Branding Bridal Party Photos

Photography

Dear Jasmine,
I have a question for you and it might be super simple to answer, but I just don’t know what to do! I live in St Louis (famous for the St Louis arch) and EVERY Saturday, the arch is surrounded by 4 bridal parties at a time. And to be perfectly honest, that is not the experience that I want to give my brides. I want them to be able to relax on their wedding day and look back on the images and be truly thankful for each and every image that was captured on that day. Taking the “traditional” photos in front of the arch does not fit my brand and I really don’t think that my clients want photos of them with hundreds of people in the background… even though they say they do.

How do I approach this? Because I feel so strongly about it that I don’t want to accept weddings if they want pictures of themselves in front of the arch.

Thanks,
Don’t Know What To Do

Dear Don’t Know What To Do,
I’m afraid you asked this question to the wrong person…if you’re anything like me. You see, it’s easiest for me to hear things I want to hear. I’m afraid my answer might rub you the wrong way, but I’m gonna come right out and say it: 1. The client knows best and is always right; and 2. When in doubt, reread point one.

I take photograph requests that “don’t fit my brand” at almost every wedding because that’s what I’m paid to do. Of course, I’m also afforded the luxury to shoot editorial/candid/fun/photojournalistic moments unprompted, but at the end of the day, I photograph everything I’m asked to because the bride has a vision of what her day should be, and I’m hired to enhance the experience with my vision, ideas, and opinions. Whoa, that was a long sentence.

So…my answer doesn’t really solve your dilemma now does it? If I was in your shoes, I’d probably do the following:
1. Showcase Only What I Want to Shoot.
If I want to stop attracting brides who want bridal party pictures at The Arch, then I need to not show pictures at The Arch (yes, I’ll still capture these requested photos, but I’d also shoot alternatives, more on that in a bit). People want more of what they see, so the first step is to highlight what you want to showcase (in this case, bridal party photos away from The Arch). Remember, you’re an artist, but you’re also a curator, so display your strengths and, ultimately, what you want to attract.
2. Publicly Encourage and Applaud.
When sharing the non-Arch wedding photos (on Facebook, blog or website), don’t hesitate to say how great it was that the bride opted to make her day unique…or spent time personalizing her photo experience…or wanted to break tradition. Most brides choose what they think is the best option because they don’t know there’s another. And why would we blame them? If all their friends have Arch photos, shouldn’t they? As photographers we know the answer is no (unless The Arch has played a significant role in their relationship or has major sentimental value), but we need to inform our clients of their options by publicly endorsing those who catch our vision.
3. You Must Get It Before You Can Endorse It.
The best way to educate clients of their photo options is to show them what those options are. If your portfolio doesn’t reflect bridal party photos away from The Arch, you need to change that. Stat. You can do this by second shooting with another photographer (making sure he/she permits sharing your photos online) who has a bridal party pose away from The Arch or you can set up a mock bridal party shoot. Yes, the latter takes more time and effort, but showing prospective clients your ideas and talent for shooting untraditionally is easier than telling them of their options. Lastly, don’t be afraid to suggest to a bride that you can shoot the bridal party in two locations (explaining the benefit of a private location versus a location with hundred of people in the background) as this will start building your portfolio away from The Arch.

Lastly, I’d challenge your stance on “not accepting weddings” if they don’t fall in line with your preferences. To be honest, I put so much of what I want to photograph online that prospective clients get a very good idea of who I am. In the beginning of my career, many brides asked for a photo of the bridal party jumping. Oh, you know THAT photo…the photo that made everyone look like they were starring in a 1991 Toyota commercial. That particular bridal party photo was all the rage, so I posted those photos online because I thought it’d make the bride happy…but in the process it made me unhappy because those types of photos were the last thing I wanted to capture (nothing against jumping…it’s just not my stilo). When I made the decision to keep the jumping photos in the client’s gallery (and away from my online portfolio), I stopped attracting brides who wanted to jump. When I showcased what I wanted to shoot, I began attracting brides who wanted just that. My vision. And I couldn’t be happier because accepting weddings is more an issue of whether the clients like me…not if the clients want what I want. Because online images in my portfolio are the only thing they see, they have a good idea of my aesthetic and whether it’s a good fit for them.

I hope this helps as you build your business, and your portfolio, away from The Arch. I have no doubt you’ll do it amazingly well since it sounds like you genuinely care about what your clients want.
Stay Fabulous,
j*