A Wedding Horror Story

Let me tell you a little wedding photography horror story which only some of you will relate to but all of you will understand. Back in 2005 when I was just barely dipping my toe into the world of digital photography, (I was still 90% film based) I was hired to photograph a wedding for a very prominent Washington DC family. At that point it was one of the most expensive weddings I had ever shot, in fact it still ranks way up there. Anyway, it was a beautiful event and I had an incredible time as I usually do photographing weddings. The truth is, I really really enjoy shooting weddings, I think you have to in order to survive and thrive in this business.

So the next day I prepped about 25 rolls of film to be sent off to Pictage. If memory serves me correctly, I had to leave town so I gave them to a very trusted assistant to take to FedEx for me. As far as I knew they were on their way. Flash forward about a week or so and the event had yet to be released to me so I called my Pictage Rep to see what the holdup was.  In the kindest way possible, he told me that they had yet to receive any film from me. My heart sank. The tears started running down my cheeks and I began to hyperventilate. I may have screamed a bit. He did his best to console me as I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, believing fully that I had managed to lose all of the wedding images for this wonderful family.

We eventually got off the phone and I called the assistant to be sure that the rolls of film had indeed been shipped. He said yes they had but he would go over to the FedEx location and try to find out what had happened. That was the longest hour of my life. I spent that hour contemplating exactly how I would kill myself if those rolls of film didn’t turn up. I wasn’t kidding either…not that I was suicidal but in that moment, I just could not imagine going on living if that film was lost forever.

And then, my salvation arrived. A well-timed phone call from the assistant revealed that his excellent investigation skills had paid off. As it turned out, after he left the FedEx place, the lady at the counter decided that the film should go in a larger box and for some reason decided to transfer it herself, forgetting in the process to move the shipping label as well. So the rolls of film were shipped in an unmarked box and had been located somewhere in Tennessee in FedEx limbo. Many apologies were issued, but at that point only one thing mattered, the film was not lost forever, I did not have to kill myself after all.

You Have to Care Enough to Cry

Now that might seem a bit silly and juvenile but I use it to illustrate a point, that above all else in this business, you just have to care. It’s true, if you’re smart you can make a great living shooting weddings. But if you’re only in it for the money, you’ll likely burn out sooner or later. Now 8 years into this business, I feel that I can still straddle the line between the really experienced pros and those who are still finding their way. The experience and the quality of work, that comes with time and practice. But whatever your experience or lack thereof, I believe that the single most important thing which you just can’t teach and you just have to have, is that you must care and you must care deeply about your clients. You must take the trust which they have instilled in you seriously. They trust that you are going to deliver what you say you will. What we do is important and every now and then we need a little reminder about the fact that our first priority when shooting a wedding is not to win awards or get published, it’s to live up to that incredible level of trust your client has put into you.

You Have to Deserve Your Client’s Trust

I’ve worked with a number of assistants and second shooters over the years, some more experienced than others. My favorites by far have always been the ones who I see fretting and worrying over whether or not they are doing a good enough job. The ones who will cry over it, I will love forever. I try to convey that I don’t expect them to be perfect every time…they are there to help me do my job as perfectly as I possibly can. Some days I’m more on than others but my point is that I believe that every single one of my clients deserves my absolute best and my ultimate goal is to give it to them.

My current assistant/ 2nd shooter who has been working with me over the past 3 years is now booking weddings as an associate shooter for my studio. In the past this has always made me nervous, fully trusting my beloved clients to someone else, without me there to oversee things. But I trust her completely. Not because she has a gazillion years of experience shooting weddings, but because I know she cares…enough to cry, enough to contemplate suicide.

So as we all delve into the spring wedding season, I just wanted to plant this in all of your heads. Whatever your experience level, take the greatest care possible with each of your clients. They trust you. Do everything you can to deserve that trust.

Written by Los Angeles wedding and portrait photographer Justine Ungaro

About Justine: Justine Ungaro has been photographing weddings in her own clean, classic style since 2003. A second generation photographer, Justine grew up in the Washington DC area and moved to Los Angeles in 2006 where she expanded her business to include children’s and music industry portraiture and soon after began giving workshops and speaking at photography conventions. She currently maintains studios in Los Angeles and DC.


6 Comments

  • Ellen Petty says:

    Inspirational article from a phenomenal photographer whose work usually moves me to tears. Photography is an emotional business, thank you for reminding us to keep the passion, and above all…care.

  • Annie Byrne says:

    Nice post Justine. I would have died in that hour!! And care for your clients and their precious day is paramount.

  • Nicole Wolf says:

    I too have had many a horror story. I believe if you don’t go through some tough spots then how will you ever grow and learn. Being compassionate is key to building a strong relationship with your clients, even if something bad happens.
    Justine is a perfect example of someone who cares deeply about what she is doing and building that relationship fully with her couples. Great article!! Big hug JU!!

  • Kristin says:

    Justine,

    Congratulations on having this post selected to be part of The Carnival Of Trust, hosted this month by Julian Summerhayes.

    The Carnival is held monthly, and highlights the best posts dealing with the subject of trust in business, politics or society. We agree with Julian on his choice to include your emotional and moving piece that shows how relating and trusting your clients is really what we should aim to do and have in client relationships.

    Congratulations again. The entire Carnival can be viewed here: http://www.juliansummerhayes.com/?p=173

    Best,
    Kristin Abele
    http://www.trustedadvisor.com/trustmatters

  • John Gies says:

    Justine,

    Thanks for reminding us. Caring enough to cry truly is required. I can remember having my firm terminated many years ago due to the behavior of a colleague. As I tried to save the deal there were tears in my eyes. We go a second chance.

    Eventually that firm lost the business for good, But bill (the client) and I have gone on to continue to do business and work together for almost twenty years.

    Great post and Take Good Care.

    John

  • […] starts with a client who trusts you – totally trusts you. When my client booked a post-wedding shoot, I knew that she would let me do anything I wanted to […]

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