Ok…we know the saying. There’s no surprise to what it means. I’m not going to break down the meaning of community over competition. We all know the truth behind it whether we want to listen to it or not.
I can’t speak for every industry but I can say for the creative world this issue still exists. I’ve seen it, felt it, and I want nothing to do with it. The need for competition has always baffled me. You can’t possibly photograph everyone and why in the world would you want to?! Work quality would go completely out the window. Forget authenticity. I could go deeper into this topic but I’ll save you all the Ted Talk as told by Jen.
Instead I would like to just take a minute and share a testimony of how thankful I am to have such a great community for support. Last year was my first year having second shooters. I have heard mixed stories from second shooters. Some absolutely love to second shoot. Others did not feel appreciated. Their lead photographer was cold, rude and there was a very clear boundary of their roles. There was a presence of competition. I understand as the lead photographer, the business owner, there is a sense of pride. However, the entire purpose of a second shooter is not to over shadow you or replace you. They are there to enhance the experience of the couple, to have your back when you need it. These are all good things!
Last December I was shooting a wedding. It was still early in the day. I had just finished shooting detail shots. My second shooter had just left the location to go over to where the guys would be getting ready. She was going to cover that part while I covered the bride getting ready. I remember picking up my phone to check the time; to make sure I was staying within the timeline. That’s when I saw it. Several missed calls from my husband and text messages. This was not normal at all. He knew I was at a wedding today. He is not one to repeatedly call or text either. I was worried though because he was working out in Colorado. He works in the Oil Field so there are dangers that come along with his job. I saw a text that said, “Call me ASAP”.
My head started swarming. Is he ok? Did something happen with the kids? Should I call the sitter???
Just then my mother-in-law calls. Now I was shaking. She never calls. Not because we don’t like each other. For those who know me, I prefer texting or messaging. I’m just not a big phone person. She’s calling though…
I answer the phone. She’s crying. She asks how far I am from where Caleb is working. I said “oh gosh around 15 hours.” She starts explaining how he’s upset and she’s worried about him being alone.
What in the world is going on??? Why would he be so upset? My mind is going into panic mode. I can hear her talking but words are not processing. Just then my husband starts calling again. I say “I’m sorry Caleb is calling me, I have to go”. I hang up and answer his call. He tells me his younger brother passed away this morning.
Oh no. I hung up on his mom! I hear my heart pounding. slow , loud thumps. I look up. I see bridesmaids float across the room. It was as if a special effects team put everything in slow mow and the bridesmaids' laughter turned into slow deep slurs. How could this happen? He was so young.
My husband was in the process of leaving work to make his way back to North Dakota so we could catch the next flight out to South Carolina. The earliest we would be leaving would be tomorrow. The best thing for me to do was to carry on the day. To set aside the emotions I was feeling. So I did. I took a deep breath, told myself there will be a time to cry later and carried on.
My second shooter and I met up for the first look and wedding party pictures. This was all happening outside, in December, in North Dakota. In other words…it was cold. My mind was swirling in the midst of being cold. We were trying to corral everyone for a big group picture. My second shooter took charge. She lead with beautiful precision. At that moment, I was so proud of her. She had my back and didn’t even know. In that moment I recognized the beauty of this dynamic between a lead photographer and second shooter.
They will be there when you need them most. You may not know when that will be, but the support is there. I cannot imagine trying to get through that day without her. When those pictures were done, I remember her apologizing for jumping in like that. I said don’t ever apologize for doing your job. I explained to her what was going on and how incredibly helpful she was back there. While she lead things, gave everyone direction, I was able to zone in my focus. I am a firm believer in the concept of where there is darkness there is light. Where there is pain, somewhere there is love. My job in that moment, was to find the beauty, find the light. And so I did. If I had been wrapped up in my own ego and pride, the moments captured that day would not exist. Working with other creators, gives you the space to find something deeper. To create something even more wonderful.
Knowing I had support, that she had my back in case I fell short was huge. It was truly a game changer. It gave me the strength to carry on the day and get back in the zone I needed to be in. Looking back at the images from that day, I can honestly say it was one of the best weddings I have ever shot. Some of the shots I took, were of my best performance yet. The leading reason for that is?? I had a strong community. I had support. I had encouragement to trust in my strength and the process. Weddings have never and will never be about the money to me. It’s a business on paper but in my heart it is so much deeper.
Weddings are an experience we can help give two people in love so they can share their story with the world. I will die having lived a life helping people tell their story. If I am out just to compete, to just make all the money, to just be better than those around me, I am not telling a story. I am not helping a single person. When I surround myself in community though, I am engaging in telling bounds of stories. If a couple’s story is told better than ever because there were many helping hands, then by all means, bring all the hands.
Kelly Spencer is truly a remarkable human being and photographer. She will go on to do great things. I had the honor of working with 4 different second shooters last year. They are all talented photographers that I respect immensely. Having them along did not hurt me; it strengthened me. The beauty of working together, or even just collaborating for a fun shoot, is that you can play off each other's strengths and weaknesses. One second shooter I have worked with has an incredible talent for detail shots. Her work is absolutely stunning. Another second shooter I have worked with is incredible with behind the scenes candid shots. I absolutely love the work she contributes to a day. Another photographer who has second shot for me and I have second shot her, is the ying to my yang. Too corny? Probably so! We make a great team though because she is loud and full of energy, she has no problem being the one to say it how it is. I am typically quiet, calm, the voice of reason when someone needs it. A wedding day will need both personalities at some point.
If you are struggling and feel the need to compete; don’t do yourself that disservice. Find your community, embrace and surround yourself in it. Benefit yourself in ways you could never on your own.
Here is a look at some of the images I was referring to early. By finding the deeper moments from that day.