From time to time we come across a lot of advices. Some we listen, some we reject; some we remember and some we forget. Those remained with us will fermented with our own life experiences to become something really useful, await for the opportunity to come so we can pass them around. Here is the transcript of my 10 minutes presentation at last week 'Decathlon' organised by the NSW division of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP). My topic was wedding photography but I feel these 10 points have a broader scope than just that. Someone will find these sensible while others may see them irrelevant. I hope these serve as the beginning of many conversations, so feel free to join in as you wish.
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Because you love it
Be genuinely passionate and love what you do. I have heard too many people go into wedding photography only because it seems easy to be tapped into and they believe there are money to be made from the bride and groom. But the reality is if you don’t enjoy what you do, you will find photographing wedding can burn you out a lot quicker than you think. Very long working hours, heavy equipments, fierce competitions, not to mention cheesy poses at the same locations again and again, demanding brides, unmotivated grooms, drunken guests and the pink limousine (laugh!). However, if you are the person who has genuine interest in people and their relationships you may be able to see beyond these façade and experience the humanity in these wonderful occasions. For some, being a wedding photographer can be a very rewarding job, but for the others, it can be as tedious as being an accountant.
Be a good listener
When the couple come to our home for a visit we often sit down for a good few hours while I ask a lot of questions – it is the first, the most important and interesting part of my work. I want to know about their brought up, what they do for a living and why. I want to know how they see each other and how they see friends and families. I also ask why are they getting marry and what the wedding means to them. It is through this conversations I get to know the people, as well as letting them to know about me. Once I have heard a lovely comment about my work from another photographer and she said 'these images are like taken by the uncle of the wedding couples and he just happen to be an artist'. May be not an uncle, but I like to think that I am a dear friend of the couple and their families, so they welcomed my existence and comfortably let me point my camera to their faces during those personal and intimate time. Documentary photography can go deeper than just stealing the moment; if you spend the time and effort, with the aid of a bit of luck, you, and your subject will be rewarded with a series of images revealing who they are and the inner relationship between them.
Be a good matchmaker
Good clients lead to good projects. A photographer finding the right client is equally important as the client finding the right photographer. So in your portfolio, only show those works that best represent your vision so you won’t attract the wrong buyer. Treat every assignment as your portfolio showcase because they will be – every work that comes from you will have your name attached to, whether you like it or not. While do not be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone but also be prepared to say no if you feel their photography vision does not match yours and you won’t be able to deliver. After all, wedding photography is much more than a just commercial transaction.
Many great photographs have a strong philosophy behind them, and that philosophy comes from the beliefs of the creator. It is a result of many years of collective experience throughout your life journey. So be aware of what you see and hear because every bit of these will have an influence on who you are as a person. Remember, anything that money can buy, for examples like equipments, Photoshop actions or presets, do not belong to you. Instead, invest in yourself and develop a way of seeing as this will become your own style that no one can take away from you.
Material stuffs can be sources of distraction. Therefore keep your equipments to a minimum so they will become less of a burden. Most of my assignments were shot with 2 lenses on 2 bodies so I can pay attention to the scene without wasting time and energy to think about them. Also this minimal setup allows me to travel light and move around relatively easy which is essential for my way of working. Obviously, another advantage is less equipments mean less maintenance cost.
Give them the tangibles
May be I am a bit old school but I certainly feel there is something magical of actually holding a print or a book in your hands. Therefore I always insist to include hard copies as deliveries. Not only in this way I can control how my works are being displayed, but also I believe it is the right thing to do. Who knows what is going to happen with the digital files in 10, 20, or 50 years time?
Keep your word
Keep reminding yourself, having the trust of being invited into other people’s life is a huge privilege. So try your best to take good care of it and never abuse it. Be careful of what you promise, and make sure you keep them. Be respectful and people will do the same in return.
I have seen too many wedding photographer at work dressed like a sports shooter. Ask about their dress code if you are not sure and dress accordingly. You will be much appreciated. Also, don’t forget a pair of comfortable shoes.
Live a discipline life
Wedding photography can be very demanding on your body and your mind. A typical wedding day involves at least 8 hours continues walking and concentration. So keep yourself fit and healthy. Go to sleep early before the day, and never drink alcohol on assignments. Healthy body healthy mind, and it will show on the images.
Never try to imitate anyone. It is not good for the industry – because a healthy market needs great variety, it is not good for the customer – because our world will be terribly boring if everyone becoming the same. It is not good for you – because you will end up in nowhere. So be honest to yourself and learn how to listen to your own voice. Find your own way to get to whatever you want to be. Enter competitions for the thrill of excitement and the fun of conversation, but also look beyond them for inspiration. I believe we all have unique personality hence being yourself is the best way to differentiate from the others. Don’t worry too much about the market trends. Don’t worry if you don’t have the latest equipments. Don’t get jealous of others seemingly success. Live your own life, you will be a lot happier.