This past blisteringly cold Saturday while I was enjoying the fact that I did not have a wedding, this email came in:
You did our pics almost 10 years ago. Wouldn’t you know that I wait until now to use the CDs to create a 10 year anniversary book for hubby that I find the online company sent us the wrong CD. The CD’s are labeled correctly but the pics are definitely someone else. I guess shame on me that I never looked at the pics but I am pretty sure you have no images from that far back now?
As I stumbled down into my basement to my “archives” thoughts raced through my wedding photographer brain
“10 years. WTF. She didn’t even LOOK at the photos for TEN YEARS? ”
“I hope my contract was solid back then…did I have an archiving clause?”
“If I don’t have them, too bad for her…10 motherfreaking years, what does she expect”
“Seriously she didn’t LOOK at them for 10 years, were they that bad?”
But mostly…over and over…
“ohmygodohmygodohmygod I hope I have them, I hope I have them, ohmygodohmygodohmygod”
By the time I reached the Rubbermaid bin that holds The Ghosts of Weddings Past, I was sweating despite the -7 windchill outside. My heart raced as I flipped through the CD’s of names I barely recalled.
I had them.
After some trial and error with bad naming and having to coerce my computer to read a 10 year old disk of images I had them. And as I looked through them trying to place the wheres and whens of that wedding and to see if the photos truly sucked, a memory struck me.
This was the very first wedding that I used off camera flash on my formals. I remember it because it was at a swanky venue in a nearby resort town that I had always wanted to work in. In fact, back in the day it was one of Hugh Hefners infamous Playboy Clubs. I spent weeks learning how to perfect my lighting, reading online and taking seminars, and was a shaky mess setting up the strobes, lugging the heavy battery packs. I worked alone then, and this was a big endeavor for me. In fact, truth be told I was a “natural light” photographer because I didn’t really understand strobes. In my head, learning this one key piece of information that terrified me so (math does that to me) turned me from an amateur to a real live photographer.
I nailed those formals. Now, we won’t talk about the fact that I had yet to have a great grasp on posing, had an unnatural love for Gaussian blur, tilts and Becker’s Sepia and Blue Split Tone Action, or the fact that my color balance sucked ass…everyone has their dirty secrets and it was one of the first years of digital, a girl gets a little carried away. But those formals…I learned something, and something with math. It clicked.
But the most surprising revalation was this: How much I’ve invested financially and personally in other peoples memories. How much it means to me to preserve them.
Yeah yeah, “the photos are the only thing that’s left, the cake gets eaten, blah blah blah”. I’ve always hated that sentimental wedding bullshit photographers use in marketing, just as much as naming your packages “Gold and Silver” or “Rome and Tuscany”. WTF does Tuscany have to do with a wedding in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?
In my Grinchy heart, I really do believe photos are that important. This brought me back around to the nagging question:
Ten years. She didn’t look at them for ten years. Why?
Maybe because I thought a tilt and a sloppy boarder was “Art” back then?
Maybe because I thought this action would convince someone that this was shot on Chrome?
Or maybe because I actually charged her cash money for this piece of shit:
So I decided to ask.
Moving. Kids. House. Job changes. She looooved her photos, and cried when she looked at them again, she assured me. Artist Angst pacified, thank you 10 lb 9oz baby Jesus.
Excuses. We’ve all got them, right?
And then clear as day it came to me: I decided that if my clients won’t safeguard their own memories, I am going to do it for them. I’m no longer going to offer only a shoot and burn package where I turn over the disk because despite my rationalization that “no one” would put a 3K disk in a drawer for 10 years, someone did.
Moving forward, all of my packages will include an album, no matter how rudimentary. They’ll still get their damnable digital files, but they are not walking out of my studio without a tangible printed item to show their children (or their dogs, or strangers on the street…)
Yes, it will increase my pricing. And I’m okay with that. You may disagree with me, or tell me “In MY market that would never work because, blah blah blah”. I’m okay with that too. Every passionate business model has a “Unique Selling Proposition” and in that moment I knew what mine was.
I feel at the bottom of my soul that my job is to preserve memories and that’s what people really pay me for.