I have a rather peculiar confession to make, something I’ve not spoken of loudly to all that many people before. Here goes: whenever someone asks me what I do in life, what I do for a living, I always cringe slightly. Now, I do not mean Photography Life – I am very proud to work here and enjoy writing interesting articles immensely (whether I manage to write something interesting is a different matter altogether, but I dare say I do every now and then). No. I always cringe before saying I am a wedding photographer.
Mind you, I do not actually consider myself a wedding photographer – I am curious about people more than I am about weddings, and that is what I am interested in, people and their being. That is part of the reason why the “get to know me” section on my website is the way it is. But if someone asks me just out of curiosity or politeness, they’d be bored to death if I’d go on and dive into all the philosophical debates about how people photography during weddings and wedding photography are different. The time and place for such debates is on a comfortable couch among friends and with a glass of red wine in your hand… if you have patient friends. And so the easy way to answer is – I am a wedding photographer. You’d think that, after I say that, the question’s answered and it is my time to ask that person what he does. It should be that simple, for as soon as I answer I blush and am instantly overcome by the need to explain. And so I still end up diving into all the philosophical monologues trying to justify and explain my work, and consequently bore everyone to death.
I hate that.
A side note: if you suddenly feel the urge to scroll down to the comments section and tell me how I’m a hypocrite for doing what I hate and lying about it to my clients, hold on for just a second. There’s obviously a little bit more to it and I am afraid you are going to have to read all I have to say to get my meaning.
The issue that I have with wedding photography (alright, people photography during weddings) is not the wedding photography itself, but the preconception the general majority of people seem to have about this sort of work, at least in my country and nearby. When I say “wedding photographer”, few hear the names of Jonas Peterson, Nirav Patel, Viktorija, Jose Villa or our own Laura Murray. Few think beautiful light, soulful portraits, visual poetry, feelings, state of mind, love, people. Few think art. And, forgive me for saying it so categorically, Jonas Peterson is as much an artist as he is a professional photographer. Most people don’t have that sort of an association. Instead, they see a young couple trying to “spot” one another around a slender birch tree. They see the bride “holding” the groom on her palm whilst he is pretending to look up at her (that sort of shot involves either a compact camera or a very narrow aperture, and some “creative” use of perspective). Most people see a photographer running around frantically with three cameras hanging off him with all the equipment he owns, which often means he will fire away his enormous speedlight on camera in broad daylight, outdoors, not because he needs a flash, oh no – because he has one. That also means he will be stopping down his 70-200mm f/2.8 lens quite a lot, because he needs an appropriately slow shutter speed for the flash. No, it’s not a creative choice. It’s a necessary choice. Otherwise the flash will not work properly. In broad daylight, outdoors, on camera.
Now, I do not mean to mock, so forgive me for being so cynical. A lot of photographers who do that sort of thing, they are either just starting or know pretty well what they are doing and why. I remember how I started and it is not something I am proud of myself. What I mean is, I’ve seen plenty of professional photographers who have been shooting weddings for literally decades, and yet they would drink at weddings. Why? Because everyone is. It’s a party, right? So why not take that sort of a “shot” as well? That sort of person I could never respect. I could understand having a glass of wine with the couple after work, if you are on those sort of terms, but vodka – sorry. I am pretty certain most of you will agree even though I expressed myself somewhat strongly. And so that is the worst sort of picture inside the minds of people who hear “wedding photographer”. It’s not always like that, but it does not need to be – even a few such experiences are enough to ruin the whole impression of this line of work. And yet, these people are professional photographers, much like Nirav Patel or our dear Laura. And so we get to the question of what exactly is a professional photographer. I’ve seen people argue about it a dozen times. I’ve taken part in these arguments myself on occasion. And then a few days ago I saw one of our readers wonder if there will be an article on the subject. I think that comment was what I needed to finally say what I’ve said thus far, and what I am about to say next.
According to various dictionaries, a professional is a person who does something that requires particular training or skills, and earns a living doing it. Even the word itself is closely related to the word “profession”, so that’s natural. But in order to meet all of these criteria, all one has to do is purchase a camera, learn about what aperture and shutter speed is, and earn his first dollars on a wedding. And that is it. Should it be? In my mind, a professional wedding photographer is not a person who earns a living photographing weddings, but a person who does it well. A person who elevates the profession itself, who earns it prestige and admiration. Becoming a professional is something one ought to aspire to, work hard to achieve. I certainly hope to be such a person one day, but I am not a professional now, not yet. But that other guy who doesn’t say no to some drinks during reception, he is. Because he knows what aperture is, has a camera and does not work for free.
And so I cringe slightly. Every single time someone asks me what I do in life, I have to push it out of myself – I photograph weddings. I do. But I am not proud of it, not yet. Of course, it is a personal issue. Why should I be worried about what others think? My work should speak for me, words and explanations should not be necessary. Finally, who is there to decide what it means to photograph weddings well, who can distinguish such results from those “not worthy”? It is a personal complex. And yet I am worried, because right now, the general understanding of who a professional photographer is helps wedding photography seem very much not worth admiration. That is the difficult truth where I live. The thing is, the situation can only be changed by photographers themselves.
I hope to do my part someday. Until then, no, thank you, I am not a professional. I just like to photograph people.
I’ve been working professionally on this site it was very interesting experience of how much you need to invest in yourself to become one.
I just went to the web sites of the wedding photographers that Romanas provided the links to. I am overwhelmed. That just beautiful! I am especially impressed with the “John and Frances” series. Just look at their smiles and happy eyes! Thank you, Romanas, for the pleasure to see the true art.
I believe that your dilemma has a simple solution: branch out into OTHER types of ‘people photography’, that way you won’t have to say that you’re a “wedding photographer”. When asked what it is you do for a living, you could simply reply: “I am a photographer”; at which time you would hand them your business card which points them to your on-line portfolio. Let them decide what your specialty[ies] is[are], after they see your work.
Of course, that goes directly against what we’ve been told we should do when marketing our photography skills. The thought has always been that a photographer who tries to do too much will be perceived as “Jack of all trades, master of none”. We’ve been told that a photographer should only showcase their strongest work, in their strongest genre but rarely genres. But that philosophy is very limiting and creates situations like the one that you are facing.
The world is replete with countless professional photographers in the following genres: wedding photographers, landscape photographers, fashion photographers, food photographers, architecture photographers, corporate photographers, commercial photographers, etc..etc..
Yet, the world lacks professional photographers who are simply “photographers”!
Photography is one of the professions that most heavily pigeonholes its practicians. Pick any big name photographer and rarely, if EVER, will you see that his/her on-line portfolio will encompass more than two genres. Usually, they are considered masters of one area of photography; but rarely two and hardly ever three or more. The reason I believe this happens is that photographers are afraid to branch out and endanger whatever area they’ve mastered; as if though taking on another specialization will somehow drain their energy or focus form their main pursuit; or degrade their reputation.
Frankly, I think this is sad and detrimental to the arts. Renaissance men and women are a lost species and over-specialization has hampered many individual and locked them into becoming complacent and, dare I say, repetitive and boring.
In the above comment I meant I am a complete amateur and not any that good in photography :) Just wanted to make sure this was clear :)
I have no nerves to read the comments above so someone may have already said this but since I have seen some of your “wedding” photos I can definitely say they are stunning and the things you are talking about you have acheived conveying the mood, love, athmosphere, the pure beauty of two people becoming one. So if I may say (being any that good and a complete amateur in photography ) you are on your way to accomplish everything you’re talking about by creating pieces of pure art – moving, indeering, subtle and classy.
Wow, Dragomir. Thank you. That was very moving, what you said.
B R A V I S S I M O ! – Same here (and you’re a much better “photographer” than me) – I too have difficulty to think of me as an event photographer or even a photographer as one might think of it. On my business card there’s written: PEOPLE, VALUES, PHOTOGRAPHY. I don’t say I’m a photographer, although I definitely use my camera. Also your considerations ” one who does it well” and “I’m not proud of it”. Same here again.
I don’t even think to be an artist and my pictures could be improved under a number of different ways, from composition to actual shooting to pp.
Yet I like being with people in moments that are important for them. And – since the camera is the medium I know better so far – I try to share my experience and knowledge with them to give them some more than “just a photo set” as beautiful all bells and whistles that can be done with modern technology. I think one must be empathic with people to give his/her best. One should put in others shoes and feel the excitement of the moment as if it was his or hers. Using rationality only in a moment that’s not rational at all risks to screw the full potential of the moment itself. One can plan everything – and usually it’s a good move to do – yet if he’s not really interested/involved/aware of what’s going on, his/her work won’t be as good as it could. Then – some photographers have it inside, innate, talents. Artists. Someone that can transcend what’s going on with ease and make even more beautiful .
Yes, really I do understand your point of view.
I find wedding photographers incredibly brave. It is a tremendous responsibility to take on. If you fail that job, you let down people who have trusted you to record one of the most important days of two people’s lives. I think you should be proud :-)
I hesitate when people ask me if I’m a photographer, not if they ask what I do. If I say no, I’ll make nothing of the 20-40 hours a week I spend on all things photography. If I say yes, will people then assume I make money from it?
My dear friends,
As this thread has again meandered into the question “what makes a professional photographer”, many opinions have been offered. However, we are all gearing our comments toward the artistic side of photography and there are thousands of photographers who make a very good living and never produce “art”. Many journalists produce great photographs but they may never become considered art.
There are catalog photographers making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year who you will never know. Technical photography is one the highest paying forms of photography but you will never know who we are because we don’t get picture credit for what we do. Medical prosthetic, surgical, forensic gross specimen photography, light and electron microscopy, criminal forensic photography, photo lithographers, reprography, and there are so many more disciplines that are not being discussed or even considered as professional photographers.
Many of the photography disciplines I mention above do require advanced education and in my case belonging to several professional associations hasn’t hurt over the years, but some of the types of photography listed could also be mastered by on the job training and working with a good pro in that field.
I would suggest that perhaps a self contained topic be started as to what constitutes a professional if this discussion is to go further. Otherwise, it would be good to stay on topic and only discuss why Romanas doesn’t feel he is a “wedding photographer” and why he doesn’t consider it “art”. (Off the top of my head I think Niel van Niekerk would disagree with Romanas as well as one of the wedding photographers for whom I shoot the social candid’s).
Repeat Customers and New Referrals
Getting paid by repeat customers is my best definition of Professional. When new business comes in because word gets out that you give a little more than what was asked, that’s being a Pro. The rest is details – which we can learn here.
Beware of that voice in your head Romanas. It may not always be your friend. Internal dialogue is fine to a point. It can provoke creations that would never have been possible without it. But if it ever takes over completely say goodbye to reality. The creative mind is a fragile entity and the long road to to creative greatness is littered with artists who could not meet their own impossibly high standards, but couldn’t stop trying either.
All the best for the future.