OK maybe not THE hardest (doctors, lawyers, counsellors, bathroom cleaners… I could go on…) but after spending one whole day of my life shadowing a wedding photographer, I can honestly say that it’s up there. Here’s why, after shadowing a wedding photographer (the incredible Nicky Lejeune – two of my best friends got married so the full spread of her amazing photos is coming soon), I think it’s genuinely one of the most difficult, stressful and admirable jobs out there, and I only got a small taste of what it might be like. As an outsider, wedding photographers, I salute you.
Artistic neuroses + commercial pressure = aaargh!
Photography is art. I know, as a professional writer that I experience a degree of that. All artists are a little insecure about their work sometimes (to understate it) and the added pressure of having a client who’s paid you for your very subjective, artistic work is enough to cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. You also occasionally have that “what I know is an awesome shot” vs “what the client wants” internal process going on, making life that bit harder.
Once you miss those moments, they’re gone
This is why I specified wedding photographers and not just photographers in general (although sports photographers, I can imagine, would have a similar issue): you can’t miss a trick. You can’t cock up moments like the first kiss, or the cake cutting. You can’t just ask the bride and groom to re-enact the whole thing because you had your lens cap on or (more commonly) they were slightly out of focus. And, unless you’re shooting on full auto (in which case, hand in your camera and your photographer’s badge) you’re having to constantly adjust your settings so that everyone who needs to be is in focus, the depth of field is right, the lighting isn’t over or underexposed, and you can’t reposition someone who’s decided to stand right in front of a window, or shove somebody out of the way for the sake of a good photo. You have to be a photography ninja, working with what’s in front of you even if it’s crap, knowing the camera like it’s an extension of your arm, sneaking through crowds unobtrusively to snap that one money shot.
You need the best people skills in the world
From highly emotional families to nervous brides and people who just don’t realise that they’re not the photographer (seriously – stopit) deciding that you should have a picture of the back of their head instead of the couple kissing, wedding photographers have to deal with a huge range of people and their “stuff”.
Not only that, but you have to be able to read them well enough to capture them at their best, to immortalise the emotions they’re feeling, at their very best angles, without letting on that the camera’s on them. A pretty big ask to dip into the human soul and and politely deal with every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to see the back of your camera.
You have to be able to tactfully work around people, who will move around and get in your way, who will be difficult about their photo being taken, or who will insist you take hundreds of photos of them despite playing a minor part in the wedding.
Basically, you have to become a master in speed-diplomacy, quietly and carefully appeasing and rearranging just in time to make sure you’re there to capture another magic moment.
It’s physically exhausting
I’ve never spent more time cramped in more uncomfortable positions. After twenty minutes hunched over in the baking heat, trying to encourage a butterfly to land on a ring, dangling on a piece of lavender, which had to be held perfectly still, I felt like I’d never need to go to the gym again. Wedding photographers are also on their feet the entire day with very little respite, you have to be in shape and ready to tough it out.
You have to have serious vision
To photograph a wedding (well), not only do you need to be able to clearly see pictures everywhere as they’re happening, but you also need to see how those pictures are going to come together to create a set of images that belong together AND tell the story of the day, without looking visually jarring as a spread. No pressure, then.
The editing… oh the editing
I’ve recently discovered Photoshop. Which means I’ve also discovered how hard it is to edit raw files, one by one, in a way that brings them together as a cohesive set of pictures and brings out the best in everyone. Honestly, it’s like when I sit down to edit my amateur shots I forgot what a normal exposure should look like, or what someone’s natural skin tone is. I have no idea how photographers get through the laborious task of editing hundreds of wedding shots, making them look incredibly beautiful and making them fit together as a set. All I can say is “wow”.
So, after having experienced the exhilarating, exhausting and inspiring life of a wedding photographer, I can confidently say it’s a job I could never quite hack. So raising an invisible glass to all you wedding photographers out there, capturing the most exciting moments of a family’s life – I really don’t know how you do it!