Why Clients Need Fact Not Fiction-Kevin Weinstein
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.
What they Said… [ 39 ]
Very well stated, Kevin. With so much being tossed at us – products, workshops, posing guide, attire charts etc etc etc it does blur the lines. Every photographer should just shoot for themselves and their clients and focus on their own business success.
Feb 02, 2011 / Rachael Michael
As someone who was completely BLOWN away when I entered your studio and saw all those real images on your wall, I cannot agree more with what you just wrote
Feb 02, 2011 / Shang
Kevin, so well said. I agree whole-heartedly with you! Although I don’t have quite the years of experience that you do, I resonate with a lot of what you are asserting. Bravo for putting this out there in a sales saturated industry where honesty or truth isn’t always a priority!
Feb 02, 2011 / Meagan Lindsay Shuptar
Your post made me chuckle out loud. But you’re right!
Feb 02, 2011 / Jasmine E.
I’m speechless – this is precisely how I feel and I’m a little jealous of your writing ability. Thank you for writing this, I’ll be sharing it often.
Feb 02, 2011 / Lucas
Well written and well conceived. I agree with you completely – thank you for writing this!
Feb 02, 2011 / Shelley Paulson
I cheered out loud and made my assistant listen to me read her parts of this post. We both agree with you 10,000%. I’ve never done a workshop to learn how to shoot like other people. I’ve done one for lighting that was a big help in a skill set gap that I had, and I’ve done several that are business related that helped me out on the business side of things. Some more than others. But I really don’t get why someone would want to do a workshop to learn to shoot like someone else. (I did attend a shooting workshop, but it was mainly for the trip to Mexico as a business expense.)
Thank you for writing this!
Feb 02, 2011 / Christine
Extremely well written and solid points.
Now we need to educate the brides how to hire the true professionals… not the trendy names, over actioned, I’ll fix it in post, 4000 frames a wedding cause 7 sprayed shots is better than the one perfect composed and captured image and I’ll give you a disc w/ 15hrs shoot for $800 “professional photographer”
Feb 02, 2011 / Jason
It is such an issue in our industry and you have ever so eloquently touched on it. I have a heart for education and often share with newer photographers, I have built an intern and associate program so people with heart and dedication can learn the skill and practice. What I get in return financially is small compared to the satisfaction of seeing their confidence grow and the images they take.
Workshops, lectures and teachers them selves are not wrong but are often structured incorrectly and do not focus on the true sharing of wisdom. It’s almost as if they are watering down the quality of our profession. If only the publications understood your points, the cool shots are not as complicated with no time constraints and that a truly beautiful real wedding had bumps, late family members, missing officiants, the wrong flower in the brides bouquet and hairs that fell out of place with some vigorous and fun dancing.
Feb 02, 2011 / Tracy Autem
One of the best photography blog posts I have ever read! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!
Feb 03, 2011 / Gwendolyn Tundermann
“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 what I have been having strong feelings about for several years, and this is why I encourage others and I personally stay away from getting inspired by the trends, and work from my own soul. The art is in me, not in the trends of others. One year I went to 5 workshops and learned a little, but was frustrated, because… well, I could see how they were manipulating and taking advantage of people, by dangling a bit of knowledge that felt good to hear, but when you took it all home, it didn’t really have a lot of meat. So basically a waste of money and time which I could have found out the same info by practicing myself.
Feb 03, 2011 / Kimberly Naranjo
Much like the “State of the Union”, this is truly the “State of the wedding photo industry”, put as honestly as it possibly could be. Now we need to find a positive way to convey this same message to many undereducated brides. How in the world is this tactfully done without sounding like a “whiner”? I’d love to be able to link to this post.
Feb 03, 2011 / Jim Nedresky
Kevin, what an impressive post so full of things that many of us want to say, but find ourselves trying to find the words to articulate.
I hope that this message of “getting back to reality” will spread through our industry.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.
Feb 03, 2011 / Katie Humphreys
Thank you, Kevin. Someone needed to say it
And don’t even get me started on the American Gothic imagery! LOL.
Many years later, couples want to remember exactly how they felt on their wedding day, not how and where I told them to stand. Authenticity wins in the end.
Feb 03, 2011 / Rachel LaCour Niesen
To read seventy other blog posts on this topic which Junebug raised a couple of weeks ago, check out our Photobug blog and readhttp://junebugweddings.com/blogs/photobug/archive/2011/01/17/what-constitutes-the-art-of-wedding-photography.aspx. The conversation was very respectful and many differing viewpoints on what constitutes a great wedding photographer were given. Some photographers believe that photojournalistic pictures taken at weddings are the only thing that should be consider as great images, some photographers feel that the work they put into pre-visualizing a photograph is an art-form all its own. The owners of Junebug all attended fine-art photography school and at the time our teachers did not consider wedding photography of any kind to be an art form. We celebrate the art of wedding photography and we believe that some incredible work is being done by wedding photographers off all kinds.
Feb 03, 2011 / Blair
Wedding Photography = Photography (Photographs) of a Wedding.
Anything else is a photo shoot that might have a wedding theme but in no way should ever be confused with Wedding Photography. Pre-conceptualizing a photograph on the day of the wedding is allowed because your still under the same constraints but, I’m sorry, a workshop does not count. Neither does models. I’m not even sure why this needs to be discussed, especially to people who attended a fine-art photography school.
Feb 03, 2011 / Chris Whitcomb
Awesome post, and I could not agree with you more. I have been completely disillusioned with the flood of “Get Rich Quick” photography workshops, DVD’s, and wanna-be Photographer “Rock Stars”. I started my formal education in photography in my Sophomore year of high school (way back in 1978) and shot my first two weddings in 1982 before deciding it was not worth the risk of ruining someone’s wedding photography through my lack of experience. In 2005, I switched from film to digital, was inspired to revisit wedding photography again and, in preparation for that, shot 51 weddings as second shooter within 13 months alongside about a dozen different lead photographers before I felt I had the experience (and the right) to call myself a wedding photographer. It saddens me when I see someone get their first Canon Rebel for Christmas and by Summer, they are putting up a web site, getting biz cards printed, and calling themselves a professional wedding photographer! Worse… I don’t see a way to stop the madness!
Feb 04, 2011 / Loren Scott
Thank you for illuminating this issue~ I have shared the same concern for some time now! Well written and much appreciated!
Feb 04, 2011 / Lacey Yantis
What a bold and well-written blog article. I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for this!
Feb 05, 2011 / Betsy
One of the reasons we chose you as our photographer is because of your blog. You have a very personal voice when you write here- which is so endearing! I appreciated the realness of your images- and that all sorts of weddings, all sorts of brides and grooms were being shown. We knew what to expect- but had no idea how the images would look!
That says a lot when the majority of sites I found were canned pictures- in perfect weather, with skinny models, with a ton of time on their hands to get pictures taken…
You and your craft are appreciated! I know you know that!
Feb 06, 2011 / Colleen
This is a fantastic read, Kevin; you continue to be an inspiration with your work and your words!
Feb 07, 2011 / Steve
Thanks so much for this post, I feel like authentic, real weddings are so much more compelling than the “American Gothic” style so popular in photo blogs and magazines. I’m a photojournalistic shooter myself, and can’t imagine shooting any other way for a wedding or a family – feeling is so much more important. =)
Permission to post a link to this and discuss a bit in my photoblog?
Feb 10, 2011 / Twyla
I’m so happy that you are saying this. It seems like I get so caught up in my local market and what my potential clients are looking at that I feel alone in the conviction. I couldn’t take it any longer, I actually am launching a completely new website to speak my own voice again. I find my couples seems to think that they find out what they want from looking at wedding blogs rather than looking at wedding blogs to find the vendors that can give them what they want.
Feb 10, 2011 / Tim Larsen
Absolutely. Thanks for your post.
Feb 10, 2011 / Kevin Weinstein
Thanks for your words. Incredibly well thought out, and challenging. I appreciate you providing some push-back and a little reality check to the current trend of the ‘styled shoot’.
I’ll be sharing this link for sure.
Feb 13, 2011 / Erica Rose
I’m not a photographer, so the differences in types of photography (true photojournalism, staged, etc) don’t mean as much to me as they do to some people, but I do agree that a wedding is a specific event. Staged photoshoots may be art, but they are not weddings and the difference is usually not obvious to people who are not involved in the wedding industry (one only needs to read the comments on any bride’s tumblr page to see the truth of that). Also, as a non-photogenic person (one of my eyes is almost always half-closed in photos, flash or no), photos with models mean nothing to me when I’m selecting someone to take photos. I judge photographers on their ability to take great photos of normal people like me and make them look good regardless of how unphotogenic they may be.
Feb 17, 2011 / Liene Stevens
Glad to be reading this, thank you.
Feb 17, 2011 / Maplin
I could not agree with you more. There are many photographers who get into this wedding industry all the time and follow these big shots who sell their “secret” to instant success. Frankly, many of these speakers offer no more than slight motivation and not much more. In order to succeed in this business, as well as anything else, everyone has to make the right choices, market themselves correctly, and earn their stripes by shooting anything and everything. Everyday is a new experience to learn.
P.S. – I submitted into that Junebug competition too. ^_^
Feb 22, 2011 / Douglas Chan-Wing
You nailed it. You summed up a growing and evil cloud of greed that lurks over the industry. I’ve seen *good* photographers go astray with the lure of easy money (by targeting photographers instead of brides).
That’s why I’ve never submitted to a contest. Ever. I’ve tried to be careful of proving myself to other photographers. That popularity contest is getting old. “Award-winning Photographer” doesn’t mean what it should.
I shot to my heart’s delight and now I’m 100x the photographer I was 5 years ago. That’s something I keep and I earned. Now I’m doing commercial work on the side, where the smoke and mirrors of the wedding industry don’t work. It’s where the old mantra, “oh, it’s a little back-focused….just make it black and white” will not get by. The work ethic and professional growth you described above is exactly what is saving my butt with clients that know better.
Our couples deserve that quality, even if they don’t know the difference.
Thank you for your brilliant insight and hindsight. You nailed it.
Feb 22, 2011 / Gavin Holt
I wish, wish, wish this was required reading for each and every wedding photographer who ever picked up a camera and wrote a blog. You nailed every single note and gave voice to so much of my frustration with the industry, from the “real weddings” to the American Gothic wedding day portrait.
I proudly consider myself a “wedding photojournalist” and have been very happy that so many of the couples who choose to work with me have commented on that attribute of my work. I will freely admit I am not the best portrait artist in town and I still have a lifetime ahead of me for evolving and perfecting my craft. But like you, I feel it is something that strongly differentiates my work from other “photojournalists” whose blogs are dominated by portrait after portrait.
Mar 02, 2011 / Chris Aram
This is the best post I have read in a long, long time. Thank you for sharing your outlook. I do agree that presenting model brides and grooms on a web site is misleading. I feel sick in my stomach when I head photographers complain about having to shoot a wedding with an ugly couple. I think that everyone is beautiful and deserves to be treated as such : )
Mar 10, 2011 / Life with Kaishon
I finally came across a real teacher giving some valuable advices. I am so tired of seeing copycats everywhere, at the end, we don’t even know who is copying whom, who started the old leather cases and the emotionless faces in front of a brick wall? They do not mean anything to the couple, they might be trendy, but won’t last the test of time. And those outrageous workshops, some charge $1200 for 2 half days, is it worth it? Do people improve their skills at all from these? Love what you wrote in the last paragraph, as an artist, it is a process of self-discovery in the journey, and an artist shoot photos with their hearts. Really appreciate your insights and bravery.
Mar 24, 2011 / June
Incredible. Great words of wisdom here and I’m all the more proud that someone said what’s on their mind and my mind.
Apr 07, 2011 / Marc
So true! It would be nice to get the word out.
May 11, 2011 / Valeri
I love your bold statements about the trends in the business. I just wanted to say that I’m one whose passion started with documentary photography and I pursued that dream through actual photojournalism (the kind you study and earn a degree for, the kind that pushes you to tell human stories by stepping into the lives of your subjects out of passion and a desire not to take their money but to tell their story) After a decade in news I happened to have a life change that moved my focus toward families and yes, weddings. I shot them the only way I knew how. This happened to coincide with the ‘photojournalistic’ approach to wedding photography that did indeed flood the market. While I resented some of the trendy approaches, the tilted angles and cliche scenes, I continued to shoot the only way I knew how. And as years have progressed I admit to being sorely lacking in the business end (I’m desperately working on that) but my approach hasn’t changed. In fact, I’m finding that the more filters and effects and video montage options I have within reach, the less I want to use them and the more I find myself yearning to shoot less and display exactly what I saw with very little interference in the original image. Think Henri Cartier-Bresson among many other pioneers who emphasized thoughtful, judicious shooting. I have soo much to learn and far to go still but when I start to doubt my lack of motivation for diving into the latest trend I am relieved to know that there is still a place for telling the story in the purest form. I do hate that the titled I worked hard to earn and once was proud to wear is now considered such a cop-out because the photojournalists I personally learned from were James Nactwey and Nick Ut and I see very little resemblance in the wedding photographers who now tout that name.
Jun 08, 2011 / Seanna
Thank you for your genuine honesty.
Jun 29, 2011 / Patty
I am so glad someone is speaking out against this sort of thing in our industry. There are so many people (and blogs, and entire wedding “organizations”) out there who I think are misleading clients, and it’s shameful. What really gets me is the new wave of preferred vendor badges from “invitation only” blogs… Blogs that invite everyone, and then charge an obscene amount of money to be a part of the club. Brides think the vendor deserved the accolade, when instead they just ponied up the cash. It’s embarrassing. Thanks for the guiding light.
Aug 08, 2011 / Nathan Welton
Goes without saying that your ideas are very well written. But I’ll say it again anyway: they are! Thanks for taking the time. As a photographer relatively new to the business (7 years), all I’ve really known comes from my influences here in the southeast and from a few popular publications. From information I’ve obtained by reading and observing this century’s earlier masters, true photojournalism is often claimed and rarely understood by both photographers and clients here in my region. I suspect it’s the case throughout the U.S. Our market is inundated these days with misrepresentations and facades. The topics you touched on above are just additions to an industry whose lines have become increasingly blurred.
I personally don’t agree with the means by which these blogs obtain content. But they are not just driving the “look” of the industry. They’re feeding the demand as well. They’re supplying imagery for impatient and short-sighted consumers who “demand” colorful, pristine, contrived photography.
You’re right to focus on your ideal client and meet the needs that they have – by being true to yourself and your profession!
Sep 04, 2011 / Jason