Every photographer claims, “Oh yeah, you want to hire me because I capture fleeting moments that you can’t get back!” That sappy, facetious quip that feels like a cheesy car-salesman’s line is usually just that and gets lost for its true value. I’ve always been reasonably sincere whenever I’ve said it because I’m a romantic and as a photographer, I look for those little moments and details. I really only applied that depth of appreciation to my own moments though - I merely worked my ass off not to miss those recognizable moments at weddings. I never knew that one email would completely throw that in my face and make me rethink everything.
A few months ago, I was referred a wedding client by a mutual friend. She prefaced the email with, “They don’t have a huge budget, but they really value photography and want good images. You were the first person I thought of.”
I emailed back and forth with the bride a few times to figure out a price that worked and we finally settled on a number that would work for her and her fiance. I wasn’t happy with the price, but I wanted the business and I wanted to do a solid for my friend, so I sucked it up and sent out the contract.
Fast forward to the big day and I was honestly anything but excited to show up. I was tired, had about 6 million other things on my mind, and was annoyed that I would be shooting an outdoor wedding in 95°F June summer, yet still refused to do a half-ass job. There are some weddings where you just know every image you take is pure gold. This wasn’t one of them. I still refused to mentally half-ass the job though and did the best I could. The sequence where the bride and groom exchange pre-ceremony gifts are my favorites and I personally thought they were the best from the day.
While everyone was getting ready, I stole some time with the groom and his family to knock out some portraits. I knew we would be rushing to get to the reception once the ceremony ended, so I was glad when he asked for the images when he did. These would turn out to be some of the most important images of the day.
I didn’t know it then, but those would be among the last pictures taken of someone.
I actually feel gross looking back now on how much I wanted that evening to end. I just didn’t want to be there. The party was great, the people were amazing, but all I could think about was my bed.
Two weeks later and I had the images delivered to the bride. I’m pretty confident in the level of my baseline images, so I expected the first lines of the email. It was the last ones that put me on my ass from my standing desk.
Oh my goodness Mike! That was definitely not two weeks haha
Those pictures are so incredible! I cannot thank you enough. [....]
Also, I just thought you should know that [Groom]’s father passed away on Saturday, so the photos with him truly mean so much more than you could imagine. Thank you for capturing such a joyous and memorable day.
I was speechless. I was frozen. I felt sick. I stared at that email for almost an hour doing nothing but feeling like a complete and total asshole.
After compiling myself, I sent a response with condolences that certainly couldn’t have made a difference and stumbled my way through my day job. When I finally got home I sat in my office chair and went through every single one of their wedding images.
I had a completely different mindset that time versus when I was culling and editing the images. These weren’t just random strangers who were smiling at me and being goofy; they were friends, family members, emotions, memories, and stories. I remembered every single image and person and I only knew those people for 8 hours. The Bride and Groom had a limitless expanse of not just familiarity, but love for these individuals. What I was looking at were endless combinations and permutations of stories outside of just my own. I had always seen a wedding as something I was recording, but I had never likened it to getting to know a person - each moment refreshing a detail that I could remember vividly, but also revealing new and wonderful things I never knew before.
That’s what happened when I came upon the portraits of the Groom and his Father. I remembered his dad for having a tremendous smile and a reassuring voice. What I saw in the images that I previously missed was a palpable feeling of pride and love for his son. I didn’t realize how powerful that picture was until I looked at it as someone who missed their own family members. I was overcome with a broad range of emotions as I finished that album; thankfully laughter mostly, as that group was totally goofy and slightly intoxicated.
I’ve since gone through a number of my other clients’ wedding albums and found a new appreciation and joy for those images. I also realized that I would have culled them very differently.
I’ve never gotten into my weddings; I primarily enjoyed meeting new people and the challenge of photographing such a difficult genre. And maybe that’s why I’ve found my images lacking recently. I wasn’t putting myself in my client’s shoes and photographing that day with the emotional depth that everyone there was experiencing. Maybe it’s a challenge because I’ve never been married. Thanks to this wedding; though, my outlook has been refreshed and altered. Telling people that I’m capturing a story isn’t a cheesy car-salesman line anymore; it’s the truth. I now know what my images can do for my clients.
I’m sure as hell going to respect that going forward.