This wedding was oddly touching. Rae and I are always touched when it’s obvious that the couple loves each other deeply, but there was something very poetic about the way these two interact.
If I was going to write a blog about this wedding, this poetic aspect would be what I write about. But, as this is wedding season and it’s 9:30pm right now and I still have way more photos to edit before I can go to bed, I’m going to skip writing at all, and cut and paste a piece I wrote a few weeks ago, reflecting on me and Rae’s decision to become wedding photographers. Sorry if you were hoping for something more about this wedding.
Paying the Bills with a Camera
There wasn’t much warning that I’d become a photographer. Just months before Rae and I were shooting our first wedding under our new business, being a photographer wasn’t even on my radar. I won’t speak for Rae, but my own decision to become a wedding photographer was based primarily on bad math and an almost delusional optimism. But, I learned some lessons.
My optimism: Years ago, with a mediocre camera and outdated software I’d illegally pirated, I took photos of my parents’ dog, removed all the colours except orange, and then called it “art”. The 3 likes I got on Facebook were proof of my budding genius. I was also fond of Googling ‘camera tricks’ and performing them substandard. Was I ready to quit my day job? Well, I didn’t have one. Nothing to lose right? (Turns out…not right).
Bad math: A friend was getting married and her photographer charged $5000. If I could get 20 weddings a year, then it follows that for 20 days of work, I’d earn 100K. Don’t tell me that she was also getting a custom luxury album with this $5000; don’t ask me how many hours of retouching is involved; no, I don’t know how to market myself, do administration or take care of books. No, I don’t have any professional equipment. And the costs of running a business? Don’t ask me these questions. My mind was made.
Lesson 1: If you shut down in the face of reason, you’re on the path toward failure or insane struggle.
There is no special trick to priming oneself for insane struggles. It’s easy in fact. First: set impossible goals. Second: believe them and don’t look up, rethink, or even realize that you did it.
Our goal was to become the best photographers in Halifax, or maybe the world, possibly in recorded history (see delusional optimism, above). There wasn’t much romance in the unshowered, sleepless, relentless, caution-to-the-wind mania with which we found ourselves sprinting at this vague goal.
We watched wedding photography videos while eating dinner, maxed out literally every credit card in our possession on equipment and took countless terrible photos. We slept in a closet and rented out our bedrooms on AirBnB, so that we could afford luxuries like food and rent. We fell for too many internet scams, lost our minds trying to recover, and then built our own website despite not knowing how to do that either. We put on smiley faces trying to sell ourselves, despite the endless anxiety. We booked 17 weddings in our first year and went so horribly into debt that we comforted ourselves with boxes of wine and petty fighting. I was routinely working until 3am, sleeping for a few hours, and sitting back at my computer to work before I even brushed my teeth. 90 hours a week, each, is my estimate, on many weeks. It was deadly.
In morbid curiosity, I once clocked my worked time versus income. Result: I was earning less than half of minimum wage—before expenses! A good example: we once charged $500 to photograph a wedding in Cape Breton, basically all day. Subtracting expenses (gas, meals, a hotel room) and you might see what I mean. We earned pennies on the hour for that one. But hey, we were getting “experience”. And that would eventually get us to be the best in the world, ever. Right? Well, we got better than we were. And eventually sort of good. And my eye is now sufficiently sophisticated that I can say for very certain that I’ll never, ever, ever be the best in the world.
Getting to where we are now, though, was brutal. Hair fell out of my head and my beard went grey, and I just look and feel older. Something about nonstop work and the chronic sense of being a small catastrophe away from total financial collapse grinds my joints, unsettles my digest, screws with my mind.
There’s nothing particularly heroic or even interesting about hustling the life out of your short existence. A lot of it is just a result of believing lies, your own and those sold to you.
Lesson 2: The lies.
David Bridal once contacted us and asked us if we’d like to pay them lots of money for the opportunity to come into their Dartmouth location and photograph people trying on wedding dresses. Good exposure they told us. Lots of leads they said. Not at all creepy, either. We gave them their money and went there every “free” Saturday we had, to market ourselves in the most awkward and humiliating way I can reasonably imagine. Result: one booking.
Rogers swindled us on a “customizable website” that they assured us would get on the front page of Google in a month (or so). I thought being number 1 on Google would solve nearly all my problems and I was sold. The website turned out to be ludicrously expensive, non-customizable assault on the eyeballs. I was embarrassing to have our names on it and begged them to take it down, whether or not they refunded us. After hours of frustrated phone “conversation” over days, followed by threatening emails (which I copied the BBB on), they eventually refunded us.
We went to every bridal show we could get into, spending tons of money, time and energy attempting to stand out from the countless of other desperate vendors. We booked enough weddings to recoup the financial costs, and then spent a chunk of that to wine-away the stress of being salespeople (neither of us are inclined that way). We also did that tedious intrawebs branding thing that everybody does all over social media. “Hey Look at me! I’m Different!”. Truth is, I’m not very different. And I don’t think it would matter if I was. When everybody is trying to be unique, this tends to obscure the fact that the only differences that really count are things like quality of work, accountability, and half-decent social skills.
To say that all this wasn’t necessary is also a lie. Rae and I had so much to learn that we really needed to do all this stuff, to see where we were stupid, or lying to ourselves, or not thinking things through very well. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if the universe would always live up to my expectations and limit itself to my limitations. But it doesn’t do that. So, I make my embarrassing mistakes, many of them pretty costly, and maybe I learn something. But to keep doing it…maybe there’s some magic in delusional optimism. Whatever it takes. You gotta be a hungry mofo on a mission, tirelessly (or with plenty of exhaustion) bouncing off the wall until you find a door. As Gary Vaynerchuck often says, you can’t control how much natural talent you have. You can’t control your luck. You can’t control much of anything other than the hustle you’re willing to put into it.