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Surrey Wedding PhotographERs

*Some of what I’ve written in this post needed to be said. I know it’s long, and frankly, I don’t expect too many people to read all of it (who’s got the time?) but I wanted to wipe the slate clean and reboot. This is the most personal place to do that.

Where we’ve been and where we’re going.

I’ve been photographing weddings since 2003, officially. I was already working in the photography industry – mainly fashion studios – so setting up on my own as a dedicated wedding photographer  was relatively quick for me and I was up and running in no time. I was photographing weddings before I had a website for it, and before iPhones and social media kicked in. I had a Facebook account early on. I remember despising the idea of Instagram for a long time.

I’ve been really busy, enjoyed success in business, photographed 70 weddings in one year, and I’ve had a couple of really poor years too. One year I only photographed 28 weddings. I’ve seen a lot of changes in how the wedding photography world works and how the wedding industry operates as a whole.

But I think the last two, or maybe three years have been the biggest shifts and I think it’s accelerating.

There are lots of reasons for this of course, but I wanted to write this to a) bring myself back up to speed, and b) hit my own re-set buttons, and c) talk about where I think things might be heading.

Almost nothing of what you’re about to read is possibly hard & fast truth – just my opinion on what I have seen and can see.

Firstly, I want to talk about what it is that I do. When I photograph a wedding, that is. It’s obvious on the surface of things, but there are things that work and things that don’t. A question that I often get asked is “Aren’t you sick of weddings?”. It’s a good question, and I understand why people assume that this would be the case. I’ve photographed a lot of weddings. I’ve never really counted, but it’s a lot. Naturally this sounds like a lot of the same thing, the same venues, the same format, the same routine. Sometimes three days in a row, back to back weddings, re-enacting an enthusiasm for somebody’s unique day of the same stuff. Yes – like anyone else who does my job, along with vicars, celebrants, registrars, and venue staff, I’ve heard the same ceremony and the same readings, and the same speeches, give or take, delivered with fresh design and nervous energy. Let’s face it: Girl meets boy, girl and boy declare their love and stake their claim on their future together, everybody eats, and we all dance

But it is never the same. It is always different, even if the framework is familiar.

The answer is hidden in this play, in plain sight. The fascination is in the story of two people finding each other, pulling it all together, and keeping it all together. Enough to want to actually get married. It’s an old story, but a goody. It’s about being positive, and even optimistic amongst a chaotic world that doesn’t want to stop for something as mundane as two people legally tying the knot. Who cares? Why should anyone like me want to be there? Why bother?

Again, “why” is actually the answer. I’m invested in the story – this powerful, fun, and optimistic story – because I still believe that it’s romantic and magical, and is a genuine peak of existence. It’s as good a reason as any to be alive. It’s faith, and commitment, and surrender. It’s letting go of some part of us to give way to something unknown, trusting in the idea of ‘better’ and selflessly trusting in hope. 

I capture, or try to capture, that. That’s what I’m trying to say when I bang on about photographing an authentic look at two people getting married. Sometimes it’s an expression, and sometimes it’s just there and it’s got very little to do with what I think I know from the experience of photographing a wedding last week or last year. When it’s real, and it most often is, there’s no better place to be from a photographic point of view, and being a part of that is addictive. So no, I never get jaded or bored of weddings, because they’ve always been a surprise, and they’ve always delivered on this.

What about me?

The hardest thing about being a wedding photographer is not the photographing weddings bit. It’s the getting the bookings bit.

Early on I found it easy to get in front of people, but a lot has changed in the industry and there are now an untold amount of photographers vying for the same business. There was always competition, but there are so many more people doing it now that it’s become much more of a struggle to be heard. This is to be expected of course, but  I’ve found there are hidden traps and games to be played and frankly, I’ve not been that great at playing them, or at least I’ve tried to avoid working these business strategies, probably afraid of acknowledging a cynical and competitive route in favour of a fluffy and sensitive romantic approach, but the truth is that the wedding industry, though it may appear to be friendly and open house, can be as cut-throat as they come. There’s a real problem out there, and it seems to be driven by money and gain. There’s a term that people love to coin: “Community over Competition” – A kind of virtue signalling that declares that all intentions are good. The fact is though, that people will shut the door on community to get to the money. Personal gain at the cost of ethics. Get the booking at whatever the cost – that kind of thing.

I’ve had photographers talk me down to prospective couples, who I know were ready to book me. I try not to think about it, but I have no idea what people are saying about me behind my back. I try not to let it get to me, but it does, and every time I ‘lose’ a booking in let’s say, an obvious way, it cuts me down a little. I’ve spoken to couples who have booked me and have told me that this was how they were approached. It’s definitely not cool.

I know of a handful of photographers who have blocked me on Instagram. These are people who I have talked with and discussed work with. These are people whom I have sent enquiries to when I haven’t been available to take on the work. I don’t know what they are set to achieve with the blocking, but it speaks volumes to me. I’m not so delicate that’s I expect everybody to follow my social media, but it seems really petty, and in my more vulnerable moments it feels like a bit of a diss. It does get to me.

On the other hand, I think it’s a shame. There’s plenty of work out there, enough to share, and enough difference in approach to allow for the fact that people need different things from different suppliers. No need to play dirty though. 

Anyway, I didn’t really know that I was such a perceived threat. I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that an ethical way of working means that the weddings I photograph are the ones I’m meant to photograph. I have never, and I never will mention another photographer in a negative light just to get my foot in the door.

The Last Three Years.

I’ve had a terrible time of it lately. Within the space of 18 months we have lost both of Carrie’s parents. Her mum was diagnosed and given 3 months to live (she outdid the prognosis) and she ran out the end of her life with bravery and dignity. The day after the night she died I had to photograph a wedding in London. Let me tell you – that was hard, but nothing compared to what Carrie has been through. Her beloved dad pushed through and lived to 95 years, but in the 18 months between them he needed a great deal of care and attention and it all came from Carrie and her sister. It has wiped us out, and is continuing to do so, though there is light where there has been a pitch black darkness. 

In the middle of this I also lost an old a dear friend who took his own life (incidentally about a week after Carrie’s mum died). The fallout from that was horrific and remains to be unresolved in so many ways. 

Last year another old friend left us far too young, and we were by then and two this day in tatters and fragile to say the least, and I’ve sometimes found myself just leaving situations because of a dark sensitivity that would render me defensive and possibly liable to lash out. This has all but shut us down socially speaking and yet we are lucky to have and know very patient friends who will still love us when we resurface.

We’ve been continuing with family life as normally and positively as we could muster throughout it all. 

Also, work.

As it turns out, photographing joyous and life affirming weddings has been the only thing that has kept me ‘normal’. On an even keel, I think they say. I did think for a while that it would be too difficult to switch hats and be strong when needed, and all the rest of it but actually I’ve found that it’s been easy to be two different people. The private me, and the work me. 

Of course a lot of things that could be shelved have been shelved and the thing that has really taken a hit has been production of albums, but I’m very lucky to have very understanding clients who have been as lovely as they have been patient.

As far as my actual getting new bookings goes, I’ve really dropped the ball on that one to say the least!

But something’s Gotta Give.

Things are changing. Rapidly. I’m changing.

The fact remains that I am having to look at my business and  make some decisions about how I’m going to move it forward. I’ve thought about giving it up, but I’m not there yet, by a long way.

I’ve got too many ideas. I’m in too deep, and this is my life. It never was a part time thing…

I am now starting to look at my business in a new light. The last two years have been nothing but tough, but all of the hardship has forced me to look at what really matters, to me, to my family, and to my work. One thing that has kept coming up is that it’s been to long since I put myself and my happiness first. I’ve been damaged by sometimes over delivering and worse – over promising – and then letting stress over-run my life. I hate letting people down, but I’ve had to find ways of figuring that stuff out, because actually, it turns out that when your best mate commits suicide it throws up some acute questions about mental health and what really matters in life. It turns out that I thought I was more balanced than I actually could have been, and any imbalance was my own doing, or at least my own perception of things that are actually completely out of my control. The take home from this is that even though it sounds obvious, there is very little of anything that is possible to control and there is great significance in letting go of much of what we think we know to be true. How others perceive me bears just about zero relevance to what and who I actually am whether they are right or wrong.

“Letting go” is my mantra, consciously humble, and working hard to be softer and not boastful. “Rising Strong” is my Jam. 

And it’s liberating.

For a long time I’ve been interested in making some noise. Playing musical instruments, writing songs – generally recording sounds. I’m no virtuoso, and probably technically a Luddite, but it’s a hobby and a world I can call my own. 

To me music and musicians are about community. I grew up with talented musicians and DJs. We were in bands together, and we would sing songs around camp fires, and occasionally get drunk enough to do it still. It’s always a free-for-all. It never mattered who was better or worse on the guitar – the whole point was to have a go, try something out, and fall about laughing when you messed up. No embarrassment, lots of comedy. My experience is that musicians aren’t too precious about their equipment being the latest and greatest. In fact it’s often the opposite with the challenge being whether you could make a terrible guitar/clarinet/drum/piano/whatever sound the best that it ever did, right then it that moment. The whole idea is a folk idea, an exchange, a way of sharing stories, a way of bringing people together.

Photography was another avenue for me, is all. I’ve always been a photographer, and I’ve always been a musician – it’s just that at some point one of them became the way I make a living and the other became the hobby, but they’re both the same to me.

The only thing different is that I see less of a community or sharing spirit, particularly in the wedding industry, amongst photographers. People seem more protective fo their ‘style’ or their expertise, or their philosophy, and I can’t help thinking that it’s because they’re scared of being found out or something. I think we all suffer from the ‘imposter Syndrome’ feeling sometimes, the expectation that somebody will one day tap you on the shoulder and expose your lack of authority, experience, or talent, but it’s actually OK to stand back every once in a while and say “I don’t know it all. I can’t – I still have a lot to learn. We can learn from each other”. But it’s not like this. Honestly it isn’t. It’s competitive, petty, cliquey and sometimes just nasty and bitchy. Trust me. I’ve worked in the fashion industry. This is (occasionally!) worse.

It’s also unnecessary, but it is what it is, and I stress – it isn’t everyone in the wedding world, jut a few. I’m sure it’s the same all over, whatever and wherever you are.

What’s next?

A couple of years ago I started making podcasts. I love the format, and I love the idea of discussing the creative process with people – at the time I ‘interviewed’ a few photographers, and a life coach. I really enjoyed them, although the first attempts were terrible to my ears because I really didn’t do any research, and I had no idea what I was doing. No structure, and all of the questions I had written down and tried to follow meant that I wasn’t keeping up with what my poor subjects were talking about. One of the interviews with a photographer was unusable because every other word he said was a select choice of potentially offensive swear words, and although the conversation was interesting I just didn’t think I could use it. Out of six podcasts I only really got together enough to make one of them any good, but it wasn’t enough of a hit rate to start publishing. I did publish one of the interviews, but took it down, realising that I was going to have to re-think the whole approach.

Then I really had to shelve it all when the personal family stuff started rolling in – there wasn’t any room for me to give it my attention, but I promised myself to straighten it out when I could. 

It’s going to happen, but not until spring 2020 and that might just be starting recording. I want to do it with a partner really, as a duo, but I have’t quite fleshed this part of it out yet, and it’s hard to find or expect someone to come with the same commitment, and without the expectation of getting paid! (I fully don’t expect to monetise a podcast at least until I know what it is. I know it’s going to take a few left turns and I want it to be driven by content first and not by commerce – that will come later). I’m speaking with a couple of people about it at the moment so there WILL be a podcast in 2020.

The same goes for YouTube. I’ve been in production with video testing and again, working out what I want to do with it. I’ve made a lot of videos that you’re never going to see! (So that I can make a lot of videos that you will get to see).

I really haven’t had the time to do it. I really haven’t, but I’m also fully aware, thank you very much, that I suffer from an abject fear of rejection, and procrastination is my middle name when it comes to this.

But it’s coming. I’m making it happen, and I’m very excited about it.

These things are hobbies – a sideshow to what Carrie and I do and work on daily. Wedding photography is what we do and work on daily. Occasionally we take a day off, and we try as hard as we can to work smart and spend as much time and energy on our children as we can. Sometimes money is tight and any of you who run your own business will know that sometimes you just have to work until midnight to get it done, and that puts a different kind of pressure on. There are sacrifices (mostly time) that have to be made, but we do it because we love the sum of it’s parts. 

We’re Lovers – Not Fighters

We certainly can’t complain – it’s a good life, and we’re driven by seemingly simple values: Love, really. 

L.O.V.E.  – We think it’s what the world needs. It’s what we all need, and more of it is never enough. It sounds easy, and it sounds cheesy – we know – but if you’re a human being, you will know how elusive and mysterious this four letter word can be. We’ve found it in our own family, and in each other, and we’ve found it in the wedding story too.  

It’s a good story. It’s sometimes the best story we’ve got. It’s to be celebrated, unabashedly, full of life. JOY seeking. It’s fleeting and yet permanent at the same time.  I love the sparks and the friction of it. I love the fact that it’s new every time and just because it’s been acted out a million times before – this time, right now, means everything.

We’ve been doing this for a while now, and we’ve been through a lot lately. There have been times when we’ve found it tough, and we’ve had to learn from failing, but also learn that failing is the most direct line to creating and living a strong and healthy life. 

Progressing forward for us means actively working hard at finding and nailing down positive energy. Putting any negativity behind us, also means that we’re leaving behind negative people and influences. This has become more and more important to me. Petty rifts and competition can be a real distraction – one that I don’t need – and rediscovering a humble, centred standpoint hasn’t always been the easy path to take, but I’m there now, and feeling like it’s more vital than ever.

We’re starting it all up again in 2020 with new plans for engaging with our couples and the wider world. 

I want that to be you, whether you are a photographer, musician, a venue, a florist, a celebrant, a blogger, or yes –  just another couple getting married! I know that you’re not just another anything, and I want to get close to finding out more about you all. 

I want to hear from you. I think you might have a lot to say.

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