So what’s the power of presence? Consider this: I’m often approached while shooting on the dance floor deep into a wedding reception by a breathless aunt or a tipsy bridesmaid. “You are doing such a great job!” they will say. Naturally I appreciate the accolade. But I can’t help think, ‘How would you know? You haven’t seen a single picture.’
Now you won’t get anywhere if you aren’t also a good photographer. Let’s be clear about that. But I want to discuss the power of presence when it comes to photography and, more pointedly, being favorably remembered as the Photographer.
My first career in advertising taught me the importance of “presence.” Being respected by more experienced clients and colleagues took a combination of preparation, relationship building and plenty of moxie. For weddings, the same success formula has made all the difference to my photography career.
Projecting presence on a shoot is a quality you can develop. Let’s assume you have confidence in your art and your technical skills. Great, that’s your base. So let’s talk soft skills. Why do people say I’m doing a good job when they haven’t seen the pictures?
It’s easier to project confidence if you are prepared. Here are some simple strategies for what I’ll call “homework.” Memorize the names of all the key family members and bridal party prior to the wedding. When you refer to the mother of the groom by her first name, believe me, it makes an impression. Then get the key points of the schedule down pat. Keep a cheat sheet if needed. This endears you to everybody, helps you plan ahead for photo opportunities and establishes you as a voice of authority. Lastly, know your shot list inside and out; then devise a plan of execution.
The presence you project on the wedding day will also benefit from knowing your clients better. Leading up to the wedding, look for any opportunity to connect with them. If their accounts are public, follow them on social media. This gives you a window into their passions and lifestyle. Also forgo e-mail and reach out on the phone whenever the opportunity presents. And finally, spend time with them in person. Encourage them to do an engagement shoot or take them out for drinks a month or two before the wedding.
Another way you can boost your presence is simply by how you present yourself. I’m surprised by how many wedding vendors dress casually while working a wedding. I can remember a videographer who showed up for a wedding wearing cargo shorts. An outfit like that instantly downgrades your respectability. Today’s bride spends countless hours making style choices for her event. Believe me, she notices what you are wearing as well. I have a few high-quality designer outfits that help me blend in with the wedding. If I put my camera down, someone might mistake me for a guest. That should be your goal.
The Moxie Factor
So when it comes to having presence, what is the benefit of moxie? Moxie is a spirited fearlessness in the face of a complex situation. (And don’t worry introverts, this sometimes means being absolutely wordless.)
However, on the wedding day, there is one occasion when you must simply be the boss—that is during group portraits. Remember this oft-dreaded photo task is also the most visible. All eyes are on you. Early on in my career I hired another photographer to do the group portraits, so I could focus on shooting candids. I later realized this was a mistake. I’m convinced that it’s my take-charge attitude (with a dose of humor) during this part of the day that wins me the most compliments.
Having presence also means understanding that excuses, over explaining and over sharing diminish your impression on the client. Never, ever tell them you are tired/sad/sick/injured. I’ve shot various weddings with a serious foot injury, the day after my father died and when plagued with vertigo. It’s critical you don’t give the client a reason to worry whether the pictures could’ve been better.
The last lesson is my favorite, and it’s the enduring one from my days in corporate. The “act as if” principle gives you permission to feel you aren’t quite there with your powerful presence but you are working on it. Instead of focusing on what you aren’t, “act as if” you already have the kick-ass qualities you desire and eventually this practice will lead to mastery.
Liz Banfield is a celebrated photographer specializing in weddings and lifestyle photography. A lifelong hobbyist and an art history major, she never formally studied photography but has built a reputation as one of the top wedding photographers in the world, according to Harper’s Bazaar and Martha Stewart Weddings. She is based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and two children.