In 2015, I became a mom.
Motherhood is wild, it is wonderful, and it has made me take a long, hard look at my priorities. With a precious little person depending on me for nourishment and nurturing, I’ve been asking myself whether I'm using my time and talents for the greatest good.
As I try to juggle my various responsibilities, I keep wondering: is wedding photography still worthwhile for me as a Mom? Quite often, the answer seems to be, “no”.
Weddings take so much more time and energy than my family photography work. That in itself would be reason enough to re-evaluate my commitments. But, if I’m being honest, there’s a much deeper reason I’ve thought about quitting weddings.
I've always felt conflicted about being part of the wedding industry.
On the one hand, I love the joy and excitement of a wedding. I can’t believe I get to capture the day and the exact moment when two people join their lives together. Like all great beginnings, it is incredibly hopeful and inspiring and it brings out some of the best conversations, speeches, gestures, and emotions we can express.
On the other hand, I often find myself at odds with my own industry. For me, a wedding is the beginning of a marriage and a celebration of the new couple and all the people involved in their lives. But in the wedding industry, the marriage and the relationships often get lost in the noise and clutter of “planning the perfect day”.
So much of my chosen industry can be shallow (or outright fake), driven by comparison and ultimately distracting from the true purpose of the wedding. It pushes couples to think more about the aesthetics of their wedding than the feelings of their family and closest friends. It pushes photographers to shoot for the top wedding blogs, awards contests, and their own portfolios instead of putting their clients first. And, it pushes all of us to compare weddings based on their appearance and price tag rather than focusing on the beauty and joy of relationships.
As a bride, a wedding guest, and a photographer, I’ve done all these things. And I hate that I have let the commercial wedding industry change my values.
I’ve tried to struggle against the status quo quietly for some time now, but it’s so hard to fight the norms. I’ve been told over and over again that being a successful wedding photographer means being published in top blogs and magazines, winning awards, networking with the right people, shooting high-end weddings, keeping my social media up to date—playing all the industry games like a pro.
Deep down, I knew I didn’t believe those things were important, and I was tired of doing something I didn’t believe in.
I was feeling very, very worn down by this internal struggle last fall. That’s when I had an honest conversation with an old friend. As I poured out my frustrations, she listened kindly and thoughtfully. And then she told me something that made me believe in the life-giving power of wedding photography again.
I should start by explaining that my friend is a fellow married woman, but her marriage has been a very different journey than mine. Ten months after their wedding day, her husband was diagnosed with Leukemia. Rather than enjoying newlywed bliss, they began a years-long process of incredibly difficult and painful treatments that pushed them to the limits of endurance and hope.
After finally being declared cancer-free, they spent several years building up their lives again, only to find out recently that the Leukemia was back. This time around, her husband needed an even more intense and risky procedure involving a bone marrow transplant and radiation.
As my friend and I talked about the difficulties of my job, her husband was still in an incredibly vulnerable stage of his recovery, and his long-term prognosis was impossible to predict. From that place of uncertainty and struggle, she told me how much her own wedding photos meant to her.
When I tell my friend’s story, I tend to gloss over her wedding day and jump straight to the cancer diagnosis. For me, that’s the where the story begins. But my friend says her wedding day was the true beginning of the fight against cancer. On that day, surrounded by her family and friends, she pledged to love her husband in sickness and health.
Now, she looks back at her wedding photos and remembers her love for her husband, her vows to him, and her absolute joy in celebrating with their family and friends. When times are hard and the world seems cruel and dark, this brilliant, beautiful, joyful day lifts her spirits and give her hope.
I was intensely humbled to hear my friend talk about the strength and joy she finds in looking at her wedding photos. And I felt my own heart lifted by the idea that I could give other couples that kind of encouragement.
Before publishing this post, I shared it with my friend and her husband, and this is what he wrote back to me:
“...looking through our wedding album has been incredibly uplifting during some of the hardest moments of cancer treatment. Particularly as we celebrated two anniversaries in the midst of chemo, it reminded me of one of the most important elements of my recovery, that is our marriage and support for each other.”
When I read this, I knew I was on the right track with this post and with my decision to step out for the things I believe.
If you’ve read this far, I want to thank you for hearing my story, and I want to make you a promise. In 2016, I promise to push further and delve deeper into the important stuff and leave the rest behind. I’ll be redesigning my website, my portfolio, and my social media to boldly reflect my belief that wedding photography should nurture and strengthen marriages over a lifetime.
I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, and many difficult decisions to make, but I now have a strong guiding principal. I believe people are more important than things. So no matter how lovely the venue, the dress, or the details, my favorite subject will always be beautiful relationships.