I tried something new recently: As the 2014 season dawned, I decided to do more rigorous research of the wedding photography market. I've been browsing through countless websites and Facebook pages of popular area photographers but today, I stopped. Call me crazy, but all of these Facebook pages and websites start to look the same after a while.
It's the same pose. The same bouquet. The same edit. If you took the logos off of our photos, you'd see an album full of duplicate work. Don't get me wrong, the shots look very…nice. They're pretty, to be sure. There is a reason these poses and styles dominate the bridal magazines and dreams of brides-to-be. But for someone who likes to find the line between exceptional artistic expression and building a business in an insanely crowded market, it's all feeling a bit ho-hum and unidimensional.
I have found myself gravitating towards those cliché shots that define the work of a photographer as defined by my peers. I have looked at the work of other people and said, "Okay, how close can I come to that be still be original?" The reality is once we ask that question, we've already sacrificed our unique artistic fingerprint. There's a reason so many people can spend $5,000 on photo equipment and build an Etsy-inspired, Pinterest curated website of images that look oddly similar to the last photographer's site. We're all copying each other because the work is honestly not that hard to replicate.
I can feel the rising tension from photographers who are much more well established than myself who don't want to criticize the market, perhaps many who have helped shape the very dilemma of which I am speaking. I'm not too worried about that though, I'm on a roll here.
I have 300 likes on Facebook (very little compared to other area professional photographers). I have an Instagram account with less followers than some grandmothers. However, I have a vision, and that vision looks nothing like following the crowd.
There was a great article about a news photographer who realized she couldn't (and didn't want to) keep up with the wire photo world. So she moved. She got away from the herd. Not because she hated the herd but because she hated what the herd did to her creativity. She wanted to pursue her own vision, apart from the influence of the crowd. That's inspiring to me. Blaze your own trail sister!
I suppose there's some legitimacy to the herd-mentality of photography because at the end of the day it pays the bills. I'm sure people in every artistic tribe feel this pressure, too. But I fear that it pushes our creative minds into a stifled business world rather than expression in the art (they aren't always mutually exclusive, but for this example they are).
We need business savvy and artistic individuality.
People would argue that our industry has both, but from what I can see, the results would refute that claim. I don't see individuality in our work. Sorry if you disagree. Also, sorry if you don't think it's a problem. Agree to disagree.
The danger of this whole perspective is going off the deep end. I'm not suggesting that photographers should aim to have work that is flagrantly reflective of personal passions and dismissive of what couple's want and what the market drives. I'm saying that I want to seize the photographic art, capitalize on what we already have developed in the wedding world, and present something captivating, fresh, surprising and elegant that is uniquely ours.
How? Start with this: admit that we all look the same. Then, figure out your niche as a photographer. What do you love to shoot at a wedding? What feeling or style do you go for the most? What have you always wanted to try? Capitalize on that. Rebrand yourself. Figure out new poses and settings that get you excited. Break out of the box. Stop chasing the work of other people and set the bar that other people may want to imitate (which you will of course tell them not to, though it is flattering).
This is really coming from a place of concern for us. It's not an angry post. It's not an angsty post. It's a "don't give up on that dream" post. Don't settle!
Just some thoughts from a not-so-popular photographer who is an overly-thoughtful, dream-catching pragmatist. We can do more with our work than imitate, can't we? Let's try.