Op-Ed: Giving Respect Where It’s Due

From time to time, we offer up Op-Ed pieces on various aspects of photography for your consideration. Please note that these articles are the personal opinion of the writer, not necessarily of BorrowLenses.com. 

I’m going to start this post off by sharing a video created by Zack Arias.

Next up, read this post, also from Zack: “Wedding Photographers Deserve Our Respect.” Now, the video here introduces a different topic, but at the beginning of the video, Zack actually talks about tipping your hat to wedding photographers. White the rest of the video is something that you absolutely, positively, mush watch. I won’t even try and summarize it for you – just go watch and read, then come back here. I’ll wait.

At first, I thought about just doing what we call a “blurb” post, which just serves to quickly highlight something we’ve seen or heard of. Call it the blog equivalent of a “+1” or “Like.” After all, Zack’s post is in-depth and lays out his argument twelve ways to Sunday, so I didn’t really have anything to add that he hasn’t already said.

Then I changed my mind.

Good arguments, I think, are made better and stronger by virtue of voices added to it. Every additional experience you relate to support a point of view shores it up further. With that in mind, here’s where I come down on the issue of wedding photographers.

I’ve always wanted to be a commercial and editorial photographer. The running joke is that I want to be Joe McNally when I grow up. Being a wedding photographer just never crossed my mind – it wasn’t something I was even remotely attracted to.

Last year, however, a fellow photographer called me to the mat on it. “Why not?” he asked when I said I wasn’t interested in shooting weddings. “Are you too good for it? Is it beneath you?”

That’s when I had to actually buckle down and think about just why I wasn’t willing to get into that genre of photography. My first instinct was to worry. Was I snob? Was I “too good” for wedding photography? Was I one of those interminably moronic idiots that had made up his mind about something before truly considering it?

Figuring out the answer took a few days, but I finally had it.

I’m not “too good” for wedding photography. It’s not “beneath” me. It is, in fact, above me. Way above.

Look at it this way. The kind of work I like to do is done primarily in a studio, where I control practically every element of the interaction between my subject and myself. Whether my subject is a bottle of wine I’m shooting for a product shot or a person whose portrait I’m making, there’s very little I don’t have control over.

Even on location, I can usually exert a great deal of influence over my environment. I can dial the ambient light up or down, blur the background or put it into sharp relief, pose and re-pose, change positions, or do any and all of those things in any combination to get my shot.

The worst-case scenario here is that everything falls apart and I have to re-shoot – which I can do if necessary.

Now contrast this to wedding photography. You have about as much control over your surroundings and subjects as you would when swimming against a vicious riptide. All you can do is try and stay afloat, move at an angle towards the shore, and hope your feet hit the bottom before you’re exhausted.

Worse, there are no do-overs. You screw it up, you’re done. There is no re-shooting the wedding. You can’t re-create those special moments.

And worst of all is that if you do screw it up, you’ve irrevocably tarnished the experience of one of the most special days in someone’s life. This isn’t some client who will simply fire you and hire someone else to do the shoot. There is real emotional harm at risk here; messing up someone’s wedding isn’t something you can just shrug off.

Now, on top of all of that, you have to be creative under all that pressure. For anywhere from four to twelve hours a day, for anywhere from one to three days, you’ve got to be on the ball and on your feet, completely vigilant of the proceedings, anticipating those decisive moments, and capturing them without fail. Oh – and you have to try and do it as unobtrusively as possible.

I’ll be honest. I don’t think I can do that.

Wedding photographers are photo-ninjas, folks. They are no less capable, creative, and hard-working than their peers in any other field – but are, for some godawful reason, looked down upon by a lot of the photo community, and by art directors and buyers alike. This field is more than capable of chewing up and spitting out a significant chunk of those who deride it. Under no circumstances should anyone give those who take on weddings anything less than your total respect.

So the next time someone says “I’m a wedding photographer,” tip your hat to them. Accord them your respect. They deserve it.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter or find him at anymedium.com.

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