Wedding Photographers Deserve Our Respect.

I put a call out a few weeks ago to see if anyone would let me shoot their wedding in any way that I wished to. There’s a reason I want to shoot a wedding or two this year as an experiment. I’ll get into that in a bit but this blog post is more about several conversations this request sparked, both online and offline.

No. I’m not starting a wedding business. Just doing an experiment and having a bit of fun.

Let’s get in the WayBack machine and go ALL the way to 1999’ish. Digital was coming of age. DSLRs were now hitting the $5k and below mark on pricing and a number of photographers were jumping out of the film ship and into the binary seas. The photojournalism scene back then was dying and many daily paper jobs were being cut. Day rates for the wires were less than I was making as an assistant. Photojournalists were looking to the editorial world but rates there sucked as well. They still do. Anyway…

Let’s talk about wedding photography for a bit. In the whole of the photography industry, wedding photography has always had a tarnished reputation. Anyone shooting editorial, commercial, advertising, fashion, corporate, journalism, etc. would cringe at the thought of shooting a wedding. It felt like failure. It felt cheap. Not as in price but as in the quality of photography. Now, you can agree with that statement or disagree with it. I don’t care. That is what I’ve observed for years. I know I sure felt that way about weddings. I worked at one studio as an assistant where, if a photographer failed at something, everyone would joke they should just go shoot weddings. It was the bottom of the barrel. Most photographers I knew then, and many I know now, would flip burgers before they shot a wedding. Wedding photographers love wedding photography but the rest of the industry won’t touch it with a ten foot monopod.

Back to the journalism industry. Many were looking to flip burgers at the end of the 90s and into the early zeros. A few friends and mentors of mine in that industry had an idea. What if you shot a wedding as though you were on assignment? What if you approached wedding photography not as wedding photography but as story telling? What if all these amazingly talented photojournalists looking for work were assigned to shoot a wedding? Photographers who worked for the wires for $150 a day would probably jump at the chance to shoot for $1,500 a day or more.

Michael Schwarz and Alan Weiner started a company in 2000 called The Wedding Bureau (RIP). Through their network of photojournalists they had a roster of shooters that “those in the know” would kill for. You could get freaking Pete Sousa to shoot your wedding. He’s currently the official White House photographer. He’s sort of a big deal. There are some names you know in the wedding industry right now that got started at the Wedding Bureau or “saw the light” as Michael and Alan did and pursued weddings. Those two guys gave a lot of photographers encouragement to enter a genre they wouldn’t have before.

The early 2000’s saw a rise in the number of photojournalists entering the wedding industry. They brought a fresh new voice and vision into an industry that was, frankly, needing some visual help. There was this hope that weddings would finally get their day in the whole of the photography industry. I remember watching JVS’ early work and was constantly blown away with it. (still am) I couldn’t believe I was looking at “wedding photography.” This rise gave a lot of photographers the freedom to pursue shooting a wedding the way they wanted to. JVS’ early work was so raw and emotional and his lighting techniques were insane. Most of the wedding industry either had no clue about him or completely ignored him. I remember seeing posts on forums about him and how he wasn’t “doing it right.” His work then was probably some of the finest wedding photography I’ve ever seen. He’s still doing great work.

It was an exciting time but I know photographers who shoot weddings that are still apprehensive to say that in mixed company. Weddings still have a tarnish in every other genre of photography. I can’t figure out if it is the idea people have of what wedding photography is or if it is the industry as a whole that turns them off. Those portraits of brides and grooms masked over a pair of champagne glasses takes decades to delete from memory.

Photographers I know who shoot weddings and commercial and editorial photography work very hard to make sure their commercial and editorial clients do not know they shoot weddings. I made this statement on twitter a few weeks ago. Zach Gray piped up and said that they (the photographers) are insecure about their work. Not necessarily. I’ve heard a number of editors, art buyers, and art directors say that if they see a “weddings” gallery on a photographer’s site they are most likely going to move on. I’ve had PE’s ask for a referral for a photographer in another city and say to me, “Just don’t send me a wedding photographer.”

You wedding photographers are probably starting to feel your blood boil right now. Stick with me. Maybe it’s not wedding photographers – maybe it’s the “industry.”

Oh boy. I’m about to get burned at the stake. Here we go.

From inside the wedding industry everything seems pretty vibrant, open, and fun. From outside it looks like a weird cult. I swear it does. Note this is a guy who has worked a lot in the wedding industry. If it weren’t for Marc Climie putting a camera in my hands to second shoot at his weddings in 2003 I wouldn’t be a photographer today. I have weddings to thank for putting the paddles to my chest. I then continued to shoot weddings with him until last year. I’ve shot a lot of weddings. I’ve been to all the big wedding industry events and expos. I count a number of wedding photographers as close friends and colleagues. And get this… I only know one or two who are willing to admit they shoot weddings when they’re in front of an art director or photo editor. That’s the straight truth. Why is that?

Wedding photography is one of the hardest damn jobs in photography. Period. End of story.

They are emotionally and physically exhausting events to shoot. You have days of prep before and days, if not weeks, of work afterwards. You get one shot to do it right or blow it completely. You bust your ass on wedding jobs like no other job I know in photography. I figure the only harder job in photography is war photography because you have to do your job with bullets whizzing past your head. Think dealing with divorced parents of the bride is tough? Step on a landmine and compare. Yeah, war shooters get the “hardest damn photo job” award for sure. But I think wedding photographers, in terms of hard work and expectations are at the top of the list. I’ve shot or worked in just about every genre of photography*** and weddings are the hardest things I’ve ever shot.

That all sounds so admirable doesn’t it? So why in the hell do many of us cringe when we speak of shooting weddings? What is it? Is it the stereotype of what wedding photography is (which is boring, faddish, sappy, and trite) or is it the larger view of the wedding industry? That would be cultish, ignorant, and amateur. And what happened to all the damn photojournalists? I know many are still doing it but the, dare I say, “fad” of photojournalism seemed to have died as quickly as it started. Portraits and detail shots led to amazing stories filled with personal moments and then got drowned out by portraits and details again. I can count on both of my hands, both feet, and some of your hands the number of really talented shooters who left wedding photography because… wait for it… they couldn’t stand the wedding industry. Really? Really. They just didn’t want to be associated with the industry.

I think the wedding industry is a lot like a boy band. You have a group of good looking, young, vibrant individuals that sing pop songs. You have a teenager who loves the band. You try not to be the grumpy old fart that complains about “music these days.” There’s no great life metaphor, no meat to be found in their music, but you bob your head to the beat and move on with your life. Then you take your teenager to one of their concerts and you’re surrounded by their fans en masse. OMG. Death cannot happen fast enough for you. 40,000 blabbering kids screaming these pop songs at the top of their lungs acting as though the messiah just returned. That’s sort of what the wedding industry is like. It’s bright, shiny, and completely devoid of substance. Wedding shooters hate me right now. I get it. I’m pushing buttons. Stick with me.


I had a photography teacher once show us some work by Duane Michals. He went on and on about how prolific his body of work was. He held Michals up as someone to admire. I sat there and couldn’t stand any of the photos he was showing. Being a bit of a hot head (who me?) I spoke up (who me?) and stated that I didn’t like any of his photos. I probably called them crap. He looked at me and said, “You don’t like them because you don’t understand them.”

I was pissed. I was so angry. How dare he say I didn’t understand them. They were shit art photos. I had every right to not like those photographs.

It was almost fifteen years after he made that statement to me that I nearly said it to someone else about another photographer’s work. Sumofabitch. My old professor was right. I didn’t like Michals’ work because I didn’t understand it. Some of you reading this post are going to think I’m a real jerk for saying the wedding industry looks like a cult. I’m going to say you don’t understand what it looks like from outside. You’re going to hate me for 15 more years. That’s cool. Ponder on it while looking at an image from Duane Michals.

I think wedding photographers need to individually step back and look at themselves and their industry and see how they can separate themselves from the masses and mature the industry overall. I think all the other genres of photography need to give wedding photographers the respect they deserve. A damn good wedding photographer is the peer of a damn good advertising photographer. End of story. Hear me? Good wedding photographers deserve respect and the rest of the industry should say that.


Wedding photographers would do well to spend more time learning from teachers in other genres. Learn how to light a portrait in sixty seconds flat from an editorial shooter. Advertising and commercial photographers should take a look into what is being done in the wedding industry. There are a number of business and marketing topics that are covered in depth that can translate to other genres. There’s some great talent to be found in the wedding industry as well. People doing real photography. Can you believe it? I for one would like to see wedding photography have it’s day in the limelight just like other genres of photography.

Check out John Dolan’s work. Especially the Oliva gallery. You’ll cry it’s so good. Thanks to Michael Howard for sending me that link. Andy Lee told me about a blog post by Jonas Peterson titled The Mason Jar Manifesto. It’s a great read. An amazing read. Check it out. When talking about this stuff on twitter recently, The Becker hit me with this video response. I totally respect what has has to say there. There are great photographers in the wedding industry doing good work and moving the industry forward step by step. Kudos.

Maybe if we didn’t talk down to other parts of the industry then fellow creatives, like art directors, wouldn’t snub our work if we dabbled in other genres, like weddings. Can’t we all just get along? No. Oh well. I guess it keeps everything interesting. :)

In all my travels teaching and speaking to photographers I’ve been talking about “If I was to start shooting weddings on my own…” I then lay out this idea I’ve had. This is how I’d approach it (personal). This is how I’d shoot it (B&W). This is what I would charge ($20k – $30k). This is what I’d deliver (albums & prints. Not disks.). This is how much input clients could give me (zero). With my recent rantings about certain parts of the photo industry that fall squarely on the wedding side of it I thought that maybe I should put my ideas into action. That’s why I put the call out to shoot a few weddings this year. Quit talking. Start shooting. #shutupandshoot

While I haven’t started a new website, marketed it, and put a $25,000 price tag on my wedding photography, I did put a call out to anyone getting married in the States this year that would let me shoot their wedding ANY way I want. I have one confirmed and two in the wings. (*****Editor note, this sounds past tense, doesn’t make sense. “I have one confirmed and two in the wings.” Shouldn’t you say something like, “I ended up confirming 3 different weddings, one of which I just shot this past weekend…” Something like that ’cause later on in the post it doesn’t match up.) They understand that I am going to shoot their wedding how I want to. The way I want to. I shoot what I want when I want it. I deliver an album that they have no choice in covers, paper stock, or layout. There will be no revisions. There will be no disk of highres jpgs. They can’t ask me to shoot a specific photo. They have to trust me.

(I’ve left Meg’s notes in the paragraph above because it shows you how awesome she is and how she proves, time and time again, that she’s the better 7/8th’s)

I’m asking these couples to trust me and I promise to deliver something beautiful but I’m asking that it be what I want to create. On my terms. Not what Martha Stewart suggests I shoot. Not what’s hot in the wedding industry right now. Not what won awards last year at WPPI. Not what’s on the bridal blogs. Not what wedding magazine editors want me to shoot. Or, and I’ve heard this one a number of times, what they want from some other photographer they can’t afford.

What a self centered egotistical jerk I am. Right?

Here’s what I’ve told everyone who wrote back saying they were interested in me shooting their wedding. “By me being selfish you get my best.”

Think about it. In a world saturated by photographers “capturing your special moments forever” how different is someone when they come along and say “I’ll shoot your wedding but on my terms.” A lot different. Loads different. Damn near offensively different. Yep. I think that’s sort of cool. Like John Michael Cooper sort of cool. JMC, BTW, IMHO, is the coolest mofo in the wedding industry. I digress…

Shouldn’t we always approach our jobs like this? In a perfect world, yes. But hang on, we are in the service industry. We get up in the morning and go out and serve our customers. If they want this or that then we should deliver on those requests. At the same time we, as creatives, have something we want to do instead of what has been requested of us. Many times we run out of time or resources to get “our” shot because we are doing what has been requested of us. That’s part of my job all the time. Some times clients tell me, “Shoot whatever you want.” A lot of times though I get directions like, “It has to be vertical. We need half the frame to have negative space for copy. We want the subject looking happy. We don’t want it dramatically lit. We want the background to have this or that or the other.” I don’t grab my pitchfork and rally the troops to burn the client’s office to the ground. I happily take the job and fullfil their requests. IF I have time for something else, I go after it.

So why not just have that same attitude for a wedding? I can’t count the number of times I’ve shown up at a wedding and was handed the shot list. Seriously. Look at this stupid shot list from The Knot. Also remember that Jane Q. Bride doesn’t deal with photographers but a few times in their life so give her a break when she hands you the list. Smile, say thanks, and throw it in the trash when she’s not looking. You need your clients to emphatically trust you. You don’t gain that trust the day of the job. You gain it from your first meeting. That first meeting sets expectations. Don’t want to be handed a shot list? Make that clear before you’re booked. Crystal clear. In writing.

*What about phrasing it like this? “Also remember that Jane Q. Bride doesn’t deal with photographers but a few times in their life so give her a break when she hands you the list. Don’t want to be handed a shot list? Make that clear before you’re booked. Crystal clear. In writing. You need your clients to emphatically trust you. You don’t gain that trust the day of the job. You gain it from your first meeting. That first meeting sets expectations. Have them walk out of that meeting confident that they don’t need to give you a shot list…” Or something like that. Saying, “throw it in the trash when she’s not looking” sounds pompous and unfeeling. This is the biggest day of her life and for women, having a list is important. Makes them feel better. Calmer. Organized. So be careful how you phrase this section. No, brides aren’t reading this. But they might. And you’re speaking to wedding photographers, many who are women. This doesn’t sound very “service” minded to me. Tread carefully.

Do you see how awesome my wife is? Do you see that? She’s totally right and makes a great point about “the list”. I’m not trying to be pompous and unfeeling. I want to be quite the opposite but if I don’t communicate my thoughts correctly then I’ll be misread. Meg loves lists. Dang it all. She makes a great point. She’s almost always right. :)

I’d much rather be given freedom at a wedding than a shot list. In a world of sameness I would want to stand out. That’s why you would never ever ever ever ever find me shooting a wedding reception with a LightSphere. Never ever. Why? Because so many photographers light weddings with LightSpheres. They all look the same. I want to shoot differently then what I see. I want to do it my way.

Will I shoot these upcoming weddings in ways never done before? No. Will I reinvent the genre? Nope. Will I begin a new trend? No again. A revolution? Hahahahaha! No. Will I most likely shoot many of the images on that shot list anyway? Yes. “Bride and groom together.” Really, The Knot? Really? You have to write that out on a list? Ugh.

I’m not trying to knock the wall down. I’m just trying to put a hole in it.

Will I be excited to shoot more than the shot list type of job? Yes. Will the freedom set me free? Yes. If given to my own preferences and style I will create something better than what The Knot suggests I should create. Will The Knot publish what I shoot? Most likely not. Do I care about that? Nope. Do I care about the couples who have trusted me? Yes. Do I care about the work I’m creating? Yes.

You know what? I can’t wait. I’m really excited. I’m excited to take an idea I’ve talked to others about and, at the very least, go out and make it happen. I already see the images in my head and I’m already building the albums in the garden of my mind. (Seriously – Check that link. Meg showed it to me a couple of weeks ago.) I’ve already second shot one (Thanks Egomedia!) and I have shot one on my own. Shot my X cams a lot. Some Polaroid. Some Phase. I’m playing. I’m having fun. I’m doing whatever I want with whatever camera I want… except my iPhone. Future posts to follow.

Tomorrow I’m making my final post about all this wedding industry / photo industry / photo system stuff and I’m going to tell you about my new Q&A tumblr if you haven’t already seen that.  In addition to all of that, my buddy Ab8ta and I have designed a #shutupandshoot shirt that we are going to make a small run of to support a local art community. It’s kind of awesome. It’ll be up tomorrow!



***Meg here. Except for porn, right? It better be.

Yes Meg. Except for porn. :)



  • Sarah Goblot said on July 10, 2012

    Brilliant perspective and I love the photography. I hope you’ll share a little bit more about how you approached it. I got married in 1997 and insisted on photojournalism, bnw photos. My photographers insisted on at least a few posed/colour photos. The ones on my wall? bnw photojournalism. :)

  • Kip said on July 10, 2012

    <3 from a wedding photographer

  • Luis Godinez said on July 10, 2012

    I love weddings, and I love to shoot them. But I never take myself too serious, I’m not curing cancer.

  • Anika said on July 10, 2012

    I kinda wanna marry my husband all over so you can come and shutupandshoot it :)

  • Amanda Reseburg said on July 10, 2012

    I am often faced with the question, when I tell someone what I do for a living, of “Oh, you mean like weddings and stuff?”

    Yeah. Weddings and stuff. Toss off…anyone can do it…no biggie. Weddings and stuff.

    I’ve never worked harder than I have shooting a wedding. And I’ve worked in factories, I’ve waited tables, I’ve worked in a cube farm….nothing has been more exhausting and hard on my body than what I do every weekend.

    I wish I was getting married this year (celebrating 6 years of wedded bliss this weekend). I would let you come and capture the day any which way you wanted.

    Much love, from a wedding photographer : )

  • Kyle Hale said on July 10, 2012

    Thanks for this, Zack. We as photographers are all on the same team :)

  • Russ Climie said on July 10, 2012

    Bravo from a wedding photographer!

    Glad to know 2nd cousin Marc got the camera back in your hands in 2003. As I was beginning in 2004 I wanted for my site and found it was taken, but a cousin in Atlanta! I’ve followed your work and his ever since.

    Can’t imagine the photo world without the voice of Zack Arias in it somehow. I appreciate your ability to communicate, teach and SHOOT!



  • Andrew said on July 10, 2012

    Zack, please invent a time machine and shoot my wedding from 2008. Thanks.


  • Kevin said on July 10, 2012

    A fantastic article. Thank you for writing this. Anybody considering wedding photography needs to read this.

    I can’t wait to see what you produce.

  • Frank Grygier said on July 10, 2012

    Zack, Great Post! If you can believe it I have always wanted to shoot a wedding or two. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Ian Bursill said on July 10, 2012

    Great read Zack. Looking forward to seeing the results of these weddings…

  • Danie Nel said on July 10, 2012

    I dare anyone to have a look at my food, automotive work, portraits and general commercial work, then at my wedding work, and then look down on me.

    Weddings have taught me over the last 15 years to think on my feet. I light 3 light set-ups in less than 60 seconds and I have learned more about putting heckling old farts in their place than Jimmy Carr on stage.

    I shoot about 10 a year, as I’m predominantly a commercial photographer, but you’re so right Zack, this genre is where you sharpen your sword.At times I shot 30-50 a year. I see it like full contact sparring for kickboxers. And an angry bride is way worse than any pompous art director whose latte is served cold.

    Well done on this project. And you’re right. More wedding photographers should be pushing the envelope and not settling for Lightroom Vintage filters over f1.2 bokeh images. I bring some of my commercial chops into weddings and it’s a gamble sometimes, since people tend to expect the norm, but to date, it hasn’t backfired.

    From a cold and wet Cape Town, South Africa.

  • Gabe Sturdevant said on July 10, 2012

    Great read and great links.

    The only thing I want to know is…

    How in the heck did you light that last photo.

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Gabe – That was shot with an x100 and the little Fuji EF-X20 handheld with a Canon TTL cord attaching it to the x100. The Canon cord works! Here’s the flash…

    It’s great for anything within 10 feet then it falls off too quickly. It’s only powered by two AAA batteries.


  • Daniel said on July 10, 2012

    As a non-wedding photographer, this is brilliant insight. A great way to “get into shooting weddings”, however, you better have the talent to back it up. And perhaps a second shooter to “1st shoot” the awful shot list.

  • Wes said on July 10, 2012

    Zach, this post makes you my hero. Well, you were already my hero, but this confirms it. I’m really over the fact that wedding photographers are considered bottom feeders. No one, no one in the photography industry can do what a good wedding photographer does. We don’t have temperature controlled studios, professional models, or time to shoot something until it’s right. We have one chance, one time, and one day to get something right, have to be creative on the spot at any given moment, deal with nasty little church ladies, rain, sun, heat, cold, light, dark, and in the meanwhile, make every bride and hopefully every photo look like an effortless piece of original art. That takes balls, and is something that should be respected. If anyone doubts that, grab a strobe and come walk in my shoes for a day.

  • Daniel said on July 10, 2012

    re: my comment, I was speaking in generalisms, not at anyone specifically.

  • gene x hwang said on July 10, 2012

    Thanks for the love for wedding photography/photographers :)

  • Bryan Leighty said on July 10, 2012

    Thank you Zack. You are an amazing voice in this industry.

  • Michael Gowin said on July 10, 2012

    Yes, Zack.

    More approaches like this, please.

  • Raul said on July 10, 2012

    Man! You always surprise me, a couple months ago you joined a rant about someone quitting wedding photography because it was “all backlit and all rockstar lead” and now you come up with this…I totally admire you, not only as an artist but because of your opinions,too. Yep, the industry’s mainstream is filled with clichés, and from the artistic standpoint is completely lacking substance but which not? See: baby, families, even commercial photography, all waiting for the next big thing to happen and follow the lead. However there will be always a bunch of guys waiting to do somethin the other way.
    Hopefully you would share some of the outcoming pictures, I’d love to see them.
    All the best, from Mexico!

  • Wally Dyer said on July 10, 2012

    I’m glad I’m not the only idiot who’s proposed the idea of shooting a friend’s wedding carte blanche!
    You already said it but building that trust (and managing expectations) with a client from the first meeting is critical. Putting a “wedding is an art” clause in the contract doesn’t hurt either 😛

  • Erik Lovold said on July 10, 2012

    Funny that you posted this today as I just added a wedding page to my website and felt a bit unsure about it today. I have shot only five weddings but I know how difficult it can be. I do find that I enjoy it a lot though, as people are extremely happy and easy to deal with, and I get to use my ties and sport coats. It’s definitely a huge responsibility. Shooting a wedding without experience is a suicide mission.

  • Nik said on July 10, 2012

    I rode to the ceremony in the father-of-the-groom’s truck a few weekends ago. He asked “So this is what you, like, do?” I said, “Yep, weddings.” He responded, “Well, everybody’s gotta do something I guess.”

    Before that I was kind of in some make believe world where I believed the rest of the world respected what I did. Now I’m a bit lost, but your blog post is helpful.

    As a married guy whose wife is second shooter and main editor, I still really like weddings.

  • Dustin Francis said on July 10, 2012

    I completely agree with you ad Meg and was not offended or upset in anyway being a wedding photographer myself. Thank you kindly sir, for helping this train chug along.

  • Ben said on July 10, 2012

    As a mostly landscape photographer who shot a wedding last weekend, I really appreciated this post. Shooting that wedding was the most stressful 5-6 hours that I can remember in my work life. The whole time I thought I was screwing it up!! But more importantly, I felt like I wasn’t going to deliver the quality of images that the bride deserved. The wedding was beautiful, the venue and light were AMAZING, and the bride and groom were beautiful. I just kept wishing they had hired a professional wedding photographer, not a photographer who agreed to shoot their wedding. It turned out that I did ok. The images surpassed my expectations and they were happy with them but it still left me with the utmost respect for good wedding photogs. I completely agree that it is an extremely difficult job that requires a certain type of photographer with a certain personality to pull off.

  • Bill Raab said on July 10, 2012

    More <3 from a wedding photographer to you Zack. Nice job.

  • jonny said on July 10, 2012

    from a wedding photographer-

    thank you so much for writing this.

  • Harold said on July 10, 2012

    If you don’t know what you’re doing a wedding shoot will hand you your head on a platter.

  • Vic Román said on July 10, 2012

    I lived that era where Dennis Reggie was king and a lot of the other old school photographers had to change up (The Journalistic style was coming in) . The photographer I worked for (Kurt Littlecot) was a fan of Reggie and also adapted the photojournalist style as so did many, including myself.I hate shooting weddings ,you work so hard, time everything just right, put up with tons of people wanting you to take a picture how they want and in the end you suck cuz’ grandma’ wants a picture of the couple superimposed in a wine glass.

    keep it up Zack, the beehive needs to be shaken up once in a while.

  • Beth Fitzgerald said on July 10, 2012

    As a photojournalist, who left her career in the late 90’s, I’ve been doing weddings for over 12 years now. I agree with this post. I snubbed wedding photography as a photojournalist too because wedding photography was too hard for me at first. But it was easier to say back then, “the work was not worthy of me” than for me to admit, “I wasn’t worthy of the work” — yet. All photographers need to put their best foot forward consistently in their respective industries and not bag on each other. There is a bigger issue at stake, ‘Uncle Bob’ and “Cousin Sally” are getting better cameras and even though they don’t know what an f-stop is… ALL of our perceived value suffers.

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Beth – Great comment. Thanks. Well said.


  • Michelle Feeney said on July 10, 2012

    Thanks Zack (and Meg). Another awesome post. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  • Zachary Long said on July 10, 2012

    Love the post! From a wedding photographer trying to serve his clients but also shoot what I want to shoot – in Atlanta to boot (that rhymes!) :)

  • Andy Gaines said on July 10, 2012

    Awesome. Bang on the money, as usual. great piece. Thanks! Andy the wedding photographer.

  • Ryan said on July 10, 2012

    Awesome. I’d have you shoot mine if I wasn’t already been married.

  • Terry Ammons said on July 10, 2012

    Regardless of whether one is shooting bugs, babies, ballplayers, bombs, bobbleheads, or brides, have respect for the art as well as the business. Build it up. Thanks for this post!

  • Lindsay Taryn said on July 10, 2012

    i love every damn thing about this. thank you, zack!

  • jessica said on July 10, 2012

    Great post. I have shot as a wedding photojournalist for 6 years now, but I am pursuing fashion/beauty photography as well. I recently met with a bunch of photo reps in NYC and was surprised that they all agreed that wedding photography is HARD work and none of them looked down on me for doing it (but absolutely agreed with what you said about keeping it separate from my other work, which I do). I think I have learned a lot more about light and become a better shooter from the constant challenges that come with shooting a wedding. I also have tried to back away from following too many wedding photographer blogs/Twitter accounts/etc as some of the things in the industry drive me insane. I always love the wedding clients who give up control and just let me do my job and shoot the way I see things. I would never accept a shot list. Anyway, great post as usual! :)

  • Ryan O. Hicks said on July 10, 2012

    Good read, but you clearly must not be a wedding photographer or I live with some of the best brides in the world. =)

    I’ve never been handed a shot list from any of my brides. I always have them make a shot list for family formals, and that’s only shot list provided and followed through out the entire event. Sometimes they might have recommendations as to what they’d like to see, but in their words “I love your style, I’ve seen your work, I trust you, you’re the one with the visions, and I’ll do what you want me to do”. Literally word for word…

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Ryan – That tells me you have your type of client coming through the doors. You’ve done a good job marketing and communicating so that you are getting exactly the type of client that understands you. Good job!


  • Brian Powell said on July 10, 2012

    great post. Will come back and re-read after editing my 5th wedding in a row 😛

    But lemme tell you this! It is in my contract that I do not work from any shot lists :)

  • Bjoern said on July 10, 2012

    Interesting blog entry also I’m missing one name I personally really like as a wedding shooter. which is Cliff Mautner (yeah I know he’s kind of the poster boy but what the hack I like his images). He has a few “signature shots” (bride from above with a 85mm lens) but otherwise he’s kinda winging it.

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    Bjoern – Cliff is an amazing shooter. He does stuff in the worst light that just sings in the final photo.


  • ted said on July 10, 2012

    Dude, I totally love reading what you write!

  • Jeremiah Daniel Spray said on July 10, 2012

    Awesome Zack! Seriously awesome read and couldn’t agree more. Rachel and I are full time wedding photographers, we met you briefly in Missoula at the Rhino:) You always challenge and I have a ton of respect.

  • tomK said on July 10, 2012

    Beats working in a bank.

  • Jeremy Sale said on July 10, 2012

    Damn it, Zack. You are the Louis CK of photography. A man who totally reinvented himself after dead-ending at his life’s calling, who works harder than the other guy, and doesn’t give a crap if you like his work or not. Like you, Louis also has zero tolerance of bullshit… from himself or others. Sacred cows be damned. Most importantly, you are reinventing many of us on your journey, even though that was probably never your ambition. Bravo, sir.

  • Scott McQ said on July 10, 2012

    Great article. I keep thinking of going back to shooting weddings, but the amount of work involved trips me up.
    I’d love you to shot my wedding under those conditions. I’ll run right out and find a woman to marry and give you a call…

    Thanks Zack

  • Ryan O. Hicks said on July 10, 2012

    Thanks Zach.

    I like to think that or at least I’ve just gotten really lucky so far. I usually tell all my brides you’re going to be stressed, there will be things that don’t go as planned, but when it comes to your images they’ll be gorgeous, and you won’t (shouldn’t) have to worry about me doing my job. So concentrate on your other wedding details and just let me do my job.

    Certainly after reading this article it will always be in the back of my head to reiterate with my future brides about letting them know they should leave the photographing to me. I also have some clauses in my contract about using my own discretion on editing and shooting the images i feel necessary. I never guarantee them that any list they give me (if they give me any) will be completely shot. The only thing i strive to complete is the family formal shot list that i request they put together, because I feel that should be something that they receive given they follow my guidelines on how to do them. I had to shoot a wedding during the recent hurricane Debby in Florida, and that provided some first time challenges that neither the bride or I could expect in terms of what was going to be shot.

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Ryan – Luck usually favors the prepared. :)


  • Guy Collier said on July 10, 2012

    Thank you Zack. I appreciate the respect.

  • Aaron Pelly said on July 10, 2012

    Zack, this is so well-put. Thank you for writing it. Regarding the shift of wedding photography back away from photojournalism, I read a post a year or two ago from Denis Reggie (who is someone your post really should mention, as influential as he was in the shift to wedding photojournalism—I think he coined that term, no?) lamenting exactly what you describe. My thought was that the shift, while sad for the industry as a whole, makes it easy for those of us who shoot photojournalistically to stand out from the crowd.

    I think the reason for the shift might be summed up in a quote by Jeff Ascough: “Shooting journalistically is the hardest style of wedding photography. Many people think it is just a case of pointing and shooting. It isn’t. It takes years of experience, and an eye for a picture.” — — (By the way, have you seen Ascough’s work? Stunning.) Could the move back to details and portraits have been caused by photographers finding out that this “fad” was harder than they thought?

    I’m running into a major hurdle to overcome regarding your philosophy of shooting weddings your own way (a philosophy I share): If you shoot weddings the way you want and live in a small market area where hardly anyone else shoots like you, what do you do when you get really sick or break an arm? Calling in another local pro who isn’t booked that day is going to provide your clients with photography completely different than what they hired you for. If I could get past that, I’d know what I’d be doing next year.

    BTW, thanks for the Mr. Rogers link. It made me tear up.

  • Rust Tripod said on July 10, 2012

    I greatly value that, with your literacy, you are talking “among” rather than “down” do us. I also appreciate that, while you infuse your expressions with your ego, that a sense of potential and possibility prevail over any negative projections therein. It is good that you are counterbalancing the rockstar mentality and pious virtuosity that prevails in some areas of the wedding industry. You are an anchor and an inspiration. I can only toss a good southern “Amen, Brother” to the pulpit of your prose.

  • Andy Mills said on July 10, 2012

    I don’t “understand” that Duane Michals image above. Well, I don’t understand what it means, or what he’s trying to say. But I don’t hate it, nor do I love it. However, I can’t stop looking at it and I don’t know why.

    Is this attitude towards the wedding photography industry and American thing? I can’t say I’ve noticed any real negativity towards wedding photographers over here in the UK. Well, maybe to the “old school” who just did a couple of formal images. Maybe.

    I’m a very conscientious person and from when I was researching wedding photography as something for me to do, I rejected it as I thought I wouldn’t be able to do the B&G justice. As a shy person, I don’t have the people skills to control crowds (when needed) and possibly deal with so many people.

    My cousin asked me to do his wedding, but I refused. Yet when I look at some of their photos I cringe (I hope he doesn’t read this) and I know I actually could have done better (he married a German girl, so not only would it have been my first wedding, but it would have been in a strange country with a language that I don’t understand).

    But anyway, I respect (good) wedding photographers for the work they do. It’s hard, a long day, it’s stressful and 99.999999999% of the time you only get one chance. There are few other parts of the photographic industry where the resulting photos that are so full of emotion and will be so treasured and come a family heirloom.

  • Lee said on July 10, 2012

    My shot list is a formals list. Families are still mad keen on them here. I don’t do anything unique with them, I don’t enjoy shooting them, but I do enjoy – as much as possible – making people relax and enjoy this boring process as much as possible.

    I explain to the bride and groom, for their benefit, the benefit of their guests and – yes, to keep me sane – for my benefit, to keep this number on the small side. Other than that there is no list, I’ve met the couple typically three times before the wedding and we are comfortable enough on the day to relax. Me and them! This helps the guests feel comfortable.

    I’ve explained to only the few couples that presented a details list that I’d rather be concentrating on the interaction and capture something they forgot they remembered than a table plan and checking a list for a flower on table seven, but I do bare in mind any special items, a candle lit during the ceremony for the groom’s father on the alter at a recent service was a good example. Did I go over and take twenty shots of the candle, nope but it featured and played a part in their day, as it did their photos.

    I think I’m good at what I do. One thing I do know is I do something a lot of other wedding photographers don’t. I’m me on the day and I quite enjoy being me, it seems to pan out well that way. We have a laugh. Laughs and good times make things easier.

    I shoot them the way I want, which is to show all the happiness on the day. Shooting my way wouldn’t really be setting the bride’s dress on fire or asking her to swim some strokes. I leave that to people who’ve made it their own.

    I suppose it’s photo journalistic minus formals…

  • Lauren @ Every Last Detail said on July 10, 2012

    Coming from a wedding blogger: Awesomeness. Such GREAT perspective, and I hope it inspires other photographers to get back to their roots and love of the craft. I love detail shots and pretty things just as much as the next girl, but there’s something AMAZING about an image that just takes your breath away. Something that a detail shot can hardly ever do. Go do it friends, #shutupandshoot! :)

  • Greg said on July 10, 2012

    Your shot “wedding12” of the blur guy reminds me of something one might see in Esquire Magazine. Being a fan of the blurred capture, I really dug this one and am glad you shared. Thank you.

    As for your post subject, it seems to me that you continue your pursuit of principled, soulful photography and (rightly) bang the war drum against anything less. Inspirational.

  • Dave Moss said on July 10, 2012

    Love to see this Zack, I’ve followed you for years even though I’m a wedding shooter! I think that the best wedding work out there, is from photographers who don’t just shoot the list, they shoot weddings because they fucking LOVE wedding photography. My partner Abby and I shoot weddings because they are chaotic, beautiful, emotional and challenging. Sure we shoot the list (or at least most of it), every wedding photographer does, because people want those photos. But it’s when we can put the list aside and shoot the way we want, and what we want, that we have the most fun, that’s what keeps bringing us back Saturday after Saturday.

  • Alex Campbell said on July 10, 2012

    I think that the only people who look down on quality wedding photographers are other commercial photographers.
    I think that the problem is that the point of entry is so low that any one with a camera thinks that they can shoot a wedding. When I say I am a wedding photographer, people probably roll their eyes and think that they could do the same if you handed them a DSLR. I personally let my work speak for itself.
    As far as shot lists are concerned, I use one to make sure that all of the family members that are supposed to be in the shots are in them so I don’t waste everyones time. I usually will have all of the family group photos finished in less than 20 minutes so that I can spend some quality time with the bride and groom. I know that this is not optimal for artistic purposes, but I would rather do it that way then to have a bride freaking out 4 weeks later because I didn’t get a shot of her with her Aunt Betsie from Germany.

  • Dale said on July 10, 2012

    Why all black and white and pallid? How to make a wedding look like a funeral or some sort of macabre ceremony! I want vivid colour and life in my wedding pictures.

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Dale – Awesome! I love color too. But, again, if I wanted to stand out from the wedding crowd then I’d go 100% B&W. I love black and white. I don’t see it as being a funeral. I see it as gorgeous and timeless but that’s my opinion and what I respond to and how I respond to it. Some brides what the color so they go to you. Some would want the B&W and come to me. I’m not looking for your clients. You aren’t looking for mine. You are booking yours. I’m booking mine. That’s kind of a perfect world don’t you think?


  • Susan Kelly said on July 10, 2012

    First of all, I love this so much. I am nowhere near this kind of photographer, but I would love to be. Second of all, so what if you do this, and the bride doesn’t “understand it” and is uber upset? Then what?

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Susan – Hope that doesn’t happen. I’m not going to go so “artsy” with this that I’m trying to revolt so hard against the system. I need to be happy with these photos myself. I’m sure I’ll love a few photos in their final album they might have never picked but overall my goal is to make them cry from joy and not from regret. :)


  • Derek said on July 10, 2012

    I’m buying a #shutupandshoot shirt!
    And thanks for doing the Q&A. Love it. It’s awesome that you’re open to sharing with everyone

  • Tyler Wirken said on July 10, 2012

    Man I love this post! Thanks for taking the time to express your thoughts. I am a proud wedding shooter. However, after leaving the newspaper world 10 plus years ago I still find myself having to explain what I do to people. I say I am a wedding photographer and constantly get varied responses to that. Mainly not good ones. Till I start to explain that I am a strict documentary shooter focusing on the story of the individuals and their families. Then they perk up a bit but you can sill tell there is not a ton of respect there.

    So glad you mentioned JVS as well as he was one of the first that inspired me to do it differently. Him and the Foundation Workshop and now a group of incredible wedding shooters I am a part of – Fearless Photographers. I can now say with confidence 10 years later to potential clients that I do not consider myself a wedding photographer but a documentary photographer that works at weddings. Fortunately for me my clients over the years understand what I do and allow me to pretty do what I want to do to tell their story the best way possible.

    Hopefully the respect will come to the industry. It deserves it. Thanks for taking the time for this.

  • Barbara Ann Cameron said on July 10, 2012

    Wow! Thank you! Seriously, I big ol’ thanks from up North. Your words just put a bounce in my step even though my knees hurt from shooting weddings:)

  • Candy said on July 10, 2012

    Why do you always make me cry? 😉

  • Philip Thomas said on July 10, 2012

    Brilliantly written and love the editorial comments from your wife!!

    Inspirational words from someone who shoots weddings and loves it. I have to say I couldn’t agree more abut what a quite wierd industry we have. Especially I imagine how it would seem from those outside the wedding circle. What gets to me are the self appointed ‘industry leaders’ who are usually selling stuff and not shooting any more. Ughh. I digress.

    I have a had few meetings with photographers the year who are ’emerging’ into weddings and I tell them all the time to look at photographers work for inspiration, but not ‘wedding photographers’. Wanna be unique? Please. No more ‘details’ or ‘portraits’ or pretty brides in fields with their ‘veils in the air’ on websites.

    Look to Jeff Ascough for a true industry leader, I say.

  • Dave B said on July 10, 2012

    A few thoughts, from someone who spent some time in the wedding industry in my younger years, as a videographer. (And if you think wedding photographers get no respect, the video guy is even lower on the totem pole.)

    It strikes me that there are strong incentives for wedding photographers to go with what’s safe and traditional. Brides have had a lifetime to daydream about their wedding day, and expectations were likely set from looking at other people’s wedding albums. First Mom and Dad’s, then older friends and relatives. She was likely in a wedding party or two while growing up, and took part in the rituals of the wedding day, including the formal posing for photos. So all of those things are, in her mind, a big part of what makes a wedding. She wants to pose, to be at the apex of the photo with wedding party lined up on either side.

    So there’s a big market for giving her (and her current and soon-to-be family) exactly what they are expecting. Cover the basics first, then get creative. Table-shots may be boring, but they prevent the “Why isn’t Uncle Harvey in any of the pictures?” question later on. (Doesn’t matter that Harvey sat in his chair and didn’t move an inch the entire time. This could be his last public outing before keeling over, so you’d better document that he was there.)

    By putting the word out that you’re looking for someone daring enough to let you photograph their wedding your way, your rules, you’re pre filtering your potential “customers.” I put customers in quotes because the article implies that you aren’t charging them, you’re doing this for fun and creative outlet. Well that cool, but it changes the dynamic a lot, doesn’t it? They’re going into this knowing they are taking a risk, but it’s partially offset by the fact that they aren’t paying you.

    What if they get the album, the one that you pick, full of the pictures that you selected from the shots that you decided to take and they absolutely hate it? Not likely, in this case, since you’re being upfront with them what the rules are, and won’t shoot a frame without their being okay with that. But suppose this were a paying gig, and weddings were your primary means of income. And the family hates the photos. Refuses to pay for them. Tells the wedding planner, the caterer, the DJ, everyone who will listen that you, Mister Artsy Fartsy, screwed up the wedding photos, and worst of all you didn’t even get any shots of Uncle Harvey, who lost his long battle with terminal dandruff a week after the ceremony. And remember, the parents of the bride are likely footing the bill, and they’re probably even more steeped in “traditions” than the bride. And there are many more people who don’t “get” art than who do.

    After a few of these you would have a strong incentive for going for what’s safe and traditional. It’s a more reliable way to keep food on the table. Granted, it may slowly crush your soul, too. But you’re a photographer who cares deeply about your art. For some it’s just a job.

    On the issue of why wedding photographers get no respect, I think it’s because there’s no barrier to entry. Anyone with a DSLR can claim to be a wedding photographer, and the clients are generally not qualified to judge your work with a high degree of expertise. If you’re shooting editorial or news there’s generally someone in charge who can tell if the emperor has no clothes. Not necessarily so with wedding shooters. So a lot of really uninspiring photographers make a decent living by hustling and going with safe and traditional setups, and there are plenty of brides who are, out of innocent ignorance, thrilled with what they get. (My own wedding album falls into this category. I was twenty four. What did I know about photography?) There are plenty of people in the wedding biz who are there simply because it’s a decent living, and not because of any higher artistic calling. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. There’s dignity in all honest work.

    Certainly there’s room for what you’re doing here, and there may even be a market for it. But it’s a riskier way to go, from a bride’s point of view, and that’s going to limit the potential market, in my humble opinion. The ones who let you do your thing will surely walk away with an amazing, artful album that captures their One Special Day with perfection.

    And she may eventually forgive you for not getting Uncle Harvey.

  • ordinaryimages said on July 10, 2012

  • Kari Bedford said on July 10, 2012

    New favorite blog/person! 😀 Second post in a handful of days that has resonated deeply with me. :) Thanks, Zack!

    @Amanda — Ditto every damn thing you said. People always seem a little disappointed. In fact, I almost feel a little disappointment when I admit it. lol! That’s right. I don’t shoot celebrities. I don’t shoot supermodels. I just shoot average people and make them feel/look like celebrities/supermodels. 😉 In fact, I think that what I do is ten times harder.


  • Michael said on July 10, 2012

    Lovely post, you hit it right on. Thank you for your insights.

  • Shari DeAngelo said on July 10, 2012

    Zack, as I was reading what you wrote here, I immediately thought of Fer Juaristi ( His business was built, and is thriving on, building a client base similar to what you described as an ideal. You can ask him if it’s paying the rent, but there aren’t too many people who will deny that this guy is a) Busy and B) Doing it his way, happily. All over the world. As for the industry and everything else you said– Yeah. All true. For the life of me, I don’t know how it all got so blown out of proportion. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had and definitely the least glamorous. This job requires gumption and Advil to make it through the day with little to no easy retirement path.

  • Alexis Jaworski said on July 10, 2012

    A very inspiring post and with some provoking thoughts. I recently started shooting weddings and decided for the documentary approach, which to me, is how a wedding should be captured, by people enjoying themselves and doing what they do, rather than being endlessly moved around and dragged away from their guests for posed shoots. Of course, nothing wrong with people who like that style, but I aim to capture the real moment. I have enjoyed your Q&A’s also. Thanks for posting

  • Suzanne said on July 10, 2012


  • Libby said on July 10, 2012

    Thanks Zack – great post. I don’t shoot weddings anymore because I don’t like a lot of what it has turned into, for example, that Knots shotlist. I know what you’re saying. The cookie cutter ooohhs and aaaahhs and “oh how pretty!” has become the norm. I was never ashamed of wedding shooting and yes I know it has been the pariah of the photo industry for a number of years.

    If someone showed up at my wedding with Fongware I’d show them the door. I would want something with feeling, not something off of someone else’s list.

    One of the nicest weddings I shot was when I showed up was when I showed up and the bride said “That’s my grandmother – please make sure you get nice pictures of her.” That was the extent of my job direction.

    JMC – love him too!

    Much success with your new endeavors – you deserve it 😉 And as always thanks for insight and inspiration.

  • Lynn Daly said on July 10, 2012

    Are you shooting these weddings for free Zach? If so, not cool. Part of the problem with the wedding photography industry is that what we do has been so devalued by the wedding industry and photographers are giving it away more than ever. You shooting free weddings only takes money out of the pockets of 3 deserving photographers, for what?? So you can prove a point? The reason why photographers shoot those lists is because the wedding planners want the pics so they can upload them to “two brite lites” in hopes of getting it published, for free of course, on some blog or in a magazine. Additionally, for free, photographers are begging planners an other vendors to shoot “styled shoots” aka “free editorial” work once again with the hopes of getting published, aka “free advertising”. Do you see the point I’m making? A bride will spend $5000 on flowers, $5000 on a wedding planner, but only has a $2500 budget for the photographer and then it is our responsibility to supply all of the vendors with FREE copies of all those photos so they can use yor amazing professional pics for their advertising and promotion. Why would a wedding designer ever hire a photographer to shoot their work for an editorial piece if they have wedding photographers lined up begging to shoot their work for free in hopes of securing a spot on their “sacred” vendor list?? I think you are missing the whole point… Or maybe you get it. The industry has SOLD OUT!! The kool-aid is being drank by the gallons! The industry has become style over substance. If you want to get down to the bottom line, here it is.. To make money in the weddding industry you have to shoot 30-40 weddings at 3-4k per wedding, and you are not going to do that in any city, in any market, telling brides you are going to shoot whatever you want and eff their shot lists. I am not saying you don’t make valid points, I am saying however that your points may be moot. I love you Zach, but you are up against a dragon you won’t be able to slay here. And frankly, shooting free weddings only adds insult to injury.

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Lynn – I am. I’m taking the work from family members who were slated to shoot them or shooting silently by the hired pro with full agreement from all parties involved. I’m not taking any money out of any pockets. The wedding I shot this weekend only had two paid vendors from what I can tell. The caterer and the band. Everything else was DIY. Even the groom was setting up tables for the reception. And it was beautiful.

    I’m not making a statement about pricing with this. That’s a whole other beast right there.

    But yes. I’m shooting for free. And giving an album for free. As a gift. What the couples get is a guy they don’t know asking for complete trust from them. They are taking a risk but figuring it’s going to A) can’t be worse than a family member or B) they have a hired gun getting what they want in the first place. This weekend I felt bad taking it from the cousin who was going to shoot it. He ended up having to set up tables. I apologized profusely to him for that. BTW – He’s the one who talked the bride and groom into doing this. :)


    PS – Like I said in the blog post. I’m not trying to knock the wall down. Just want to put a hole in it. Not trying to slay the dragon. Just want to make a wound.

  • Sarah Tew said on July 10, 2012

    It may work for *you* (though i wouldn’t bet on it, despite your fine reputation and network) to charge 25k per wedding straight out of the gate for what sounds like a sight-unseen fine art style commission, but if this post is meant to inspire wedding photographers to turn their customer service upside down and act like selfish assholes to the couples who are investing what, to them, is often a month or two’s salary into their wedding photography, I think you’re going to find that an uphill battle… I already do shoot what I want– in ADDITION to what’s expected of me. I’m pretty sure that’s what most good wedding photographers do, and I’m damn proud that I can consistently offer that level of service. That’s *why* we (good wedding photogs, and there are many lousy ones) definitely deserve respect– because we bring an artists’ a-game AND dependable technical skills to get the job done in high pressure situations, all while being pleasant and courteous and attentive to the needs of our clients. And that is WHY this is one of the hardest photography jobs out there. If you are trying to make it easier for yourself I can understand the desire, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ll be serving your clients BETTER by ignoring the fact that there’s a toast happening because at that moment you feel like having a soda at the bar, or shooting an artistic picture of the cake. Storytelling is still the name of the game, but you don’t write the story, you capture it as beautifully as possible as it unfolds.

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Sarah – either I have miscommunicated something or you’re not getting the point of my post.


  • Prashin said on July 10, 2012

    I’m not sure if you have seen . It is one of the most touching work I have seen, be it wedding or not. Easily my idols for keeping a moment raw and visually appealing.

  • Jeremy said on July 10, 2012

    I hope this will be my last wedding related read. The next time I’m at a wedding I’ll be drunk pissing on a bush. I’m getting out after 7 years shooting weddings. Not because they are beneath me but because my heart isn’t in it anymore. Brides, grooms, and their families deserve someone fully invested in that day. I’m not moving on to better things just different things.

  • Zack said on July 10, 2012

    @Jeremy – I feel ya! When I stopped shooting for Marc it was a good time to do so. My heart for them was starting to wane. It’s so awesome to attend a wedding without having to work it!

    There’s just one more wedding post to read on this blog. That drops tomorrow then I’m done blogging about weddings. :)


  • Paul said on July 11, 2012

    Whilst for the majority of the blog post I’m in agreement, the “no high-res images on a CD” seems like a massive oversight. In an age which we can easily backup wedding images (which are of the utmost sentimental importance), its only prudent for someone to want to protect those memories and therefore require some such backup. I’m sure what you produce is utterly unique/fantastic, thats an even greater reason to be able to protect it, surely? Some things are out of your control (flooding/fire/burglarly) and lead to you losing such things. You can’t stick an album on a NAS drive or in cloud storage.

  • dylan said on July 11, 2012

    <-Proud wedding photographer.

    You're definitely on the right track, having creative control over your work leads to awesome clients and work you can stand behind.

    We have received multiple commercial gigs because we are wedding photographers and they trusted we could get a photo in less than ideal situations and under unfavorable time constraints.

  • JimiFilo said on July 11, 2012

    Great read… and OMG the portfolio on altF. They rival (and surpass) plenty of “respectable” commercial shots I’ve seen. Bottom line: respect where it’s due or GTFO.

  • Michelle Posey said on July 11, 2012

    This is why I follow your blog. You always manage to say exactly what needs to be said. I am a newspaper photographer turned wedding photographer. There are some of us who are hanging in there with photojournalism, and who believe it is the only approach to shooting a wedding that makes sense. The latest hurdle for us: Pinterest. Now brides are emailing me every goofy, cheesy, already-dated photo they find that was posted by some photographer who is not capable of shooting natural moments. Looking at Pinterest sometimes makes me want to just give up. Thanks for posting. This is helping me define what I do, and what I want to do.

  • Keith said on July 11, 2012

    Zack, did you talk to Daniel Milnor? That is how he used to shoot weddings. B&W, film, prints and books.

  • Marianne said on July 11, 2012

    So great:)

  • Dan Creighton said on July 11, 2012

    After reading this I just wanted to add- hoorah Zack!

  • Oli said on July 11, 2012

    Zach, don’t have time for a more cognitive response, but thoroughly enjoyable, sensational, apt article.

  • Susieq3c said on July 11, 2012

    *As far as shot lists are concerned, I use one to make sure that all of the family members that are supposed to be in the shots are in them so I don’t waste everyones time. I usually will have all of the family group photos finished in less than 20 minutes so that I can spend some quality time with the bride and groom. I know that this is not optimal for artistic purposes, but I would rather do it that way then to have a bride freaking out 4 weeks later because I didn’t get a shot of her with her Aunt Betsie from Germany.*
    Yep…me too. That’s exactly WHY I have my OWN shot list. And it’s limited to family groups…the rest is what I decide. I also send the bride a timeline- my timeline- and I explain why it’s so important for me to have so much time before the wedding to shoot. Client education is a very big part of the prep work. The more a bride can understand where I am coming from, the more freedom I get to shoot the way I want to shoot. And still get them the shots they expect. It’s a balancing act for sure, and one I haven’t mastered. But that’s definitely where I’m headed.
    Thanks for this article Zack. I’m not a wedding photographer per se, but I shoot a lot of weddings. And I never, ever, want to shoot a wedding as if it’s somehow less important than any of the other work I do. It’s a sad thing that the industry as a whole doesn’t see the real challenges in shooting a wedding well. I think that perspective will change though…eventually!

  • Allie said on July 11, 2012

    Photographing weddings is simultaneously the most terrifying and exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. That makes it pretty much the coolest thing ever.

  • Kunal Mehta said on July 11, 2012

    This post is so amazing. I am going to print it and make sure i get your autograph on it when i see you next. I am proud to say it that I am a wedding photographer. Gotten many looks but I am proud of what i do. I dont know what else to say. But again thank you. You and Marc have been my idols and will always be.


  • Oliver said on July 11, 2012

    Yep. Wedding Photography is hard, hard work. Whenever I get handed that shot list from The Knot, I ask if they have looked at it or just downloaded it because someone said to. Mostly they haven’t looked at it, at which point we come to the agreement that, except for family groupings, I’ll just do what I do. Having said that, weddings have all but disappeared from my work, and I haven’t tried very hard to change that. I’m enjoying Saturdays with my young kids and I was getting tired of weddings being more about fashion than, well, love I guess. My two favourite weddings in the last 10 years were weddings where the couple didn’t even want a photographer. The brides’ moms hired me, but were intuitive enough to let go at that point and not be overbearing with their daughters about the pictures, only to make sure that I was there to capture it. Beautiful days revolving around a couple, their friends, family and a celebration of a new stage in life – and I got to record it. I could shoot those every day, because while it was important to these couple that things were “nice” and people were having a good time, it certainly wasn’t about sparkly chair covers, fancy centre pieces and pictures that would look good on Facebook. These things might have been there, but it wasn’t about that. Ahhh, I could go on, but I think you have stated it all pretty clearly. Thanks for putting what a lot of us are already thinking out there – again!

  • Oscar said on July 11, 2012

    I wanted to strangle you with my bare hands and then kiss you as I kept reading. Never have such confusing emotions taken over me at the same time.


  • Boid said on July 11, 2012

    This is an age old discussion between art and design. You want the client to not have any expectations from you about the kind of pictures they would get for the money. By not having a say in what they get, they hire you as an artist not a designer. Most wedding photographers are designers, at least the good ones anyways.

    Let me try and explain this a bit more. Say you’re a fashion designer instead of a photographer. You follow the fads of the season, maybe even have a historical context for the stuff you design, you carry a much bigger picture of “fashion” in your head, and the oh-so-ignorant client obviously doesn’t get it, because she (let’s assume it’s a she) lacks the education and time you have spent learning the stuff. You throw away the “list” she handed you at the onset and do your work to the best of your ability. But the dress you finally makes for her, which is a culmination for all you know, makes her look fat.

    The “list” that you discarded is her brief to you, and sums up her expectations from you as her photographer. If you don’t listen, then you’re a poor designer. Any designer who doesn’t satisfy the tenets of the brief, isn’t much of a designer. A “good” designer takes the brief, and exceeds it, makes it monumental, makes something that looks beyond it’s narrow confines and creates art. But at it’s most basic function, he satisfies the brief. First. Period.

    Now, you might say, but I’m no designer. I’m an artist. I’m Henri Cartier Bresson willing to shoot a wedding. Then as an artist I have a question to ask you. Why do you want to shoot weddings? What about them makes it a worthwhile enterprise? Why not shoot on the street? Or at an airport? Or a nunnery?

    You want someone else to compensate for your time to play at being at artist. Without any commitments. Art doesn’t quite function like that. If you were really confident of creating art, you would shoot the wedding for free, and then sell the prints at an auction house. Trust me, if your art is any good, you’ll get a lot more than 20 or 30 thousand dollars for it. Artists do get commissioned all the time though, maybe that’s what you’re going for. But you need to BE an artist first.

    Having said all this, it’s a good gig if you can get it. I do love your work and am a regular visitor to your blog.

    Warm regards

  • Vi-Chi said on July 11, 2012

    Great post Zack. It was interesting to read about your thoughts on this particular genre of photography.. am looking forward to your final post about it!

  • Susana Barberá said on July 11, 2012

    Hi Zack! I loveee this post!!!! :))) you have all my respects :)
    I have been working really really hard to find the right clients who really trush me, after a few years doing wedding i think im getting close :) I just post in my blog what i LOVE not what they will love so that will make it easier, the future client will just see what i LOVE so i can say.. you didnt see that kind of pics in my blog…dont make me shoot them…
    I shoot most of the time b/w, i love documentary photography, i love find funny situations, as you say, the most of the future brides will not like my style but… im looking for those clients who will LOVE what i do and will let me be me. Its not being easy….but im working hard to get to that point!!! I want to shoot my way, if im 200% happy i will be more creative and the couple will have better pictures!!!
    I agree with Tyler Wirken, he is an increidible photographer,( and an amazing teacher in the Foundation Workshop) im proud member as well as him of Fearless Photographers.
    Maybe from outside we are not popular but…from inside some things are changing….

    Susana Barberá ( Spain)

  • Brandon Shane Warren said on July 11, 2012

    Zack ,
    you really hit the nail on the head man, as a shooter of 20 years or so and a late bloomer , I was always told weddings were for the dogs, like you explained – then one day I shot one with a friend and fell in love with the pressure and adrenaline, it was similar to shooting concerts like i had been doing but seemed to fit me well. I decided that it would be my concentration many years back although I find myself lucky enough to still get commercial and some editorial work( which i love as well in different ways) .
    I do just as you said and always try to hide the fact I shoot weddings, almost like i’m embarrased, even though I feel like I am awesome and unstoppable at them and its where I should be. Thanks for your outlook once again, I know i can count on your blog for honest thought. This was uplifting, not to mention even though I get 70% of my income from weddings and the rest from commercial shooting – This was uplifting to know someone I respect thats not a wedding photographer, has some love for us wedding zombies.

    For a while you did portfolio reviews and I loved grabbing a beer and watching the videos of you and Meg going over them, I never submitted one to you cause I knew most commercial guys outlook on wedding shooters who are stuck in the world of editorial/commercial as well, but man you can shred my portfolio apart any day you come back to port reviews . (websites on the post) 😉

    cheers brother from by -god west virginia
    Brandon S. Warren

  • Paul Douglas said on July 11, 2012

    Nice write-up Zack! I’ve never taken the time to look at it from your perspective before, quite interesting. I look forward to your future posts.

  • Jose Pach said on July 11, 2012

    Breaking-news people: It’s OK to disagree on Zack’s post.

    I think this is sort of a curveball for everybody into the wedding photography industry and even for Zack himself. Do weeding photographers need a ‘building ego’ post? Not really. Do they need somebody telling them how to shoot a wedding? Absolutely not. I’ve got the impression that this post was meant for starting photographers who are still finding their position in the industry and might have overlooked weddings. For those with a stablished name & business, this post can be just considered as Zack’s opinion. What really intrigues me are the post of wedding photographers getting their ego boosted because Zack effin’ Arias praised wedding photography and now jump on that ship of saying ‘its the hardest job there’. From wedding to table-top to war to editorial to music photography, all of them are hard. I don’t think wedding can or deserve to be above any other style of photography. If somebody needed a post by Zack in order to feel confident about weddings, well that’s another sort of thing. And there is no reason to flame the post by saying ‘you are ruining the wedding industry by doing it for free’. Really? Two weddings for free are so terrible? Probably most wedding photographers did their first weddings for cheap or free. That didn’t killed the business. This won’t either. Just keep your ego controlled and don’t flame is my point.

  • Shelly said on July 11, 2012

    Look, I’m with Sarah Tew. I guess I don’t get it. I’m a huge fan of yours, so I hope you can at least appreciate that I’m being honest. I think you’re a great photographer, and we’ve all watched you grow tremendously since you released your Onelight DVD. But I just don’t think you’re on par with wedding photographers who regularly charge in the $20k+ range to shoot a wedding. Are you aware of the calibre of photographers I could hire to shoot my wedding for $25k? Especially in this economy? Especially if I was willing to give them full artistic control!? I think it’s incredibly egotistical of you to assume you’re in that league, and then to be so blatant and harsh about dismissing the bride’s wishes as if she’s a moron that couldn’t possibly know what she wants. And to top it all off, the sample pics you posted from your “experimental” wedding were depressing, out of focus, and quite frankly nothing remotely special. And I really mean that in an honest way. So I’m COMPLETELY missing the point of this post. I know you have your Fan Boys just like Jay has, so you’ll find no shortage of people posting praise for anything you post. But if you step back from that, I just don’t know where you’re going with this whole wedding industry experiment thing.

    If you charged $25k to shoot weddings and delivered albums looking like these, you’d be sued. Not maybe, you would be. I know, I know. you’d have a rock-solid contract signed beforehand so the bride couldn’t sue you. Great. Now you’re one more wedding photographer ruining the industry by leaving a trail of unhappy people who think wedding photographers are scam artists and nothing more.

    If the point of your post was to inspire wedding photographers by pointing out that they don’t have to follow a formula, or sacrifice artistic integrity to make money, that they should scrap the formula poses and lists altogether and do their own thing, I think you seriously missed the mark. You’re not considering the end result. I think it’s safe to say most wedding photographers have been shooting for less than 5 years, on average. How much talent could you have after 5 years? Do you know how bad a band sounds like when all of the members have been playing for 5 years or less? How awful athletes are who have only been playing for 5 years or less? So why would you feel photographers shooting for 5 years or less would have enough artistic vision and talent to completely disregard the wishes of their client and do their own thing? Did you consider the results of that? You think wedding photographers on craig’s list are bad now! You want to see how far the reputation of wedding photographers plummet when they start taking grainy, out of focus pictures of people’s torsos?

    Look, I know. You’re insulted by the “spray and pray” philosophy that wedding photographers have gravitated towards lately. But I think that’s because most photographers shooting weddings now are the $2k and under shooters, who have been shooting for less than 5 years. That’s just what the market has turned into thanks to cheap digital cameras, and a “you can do it too!” attitude. They buy Kubota’s plug-ins and Doug Gordon’s pose charts, and spend more time on their logo and website than on learning their gear. I’d be surprised if the camera comes off the green box setting in the first 2 or 3 years.

    So instead of encouraging this market to follow their own artistic voice and break the rules, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to learn the rules first? Maybe encourage them that if they don’t have the “talent” to create something visionary, that they should at least deliver what the client is asking for in a competent manner? Maybe not encourage them to be so dismissive to their clients when they barely know what they are doing themselves?

    Sorry for rambling. Guess I just missed where you’re going with this one.

  • George Weir said on July 11, 2012

    Zack, as I read the above post this morning I smiled especially the comments about Duane Michals and I laughed as I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Michals (you may or may not recall I mentioned it when I was in Atlanta.
    “the photographer must completely control his picture & bring to it all his personality, and in this area most photographs never transcend being just snapshots.” DM
    and therein lies the reason why so much wedding photography is just plain boring.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the article very much, thanks
    All the best


  • Boston Wedding Photographer said on July 11, 2012

    You are damned right this is a difficult job. You are right on many fronts… incorporating fashion or a different flair to your style is something i’ve been trying to do for quite some time. After learning light from carefully studying Frank Doorhof’s style and even going to his hometown of Emmeloord to learn from him in-person. It’s helped me immensely.

    You can see some of my best work here: and a more filtered version on Flickr as well:

    I don’t put the burden of talking about the wedding photography industry on your shoulders, but since it’s fairly relevant, i had hoped that you would also speak to the newbie’s and others that don’t take the job seriously. There are a host of websites out there telling people barely out of college that all you need are 2 lenses, a body and a dream and you too can be a professional wedding photographer. Those photographers are killing the industry as a whole. How are they killing the industry?

    1. They think it’s as easy as any of these $3000. workshops are telling them, like there is some secret to this industry besides mastering your craft and delivering what you promised, when you promised. When they find out it’s not as easy as that workshop told them, they cower and hide somewhere hoping the situation blows over. What happens next? A new horror story to add to the pot. How does that affect the consummate professional? We start getting grilled and have very odd requirements imposed on us because these misled folks couldn’t hack it.

    2. They ‘fake it until they make it’, by photographing the entire wedding for $500. WTF? How is that even remotely sustainable? $1500. with album, how is that sustainable? It doesn’t add up. Hell, it doesn’t even come close. They are destroying this industry for others.

    And don’t get me started on the lack of professional licensing or barriers to entry. And don’t get me started on the fact that large organizations like the PPA don’t step up and start a professional licensing body which wouldn’t be hard for them to do…

    Anyhow, i digress. It’s a tough job, you are lead marketer, accountant, web designer, blogger, retoucher, maintenance and photographer. And most oftentimes, in that order.

    I’m not looking for respect, i’m hoping people realize how difficult a job it is and stop selling the farm.


  • Ivan Boden said on July 11, 2012

    Well, shake it up, baby, now,
    Twist and shout
    Cmon cmon, cmon, cmon, baby, now,
    Come on and work it on out

    Well, work it on out, honey
    You know you look so good
    You know you got me goin, now,
    Just like I knew you would…

    Great post Zack!

    The Beatles


  • Kina said on July 11, 2012

    I enjoyed much of this article, but you’re forgetting one thing about being a wedding photographer. As a wedding photographer, though I crave to express myself artistically and shoot for myself often… When it’s all said and done weddings ARE about the client, what they expect and want captured on one of the most special days of their lives even if what they want is sometimes cheesy or dictated by Martha Stewart. I try to keep a balance, and am proud to make my clients dreams come true… Just as much as if they were a haute couture house.

  • Jesse said on July 11, 2012

    I shot my first wedding 2 weeks ago. The only reason I did it was because it was for my brother, who had no photographer and no cash for one. So I shot it, solo. And I was the best man. Our dad ended up being my photo assistant.

    I can’t believe the level of difficulty in shooting a wedding. Because it was my brother, and it was free, you’d think there would be less pressure, but any of you reading this know the immense pressure we put on ourselves to get the best possible images. Yes, being best man and trying to juggle that added pressure, but man – you can’t ask the bride to come down the aisle again, or ask the groom’s mom to “do that kiss on the cheek one more time, and keep crying please…” So, much respect to the wedding photographers – your job is insane, with crazy expectations from a variety of people, and you do it well.

    Great post, Zack, thanks for all the interesting links as well.

  • shane snider said on July 11, 2012

    Shhhh…. don’t tell anyone, but the wedding photojournalists are still out there…

  • Leslie Clements said on July 11, 2012

    This was an interesting read as I was in the midst of editing wedding photos. Here’s my experience: I have not been photographing weddings for long and definitely was resisting it at first. I have surprisingly liked it much more than I expected. I have been fortunate to have had really great and all very different, unique clients. But to stay sane in this world of wedding photography I have made myself a set of rules. First, never give up what I truly love to shoot (even if I’m just shooting for myself), for me this is nature, landscape, and lifestyle work. Second, limit the amount of weddings I’m shooting. If I shot a wedding every weekend, I would make more money but I would probably start to hate it. Third, shoot each wedding different, approach it differently, treat it for what it is – a unique day to the bride and groom, and shoot it the way I want as the moments arise (pretty true to photojournalism). Yes, I photograph the formal photos of the family and wedding party but this takes maybe an hour or two of my day to shoot the posed photos and then the rest of the day I get to shoot however I want! And those photos, the ones that are not planned, are the photos that the bride has initially hired me for. I recently had a meeting with a bride who mentioned a very specific photo she saw on my website and said she liked it and could I take the same photo on her wedding day. I told her no, then explained that I do not plan or create those moments they just happen and I capture them. I reassured her that she will have those unique, special moments of her own that I will capture and that will not look like any other wedding. Anyway, all and all shooting weddings is not all that bad… yet I am still that photographer that has two separate websites.

  • Eric L said on July 11, 2012

    “What a self centered egotistical jerk I am. Right?”

    Answer: Right

    I think you need to walk in the shoes of a wedding photographer for a year before you can judge and jury anything about it.

  • Zack said on July 11, 2012

    @Eric – I have over 200 weddings under my belt as a second and a primary shooter. Yep. Walked many a mile down that aisle.


  • Spencer said on July 11, 2012

    Great post Zach, and thank you. I think much of the stigma comes from a few different places. I think in the past, wedding photography was viewed and treated as a non-technical and non-creative job. Think walmart or Mall Santa photographer. I think the current stigma is created by the low barrier of entry into the industry. This ensures that many photographers get their start in weddings (myself included). The barrier is slow low that many of the people shooting weddings in our area operate under the table without business licensees, insurance or as a registered business. They are able to operate this way because clients never think to ask. I don’t suspect this is the case in many of the other genres of photography.

  • Steven Carter Hewson said on July 11, 2012

    Bravo for writing such an honest post, Zack. Wedding photographers around the world salute you.

  • Jennifer said on July 11, 2012

    Interesting read.

    The ONLY time I have ever heard the “distaste” for wedding photography was from people in Hollywood (recently Chelsea Handler of Chelsea Lately put it down). On a local level EVERYONE I meet wants to be a photographer—they think it will be a cool fun glamorous job where they can make lots of money—all because of that idiotic Top 10 List they read on CNN about 6 years ago entitled “The Top 10 Most Lucrative and Easiest Jobs to Have”.

    I wish more people had a distatse for it—it would make it a lot easier for us to go back to booking 40-50 weddings a year :)

  • Christopher said on July 11, 2012

    Hey Zack,
    As usual, you’ve touched a nerve with your fellow photographers. When I began to take photography seriously over 20 years ago, I swore I’d never shoot weddings. For financial reasons (wife, kids, house, etc.), I decided to jump into weddings in 2004. Took a workshop with Denis Reggie to give me some kind of foundation in the genre. To say that weddings were the most stressful, difficult events to cover would be an understatement. I worked hard, had great clients. . .but didn’t get caught up in the WPPI thing and all the “rock-star” worship going on. In other words, I didn’t take myself too seriously. One bride, interviewing me for her wedding, stopped me in mid-presentation and said, “You’re hired.” What? I’m not done. She said, “I’ve interviewed 6 other photographers. They all had huge egos and were so serious. You have ‘laugh lines’ and I love your work.” But it didn’t make shooting weddings any easier. My wife assisted me on one wedding and was blown away by the work, the constant running around (“you were in the front, I looked away for a second and you were at the back”), switching camera bodies & lenses, being a director, somehow being patient and hurried at the same time. I shot weddings through 2007 and decided it was enough. I’m not 25 anymore, and I didn’t want to look like Uncle Joe with a camera. So, I’m shooting commercial/corporate work and portraits, love what I do – but will always have a great respect for a pro photographer who can go out every weekend and shoot weddings. What you’re offering, on your terms, is so simple but very profound. And it’s the way any photographer with an understanding of his capabilities would love to do it. The best compliment I ever received was from a graphic designer who I worked with on numerous occasions. Her client had some unusual requests for photography that weren’t going over very well. She told the client, “My suggestion is to let Chris go and do what he does, and I promise you he’ll come back with some terrific images.” I couldn’t ask for anything more.

  • AMEN, Zack! I dream of changing my life so I can shoot 25K weddings the way I want and deliver the album I want. Maybe I can. I keep feeling that something is missing in my wedding work and it’s ME! It seems I can’t “see” the same way I could at the beginning of my career because I’m too influenced by the industry, the magazine features, Martha Stewart, the shot lists, the mother of the bride, etc. When I was a photojournalist I NEVER told anyone that I shot weddings, in fact, I hesitated to shoot my first one. But, you know what? I actually LOVED shooting my first wedding. They hired me for ME and my photojournalistic talent— they actually SAVED my photos from the newspaper and brought them to the meeting and said, “we want you to shoot our wedding like this…” It just seems when you turn it into a full time job it becomes just that: a job.

  • John Martin said on July 11, 2012

    At first I was mad. Then I felt respected. Then I felt mad again. Then kinda normal. Then I liked the whole thing and couldn’t disagree. But this begs the question. If wedding photography is looked down upon who do we wedding photographers look down on? Paparazzi I guess. And maybe those professionals with “nice” cameras.

  • Zack said on July 11, 2012

    @John – Oh yeah. I think we all hate the Paparazzi. :)

    Or wedding videographers. Man do they ever get a ton of crap from people. But that is not a hill I’m going to go die on right now. :)


  • craig john said on July 11, 2012

    Phuquing Aye! YES!

  • Kim said on July 11, 2012

    Oh my friend. How I love your written word.

    But…it’s Aisle…not Isle.

    If you were a real wedding photographer you would know that:)
    Much love from the north.


  • Zack said on July 11, 2012

    @Kim Hahahaha! Yeah. I’m an idiot. Fixteded!


  • Paul Bence said on July 11, 2012

    Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
    – Steve Jobs

    You know, if you do what you love, what you really love then hopefully the results will follow. If we allow ourselves to be put into boxes then boxes we become.

  • Adyisdead said on July 11, 2012

    I’ve always thought that if I were to shoot a wedding it would have been my way. Or no way at all!
    Your post gives me new force since I will be soon shooting a wedding for a friend couple and I was afraid to tell them not to expect something traditional.
    But now that I read the above I have a much clearer vision and I feel comfortable with that. And I already fixed an appointment to tell them what it’s going to be. I think I’ll be quoting you quite a lot Zack 😉

    Thanks man for your inspiring writing, and thanks for always being so honest about the topics you treat.

    Cheers from Switzerland,

  • Kevin said on July 11, 2012

    Thanks for sharing Zack!

    Do you have any plan to do Website critique again?

  • John Mireles said on July 11, 2012

    I think the times they are a changing. As one who’s photographed many weddings as well as big budget ad jobs for national agencies, I don’t see the discrimination against wedding photographers like I used to. Art buyers and art directors still don’t like bad wedding photography, but they do appreciate great photography in whatever form it takes. I’ve had several ad clients tell me that they don’t think of me as a wedding photographer so much as a good photographer.

    During one meeting with an agency Art Buyer a few months ago (I think it was for Deutsch LA), she looked at my name and remembered that we’d met years before. She remembered me for my “beautiful” wedding photography. I was actually kinda stunned. I had one bride recommend me to the agency where she worked as an art director and I ended up booking a $50k job out of it. If that’s discrimination or being looked down upon, I’ll take it!

    The key is to do great work and own it. If you’re confident in your abilities and your work backs it up, people of all stripes will respect you.


  • ATLPhotography said on July 12, 2012

    Awesome sharing Zack. I especially like the view on old guard wedding photography in comparison to today’s wedding photography. The Knot is NOT a bride’s friend. It in fact makes the bride, groom, and possibly family into raving lunatics on the day of the wedding trying to cover all their lists and making sure they don’t feed photographers, get the cheapest deal, and make sure that you’re not ripped off by the venue operator. These are people that you need to trust and befriend. These are the people that make you look your best on your wedding day and make sure everything goes right on that special day. I also like that you mentioned how the wedding industry is and how you indicate how we can “fix” the industry. It takes more than a day to build Rome. There’s a big difference between real-deal wedding photographers and profiteers in the industry and it’s more than just the price point.

  • Jimmy Moncrief said on July 12, 2012


    Great Post as always! I REALLY want you to do a blog post on pricing!!!!!!!!

    I went to your OneLight workshop and it was the best thing I have ever done for my craft. However, when I still struggle with the email of: “I love your work, but can’t afford it”

    I created Ciderr for wedding photographers and videographers, so we will see. Anyway, thanks for teh post!

  • Bartek Witek said on July 12, 2012

    Great post Zack :) Thank you.

  • cliff mautner said on July 12, 2012

    Zack, just wanted to add that I became a better photographer AFTER I began shooting weddings after 6000 assignments with the Philadelphia Inquirer. There’s a ton of truth to what you say, and it’s a damn hard job. Your tirades on the web are always a good read, and I love your passion for the craft. If I chimed into the issues like you, I’d surely wind up pissing off the world. You’re probably a bit more diplomatic than I’d be.

    I do my best to keep my head down and just keep moving, and shooting 50ish per year. The thought of shooting a wedding that was based entirely on what I wanted to shoot is really thought provoking. Yet, as always, it still comes back to being about the moment. You can take the photographer out of photojournalism, but you can’t take the photojournalism out of the photographer. Hope to see ya sometime soon.


  • Zack said on July 12, 2012

    @Cliff – Dude! Thank you so much for stopping by!


  • jcogliandro said on July 12, 2012

    i feel validated now. i will be ok.

  • Dallas said on July 12, 2012

    Good luck, Zach.

    The day I start shooting weddings is the day I start to believe I can win an argument with a rugby team of menstruating women.

  • Oliver said on July 12, 2012

    Hey Zack,
    did I get that right? you will shoot these few weddings as a personal project for free, if given the creative freedom you demand?

    I’m getting married on the 6th of October.
    I love your style, completely trust you and will give you full freedom to shoot as you please!

    We are having our wedding here:
    think you could make it to germany?

    what costs would I have to cover? I’n not exactly rolling in it but I think I would kill, to have you shoot on that day…

    Please send me an e-mail.

  • Andy said on July 12, 2012


    Great post. Worth waiting for.

    Q: How much do you think the past 8/9 years of shooting weddings by the book have contributed to being able to shoot on your own terms? Having now shot a My Way Or The Highway wedding, did you find the knowledge of years of standard wedding shooting helped inform your shoot? Cos let’s face it, you are pretty frickin’ good at this ‘tog thing. I fear a fresh ‘tog with no wedding experience would totally blow if they did their first ever wedding “own their own terms”.

    Where do you think the balanace of experience and iinnovation lies here?

  • Christophe said on July 12, 2012

    I enjoyed to read this article . Thanks and Cheers from France

  • Todd Kuhns said on July 12, 2012

    A lot of good points. I am a commercial photographer but started shooting weddings in ’94 which became a big part of my business for about ten years. I totally understand the perceptions about wedding photography and you are very right.

    I was in Denver at the time and the photojournalistic look hit big in the mid 90’s and trended from guys like Denis Reggie. I have to say that when brides started wanting that story telling look it became a lot more fun to shoot weddings.


  • Darrin Ballman said on July 12, 2012

    I also chose to shoot a couple of weddings for free in exchange for having complete freedom. A few months ago I pre-qualified the first couple and will be shooting it on July 22 in Mansfield, Ohio. I Can’t wait to see how I can push myself and discover something new for me in the process. I like what you said though – will I get some of the “basics” in the process – absolutely – but on top of that there’s going to be a whole other approach. After photographing 400+ weddings over 24 years – there’s been plenty that isn’t going to wow anybody. The last few years I really started to feel like I was getting a handle on a direction I was going and finally finding a little bit more of my own voice. Now we’ll see if I can break out of that even more….

  • Fritz said on July 12, 2012

    Zack, did you just come out of the closet? As a wedding photographer that is. 😛

  • Lou Korell said on July 12, 2012

    I have been on photo forums ever since digital became the norm. I’ve been shooting since the mid 1970’s but only weddings for about 17 years. The one thing I’ve come to learn is that photographers sure argue a lot with each other about photography. :) This is a great post Zack because it is refreshing to look at what you do from different perspectives. If an artist (photography is still an art no matter what genre)continually questions their work or their approach, they will grow. Many people believe that it makes a huge impact on “the industry” whatever that may be. I have learned that for most clients “the industry” is not a known quantity. My brides and grooms look at photography and they determine what they like. They don’t care where it fits in “the industry” or who’s who. If you show them what they like, you become their photographer. If I like what I shoot, those who also like it will be my client base. Otherwise they will go elsewhere. Do I want to shoot like the others? Why? I’m not them nor am I offering a different form of the same product. Some people drink soda. They may prefer Coke or Pepsi or maybe Sprite. If you sell Sprite, there’s your clients. Why put Sprite in a Coke can?

  • Melvin Gilbert said on July 12, 2012

    i love this Zack – ”By me being selfish you get my best.”…. you are amazing!!!

  • JD said on July 13, 2012

    thankfully, I don’t know the origin post that started your rant, but as usual, you are spot on. I am more than grateful to have the clientele I have because when I got out of art school armed with a Hassy and an attitude, I assumed that it’d be easy pickin’s to shoot those fish in the wedding barrel….what a RUDE awakening! I learned that Wedding shooters are men ( and women!) of STEEL….anybody that doesn’t give proper respect to that segment of our industry is hallucinatory or suckin’ sour grapes. So, my brother, another pat on your back for saying what needed to be said…..respect to those who make their way in this business by what ever means…You have always been the reminder, the compass needle that points in the right direction, that quality of craft and sincerity will always win the day….thanks again….

  • Leif Hurst said on July 13, 2012

    What are the chances of one of these wedding books you shoot being ported over to Dedpxl?

    “I’d buy that for a dollar!” Sorry, Robocop is on.

  • Marc said on July 13, 2012

    No expert here, only know the industry here in the Netherlands from the client side. Being 30-something, the last couple of years we saw many friends get married. From that point of view it seems here the PJ style kind of wedding photography still hasn’t really made it in the industry, though some are doing it. Most is still formal portraits, detail shots etc. So its funny to read that while in the USA the PJ style is over its top, here it is still hot and chique and only done by a “elite vanguard”.

    I only shot one wedding, for my brother-in-law (for free). And only because he asked me to and because he knew my capabilities, what I’m able to and more important what I am not able to. That day was exhausting, every single moment counts, every second one needs to be aware of what is happening , I myself was driving two parrallel processes in my head. First dealing with the shot at hand: composing, exposure, focus etcetcetc, while secondly I was constantly thinking what’s next?Constant in doubt whether I was missing a shot. Long story but at the end of the day I was not really happy with the results. My brother in law and wife were more than happy with the photo’s, from my perspective they were so-so on average, just a few “keepers”. What I learned that day is that wedding photographers are amazing bunch of photographers. There is no short-cut to learn the craft. While learning myself mainly portraiture photography one has the luxury of picking willing models (read: my sister) and somewhat less willing models (read: my eldest daughter) and do it over and over again untill the shot is (somewhat) right. No can do that with weddings. There is no time to learn-by-failure. The only way is to become third or less assistent and work your way up. No short cuts, no practise shoots. Anyway point I’m trying to make is kudos to the wedding photographer, for myself I decided that it is way to hard to become a good wedding photograhper in the short term. Maybe one day in the future, though I did use the things I learned during that day at shooting two PhD ceremonies, which turned out way better.

    Nice writing as usual and thanks for the insights. Are you shipping the T-shirt to Europe as well? (I’d love to have a hoody with that print btw)



    PS please ignore my lousy English

  • Martin Bobovsky said on July 13, 2012

    Damn You Zack… I think You just can’t imagine how hard is to be a wedding photographer outside US, in countries where average monthly income is belowe 1000$. You can’t even image, how hard is to find people willing to pay a photographer 500$. It’s even harder to find people willing to pay 1000$. Compare this to a cost of an equipment… To buy new 5d I have to shoot 4 weddings, each about 1000$. And what about living from wedding photography, if the equipment needs to be changed every few years. It’s so damn hard to be a Wedding Photographer. And if someone dares to cringe at the thought of a wedding photography, should be send to hell for lashing.
    I must admit, it’s just one of the best articles anyone have wrote about the industry. Just… Its just sad, that in US it’s not so bad :(

  • Jess Robertson said on July 13, 2012

    Great post, Zack! I’m a wedding photographer and wasn’t the least bit offended :) in fact, i completely agree with you. My favorite weddings have been the ones where the bride and groom have completely trusted me and just let me do my thing. Whenever I have a shoot where the clients have all of these “ideas”, I leave feeling like I’ve failed myself as an artist because I was so focused on getting what they wanted that I didn’t take the time to be creative and open and see things as I went. Thank you for always being such an honest voice in the industry! I love your courage and ability to tell it like it is…and your wife is adorable :) if you ever need a second shooter to help you tell a raw & honest love story at a wedding, I would be more than honored 😉

  • Eduardo Suastegui said on July 13, 2012

    Yup, wedding photography is one of the toughest types of photography one can do… because it’s all of them!

  • Pierre Graf-photographe mariage said on July 13, 2012

    Thanks for the kind words. Long live Wedding photographers. 😉

  • Kris Todd said on July 13, 2012

    Amazing article! I only wish I had seen your call for weddings in time to be chosen. haha

  • AJ Martin Photo said on July 13, 2012

    Thanks for giving us the respect we deserve. With the mounting epidemic of fauxtaugs it’s become even harder for wedding photographers to garner the respect they deserve. Cheers.

  • Jennifer Duffy said on July 13, 2012

    Loved this!!!

    And another Photographer that thinks the same way you do and is a wedding photog…

    Fer Juaristi

    Thanks for speaking up about this, I am a photographer and I shoot a little of everything….I have to where I live (small town). And this is high praise that should be touted more often. Just because it is a wedding doesn’t mean it can’t be an artistic challenge as well. I light the reception sometimes because I like seeing what I can get with speed lights on poles in different lighting situations, just because I see it where I want as well as what is there. I have been told “I see light in a way a lot don’t” by another professional photographer in town. I like that…. it helped me see my work in a better way. It has given me goal for weddings now rather than just trying to make it look perfect….I light or shoot for the light I see. And the rest follows….

  • Giovanna Mandel said on July 14, 2012

    True. True. True. And then there was Todd Laffler.

    Thanks for the creativity reminder.

  • sip said on July 14, 2012

    Very good. I think you cover a lot of good points regarding “wedding photography”.

    I especially like the wait 15 year part.

    I am not a full time photographer, I have other skills and interests that pays quite well, but I do take the occasional wedding to fund my photography habit. And I find myself hating it more and more each time I go. Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate weddings, and I don’t hate wedding photographers as people or professionals. I just hate the crap produced by your typical wedding photographer, and the reality is that it’s not their fault.

    For the wedding photographers with a “but” in their mind each time I say something negative about wedding photography. I suggest they google “stock wedding photo” and compare it with the typical wedding photography work. It’s sobering how the vast majority of wedding photographers produce images that look so much like stock photography. And this is what I really hate about the industry. And I think that’s also why there’s a stigma attached to those in the industry.

    The typical language on a wedding photographer’s website, and on wedding websites that brides visit is that wedding photos are to capture your “special day”, your “once in a life time” etc etc. I understand mass media conditioned people to think about wedding being special for us, me and i. But I just can’t help but think it is special when everyone has the same damn photos? The ring, the dress, the kiss, the bokeh for bokeh’s sake, it’s all so repetitive. And pointless. Pointless because now some of the repetitive photos have completely degenerated into stock photos that captures nothing about the wedding or the people involved. I recently saw, on the website of a local well established wedding shooter, a photo of a can of hair spray being used. No bride, no groom, just the can with a hand on it and spray coming out. And of course now a days one of the repetitive photos is the MUA’s kit. Again, not even a inch of human skin in the photo, just bunch of brushes and such.

    At one point thinking about how annoying wedding photos are, it dawn on me that it’s not about the bride and the groom. It’s more about selling people an image, and idea of how their love is perfect. In many ways I think it’s more “hopes and dreams photography” than wedding photography. You hire someone to paint an image of how you want to remember your wedding day. Maybe in hopes that the ever after will be as wonderful and sweet as you want it to be?

    But (haha) it is what people wants. And what the vast majority of brides look for when they plan their weddings. We must face facts that most people are not artistically inclined or knowledgable. And most of these people haven’t looked at photos for 15 years to figure out what they do and did not understand. Most of them will not realize what strange photos they have maybe until 15 years later.

  • jason said on July 15, 2012

    Damn good read zach. The last photo, would it work if i turned the power of my flash right down with the diffuser dropped down? I`ll be keeping an eye on your blog from now on, especially to see the outcome of the wedding(s)!

  • Karen said on July 16, 2012

    what the fuck is a lightsphere?

  • imagetext wedding photography said on July 16, 2012

    great article and thank you for spicing up my monday morning

  • Daniele Del Castillo said on July 17, 2012

    do you want to come to Sicily and shoot my wedding? :) Hugs


  • Ardean said on July 17, 2012

    SO weird that I just happen to check this blog post of yours. Today. The day after it hit me that it’s photojournalism that I’ve always loved and THAT’s how I REALLY want to shoot – as a wedding photographer. As a photographer period. I’ve started to re-vamp my blog and website to reflect this.
    I have been in love with Anna Kuperberg’s photography since 2001, when I first came across her site. She has SUCH a vision. She captures things in such a way, that you just shake your head, when you look at the image. And what I later found out, is that she’s a Photojournalist by training (with like a MFA, unless I’m remembering wrong) – and it shows! And that’s what I’ve loved about her work – and how I’ve always loved to shoot but was trying to fit into the trendy box of Wedding Photography – but it’s just not me, so I’ve now decided to be me and shoot like me. Period. :)

  • Kristin said on July 18, 2012

    Thank you.

    I made the decision last year to give up a well paying job to shoot full time.
    It has not been easy, but so incredibly beautiful and worth it.

    In the short time that I’ve been around the “industry” I too have noticed this distaste for wedding photographers.
    I think for me, as someone who is somewhat suffering in the financial department, turning to weddings at first was almost like turning back to retail for me. Not because of my opinion of the wedding industry, but because it isn’t the genre of photography I want to be doing. HOWEVER…at the end of the day all I really want is to be behind a camera. And I think it is extremely important to treat all my paid work the same way I treat my personal work.
    I would rather be shooting weddings and kicking ass at it and making beautiful images that make the couple happy,and make ME happy…than flipping burgers. And I find the more effort I put into shooting a wedding, the more work I really want to be doing comes my way. We have to be consistent in all areas of our lives.

  • Lio said on July 18, 2012

    WOW! Awesome post Zack!

    I didn’t get a chance to read all 500 comments, so I’m not sure if I’m repeating anyone else’s reply here, but I think a big reason for the distaste for wedding photography comes down to the client (I’m terrible for saying that, I know, but that’s why I don’t shoot weddings)… being that the client is usually the bride, sometimes the parents, and many times any one in the wedding seems to think they can direct the photographer as they see fit. That is what makes me cringe when I think about capturing a wedding. I come from a graphic design background, and one of the most difficult aspects of my job as a designer is dealing with clients that don’t understand, don’t have appreciation for, or don’t have developed taste for design. Sadly, often times, it’s the same case with brides and grooms. Even worse, they often only see $$ without understanding the value and effort that goes into shooting a wedding.

    From a prestige point of view, doing a commercial shoot that’s going to go into a magazine, a fashion shoot or beauty shoot, etc. sounds more glamorous than shooting for a potentially crazy bride and a group of stressed out (and eventually wasted) friends and family.

    I’ve shot enough weddings to last me a lifetime… and I have SO much respect for the amazing photographers who put it all on the line weekend after weekend. You get one shot (not literally, but literally) to create magic! I say if anyone wants to become the type of photographer that gets the shot no matter the situation, circumstances or amount of pressure, they should shoot weddings for a few months to get whipped into shape!

    Cheers Zack! Congrats on your success and thank you for caring about the craft!

  • Rob Lettieri said on July 18, 2012

    In 1987 when my friends first started asking me to “shoot weddings” I took your approach and with no regrets! Did I use shot lists and light sphere’s…sure I did…..and do. Quietly I’ve been grateful ever since that first gig and happily have a thriving business in a depressed area(Scranton, PA). Since my pricing is 4000.00 plus…..I lose more jobs than I get because of price and the “industry” but I’ve never been ashamed of what I do. I was enjoying free time in Santa Barbara before David Jay sold DVD’s telling people they could strive for that…….I was traveling to over 50 countries exposing myself to the world as soon as I got out of high school. I never stopped. I never wavered. I’m good at what I do. Am I great? Doesn’t matter.My life has been great because of wedding photography and the people that I photographed. It feels weird to work twice as hard to be where you have been but it is humbling and the world is humbling. For that I’m grateful. Maybe I’ll step off the sidelines.

  • Hoboken Portrait Photography said on July 19, 2012

    Wedding Photography is one of the toughest. If you are a wedding photographer keep improving your work and adapting to new technologies. For all of those starting, be prepared for a long journey, wedding photography is not for everyone. However the pros make it look so easy everyone is jumping in to the boat.

  • Keith Woodhall said on July 19, 2012

    Since taking up photography i have probably turned down about 10 weddings. People dont get it. How could i turn down a wedding when they consider me “so good” at what i do? I explain that wedding photographers work extra hard for their money, they have years of experience probably starting as an assistant. I explain the importance of back up equipment, which i do not own. Wedding photogs are familiar with the “goings on” of your average wedding. Then i tell them you get what you pay for. I have way too much respect for wedding photographers to ever even attempt to set foot in that arena, especially by myself.

    I have shot in some crummy situations, a decommissioned nuclear facility included (downey Studios), but at the end of the day if i dont get the shot…. IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER (in the grand scheme of things). You can’t say the same about shooting weddings, and i humbly admit not being confident in my ability to nail it every time.

    great post.

  • Patsy Fagan said on July 20, 2012

    As a wedding photographer, who spent 25 year in newspapers, locals and then nationals, (where sneering comments about wedding photography were our staple diet, only second to sent in pics from aspiring amateurs, look at your local paper nowadays!) I turned to wedding photography because I couldn’t bear to give up photography and I’m rubbish with trees.
    I have to disagree with your adoring fans who are loving your personal selection of creative black and white images which I find interesting.
    I would no more dare to offer the selection you have shown us, or want to, unless they are totally unrepresentative of the rest of your images. It’s not the style but the content.
    A wedding is not about you and how brilliant you are. It is about them. Their exchange of vows, their families the place they have chosen for the event. I want to record their happiest day in a way that will bring back the memories and preserve them for their families. No I don’t to do a list of line ups but if they want to know that all their friends and family was there that is their right.
    As a second shooter, yes! But I don’t enjoy films or books where the style is more important than the content and I don’t think it suits wedding photography. Wedding photography is a craft and pleasing the customer is it’s aim.
    I think it’s doing the craft a disservice to treat it as art.

  • Channing Johnson said on July 20, 2012

    I think this will be a great exercise for you, Zack. But tons of wedding photographers do this every weekend. I’m going on 130 weddings and have been handed a list twice. Once from a planner unbeknownst to the couple. And one knot list I explained I would use as a guide but would otherwise prevent me from getting the unexpected moments that are as/more important than the preconceived ones. That sounded good to the couple. If your portfolio only shows the pictures you want to shoot you effectively get paid to show up and take pictures of whatever you want while still being perceived as a cooperative person with the couple’s interest in mind and not just your own.

  • Chris said on July 20, 2012

    Brilliant post. Makes me want to rethink my whole approach, or at least gives me a goal to work to. I’ve always said to my brides that they should let me know if they want anything special. Truth be told though, they should be hiring me for what they’ve seen already, not what they want me to do. I especially love the quote “what they want from some other photographer they can’t afford”

  • Christopher Vendetta said on July 20, 2012

    First off great post and way to get all of us thinking about here about the industry. Personally I feel the wedding photographer gets a bad rap due to what weddings have become. Most of the brides and grooms are all about the “show” and is Uncle Frank ok sitting next to Aunt Edna. In the past and for me the past is the mid 80’s…wedding photographers had to wear a SUIT and TIE. We had our own LIST to get. Very set shots pre wedding, ceremony and then the group shots after. And as you said the industry became stagnant. Also as the true meaning of marriage has been lost…so has the quality of wedding photography.

  • Bryllupsfotografen said on July 22, 2012

    Excellent post Zack. I just posted it on Facebook aswell! Thank you for sharing.

  • Abe said on July 24, 2012

    Great article, Zack. Blunt but truthful.
    The solution is much simpler than some people think: Bring a 2nd shooter to deal with the list. Wedding photography is a service after all. Wedding is not about the photographer’s “hey-look-at-my-super-photo-skills”. It is about bride & groom’s moments. And don’t forget, they’re paying.

    Once the 2nd shooter back you up, you can shoot ANY way you want it. Win win.

    Nice read, Z

  • Vittore Buzzi said on July 25, 2012

    Really nice articles.
    I appreciate.

  • Tulio Isaac said on July 28, 2012

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  • Ronald de Bie said on July 28, 2012

    Great article and good inspiration for me.

    Greetings from the Netherlands!

    Ronald de Bie

  • Stephanie said on August 5, 2012

    As someone who is just getting her feet wet into the wedding industry, this post was exactly what I needed. I have already begun to discover “the system” behind wedding photography, that lack of respect, and how predictable every event can be. Brides tend to mold their expectations from sites such as The Knot, and even Pinterest in my opinion.

    At one point, wedding photography can become quite cookie-cutter; especially if you’re not given such freedom to produce what you want. I feel like if we were given more freedom within the schedule of the event, the client would be pleasantly surprised.

  • Jose L Uribe said on August 8, 2012

    Hola Zack! My wife and I are wedding photographers in Chicago! We both saw your video on “Philosophy of a Studio” We have been toying around the idea of leasing a studio/home for sometime. We do know the benefits of having a studio, controlled lighting and when the weather is bad. However, how much walk-in business can I expect from having my own SPACE? What percentage of walk-in biz do you get?

  • Zack said on August 9, 2012

    @Jose – NONE! No walk in business. Plan on that unless you’re in a mall shooting $9.95 portrait sessions and printing on coffee mugs.


  • BJ Del Rosario said on August 9, 2012


    Great article, reminds me that even as a wedding photographer I need to push it’s boundaries. I have done this for so long (11 years) that I want out, and it’s not like I don’t treat it like a journalism job (because thats just how I shoot), but it’s because I’m sick of the repetitiveness of it all.

    Thanks for taking the time out to write about this.

  • Garrett said on August 11, 2012

    Nail on the head, NAIL ON THE HEAD!. I just got this is in the mail today
    And it totally makes my day. I doubt many photo editors are sending out thank you cards.

  • Chaz said on August 14, 2012

    I feel like that “list” is what makes shooting a wedding stressful. Always racking your brain making sure you go photo a-z while you could possibly be missing amazing photos and moments. Great post Zack!

  • Web said on August 14, 2012

    Loved the video, your words touched me deeply. This is one of my most favorite photography web sites. Keep up the fantastic job you are doing. I am truly inspired by you and your website. Thank you so very very much!!!

  • Jennifer Davis said on August 20, 2012

    Loved hearing you at Plywood People last Thursday! Sure would’ve loved to have pitched my wedding to you for your consideration to shoot “how you want to” next month. :) I specifically asked my photographer to not be a “wedding photographer.” I can’t wait to see what she does. She’s nervous about stepping out of the box, but i told her she can’t mess up. Awesome stuff!

  • Frankie Calabro Che'Francois Photography said on August 23, 2012

    Hello Zack,
    I was forst intoduced to your work by watching Kai, who lead me to Chase, and then Chase to you. I am not only a big fan of your work, but of how you govern your life, and especially your attitude.I just rescently got back into Weddings having shot film as far back as 1982.
    I tota;;y agree with your post, and with some of the cpmments that raised valid points form the other constituants here. The wedding industry has sold out, and what you see now is alot of Facebook or Craigslist photographers shooting weddings for $500-1000 with little or no experience taking a job away from a real professional who has been hard at this for years. Very disturbing!!!

  • Will Pursell said on August 30, 2012

    Great read! I think as you gain respect as a wedding photographer couples trust you to shoot it however you want anyways. That’s what they are paying you for. I came from an action sports background and after Years I still shoot weddings with the same approach as I would sports…. They just move a lot less.

  • Marc said on September 12, 2012

    I’m a little surprised that Chrisman Studios was not mentioned here.

  • Daniel Holman said on September 17, 2012

    Great read and great points. Cheers from San Antonio!

  • stefano druetta said on September 20, 2012

    hi everyone, this is Stefano from Italy. i’m finding my way in the wedding industry over here, and it’s shithard work. why is that? coz most of wedding photographers just suck. coz most of clients just look for cheap priced photographers. coz we surely lack of image culture. could you believe it?
    i’m making an experiment right now, while i’m supposed to edit my last wedding: i’m showing my girlfriend some galleries from those you linked in the post.. and i’m not surprised by the results.
    on john nolan’s work, my girlfriend says: «really good looking subjects, and the moments he captured, but some pictures are evidently staged. some others are just way too blurry. technically speaking, they don’t feel like being taken by a professional. and some of the brides are actually models».
    on JVS’s work she says: «too “gothic”, less joyful, almost disturbing..»
    CAN. YOU. EFFING. BELIEVE. IT? i wish i was able to have such storytelling skills such as nolan’s and JVS’s…
    this is the kind of taste we’re facing, when we step into the wedding business. and my girlfriend is above the average bride [she has a master degree in marketing and communications, her family is into arts and jazz and so on]. so she supposedly understands what she sees.
    i’m questioning myself how should I do my job, I would I face my clients.. how could I put my personality into this industry, while this industry requires other kind of approach to the matter? how do I stand out among others? i’m the one who repels the idea of standing at other’s requests, like «heeey take a picture of us while we do nothing and express nothing with ourselves, just make us look as we were the best in the world!» and stuff like that. it happens all the time [i’m shooting editorials ad commercials too], but at weddings it’s just something i can’t stand.
    ps: zack arias is the man!

  • Ever Lopez said on September 26, 2012

    nice article, thanks for sharing Zack, You Rock!

  • jhd said on October 2, 2012

    I agree with Channing Johnson & Patsy…

    I am only in the game 2 years and most people come to me as they like what I do and just let me do it.I have never show contact sheets or allowed much input. I hate the group shots but I do them if required but most couples just want a small selection which is bearable. As Channing said, if you display certain images on yuor site, couples know what to expect.

    The next stage for me is actually turning couples down because either they don’t get what I do which basically makes me the wrong photographer and them the wrong couple.

  • jdh said on October 2, 2012

    I just want to add. I pretty much hate the damn things too. After doing it I did find a huge respect for the craft as personally apart from war photography it is one of the hardest types of photography out there requiring on the spot skill.

    If I could stop doing it tomorrow I would and I am sure a lot of others would too..What I CANNOT, I repeat CANNOT stand is when photographer state. ‘ I LOVE BEING A PART OF A COUPLES SPECIAL DAY’…Bollo%$! you do or at least I don’t really give a damn, I am there to do a job and that is about it…

    I shouldn’t moan as it does have it’s ups and is a lot better than many other jobs out there, esepcially the working for yourself part.

  • Sandra Hughes Benton said on October 2, 2012

    What gets me is whenever a ‘layman’ sees me with my camera – after they’ve asked the standard “Wow, what kind of camera is that?” their next question is “Are you a professional photographer?” which is followed by “So do you do weddings?”
    It’s like that is the only thing they can think of that a ‘professional photographer’ does…

  • Antony said on October 13, 2012

    *round of applause*

  • Peter said on November 16, 2012

    I have lots to learn. But I will start by saying great article and thank you for helping me get my head out of the clouds. I want to create amazing images yet I tend to drift along with what the “market” is doing. So thank you very much!

  • Craigh Bennett said on January 7, 2013

    Interesting post Zack. Thanks for sharing :)


  • emilyward said on January 12, 2013

    I just want to add. I pretty much hate the damn things too. As Channing said, if you display certain images on yuor site, couples know what to expect.Really nice charming.

  • Aaron Belford said on January 28, 2013

    Hey Zack,

    Very insightful and a great read. I featured it on my blog uncut:

    Because I felt that every one in our industry should get a chance to see it.

    Thanks again,


  • Malinda said on February 7, 2013

    I didn’t know what a LightSphere was until just now. Do wedding photographers really shoot with those? We don’t have a website yet, we haven’t bothered, we’re word of mouth. You, you are incredibly inspiring. With regard to how and why and what you shoot. Would love to be that inspired!!! Pretty down right now about not being incredibly busy and about the one and only bridezilla we’ve encountered in our 6 year part-time careers as wedding photographers. I guess I’m using her as motivation to move forward, shoot outside the box, look for outlets creatively and be inspired. Thank You Z + M:)

  • Kristian Leven said on March 5, 2013

    All I can say is ‘thank you’ for putting this up here. We do indeed get a bit of a raw deal, but it’s great to have support from others in the industry.

  • Kris said on March 7, 2013

    Very interesting read. Yes, Wedding Photography can be extremely hard work and demanding yet it is also very rewarding :-)

  • Jarrett said on April 24, 2013

    Well if you are still up for it, my wedding is October 12th. I would love to have you!

  • Zack said on April 26, 2013

    That offer was from last year! :)


  • Verona said on May 9, 2013

    You were right… Olivia did make me cry. And made me wanna buy a better camera.

  • Rudy said on June 6, 2013

    Great story, have to post this on FB so my peeps can read it. Very very nice. Thank you on behalf of wedding photographers everywhere, now hurting in this crazy business.

  • Andreas said on June 21, 2013

    I love to shoot weddings.

  • Tom E said on July 2, 2013

    Excellent article.

    I have shot over 700 weddings since 2003 and quite honestly sometimes feel like I’m slowly losing the plot!

    Being in such a happy/false environment for 12 hours, then 12 hours the next day, then the next… Interacting, smiling, laughing, joking… Whilst nailing nice tidy images throughout the day is exhausting!

    Also… Best not take too long with the posed shots… the bride will get bored, the driver of the cars will get angry (he’s taking his kids shopping after he drops the bride and groom off(!)), the Vicar wants to go and watch the soccer, the venue will moan cos the foods getting cold…. But keep smiling photographers, your at (Another) wedding!


    Tom. X

  • Brad Melton said on August 9, 2013

    I need to go explain to my wife that we need to get divorced so we can re-marry and have you shoot it. I’m sure she’ll understand.

    I’m just getting into weddings, but the chaos and unrelenting challenges amidst a sea of happiness and emotion is what I love about it. It’s a delicious, target-rich environment. I consider wedding photographers to be the special forces of photography. They’ve got to be able to do anything, anywhere, in any conditions at a moment’s notice and failure is not an option. I’ve never known another photographer who looked down on wedding photographers, but quite the opposite, rather. They have nothing but respect knowing they sure as hell don’t want to do it themselves. :)

  • Zack said on August 11, 2013

    @Brad – :)

  • Melissa said on August 11, 2013

    I kinda sorta feel like bragging that you and Marc shot my wedding in 2006 at Park Tavern. We’re THAT lucky :)

  • Belinda said on August 17, 2013

    I’m so so glad to have read this so early in my career. As someone who’s striving to make a career out of wedding photography, I am constantly inundated with the trends, the “list,” etc etc etc. And sometimes I wonder WHY?

    This post reminded me of what’s important and has given me much to think about in the way I operate my business and the approach I take to each photo. Thanks Zach (And Meg too) :)

  • Brian Powell said on August 18, 2013

    Zack, had to come back here and re-read this a year later… in the thick of wedding season… after seeing the fStopper’s trailer for ‘how to become a professional commercial wedding photographer’ (??) Have you seen that thing? It sang the praises of having freedom and being your own boss and making buckets of money, and reminded me of David Jay. That’s why everyone respects you as a photographic resource — you keep it real and don’t promise rainbow unicorn rides, because that’s not reality.

    I shared their link with disgust, but I posted a link to your writeup here as an antithesis :\

  • Zack said on August 21, 2013

    @Brian – I haven’t seen the full video (watched the trailer) but I know all the fstoppers guys and they are legit. They know how hard it is too and I’m sure they get that across. Like I said though, I haven’t seen the video. The trailer doesn’t remind me of DJ.


  • Matthew Long said on September 5, 2013

    My hero

  • David said on September 5, 2013

    Fantastic read. :)

  • Chris Francis said on September 6, 2013

    Great article. That is how weddings should be shot and how I currently shoot them.

    Good luck with your experiment :0)

  • Graham Nixon said on September 6, 2013

    If you get hooked on weddings I have a few here in the UK you’re welcome to come and second shoot at. It’ll be Winter though so be sure to bring a torch :)

  • Adam Faulkner said on September 11, 2013

    Great read Zack! I’m in a bit of a creative rut at the minute and this article has made me take a step back and look at how I want to shoot. Some great images as well.

  • Henry said on December 23, 2013

    I own a professional photo lab and have been catering to wedding and portrait photographers for the last 30 years. In the film days wedding photographers needed to know the technical aspects of photography as well as artistic aspects. However the digital age made photography easier and more accessible to everyone and anyone. The WPPI photographers convention attendance has increased from 3000 attendants in 2002 to almost 9000 attendants in 2013.
    Today we have far more wedding photographers on the market than ever. Many of these photographers came into the industry because of losing their previous jobs in the bad economy. Frankly, becoming a wedding photographer doesn’t require much. Buy a used DSLR off eBay, print up some business cards, a flashy website with wedding images that you can buy off stock agencies, and good selling skills. And change your name into a more artistic two first names. You need no licensing or certification and very little investment. That’s why the business of wedding photography has changed from a service to commodity. I don’t see the art in today’s photographers work and I see a lot in my business. Basically they all look the same because they all follow the same trend. If you are starting out in this business, just go on line and look at many photographers websites and pick up and learn some posing technics. This wasn’t available years ago and photographers had to develop their own look and style. As far as technical skills, I remember once a wedding photographer told me that “P” on the camera was a setting for Professional. In the film days the photographer didn’t see the image right away on the camera, and he needed to know and control exposure (shutter, aperture) as well as depth of field, color temperature, reciprocity failure, background luminescence and Etc… not to mention using a totally manual medium format camera. Furthermore, there was no Photoshop to rescue you from disaster. Now its all justified as candid or journalistic BS. I remember once a bride complained to me about her photographer that she shot 25 images of the her toes and shoes, but forgot to photograph her grandma.
    Face it, wedding photography is basically documenting and event. The images that are created are absolutely worthless to any one else on the planet except the people that are in it. Other categories of photography (Photojournalism, landscape, sports, Etc..) have artistic values since the images are valuable and can be sold globally. Wedding photographers have the worst reputation among photo labs as well. Why? In the film days labs offered terms to the photographers because they had the benefit of keeping the films hostage until they got paid. Today with digital images the collateral has disappeared. Accounts Receivables is the biggest problem many vendors have today dealing with wedding photographers.
    Of course not all wedding photographers are as such, There are many photographers which are honest and believe in and honor their profession and they take pride in their work

  • Mike Warren said on January 7, 2014

    Hey Zack, did you ever do a follow up on this post? Images, how it worked out, what the couples thought, what gear you ended up using, etc.? -Thanks!-

  • Boston wedding photographers said on January 19, 2014

    What you say about the photo list is spot on. Creating a level of comfort and trust with the bride is key. She’s only looking to magazines with lists because she probably hasn’t done this before.

  • Mark Creery said on February 19, 2014

    Thanks for the writing this, Zach! From an appreciative wedding photographer.

  • Emily Exon said on February 27, 2014

    I loved the post, I know I am a couple years late reading…However it was a refreshing to read. so thank you

  • Miami Wedding Photographers said on February 28, 2014

    You got it right! But you forgot pinterest!!! :) Brides want winter photos from pinterest even if their wedding is in Florida in July. Exactly, they want the photo which won awards last year at WPPI and they see on bridal blogs and in wedding magazine without noticing that those people are models and they are looking at a styled shoot.

  • david walters said on December 10, 2014

    wedding photography SHOULD be shot in a photojournalistic manner. It would be great if the industry was regulated now that every uncle Bob has a camera and can ape all the other monkeys in the industry. Although you cannot ape good storytelling as you need talent and a solid knowledge of your camera. Great article as can be seen by the amount of comments!

  • Simon Atkins said on April 4, 2016

    A great article, thanks Zack.

  • Wedding Photographer Leicester said on April 10, 2016

    what a fantastic read, keep it up Zack!

  • Reportage wedding photographer said on May 13, 2016

    Hey Zack, absolutely loving your blog, another great article here. BTW I purchased a Fuji XT1 based on your youtube video from Marrakech, you did a great review on it.

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