Why photographers shouldn’t hide their nontraditional brides

Guest post by Kirsten Hansen
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Photo by Kev Rayner, Image-i-nation photography

Offbeat Brides love our photographers. They are the ones who capture our weddings forever, showing our beauty and love in an unexpected dip for a kiss, toasts that made us (and our friends) cry, and our friends and family sharing in our commitment. We choose them for their talent and we know they can rock an offbeat wedding. Heck, lots of them are enthusiastic about the chance to shoot something a little different and have a lot of fun. Some of them are even offbeat themselves.

So why the heck do so many photographers have Facebook profiles and websites that don't reflect this?

Why do some photographers choose to show only wedding photos of couples that look like they belong in the most traditional bridal magazines? When I, as a prospective client (and even a former client!), visit a portfolio, I want to be able to see myself reflected. I want to see variety! Why is every bride skinny, white, and in a big white dress? Why is every groom perfectly styled in a suit or tux? Why do some photographers choose the most homogeneous batch of images for their portfolio?

I'm betting most of them shoot other weddings and do a fabulous job of it. I've seen the photos from my own wedding which look damn good, if I do say so myself. Those pictures are as good as anything else I've seen on a photographer's page. I've seen all the amazing photos from other weddings on Offbeat Bride so I know it isn't just my offbeat wedding that looks great in photos.

But when photographers don't show it off, nobody else knows they can do it.

As far as I can tell, it's a matter of marketing, and for those photographers who choose to display only the most stereotypical of couples and weddings, they are doing it wrong. People the world over have been speaking up for years, saying that they want to see themselves in magazines, on television, on blogs, in clothing. If we can't identify with the marketing, we won't trust that the company will “get” us.

Let's be honest: chances are that not all photographers' clients are skinny, white brides and well-groomed, athletic white grooms.

This is extra important for a couple hunting a professional wedding photographer. We want to know that they'll do a good job of capturing us and our commitment, right? If they can't prove that they can photograph someone like me and my partner, why would we give them large sums of money and just assume it will be okay? Heck, why would we assume they'd even want to take us on as clients if we're so outside their regular clientele?

I know, I know, their main market is probably still expecting a traditional wedding (a la Wedding Industrial Complex). So no, they probably do not want to be showcasing a goth wedding or a tattooed and pierced couple that might scare off potential clients (unless they're an uber cool offbeat photographer). But there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing a beautiful — but different — wedding. Let's be honest: chances are that not all their clients are skinny, white brides and well-groomed, athletic white grooms.

I would like to challenge those photographers to show off what they can do so the next potential client who comes along wanting something offbeat won't be fooled into thinking that photographer can't or won't do a kickass job. Trust me, it's worth it. More photographers need to trust themselves and their work. Beautiful photographs aren't going to turn off potential clients just because they're of plus size brides in red or grooms in bowling shirts.

I'm thankful I and my dude knew the truth before we looked at a portfolio. But the next couple may not.

Comments on Why photographers shouldn’t hide their nontraditional brides

  1. That’s certainly an issue that needs to be addressed when photographer-hunting. Ask them outright “Have you photographed offbeat/non-traditional weddings, and do you have a portfolio of your work on those?”

    This sort of leads back to us, too, those who have already had their offbeat wedding shot, by allowing our photos to be included in the portfolio (or at least a back-up portfolio) and allow ourselves to be client references for other offbeat couples to contact.

  2. Amen!! I feel like this is especially true for plus-sized brides. I want to see that a photographer can take lovely photos of a not-skinny person. Do they know the best angles to shoot my adorable chubby cheeks from? There are tricks to this!! I know big girls can look great in photos, but you need to know what you’re doing. Who can’t shoot flattering photos of a size 4 girl in $5000 dress whose make up is professionally done? Show me how you shoot someone like me!!

    • Yes! I could barely find any plus-sized people in photographer portfolios (and, to be honest, they were more often in engagement or “family” shoots than wedding ones).
      I’m fine with my size, and my photographer should be too!

    • I absolutely refused to hire someone who had only skinny young couples on their site. One, it’s wrong, and two, I wanted to see what they could do with a curvy bride. It’s just too simple, isn’t it?

  3. As a photographer…

    We want to show off our absolute best, while marketing to our target audience. If we’re not into the offbeat weddings, we’re not going to advertise for it. Also… Let’s be completely honest…how many ‘offbeat’ weddings are actually fabulously done? A LOT of them are couples with low budgets, so they either don’t have a professional photographer at all, or they don’t have a GOOD photographer, so you’ll never see those spectacular images.

    • Maybe you don’t understand. This article was about wanting to see more offbeat photography on photographer’s portfolios and wanting to see more people of different body types and ethnicities- people getting married who aren’t the magazine standard of the ‘beautiful bride’.

      If the photographers in question don’t consider their photos of these people getting married to be their absolute best then this is a problem with the photographers. That is what this article is addressing.

    • Stephanie, I’m totally with you on knowing your target market. If you’re not looking for non-traditional, don’t market to it. That said, if you’re excluding plus size brides from your portfolio, you’re ignoring potentially a third of your potential clients (offbeat AND traditional).

      Obviously, it’s up to each wedding photographer to decide how they want to market their business, but I do think it’s important for photographers to be aware of alienating potential clients. If you don’t want those clients, then that’s fine — but this post is about raising awareness, so that photographers can make informed business decisions.

      • Speaking of making informed business decisions, if you exclude “non-pretty” and “budget-conscious” people from your target market, aren’t you actually excluding the majority of the market? I mean, this goes beyond “what is offbeat”.

        Now, I understand that sometimes businesses target niche markets but this is almost the reverse — it’s like the entire wedding photography industry is competing for the same small pool.

        There’s a lot of money to be made marketing to the masses. Look at Wal-Mart. I hear they’ve done very well for themselves.

    • I think the point is that while many photographers (not all, mind you, and that is also fine) are happy shooting offbeat brides and their weddings, these images are not as often featured on their websites and portfolios. Which is unfortunate, because as an offbeat bride myself, I’d love to see what a photographer can do that’s different from what I’ve seen done on a million other wedding websites/books/etc..

    • Woah! The comment about offbeat couples’ budgets is so rude! I mean, do you read this website? Do all of the photos on here look like shit to you?

      • Yeah, same here. That was a really rude comment. My wedding was offbeat AND on a budget, and my photos are spectacular, fun, and offbeat. They look great. And every offbeat wedding I’ve seen on this site has rocking photos. Dislike.

      • Although I’m a little ruffled by the comment too, I think she was just trying to say that often budget weddings save on money by not hiring a professional photographer, which means that you won’t come across these offbeat weddings in portfolios of these photographers. And while a large portion of the weddings featured on this site have a family friend or professional journalist or something shoot their wedding, despite having wonderful pictures these too will not appear in a wedding photographer’s portfolio, because again they weren’t done by a wedding photographer.

        If you aren’t targeting offbeat weddings, you still should think about including all races and sizes still though, like Ariel said, since those show inclusiveness and your skill as a photographer to make even the “not-bridey-material” women look good.

    • I really want to think that what you, Stephanie, were saying here is that some offbeat brides are on low budgets so they don’t splurge on photography that would be at a level that would make it into a portfolio someone else would see online or in a shop. That offbeat brides on a budget utilize their resources and find awesome people to take awesome photos for them on the cheap. Please tell me this is what you were trying to say.

    • While it’s true that many offbeat weddings are on a tight budget, that’s certainly not universally true… more importantly for photographers to think about, though, is that there are many offbeat (even budget offbeat!) couples who value photography very highly. Even if a couple is going to bake their own cake and skip hiring a DJ, that same couple might recognize that photography is where they can’t scrimp/DIY in the same way.

      I’ve had this experience several times, and I believe that this kind of wedding is a big opportunity for photographers, because if this kind of couple can prioritize photography and afford me, they are often the ideal clients! The details I end up shooting are really cool and unique AND, more importantly, their hearts are in the right place: they want me to focus on the people and the experience more than capturing all the expensive details. Also, these clients are likely to have a lot of fun and not sweat the small stuff on the wedding day, and their easy going attitude shows up in the photos/makes my life easier.

  4. I completely agree… there are plenty of photographers out there itching for non-traditional weddings (I know I’m one!)… and I have a pink-haired bride plastered on my homepage… its definitely something you should address when looking for photographers… you should find the one that is right for you… and is going to love you and your wedding just as much as you do!!!

    • I actually LOOK for offbeat brides. On the same token, you mention that if you don’t see any ‘offbeat’ brides that the photographers don’t want to do those types of weddings. I don’t agree with that at all. I just don’t have the opportunity to shoot many offbeat weddings. If I did I would feature the heck out of them. They are generally WAY more fun than the skinny brides in white…lol

      And on the note of posting ‘plus-sized’ brides…I feature EVERY wedding I shoot,because you never know who (plus-size, offbeat, inter-racial, etc) your future clients might be. And because photography is all about the PEOPLE in the images…most of them end up feeling like family to me.

  5. So many portfolios are full of homogenous images and it often feels very repetitive. This is great advice for photographers – even traditional weddings have brides and grooms that may not represent the homogenized images presented to us in bridal magazines – Mix it up !

    • Exactly! Mix it up and show that you’re photographing real people. When I was on the photographer hunt, my theory was that our wedding day was going to be very personal. I wanted someone who could understand that and capture it. I also wanted proof of that, the understanding that these were actual people in the photos who were getting married for real. There would be laughter, there would be tears. Nothing is more mind-numbing than looking through a portfolio where every single photo starts to look the same. I’m pretty sure the couples are very different people so why should their wedding photos all look the same?

  6. I love shooting non-traditional weddings and I am also happy to say that I have shot beautiful non-skinny brides (I myself was a non-skinny bride 18 months ago). I would love to do more of those though because my website certainly don’t reflect many of them. Maybe a few e-shoots with more off beat styling is a good idea?

  7. A few years back when I was entertaining the idea of doing wedding photography full-time (I shoot part-time now) I would have loved to have shot a non-traditional wedding. I tried my best to find couples in my area but seems as though they were few and far between. *But* if I’d had the opportunity I would have been so proud and exited to showcase those photos on my website and blog! Maybe one day I’ll get the chance!

  8. I love this post. Especially because we, as editors of a non-traditional wedding blog, are witness to this kind of thing all the time and it’s frustrating for us to bump up against it.

    As an example: recently we had a photographer submit a wedding to us to consider for a feature — yet another attractive, slender, white couple whose only offbeat feature was that they shot some portraits against a graffiti wall. (Lovely portraits, it should be said. But not quite a fit with our focus.) We turned down that submission and then minutes later the same photographer contacted us with an amazing same sex wedding, and then a quirky multi-cultural couple.

    What this said to me was that photographers are being trained by mainstream wedding blogs and magazines that “traditional” weddings and “skinny, pretty, white people” are the hot commodity. Then, even when submitting to a non-traditional blog, they will send the pretty white people over before they try their hand with a non-traditional couple.

    This post is so great because it shows that EVERYONE is dying to see more diversity in the wedding industry — not only us wedding bloggers, but even the clients themselves!

    Let’s make it happen, guys!

    • As a photog, i’m just dyin to see diversity in the WAY images are taken or made too…I am craving to see lots of various perspectives and not the same ol “industry” standard. Meh, I’m workin on this one.

  9. As a former event and wedding planner (16 years) and an Offbeat Bride, I can tell you that the typical cookie cutter wedding industry is only now beginning to entertain the notion of the white dress, fancy updo, sample size bride. If photogs are going to ignore us, then we have to make our voices heard and follow through on it. Meaning, if a photographer can’t provide you with examples of a variety of brides and weddings, reacts negatively to your vision…move on! Don’t give someone your money who looks down their nose at you simply because you choose be authentic in your wedding planning, plus sized, etc. The assumption that offbeat brides have low budgets, their decor is crap, etc. is simply an act of prejudice and willful ignorance in my opinion. The wedding industry is changing. Even mainstream couples are bucking tradition and it’s time for photogs, planners, and videographers, etc. to get on the bandwagon before they are left behind.

    • The wedding industry is changing. Even mainstream couples are bucking tradition and it’s time for photogs, planners, and videographers, etc. to get on the bandwagon before they are left behind.

      I really do believe this is true — I’m actually doing a presentation at a mainstream wedding industry conference this fall about this very subject.

  10. It’s fascinating to see this perspective. Our wedding had about 60 guests, mostly family, and some of those of those guests have very sensitive relationships with each other. So when thinking about photography, I was more concerned about a stranger accidentally stirring up drama. I was very hesitant to include an outsider.

    However, I’ve also had the joy of seeing a friend’s career as a wedding photographer develop. I’ve loved seeing his enthusiasm, and appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of how he captures the relationship of each couple he photographs.

    Long story short: while my friend was unable to shoot our wedding (thanks in part to the impending birth of his first child!) he connected us to a friend of his who’s also in the business. And now I have two awesome photographer friends! For me, even though I was dazzled by images, I never would have hired someone without a personal connection.

    • Always, always, always tell your photographer if there are any family issues they should avoid. I ask every bride if there’s anything I should know, I would hate to ask for a photo with mom & dad together AT the wedding, just to find out mom walked out 12 years ago, and dad is now married to her sister. It’s much better to have an uncomfortable conversation with a photographer before the wedding, than a blow up at the wedding!

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