Last year I said goodbye to wedding photography.
Many of my friends and family were chagrined. I had worked extremely hard to reach a certain level of success. I had made many difficult sacrifices along the way. I endured many early mornings, crazy situations, and unpleasant people among the way I also encountered beautiful love stories, kind hearted people, and considerate clients, for which I shall always be grateful. And to top all of that off, I had just become an international wedding photographer.
I look back on my 6 years as a wedding photographer and can genuinely say I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. It was so fun. It was full of adventure. It was also lonely and demanding. It was very, very hard work, but I loved ever moment for a long time.
Two years ago, all that changed when I had the worst client experience of my career, or any other photographer I had heard of.
The story is long. I won’t elaborate on the details, but I genuinely hope that the lessons I learned in this painful and aggravating experience may guard other photographers from being taken advantage of and burned out as I was.
It started when I was contracted by someone close to me. I was to be hired as a gift to a bride and groom. I was really touched by the individual who wanted to hire me; As I understand the value of wedding photography, I also knew that it would be a wonderful and dynamic gift.
That was the only part of the experience that was positive. I promise you I am not being dramatic in any way, shape, or form.
The couple contacted me to elaborate on the details of their wedding. We dialogue back and forth in the usual fashion. They wanted my most comprehensive package - Forever Love, valued at $5500. This included just about everything I had to offer, plus travel expenses.
So I sent the contract.
After about two weeks of email exchanges, the responses went silent. Now, any wedding photographer can tell you that we aren’t surprised by this and to a degree can even expect it to happen. This scenario was rather strange though, because my services were to be a gift to them. It was at this point that I had a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was turning out different.
Ten days went by, and then they reached out again with a few random questions. I responded promptly with answers, and was again a bit ill at ease when weeks went by before hearing from them.
To be completely honest, by this point, I knew that I should not have worked with them. One advantageous part about being a business owner is the fact that you can chose who you work with and who you take on as clients. I knew in my heart I shouldn’t have chosen to work with them, but in my desire to bless the individual close to me, I did not turn them away.
That was the worst decision of my career.
Lesson One: Do not take any client who you feel does not value you or your work. We all have had the emails. We all have experienced those feelings in the pit of the stomach that makes you wonder if you are making the right choice. Do not ignore this intuition. Ever.
Two months after we started the conversations, I didn’t hear from them again for several months. By that point, I was somewhat relieved. I thought it was over. But in November, they contacted me again. They said they were so excited to choose me as their wedding photographer, and wondered if we could meet up again via Skype to talk details. I was hesitant, but felt obligated. I acquiesced to their request. I re-iterated that the contract should be in their inbox, and to let me know if they had questions.
I heard back from them a few days later. They were concerned with the contract. I required 50% deposit to hold the date, and then the remainder was to be sent 2 weeks before the wedding. Early on in my career, I had too many weddings where the clients forgot the check on the day of the wedding. I did not shoot a wedding unless that remainder was in hand. This client wanted my policy to be amended. Apparently a relative of the bride had hired a wedding photographer years prior, only to never receive any of her photos - they even went to church with the photographer. Once again, I felt uneasy, but I understood their distrust of photographers from the previous experiences. I amended the contract so that 50% was due upon signing. Another 25% would be due at the wedding, and the remaining when the images were received. We signed the contract, and went through the typical process of working out details and travel plans.
Lesson Two: Never amend your contract - unless it is out of a genuine trust to your client. I understand the hesitation. Contracts can be awkward. It is a legal piece of paper that each signer knows to be documentation that will protect both of them. In the career of an artist, this is critical - and we know it. But for some reason in the photographic community I hear all too often this spirit of "I'm sorry I have a contract for you". We are embarrassed of our contracts, as if we have something to apologize for. This is just silly and ridiculous. We have contracts to protect us. Why would we have a reason for protection unless there are individual out there who are willing and quick to take advantage of us?
Lesson Three: Triple check your contract. The drama and challenges of the entire situation would have been avoided had I done this. If you remember that the contract is your friend, you will embrace checking it for details and acknowledgements. One number, one word, can change everything. And you will be either legally responsible to or free from it.
After we booked, there was still 6 months until the wedding date. I went about my life as usual through the winter, thinking little more of this particular client situation. In March, 7 weeks before the contracted date, I travelled to Colombia for the first time. That trip, as I have written about previously, was incredible. I wished I could stay longer. I came home on a Monday. The moment I stepped off the plane, I was sick with a bad head cold. Combined with the travel wear and tear I was exhausted and had to dive into a full work week. Tuesday through Friday I had my usual work calls for mentoreers and my other job.
Friday early afternoon I was in my pajamas, getting ready to take my first recoup day of the week. I remember the exact moment. I had just finished with my other work and was so excited to rest. That was when I received the text message.
I looked at my phone and saw a message from the individual who contracted me for the wedding. It read, “I can’t wait to see you TOMORROW!!!!”
My heart literally stopped in my chest.
Quickly, I responded with a few words about how I was also excited to see them. Then I asked about the wedding.
My heart sank in my chest at the response. I stared at the text in complete disbelief:
The wedding was the next day.
I panicked. I had no idea what to do. I was appalled. The thoughts raced in my head. Was I wrong about the date? How did I make this mistake? The plane tickets were booked for 2 weeks away. Could I get there to photograph the wedding? It was a terrible minute of confusion and desperation.
The first thing I did was find their contract. I needed to know - had I put down the wrong date? My heart was racing as I rapidly went through the contract. To my complete relief, my eyes found confirmation. The date on the contract was the date that I had booked my tickets for. But I was not entirely in the clear. So I went through every single email I had from the clients in the 7 months of our dialogue. The date they had given me was the date in the contract.
I breathed deeply for several minutes to try and calm myself. Then I made a few calls for advice. Should I try to make it there? I was in Denver. I was sick. I had just returned from an exhausting International trip and was far from recovered. The wedding was 17 hours away - less than 24 hours from when I received the text message. My options were extremely limited. Flights were $600 on such short notice. I didn’t have a car booked. And worse yet, it was Easter weekend. We hadn’t even finalized the wedding day details because according to my schedule we were to connect that week.
At that point I made a choice. I chose to fulfill my commitment to my client, come hell or high water. I chose to do everything in my power to make it to that wedding, and photograph to the best of my abilities. I had no idea if it was possible or if I could do it. But I was certainly going to try.
So, two hours after I got the text, I set out in my car to drive to my destination. I drove 17 hours through the night. I parked in the lot of a 24 hour fitness and napped for 2 hours before I showered and got ready for the long day. On little more than caffeine and the grace of God, I arrived on time and made no indication to my clients that anything had been wrong.
Lesson Four: If you are going to go out of your way for a client, make sure they will have your back. My intentions were to alleviate some crazy additional stress from the wedding by working everything out myself. I felt like it was my responsibility - and to a degree it was. However, if a client signs a contract for a given date, there really is no sacrificial obligation a photographer has to go. There may be a matter of moral conviction, as was in my case. But looking back, the results may have been different if I had brought in the other responsible party to resolve the situation, rather than taking it on completely myself.
I have never pushed myself as much as I did the day of that wedding. Any creativity I had was divine grace. I literally counted down the hours for the day to be over. I have never been that stretched as an artist. I had to focus so hard to stay awake or create anything of value. I gave it everything I had.
By the time the reception came, I was done. Emotionally. Physically. Creatively. I took some detail shots, some shots of the guests, and then I sat down. I felt like I was going to pass out. I couldn’t’ even eat the dinner because the food wash’ t in line with my allergies. My strategy was to photograph “one shot, one kill” for the reception events.
It wasn’t until the end of the day that I took my clients aside, and told them what happened. I told them that I was only there because of a text message, a drive through the night, and the grace of God. They were shocked. They were speechless. They had no idea how the date mix up had happened. But they said they were grateful. I genuinely believed them.
And then almost 12 hours later, I left.
The next day - Easter Sunday - I found myself on a long road home. Not with family or friends, but driving through the mountains back to Denver. Though I was proud of myself for making it happen, I was in pain and sick. I had no idea that the sacrifice I made for my clients, was the very sacrifice that would be my undoing.
Part II will follow next week!
[Are you a photographer? Have you had a similar experience in your career? Share your story below. Or do you know another photographer who could benefit from the lessons of this story? Use this link to share: http://tinyurl.com/luxy5s7 ]
Last year I said goodbye to wedding photography.
I’ve thought about this blog post for a couple of months now. It’s taken me a while to know what I should write - probably because this topic seems so difficult to put into words.
It was one year ago today Phillip and I said yes to forever. It was one year ago today that we committed to doing life together. That we would always have each others backs. That we promised to be a safe place for one another. That we would be each others home. It was one year ago today that we made the covenant to love one another as Christ loves us, and put each other first.
Everyone says the first year of marriage is hard. I am sure we would agree, but the fact is, both Phillip and I very strongly believe that God used each of us to create a dramatic course-redirectionin our lives. Phillip said I was his “missing link”; that he has found his path because I was there to walk beside him. My friend Mish coined a term that I couldn’t agree with more - Phillip was the “Miracle Grow” for my soul; I came into healing because he loved me through it. Perhaps these things have always caused us to appreciate being married, even with the hard and challenging lessons that came.
Love is an extraordinary thing.
It’s true that we said yes in an extremely short amount of time. I’m sure there were a great many people who questioned our decision, who wondered how long we would last. It is also true that God is faithful, and His grace is enough to cover any and every challenge in life. We have seen that in our lives over and over again. After all, marriage is two sinners joining hands and promising to spend the rest of life with one another. Marriage is bound to be messy. And yet marriage is also bound to be glorious. After all, isn’t it incredible that the Bible begins with a wedding, and ends with a wedding?
Looking back, there are things I wish someone would have told me a year and a half ago about marriage and relationships - things I’ve not really heard before in the usual girl-to-girl or church conversations about marriage. Maybe if I knew these things before, I could have been a better wife, a better partner, a better woman of God. But life is it’s own teacher, and I imagine sometimes the lessons that life teaches us go the deepest way into our hearts.
So, today, as we look back on one year of marriage, here's what I have learned:
1. You are never “Ready” for marriage. I know people would disagree with me on this one, but hear me out: Marriage is about loving one another as Jesus Christ loves us. Well, last I read in the Epistles, Jesus came, lived a selfless life as He walked among us, never sinned, barely slept, was betrayed, beaten, tortured, and killed on a cross. I know it may seem extreme, but who in their right mind would sign up for that? We are sinners, we are selfish, and no one is ever ready to make every painful decision or step with only one person on their mind. This is marriage. The fact that we aren’t “Ready” is simply a testament to God’s power to grow us and sanctify us.
2. “God didn’t create marriage to make you happy, but to make you Holy”. I heard this quote from my friend Sarah years and years ago, but it always stuck. In our first year of marriage, I can attest that it is entirely true. Iron sharpens iron after all. Doing life with someone forever illuminates everything ugly and sinful and selfish about you. How? You let someone in. You give another person permission to see inside the deepest parts of you, to know your fears, the things that haunt you, the things that make you fall. They are the ones to get behind your walls of insecurity, protection, and facades. On one hand, this is probably the most beautiful part of life that I’ve experienced. On the other hand, it is also the most gruesome. I’ve learned all the more that I am extremely impatient, pushy (though my siblings could absolutely attest to this), opinionated, and goal oriented to the place that I don’t know how to rest. Being married to my husband stretches me in these ways because he is my exact opposite: Patient, laid back, flexible, open, and ready for relaxation. I have qualities he needs. He has qualities I need. And that is why we are perfect for one another; we are the tools of God to sanctify each other.
3. Caring for someone else’s heart is a terrifyingly weighty responsibility. One of my favorite books about marriage ever is one by John and Stasi Eldredge called Love and War. We started reading that book together last April, and our marriage is very much built on quite a number of the books’ premises. At the end of the day, we learned that as married people, we have a crazy responsibility to care for one another's hearts. We also have the very terrifying responsibility to allow one another the permission to care for each others hearts. Phillip never felt like there was anyone in life who really cared about him or his heart, so it actually took several months for him to let me “behind the walls”. From a young age I took on the choice to care for other people’s hearts quite intensely, but it took me a long time to believe that Phillip really wanted to care for mine that way too. As we were reading Love and War one day, we both were taken aback by the direct nature of this quote: “Without you, your spouse will not become the man or woman that God intends him or her to be, and the Kingdom of God will not advance as it is meant to advance. Your spouse place the most vital role in your life. You play the most critical role in your spouse’s life. No one will have a greater impact on your spouses soul than you. No one has greater access to your spouses heart than you. This is a tremendous honor…It is a sobering truth isn’t it. You are on holy ground. You matter more than you thought.”
4. It’s ok to admit you drive each other crazy. I drive aggressive. For me, reaching my destination is the goal. So I drive to get there. Phillip on the other hand, drives like a grandpa - ok maybe not a grandpa YET, but he is certainly the most law abiding driver on the road. For him, the journey is the destination. So he drives to enjoy the journey. This is why we are perfect for each other - on the road and in life. This is also one of the main reasons we drive each other crazy. I don’t remember the exact day we realized it. But the first time Phillip actually got mad at me was because he felt like I was endangering his life as I whipped out and made a u-turn on a street with traffic oncoming (in my defense I t.o.t.a.l.l.y. had plenty of room). I had to apologize and tell him that I do value his life very much and I would do my best to make him feel that way when I drove. It actually hasn’t been until recently that I realized how much anxiety I get when Phillip is driving. In my mind, I think, “why isn’t he in the right lane to turn yet?” or “if he would only move over from behind this bus we’d save some time” or “does he actually enjoy staying behind the slowest drivers on the road”. For my dear husband, he wasn’t in the right lane because he was admiring a sports car next to him and forgot that he had to turn; and yes the bus is in front of us but we are turning two streets down so there’s not enough time to pass it on the left; and we aren’t in any hurry so why stress about being behind a slow driver? Each of us has become comfortable vocalizing these moments of “you drive me crazy”. And while irritating on some days, on other days it’s also actually special. I know it sounds weird, but those are the times that I really feel that I’m loved - because though I drive Phillip crazy, he won’t stop loving me.
5. Marriage isn’t supposed to force you to give up your dreams; Your dreams simply become about “us” rather than “me”. Honestly, I didn’t actually know if I would ever get married. Most of my friends from back in the day know that I claimed I never would get married. There were two reasons I felt this way: I thought I would be forced to give up my dreams and relegated to kitchen duty for the rest of my life (I’ve never enjoyed cooking; was always sad we couldn’t live on bread alone!). I also thought that I would lose myself. That’s a weird one, I know. But my dreams were such an intrinsic part of me, I didn’t believe anyone would ever truly accept me for me, and be ok with those big dreams too. As it turns out, Phillip loves my “dream big” mentality. He says I have enough vision for the both of us. And it actually is a good thing too. Because Phillip enjoys the here and now. He doesn’t like getting bogged down by the possibilities, he just wants the best decision. So I’m the one who weighs, and ponders, and sometimes worries, and he’s the one who takes the top three and makes a choice. It actually is amazing. He sees my dreamer / visionary nature and loves me all the more for it.
6. The hardest part about marriage (for me): Suddenly, 1+ 1 = a TRILLION factors. I can’t stress this enough. Phillip and I both agree that this is one of the most difficult parts about being married. Single life is simple. It is so. so. so. simple. If I had $200 in my bank account before my next paycheck, and I wanted a purse, gosh darn it I would go out to Target and get a purse! If Phillip felt like going out to Red Robin every day of the week, there was no one there to say we should eat at home and save the money. Life is so simple when you are single; If you feel like doing something, you just go do it! Nothing could be further from that freedom than marriage. Now I am not saying that this is an awful and burdensome thing. But I wasn’t expecting it to be so darn complicated. Especially when you think about moving. It’s really hard for me to stay in one place for a good chunk of time. "I’m a hopeless wanderer” by Mumford is probably a theme song of my soul. I don’t like settling down. I’m sure there are issues there I simply haven’t surfaced, but I can honestly say I consider moving somewhere else probably once a year. As a single person, I could up and move at the drop of the hat. I could take the road for months and be no worse off. Being married - yeah that changes drastically. Now, I can’t just act on my gut intuition for myself - I have to consciously think about how every single aspect of a move would affect Phillip. And then how the move affecting Phillip would affect me. That’s been stressful and really difficult for me. However, would I give up my adventure partner for the easy road? Not in a million years. “'We’re in this together' is one of the strongest cords that binds two hearts together.”
One year ago today, we eloped.
I can say with complete confidence that marrying Phillip is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have never been more grateful for anyone in my life.
We are both so grateful for the friends and family who were willing to love and accept us even in the midst of the shock, and disappointment that our rushed marriage caused. We have seen the grace of God showered on us through my parents, my siblings, and Phillips family as well. While we wish that we would have at least eloped with our families present (and would never in seriousness tell someone else to elope), starting our marriage with the mindset that we wanted to just do life together was as perfect as it got for us. Two really are better than one.
I am a different person today because Phillip married me one year ago. I am better. I am softer. I am stronger. I am more considerate. I am (becoming) more patient. I am more relaxed. I am more open.
Love changed me.
After so many lessons learned in just a year, I can only imagine the saint I am supposed to become after a lifetime of marriage.
I've been in process of updating my blog, so once again I have been somewhat inconsistent. Just when I get on a roll. Such as life.
In past posts I have mentioned making changes to my business. I honestly can't wait to unveil what is coming ahead! After a number of years as a successful wedding photographer, I have decided to discontinue my wedding services. Rather, I will be focusing 100% of my business efforts within Portrait photography. To be completely honest, portraiture is what moved me to first begin work in professional photography services. I love taking peoples portraits. It's an incredible honor and privilege to capture the essence of who someone is. I have been able to do this in Ecuador, China, India, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Colombia, Peru, France, the Bahamas, and of course, all across the US.
There is something magical about creating art with someone's personality and form. That is one of the things I enjoy the very most about my job.
I am excited for the season ahead. Change can be scary, but it is also exciting.
To the end of making my business even more wonderful, I began to do some additional reading. I wanted to pass along some fantastic titles for a rainy day - or snow day if you leave in Colorado; these apply to anyone who wants to make a difference with their work:
2. GREAT WORK
My portrait business has always been focused on stories. Largely because I personally believe we are all moved by stories and the examples of those around us. I have found these books to enhance the stories we create with our work; And the motivation behind the stories we want to live within.
Enjoy and have a lovely week!