A Year(ish) Of Yes
My Journey to Documentary Style Wedding Photography
I’ve been writing this post in my head for weeks now. It’s probably more interesting to other photographers than couples looking for a wedding photographer, but it’s something I just need to get out of my system. Perhaps it’s a tad self-indulgent, writing about myself on my business blog, but hopefully it’ll show that I’m a real person, and let you into my head a little.
I’m going to talk about a decision I made last year, why I made it, and what impact it’s had on my business – and what it means for all the couples who book (or are thinking of booking) their wedding photography with me. (Spoiler: my mental health is way better now, and everything is better now I know that so many barriers in my life were ones I put up myself.)
Although I’d worked with some lovely families, I was getting fed up of the constant hustle for bookings. I felt like I had advice coming out of my ears. If you’re a photographer you’ll know exactly what I mean. Be on Instagram, be on Facebook, post to both daily. Blog every month. Have a website that’s nice to use. Think about the kind of people you want to work with. Think about why you want to be a photographer rather than get a day job. Be motivated, show up, work all hours of the day and night, and be positive and happy all the time.
I was not positive. I was not happy.
Something had to change.
I started a 365 project on New Year’s Day. While this was one more thing to keep on top of, it also got my using my camera every single day. I took so many photos of my kids last year, and it was a big undertaking, but it really helped me hone my approach. By February, I was working out that posed photos and me are not happy bedfellows. All the work I’d done to date felt suddenly out of step, now I’d realised I could simply document the world around me.
A bit more gung-ho
I am not a twee person. Fitting the twee family photographer skipping around in a forest full of bluebells was an issue for me (and it kills bluebells). I am tattooed, a bit gobby sometimes (only when provoked, hopefully), I like going to the sort of gigs where beer gets chucked about, and I am completely incapable of wearing a poker face.
There was this big name in family photography a couple of years back. Her images really caught my attention, and I wanted to know more, and conveniently she was holding a workshop somewhere in the Midlands. I went along. I was disgusted by the way she expected small kids to be out in the cold, drizzle English weather, wearing pretty boho style clothes. She ignored their protests at being cold and wet. The other photographers were lapping it up, so happy with their back of camera photos at the expense of someone else’s comfort.
I thought about this day a lot in the first half of last year. How much simpler and nicer for everyone if they could wear stuff they were comfy in, be in a place they could retreat into and play in whatever way came naturally to them. And how I could be myself around these people, rather than putting on a game face and getting them to pretend.
I took my website down. Redid the whole thing. And put out a call for local families to hang out for a few hours with no pressure to buy a thing from me. And just like that, I suddenly had 10 shoots I was excited for in my diary.
Full disclosure – I shot a few weddings in 2017, and then took a step back. My mental health was not great after having my daughter, and the shitty time I was having just meant that I blocked off that particular avenue for a while. But, by May 2018 I was ready to start exploring again. I just needed to find a safer environment than that bloody awful kids workshop to take that step in.
Everything I’d learnt from families applies to weddings too. I knew I wanted to shoot weddings in a documentary style, with minimal impact. I wanted to bring bucketloads of empathy and openness. I wanted to talk to like-minded people about this, and figure out how to enhance a couple’s day without hijacking it.
This time I found a different workshop, and I came away from it with my mind absolutely blown. I was brimming with enthusiasm and ideas! It was fucking amazing. There are some pics below, and you can see the full gallery here.
The Year(ish) of Yes
How could I possibly walk away from a shoot like that and NOT be filled with inspiration? Photography Farm put on the shoot, and it was my first encounter with this amazing, supportive resource for wedding photograph. They value personal growth and education, and provide a safe space for the daft questions I’m prone to asking. Shortly after this shoot at Abbeydale Picture House (ace venue, by the way), I was sorting out my own small shoot and testing the waters.
Shortly after that I was putting myself forward for second shooting jobs with photographers I’d never met before, because why the hell not! I stumbled upon The Alternatives while I was looking for more places to learn. But in saying yes, I learnt the value of no. I left lots of educational groups because they were the things that were stressing me out. They were the groups where I was comparing myself to others, and feeling like I was never doing enough even though that pressure was like playing chicken with my mental health. So I said no to those groups. And I started saying no to the families I who I knew would be unhappy with the way I work.
It quickly became apparent to me that this all had to come from me. I was the one holding the camera. I was the one who could decide what works, what doesn’t, and how to fix things. The thing I needed to fix first was my lack of experience.
I had to say yes to every opportunity that excited me, even when I was scared.
Nothing worth having comes easily.
Saying yes isn’t always easy. It’s certainly not always the right thing to do. I had some boundaries though – with childcare to think of, I had to make sure I could actually keep the commitments I was making, and ensure we wouldn’t be financially ruined by my FOMO. But saying yes took me to some of my bucket list wedding venues, helped me make some brilliant friends, and even get some word of mouth referrals. Things that are worth doing aren’t always easy.
Early on in this post (so long ago!) I talked about deciding to shoot in a documentary style. I absolutely know that I am a documentary style wedding photographer at heart. I do enjoy working closely with a couple to get them some killer portraits, and I will offer a few prompts or minimal direction to make this happen, but I’ve learnt my own style. Documentary style wedding photography is where my heart lies, and I would have never have known this if I hadn’t said yes to everything for a whole year.
This year, saying yes has seen me second shoot for some absolute legends – from a festival style wedding in a field in Brecon to roaming the streets of Llangollen with a brass band flash mob. I’ve shot through the streets of Camden and under bridges in Manchester, thrown smoke bombs around in a wildflower field in Bristol, and thrown chips at seagulls in Brighton. I always get to come back to my little house in Derbyshire, and my wild kids drive me round the bend, but I’ve discovered a commitment to my couples and my work that I didn’t think I’d ever find.
My why is my family. Proving to myself that I can do it, and being there for my kids every day before and after school. It’s important to me that I live my life my way, and earn every penny I make in a way that I can be proud of.
My promise to the couples I work with is to never boss around, intrude or impose – just document, with guidance, empathy and joy. This means getting to know them, so I wouldn’t make them feel pressured to do something inappropriate. After all, it’s their life. I’m just collecting a little bit of it for them to hold on to. Why would I bring my own agenda to that? It sounds a bit wanky to put it like that, but it’s true.
So, if in doubt, say yes. You never know what you might find.