Who’d be a wedding photographer?

A lifetime ago, when I had just landed my first professional photography job, I was best man at a friend’s wedding. During the reception he said, “You know you ought to give up this photojournalism lark and take up wedding photographer. That’s where the money is. Come out and have a look at the cars these guys are driving.” The photographers had an Aston Martin and a very new Jaguar.

I knew he was right, but the idea of shooting saccharine, sentimental pictures weekend after weekend and then laughing all the way to the bank, held no attraction for me. I couldn’t think of a faster way to get to hate photography than turning it into a repetitive task. Despite my friend’s gratuitous get-rich advice, I stubbornly maintained my course and have no regrets, even though along the way photojournalism has delivered some pretty lean times amongst the good.

It would be hypocritical of me, as a professional photographer, to say that photography has never been about money. After all money is still a pretty good measure of success. But the reality is that the camera, and an ability to use it with reasonable skill, has been for me, the key to life-experience and I value that far more. Where photojournalism fell short on the cash front, it more than made up for it in adventure.

This is just a preamble to say, I don’t do weddings…except as a favour for family and a few close friends. Still the few weddings I’ve photographed have provided me with some very satisfying photographs. Sure I’ll do the expected pictures to keep everyone happy; the traditional exchange of vows; register signing; cake cutting cliches and so on, but I always try to find at least one picture that goes beneath the surface of the event. Most of the time there is something there that will lift a wedding coverage out of the ordinary. Here are a three of my favourites…two from two weddings I shot within a couple of weeks last December, which just about fills my quota for the next twenty years. (Family and friends, please note!)

The wedding of my sister-in-law, Maylyn Lam to James Button in Melbourne.

This is one of my favourite wedding photos. I shot this about twenty years ago when I was invited by an orthodox Jewish rabbi I knew to photograph his wedding. With a nod to the author of Four Weddings and a Funeral, I call it Four Rabbis and a Wedding.

This is from the wedding of my old friend, Bruce Best’s (see In the eye of the beholder and The eye of the beholder part 2) daughter Kate, in Sydney last December.



Filed under Australian, Opinion, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls

5 responses to “Who’d be a wedding photographer?

  1. I have to agree with you on the wedding photography. Big money, little satisfaction. I wouldn’t trade the last 35 years of newspaper work for anything, (well, almost anything).

    I especially like the 4 Rabbis photo.

  2. I agree with that, Rob. Even in the leanest imes I have refused to do wedding photography. The repetitiveness of it always worried me.

    When I migrated to Sydney in 1982 it was a recession and there was no photography work. Friends said “do weddings” but instead I preferred to work as a kitchenhand, cook, waiter and market researcher at the airport. I never worked so hard in my life for so little.

    I shot 2 weddings for friends here in Fremantle, one of them a gay one and that was fun.

    This month however I will shoot my first official wedding, as I am no longer surviving on commercial work. I told them I won’t do glamour but will be a fly on the wall with a camera. I know I can get some good candid pics that way.

    I love taking photos and want to survive on doing that, so the compromise of doing the odd wedding is one I reluctantly decided on.


    • The photojournalistic approach to a wedding can make them more interesting to shoot, Roel, but as you know it’s still very hard work…though not as hard, I imagine as an airport market researcher, cook or kitchenhand. Actually I really can’t fathom what it is that makes me so reluctant to shoot weddings…other than the fact of the repetition…and even there everyone is trying to make their wedding different.

      Actually, if offered the opportunity, I’d leap at the chance to photograph one of those Italian weddings of excess over in Fremantle, like the one I saw when I last visited. With all those stretched stretch limos, releasing of butterflies and doves and groomsmen who look like off-duty night club bouncers with their shaven heads and sun-glasses worn as bandanas…I’d be walking a tightrope between a genuine record of the event and sending it up.

      • Pete

        I think your reluctance to do weddings Rob, is understandable due to the expectation most people would have of the cliche shots and you would be expected to produce these shots at every wedding. Anything you do repetitively in life becomes boring after a time. For the attendees at the wedding though these photos are not a cliche, they are a memory of a significant event that to them is unique.
        The creativity would be in taking other shots , like Roel plans to do, the candid and the unexpected.

        In a way this blog bookends your two “eye of the beholder” blogs very well, not from the perspective of the photographer but from the view of those for whom the photographs were taken, even if this was unintentional.

        Great photos and I really like the shot of the Rabbis too. I also like the way mum is out of focus in the background of the shot of May and James…but that is entirely an “eye of the beholder” thing. 😉

        Cheers, Pete

      • Hi Pete…and thanks again. I saw wedding photography perfectly described the other day as “an all day portrait session at 100 miles per hour”. That’s really what it feels like to me but with an entire photo essay loaded on top.

        If you’d like to see how I used that shot from May’s wedding on Blurb photo book, go here:<a href="“>Blurb

        Blurb did a great job and I even managed to get a double page spread of the entire family group perfectly aligned without losing anyone in the gutter. You’ll have to get May to show you next time you are in Melbourne. She seemed to like what I had put together.

        Oh and there’s another friend’s wedding next weekend…here we go again.



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