I know I'm doing my best work and reaching a higher calling when I am scared to death to publish something. What if I upset or anger someone? What if commentators flay me? What if I lose the support of my community? It's scary. But I also find it deeply satisfying to stay true to myself. I am a wedding blogger who knows the wedding industry isn't perfect. And I know I am part of the problem as well as part of the solution. It's a prickly place to be, but one worth exploring. So it's with a deep sense of fear and with profound satisfaction that I publish this letter that landed in my inbox this weekend.
Written by a photographer, it explores the landscape of both mainstream and new media publishing and asks what makes a wedding worthy of publication. Some of you may agree while others disagree. This is good. It's an important conversation to have. Here goes…
An Open Letter From A Real Wedding Photographer
Image from naixn
**taptap** Hello? Is this thing on? Oh, hey, wedding bloggers! I’m glad I have your attention. It’s your friendly neighborhood photographer here, sharing with you a little bit of insight from within the tiny walls of my office. You see, there’s a lot of blogging trends going on that I find particularly un-swoon-worthy. Of course, this is just my own humble opinion, but I am here to represent the other photographers and brides of the world who don’t feel heard or seen.
Why aren’t we being heard or seen?
Why are our weddings being repeatedly rejected from wedding blogs? It is certainly not because of the quality of photography. I have repeatedly seen photography on blogs like Cockles and Pretties that would make a 3-year-old look like a pro. At the same time, I’ve seen gorgeous wedding photography shot by colleagues turned down for publication. Why? Because not all of our weddings include brides sporting bird nests in their hair, or pretty, young Anthropologie-swathed bridesmaids, or meticulously stenciled miniature burlap dinosaurs holding up place cards made from the recycled issues of Rolling Stone, or weddings held in obscure meadows that can only be reached via bush pilot or a team of sled dogs. Sound over the top? It is, but you publish this stuff daily! So what is the reality behind many weddings?
Sometimes our clients get married in churches, country clubs, or even a VFWs (oh yes… it’s true!).
Sometimes they wear a simple silk wedding dresses, or employ florists instead of roaming the hillsides of Sweden picking wildflowers the morning of their weddings.
Sometimes they are doctors, lawyers, or police officers who are too busy to make custom bird cake-toppers and who don’t have access to a baby-blue vintage bicycles.
Sometimes their weddings are simple. Maybe normal. Sometimes average.
Now, don’t get me wrong; we all love the rustic, the unique and the detailed. I do too, but it isn’t realistic for every couple. And in turn, it's not realistic to publish that type of wedding in every blog post! In fact, the state of the wedding blog-o-sphere is downright distressing for some couples.They’re visually overloaded by wedding blogs that showcase only the most unique and the most elaborate weddings, implying showcased weddings are the norm.
The Height of Dysfunction
I’ve even had brides apologize to me! They say,
“I’m sorry, our wedding is very plain. We didn’t have the time to make a lot of decorations.”
“This is probably a really boring wedding for you to photograph, I’m sorry.”
Where are they getting this negative self-image of their wedding? Glad you asked, because I'll tell you. They get it from the same place that gave women a negative self-image of their bodies: the Media. It used to be that the Media consisted largely of magazines and newspapers. But now you bloggers are a part of the Media, albeit the so-called “new media.”
Wedding Photographers Suck Too
Wedding blogs aren’t the only ones to blame. I’ve had a lot of photographers tell me that they only blog about weddings that are highly detailed or where the bride is pretty and skinny. They leave out the VFW weddings and the heavier couples so that perspective clients who aren't Cockles and Pretties-worthy don’t think to contact them. They don’t want “weddings like that” in “places like that” with “people like that.” Why?
- Because they won’t get published.
- They won’t have their photography acknowledged.
- They won’t end up in the 7th-grade popularity contest we call the Wedding Industry.
End This + Consider the Average Bride
As a publisher, you have a chance and the power to change things. So my plea to you is this: consider the average bride.
Consider the bride who looks at wedding blogs for inspiration, but only finds ideas she either can’t afford or doesn’t have time to make.
Consider the bride who thinks less is more.
Consider the bride who doesn’t wear feathers.
Consider the bride whose wedding and engagement session isn’t meticulously styled with an eye toward publication.
In other words:
Consider the bride who is typical and realistic.
I’m not saying you should stop publishing unique and detailed weddings, but reach out to real couples and publish their less elaborate weddings, too. Your job as publishers should be to document this wonderful event for all couples. So show us different types of brides and their weddings, both extraordinary and simple.
You're All Starting to Look the Same!
Do something outside of the norm and you’d probably get even more visitors. And I'm not talking about finding the next fad. Focus on good photography and substance. All your blogs are starting to look alike anyway.There are very few blogs I feel the need to follow any longer. I know what I’ll find when I visit most wedding blogs because so many posts are filled with the same:
- mason jars
- wild flowers
- vintage suitcases
- stuffed initials
- distant mountains
- tea-length dresses
- hand-made signs
- and fields
I’d love to visit your site and see all sorts of weddings; the unique mixed in with the average and everything in between. This would make different posts stand out, and brides wouldn’t be apologizing to me about how “boring” their wedding is. Readers would see that every bride and wedding is different — not because of feathers and burlap, but because of the unique nature of human relationships; because of time and money constraints; and because the most important part of the day isn't in the details. You know what I mean. Deep down I know you do.
By the Way, That's “So 2011”
And, while you are considering what to accept, please consider the photography!
The truth is this: Fad Photoshop filters and actions are often used to cover-up bad or boring photography.
It doesn't matter how many different shoe colors the bridesmaids wore if I can barely see the difference because the hideous yellow and pink of a Photoshop filter. Sometimes I can't even tell if they’re wearing shoes because the tilt shift effect is used to cover up and blur anything that would reveal it for what it is: a boring photograph. How am I supposed to appreciate the little adorable dogs in tuxedos if the picture is so underexposed that I can’t see the detail in their rhinestone collars.
Learn to identify the difference between great photography and mere photographic fads. And for the love of Pete don't keep promoting those fads! By way of example, let me remind you of selective color. Remember in 2006 and 2007 when you'd see that red rose sitting in a black and white room? Yeah – that’s what’s going to happen to the washed-out vintage fad in about 2 years. Then everyone is going to look at those weddings and think, “That was so 2011.” Eek. Stop being wooed by fads!
Stop Publishing Crappy Photography!
Let me tell you, those 1970s, flower-child, hippy-happy weddings are not helping you find your unique style for your blog. It's also nauseating to scroll through all those bile-yellow filtered photographs of fields with the bride and groom all but obscured by fake, Photoshopped “sun-flares.”
We get it. It's the trend. But let's face it, it's not a very attractive one. Perhaps it’s time to move on. Perhaps it’s time to consider accepting clear, clean photographs with accurate color. Photographs of the type of weddings that we all actually attend: regular ones. I guarantee these well-documented, professionally-shot weddings that honor true color will be the classics in 25 years. They are honest.
Want to know how to find better photographers?
Stop picking photographers exclusively from your preferred vendor list. You know who and what I'm talking about. I'm referring to those photographers who pay you to be listed. Maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there whose work you really like, but who isn’t advertising with you. And maybe, if you find a wedding from that person, you can publish it without saying something like: “Oh this is good. We'd love to publish it, but you’ll have a better chance of getting published if you advertise with us.” Really? Seriously? That's what you're going with? That's your bottom line?
OK, fine. Then select advertisers whose work you can stand behind. This is important. Readers turn to you for solid recommendations. When selecting vendors, consider skill level, not just sales revenue. Then, when someone advertises with you, you can in good conscious publish one of their weddings or even ask for an expert interview. It’s upsetting when we photographers pay hundreds of dollars to advertise with you and our weddings are turned down, but you'll publish some hack who not only isn't advertising with you, but they also take horrible photographs. Oh, but I forgot, the bridal party is sporting twigs in their hair. Come on! I know you're smarter than that. Aren't you?
Does this sound like the rant of a photographer who rarely gets published? It sure does. But honestly, I’m published quite frequently. I am most thankful to the little, upcoming blogs that may soon rise up and take over with their good photography and their variety of wedding types. Of course unique weddings that I’ve shot invariably get accepted much faster and in much larger publications. But it breaks my heart when some of my “regular” weddings, which are often gorgeous in their own right, don’t get accepted at all, with the reply that there “aren’t enough details,” even when there are what I consider a decent number of details. Look, I'm a detail-oriented photographer; I always make sure I get a variety of shots. But at the end of the day, those in-between weddings that I shoot, that are unique and held in gorgeous locations, don’t get accepted because they aren’t as wildly eccentric as the weddings that are in the spotlight now.
I love to photograph detailed weddings as much as the next photographer, but all weddings need to be loved! And all brides and grooms need to beloved.
How did this turn into high-fashion? Why are we daily hosting a who-can-have-the-weirdest-decorations-and-wedding-dress contest?
I know this is a lot to ask. And I know the problem doesn't lie just with wedding bloggers. I also know why you exclusively accept highly-styled shoots and weddings; I understand that you have to make a living, too. You need to attract new readers and new advertisers. You feel the only way to do that is to be unique, to carve out your niche, to offer something new and novel every day. But this fantasy wedding world is not the reality of most weddings. As you continue to gain respect and power as a legitimate media source, your responsibility toward your readers grows. Don't screw up their heads with a constant barrage of the unattainable. Give them something they can relate to.
Just Get Real
So, it’s time to start including the bride who doesn’t have the time or money for a mid-century-modern, ironic vanity fair. Let's celebrate the bride who doesn't have a craft studio that would make Martha jealous. It's high time we honor the experiences and pictures of the average wedding that may have simple details, but always has lots of laughter and family and friends. These weddings *can* teach us something about the true meaning of weddings and of marriage. In fact, they do every weekend during wedding season. I think these pictures should be readily available. Don't be afraid to celebrate the average wedding. It will be okay–more than okay. It will be honest and heartfelt and full of life and substance. It will be real. Really real. I promise.
About the Author: Meg Surly (not her real name) is an accomplished wedding photographer who has seen her work published in both big blogs and small, as well as in print. When not photographing weddings, she seriously considers starting a non-profit to support couples who need an antidote to the Bridal Koolaid, and to help bloggers in desperate need of a reality check.
About Cockles and Pretties: Cockles and Pretties is not a real blog. It's a combination of everything wrong with many popular wedding blogs.