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“my wedding will be AMAZING for your portfolio!”

How many times a year do we hear this?  Am I right?  And, half the time, the wedding they describe is the same wedding we’ve shot dozens of times over… the bridesmaids are all wearing different colors and carrying a single flower down the aisle; the ceremony is decorated with hay bales; there’s a signature drink and mason jars; the bride’s wearing Vans instead of heels.  Not that this wedding wouldn’t be fun to shoot; it’s just not the MAKE OR BREAK PORTFOLIO OPPORTUNITY.

Now, the thing about the “portfolio builder” bride is that she usually thinks her wedding will be SO COOL that you’ll discount your services for the chance to be part of it.  Sometimes they even want you to shoot it for free.  And, once in a great while, their descriptions of this enchanted event are SO FRIGGING AWESOME that you’re almost tempted to waive your travel fee, or throw in some huge extra to make it work for them.

See, this happened to me once.

It was early 2003.  I was only about six or so months into my journey as a fulltime professional photographer, and I was fielding inquiry after inquiry, feeling pretty good about myself.  A bride emailed me about her wedding, which was on my birthday – my 3oth birthday.  A pretty big date, so I wasn’t really interested in booking it.  Besides, it was long distance – a four hour drive, requiring two nights of travel, lots of logistics… on my 30th?  Meh.

But then she told me her plans.  Oh my everloving sweet Jesus it sounded like a photographer’s DREAM.  A ceremony in the round, on the sand, on a South Carolina Island.  A gigantic trampoline on the beach for guests to use.  A statue garden planted around the ceremony and cocktail hour, made up of carvings by her artist friends.  There would be animals and a bartender AT the ceremony.  This was a second wedding, with a heartbreaking story of how her first marriage ended in tragedy.  The music would all be techno, the DJ would be flown in from NYC, the food all symbolic of her NYC artist life.  Fireworks.  It sounded like a carnival.  She got me.

I don’t remember the deal I gave her, but it was a deal.  I probably waived my travel costs – on my 30th birthday.  I may have even given her the higher level coverage for the lower level price.  I know I did something, because PORTFOLIO BUILDER!!!

It was a lovely wedding, and we made a few fantastic images that day.  But there was no trampoline.  There were no wandering animals, no drinks at the ceremony.  No fireworks.  Not a statue to be found.  The DJ and the food were local and of the expected variety.   Her dress was a very typical dress for 2003, her groom wore a tailored suit.  The ceremony was in the round, and it was a bit unusual – but the carnival was nowhere to be found.

note the conspicuous lack of trampolines and statues.

I felt gypped.

Many years later, and dozens of portfolio building exercises (accepted and denied) behind me, I know one thing for certain: weddings are almost never as cool as the bride’s imagination.  Maybe your AWESOME PORTFOLIO BRIDE will really pull off the trampoline on the beach.  But chances are, the Parks Commission won’t allow it, and one of the major portfolio elements of that wedding will die a silent death.  No one will ever speak of it, but you’ll know.  You’ll remember how you discounted her package by $300 for that damn trampoline.  You’ll know that you could have shot a local wedding at your normal prices and gotten the same coverage you are getting now, far away, at a discount.  You’ll know.

Here’s my advice to you.  If you’re just starting out and you need to build your portfolio, cool.  Don’t fall for the dreamy descriptions; half of the “want list” for a wedding never comes to fruition (says the girl who just got married in March and watched 80% of her dream details and logistics wash down the low-budget drain).  Know that you’re shooting for the experience, do a great job, and yeah – charge less because you’re not experienced.  That’s  fine and it makes sense.

But if you already HAVE a portfolio?  No discounts, no way.  I don’t care how cool the wedding sounds (frankly, if they can afford wandering llamas and a juggler, they can afford your normal day rate).  When that CRAZY AWESOME HOLY SHIT bride comes knocking, just repeat this to yourself: “no wedding turns out the way it’s planned.”  And stand firm in your prices.  You don’t NEED her wedding.  She needs your amazing skills.

 hugs, kisses, and trampolines…

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