Dear couples: Your wedding is for you, not me

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More than once, I’ve met with couples to discuss their wedding, only to have them apologize to me because they aren’t having too many details, and they’re just DIYing the flowers and the invites weren’t expensive and…

Wait. Stop. Your wedding is still 8 months away, and already you’re convinced that it’s not going to be worthy, or live up to some imaginary standard therefore making it seem inferior, and so you think maybe you should just let me know now so that I don’t show up disappointed on your wedding day because you didn’t order custom leather belts from a one-man tannery in Brooklyn for your groomsmen?!

I’m sad, but also not surprised, that this has happened. Multiple times.

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I work in an industry where details are everything. People literally hire wedding stylists to be sure the wedding details are picture perfect, right down to the color, nay, exact hue of the dinner napkins. Not only does this put pressure on couples to spend more money and devote more time to caring about these things, but it’s become something of a status symbol for photographers as well. We groan when we hear the words ‘mason jar‘ and ‘blush‘, forgetting that for brides-to-be just scratching the surface of wedding planning, they’ll have no idea that those trends have been around for years and are in so. many. of our portfolio images. We brag that the we’ve shot a wedding that had a real life beehive and an apiarist who jarred up fresh honey wedding favors. Which, look, these things are pretty cool, and y’all know I love flowers (especially flower crowns!), but when I began stressing over weddings that didn’t have these things, I knew it was a problem.

We’re constantly craving something new so that we can submit the images to a big national wedding blog or even a print magazine. And in the world of wedding media, both natural light and details are king. We see our photog friends sharing their latest published work and wonder where our styled weddings are. If only we could shoot the right kind of wedding, our talent would shine and the world of possibility would open. So we collaborate with vendors on styled shoots, creating a dream wedding with the most perfectly drool-worthy details, and a gorgeous model couple. As a team, we can control everything about the styled shoot and have plenty of time to get the right shots. We submit and share the hell out of these images, adding them to our blog, portfolio, and sharing profusely on social media as if we’ve just captured the elusive giant squid wearing a dress from BHLDN (gorgeous dresses, but why no vowels?) and holding a bouquet of flowers that bloom only one day a year and were foraged that morning by a convent of blind nuns. The world oohs and aahs over our images, they get an enormous amount of likes, and we feel so good about ourselves. This is it, we think. The doors are finally opening for the stylish brides who are sure to come knocking.

Yeah, except they don’t. At least they didn’t for myself and a number of other photographers with whom I’ve had this conversation. We tried bringing the pretty. We tried planning styled shoots, and putting out model calls, and curating a perfect brand-appropriate Instagram feed. Crickets. These brides exist, but I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of brides currently planning their wedding are not them.

Instead, we’re working with couples who are DIYing their centerpieces. Couples who don’t always want an engagement session. Couples who would rather spend sunset in their reception celebrating with friends and family, than spend it outside taking photographs again.

As photographers, we grumble. We feel short-changed. The couple feels good about the amount of portraits they’ve taken, but we try to convince them that they need more. The others were formal, and we need more editorial-style portraits for our blog, after all! We think about how we need to make the most of the wedding, and hope that some of the images will be portfolio-worthy. Few details, no stylist, and no unique twist certainly means no publishing. Wedding blogs have made us prioritize styled details and model-worthy poses, even if we never did before.

This was me a year or two ago. I was the person saying If only I shot a wedding with amazing styled details at an amazing venue, I know my work is good enough to be published! I planned a styled shoot with some well-known vendors and submitted it, hoping that this would be my big break. I felt like I needed to care about this stuff in order to be a wedding photographer, even though not-so-deep down, I felt that making it my sole focus was ultimately superficial and missing the point of the wedding entirely.

2016-05-10_00012016-05-10_0010And then it all dawned on me: these weddings aren’t about me. I’m being hired by people who are as laid back and casual as I am in my own real life, and I couldn’t see past the lack of styled details to realize that I was attracting my perfect clients all along. People who have been together for a decade and are truly best friends. Couples whose main wedding priority is to make their union official in the eyes of their loved ones, and then to celebrate with the people they care about the most in this world.

Why in the world would I ever want to give this up?! While I don’t necessarily think that the folks who have gloriously styled weddings have their priorities out of whack, I do think that I did. I made booking those types of weddings to be my holy grail, my ultimate sign of success. What I didn’t realize is that as a person, Alicia Bruce is not a type-A, put-together, stylish kind of gal. To continue in the third person, Alicia Bruce is type-B. She’s laid back and casual. She wore pink converse on her wedding day, for Pete’s sake. She revels in all things quirky, and while she loves to be a part of styled events and would absolutely swoon at shooting a perfectly styled wedding with all the bloggable trappings, she knows that first and foremost what’s important is to embrace the bride and groom and their wedding as it is.

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In the past year, I’ve embraced what comes most natural to me: shooting documentary-style. I take each wedding one by one, and will capture the hell out of the details a couple does have, but put the main focus on the moments that are taking place right in front of my eyes. The mother of the bride welling up as her baby puts her gown on. The flower girls, dressed in their best, asleep on the couch even as the commotion builds around them. The bride catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror for the first time after she puts on her wedding dress. Moments that sometimes take place in boring hotel rooms or dark bridal suites with dated decor. Moments that should take priority for any photographer, no matter how styled or picture perfect the rest of the wedding is. After all, the longer the photographer fusses with styling the rings in 20 different configurations, the more moments he or she is actually missing out on – moments that may not mean as much to us as a kick-ass macro ring shot, but they mean the world to the couple, and that’s who we’re working for.

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I’ve been there, and I see the error in my ways. I’ve learned that as a photographer, I can and should be multi-dimensional. I can embrace the colorful and quirky, as well as the gorgeous details and the emotional moments. I can enjoy shooting a wedding with thousands of dollars of flowers just as much as I can enjoy a wedding with single-bloom centerpieces. I can love shooting bright and airy in an all-white room with large windows, and also embrace the dramatic lighting in a dark room with only one small window.

Every day I think about who and what my influences are and how they shape my own personal vision (two major influences for me are travel photography and impressionism). My road from beginning wedding photographer to where I am now has gone through many turns, going from documentary-style to filmy fine art, and now I’m circling back to the beginning again. The way I most naturally worked before I was being influenced by other photographers and wedding publications. Before I started doing things because I thought I had to in order to ‘make it big’ or to fit in. The un-learning takes just as long as the learning, and so I’m still taking it one step at a time, one wedding at a time.

Rebelliously yours,

LC
(
see what I did there? that whole hip ‘down with vowels’ thing? 😉)

p.s. If you’re a bride or groom who wants to bring the quirky to your wedding, get my free guide delivered magically to your inbox by typing your email address here:  

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  1. Krysta

    May 10th, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    You couldn’t be more right!

  2. Rosaura Unangst

    May 10th, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Preach! I can’t stand hearing people worried about their portfolio when they are working with paying couples. It is a service you are providing THEM not the other way around. Lovely read.

  3. Rebecca

    May 10th, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    I love this! I have felt the same way as a stationery designer, designing invites that I don’t love but make my brides happy. So nice to hear my thoughts being said by someone else!!