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.