You Are Not a Misery Sponge

Forget the dollar, forget the accounting, forget the mortgage. Forget the call asking how many images you deliver, whether you give out the rights, and whether you’ll retouch every single picture you take. Forget it all, and look into yourself.

You are not a door mat. You are not hired to be stomped on, stepped on, or smashed down. You are there for your vision. For what you see that no one else can. You’re there – not because you can buy a camera with a vertical grip or a lens that could take the place of a baseball bat, and not because you’ve memorized every shot on 100 Layer Cake, Wedding Chicks, or Style me Pretty – you’re there, because you believe in something. Because you feel something. Because you know a secret little something about just what a picture can be. And if you’re not, then either make it so or get out of the game, because people are figuring it out and making it happen. The last thing you want to do is hobble home, drop on the couch, check into Facebook, and see that you’ve been out shot by a guest on their iPhone with Instagram.

Your buffer – that thing that will keep you going and protect you when the going gets tough, isn’t to be found in a bank account or a lottery ticket. It’s not going to be in three extra bookings or reinvesting in a D800. It’s going to be you. Being a better you, who can do more and see deeper. But having faith in you is one thing. Making it happen is another. And it’s up to you to make it happen. Assert yourself. Not just in your images, but in being who you are. It starts by taking responsibility for everything that happens during the day from beginning to end and doing everything you can to stack the deck in your favor before the wedding ever begins.

Find the right clients, say what you need to say, control the process. Don’t just go along for the ride. Create the ride. Know that it means something to do it your way. Keeping control isn’t just about whether you’re willing to snap a shot for a guest. It’s not just about whether you choose to do a favor for a venue. It’s not even about selling out. Staying focused and feeling good about what you do is not a self-centered triviality. It is part and parcel to giving your best. The act of being a great wedding photographer goes beyond pictures. It is maintaining the delicate balance between getting what you need and doing what others want. But no matter what you’re willing to do, this much is a certainty. You’ll never get the pictures that count if you let yourself get pulled in every direction. You have to rein it in.

Remember this. You are not a misery sponge. Do not be afraid to say no. You are not there to just get in the game, take the hits, and cash a paycheck. You are not there to soak up the insecurities of your clients. In fact, there is no surer way to kill yourself from the inside out. No one will ever grow living in the shadow of those who know less. You must aim higher. It is only self-assertion that will create the path that connects you to those who cherish you and who you cherish, because no planner, mother, couple, or venue will ever understand what you really do, nor should they. It is in your hands.

Protect yourself at all costs. Not for ego, not for show. But to build a space that nourishes your most delicate and frail self. The one that is dying to say something, mean something, and contribute something. The one that cares and feels, and the one that hurts the most in the face of rejection. Protect that part of yourself, and you will flourish.

The real problem with surrounding yourself with people who just don’t get you is that at some point, you actually start to listen to them. And the more you do that, the worse it gets. You are not them, they are not you, you’ll never know what they want, and if you spend too much time thinking about it, you’ll find yourself stuck in the death spiral of will-they-like-it-or-not photography, where you spend more time guessing what’s in other people’s heads than listening to what’s in your own.

So start from the beginning. Don’t put up the picture you think everyone wants on your blog. Don’t say yes to every request you get. Don’t take a meeting because no is too hard. Shooting in constant doubt is harder. Stop the planner from repositioning the dress every shot. Keep the groomsman who cracks the bad jokes away from the couple when you take the portraits. He will destroy your pictures. And above all, don’t be ashamed of the person you are. It’s why you’re hired. Providing good service isn’t just being professional, proper, and polite. It is finding the right match and doing what you need to do to guide others to the right outcome.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if not a single soul in the universe understands why you do things the way you do. Even yourself. What you need is what you need. There is no time to live in other people’s worlds on other people’s schedules. You’ll have no choice. But don’t let go of it without a fight. Not when it takes you away from your creative space. Not when it stops you from being you. Do not soak up the misery. Do not soak up the doubts of the world around you. Assert yourself and find ways to keep everything else at bay. There are only so many weekends in life. Cherish them, and don’t keep putting your life on hold until the Saturdays run out.

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Comments

  1. says

    such wise words … thanks for sharing. Especially love this paragraph: “Protect yourself at all costs. Not for ego, not for show. But to build a space that nourishes your most delicate and frail self. The one that is dying to say something, mean something, and contribute something. The one that cares and feels, and the one that hurts the most in the face of rejection. Protect that part of yourself, and you will flourish.”

  2. Bryan says

    I guess I am the only one not on board. I would question how much money this person makes taking photographs. You can take this stance all day long, but at the end of the day if you do not make any cash to feed the family and pay the bills, well then re-read the post and go oh yea now I understand why I didn’t book that bride today. I tried to tell her that we were going to photograph her wedding the way we wanted and not care about what she wants. Sorry not my cup of tea.

    • Spencer Lum says

      It’s not about doing things the way you want nor is it about not caring. Caring for your client and caring for yourself, your product, or your service do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, I’d argue they should not be.

      It’s about creating relationships with your clients that foster trust, guiding them through the process, and creating a reputation based on your strengths. And, yeah, people value that and will sign up for that.

  3. says

    Thank you – this article came at a good time for me, a time when I am fighting to be someone who says no and protects themselves. My business’ inquries have just flourished lately, and I need to remember when to say no.

    Thanks for adding a meaningful moment to my morning.

  4. says

    Finding the right client for you is as important as your client finding the right photographer for them. Balance is an important key. You have to feel fulfilled other than the paycheck that comes with being a professional photographer otherwise you are just a “Supermarket of Photos” in the end.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing this. You are so right, unless the way to get there is f*****┬┤ hard.
    Selina Maitreya`s “The photographer┬┤s path” is a great help for me. She manages to show me a way dealing with mental exhaustion and finding ways to gain access to my innerst self.
    Photographing a wedding is not that easy…
    The soul has to be awaken and your fire to find the right moments must burn. I call it my “emotional antenna”!
    Everything unfolds in front of you. You just have to “see it”, “feel it” and “capture it”, for sure!

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