Imagine going to the mailbox in the morning. Out from between the utility bills and the nail salon coupons falls a smallish envelope containing a folded handwritten note. On it, it reads: Our day was truly magical because of you and your talents. Whenever we look upon our wedding photos, we are instantly transported back to the moment; laughing and crying all over again. Thank you for such a priceless gift.
This is a summary of actual client letters from WPJA members’ weddings. It’s clear from sentiments like these that wedding photojournalism is more than just pictures, or even telling a story. At the core of what wedding photojournalists do is touching the heart—capturing those moments that will forever resonate deeply with the wedding couple, their family and their friends. WPJA professionals are spurred on by the heartfelt thanks they consistently receive from their clients after the big day, in the form of emails, phone calls and tears. These responses, a confirmation of the deep meaning behind wedding photojournalists’ work, make it all worthwhile.
RELIVING THE DAY
A glance at any accomplished wedding photojournalist’s collection of testimonial notes shows that their clients’ feelings tend to go far beyond a perfunctory, polite acknowledgement of a professional service well performed. They typically rave about “…so many beautiful moments…,” “…pictures that will forever be lasting memories…,” “…great working chemistry…,” “…your ability to see things few others can…,” and how “…you captured our personalities…,” or “…captured the pure beauty of the day and touched us….” Clearly, personality and moments are major themes of thanks, as they should be for an experienced wedding photojournalist.
WPJA members concur that most of these expressions of gratitude stem from the client’s experience of seeing the pictures and remembering the day—maybe even experiencing aspects of it for the first time.
There’s a universal reason for this: During the myriad of festivities, the couple of honor are in the proverbial eye of the hurricane—so much so that they often can’t really appreciate all that is going on around them.
The old wedding cliché of the day being just a “blur” oftentimes holds true. As time moves on, the couple will get to go back and relive all those amazing backstories and side narratives through the pictures in front of them.
Think about it. The bride and groom are front and center to the entire day’s events. But, as is often the case in such scenarios, the mind is overly preoccupied with the immediate moment. When they later go back and view images of all the wonderful pieces they missed, it’s like watching a rose come into full bloom. They finally get to see the wedding as it truly was.
Photojournalists often hear couples or members of the wedding party say that they didn’t really know the camera was there, in the middle of the flurry, taking shots and documenting all the action. Of course, this is the mark of a true professional and a validation of their time-tested talents.
ESTABLISHING PERSONAL CONNECTIONS
Thank you notes from weddings result not only from your innate skill as a visual storyteller, but also often stem from some kind of personal connection with the clients. People who feel that they know you better are more likely to write these notes. It’s not uncommon for a WPJA member to do a client’s wedding, and then get asked to do the client’s friend’s wedding, then one of the bridesmaids’ weddings, etc. They become almost like family and have a greater chance of receiving personal mementos of thanks.
Some wedding photojournalists can even find themselves craving this type of praise. Especially when coming from a journalistic or editorial background, where recognition is a limited resource. Detached relationships and long lonely hours are de rigueur for a news journalist. Weddings encourage the photographer to make personal connections, and the resulting praise for their work becomes the fondant on the cake.
Some members will even reciprocate the thank you notes by writing back. But be careful. This can turn into solid relationships built on trust and admiration, so make sure you’re in the market for new loyal friends who think you’re pretty awesome.
To say that thank you notes are simply feel-good acknowledgements for services performed would be an understatement. In fact, for many wedding photojournalists they are a critical motivator to keep shooting and doing their best—a validation of their career, and sometimes even more.
One of the nicest compliments any photojournalist can receive is a recognition of their overall investment in the wedding (while seemingly making it look easy). It shows that the client is appreciative of the partnership, while confirming to the photographer that he wasn’t just punching a clock.
A simple thank you has the power to move mountains. Mountains of daily business issues and order fulfillments can easily fall by the wayside with one little written expression of gratitude. WPJA members admit to the “halo effect” such overtures have; giving them the inspiration to go above and beyond the clients’ needs and spurring them to provide couples with priceless memories that will one day become family heirlooms.
GOING EVEN DEEPER
The value of receiving thanks doesn’t always end with professional satisfaction. Sometimes it goes straight to the heart of your humanity, and what value you’re bringing to the world around you.
If you’re in this game long enough, you’re going to run into scenarios that test your fiber as a human being. One WPJA member shot a wedding where the bride’s mother was terminally ill. She died weeks after the ceremony. The photographer made sure to capture any moments between the bride and her mother on that day, knowing the value of such a collection after the inevitable conclusion. The bride was overcome at the presentation of these images, resulting in a deeply emotional bond that included a series of heart-wrenching thank you letters.
We have all experienced glorious boughs of weddings that spring forth from bittersweet roots: The missing father; the estranged sibling; the frail grandmother… these events carry a weight of solemnity that requires a delicate yet sure hand. There are going to be moments in those images that weigh much heavier than the storybook romance of a new love.
In these instances, one often finds a deeper significance to one’s work. It’s hard not to empathize with a client’s struggle to balance celestial joy with earthly burdens. In your approach that day, you look deeper into what’s going to be important to the couple. At some point, you transcend the job and connect with each other on a more human level; helping people to find meaning in life, and to live with meaning.
Indeed, the expressions of thanks from clients can confirm and expand your role not only as a photographer, but in the world at large. The checks are what feed the machine, but the thank you notes are what feed the soul. And those by far are the most nourishing.