If you’re a wedding photographer who has had a change of heart about your chosen path in this industry as lockdown restrictions and subsequent client cancellations continue, you are not the only one. It’s never too late to make a career change!
It would be surprising if being confined to your home for prolonged periods didn’t make you contemplate your current life and work choices as well as future plans or goals. I think it is safe to say that most of us have gone through this process in some shape or form.
Some photographers used this quiet period to modify their existing business strategy to be ready for the post-pandemic world, some paused their business and turned to any available work opportunities to support their families, while others, like myself, were faced with the somber realization that this may not actually be the career we want for our future even when weddings eventually resume.
The wedding industry follows seasonal fluctuations in bookings where certain periods of the year are busy and booked for most full-time wedding photographers in that region, followed by quiet periods where fewer weddings take place. This makes it complicated to plan personal life events, especially for photographers who want to start a family or already have children.
It’s an emotionally charged job that requires the photographer to deal with anything that may be thrown their way before, during, or after the wedding, and forces them to maintain a sense of alertness throughout the year. It’s not just a technical or artistic job, it’s certainly a social and physical one, too. Having said that, it can be a highly rewarding profession for the right person but it can equally slowly encroach upon your health and personal life if you are not careful.
If you don’t have what it takes to sell your personality to potential clients during a consultation or if your presence at the wedding causes discomfort to others, a good portfolio will only get you so far for so long. You are the face of your business and your personality is an important aspect of it.
I believe that is one of the reasons why wedding photographers, such as myself, begin to unintentionally blur the lines between what is considered personal and what is professional life. Being so emotionally involved in a job can cause distress when it comes to resolving clients’ issues or demands, setting boundaries regarding communication, or sacrificing your own family life and mental or physical health.
In the pre-pandemic world, I thoroughly enjoyed the highs of this business but I already had an inkling that it would not be something I dedicated the coming decades of my professional life to. Physically, I could document a full-day wedding with no visible problems but underneath, I often suffered from headaches which were exacerbated by the lack of mental breaks during a wedding day. I generally had to keep the day after the wedding free with no appointments or shoots because I needed it free just to recharge. This cycle had the additional side effect of hurting my personal relationship: I would lose more quality time that I could have spent with my partner either shooting or recovering.
Lockdown brought this issue to the forefront for me and I was forced to deal with the situation at hand instead of brushing it under the carpet and letting yet another wedding season come around, which would leave me dissatisfied with my work and the responsibilities I take on. I believe that there are moments in our lives when we already know what we need to do but we just seek that extra push to make the change which can be daunting because it’s taking us to unfamiliar territory.
Personally, what made me more comfortable about my choice to leave the wedding industry was seeing that I am not the only one who feels this way. Lisa, a U.K. wedding photographer whose real name has been changed to protect her privacy, revealed to me that 2022 will be her last year of weddings. During the pandemic, she realized that they are not as profitable for her when broken down into hourly pay and evaluating that against the time she is forced to spend away from her family, even taking into consideration that she is one of the highest-priced photographers in the area. The cancellations and postponements during the pandemic left her scared to rely on weddings as a dependable source of income, while a shift towards family shoots offered the flexibility she was looking for.
Similarly, photographer Chloé Grayson from Fox and Owl initially saw wedding photography as her dream career. That is until she had her first baby and her priorities and goals shifted. The long hours away when she was tasked with photographing weddings across the country conflicted with the gentle attachment parenting approach Grayson and her partner had adopted for their newborn. This wasn’t made easier by the pandemic when a flurry of postponement and cancellation emails came in, which caused financial loss, unpaid admin time that spanned across several months, and mental stress.
Looking into the future, Grayson is navigating her business in a new direction to focus on design work and smaller sessions or less intense full-day bookings, which is something that suits her as a family-orientated working mother.
Just like the two examples above, others are also seeing their career steer towards more frequent but smaller scale shoots. Nadine Boyd, also a U.K.-based photographer, has removed wedding photography from her website as she’s seeing out the existing bookings while transitioning to what gives her the most joy and job satisfaction: family photography. This type of work doesn’t require as much preparation nor does it take up the whole weekend, making it more manageable, especially for those with younger children at home.
The family aspect of this pandemic-induced career change should not be underestimated. Having to plan pregnancy around weddings can be difficult because jobs are booked at least a year in advance. Add pandemic postponements in the mix, and you have families waiting at least one or two additional years to have a child while they are obliged to finalize all of the bookings that have had to move their date due to COVID-19.
The time we were forced to spend at home under lockdown restrictions has given us the opportunity to examine our work-life balance and how we intend to navigate this in the future. It is not easy to make major changes in our professional life but knowing that there are many in this industry who feel just as unsure, whether they are wedding photographers or operate in a different photography field, can be a consolation to the rest of us.
There are many other reasons why photographers are reconsidering the future of their wedding business but the one thing that brings all these stories together is that this period of prolonged uncertainty has given us clarity about the changes we do want to make.
Image credits: Photos by Anete Lusina.