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What to look for in a photographer

29 January 2013 15,104 views

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By Guest Author:  Becca, from alosangeleslove.com



This isn’t going to be a post about what questions to ask your photographer. Those posts exist all over the internet. And this isn’t going to be a post about what techniques to look for, since everyone’s aesthetic preferences are different. What I like may not be what you like, and visual preferences in wedding photography are really subjective. But you know what isn’t subjective? Whether or not your photographer can capture the essence of joy, love, and sheer unadulterated beauty in your wedding day. A photographer isn’t great because his (posed, prepared for) engagement shoot is featured on Green Wedding Shoes or Style Me Pretty. A photographer isn’t great because she’s snapped a few beautiful images of beautiful hipster 20-somethings at their beautiful handcrafted wedding. No. A photographer is great when they can see the genuine beauty in pure love, regardless of how it’s packaged.

When I started searching for a photographer, I scrolled through pages and pages on site after site of perfect colour- and light-saturated images. I scrolled through pages of stunning dresses and perfectly decorated settings and interchangeable brides and grooms. They were all slim, stylish, under 30, and gorgeous. None of them looked like me. None of them looked like my friends with hips, curves, laugh lines, or maybe even some pigment in their skin. Very few of them were apparently anything other than heterosexual. And I started to get suspicious. Because it’s not normal – even in Los Angeles – to be hit with that many beautiful people (and Los Angeles is pretty darn ethnically and sexually diverse). So I went to the featured photographers blogs to look through their most recent work, but no, I still couldn’t find any average looking people.
I understand that photographers’ websites and blogs are marketing vehicles. I expect the websites to feature traditionally attractive women and men. But your blog? Your most up-to-date work? Theoretically a glimpse into your entire portfolio? And not one single woman larger than a size 4? Or how about a black, Latino, or interracial couple?  Or how about a gay or lesbian couple? Or how about a couple who got married in a hotel banquet hall setting? No? You haven’t photographed any weddings like that?

I call bullshit. Maybe in your corner of the world it’s more ethnically and racially homogeneous, so maybe you get a pass there. maybe. And maybe you live somewhere with smaller homosexual populations or where gay marriage isn’t yet legal, so maybe you get a pass there. But, um, 60% of women in the United States wear a size 12 or larger, so you don’t get a damn pass there. And, while I don’t know anyone (besides fraternity boys) who has done extensive statistics on the number of 10s versus 5s on the attractiveness scale (which yes, I find repulsive, but moving on), I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that everyone hiring you for wedding photography isn’t a culturally-defined 8, 9, or 10 because that’s statistically impossible.

So where the hell are the photos of everyone else? A wedding photographer friend confirmed my gut-wrenching suspicions: that lots of famous, big-time photographers everyone’s swooning about take photos of “everyone else” but won’t blog their “less attractive” couples because it hurts their “brand” and “image.” Chubby, ethnic and old is apparently downmarket. Even when they can afford the “upmarket” photographers who happily take their money.

Well fuck you and your brand. You and your unfortunately narrow interpretation of beauty are some of the ugliest things I’ve run across in the wedding industry. When you don’t post photos of paying clients on your blog you are explicitly telling them that they are unattractive. No, actually, you’re telling them you’re too talentless to capture the unique beauty in their specific love. You’re explicitly telling them that their wedding wasn’t as special as your other clients’ weddings. And you play a small part in adding to the sadness and misery of the world. Because when you behave like a shallow asshole, real people like get hurt by your petty branding bullshit. Like Rachel said in the comments on Monday:


“My photographer told me to my FACE that he only blogs publicity-worthy couples. I’m a size 16. Yeah, we definitely didn’t get blogged. Not only that, but during the shoot, he kept telling us how excited he was to come back to that place months later so he can do a “shoot”. I’m guessing he’ll be going back with beautiful people since those of us who were actually getting married weren’t thin enough. And yeah, he’s definitely one of those photogs on Green Wedding Shoes, SMP, etc.

I kept trying to tell myself afterwards that it didn’t matter, that I shouldn’t allow my feelings to be hurt by this stranger, but I bought into the bullshit hype that a ‘great’ photographer can make everything look magical. It just simply isn’t true. It sucks because the wedding was seriously so much fun and ended up being better than I hoped for, but looking at the photos now just bums me out.”


And from a follow-up email with Rachel:


“…there’s something just deeply and personally hurtful about your wedding photographer telling you in so many words that you aren’t ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’ enough.


My husband pointed out that there is a possibility he is simply unhappy with his own work on our wedding and that is why he is dragging his feet on getting us the final product, being unresponsive to my emails, and just generally acting as if he could care less about our photos. Or maybe he doesn’t want to post our wedding in [place] because doesn’t want to detract from when he drags his [props] out there in a few months for one of his “shoots”.  I don’t know.


Sigh.  I keep checking and asking myself if I’m not just being petty about the photos.  “Boo hoo, I didn’t get posted on my wedding photographer’s blog, wasted thousands of dollars, and he was mean to me.”  I thought that I was being a ‘bridezilla’ until my parents, husband, and friends all thought that his photos of us were not as good as his photos of other clients, without being prompted by me.”


This is part of the bullshit that subtly twists us into thinking brides all look like models and that therefore my plain-Jane face isn’t really bridelike. Granted, it’s not a photographer’s responsibility to change the systemic issues that drive my self-esteem problems. However, it’s a paid photographer’s responsibility to respect all his damn clients, regardless of what they look like. If you take our money to capture our wedding photos, it’s your responsibility to capture our joy and beauty, and our beauty-as-joy. And that requires that you see it, that you understand it, that you interact with it, and that you cherish the real heart of the wedding.
Fuck the sofas in fields with pretty people – it’s EASY to take pretty photos of pretty people in pretty settings in posed situations (whether they’re actual clients or models, it’s still staged) . But you know what takes real art? Seeing beauty where it really resides – in scrunchy-faced tears and heads-thrown-back laughter and overwhelming love, caught in an instant as someone brushes away a tear in real-time. If you don’t want to capture that, why would you bother with becoming a wedding photographer? The majority of the world isn’t an 8, 9 or 10 on the attractiveness scale, so you’re going to have clients who aren’t model-like. If you tell them they aren’t model-like, you crush their beauty and the chance for real art. But if you can treat everyone with respect and see the real beauty that drives them as people and a couple, then you can create wedding photography art.

So when you start to consider which photographer to hire for your wedding day, my one piece of advice is to hire someone who obviously respects all her clients. And the way you do that is to look through her blog and confirm that she respects people of all sizes, shapes, colors, and sexual orientations. Make sure he respects each and every client enough to blog them (unless the client requests otherwise). Make sure she respects ballroom weddings with bad carpeting as much as a rustic-chic handcrafted color explosion wedding. Make sure he respects people like you and will know how to make your photos glow, from the inside outward, on your wedding day.

And if you find that, then you’ve found a photographer who understands the messy beauty at the core of weddings, and therefore the point behind wedding photos. I want photos that are honest, that capture the hugeness of it all and not just the prettiness of it.  Because the prettiness is besides the point. I want to look back at my photos in 30 years and be able to reconnect with the hugeness of the day and the marriage experience and not just think to myself “wow, we sure looked pretty.” What I want is the raw emotion of the day: the pretty, the ugly, the heart wrenching, and the ephemeral moments that slip by so quickly that I’m likely to forget them individually but that I’ll somehow remember because, woven together, they created the fabric and texture of the day. I want it all captured spectacularly but, most of all, I want it to be honest.  Because that’s where the art is, and not in the Pretty. And any wedding photographer who’s forgotten that is nothing more than a shuttermonkey with a hollow “brand.” And that’s the last thing I want anywhere near me and my loved ones on my wedding day.


© 2010 Becca, alosangeleslove.com


You can read more about Becca on her very interesting blog at www.alosangeleslove.com


My thanks to Becca for allowing me to repost this article.   I think she hits the nail on the head when she talks about finding the “beauty in every bride” – that’s basically my view, every bride is beautiful and I love shooting weddings.

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