so many and orchestrating them.  I know what happens next and I know where to place myself.  I also become a member of our clients’ families – I know the way they think (so much so that I end up leading them where they want to do…they just don’t know it at the time!).”

Diane alludes to a very important characteristic of photographers… we are passionate about the subjects we capture! Similar to how some people enjoy Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and others Vanilla (I am a Black Raspberry fan myself), some photographers love wedding photography and others landscape, still life or portrait photography. It is a personal, creative choice that we all make. It is that passion in combination with intuition that helps us create the works of art that we publish. In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as the “One Size Fits All” photographer.

If you take some time to browse my portfolio, my passions are clear. I love nature! It is where my soul soars and I feel most relaxed! I also enjoy architecture, mechanics, craftsmanship and texture. These are the things that have inspired me throughout my life and what I like to reflect in my art. Put me in one of these environments and I am happy as a clam! Stick me in a situation I am not used to working in and I won’t be able to give you my best work.

Southford Park. Photo by Jennifer Huff
Scouting a shoot location

While I will do the occasional casual outdoor portrait session and enjoy candid shots in public places, I stay clear of weddings (or any formal event for that matter). That decision is something that I promised myself I would follow from day one. You see, my accepting a wedding gig would do a disservice to many people. Why? Because weddings are something that, while I respect them, I honestly am not passionate about, especially to the level that Diane and her counterparts are. By accepting a wedding job, I would be hurting myself as a professional (being up front and honest are ethical priorities for me), wedding photographers who are more qualified than me for this line of assignment, but most of all, the couple getting married who deserve that special treatment and extra visual touch.  Now if we are instead talking about a high-end real estate/MLS listing shoot, or a photo hike along the Presidential Mountain Range, I would not hesitate to accept the assignment!

It turns out that Diane periodically hears the following statement, “My friend is a fantastic nature photographer. We’re going to ask him to photograph our wedding.”

Her response?

“NO!! DON’T DO IT!!! You are not a sunset, please do not ask someone who specializes in inanimate objects to photograph people.  Just as I have turned away some jobs that were out of my field, those photographers should not photograph your wedding.”

To expand on Diane’s sentiment, it is also not fair to your Nature Photographer friend to place that much pressure and responsibility on their shoulders just so you can cut some corners with the budget. Essentially you are putting your friend in unfamiliar territory and setting them and your photos up for mediocre results at best. For something as important and (hopefully) a one shot event as your wedding day, you want to hire a wedding photographer that is experienced, passionate and accommodating to your needs! Hire someone who will think ahead to the future and capture what you will want to look back on when your memory isn’t as clear, and who will do it with class and professionalism. Hiring the right wedding photographer relieves you of one more worry on the days when you should be solely focusing on your future spouse!

It doesn’t take much effort to find evidence on the internet of people who made the choice to hire a relatively cheap photographer and were left with horribly captured shots or even worse, never got key shots that they were expecting. Do yourself a huge favor and consider the following suggestions. Properly research the photographer you are hiring with what you have read here in mind. Take a good, honest look at their portfolio and make sure they have the photography experience and style you are looking for with your photos. Be wary of any photographer that will give you unrealistic discounts (eg. “Oh sure! I’ll do your whole wedding for $200”), and make sure to earmark extra budget so you can splurge on some post-wedding photo options that you may not have considered during the pre-wedding marathon.

Diane also suggests the following for those couples on the look-out for a wedding photographer:

“Look for PASSION – do they LOVE what they do?  Are they obsessed over weddings?  Would they photograph your wedding in the rain?  Snow?  Hot sun?  Anything to get the shot?  Do they dress up their kids as little brides and make them wear Stuart Weitzman sandals and parade them around a pier for a photo shoot?  OK, so that was specific to me…but you get the point!  😉  I love chatting with wedding guests who have questions about my cameras, flashes, posing, or why I did something.  Photography AND weddings are my passion and I can talk about it all week long!”

In the end, you’ll thank yourself for doing your due diligence. I think you’ll find like most things, you get what you pay for. While it may be tempting to cut corners budget-wise, your wedding photographer is not the area you should skimp on!

So as I have before, when asked if I shoot weddings, I shall happily respond, “Congratulations on your engagement! I am sorry, but I do not shoot weddings. However, I am happy to refer you to some fantastic photographers who specialize in Wedding Photography!” and wait for that baffled look to wash over their face.

*  *  *  *  *

Special thanks go out to Diane Parsons for her contributions to this post! And if you are curious, Diane is one of the top wedding photographers in CT who I refer couples.

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