Weddings can provide one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences for photographers, but not everyone is cut out for the job. I found this out for myself the hard way. One night, after packing up all my gear in anticipation of the next day’s wedding shoot, I lay in bed, unable to sleep. I was dreading having to go to another wedding.
I shot weddings for nearly five years before I finally admitted to myself that it wasn’t for me.
Fortunately, for the sake of this article, there are a great many people out there who are not me. PICR reached out to several established wedding photographers to find out what personal qualities they possess that are invaluable to their work. If you’re considering a career as a wedding photographer, take heed: the qualities described here will bring you closer to success than your skill with a camera.
Empathy is an important aspect of our interpersonal lives, but we often forget how powerful a force it is in business. Empathy is a requirement if you are to be able to understand and appreciate your customers and their needs, in any industry. In wedding photography, it is perhaps even more critical, however.
As Amanda of Amanda Marie Studio in Minnesota writes:
“I think that empathy can make a person extremely successful. Being able to recognize clients’ feelings is crucial. For instance, a client may have specific insecurities that a photographer can either help with or know to avoid when shooting. It’s also important that we are able to read our clients, as they are not always 100% honest with us. We must be able to feel and sense if something is or isn’t going right.”
Amanda’s point about being able to sense if something is going wrong is absolutely key. Weddings are stressful, with a great amount of pressure on the bride and groom and their families. Being sensitive to that will help you navigate the emotional twists and turns of the day, and help ensure that you get the best possible photographs.
When you’re surrounded by members of the bride’s family each telling you do a different thing, when groomsmen who started drinking at 9:00 a.m. won’t hold their poses for you, or when guests stand up in front of you to take a picture with their phone, the stress of a wedding can all too easily spread to you as the photographer.
This truth is something I encountered in my own experience all too often. Practicing grace under pressure is imperative to staying focused on your job, but also to prevent creating your own atmosphere of anxiety that can spread back to your clients.
Remember, you are a professional photographer, but your clients are not professional brides and grooms — they are supposed to be emotional, maybe a bit crazy, even — but you are entrusted to keep a level head. You cannot let anxiety get the best of you.
If you have a good relationship with your clients (which you have, right?) then a subtle reminder to not sweat the little things and focus on the big picture (no pun intended) can be very helpful. Mercedes and Jesse of Mercedes Morgan Photography in Austin, TX, share their experience:
“One thing we’ve found to be very helpful in our work is that it’s good to be the element of calm on a wedding day. There’s always anxiety. Even when everything is going according to plan, someone may still be nervous or anxious. A soft word or reminder of, ‘no matter what, at the end of the day, it will be all right because you’ll be married,’ can go a long way to keeping spirits up.”
Next to your work, how you present yourself is the most important thing when it comes to attracting clients. But don’t build up a facade that isn’t a true representation of who you are, even if you think it will make you more attractive.
As Annabelle of Sunway Studio in Rhode Island says:
“If you present things a certain way when you talk about yourself or your company, you should really be a representation of what you are advertising. When you meet your clients for the first time or when you start working with them, they should be able to feel from you what made them come your way in the first place.”
Don’t worry about dressing yourself in order to find more clients; there are many different types of people out there and they all get married. Be genuine about who you are and you’ll attract the right people. Put up a front, and ultimately you’ll only find clients who are not a good match for you.
“If you like to keep things regimented and appreciate tight schedules, say so. If you like to go with the flow and can adapt to their ways easily, say so. Be honest with your clients and be honest with yourself. In this way, you will always find a good match for your personality!”
Being honest with yourself also means knowing when to say no. Especially when you’re first starting out, it can be tempting to accept every job that comes your way. However, taking jobs that aren’t right for you won’t help you in the long run. You’ll feel pressured to take on similar jobs in the future, since your portfolio will now reflect that type of client. Better to take a single job within your niche than ten outside of it, as that will make you more attractive within that niche which will eventually lead to finding more of the right clients.
Even if you possess all of the above qualities, a lack of desire to perform the job will ultimately result in failure. In any photographic specialty, a passion for photography is only half the battle. You also have to love the subject. For wedding photography, that means you need to actually enjoy weddings: you’ll be attending a lot of them. And let’s be honest: there are plenty of people out there who merely tolerate weddings. If you’re one of them, move along.
If you truly love what you do, you will find success in it no matter the obstacles. It takes a long time to figure out how to run a photography business. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll feel burnt out, but if you care enough about your work, you’ll always pick yourself up and carry on.
Passion is seemingly easy to talk about. On the surface, it’s a simple concept, but passion isn’t just a word you can use on the “about me” section of your website. You either feel it, or you don’t, and you’re the only one who knows whether you do.
It was passion that I lacked, and ultimately what ended my halfhearted attempt at being a wedding photographer. I still learned much from my experience, but if I had taken an honest look at myself, I might have found something that made me much happier for those five years.
If you have it, though, then the other qualities of a successful wedding photographer will fall into place. It won’t mean it will be an easy path to walk, but you’ll have the energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Stick with it, and you’ll be well on your way to an immensely rewarding profession.
*Featured image provided by Annabelle Henderson at Sunway Studio