Branding Bridal Party Photos


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.

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,

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  1. Natalie

    August 15th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    It’s like Oatmeal. All the people in the factory are sick and tired of Oatmeal, but the customers like it and there’s a demand for it…so the factory keeps up with the supply. So they mix in a few different flavors, renew and innovate….and expand their existing customers’ taste….and transform the whole Oatmeal experience. Your Customer now like Strawberry Oatmeal and the Original Flavor. Win-Win

  2. Dana Laymon

    August 15th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Great advice, and great question! We all deal with this in one way or another. I think you do both like J* said. Shoot both but only showcase what you want to attract!

  3. Christina

    August 15th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Great advice! I’ve wondered this myself and I recently revamped my website. I took out all of the shots that I don’t want to do on a daily basis, including those last few horrid spot color pictures from years ago. Ugh. I always had brides asking me to do that. But since I took those down, I haven’t had anyone ask! Oh, and I live near Chicago…we get requests for "The Bean" all the time. So, I sympathize with the person who asked the question!

  4. The New Diplomat's Wife

    August 15th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    i think this is fantastic advice for what a client wants/you want for anyone in a services based industry. on the flip side of the equation, as someone who is often a client, it’s frustrating when you occassionally reach out to someone because you like their look and feel and they become so militant about vision that they forget you are the client who is actually footing the bill. i think your advice about curating is spot on.

  5. sharon elizabeth

    August 15th, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    love that second shot! gorgeous!

  6. Retha

    August 15th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Hi, I had to google it, it’s huge 🙂

  7. Rebekah Hoyt

    August 15th, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Jasmine, this post is so wonderful! Your honesty is so helpful (and even convicting) for me and it’s a humble reminder to always put the client’s needs first. Thank you for sharing this!!

  8. Melissa

    August 15th, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Well said

  9. Martin Hambleton

    August 15th, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    What a common sense answer, clearly laid out. Good to read. I like the line that we’re curators. And nice group shots!

  10. Erin

    August 15th, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    GREAT POST! I struggled with the same thing (only not with the Arch) for months and months until I finally realized exactly what you advised — I need to stop showing those photos that do not reflect my style if I want to stop attracting clients who want those photos. I started ONLY showcasing the photos that show my style and in turn, I’ve started attracting the clients that share my style. It’s awesome!

  11. Marlo Laney

    August 15th, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Wonderful Answer :o)

  12. Mariano

    August 15th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Sound Advice.

  13. Adam N. Parth

    August 15th, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Well said! How do you tell a couple that has hired you that you won’t shoot something for them? You don’t, you shoot it, then shoot your vision and let them see the difference. If you’re doing your job right, odds are they’ll be wowed by what you created, or you realize something that you may have missed with out their suggestion…

  14. Ashley

    August 15th, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    LOVE this J*!
    I recently had to go through all the images on my site leaving only the kinds of shots/images I love to shoot.
    It’s worked out well for me so far. 🙂
    Thanks again & great post!

  15. Jaimi Allen

    August 15th, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for this post in soooo many ways. I agree but appreciate the explanation and hearing your take on it 🙂

  16. Emily K

    August 15th, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Jasmine- This post could not have come at a better time for me. I shot a wedding two weekends ago for an old high school friend and after she saw her blog post of wedding images she told me she hated them! She didn’t like them because the background was "white and fuzzy". I was shooting at 12pm over a golf course where everything was in direct sunlight except for them because I placed them in the only shade I could find. So of course the background lost detail because I exposed for their faces. I did tell her I wanted to go back to the golf course (where the reception was at) to get the beautiful detail of the background at sunset to make sure she had those images! ANYWAYS…my point…it really was disappointing to me that she somehow (without telling me) expected me to shoot according to the style she liked and not my own style. I have always shot consistently and posted images that reflected my own style on my blog. I’ve always shot at a shallow depth of field with the "white fizzy" backgrounds. It really made me sad that she was so critical and harsh with me and it’s been hard to deal with. Now the bride is demanding me to give her the unedited images. *sigh* Definitely learned my lesson to go over my portfolio beforehand to ensure that we are the right fit! The things we learn our first summer full time. Thanks Jasmine for the pointers! 🙂

  17. Jenika

    August 15th, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Loved your response, Jasmine. You strike a great balance between creating your own style and also making sure the bride gets what she wants. 🙂 Love!

    Another perspective on the Arch situation: The Boise Idaho version of the St. Louis Arch is the 1920s, Spanish-style train station that sits on a hill above downtown. EVERYONE has wedding photos, family photos, and senior photos taken there. It’s such a Boise landmark, though, that since I was a little girl, I wanted to have my wedding reception there. I moved from Boise after high school and thought I’d never go back, and it made me sad to think I might not actually get married in Boise. It turned out that I did meet someone elsewhere, but still got married in Boise, and got to have my reception at the train station after all – hugely significant to me, and it came at the sacrifice of my husband’s family who had to travel a long way to get there. I still live away from Idaho, but those photos make me smile every time I look at them. I may never live there again, but I’m a Boise girl at heart, and it was special to me to have that landmark represented in my wedding images. I love that I get to have a piece of my hometown on my wall, no matter where I live now. I had a great photographer who put her own spin on the images, so they are still unique and beautiful. The point of this long story is simply that there may actually be a good reason why a bride wants an arch photo, that IS unique and special to her. I totally get what you’re saying about cliche’s, and that’s legit, but something that seems cliche may not be. 🙂 In my own business, I have conversations with people about what spots in town are meaningful to them. Occasionally two different clients may name the same spot, but they are special for different reasons, and I love how one place can hold so much meaning for different people. 🙂

  18. Lu

    August 15th, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Your honesty, your vision, simply amazing.

  19. Claudia

    August 15th, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Nice questions from Don’t Know What To Do 🙂 but your answered J* was lovely. 🙂

  20. Katelyn James

    August 15th, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    we definitely made you do that "crazy" bridal party shot and we appreciate it:) I knew that wasn’t your style and that it would never appear on your blog but you did it anyway and that’s why we love ya!!! Great post!

  21. Brianna

    August 15th, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    just fyi… i will be JUMPING, and you will LOVE IT!! 😉

  22. Francesca Caputo

    August 16th, 2012 at 2:10 am

    This is something I remember you saying a while back, "show your brides what they don’t know they want" and that’s been one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve heard regarding my portfolio. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Denver photographer

    August 16th, 2012 at 5:12 am

    Excellent advice as usual. The bride wants what she wants. Good stuff.

  24. Wedding Photography Melbourne

    August 16th, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Great advice on showcasing what you want to shoot to attract more of it!

  25. Davenna Trahan

    August 16th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Thank you..I needed this.

  26. Paige Overturf

    August 16th, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Agree 100% – awesome info! Thanks for writing it out and saying it like it is.

  27. Antonia Chick

    August 16th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Great advice Jasmine…as ever!!

  28. Leslie Davis

    August 16th, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    great post! – as always love your long sentences – they make me feel more normal – 🙂

  29. ashley link

    August 18th, 2012 at 2:13 am

    awesome post, girl! very helpful! thank you for sharing! you’re pretty fabulous! 🙂

  30. Tanya Malott

    August 18th, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    Great info. To this list I would add:

    4. Speak with authority. (My dad does this a lot, and we all end up thinking he is always right…and probably a little smarter than he really is). Speak authoritatively about the pros and cons….and emphasize why you like your alternative, but of course will defer if they are dead set. PS: Offer to do an engagement session here instead and don’t shoot on a Saturday. SO much smarter!

    When faced with a couple in Paris once, I went out of my way the day before the wedding to scout locations for them that said "Paris" without saying "postcard". And by the way, have you been to the Eiffel Tower on a Saturday in July?? Do you know how many people, including thieves, are there? Who wants to deal with that?

    I think it is very important at any wedding to show context and environment. But there are so many ways to do that. For the same wedding, I spent a day running around Paris, just shooting anything and everything that might add to their album…as if I were shooting for a travel magazine, or stock. These images add to the overall look and editorial style of the album, but the bride and groom don’t need to be IN that shot of the Eiffel Tower. Maybe the Eiffel Tower (or St. Lois arch) can stand alone…at a more beautiful time of day.

    Maybe the portrait of the bride and groom is something more quirky…they are holding postcards of the arch, they are having champagne at the restaurant where they met, they are walking down a beautiful street, they are at her house (always one of my favorites, because it is deeply personal, and won’t be in her life forever), they are near something with an arch form (or you shoot a close up of her high heel) which then makes a solo shot of the arch on another page more relevant. There are endless ways to do this.

  31. Amy

    August 21st, 2012 at 6:12 am

    Jasmine, I have seen so many comments recently from photographers about "I don’t want to shoot this" or "I refuse to shoot that" or "such and such is played out," and I am SO happy to read your response. Ultimately, we are here to provide a service to a client, and who are we to say what they should want or what is lame or cool?? (Except selective coloring; we should speak up about that, hehe.) I am a recent bride myself, and that has really given me an even more empathetic perspective on this topic. It blows my mind some of the stipulations and regulations that some of the local photographers have–that are all about THEM. This day is about the couple and their love and their dreams…and our job is to document that in the best possible way. Your answer is spot-on. Showcase the work that is true to your style, but still provide service–and photos–that make the client feel respected and pleased.