Whenever I say "I'm a photographer," 9 times out of 10 the immediate response I get is, "oh, do you do weddings?"
It's a legitimate response, considering that people will always be getting married, wanting beautiful photographs of the day, and willing to pay for quality coverage of every once-in-a-lifetime detail. From a business perspective, if you're going to jump on the risky bandwagon of an art-focussed career, wedding photography is probably the safest bet in terms of profitability. So why did I choose otherwise?
First of all, I want to be clear that I am in absolutely no way bashing wedding photography with this post! I respect and admire photographers in all industries for honing the varying areas of expertise required in their genres. Whether it's commercial, newborn, fashion, food, real estate, family, or any other field, photographers need special training and abilities to succeed. Weddings just happen to be what the mind instinctively jumps to whenever one mentions photography.
Let's be honest, everyone has a camera today so if being a photographer were just a matter of pointing and clicking at any and everything, it wouldn't even count as a profession. But it is a profession- one that has supply and demand, can be profitable, and can be competitive. I think it's important to highlight the fact that photography (as a full-time profession) is not a 'one size fits all' model. For those of you who watch Modern Family, it's like the episode where just because Mitchell works in environmental law doesn't mean he's quite cut out for all matters of legal trouble. Just because someone is a 'doctor' doesn't mean you should go to them to fix your broken leg, give you medicine for your flu, and perform your lung transplant. Get the picture? (ha, I do love puns)
Ok you caught me, YES there are always exceptions to the rule...
In the beginning...
When I lived in Hawaii, I was fortunate enough to assist on several high-profile weddings with a well-established photographer who showed me the ropes and let me glimpse behind the scenes of her workflow. (You can check out Laura's work here, she is a super talented photographer, make-up artist, and all around awesome lady!) I also assisted a few smaller ceremonies, beach vow renewals, and eventually even booked a few of my own wedding clients. As much as I love weddings, the excitement surrounding them, and the vision of love in general, my experience behind the lens only proved to me how vastly different the lifestyle of photographers can be depending on their specialty.
It's not just weddings, either. I worked with photographers who shot kids birthday parties, who were commissioned for business head shots, and some who worked with fashion models for editorials. They all require a different personality, business approach, skill set, time commitment, and shooting style.
That may seem a bit bizarre, and you probably even know a few photographers who shoot a wide variety of subjects. They probably have their own reasons for that choice, and it may even work for them, but that's really none of my concern. My concern rests on what I know about my own talent and interest, the kind of people with whom I choose to surround myself, and the life I want to lead in my career and independent of it. The business I am building will revolve around those choices, as do most decisions people make involving their careers. We ask ourselves,
What kind of impression do I want to make? Who do I want to work with? What would I like to come from this job? How will this effect the people around me & the people I love?
Photographers in every genre will have different answers to these questions. It's not up to me to speculate their answers, though I could probably make some pretty accurate assumptions. My own answers, however, have led to me to specialize specifically and exclusively on families and children. In fact, when I say, "I'm a photographer," what I really mean to say, (and probably should say) is,
I capture personality-driven portraits of lively interactions for families who cherish love and the fun in life.
So no, I don't shoot weddings. I also don't shoot beautifully plate cuisine or rock concerts or car shows.
There are people who do all of those things very well. I could be one of them if I wanted to. I could click away at whatever brings in the bucks, sure. Instead, I choose to become excellent at something I love than survive on lots of different things I can manage.
Have you ever had to make a hard decision about the direction of your career? What questions guided your choice? How were you influenced by others in your industry? I'd love to have a conversation- just leave your thoughts in the comments below!