Regular readers (and/or people who already know me) will be aware that, in a few short weeks, I am going to become Mrs. Giant Bear. I have been doing my due diligence: reading wedding blogs, talking to married friends, and generally trying to make sure that we don’t waste money or time on things we don’t care about.
Some of these decisions were easy: buying or hiring dresses that won’t fit my body or the vision in my head vs. making my dresses; buying real flowers that will require coolness, vases, water and general fuss vs. spending my hen party making flowers from fabric and knitting needles that I can dismantle and make into a quilt afterwards; forcing my favourite women to wear dresses I don’t want to choose and they don’t want to wear vs. not bothering with bridesmaids at all. Photography, however, fell right on the boundary of what we consider to be Wedding Fluff. Every blog I have read carries the same message when it comes to wedding photography: don’t skimp on it. Several posts I have read suggest that you should trim money from absolutely everywhere in your budget before you skimp on the photographer (‘I’d personally get married in my parents’ back garden and wearing a Topshop dress if it meant I’d get amazing photographs of the day‘). I can see the logic that, barring a house fire, the photographs are one of the few mementos of the day that last forever. However, I just can’t agree that it’s more important to have a good photographer than it is to, say, give your guests a decent dinner. Also, you’ll be there. You’ll be there, all day. Can’t you just remember what it was like? What I want a photographer to do is capture the moments that we might miss, like guests arriving in the church while I’m upstairs cocking up my makeup; people talking or dancing at the reception, which we missed because we were at the other end of the room surreptitiously stuffing each other with cake; photographs of my speech, which of course I’ll remember, but from a completely different point of view. In other words, I want to be able to trust him or her to judge for himself or herself which moments, people and objects deserve to be captured, without me having to break the fourth wall to say ‘quick, take a picture of Giant Bear doing a thing. Oh. He’s seen us.’
A good wedding photographer is expensive, I have discovered. Some of them charge more than our entire budget (£4.5k. I promise a further post explaining how we managed to pull off a hen party, a stag do, a honeymoon and a two-day, two-ceremony wedding with over sixty guests for this money). As a freelance, I totally understand why it costs this much and don’t begrudge the money, but we simply don’t have £1.5k+ to spend on this (and if we did have an extra £1.5k suddenly injected into our budget, we wouldn’t spend it on a photographer). Giant Bear’s delightful mother Beady Bear saw our dilemma and very kindly offered to pay for a photographer. I said I would like to employ a fellow freelance, and so the bulk of the wedding (Day Two: church blessing, afternoon tea, barbecue and barn dance) is being covered by the very wonderful and talented No Longer A Philosopher, who mainly does events and therefore fits our wish for something informal, quirky and as non-traditional-wedding as possible; he also expressed horror at the idea of formal photographs and of shooting the short but non-repeatable ceremony on Day One. Beady Bear would like some formal portraits, so we agreed to hire a wedding specialist for Day One, to cover the civil ceremony and then take some pictures in the beautiful gardens afterwards.
This brings me to the meeting I had yesterday with Terrible Photographer. I conduct similar conversations myself, when a prospective customer makes an enquiry to see if I can help them improve one of the most important things they will ever write: a dissertation, an application form, a PhD thesis, a book. I attempt to build a rapport; I provide references; I show them examples of my work and talk about relevant experience; I explain, patiently and at length, exactly what they can and can’t expect from me; and I find out as much as I can about what their expectations are and whether I can meet them before I agree to do the job and provide an estimate of the total cost. I have only been freelance for three years (although I’ve had this business for nearly a decade alongside other work), and so I’m prepared to learn from others. Yesterday’s meeting was highly educational. Here are some things I learned from it.
i. Make no effort to persuade your customer to employ you.
Firstly, set the tone within the opening minutes, making it clear to your prospective customer that you are already pretty sure the contract is in the bag, and that your prospective customer can’t wait to pay their deposit (non-refundable). Remember that your customer is not nearly as important as, for example, the person that has just called your mobile. This is particularly important if the call is from a family member asking you to pick up milk on the way home, rather than (say) an existing customer. Don’t say ‘I’m with a customer right now’ and cut them off; don’t say ‘do you mind if I take this call?’ before answering it; certainly don’t simply turn your mobile off when you arrive so that you’re not disturbed (are you an animal? What if someone needed to call you about milk!?).
Secondly, don’t bring your A-game: that will only raise unrealistic expectations that you can’t be bothered to meet. Instead, bring a selection of mediocre work, all with a certain sameness about it so that it’s clear you are both incompetent and inflexible. In the case of photographs, why not include a picture of bride and groom where the bride’s eyes are shut, right at the front of your sample album? How about a picture of bride and groom looking uncomfortable, next to a vast and hideous car that appears to be chewing yards of ivory ribbon with its radiator grill and with an ambulance dominating the background? Maybe a series of pictures with important details amputated by the edge of the image, such as the bottom of a bouquet, the top of a stained glass window, or the bride’s fingers? Another useful trick is to include ugly or irrelevant things, as a distraction from the actual people. For example, photographing a set of flower girls in front of a garden fence, in a car-park or nestled into a privet hedge is a simple way to make a wedding look classy. Even in a beautiful church, there is usually a chaotic notice-board or some terrible leaflets in lurid colours that can be positioned behind the bride’s head.
ii. Make sure your customer is clear that you know less than they do.
The blindingly simple method Terrible Photographer used to get this across to me was to show me his work. Every image (*every* image) showed people smiling uncertainly down the barrel of the camera, square on, about six feet from the lens. No candid shots, capturing lovely ephemera; no long or short perspective; no zoom; no angles; no shadows, reflections or loving close-ups of interesting details; no action shots. Can’t be bothered to do this in person? No problem: just throw together a shoddy website over lunch, using Comic Sans, Clipart and black pseudo-porn-site backgrounds throughout. Sprinkle liberally with grocers’ apostrophes (making sure that ‘photo’s’ is used as many times as possible) and other extraneous punctuation. Put some random phrases in quotation marks for no reason (“Somerset Based!!”) and you’re done.
iii. Is your customer unusual in some way? Make them feel judged. Also, having already made it clear that you’re not terribly competent, bonus points are available if you can imply this is the fault of your customer.
A selection of vignettes from yesterday:
TP: Will it be a big do?
TP: How many people will there be at the ceremony?
Me: No. Nine.
TP (curious): Why is it so small?
Me: We want it to be small. My parents aren’t coming and I’m not having any bridesmaids, so there will be nine of us.
TP (shaking his head): That’s very small. Not much to photograph there.
TP (coy): I expect you’ll want a picture of Daddy giving you away.
Me (patient. For the moment): As I said earlier, my father isn’t going to be there.
TP (completely lost): Are you being given away, or are you going to just wander in on your own?
Me (resisting the temptation to say ‘who knew women could walk twenty yards unaided? Next we’ll be wanting the vote‘): Yes. I’m being given away by my friend S.
TP (suddenly understanding): You won’t want a picture of that, then.
Me (baffled): Of course I want a picture of that! Why would I not want a picture of that?
TP (pointing at a photograph of a colossal pasty bride, thirteen bridesmaids in identical magenta sacks and four miserable flower girls): I expect you’ll want a picture with all your bridesmaids.
Me (somewhat less patient): As I said earlier, I’m not having any bridesmaids.
TP (taken aback): Oh! What a shame. I think it’s nice for girls to have friends.
Me (icy): I have plenty of friends, thank you. As I said earlier, we simply decided not to have any bridesmaids.
TP (ruminative): What a shame. It’s always nice to get a picture of a pretty bridesmaid.
Me (seizing on the only good photograph I had seen all day, of a bride preparing to throw her bouquet): This is a nice one.
TP: I expect you’ll want a picture of you throwing your bouquet.
Me: TO WHOM?
TP: Your bridesmaids.
Me: I DON’T HAVE ANY BRIDESMAIDS.
TP (not listening): They’ll want to know who’s next for the chop <wink>
Me (past ‘icy’ into a frozen, wind-blasted tundra): Throwing the bouquet is an outdated, sexist tradition; my bouquet is made of knitting needles and weighs nearly three pounds; and the only women present will be Beady Bear and her mother (with ninety-five years of married life between them), who would both be insulted and possibly maimed by having a bundle of knitting needles hefted at them for no reason. The likely outcome is a reproduction of this picture (flipping back through the album to Bride And Groom With Ambulance), except with Giant Bear’s grandmother being loaded into it.
TP (not listening): Ha! That ambulance shot! It’s great, isn’t it?
iv. Only use props of the lowest possible quality.
The album containing the sample photographs was small, dirty and cheap-looking. The photographs were in loose plastic cases that were slightly too large, so that they slithered about, slanty and in constant danger of falling out. I was also handed a smudgy leaflet with the comment “this is some of my best work” (it included a generic picture of a pretty church on a sunny day, which anybody with eyes and a camera could have taken). The business card demonstrated a clear lack of any sense of proportion. There was a tablet, on which he attempted to show me the same photographs that were in the horrible album (why, when he knows I’ve just looked at them?). In reality, all he showed me was that he was unable to master the ‘swipe’ action: about half the time, instead of flicking onto the next picture, we zoomed in on someone’s ear, while he yelped in distress. I was also given two forms: one had been personalised with our names (or at least variations on our names) and the other was for mystery couple ‘Mark and Catriona’. I was expected to attach a cheque to one of these forms. I declined.
 Because I am divorced, we are having a small and intimate civil ceremony on Day One, and then a blessing in church with lots of people and music the following day. The two occasions are completely different and therefore require two entirely different dresses i.e. one with a giraffe, and one without.
 A reception line; bridesmaids, page boys and flower girls; an ‘engagement shoot’, whatever that is; getting my hair and/or makeup done by a professional; nail polish; fancy shoes (bought ’em on Ebay for £35); and probably a whole bunch of other nonsense I don’t even know about.
 I’d like to see some statistics about whether there is a correlation between the amount of money spent on a wedding and how long the marriage itself lasts.
 My father can’t be with us, so I’m being given away by S and will be giving the father of the bride speech myself.
 The word refers to lone knights wandering about the place on horseback, waiting to be hired by some local dignitary to fight on their behalf i.e. I am free, and I have a lance. Because I’m changing my name shortly, I will also need to change the name of my business and I’m toying with a new, knight-based logo.
 I hate the word ‘client’. I suspect it’s the word prostitutes use when they’re being polite.
 Me: The bride’s eyes are shut in this one.
TP: I hadn’t noticed.
Me (inside my head): WHAT?
 After a moment, I realised he meant my father. Dad hasn’t been addressed or referred to as ‘Daddy’ for at least thirty years. He probably cringed at that exact moment, in the middle of the night in Beijing, and didn’t know why.
 “You get one of these, free of charge!” Really? Free? Or simply factored into a payment that has already been made? Also, wow, really? I get a small, dirty and cheap-looking album of my very own? I can barely contain myself.