March marked the start of my spring 2020 wedding season. As the month began, I remember feeling excited to dust off the winter’s hiatus and start the year off strong with the spring weddings neatly laid out in front of me. I couldn’t wait for April’s month of travel. In May I would be capturing two dear friends’ weddings, one of the most special honors for a wedding photographer.
But oh did COVID-19 have other plans. In mid-March, just one week before the start of my season, things began to change – and quickly. As each new mandate was announced couples everywhere scrambled to change and re-change their plans. To date, 8 of my 2020 couples’ weddings have been cancelled or postponed to pivot around the pandemic. (For context, I only take 16 weddings each year.)
The last (elopement) wedding I photographed was on March 23. I did not photograph another one until May 30.
At first I cried for my couples. I don’t know how I would have handled something like this happening to my wedding plans, but I can tell you that I wouldn’t have handled it with half the grace or maturity that my couples have.
Then I was angry. I was mad at the government for not having a better plan. Mad at my fellow citizens for not taking the shutdown seriously enough. Mad at my lost income. Mad that so much momentum was seemingly robbed from me and my growing business. (That last one stung the hardest.)
Thankfully, my bouts of anger ebbed and flowed against brief periods of optimism and productivity. At one point I finagled my way into a floral wholesale account, bought hundreds of dollars of blooms, spent 4 days creating and photographing styled floral scenes, and ultimately gained a greater appreciation for the skill and costs behind truly talented floral designers.
When you’ve got little to do, and little motivation to do what you can, you eventually find yourself sitting around circling your thoughts. For me, those thoughts inevitably landed back on the state of my business. Above all the waves of anger, sadness, self-pity, and forced productivity, these past few months provided room for clarity and reflection. Some of these I’d like to share with you today out of gratitude for the ways in which the pandemic improved my business:
When the stay-at-home-order was announced on the evening of March 22, my very first impulse was to comfort my 2020 couples. The very next day, I messaged all of my spring and summer couples to help assure them that’d we’d figure this all out together.
Looking back, I’m glad that that was my initial reaction. I’m glad that without hesitation I chose my relationship with my clients over my business’s profit. Income has inevitably been lost – either by cancellations or by “losing out” on new bookings to accommodate postponed weddings – but you know what? This pandemic sucks for everyone, and charging a second booking fee isn’t going to dull the pain. But if I can take even a bit of stress off of my couples’ shoulders right now I will.
Each season I make a “back burner” to-do list that I tackle during my slower periods. Usually these are administrative tasks like updating my website portfolio, creating a new guide for my clients, or building a new back end workflow. As we entered the 2020 spring wedding season, I’d crossed most tasks off of my winter list, but there were still a few big items that hadn’t gotten done.
While it didn’t feel creatively fulfilling, having an extra two months to finish my winter list and get started on my spring list was certainly a silver lining to the downtime. As the wedding industry reopens, I know that I’m starting with less administrative baggage piling up, which will ultimately free my time to work with my clients and tackle bigger projects that’ll grow my business.
Coming into the 2020 wedding season, I was (I’ll admit it) riding an overinflated high. I had a perfectly scheduled year of beautiful weddings ahead of me, and I was eager to capture them all. Too often, I would catch myself daydreaming about the portfolio-worthy images I was going to capture or the galleries I was going to submit for publication. Those are fine goals to go after, but what I wasn’t thinking enough about was the people, stories, and love that would be behind those images.
Chasing publication prestige is a slippery slope for photographers. When your social media feeds are full of other’s successes and best images (see below) it can be hard to rise above that noise and focus on the true purpose of your business: capturing once-in-a-lifetime photographs for your couples on their wedding day. These images aren’t meant for some wedding blog or magazine! They’re meant to hang on a family’s wall, fill an album, be shown to grandchildren decades later. Wedding images are a part of a family’s legacy, and I was starting to forget that.
The weddings that I have been lucky enough to photograph this year have been beautiful. They’ve touched me and impacted me in ways that no wedding ever has outside of my own. In these past few months I’ve witnessed true love, camaraderie, and beauty.
But you know what else these weddings have in common? None of them were the original plan. None of them had more than 12 people in attendance. They weren’t giant parties filled with friends and family and dance floors. But what they were was intimate, devoted, and truly unique.
These weddings weren’t the celebrations I daydreamed about, but they were so much better than anything I could have ever imagined. And you know what? Getting to capture these celebrations felt more precious. Each wedding day I fell in love with the details and traditions that each couple chose to bring forward into their new day. I loved the challenge of creating beauty where the conditions less than the original vision. I loved getting to tell a story that will be truly unique to each couple. I am eager to carry this humbled focus on storytelling into the future.
Throughout the quarantine, one mantra that kept replaying in my head was, “We’re all in this together.” And while this is true on a larger scale, what I was really thinking about was the photography community.
When I would dip into moments of self pity, worrying that my business was slowly dying and the world was passing it by, I’d remind myself that no one was able to hold events and therefore no one’s business was moving ahead of me. (Can you tell I’m a little competitive?) But then I’d scroll Instagram one more time, see fellow photographers’ praise-worthy images get reposted, and I’d relapse into mourning the loss of my business’s momentum.
But after about a week of self-pity, even I grew tired of myself. And that was when the switch flipped. That was when I started focusing inward, on my own business. On what I could control and improve right now. I started focusing on ways to use my social media to entertain others with popcorn flavor brackets, wallpaper giveaways, and (my favorite) fun facts.
That simple mind shift made all the difference. It helped me take back ownership of my social media experience. Rather than let it take over me, I was controlling the conversation and the mood by choosing to spread joy and a little bit of escapism among all the fear and anxiety.
Throughout every high and low of the past few months, one truth rose above it all: I care deeply for my clients and my business. These are things worth fighting for, even when it feels like my hands are tied.
I LOVE that I get to be a photographer, and I LOVE my couples and clients. They’re humble, generous, loving individuals that I am lucky to serve. I want to be there for them. I want to be a part of their lives and celebrations and I am lucky that they have that confidence in me.
Having the best parts of my business virtually stripped from me was a strong reminder of the things I hold most dear. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
As I step back into my role capturing my clients’ milestones and celebrations, I’m a little bit tougher and a whole lot wiser. Moving forward, I hope I carry the lessons I’ve learned these past months because I know they’ll make me and my business better.