This is part two of The Photo Life Blog Series, True Life: I’m Married to My Business Partner. This series explores how husband and wife photography teams find success when their business and personal lives collide.

Dave and I have been working together for five years now. Initially, it was hard and some days it still is, but I don’t think we would have it any other way. Erin Youngren wrote an excellent post last week about how they function best by using what she termed “closed systems” in which each person has their own tasks independent of the other person. We do this to an extent (and after their article we are exploring what additional systems we can “close”), however we have found that having what we’ll term “dependent” systems have been hugely beneficial to our business.

As Jeff and Erin point out, “dependent” systems are often frustrating, and slow. However, we believe having only closed systems would negate some of the best benefits our partnership provides. Like many partners, Dave and I have different strengths and weaknesses. We’ve sought to create systems that employ each of us at our strong points, despite the friction this might create.

For example, Dave is a perfectionist, while I prefer not to let perfection stand in the way of progress. If Dave were writing this by himself, the article might be very good, but it would be ready sometime next year. Instead, I wrote a first draft which he then worked on, and again I revised. This collaboration allowed me to “get it done,” while allowing Dave to improve it. The result is an article that is delivered on time (which makes me and the customer happy) and up to Dave’s standards (which makes him happy – and hopefully the customer too).

There are other areas or systems we always collaborate on. We write almost all of the blog posts together and also select the images together. We usually have lively discussions about what should and should not be posted on our blog. Over the years this has really helped us define our image together. As with this article, I usually get the blog post written to my satisfaction and Dave tweaks it to “perfection.” When it comes to image selection we switch roles a bit. Dave makes an initial selection of 30 or so of the best images and then together we narrow it down to the 10 or so that we feel best represent our client and the work we do.

Collaboration in Husband and Wife Photography Teams

Photo by Emily Anderson

While Dave handles image production, I handle most of our interaction with clients (again because of our respective strengths and weaknesses). However, even in those mostly closed systems we’ll collaborate at times. When we get an email requiring a complex answer to a difficult or new question, we’ve found that working on a response together has greatly improved our communication with clients. I’m usually very good at writing an initial response and Dave is good at making it sound just a little more subtle. We have avoided hasty, emotional responses by dealing with these issues in this way.

While this may sound somewhat idyllic, the truth is somewhat grittier. These areas of “collaboration” are often comprised of heated discussions, diverging viewpoints, and frustration because it’s either not done quickly enough or well enough (depending on who you ask). In the midst of that we’ve found it vital to constantly remind ourselves of the underlying reason for both our business and personal relationship: the belief that together we are better people, live a better life, and serve our clients better than we would apart. We have to remind ourselves that the very things we find frustrating in our partner are often just the very thing (or the flip side) of what makes the partnership a stronger and more successful entity.

Collaboration in Husband and Wife Photography Teams

Photo by Emily Anderson

Each couple is different and therefore each partnership is going to function differently. We have detailed how a combination of dependent and closed systems works for us, however, the most important piece of advice we can give on working together is to figure out how you will thrive both as a couple and individually. Our goal both in our business partnership and in our marriage is to create a space for each other so that we can each be the best that we can be.

People like to say that iron sharpens iron, but they forget that that very process involves friction, intense heat, and the occasional sparks. Focusing on the successful outcome is key to working past the temporary discomforts and achieving that sharper iron.

Written by Nancy Beale of David Wittig Photography

Chicago Based Wedding Photographers

Photo by Connie Miller of Studio Atticus

Chicago-based wedding photographers David Wittig and Nancy Beale, have been working side-by-side, capturing weddings and transforming them into art for the last ten years. Their own relationship, a myriad of friendship, partnership and marriage, aides their images, providing two perspectives of a singular moment—what can often be the most important moment of your life. Dave and Nancy have shot weddings from Maine to California, from India to France, and are always excited to add another stamp to their all-ready full passports. Their work, which examines a documentary feel and editorial style, is heavily influenced by their fine art backgrounds and training.

6 Comments

  • Jen Stewart says:

    I just read Erin’s post, and realized that many of our systems in our business (my husband and myself) we’ve already closed. But then reading your post, made me realize that while they are closed (he does the editing and blog posts), they are still collaborative (he types the post and I will often “tweak” it before it’s posted, or he selects the blog photos, but will ask me to help him narrow it down,or I deal with client correspondence but will often ask him for input on a tough or new question as well).

    I like to combination of the two systems. While we have our systems for the most part closed. They could function on their own, and Chris could do his tasks and I could do mine without waiting on the other person, the collaboration is nice to have for support as well as another opinion or help. When we are busy, and needing to keep things flowing, there are times that we don’t have time to wait on the other person, (which is why it’s great having the systems closed in order to keep streamline) but when we have time to get the other persons input or advice, we’ve also found that invaluable.

    Great balance in these two posts, and so helpful for all of us who work with our spouses!! 🙂

  • This is a great article and exactly what my wife and i are working on as we speak right now. It has been something we are still working on as we have a full time photog business and 4 kids on top of that and the balance of it all has been troubling at times which can cause alot of frustration as parents, business owners, etc. Thanks for posting this. Its super helpful.

  • Wow! What a great post! I will be reading Erin’s post next. A good friend of mine forwarded me this link today, and I’m glad she did. What perfect timing…your insight is what exactly I needed right now. The hubby and I are currently polishing up our assigned tasks (closed and/or dependent). I think we will be pretty much implementing a combination of both and find that good balance.

    THANK YOU for writing and sharing this article with all of us. =) More power to you guys! =)

  • I really need to get some extra albums for monitor support.

  • Nancy Beale says:

    Thanks for the comments! I am so glad this was helpful!

  • Love your reply Nancy! Thanks so much for the articulate response (I can totally hear both of your voices in this piece and I LOVE it!).

    I think I would have to agree with Jen on this one. Advice and collaboration are a natural artifact of owning the same business and working in the same office together. While I’m taking care of client correspondence, I’m continually asking Jeff for input and advice, but we can keep our systems running efficiently at the same time. This happens with every system in our business – marketing, editing, blogging, shooting, etc. We can turn to each other for input, but in the end we can know that the other person is in charge of a certain system and that it’s not a part of our responsibility.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that while we collaborate when needed on the surface level, the very foundation of our business structure is built on closed systems so that we can expand, contract, flex, and move as we are required.

    Thanks so much for the insight and wish I could’ve seen you in Seattle!

    Erin

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