We came across this article on Kevin’s blog and couldn’t wait to share it, because it challenges photographers to ask important questions about why we run our business the way we do. Join in the conversation of this post in the comments section and join in person at PartnerCon!

Over the past few years, wedding photography has become a fashionable way to make a living, thanks to the ease of digital cameras, computers and software.

At the same time, wedding photographers market themselves as “experts” to other wedding photographers through workshops, lectures, gadgets, software and actions. Photographers don’t just compete against each another, photographers now market to other photographers in order to gain popularity, money, and status.

With twelve years of photojournalism experience, and ten years in the wedding industry, I’ve never seen such change like I have in the last few years.

Wedding Photography by Kevin Weinstein

In November 2010, 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!”

No, I did not win. Am I mad? Nah. In this field, if you can’t take rejection, you need to move on. I would still write this even if I had won.

It never occurred to me that I could enter images taken at workshops, or images from “collaborative editorial shoots” with other vendors, or “test shoots” with hired friends who stepped in as models. The phrase, “ridiculously awesome wedding photos of the year” implied wedding photos to me. You know, those events we are paid to shoot for clients? Yeah, those events typically held on weekends.

Personally, I know of three photographers whose winning images were not from weddings. Two were from workshops, and one was a friend/model who was shot on a weekday. Not only do the guidelines need to be better defined, but they also need to clearly state what constitutes a “wedding,”

I applaud Junebug for taking this issue up on their own blog: What Constitutes the Art of Wedding Photography? Real Weddings vs. Styled Shoots vs. Commercial Shoots.

I want to share my concerns about this issue. With the rise of wedding blogs, and their hunger for content, photographers must define what constitutes a “real wedding” or an “editorial shoot,” so viewers can decipher the difference while satiating their appetite for inspiration.

It is important to note that wedding blogs are like online magazines. Their goals are similar to a printed publication: sales, click rate, hits and advertising revenue. Photographic images are key to sales; the most read stories are ones with images.

Over the past seven years, workshops have exploded, offering newcomers a chance to define their craft while photographing staged weddings with models. I have seen many photographers post workshop images on their blogs as if they were shot at a real wedding. Why is this problematic?  First, it misleads potential clients. It’s false advertising. It also misrepresents your ability to make pictures under pressure, in real time.

When you have days to work with professional models who know how to pose and act confident in front of a camera, you have an experience in front of you that is vastly different from the reality of a wedding. Potential clients see these images and don’t know whether they’re representative of a real wedding or not. You’re doing your craft and your clients a disservice.

Think about it. My clients are not models. They have no idea how to pose. My brides are rarely size 1’s, they are insecure about being in front of a camera, and grooms are sweating in their tuxedos! We have less than an hour to shoot portraits because nobody wants to miss cocktail hour. Just like my clients, I’m overheating, getting stressed and trying to work myself out of this puzzle. If I don’t get kick-ass images for my clients, then their investment has been wasted. I will be in trouble. So, I must be able to deliver! There are no excuses on a wedding day.

So my question is: what are wedding blogs offering brides and grooms? Inspiration? Ok, that’s valid. But fiction seems to have won over reality. Thus, when a blog publishes a wedding that is “real,” many of the images are formulaic. A couple standing expressionless in a field, detail shots, a few lovely portraits and tons of flowers and party favors. Where are the photographs that show what a wedding is REALLY about? Where are the prep pictures, ceremony pictures, toasts, dancing, family and friends socializing? All I see are pictures of couples with vintage luggage, blankly staring at me like the couple in “American Gothic.”

Creating compelling pictures in real time is not easy. Sure, if you keep doing it, you will get better! Luckily, photography is technical, so anyone can master it to some degree. But just because you LOVE photography, does not mean you can be a photographer. I urge you to shoot more. Shoot often. Get used to unpredictability and obstacles. Build up your armor of experience so when reality comes crashing down on a wedding day (crappy light, backlight, no light), you have resources to draw upon. Figure out how to make compelling pictures without setting anything up, without models, without controlling the scene.

What’s better than a workshop? Shooting alongside a friend at a wedding. The best part? It won’t cost you thousands. You’ll face obstacles and challenges you’ll encounter later in your professional career. Arm yourself with real experience, not a 3-day workshop with models. I promise, you will grow in ways you never expected.  And the work you deliver to your clients will be unique and real. You won’t be left behind, I promise. People will hire you. And when you make it to the big-time, you’ll feel great knowing you did it yourself, honestly.

Written by PartnerCon Panelist Kevin Weinstein

Photographer Kevin Weinstein

Kevin…has fun with life. Stands on his head occasionally. Is not self-conscious about the camera attached to his face.

Is dedicated to his art and takes immense pride in capturing his clients’ stories through a lens.

His goal is singular: never go for cliches, but catch the split seconds in between. A notorious fly-on-the-wall (ask guests who accuse him of disappearing), Kevin photographs weddings using the most candid approach possible. The results? Moments suspended in time, stunning images, and elated clients.

Kevin graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a degree in photography and went on to earn a Master’s degree in photojournalism from the top photojournalism school in the country, the University of Missouri-Columbia. He spent 12 years in newspaper and magazine journalism. He has worked for the Sun (Bremerton, Washington), the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Albuquerque Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune, and the Sun in Illinois among others. Kevin has received numerous awards, scholarships, and project grants throughout his career including first place in the College Photographer of the Year Award in 1994. He started Kevin Weinstein Photography, Inc. in 2001 to challenge himself artistically.

16 Comments

  • Well said Kevin. Some similar thoughts we’ve had for quite some time, but worded so beautifully. Love it. Excited to meet and panel-it-up with you at PartnerCon!

  • thanks gary and courtney. very much looking forward to meeting you next month as well. hopefully i wont get too much stage fright. oy!

  • I just realized that I had jumped from my seat and was clapping vigorously. At least I didn’t start whistling. Thank you Kevin for making my day. And if you’re a mentor/workshop provider reading this STOP letting your attendees use the images for their portfolio. Blog post about the mentor session/workshop = Yes Images used to lie to potential clients by being in their portfolio = No!

  • Chris. Ha, that was hilarious. Thanks for the applause. Maybe, just maybe, next time I can get a whistle. See you in SD next month.

  • After attending a workshop, I struggled with whether or not I should use those photos in my portfolio. What I ended up doing was putting a few of them in my “bridal portraits” gallery and not in my “wedding” gallery. And when people ooh and awww over them, I encourage them to hire me for a bridal shoot in addition to their wedding photography, explaining the benefits of a bridal shoot (more time, less stress, etc).

  • Simone says:

    Great post. Also love your work. Your experience shows.

  • Tim Halberg says:

    props on the post. I’ve actually gone back and forth on including a section on our website writing out a statement clarifying that all of the images on our site are REAL – we do NOT use model images as portfolio pieces.

    It saddens me how many people use model work as their wedding portfolio pieces and their clients have no clue.

    I’ve had friends say they wouldn’t have gotten the jobs they’ve gotten without this type of portfolio, and that’s great for them, but crappy for their clients.

  • Simone. Thank you so much for the kind words.

    Tim. My theory is … Sure, the photog will be getting experience. But again, it is not honest real-time imagery that your paid client will be demanding. And maybe the bookings will be slow for a while while the photog builds up their portfolio, but after they reach that level of expertise, their business and style will be built on a foundation that will be impossible to rock.

  • Lisa says:

    Great article! It makes me feel good about not having a single styled or workshop image up on my site. It’s all real clients. I’m going to go blog now. 😉

  • Great post and absolutely true!

  • Lisa … Happy blogging! Be well.

  • I am especially annoyed when the people who teach said workshops have the nerve to devalue an education that was gotten at a proper college, university or art school. While someone pay a few thousand dollars to listen to their claptrap is beyond my imagination.
    Getting educated is a beautiful thing. I see that you, Kevin, had the brains, talent and tenacity to get not one, but two degrees in photography. I personally have a B.F.A. from one of the best art schools in the country. A couple of weekend workshops are not going to get you that kind of education.

  • Drew Wyeth says:

    Great post n glad to hear responses so good. Me gal frwd this to me because I often bitch n moan about fake a$@ images I see here in San Diego… So Often! My best work shows clearly, the stunning images are with clients who know I need & very much Want them to do this n that for me because I pride myself in such story board photos… Photos that they hired me to take. I’ll get em even if I have to drag a bride n groom out back and staple them by that tree! HA HAA. the fine line is time n cocktail hour, recently I explain and sell the idea that the time away from the party is the best time to breathe n look at one another, laughs of relief n nervousness will be natural, this is very important and I will capture the moment like this for U the client… For only 3500.00 well the flow is much different, but inlove what I do n LOVE jen couples trust me n help me get what I need!

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