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Sunday, 5 June 2011

Never under-value yourself or your work

As you know, I have a good friend who is a photographer. Last year, she agreed -almost as a favour to the wedding planner involved, let's call her Sharon - to shoot a wedding 200 miles away, near to where my friend grew up. The bride and groom were not originally going to pay for a photographer, as they have a friend who is also just starting out in the business. My friend said she would do the work for a very low price, thinking that she might be able to tie it in with a weekend away with her family.

Fast forward to yesterday. Situations change, and my friend now has other commitments which mean a family break in Harrogate wasn't possible at this time. Faced with a long drive, she asked me if I would like to tag along and assist her. Having never been to Yorkshire before, I agreed. We left home at 5am, made good time on the motorways, and arrived in a very pretty little village just outside Harrogate, just on 9am.

The wedding planner arrived just after us, saying she was already stressed and that the reception marquee was so full of details that it would be a miracle if she finished setting it all up on time. She went in to see the bride first and then headed off to the marquee, which was in the garden of the quaint old pub next to the bride's parent's house.

I've spoken before about the term "Vintage" especially when used in conjunction with weddings. The theme of yesterday's wedding reception was a Village Fete. To be fair, the marquee did look lovely. There were trestle tables and chairs, with plain white crockery. Table runners were patchwork, place labels were pinned onto individual apples (a nice touch that my friend used for her rings shot as well), there was a long table laid out with a lot of different handmade cakes like you would see on the Women's Institute stall at any village fete, and fabulous yards of bunting all around the marquee and the garden.

Outside, there were games set up for the guests to play between the initial welcome snacks and the buffet meal. There was face painting for the 20-or-so children present (unusual in itself these days, with many couples requesting that children do not attend the wedding or reception), and traditional fete stalls such as a bran tub, guess the name of the dolly and the number of sweets in a jar. I'm not sure that asking the guests to pay for some of these was a good thing, even though the money was going to charity. The large games included Aunt Sally, giant snakes and ladders, hoop-la and space hoppers.

My task for the day was to get plenty of wide-angle shots, while my friend concentrated on the details and portraits. I was also there to carry lens bags, remind my friend to drink plenty of water, and hold car keys etc.

While we were taking a few setting up shots in the marquee before the bride left for the Registry Office, the friend came in and began doing the same thing. I was rather surprised at this, given that my friend had been employed to take the photos. The wedding planner also knew this friend, and I was equally surprised that she didn't take the lady to one side and remind her that she was a guest on that day and as someone was being paid to work, she should not try to use the occasion to build her portfolio. We mentioned to the wedding planner that the bride had agreed to pay for a bar meal for us both later on in the day, and could she just make sure that was still OK.

After the getting ready shots were completed, the bride left for the Registry Office around 20 minutes late. The wedding planner did not attend the wedding ceremony. When we got there, my friend decided that she would be better placed at the front of the room, as the Registrar was amenable to photos being taken during the ceremony, so I stayed at the back. Every time I tried to get a good wide shot of the couple at a significant moment, the friend leaned out in front of me and got in the way. I did at least manage to get some group shots by standing on the staircase as the couple and guests came out of the room, but then in the rear courtyard afterwards, people were still looming in front of me  - and my friend - as we were trying to work.

Back at the pub, the guests were treated to mini fish and chip cones along with a glass of Pimms and encouraged to view the Cheese Cake. This was a strange ensemble of a number of local whole cheese wheels, stacked on top of each other and decorated with cheese-shaped hearts and a few flowers. The pub was small and very dark, so I'm not sure how many photos will be OK from that period. I tried to get pictures of all of the guests in small groups, as they were eating, drinking and talking together. The difficulty was that there was another wedding taking place in the Church next door that afternoon, and it was hard to work out whose guests belonged to whom!

Lots of shots followed of the guests trying to work out what the games were. At just before 4pm we said to the wedding planner that were were going to get something to eat. She told us that the pub wasn't doing food because of the wedding and that if there was anything left from the guests' buffet we could have a plate from there afterwards (when the speeches would be taking place!). Luckily I'd packed us some sandwiches, but we were rather put out having worked 7 hours by that point without a break - or even a proper drink. What made things worse was that while we were sitting in the bar eating our sandwiches, Sharon came in with a bowl of chips and proceeded to eat them in front of us. My friend asked where she got them, and Sharon vaguely replied that it had taken her a real effort to get them from the kitchen!

Speeches were supposed to be from 6.30 to 6.50 with the first dance at 7.30pm. We'd arranged to stay until after the first dance, with the idea that we'd be away by 8pm. The speeches didn't actually begin until 7.20 - with the groom spending 15 minutes trying to find a spare electricity cable for the microphone! They went on until almost 8pm at which point my friend took the bride and groom to one side and suggested that their friend take the first dance photos because we had already been there 11 hours and we had a 3 hour drive home and they had only paid a very small amount for the pictures that had already been taken. The couple agreed, and we left.

The moral of this story is not so much that you get what you pay for, because in this case the bride and groom got way more than they were paying my friend for, and got probably significantly less than they were paying the wedding planner for. The moral is more that if you under-value your own self and work, no one else will value it any higher than you do. My friend has learned a valuable lesson by carrying through her end of the contract - she cannot, and should not, agree to work for less than she is worth. She is a professional, and doing favours for people who clearly don't have the same professional outlook could be damaging to friend's future reputation.

For me, it was all experience. Something to add to my catalogue of "Things I've Done", and it was an enjoyable day to see the bride and groom so happy. We've got some new ideas for photographs now, and a couple of other tips in general, so it wasn't a wasted day at all. Just a very long one.

(no photos to go with this blog post, because there is a chance that they may be featured in a magazine)

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