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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