In life, there are only going to be so many days – so many pictures to snap, so many memories to make, so long a career to have. And most wedding photographers won’t go the distance. Some will last. Some will find greener pastures. But shooting weddings is a job that burns through people like the industry burns through styles. In with the new. Out with the old.
I’ve been told you’ll walk about 14 miles over the course of the day plus or minus a few. You’ll raise and lower your arms and clench your fingers a few thousand times. You’ll feel the drag of a camera and weight of that precious glass some 18,000 minutes a year. And your body will be sure to tell you so. This is a job that permeates every part of your day and even your night. Has anyone not had the dream? That one where you miss the wedding? Along with the complaints, the fear, the doubt, the responsibility, and the unending pressure of it all, one thing is certain. Wedding photography is not for the meek.
This is a job that always asks for more. And giving more is the constant temptation. To bury your problems with mountains of labor. To hit the big numbers with the big packages that promise big things, for which you give more, more, and more. Sure, you get to say you’re a $10K photographer. But not all $10K photographers are created equal.
Giving more to get more is a little like becoming a movie star to get girls. Except you’re much better off being a movie star. The question is not how much you can give and what you have to do. The question is what works. Failure in business is not losing money. It’s putting too much in to get too little out. You are not a number. You are not a price tag. You are the time you have until you can’t snap the pictures, create the memories, and enjoy the moments. Your gift is the images you create. That means your gift is your care and your passion. Fight for these things.
Time is finite and passion is fragile. It can turn on a dime – you never know when it will head south. So when it’s there, seize it. Treat it well, and do not neglect it. These things will ensure its untimely death: Loading your life with constant burden. Filling your days with incessant pressure. Never giving yourself time to breathe. Enclosing yourself within four walls in front of a screen and forgetting there is a world out there.
Focus on you. Find out what you do best and why people come to you. The successful business is the one that makes the most by leveraging the least. It is not the business that looks good on paper. It is the one that feels good to run.
That mom and pop convenience store around the corner? The one that keeps changing its stock every week, that has the bad stickers on the door, the free newspapers next to the chips, the old ATM machine, the candy littered everywhere left and right? That’s what happens when you don’t leverage your resources. That’s throwing everything out there to see what sticks, and that’s the surest way to burn out.
What you want to be is the store that carries the specific inventory people love. The one that is clean and kept and focused. The one that feels good, keeps you coming back, and shows reverence for its products. People pay for those who do the work for us. People do not pay for those who throw everything at us.
So be bold enough to offer less. Be bold enough to offer you. Be willing to charge what you need. Ignore convention. Say no early, say no often. Just do it nicely. Look at what works the best, not what gets the most. Remember, the world loves specialists. Single speed bikes. Stores with a one type of product. Companies with one type of service. Find out what wastes the most time, and get rid of it. Find out what wastes the most effort, and get rid of it. Refine relentlessly.
Above all, don’t let fear reign. It will rule you. It will tell you to do everything for nothing. It will tell you to chase the industry, keep tabs on your competitors, and follow the leader. These things will dilute your efforts, make you feel inferior, and constantly frustrate you. Stand your ground and keep your eyes on the road. And don’t give too much heed to conventional wisdom. It is a downward force that pulls you towards the mean. You do not want to be the mean.
If the good business creates value, if it runs well, makes choices, and commits to them, then the good business is about you. It is about you taking care of yourself. You doing the things that play to your strengths and free your heart to stay the course. No person succeeds when they are checked out, unleveraged, and exhausted. So listen to your body. Listen to your heart. Look for the signs, and figure things out early. Because this is your life calling. And you need to pick up the phone.
About the Author
Spencer is a storyteller with an indelible belief in the raw humanity of weddings.
With 10 years of experience running Brooklyn-based 5 West Studios, he has developed a style that combines influences from fine art and photojournalism. He has also enjoyed time as a designer, creative director, and filmmaker.
Spencer is the founder of the industry blog, Ground Glass, as well as a doting husband and father of two beautiful children in Brooklyn, NY.