Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Hard Lesson in Wedding Photography

It's been a year since that fateful day in May, when my sweet Canon Rebel encountered an error and never took a picture again. This camera and I had a sweet seven years together. 
 I've always had the photo bug and got a new Kodak point (that had a manual setting so I thought I was really taking pictures) in 2007 before heading to Spain. It stopped working halfway through my semester abroad and I bought the cheapest little point and shoot at the mall in Alicante. It was red and took really weird quirky pictures and went through batteries like we breathe oxygen. At the time I was sad I wouldn't have any real pictures of those months but now I really appreciate those and how unique they are to that trip. 

Upon my return home I sent my camera back to Kodak and they sent it back repaired, but I had my eye on a Canon Rebel. Man oh man. I stalked the Internet for as much information as I could get on those bad boys, and once they released the XS I bought one from Canon (what was I thinking?) for $1,800. Did I have that much money? Nope! I did get approved from American Express for a card with a $2,500 limit though. My first big girl credit card. It took me about a year to pay it off, and boy was it worth it (side note: digital cameras depreciate at an amazing rate and when I took my sweet rebel to Peace camera upon her demise, they said that she would be worth maybe $250 if she were working. Gut punch. Don't ever use credit to buy cameras. Ever. Within 6 months of purchasing there will be something newer and better and cooler. And you will be stuck paying for what you have. Plus interest. So, buy stuff with cash!) 

I remember the day she was delivered to the student center at Meredith College. I had been tracking the delivery on UPS and been refreshing the page repeatedly, after checking several times a day with the lady that ran the mail center for at least 4 days at that point. Once I refreshed and saw DELIVERED I ran (I don't run) to Cate and got my box. Joy, people. Joy. 

So, this story is really about a hard lesson I learned about responsibility. I honestly have never been so embarrassed or upset by a situation so much that I didn't want to talk about it, but it's been a year and everything turned out great so it's time to share.

I've been doing photography for about five years now and have done a few weddings solo, and a few with a friend second shooting. I much prefer to shoot with a friend, but this particular wedding was for an old friend and they asked me to travel to Pennsylvania. Marshall and I decided it would be a fun little adventure for the two of us, so we agreed they would cover our lodging and travel expenses and then would give me a couple hundred dollars for my time editing after the fact. 

The wedding was absolutely magical, totally my scene. A DIY event, totally put together by close family and friends and it was just perfect. Every single person that was there that weekend had some sort of personal tie to the couple, Marshall and I included, as I went to church with the bride's family and she, her sister and I had made up the majority of our small youth group. I took my role as photographer seriously, but it felt way more like a "friend favor" than a business arrangement. I've photographed some weddings for friends of friends and things had always felt more business like, but it was such a special occasion I felt myself feeling more like a guest just with a special job of photo taking. 

After the ceremony we had the family gathered for family pictures on the top of a hill overlooking the family farm, the light was just right, a breeze was blowing and I was telling everyone to smile as I just clicked away and then suddenly the shutter closed and never reopened. I looked at the LCD and saw ERROR99 and asked everyone to hang on a second. I did the standard take the battery out, count to thirty, replace battery thing and the error remained flashing on the screen. By then I think the families could tell that I was getting a little nervous. The groom asked what it said and I told him and his face looked grim. "Not good," he said. 

So, in that moment my precious camera was the furthest thing from my mind. I had successfully captured the day, getting ready, decorating, the first look, the ceremony...the first kiss, parents' faces, vows, rings, everything. At that point I had no to idea the extent to which my camera was damaged. Was my card corrupt? Were all of the days images gone? Did I get this picture just now of the families together? WHAT DO I DO?


Here's where God's awesomeness and attention to detail totally saved my butt. I had totally forgotten my zoom lens, like in North Carolina. I had totally spaced while packing and rationalized leaving it behind. I realized this on the day we arrived so we found the closest Wal-Mart, went and purchased one with intentions of returning it after the wedding. While we were there we looked at cameras (I had been casually looking at upgrading to a newer full frame Canon body) so we looked at all the Canons they carried and has basically equated the one they had as a newer version of what I had. We talked about it for a while and then left. Because of that conversation Marshall and I totally were on the same page about what should happen next. He looked at me and said "Wal-Mart?" and I said, "yep!" And he literally ran down the mountain, got in his car, drove to Wal-Mart and bought a brand new camera. Once he got back, we put my memory card in the new one (and thankfully all the images were there!) and I was able to shoot the rest of the reception and dinner. 

Also, to add to all of this, I was secretly 10 weeks pregnant and on the verge of puking throughout this entire ordeal. Which, at this point, could have only made it better. 

I find two lessons in this whole thing. One for the bride and one for the amateur photographer.

For the photographer:
For weddings, always, always, always, always have a second camera. Better yet, a second person to use said camera. Have extra batteries. Have extra memory cards. Have extra EVERYTHING. You are holding the memories of a couples most precious day in your hands, do everything you can to ensure that they are protected. Also, to get wedding experience, don't start out shooting alone. Tag along with an experienced photographer or have one second shoot with you to help you learn the ropes. Do not use other people's wedding memories for your practice.  (Related: I am so guilty of doing these things, but I've learned the hard way...if I had it to do over again I would have never committed to photograph a wedding alone. Ever.) 

For the bride:
Wedding photography is not the place to cut in your budget. As a DIY bride (our wedding was handmade and under $5k), we spent the majority of our budget on photography because for me that was of utmost importance, having memories of that day captured, processed and delivered to me by someone who does that for a living. You do not want to get a disc of oversaturated, out of focus images a year after the fact. You will cherish those photos for a lifetime! 

So, this particular situation wasn't one where I was being selfish, trying to glean experience, nor was the bride not prioritizing photography in her budget. She and I both were so thrilled to have us be a part of their wedding day and capture it all. There is no way that we could have anticipated my camera completely dying in that particular situation. It was just a really unfortunate series of events, that luckily turned out just fine. It was a hard, hard lesson for  me to learn about professionalism and taking my role as photographer seriously. 

So hard. I was so spooked I went several months without replacing my camera, and considered never photographing again. Part of me is so grateful it happened at a friend's wedding, rather than a new client, but at the same time my heart aches because I can only imagine how uncomfortable they felt in that situation. On your wedding day, your friend/photographer's camera breaking and having no idea if you'll have any pictures? Gut punch again. After a few months of (at times, literal) mourning, I finally purchased a new camera but I was still feeling like I was done with photography. How could I have been so irresponsible? 


The bride (who is seriously one of the most laid back, understanding and genuinely kind people I've ever met) handled the whole thing with so much grace and understanding. She not once seemed upset with me and kept apologizing that my camera was broken. The best possible situation for me in the worst situation. God's all in the details (we are handpicked).

In the next few weeks I'll be releasing pricing for my photography sessions and wedding coverage is included. I went back and forth on this for a long time and ultimately decided that this learning experience, as traumatic as it was, taught me some amazing lessons that will be reflected in my future weddings.  For starters, I will always have a second shooter (plug! I shoot a lot with Stephanie Byrd Photography, she's awesome!) and my battery and memory card stash has grown tremendously.  

With every cloud there is a silver lining, it all turned out great, and got some of my favorite wedding photos to date (not to mention their story is amazing). To top it all off, you can purchase and return pretty much anything to Wal-Mart. 

1 comment:

  1. Maybe you were naive and blissfully unaware during those early wedding days but I still say my photos were great! I love looking at them and remembering sweet married memories as well as the friend behind the lens. I'm glad you're getting back into it.

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