by Michael Ayers Published
"To all of us photographers, it's a living; to our customers, it may be a reason for living"
Not long ago, my wife and I photographed an out-of-town wedding for a couple that seemed exceptionally quiet. During our initial consultation, it was difficult for me to get either one of them to open up about their wedding plans. As photographers, we all occasionally get couples that are difficult to read, but this bride and groom took the cake. Interestingly, when I first photographed them during an engagement session at the studio, it would have been easier to pull teeth than to get them to speak freely about any subject.
Our final wedding consultation usually takes place during the bride's formal studio portrait session, generally about a month before the wedding. I like to try to keep this session fun and brief, so as not to make the bride nervous during what is often a very stressful time in the realm of getting married. As it turned out, Lisa looked gorgeous. (Note that the bride's name was changed to hide her true identity.) I have always thought that every bride I have ever worked with has looked pretty in her own special way, but Lisa looked especially radiant. Her mother came to help her get ready for her bridal portrait session and, deep down, I could tell that both of them were very excited about everything.
During the session, it was still hard for me to get her to lighten up and relax. I have always liked challenges, and I especially thought this would be a good exercise because the couple had stated earlier in the year how much they liked their engagement photographs. Personally, I had thought the engagement portraits were not symbolic of our better work, but the couple had a fair degree of happiness in the images, and if they were pleased with them, that's all that really mattered to me. Still, I did not want her to look like she was forcing her smile as she stood there looking so elegant in her wedding gown. Without trying to look as if the whole project was taxing, I tried to capture her personality in several ways throughout the session; I got her to look thoughtful, reflective, peaceful, distant, warm, happy, ecstatic, graceful, and I even got her to laugh! But it ended up being a real workout for me; I just about had to do a stand-up comedy routine. Her entire emotional make-up was either a bonfire or a hurricane, and dealing with it was like prying a nail out of solid oak!
At this point, I was convinced that the bride was just difficult to work with. In all honesty, her attitude and reaction to most things seemed negative. It's unfortunate, but what else was I supposed to think? The truth of the matter is that this beautiful bride lacked self-esteem, but what was it all stemming from? While Lisa changed back into street clothes in the dressing room, her mother chatted with me candidly and opened up indicating that Lisa was not herself lately. She had been shutting down when others tried to get too close to her, her mother stated. I instructed my wife later that this would be one of our tougher weddings because of the bride's reserve and possible reluctance to cooperate.
The wedding day itself went fine; the couple looked handsome and happy, and we got all the shots we had planned on (although many lacked a high degree of emotion). All in all, it was one of the more thorough wedding stories we completed during the early part of the year. Being my own worst critic, I was even pleasantly surprised at our photographic results.
After the wedding and reception, the couple thanked us for coming and we gave them instructions to get in touch with us after they got back from their honeymoon. Because the couple lived out of town, most of the correspondence was taken care of by the bride's parents. On the occasion of the orders being placed, Lisa's mother and father were elated with the previews and were excessively appreciative to both my wife and me. During the course of our conversation, they gave testimony to the fact that indeed something was different about Lisa.
Leading up to this, they first stated that their daughter was a completely different person since seeing the wedding previews. According to her parents, it seemed her self-esteem had taken a complete turn around, much of which was due in part to her bridal session portraits. She was absolutely a changed young woman, all because of photographs of her in her long, white wedding dress. Certain poses that we created of her were able to bring out her best; the portraits psychologically helped her look at herself in a better light.
I have never seen a response to photographic images in quite the way Lisa's parents had described. They gave testimony to the fact that her portraits gave her a new lease on life and eliminated her constant badgering of herself, especially the self-blame she had been putting herself through.
Here's the bad news: Lisa's mother explained that about a year before the wedding, she was raped by someone she knew socially and had previously trusted. I was shocked and speechless; the effect of this event on her life was pronounced and now apparent to me at this moment. Only now was I fully aware of why she had not been responsive to me in front of the camera. All this time, I had started to feel as if there was more I could do to make her feel better when being photographed and end any phobia she had of having portraits created by us.
The best thing to happen to her since the attack was to meet her future husband, who has guided her spirits and kept her thinking positive. During this time, however, she also grew to be evasive and distant from others around her, especially family members and close friends.
What I had originally thought was a bride that would be hard to work with was a young lady with a serious problem looming in her past. It turns out that photographs that I created for her were able to adjust her spirits and allow her to face the world again.
You never know just how powerful imaging can be in the hands and minds of your clients. To all of us photographers, it's a living; to our customers, it may be a reason for living.
BIOGRAPHY: Master Photographic Craftsman, Michael J. Ayers, is regarded as one of the world's best wedding album designers. From a little studio in Lima, Ohio, he has developed a widespread reputation of artistry and success, including honours such as WPPI's International Photographer of the Year and a Leadership Award from the United Nations. His Pop-Up wedding albums have been viewed at exhibitions all over the world by tens of thousands of people and he has lectured across the country including Canada, Mexico, and Europe.
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