I never set out to shoot weddings

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That’s the honest truth. It was never my intention to be a wedding photographer. In that year that I spent bumming around our one-bedroom apartment in Maryland, trying to figure out where I would go next in my career, laying on the floor with my feet against the edge of the bed, working out for two hours a day to the sweet soundtrack of back to back episodes of the Real Housewives of New York City or Grey’s Anatomy reruns on Lifetime, all I really ever wanted to do was find something that fulfilled me.

I had spent so much time thinking I would be a doctor. I had visualized my entire life from a young age. Get top grades, go to college, be a pre-med student, go to medical school somewhere cold, get a good residency, meet some amazingly talented and gorgeous med student who somehow had the time to work out consistently and also be romantic and also have money, go to a country that needed me after my residency, open a hospital, become world-renowned, get married at 28, start having babies. Be a power couple. Have a nanny. Save the world.

But like all plans, mine was completely derailed. At 13, I started ballet and fell in love. I thought that if I could just prove how good I was, somebody would tell me that I shouldn’t be a doctor. I couldn’t fathom having to admit to myself or to anyone that I didn’t want to pursue that anymore. And when nobody did tell me to go pursue ballet, I just stayed on course. I danced as much as I could, and I studied as hard as I could. I spent most of my time at dance or practicing the piano or my violin. I studied, but I would rather have been reading or arguing over the meaning behind a great literary work than ever loving the science courses I was taking. Although I lied to myself and everyone around me and pretended that I just couldn’t break away from those tedious biology lessons. I actually spent quite a lot of time feeling sorry for the sister in The Westing Game who is to be or is already a doctor. She was so sad, and she didn’t want to be in the background, and I felt exactly like that. I felt like being studious was fine, but I wanted more. I wanted to make an impact through something beautiful, an art form that I could excel at.

I met a boy when I was 15. I fell in love with him. I knew by the November after we started dating that I wanted to marry him. I wrote in my journal, “Sarah and Ben’s wedding date: November 25, 2011”. He didn’t derail my plans. He encouraged me with healthy competition. Ben and I competed at all things academics. I’m pretty sure his positioning as valedictorian encouraged me to keep studying harder. I went from 12th to 6th over the course of our schooling together. And yet, I would have rather spent my time with him curating playlists that pulled my favorite songs for him to listen to, discussing the early and later albums of Led Zeppelin, writing him romantic letters and stories. We spent most of our time studying and arguing over calculus and with him trying to explain once again how the heck I was supposed to remember the theory behind torque.

By the time I began studying for the MCAT, completely distracted, using dance history papers to procrastinate, I realized that I didn’t want to be a doctor at all. I sent a lousy email to my parents because I was too much of a coward to actually tell them I no longer wanted to save the world, one patient, at a time. I never really had, I just thought I was making someone proud. I was taking the responsible road. And thus began my flailing. And thus began me laying on the floor of the apartment in Maryland, trying to figure out what I was good at.

I’d planned our wedding. I liked how it turned out, and a lot of other people did too. I didn’t like wedding planning, and I realized this after planning my first backyard wedding. What had I always been interested in?

Then it clicked. My whole life, I’d seen everything through a frame. I’d made music videos. I’d spent hours arranging beanie babies and forcing my sister to let me curl her hair for photoshoots. I’d been a photographer and not realized it was a viable career path. In fact, I’d been a writer and a filmmaker too. I hadn’t realized any of that. But now I was a wife feeling old and washed up, living in some town that wasn’t close to anything, without a degree in photography. I had a degree in Nutritional Sciences and a minor in dance. I had never even taken a legitimate art class. How could I possibly start a career in photography? Well, I had the in as a wedding photographer. I knew people shooting weddings who I went to college with. I could emulate their path. I could get friends to hire me. I could start there.

I love weddings. I love being at them, and I love photography. I love taking pictures of moments. It seemed like the perfect way to start my career. But the entire time I shot weddings, I spent all my business-building time visualizing photographing portraits. I spent time writing. I spent time practicing on dancers. I looked forward to shoots with ballerinas. I spent more time swooning over the bridal fashion than actually looking forward to the long wedding days. I second shot for other photographers, but I dreaded it. I took every opportunity to focus my business on shooting fewer weddings and more portraits. I thought this would push me towards being a luxury photographer faster.

I didn’t think anything of this until I met my good friend Kelsey. She loves weddings. She loves shooting them. She takes every opportunity to be at a wedding. She second shoots, she assists, she even worked for a wedding planner at one point. She loves weddings. And I just didn’t anymore. And I realized, I never set out to shoot weddings. I set out to find a passion. I found that in photography, and I used weddings as my way in because I was too scared that having just started shooting at the old age (I really did think I was old) of 23, I could never actually shoot fashion or do celebrity portraits. I believed that weddings were the easy way in.

Just to be clear, they are not. But another huge realization I had is that I never was scared of weddings. I was totally chill with them. I was anxious about the people parts. The asking people if I could take their photo, the way the bride and groom would react if they didn’t like the photo, but I never worried that I wasn’t good enough. I never felt the need to second shoot because I was never that scared of my wedding work. And when I finally realized how complacent I had become, and when Covid-19 hit, knocking my career to level zero, I stopped to visualize my life. Weddings didn’t even make it into the vision at all. I imagined working in a studio, writing every morning, sending the kids off to school so I could work out and get in the zone. I pictured myself packing a very beautiful, tidy suitcase for trips of photographing people around the world, places that need to be shared. Weddings were invisible to me.

They were always the afterthought. I realized that, in order to love shooting weddings, I needed to have a relationship with my couple prior to the inquiry. I found that when I worked with my most recent bride and groom this summer. We met first. We had discussions. They hired me because they trusted me not because somebody told them to. They told me they hired me because I showed that I shot other things, not just weddings. So I enjoyed them as clients. I enjoyed being like-minded, having other things in common with them. I enjoyed feeling like I was supposed to be at their wedding, I was their photographer confidante. After their wedding, that’s the only kind of wedding I ever wanted to shoot again.

So here I am again. Things are different. I’m 10 years older than that 23-year-old who thought she was too old. I’m not laying on the floor finding myself. I know. I’m a storyteller. I’m a writer, a photographer, a filmmaker. I am not too old to pivot. I’m just right. I am learning, reading, growing. I’m going to the basics of art, reading the art history books I never felt like I had time for.

I never set out to shoot weddings, but I’m glad I did. Because without them, I never would have found the courage to be an artist.

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