The world has been a strange place to me lately, and for the first time ever, I have had a bride who told me that she was not satisfied with my work after her wedding. Now I always believe in starting with yourself whenever criticism on your work arises, to see whether there is room for improvement. After several nights of deliberating (and several glasses of whiskey!), I came to the conclusion that no, in fact, it wasn’t me, it was them! I did, however come to several other conclusions along the way….
In my contract, I stipulate that I want to have a meeting with the clients prior to event. At the very least, a conference call. The reason for this is that often I dealt with only one person of the bridal couple, and it gives all of us a chance to break the ice and meet everyone.I also request an exact and very detailed day plan, along with group photography lists. At the meeting, we can go through the planning for the day, and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. This is also when I can establish exactly which images will be important to the couple, so that I can try to capture that. If the bride’s mother made the wedding cake, obviously it is really essential to capture that.
This particular couple was the only couple ever who I had to beg and nag to get such a meeting scheduled. Finally I managed to get said meeting four days prior to the event, only to have them cancel an hour before the time. The plan and group lists were rudimentary to say the very least. Despite initial appearances, I am not writing this blog to vent my frustrations, but to try and communicate what I learned. The truth is that if you as a bridal couple do not allow the photographer to plan and make sure all the bases are covered, it is often very difficult to capture every detail, as you are not prepared for it. Also, if you do not tell the photographer which type of images you want, they won’t know and will use their own discretion to decide which images to take. This particular bride was upset that I did not have an “un-artistic” image of the entire reception hall, and that I did not take a group photo of every table. When I pointed out to her that my skill set may be extensive, but it does not include telepathy and I wouldn’t have known to take these images because she never communicated her desire for them to me, she responded by saying it is “standard wedding pictures ANY photographer takes”. The truth is that there is no checklist. We do not have some professional council who requires one to complete a series of shots to be considered a wedding photographer. When I am at a wedding, I will take pictures of what speaks to me and catches my eye. Every small detail of the hall was captured, but the entire reception hall did not make a good image in my opinion. Had I known she’s have wanted it, I’d have tried to get the shot somehow.
Secondly, the couple felt that my images were “too artistic”. I told them that I have a certain style, and I’ve never tried to misrepresent how my wedding images look. They’re on my website for anyone to see. Turns out the couple never reviewed my portfolio. I honestly have no remedy for that. If you spend hours deciding the colour of the napkins, surely you can take the effort to open a web page to see whether you like a photographer’s style. Personally, I find traditional, posed wedding images to be awful, and when I got married, I looked for a photographer who would capture and document my day, but do it in an interesting and visually pleasing way. My personal wedding photography style is to try and get an artistic capture of the essence of your day, but if you prefer standard wedding images, don’t hire me. You are not wrong for liking what I consider boring images, you are wrong for hiring me to take them.
Some of my images of the reception hall of this particular wedding
To summarize to brides and grooms what I’ve tried to bring across:
– Research the photographer you plan to hire. Make sure you really like their portfolio and how they approach wedding photography before booking them.
-If a photographer requests a meeting, take the meeting. They have their own friends, they don’t need to take you out for coffee because they need company. They are doing it so that they can excel at what you hired them to do.
– There are no standard wedding photography shots. What you consider essential, may be trivial to the next person. Clearly communicate your needs.
For my photographer friends, this is what I’m taking away from this experience:
-Make sure you mastered the craft of photography. A day may come when you need to critically evaluate your images and see whether or not someone is justified in criticizing your skill. If your technique cannot be faulted, that saves you a lot of hassles.
-Insist on a meeting with the clients. Subsequently I have changed my contracts that I will refuse to do a wedding if I do not have this meeting.
– Make friends with the staff at the reception venue. Barmen have provided me with seats when I’m ready to fall over and no one thought to arrange for a place where I could SIT. Waiters have taken pity on me when the bridal couple didn’t feel the need to feed me and sneaked me food and a drink. They are also trying to get through the working day as easily as they can, and a friendly face may just be what they (or you!) need.
– MOST IMPORTANTLY: You cannot be everything to everyone. Personally, I see it as a compliment if someone can identify an image as mine without my name on it. As an artist, I like my images to have a unique style and I focus on developing my authentic photographic finger print. Van Gogh and Rembrandt had vastly different approaches and styles, yet they were both masters of painting. The same is true for photography. Do not try and copy a style or emulate another photographer, develop and nurture YOUR own style. I may not be the next Annie Leibovitz, but I sure as hell am the first Salome Hoogendijk!