I had a moment over the weekend.
And before visions of Barry White singing and me in a Snuggie holding a glass of champagne start dancing in your heads, it was actually a much different kind of a moment.
I showed up to shoot a wedding and had made it past the initial greetings, the chest bumps, the high fives, and the three mimosas that I usually begin wedding days with and had wandered off to play with the bride’s dress, which sounds way more scandalous than it actually was. It was a gorgeous dress, in a gorgeous bedroom, with gorgeous light. I was happy. I was really happy, actually. And then I noticed a little blue cloth anchor sewn into the fabric of the dress. At that exact moment the bride had walked in, either looking for something or checking to make sure I wasn’t actually trying the dress on, and I asked her about it.
And that’s when everything went all serious and emotional on me.
Her father had passed away two years ago. She was every bit a daddy’s girl, and she’d spent her childhood growing up at the lake they lived on with him. He loved the water, and her something blue was an anchor made from one of his dress shirts so she could have him close her entire day. And as she told me this story, the tears started coming. Now, I have zero problems crying with brides. I do it on a fairly regular occasion, in fact. First looks, father daughter dances, when the booze runs out, any number of reasons. But this time hit me a little harder than most. Call it a combination of my dad not being in the greatest of health mixed with having a daughter and knowing full well how badly I want to be present for her wedding day, and also trying to wrap my head around being a bride and not having your dad present for something like that.
And so for ten minutes I stayed in the room by myself, tears flowing at the rate of thank God for autofocus, and it all started to sink in. This was the one thing she’d asked me specifically to get a photo of. Beyond all of the elaborate flowers and the beautiful décor and everything else that made up an absolutely wonderful wedding, a piece of dad’s shirt was what was important. 15 minutes earlier it was a piece of blue fabric on a dress. 15 minutes later, it was her daddy with his arms wrapped around his daughter on her wedding day.
If you’re a new photographer, especially a new wedding photographer, you’re going to be inundated with the “shoot to get published” mantra that prances around gleefully in our industry. Thousands of photographers, shooting to hopefully impress the elite few that perch themselves on top of the massive dung heap of vintage, lace, burlap, and faded yellow broken dreams that so many try to climb.
Always remember this one thing – shoot from your heart. Turn off the background noise, turn off the blogs, the wedding websites, the magazines you want to be in (PS, no one reads those anymore), and remember why you’re a photographer in the first place. If you shoot for you, and create from your heart what it is that you see, not what some intoxicated intern behind a desk at a wedding blog tells you that you should see, you’ll be light years ahead of everyone else trying to get noticed. If you create good, solid work, blogs and websites will contact you and ask for your work. This I promise.
There’s a whole entire industry begging you to be fabulous. Shoot vintage. Shoot flowers. Shoot details. Shoot this. Shoot that. And there’s a place for those things, really. But when a bride calls you around midnight a few days after her wedding crying and asking for any photos you have of a family member that was at the wedding that unexpectedly passed away that day, or you get letters of thanks for the random photo you took of the groom and his dad laughing because that was the last photo they had together, or the crazy reception photos you have of the bride and her sister were some of the last ones they had together, all of the lace, burlap, vintage, and details you took photos of don’t mean jack.
Those things are why we do what we do. 20 years from now, no one will stare longingly at an artistic sun flare shot of the table setting you took in hopes to impress a wedding blog or magazine. People will look at the laughter, the smiles, the memories of loved ones no longer around.
I’m not saying don’t take pretty details shots. I’m not even saying don’t submit your work. I’m just saying always remember that grandpa kissing the bride on the cheek, even if it’s a poorly lit, nasty background, no sun flare to be found, no chance in hell of ever being published shot, will be way more important to the bride than that pretty picture you took of the bouquet on the table.
Shoot what matters.