Tu Ha An - Dreamlike & Multicultural Illustration

Photographing three weddings to realize I won't be… a wedding photographer

Edited by my beloved friend K.L

I’m a full-time illustrator, one of some very lucky humans being able to practice what she dreamed of doing ever since she was a child.

However, before making a living out of my passion, I had a very “conventional” career path (you can find out more in these two articles: Start with why – Why do I start a blog?  and Things that 10 years of working in safety have contributed to my creative life). Even if today being an illustrator seems to be an obvious choice to me, for several years I tried out many other paths, some that would be considered more “serious and realistic” jobs, and I gave my best to reconcile my need for creativity and my family’s approval. Throughout the years, I was a video editor, an event planner, a graphic designer, a cameraman… And, just as what you saw in the title of the article: I was also a photographer, and in particular, a wedding photographer.

There are plenty of stories of how people working creative jobs found their calling. But today, I’m going to share with you how I knew for sure that “wedding photographer” wasn’t for me!

At the first three weddings in France that I was invited to, I was the photographer.

  • The 1st time: it was at a friend’s wedding. I was 21.
  • The 2nd time: it was at a family member’s wedding. I was 25.
  • The 3rd time: it was at the wedding of a couple of friends. They paid me for the job. I was 26.

At all three times, I took my photography job, no matter how temporary it was, as a very serious endeavour.

To begin with, I do love photography. I have a lot of affection for the people that I was called in to photograph during those days. And oftentimes, my “clients” were satisfied.

So why did I choose NOT to become a wedding photographer?

At the first wedding, I realized that I was seeing “sh*t sandwiches” everywhere.

It was at this first wedding that I discovered the different specificities of wedding photography as a profession, compared to other branches of photography:

  • Time pressure: there is no second chance ever to capture these spontaneous, emotional and meaningful moments. Everything that happened will just never happen again;
  • Technical pressure: since there is no second chance, it is almost a matter of life and death that the equipment wouldn’t play any trick as funny (and as despair-inducing) as malfunction on the spot;
  • Social pressure: to capture the best moments, one has to have the guts to stand in front of all the other guests, and therefore maybe stand in front of all their telephones that were waving up in the air trying to snap some photos of the bride and groom for themselves.

The sh*t sandwich, as explained by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic, is all the most unpleasant aspects of a job.

Many creatives manage to have a lasting career not because their career is a long quiet river, but because they are passionate enough about what they do that they could endure all the sh*t sandwiches along the way.

For me, the thing was, before I was even put on the test of enduring the sh*t sandwiches along the way, I already saw the main specificities of being a wedding photographer as a huge sh*t sandwich. When I reflect on my own experiences, what was supposed to make it a wonderful job are essentially a burden for me.

The working conditions on this assignment are a world away from what I need to nurture my creativity, which is the silence, the serenity, and the peaceful solitude. Photographing a wedding was anything but what was aforementioned for me.

Even though I loved taking photos, and I was honored to be blessed with the trust of my friend to capture his big day, I realized that my personality wasn’t a good fit for this job.

But that didn’t stop me from trying again.

At the second wedding, I realized that I didn’t want to evolve.

When my great cousin announced her wedding date with a voice full of emotion, I immediately wanted to give her a special gift. So I offered to help her capture this beautiful day.

It was a rather small wedding at a very relaxed pace. This time, I doubled down on my equipments to prevent any sorts of technical problems. I was also more sociable, more dynamic and definitely more experienced than at the first wedding. These were the perfect conditions for my concentration and creativity.

However, a new element disturbed me…

During the evening, I showed the photos to one of the guests and she didn’t seem very happy with how they came out.

At that moment, I realized that:

  • I had doubts. I wasn’t sure of my own abilities. I didn’t have enough confidence in my photos.
  • I wanted to argue with her, to prove that my photos were good enough. My ego was even bigger than my desire to make others happy. That is a bad sign for a service provider.
  • And most importantly: I didn’t feel the need to change how I take photos.

On the opposite, I’ve always been very conscious of my drawing skills. Despite my eventual shortcomings, I still have the confidence that I can work hard to bring happiness to both my customers and myself with my drawing. And most importantly: I always want to draw better.

Thinking up to that point, I realized that I might only love photography as a hobby, not as a profession.

You know the funny thing? The day after the wedding, I got a call from a friend to share her idea of opening a wedding planner agency. And, as you may have guessed, she wanted me to take the photographer’s job.

Despite the various insights I gained from my first two weddings, I still gave the offer serious consideration, until something happened that confirmed my position on the matter…

By the third wedding, I realized I didn’t like weddings.

This time, everything went wonderfully well. I had a great day. I was totally happy with my photos. (And bonus, I got paid)

What troubled me came later, when the photos were posted on social networks.

“Why isn’t An in any of the photos?”

“Ahah! An dresses like she’s coming to steal the bride!”

“Why are you wearing a backpack to a wedding?”

As I read these comments, I realized that I was always “at work” on those beautiful days.

While focusing on shooting, I never listened to my friends’ speech as bride and groom.

While dressing myself for ease of movement, I was always in some less flattery outfits like jeans and dark jacket (with lots of pockets).

And while taking photos for others, I wasn’t in any photo with others.

I was genuinely happy for my friends who were getting married. Once again, I felt honored to be invited and entrusted. But I also realized that it was because this was the wedding of people who were close to me, like a help from a friend to a friend, rather than being solicited for professional reasons.

The wedding itself and all the issues surrounding it didn’t move my heart. For me, weddings feel formal like graduations. It looks cool, it seems important, and it surely is emotional. But I don’t want to be in this kind of setting each and every single day.

On the one hand, I realize that I don’t want to spend my days attending weddings, especially weddings of strangers with whom I share no former connection.

On the other hand, I want to be fully present at the weddings of people who are important to me.

Therefore by then it was clear to me: Wedding photography will not be my profession, nor my hobby.

I am not a wedding photographer.

I never explained these reasons to the friend who wanted to open her own wedding planner agency, nor to other people who asked me to photograph their big day since then.

Because, a new element came into play: My health condition. A severe back problem occurred and left me no choice but to live with it, and it also stopped me from any attempts to carry heavy cameras around or to stand long enough for any sorts of ceremony.

If being a wedding photographer was a possibility that I had the choice of declining before, today it is just a door eternally closed in front of my eyes.

But you know what’s interesting?

This year, I was invited to three weddings.

I had a lot of fun at the three weddings of my three very dear friends. And I saw at each place I went to both professional and amateur wedding photographers in action.

I saw the joy in their eyes, the meticulous gestures of their hands, and the sweet care in their steps.

Does this make me regret not giving wedding photography any other try?

No, not at all.

Because in the meantime, I found illustration – my path, my career, my absolute passion. It’s like when you’re lucky enough to marry the right person, you’ll feel no doubts, no regrets, no questions.

There’s nothing left but a beautiful adventure to discover every day.

I hope that you too, you will wake up every day longing for the beautiful adventure that your choice of career has in store for you.

Keep creating!

Tu Ha An

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