Breakups are always tough. Emotional roller coasters are a beast. When the breakup occurs between an employer and a company it’s a little less painful if you’re the dumper and you’re dumping for better opportunities. But when the company is your own, you’ve got the worst of both worlds. My company and my chosen niche (weddings) has been my baby for years. I’ve poured my heart and soul into cultivating and defining it into what it is and now it’s time to walk away. Aside from the emotional turmoil that I’m going through in this process, I’m finding out that walking away is a long, drawn out and messy business. Just like a break up. Sigh.
It’s Definitely Not a Two Week Exit Strategy
Setting aside all the elements that brought me to this decision, walking away from the wedding photography industry isn’t as easy as a two week notice. Weddings are booked far in advance. I decided last July (2013) to end my time as a primary wedding photographer, but had weddings lined up till August of this year. All that means for me is that I stopped accepting new bookings, but still have to maintain the status quo for all weddings that are already in the books.
With a year’s worth of shoots to still push through, it’s clearly not a quick exit. In the corporate world, they call the last 2 weeks of your term “short timer’s disease.” In wedding photography, there is no room for that. I committed to these couples that I would bring my A game on their wedding day and I intend to uphold that commitment. I have three more months to go and it doesn’t end there. Those last few weddings will still need weeks and months of work as we process images, design albums and deliver products.
Staying Motivated, Head in the Game and Keeping My Mouth Shut
Usually, we wedding photographers work our butts off to fill the calendar with a continuous flow of events. That flow, aside from keeping the bank accounts balanced, also ensures that skills are maintained with constant shooting opportunities. Long breaks make my shooting wheels squeaky. The choice to stop taking weddings for the company last year meant wider breaks in between the existing bookings. To keep myself from getting rusty, I had to sign up as a second shooter or associate for other studios which was a good move for more than just this reason. The wedding industry is a small one where chatter and noise spread like wild fire and I’m not exactly the best secret keeper.
I’ve met some wonderful people whom I’ve enjoyed working with and vice versa. In a heavy referral industry, you learn to find the players that play well with others and you form and maintain relationships. I couldn’t tell any of my industry peers that I was done, I couldn’t risk the news reaching my existing brides and having them worry over my choices and how it would affect their wedding. Plus, you never want to burn bridges anyway. As it turns out, I’ve found that I really enjoy shooting weddings as a second shooter or an associate, so I’m not entirely out of the game.
Saying “No” to Money Sucks
In the nine months since my decision, I’ve had several inquiries come in and each one has been a psychological battle to turn down. Wedding photography is easily the one photography niche where the cost is easier to justify for the client. Even though photography in general is a luxury purchase, in this category, a client could call it a ‘NEED’ rather than a ‘want.’ For that reason, profits per transaction can yield more money at a faster pace than say, the typical family portrait. But I have to remind myself of the choices I’ve made. Any bookings I decide to take on only prolong the inevitable and push my end date even farther out. Honestly, yo-yo breakups are worse than regular ones and I found this out when I twisted my arm into taking a couple more and then kicked myself later for doing it.
Tidying Up After it’s Done
I’m nearing the end with only three months of my own weddings left in the books. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately, I’m not closing my doors to photography altogether, just the wedding arm of my business. If I were quitting photography, there would be a few more items on my to do list that would drag my exit out another year. As it stands, I can handle the extra loose ends along with my new focus … portraiture.
If you’re contemplating leaving the wedding industry, I hope this provides some insight. It’s a tough call to make and nobody can tell you if you should or shouldn’t, but at least you have an idea of what you’re up against if you decide to go down this path. Getting in was hard enough, getting out is just as tough.