Every so often, wedding photographers will sadly receive an unhappy email from a couple. The issue isn’t generally because of the photographer’s work though. One of the couple is unhappy about the way they look in the photographs. The photographer will inevitably find this very difficult to respond to, and so we talk to one another asking for advice about how to reply.
I think every photographer I know, at some point, has an email from someone who dislikes how they look in photographs. It’s not just photographers either – I know dress designers and jewellers and hair and make-up stylists who face the same issue, and it’s incredibly difficult to know what to say. All of us want you to be happy with our services, we bring our skills and we bring out your best, but there are some things we can’t do. We can’t change your perception of you.
What a photographer sees, isn’t the flaws you see in yourself. They see two people in love. They see that look you have between you, the sparkle in your eye. That sparkle outshines everything. We see you and your love, looking at each other. We see you giggling, we see you snuggling, and there’s something special between you.
I remember last year, chatting with one of the bridesmaids at a wedding I’d photographed. She commented on how I had photographed something special between the couple, it was about how they looked at each other. It wasn’t like when you look at a friend or just anyone you’re chatting to – it was a special look that only a couple will have between them. That spark. That reflection in one another’s eyes of how you feel about each other.
To me as a photographer, that’s what I’m looking for. There’s a great quote from Roald Dahl’s book The Twits, that often ends up being circulated on social media as a meme.
“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.
A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
It’s a wonderful description. I love that children are given this line in their reading books, because we want to educate them that they are clever and funny and beautiful and perfect enough as they are, but somewhere along the line as adults we completely forget about it.
A few years ago, I stopped buying women’s lifestyle magazines. I realised that a lot of their content was about what I can only describe as shaming their readers. Finding, inventing and creating insecurities. Are you thin enough, hot enough, clever enough, earning enough, smart enough, organised enough? Is he the one, how to tell, what if he’s not, how to keep him, how to dump him, are you happy being single, how to find him, how to get him to propose. Are you good enough at your job? How do you dress, look, think, do you have enough friends? Are you a good friend? Do you want to dump a friend? And in between articles boasting of 4 day diets that would make you lose inches immediately, there would are reviews of expensive beauty products claiming to have the font of eternal youth because aging isn’t acceptable. I felt these magazines didn’t speak to me, or for me. They tried to make their readers feel inadequate, and that only this publication could be the thing to stop you being a social pariah. We develop such an ingrained perception that we aren’t good enough and even within the wedding industry I see businesses set up to “improve” people in advance of their wedding day – diets, teeth whitening, even cosmetic surgery. I don’t believe it’s about vanity though. I think we are so conditioned to this emotional undermining of who we are and what we deserve, that this projection of inadequacy becomes so infectious to the point that it blinkers your self worth even on the happiest day of your life.
Sometimes, that feeling can be enough to put people off booking a photographer. They don’t like how they look in photographs so they don’t want to see themselves. This unfortunately means that they also don’t see anyone else who attended the wedding as well.
The thing is, you are good enough. You’re beautiful enough, you’re wonderful enough, you’re clever enough, you’re funny enough, you’re handsome enough, you’re pretty enough, you’re witty enough, you’re stylish enough, you’re everything enough to be loved. You’re loved by your family and friends who you invite to your wedding. And you’re loved by the person you’re going to marry – they have found you, they love you and they want to marry you and spend the rest of their lives with you.
When a photographer takes your photograph together, it’s not about physical looks. It’s all about the love. Love is photogenic. Wedding photography is about the spark. I want to catch that cheeky glint in your eye when you look at each other and try not to giggle for two seconds. I want to see the slight dimple in your cheek that only comes out for the people you care about the most. I want to see you finding that moment together, when you feel safe enough to be yourself.
So you can imagine, when a wedding photographer has stood in front of a couple, photographing them, taken the photographs home, edited them and uploaded them, and finding the perfect photographs that reflect your love, how heartbreaking it is when people don’t see that in themselves.
It’s difficult for a supplier to know what to say to a client who dislikes how they look. Do we disagree? Do we argue with you, say you’re wrong? How can we tell you not to think what you think? What do we say to you? What do you want us to say? None of us are experts in body dysmorphia, so it’s always tricky to know what the right thing to say is. So this is all we can say: You look beautiful when you’re in love, and that’s what we are photographing.
When you look back through family photographs of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents together, what you reflect on isn’t their flaws, it’s their beauty and their character. The way you see others is often the same way others are going to see you. They will look beyond whatever you’re worried about and see the beauty of you. When friends reflect on your photographs, they’re not judging whether you lost enough weight in the run up to your wedding day, but how happy you are, how in love you are.
So please re-read that line from The Twits. But instead of projecting good thoughts about everyone else, stop and have kind thoughts about yourself. Because beyond wonky noses and double chins, you need to see those sunbeams for yourself.