Our second focus group episode focuses on toxic traits that we have seen in the photography world, and how we can improve/do better as photographers! Everything from working with a videographer, making it about the COUPLE and not yourself, and how going full-time looks different for everyone. A great listen if you’re feeling the comparison blues and need encouragement as well!
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Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Rooted Creative Podcast. We have our second focus group on the podcast today talking about toxic traits in the photography industry, specifically the wedding photography, wedding and elopement photography industry. I am here with Andrea Doss. She does elopements and intimate weddings. Also, Julia Zig, she does wedding photo and video, so she does both. And then Kelcee with Escape and Adventure Photography, she does elopements and intimate weddings as well. So primarily wedding and elopement photographers here, and I’m so excited to have each of them.
Hey ladies! It’s great to have you. Let’s do some introductions!
Hi! I’m Andrea Doss of Andrea Doss Photo. I am an elopement and intimate wedding photographer, currently based in southwest Ohio, so Midwest gal and I have been actually pretty fairly new to the elopement industry itself. As far as specializing goes. I did big weddings for, gosh, I think like four years, and eventually I just decided that elopements were a little bit more aligned with me. And so yeah, I transitioned out of big weddings in December of 2021, and then last year in 2022, I finished up my final year of big weddings, which was really exciting. I had some absolutely wonderful couples I got to work with last year, so then transitioned fully into being a full-time elopement photographer in 2023.
Hi, I’m Juliette. I am a wedding photographer and videographer, and I’m based in upstate New York. So I’m on the East coast, and I’ve been shooting weddings since probably around 2015, and then went full-time in 2020 towards the end of the pandemic. And yeah, I love being able to switch between doing both. I’ve done both. I’ve done either being a photographer or a videographer at a wedding, so it’s a good time either way!
Hi, my name is Kelcee! I am an adventure, elopement and intimate wedding photographer as well. My photography business is Escape and Adventure. I am based in Arizona and travel all over the United States, capturing elopements and intimate weddings. I started photography actually very recently. I picked up a camera in 2020 and dabbled around with couples families and stuff until I found weddings and fell absolutely in love. And then I became full-time with Escape and Adventure in 2021 and have been loving my job and working nonstop since.
Awesome. I love it. Okay, I’m especially excited to talk about our topic today, which is some toxic traits that we’ve seen in the wedding photography industry. Before we kind of dive in, I want to put out a disclaimer and tell everybody, if you are listening to this and you’re sitting there and thinking “shoot, I actually might do that.” We’re not calling you out. I think we’ve all been there and experienced it or done this in some capacity and learned from it or are still going through it.
So we want to make sure that you don’t feel called out in this episode. I think what our intentions behind this focus group is to bring light to some things that maybe might be toxic and how we can improve them and make them better. So with that said, I’m going to start with Andrea. Each of these three ladies have come up with one toxic trait that they have found in the industry. So Andrea, tell us what you’ve seen.
Toxic Traits in the Industry – Andrea’s thoughts
I don’t think it’s specifically just photographers, but a lot of people within the creative industry will think of their clients as somebody that is there to serve them as opposed to us being there to serve our clients. And I think that we’ve got that backwards. I noticed it on social media a lot of the time. Mostly when I started, I was in Facebook groups, and the biggest thing that I noticed was someone would go to post maybe a question about an issue that they had arise with a client of theirs, or maybe they’ve seen something come up within the industry and they’re trying to get some insight on what the appropriate response is to that situation.
I really noticed a lot of the time that the comments that people would give were very self-focused. And a lot of the time it could be maybe a photographer was looking for a way to structure an email to a client in order to say no to a question or a request that they had. And a lot of the times, there was one thing that people would say pretty frequently is that, “no is a complete sentence.” And that always blew my mind a little bit. I was like, if I had a photographer that I hired and I asked them a genuine question like, “Hey, could you edit this photo to fix whatever” or something and they emailed me back and just said, “no”, I don’t even know what I would do to be honest, that would throw me off so bad.
That was just one example of some things I started noticing. And a lot of the time it would have to do with upholding contracts. I’m in a couple of different legal Facebook groups for photographers and other creatives, and people would just be like, oh, you know, “got to stick to your policies, stick to your contract.” And a lot of the time I just felt like the requests that these clients were having weren’t really that unreasonable. And a lot of the times, the responses that these photographers were getting and the advice that they were getting was just kind of a little bit hostile. It made me feel icky. I would start seeing this and I’m like, “man, this is just all very self-focused and more focused on the photographer’s business instead of empathy towards the client.”
And then it translated into reels..
And then it translated into reels, especially on Instagram, and I think it just was because a lot of us were under a lot of pressure to push out content. And so instead of providing valuable free resources for potential clients on Instagram, we were just kind of like, oh, well, I don’t have any ideas, so I’m just going to copy this little trend that’s going around. And it resulted in a lot of people bashing their clients. So that just kind of translated into a whole new thing, and it became a really big problem. That’s been the issue that I’ve noticed over the last few years, and I think it has gotten a little bit out of hand more with reels on Instagram.
I completely agree. I’ve seen those reels that you’re talking about specifically where when the bride says something like this and you’re over here and it’s a meme that you’re kind of bashing the bride, I’ve always thought, “I don’t know how positive that is or who we’re trying to reach with this reel.” Are you doing it for likes and views and for your Instagram or are you doing this to benefit potential clients? I think that is a really interesting take. I also have seen what you’re talking about in the Facebook groups with people who have a contract question. I remember there was a question once that was, “this bride is asking me to change all of these photos into black and white and I don’t want to do it. And I went on in the comments and I was like, if my couple is paying me four to $5,000 to shoot their wedding, I’m going to change a couple of the photos to be black and white.”
That’s not a huge thing for me. Now, if it’s bigger, then I’m kindly going to say, Hey, if this is a bigger Photoshop job, I will do 15 photos for free. But anything over that I, I’m going to need compensation for my time because it’s just going to take time. That is more logistic answer than saying, “absolutely not. You need to love your photos and I did a perfect job.” That’s not how it works. So I have seen what you’re talking about in the groups too, and I completely agree with that. What do you ladies think as well? Kelsey? Go ahead.
Who are we trying to reach with these anyway?
So when you were talking about that, it kind of reminded me of how photographers think about who’s going to see their posts and who interacts the most. And I personally believe that photographers interact more with other photographers than potential clients or just random people on Instagram that see your photos, comment, engage. And so I think about those reels and how photographers post things that other photographers would relate to. And so that’s how they get that engagement is from other photographers versus thinking, how would my personal client or a potential client think of this? Is this valuable to them?
No, I completely agree. And I totally hear what you’re saying. It’s like who are you reaching with the reels again? Are we trying to reach the right audience here and book more clients anyway? Juliette, did you have something to add?
No, I think it’s really important to remember. Social media, yes, it can be really fun and everything but I think it’s also important to keep professionalism, especially if you’re newer or anything like that. And just to make sure that you’re keeping in mind exactly what you guys said, keeping in mind that clients are going to be booking with you, and if I were a client, I don’t really want to see you using my wedding pictures as a TikTok or reel in a bad sense. So I completely agree.
Yeah you never want to dig on clients whether they’re newer or older. It’s just not a good marketing approach!
I actually had a friend I took maternity photos for when I first started photography reach out to me just because we talked randomly one day and was like, Hey, just reminder, we really love the photos you took for us. Thank you. And I was like, oh, that was three years ago. Let me redo them for you whenever you get pregnant again. She’s like, no, no, no. We really do love them. And I had to remind myself that even though I wasn’t as skilled when I first started to where I am now, they’re able to see the growth from my business, but also they still love their photos because that was their time, their memories. I don’t think clients really think of, oh, their editing style has changed, or, oh, they should have captured it this way because they don’t know. They just see what they remember and what they love
I think that’s the larger Instagram picture too, because I think we get really caught up in the numbers and all of that stuff. But if you’re getting inquiries and you only have 200 followers on Instagram, but you’re getting consistent inquiries, that’s what matters more. And I think the messaging behind, “Hey, it’s not about me and it’s not about the numbers, it’s about who we’re serving” will in turn affect how your social media strategy is approached too.
What other self-centered leaning comments have you seen on Facebook Groups opposed to client facing comments?
The biggest issue that I tend to notice is when a photographer will post a question or maybe a rant about a client who didn’t read their contract or they feel that they didn’t read it as maybe deeply as they should have, and they are coming to them and they’re asking them for something that just a hundred percent goes against what a clause on their contract might say. And I have a little bit of an interesting perspective on contracts. On one hand, it’s like, I really do believe that they’re super important and that you should absolutely have them. If you don’t, you need to. The biggest thing is that it’s really about setting expectations upfront with your clients.
If you’re finding a repeated issue where people are disrespecting a part of your contract, I feel like maybe there’s just some more expectation setting that needs to be had from the beginning. My biggest thing with my business is communication as far as messaging people back in a timely manner, emailing appropriately and just making sure that they have all of the information that they need to make an informed decision about something. And then just positioning myself as the expert to help them and to be their friend and to support them. Especially for me personally as an elopement photographer, there’s a lot of issues that my clients are running into with maybe their family not understanding why they’re having an elopement or an intimate wedding and that they’re just not fully grasping why they would want to do their wedding day differently.
In a lot of cases, they’re already dealing with a lot of stress. I feel like if I have a client come to me and they ask me a question that I feel is outlined very, very well in my contract, they might not have read it as intently as I hoped they had because they’ve got a lot on their plates, they’re dealing with a lot. So the best thing that I can do in that situation is to respond and just kindly educate and inform rather than feeling I have to be super abrasive and as per my contract, I don’t need to say that.
Ultimately at the end of the day, it just comes down to empathy. And so if we’re able to just have a little bit more of a moment with ourselves and be like, okay, take a step back, think for a second, don’t respond right away. Just think for a moment, how can you say what you need to say and inform appropriately and do whatever it is that you need to do to solve this issue in a way that you would want yourself?
Your contract is legally binding, but there’s also room for empathy.
So on that topic of contracts, there are times, even if my contract says something legally – that if there’s an issue or if there’s something going on, if there was a death in the family or something where I need to show grace in the situation, I’m willing to waive things in the contract. I just have a heart and it just feels right to not charge an extra change fee, even though in my contract may say otherwise.
If the bride and groom are going through something and it’s tough and they have to reschedule, maybe because there’s a funeral that came up, that’s totally okay. I’ve even returned deposits before (someone can shoot me for that, but I have) because I’m like, you know what? I feel really bad. Covid was just awful to couples, especially during covid. I was like, “this was just an awful time. I’m going to return your deposit even though everybody in those Facebook groups say never return your deposit.”
Juliette, what Toxic Traits have you seen in the industry?
I think there’s kind of an assumption in the industry that videographers tend to piggyback off of the prompts and poses that photographers do during weddings. One thing that I always recommend is just communicating with your vendors even before the wedding day and just being like, “Hey, this is my style. This is how I usually do it.” Because with videography, it’s all movement. It’s all getting people’s reactions and having it be a little bit more documentary. Especially when it comes to wedding party pictures and couples photos and flat lay design. Even just making sure that you’re maintaining your own style and not just copying the photographer or anything like that because the couple is hiring you for your expertise and your artistic vision.
So my best friend is a videographer and I work with her all the time. So I kind of understand what videographers go through because she vents to me about video. I vent to her about photography and stuff like that. But the times that I don’t work with her and I work with other videographers, I always try to be considerate, make sure I capture still and movement photos for the big family group shots that have the bride kiss and the people scream and cheer movement to make sure that the videographer is able to capture it and I’m able to capture it. Communication, like you said, needs to go both ways.
Sometimes when I communicate with them, they don’t communicate with me back. It kind of makes a little bit of tension. Something that I’ve really realized when working with other vendors is sometimes they kind of see it as a competition. There was one wedding I was at where the videographer stepped in front of me and the other photographer to get that shot. I was the second and the person was leading and they just stepped in front of the lead video, the lead photographer trying to capture the cake cutting. It was a very small space. It just made me so mad that they did that instead of communicating, “Hey, can I get in?” Or “Hey, is there any space that I can get this as well?” Communication is such a big thing and weddings are not a competition. It’s teamwork.
Yeah you definitely go in with the mentality of, “Hey, the bride hired you and they hired me. And so that means that I need to respect the bride in that way and make sure that the videographer gets everything that they need to.” And that the videographer also isn’t infringing on what I’m trying to do. I’ve had many times where I’m very considerate of where the video is. If they’re in the middle of the aisle, I’m not going to step right in front of them. I’m going to crouch beneath them. If they’re in the middle, I’m not going to get in the center of their shot. Or if they have a camera set up with a tripod in the back, I’m saying, “Hey, is this continuously rolling? Is it okay if I walk in front of this?” And they usually say it’s fine.
Piggybacking off of that, but I think there’s sometimes confusion to the approach of how a videographer works and how a photographer works because everybody has their own unique styles. For me, I rely on a lot of movement, a lot of just candid moments and stuff like that. Whereas if I’m working with a photographer that poses somebody has a little bit more of stand and pose, do this, you’re not really going to get a lot of movement. I’m not a big fan of having video footage of people just standing and smiling. And also it’s frustrating for the photographer because if I have my camera up, the people aren’t going to know where to look. So I am always hiding my camera behind my back during those photos where they have to look directly at the photographer, and then as soon as she’s like, or the photographer’s like, “Hey, everybody look and cheer”, that’s when I whip my camera out and I’m getting footage of that.
If someone has extra money in the budget – they’ll hire a photographer. And that’s just kind of how it is. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I think you also have to just make sure that when you’re going into a wedding day, you’re talking to the photographer, you’re explaining how your process works, how you’re going to work with the couple, etc. I think it’s just all communication and if you’re, you’re not communicating, it’s difficult. If someone doesn’t want to communicate with you, that’s when you have to be a little bit creative. And I’ve had that before where maybe I’m working with a photographer and they just think, “oh, she’s going to get all of the same stuff.”
Let me add one thing and then I’ll go to Kelsey. Audio is really important too. I play music during the romantics part or even during the first look, but a lot of videographers now like to capture the audio of a first look and what the groom is saying. And so I always ask and I’m like, “Hey, is it okay if I play music?” And I’ve had many times where the videographers say “actually, no, I’m going to be capturing audio.” The groom has a mic on his lapel, and I’m like, “cool, I won’t play music.” But if I didn’t ask, that could have been a huge problem. And you don’t want to not look like you’re a cohesive team in front of the bride and the groom.
Kelsey, what about you? What toxic traits have you seen?
Oh boy. So something that I’ve noticed ever since I first started photography to even now is when photographers, the community in general, mention full-time, what’s the first thing you guys think of? You often think of 40 weddings a year, six figure business owner and hustling, working all the time. And that in the very beginning stressed me out because I wanted to be a full-time photographer. And because that was the expectation that was set for me as a photographer, was working every single weekend pretty much. And having to make a lot of money that stressed me the heck out. The very first year was like, “oh, there’s so many good photographers that are working all these elopements and they’re making so much money. Why can’t I have that?”
I was able to take a step back and it helped me realize that I needed to take their success into inspiration. And these people are doing really amazing things, but just because they’re full-time also doesn’t mean that they’re working 40 weddings of a year and making six figures. Being full-time to me is whatever, satisfies your heart, whatever makes you happy. I consider myself a full-time elopement photographer. I’m working only 23 weddings this year. What makes me different from someone else that’s working 40 weddings? We’re all working the same amount of time and I’m putting my full-time effort and work into my clients. And I think that is what full-time really is about, is putting your heart and love and your heart and love into your passion and not meeting the expectation that everybody else says that you need to meet.
Yeah, I think it can be very toxic to look at other people. I remember when I was in 2018, I had my friend Alyssa, she actually comes to Rooted and she is an instructor. She was like, “I’m going full-time”. “As soon as I get home from this workshop, I have already quit my job. After I get home, I’m going to be full-time”. And I remember I was so jealous cause I was just like, “oh, I’m still working part-time at this music studio.” And I was like, “I cannot wait to go.” And it was actually very shortly after that that I was able to go and I thought, “yes, I’ve made it. I’m legit now and I can devote all of my time to my clients”, which was true. But that first year I was so burnt out, I did 40 weddings and I undercharged what I should have been, and it was just way too much.
That was not a sustainable way to run my business. That’s not the way to do it. And look at me this year, I’m still full-time technically because I’m not working or doing anything else work-wise. Like I’m still a photographer, but I’ve only got six weddings and they’re still kind of priced with what they have been for the past two years. So it’s like I’m not raising my prices. I did take on less but every situation is different and you don’t know everybody’s situation and how much they need to be bringing in to pay the bills and to keep the lights on and to do all that stuff. But that works for me as a mom of two. It’s hard to compare to someone who’s in a different season or who doesn’t need to be taking on 30 weddings, but they’re still full-time.
For me, full-time can be anywhere from 10 to 20 elopements per year. When I first started, it was really funny because I was so lucky when I first started doing big weddings. I saw so many people in the industry saying, don’t burn yourself out. Don’t take on too much work, don’t do this and this. And I was like, oh, that’s really smart. I’m not going to do that. And then I never did. So I can say with really, really a lot of happiness that I never had a year of being burnt out. And I know other people personally who have, and I’m like, man, I am so fortunate that I was able to gain that insight at the beginning of my career.
Each season brings something new
It’s interesting because now my husband and I are in a season of life where we’re just kind of focusing on different things. And so when I decided that I was going to go full-time with elopements in 2021, that just looks different now than I thought it was going to, which I have to be okay with. There’s other seasons, like you said, that you find yourself in life and you just have to be okay with it. And I think there’s a certain level of personal responsibility and work that does have to go into it. I listened to a really good podcast episode that another photographer posted where the guy was just talking about, “are you seeing everything that’s happening in your life as something that’s happening to you or something that’s happening for you?” And that really was like, “oh wow, that was really eye-opening.”
If we see things as they’re happening for us instead of to us, it really changes our perspective, especially in relation to our businesses where we can see everything as an opportunity or a chance for us to grow as just people. I love this topic, especially right now in my life because it’s all good things that we’re moving forward in, but it does feel like there’s a lot of my creativity being stifled and the photography industry can be very isolating. And we talked about before, there’s a lot of negativity on social media. And so it’s like “where do I seek out inspiration and where do I seek out positivity and holding myself over until things can be how I want them to be with my business?” I don’t think it gets talked about in the industry enough and that the growth pattern for our businesses all looks completely different. It’s not necessarily always linear and sometimes we plateau, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It’s so important to talk about because I am not making as much as I did when I took on 30 weddings in 2020 before I had kids. Everyone’s saying, you need to keep growing and you should be making more next year than you did last year. And I think that’s so toxic because your seasons could change. Things are happening in your business, maybe you’re expanding, maybe you’re working on something else and you’re not bringing in as much as you did in 2020. And it’s hard to compare yourself to a previous year because then you’re like, “well, why am I not making as much this year? Clearly I’m failing at my business. This isn’t something I should continue doing.” And then you get in your head, and I think that’s really toxic.
I opened my business while I was still in college, and then once I graduated, I was like, “okay, full-time, like everything’s going to be great.” And it wasn’t because I was a fresh college graduate, I had no idea what I was doing. And I think that the whole idea of getting to that point where you can go full-time is a lot slower. And I think it’s okay to take it slower and take your time to figure out what your style is and what you want to specialize in and not maybe go full-time all the way.
Everybody’s journey is completely different. And the sole purpose is to serve your clients well. And so I think that as a business owner, if I were to look back at when I was first starting, I’d just be like, “you need to chill out and you need a second shoot. You need to hone your skills. You need to make sure that you know how to shoot a wedding.” And then you could take that step to be an official full-time business owner. And I gained a lot of experience by doing other jobs and being a PA for a photography company and doing other things. I learned how to do product photography and a whole bunch of other things. And I think there’s nothing wrong with kind of experimenting before you decide.
You just need to understand that everybody’s journey is different and that’s okay. And just because yours is different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong, and it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to work. Some people go full-time in two months. Some people go full-time in two years. It takes time. But as long as you’re actively striving to hit that point, if you are, you will eventually get there. But it does require work, obviously.
When I first started photography, I remember, like I said, stressing out so much about needing to book. I remember stressing because I only had three elopements in my portfolio. And I was like, well, how come no one’s booking me? How come these photographers are going everywhere? How come X, Y, Z? I used to be so hard on myself when I first started photography because there was that expectation.
Can you repeat that quote again that you mentioned earlier?
Yeah, basically he was saying that the mindset shift that you need to have is “don’t think that everything in the universe is happening to you rather than it’s happening for you.”
And I think that’s really beautiful because it’s easy to see yourself as a victim in a lot of things. Like, “oh, this isn’t happening to me because I didn’t do this”, or “This isn’t happening because my work isn’t that great.” Having that mentality is going to hurt you more than seeing what is already working for you. And just being like, “Hey, look at where I’m at right now. Look at where I was a week ago. Look at where I was even a month ago, and look how much I have come and improved from that.” And it takes time to get to that point. And success is different for everyone.
How can we push past that mental block?
One thing I do remember focusing on was – even though I’m not super busy, I’m not booking clients now, what can I do now to better my client experience for the future? And that goes back into what Andrea was saying about serving clients and just trying to be the best that you can be. You may not be where you want to be, but where you are now is enough and you will get to where you want to be in due time.
Guys, this has been an awesome conversation. I love chatting about this stuff. I think it’s not talked about enough as we were saying, and it should be because it can be a very isolating job. So that’s why I love these focus groups because we can really hone in and start talking about these things and how we can improve them as a community and be there for one another. Thanks for coming on the show today!
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