A Wedding Photographer Must Be Everything

FritzPhoto-Resort at the Mountain Wedding Photographer

This past week saw the publication of an article of mine in Rangefinder Magazine/Wedding and Portrait Professionals International.  It needs no introduction, as it says it all:

A Wedding Photographer Must Be Everything

A brief defense of the modern wedding photographer’s multifarious talents.

Fritz Liedtke

“Oh, he’s a wedding photographer.”

How many times have you heard words to that effect, spoken by a commercial photographer, or a photojournalist?  I’ve heard it a few times, and I must admit, sometimes I, too, fall into the trap of thinking this way.

For instance, if I’m soliciting business from an editorial client, I won’t show them my wedding photography website.  No matter how good my wedding work is, I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a mere wedding shooter.  I want to be taken seriously as a professional photographer, capable of producing quality work for the client at hand.  I find myself oddly embarrassed of the wedding photography–even though the work itself is of excellent quality.

In the history of photography, I’m not exactly sure where wedding photographers got the bad rap.  But I have some guesses.

We’ve all seen the albums filled with stilted smiles, awkward poses, and dully lit images.  Somewhere along the line, all wedding photographers were nailed to the cross of their industry’s weaknesses, and sadly, any experienced wedding photographer worth his weight in coated glass has suffered from this poor reputation ever since.

But the wedding world has changed.  Wedding photography has become sophisticated, fashionable, varied, and very profitable.  And yet there are still many people–photographers, art directors, editors–who poo-poo those who keep wedding photography in their lineup.

And to that I would say, “Maybe you’re not a wedding photographer because you just can’t handle the pressure.”

Recently, I had to find a new second-shooter to accompany me on a few summer weddings.  As I was searching for a quality assistant, looking at their portfolios, it dawned on me: this task has become more difficult.  I can’t just hire someone because they have nice portraits in their book.  In fact, I’ve had some fine young portrait photographers accompany me at weddings, and take very marginal candid images.  Other potential second shooters had good photojournalism skills, but couldn’t smile and carry on a conversation if their job depended on it.  And I’ve worked with super friendly assistants that couldn’t set up a mono light without breaking it.

That’s when it dawned on me: a wedding photographer has to be everything.

Today’s top-notch wedding photographer has to be well-versed in almost every aspect of photography.

As portrait artists and fashion photographers, we must be able to capture elegantly posed images, and yet make them seem fresh and vibrant.  Whether working in the studio with lighting gear, or on location with natural and artificial light sources, we have to create a pleasing and well-lit scene.  We have to think on our feet, find appropriate locations, and help our subjects feel comfortable, relaxed, and beautiful.  And then we have to be a Richard Avedon, producing magazine cover-ready images.

We have to be photojournalists.  While beautiful portraits are expected, I find it’s the little details of the day–the stolen glances, the giggling girls, the outrageous dancers–that really make my customers smile.  And we have to capture these in every imaginable kind of light, indoors and out, in cavernous cathedrals and dark dance halls, in bright sunlight and glaring snow.  We have to be Henri Cartier-Bresson, capturing several hundred Decisive Moments in the space of 8 hours.  All I can say is: thank God for digital.

Many other types of photographic disciplines also come into play.  We must be able to compose grand scenic, landscape, and architecture shots, capturing the beauty of the venue.  We have to arrange still lifes and products–even macro shots–of details such as cakes, flowers, rings, and decorations.  If we shoot destination weddings, we have to be experienced with travel, and travel-related photography.  And, of course, we’re all paparazzi.

A professional wedding photographer must also be a people person, a real Dale Carnegie, able to make friends and influence people.  We have to be enjoyable to be around, because we’re at the wedding all day long.  We have to smile, make people feel comfortable, occasionally bring ease or laughter to a tense situation.  By the end of the day, we have to be everybody’s friend; or, at the very least, not their enemy.

As with any small business, we must also wear all the business-related hats: CEO, advertising exec, HR person, teacher, accountant, IT guy, vision-caster, investor, designer, researcher, client-meeter, negotiator, webmaster, marketer, office cleaner.  When someone asks me, “How can you charge so much for what you do?”  I think, “How can I charge so little?  It’s taken me 25 years to know what I know and do what I do!”

And in the end, after every wedding is over and the gear is put away, we have to be able to pull together a cohesive photo essay, well edited and color corrected, and beautifully laid out in a lovely book, magazine, or DVD.  (Which means we must also be editors, producers, graphic designers and filmmakers.)

No problem, you say?  You have to do all of that in your {insert editorial, advertising, fashion…} business as well?

Oh, I almost forgot.  For the professional wedding photographer, there are no do-overs.  No weather-related delays.  No reshoots.  No reschedules.  You have to know everything and be everything, and have it all in the bag by midnight, when everyone turns back into pumpkins.  Period.

None of this is to say that wedding photographers are better than anybody else.  Nor is it true that a wedding photographer could immediately go out and cover a sensitive story in a third world country and score a magazine cover.  Every photographer wears many hats, and must have extensive knowledge of his field.

But we do deserve some respect.  And the experience a wedding photographer gains every day does transfer to other types of work.  I shoot documentary work all over the world with speed I would not have if I was not honing my skill at every event I cover.  I shoot editorial assignments in all kinds of locations with an eye for lighting that is honed at weddings.  My fine art work is stronger for my constant attention to detail in my wedding work.

So to all those who look down their long noses at the creative professional wedding photographer, who has to have a grasp of nearly every type of photography and business skill in order to perform at a high level, I would respectfully say:

If you can’t take the heat, please stay out of the kitchen.



Copyright 2009 Fritz Liedtke

Not to be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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  • October 15, 2009 - 11:21 am

    Randy - I remember when I was first assisting and worked with a commercial advertising photographer who photographed $20k a day shoots for the major automobile manufacturers…here is a guy that dealt with unimaginable pressure on a shoot and when I told him I photographed weddings, he looked at me and shook his head…”there is a special place in Heaven for wedding photographers”. He’d NEVER go near a wedding as they were simply too much pressure.

    GREAT article and about time we got the respect we’ve earned and deserve. Thanks for increasing awareness of the special niche of wedding photography in today’s world.

  • October 15, 2009 - 2:08 pm

    Anita - Bravo!!!!..*S*..

  • October 15, 2009 - 3:10 pm

    fritzphoto - That’s a good story, Randy. Thanks for sharing, and solidifying my point!

  • October 27, 2009 - 8:46 am

    Bert - Heck yeah. Thanks for this article. It amazes me how little this genre of photography is appreciated. But we do it anyway!

  • October 28, 2009 - 8:14 am

    fritzphoto - Thanks Bert. Hopefully articles like this will educate folks a little bit about what is required of us as professional wedding photographers, and earn us a little street cred.

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