A letter to a friend

January 13, 2011

I recently received an email from one of my photographer friends.

She was feeling very deflated after a weekend Wedding and asked me for some advice. I think we all give ourselves a hard time as photographers. I did write this long response on my own experiences so far. I thought it would worth sharing in case there are others out there feeling like this sometimes.  I’m very grateful for all the support and friendship I receive in photography community so it’s great to give back anything I can. I love meeting up and sharing experiences, and scones too of course :) Working as a freelance photographer, there is alot of time spent indoors editing and album-making after the Weddings are over. That means alot of time on your own, with your own meddling thoughts.  If you are a photographer, just starting out on the road, or even well on the road, email someone who inspires you, or ask them for help and support. Or just say hello! The quiet road of  blogstalking and wondering is no fun. The chances are that photographer is sitting talking to themselves, or maybe the dog, and would love to make human contact ;)

Anyway, here is the letter I wrote back to her…

Hi there!

I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling so down about the recent Wedding you shot. Please don’t let that effect your confidence. It’s true that Weddings are tough. They are the hardest thing to shoot, because you have to be a million people in one person. Organiser, people manager, portrait photographer, documentary photographer, group photographer, detail and scene photographer and cravat-fixer! All this, while trying to be creative in a really short space of time.  Sometimes, when we see other Wedding photos on blogs, everything looks so calm and serene. I’d look at the work of the ‘celeb’ Wedding photographer’s thinking, “Really, was that actually the Wedding Day?”, “Where did they get all the time?”, “Where are all the busy Aunts?”, “Doesn’t it ever rain?”!  In fairness, it was probably the usual chaos but they’ve worked around it.

I’m sure there are lots of photographers out there with vast amounts of experience, and hundreds of Weddings under their belt, who can offer you better advice than me. I can only go from what I know so far from my own experiences. I could be wrong. But I find, the more Weddings you shoot, your confidence grows, and the better you can read the situation. Like knowing where to stand to get the shot that you want for instance. The experience of shooting Weddings has helped me more than looking at the blogs of other photographers. That, and past mistakes! Time is always the issue. Even now, there are times when I might only get 10 minutes with the bride and groom alone because the limo was late. Or 20 minutes outside in freezing temperatures because the groomsmen are starting to go blue. Things don’t always run smoothly.  But somehow, it always works out. You might not get the photo you planned for, but the unplanned are usually better.

There were times, when I first started out that I would come home in tears. Feeling I’d messed up. I  should have shot the bride & groom from above, or got more shots of that particular feature. The bride gave me a list of shots she wanted and I missed one. Torturing myself on and on, and not letting in any sense of achievement at all. I still feel that I could be doing so much better.  And I still get nervous and sleep badly the night before a Wedding.

So why do we do it you might ask? When you do get those special shots it is soooo worth it. You have that air-punching, hair-tingling, heart-soaring, feeling inside that you’ve nailed this one.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of my digital files that get deleted very quickly. With shooting a Wedding there is a sense of achievement also, if you allow it. You’ve beat back on the little demons in your head telling you, “Your not cut out for this”, “So much could go wrong!”, “You don’t have enough humorous wisecracks to get people to laugh during group shots!”, “You don’t have a big enough sign on the door”. That sort of stuff.

The things that work against you are sometimes the things that work for you. Because there is so much going on at a Wedding, you’ve lots of great things to shoot. Weddings are joyous occasions, full of happiness and smiles. You usually see the best of people. And it doesn’t matter who is CEO in a top firm in the city, and who is serving at the local drive-thru, on the Wedding day, in front of your camera, all people hold the same value. Their lives are meaningful. The bride is radiant (who doesn’t look great on their Wedding Day!) and the groom is the most ‘loved-up’ man on the planet. So maybe you didn’t get a great shot of the wee kid with the horseshoe. You probably have other unplanned shots in your camera that were far better. Far more authentic. It’s hard to plan but that’s what’s great about it. When the bride’s father wells up at the sight of his daughter, or the look on the grooms face when he see’s his new bride for the first time, the genuine love and emotion on the day. It feels like you’ve produced something that will have meaning to those families many years from now.

Your feelings of deflation are normal. Don’t throw in the towel yet. You don’t have to be an over-the-top, I’m-the-boss, controlling photographer-type if its not in your nature. Your Wedding clients chose you because they liked your particular way of seeing things. Maybe its the calm and quiet of your images that attracted them. Or the humour. Or the gentleness. It could have been the emotion or real connections between people. We all have something to offer that is our thing. They’ve seen that something special in you. Value your own vision. We spend far too much time ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over other people’s photographs.  I’m guilty of this too and I blame the internet. The worst thing you can do is go out to shoot a Wedding with other people’s photos in your head.  They are very hard to replicate and it will only damage your confidence trying. Believe me, I’ve tried it. The original is the best. Anything else is a fruitless task. Of course your images can be inspired by others and your style might be similar, but trust your own vision on the day and you’ll be much more open to what’s actually happening.

Have another look at your photos. I bet they are great and your clients will be really pleased with all your hard work.

Sorry this letter was never meant to be this long. I must have had all this in my head and it needed to be said!

All the best for now and I look forward to hearing how the next Wedding goes.



And here is today’s picture of Molly, trying to look interested, but really thinking, “This is so boring. I know something fun. Lets chase leaves.”

Fiona McGuire 14:21 January 13, 2011
Inspiring and all so so true. I woke up the morning of a wedding at 6am from a dream that I had slept in and missed the wedding!!! You are right its all about experience, the more you do, the more at ease you are with it. I think i will be learning forever and that is one reasons I love this job so much!
Rob Dunbar 14:42 January 13, 2011
Thanks for sharing. Great advice to live by.
Jenny Meng 17:06 January 13, 2011
Brilliant letter, Paula, and I'm so glad I read it today. :) To the one feeling down: She's right, look again. Once the stress of the day fades and you get past the first big wave of self-doubt, things always looks better. You can actually see what you did right! and start to look at faults as areas to improve upon rather than a condemnation of your abilities. xo
Claire Hackett 18:51 January 14, 2011
I'm not a photographer, but a client of Paula's. I think the photographer is the only person who will know what wasn't done, or be not satisfied. When Mark & I got our photos we were delighted, and looking for 'missing' things has never occurred to us. There were so many fantastic images. One in particular Paula, that if it had been the only pic that came out would have been worth it & I bet it's not one you would choose- my dad and bro, not realising they'd been snapped, standing with their pints, mirror images of each other down to the angle of their feet and hand shoved in pocket.
susan 19:59 January 14, 2011
Just reading that gives me confidence Paula!! You should start motivational classes!!! x
Mari 21:10 January 14, 2011
Beautiful letter Paula! I've been asked to do a small, registry office wedding in July and was going to turn it down but reading this has given me some comfort...especially when you say "Value your own vision...the worst thing you can do is go out and photograph a wedding with someone elses photos in your head...they are very hard to replicate and only damage your confidence trying."
Emma Jane 12:58 January 15, 2011
Very motivational letter! It is very true, all photographers feel like this - i'm guessing we're all just perfectionists who want the best photos for our clients! I have worked for other photographers for years and decided to go out on my own in July, it is a scary time but this wee letter just reminds me that all photographers go through the same. Thanks for this xx p.s love your work :)
admin 19:30 January 15, 2011
Thank-you all so much for sharing comments. It's always difficult to write about stuff like this on the blog. I'm glad its helped in some way to know we all feel like this at some stage in our journey as photographers. And Claire - thank-you! Your point of view as a Wedding client is so important to us. To think that we are going home with such special photos in our cameras and don't even know it. So much encouragement. x
Bronagh 23:02 January 23, 2011
Thanks for taking the time to write this Paula, there is a lot of wisdom in your words.
Robin 09:32 February 2, 2011
Just a quick note to say wow and thank you! Super emotive and encouraging. I still sleep badly the night before a shoot, that's normal right? :)
admin 09:46 February 2, 2011
Robin absolutely. I hate it when I wake up in the middle of the night before a wedding. I know I'm probably not going to get back to sleep too easy with so many thoughts in my head. But it's a long day so maybe we need the nerves and adrenalin to be on top of things.

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