It can be easy for us to think of ourselves as artists first and foremost, and view our clients as accessories to our art; sort of like paint to painters. We capture our preferred perception of the couple rather than the essence of what's actually going on. Don't get me wrong, I know this doesn't happen on purpose (you can't enjoy the wedding industry if you're completely devoid of compassion for others).
But . . .
It does happen. And I think the best way to avoid this is to realize that we're really just there to serve in whatever capacity the bride and groom need in the moment: I've moved ceremony props, cleaned up an outdoor reception after a downpour, run around getting the couple drinks, relayed messages to the planner, and, you know, I've taken some photos. You're a photographer, yes. But you're also a peacekeeper, a decision-maker, a water boy, a comic relief.
Apart from the planner, we probably spend the most time with the bride and groom on their wedding day. Our attitude, interactions, and ability to react to situations around us absolutely have an effect on the flow of the day.
I'm by no means an expert, but here are a few suggestions I have from first-hand experience to make your day run smoothly:
- Be accommodating: Bride doesn't want to get her dress dirty? Don't go too far off the path during portraits. Groom is constantly having to answer questions from his family? Act as a buffer, respectfully engage without damaging the timeline your couple likely paid someone a lot of money to plan ("that's a great suggestion, mom. We'll see if we have time for that after the scheduled events!")
- Be flexible with your work: I don't by any means suggest trying to recreate a Pinterest board that your bride forwarded you, but if there are a few images she really wants to recreate, do it. They're paying you well (and we're in a service industry).
- Be a decision-maker: Without being overbearing direct your couple. They've got a million things on their mind, and the way you do your job shouldn't be one of their main concerns. I usually ask, "Are there any spots in particular you wanted to go for some photos?" Occasionally I'll get a request, but most often the answer is "no." At that point, it's all you. You're the professional; make the decisions and give your clients one less thing to worry about.
- Have fun with your clients: This sounds cliche, and it is. But it's real, good advice. Being photographed is incredibly awkward (you should see the senior portraits of myself from high school). If you're stiff and weird your clients will be too. Establish a professional, but relaxed rapport with your client. This starts with your communication the second they inquire, but it's dramatically more important on wedding day when stress levels can be soaring.
- Be a servant: This, perhaps, is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Your clients will absolutely notice your willingness to take care of whatever they need. They'll notice you putting their needs before your own. Their experience will be elevated before they even see your photos.
I've shot a lot of weddings with Sam Stroud, and that fifth piece of advice is one of the most valuable lessons he's taught me. I'm paraphrasing here, but what he said went something like this:
"When you're with a client and your personality, willingness to work for them, and servitude makes their experience with you a 10/10, even if they get the photos back and they're only a 6, they'll still remember that first, incredible experience. You could give them average photos and they'd still tell their friends how great you are."