Thursday, November 20, 2008

Business Day Thursday: Looking the Part At The Wedding

I know, I know, I got carried away a bit on the play we saw last night, but to our friends from England reading DPT, you owe it to yourself to make the trip to London and see this play - you won't be disappointed - I promise. Anyway, how about today's Business Day Thursday: Looking the Part At The Wedding. I think this is an important post which some may disagree, but I feel strongly about it so please give it a read below. On with the show...

Looking the Part at a Wedding
So the question -- How should a wedding photographer dress for the part? Should he or she be in just jeans and a T-shirt? Should he or she be dressed in casual Friday attire? Should we photographers be dressed in a sports jacket and turtle neck sweater or suit and tie? Or should we photographers wear a tuxedo to every wedding?
I was recently at an event talking to a well known bridal consultant who just happens to also be a friend of mine. She was covering an event and mentioned that these two out-of-town photographers showed up way under dressed for the wedding event which they were covering. She was appalled! I think that gives you some clue to where I'm heading with this post.

If I'm photographing a “black-tie” – read tuxedo - event at one of the top venues in Cincinnati, Ohio, or as a matter of fact any where else, then I'm going to be dressed as the guests are dressed and so are my assistants and that means in tuxedos. In my recap meeting the week of the wedding, we check with the client as to what the dress code is at their particular event. If we are told that it's black-tie requested, then we are in our tuxedos. If it's not stated as black-tie, we're always dressed in a dark suit and a nice tie and a polished pair of black dress shoes. This is basically our dress code at every event we cover.

Are we ever dressed in anything less than that at the event? On the rare occasion when I'm photographing a Bar/Bat mitzvah, my client may ask me to dress in the theme of the party – no problem. As I said, that's the rare occasion.

I'm going out on a limb, but I say what I’m thinking. When our clients hires us to photograph their event, they are doing more than just hiring us. What they are doing is honoring us by asking us to be part of their very special day. We need to respect that honor they have shown us as well. One way we can respect that honor is how we dress for the event.

My main rule of thumb is this - simply dress as a guests dress - never overdressed, and never under dressed for the event. I think under dressing for the event dishonors the client who has asked us to photograph their beautiful party.

I take exception with the fact that too many photographers see themselves as the “artiste” on the job and as the “artiste” they are entitled to dress however they choose. I think this cheapens the profession for all of us. I also think it helps explain why wedding photographers who, as long as I've been in this profession, have been considered little more than used car salesmen on one of the bottom rungs of the professional ladder.

So folks, I think is important how we present ourselves in covering an important event. I think it's important that we look and act professional. I think it's important that we honor our clients when we’re covering their event. I think it's a negative reflection upon our profession if we don't look the part, and that part should be professional.

I think it's interesting that so many large US companies, these days, are rescinding their casual Friday dress policies. I think we need to consider that in our own businesses. Remember too, that looking the part helps you feel the part. Dressing professionally helps you feel professional. I learned an early lesson in my business - Successful people like to do business with successful people. This has always served me as great advice.

I think this is true in our profession as well. Each and every one of us has the right to choose our own dress code when it comes to photographing a wedding. I personally prefer to look the part, to look professional when I photograph someones special event. I feel it's a way for me to honor my clients by how I present myself and how my assistants represent my company as well as present themselves at the wedding.

In closing let me leave you with this thought. I think if you look the part, and look like a million bucks, your clients are apt to be more inclined to see you as a professional, a professional worth the asking price of his/her product and services.

Just food for thought.

Hey everybody, I'll plan on seeing everybody again tomorrow for a really good Gear Bag Friday:About As Wide As You Can Get- Review of the Sigma 12-24mm Lens. See ya' then, -David

Related Links:
Casual Friday, Joy or Headache?
Is Business Casual Becoming a Casualty Of Current Conservative Work Climate?


  1. I agree about being professional and dressing the part. But I wonder if a suit might be too hot on a warm summer's day? Would a neat collared shirt also give the appearance of a more vibrant younger feel?

  2. I totally agree about dressing the part and never under-dressing for an event, but men have it so much easier than women in this area! Black tie for women means a long dress and high heels - not the easiest thing to get around in...crouching, lugging gear, climbing ladders...If you show up in a nice suit you look like the misplaced diva from the board room. Do you have any advice for what you think that women shooters should wear?

  3. I did a small affair wedding over the summer that called for a "business casual" dress code. I hired a young student as an assistant who showed up in torn jeans, t-shirt and flip flops. Between that and the total lack of attention paid to the job at hand cost that person any future work from me.

  4. Not to be a fight starter, but...

    Molliet: Women have it way EASIER than men at weddings. Most weddings we are wearing suits (not black tie events) and it is hot and humid. You can wear much thinner or less clothing and fit the part while we are sweating through everything! :-) My female second shooters always brag about that.

    Scotty: Sucks to have an assistant screw things up. But you should have explicitly told the assistant what you expect. Yes, he "should" have known better but it is ultimately your business that you have to look out for. Whenever we have high school or college job shadows come along, the dress code is the FIRST thing out of my mouth because I have seen what they will do without direction.

    I definitely agree about dressing the part.

  5. Not only do you honor your clients by dressing the part of a professional, you would be surprised who else is watching how you dress, relate to the client, and generally conduct your business.
    Some people never see your "art"
    just you.

  6. Another aspect of "dress for success"

    When I was in sales, an old-timer gave me some advice which has served me well.

    "When you take off your jacket, you take off your authority."

    While I never try to "boss" people around, I find folks take direction much better if I'm in a suit and tie...or maybe it's just because I'm a gray-haired old man ;)

  7. It's interesting to me that in 16-years of employment in software development I have yet to work for a company that had a dress code for the office. There was one for customer visits, of course; but not the day-to-day environment. Like all blanket statements, exceptions abound.

    But I wanted to raise a different aspect of dressing to match the guests. One of my goals in covering an event is to obtain my images with a minimum of disturbance. If possible, the wedding participants and guests should never know I was there. Dressing to blend in is an important part of achieving that goal. I would wear camouflage to hide in the undergrowth if I was hunting wild turkeys, likewise I wear appropriate formal wear when "hunting" images.

  8. I always wear nice dress slacks and a black button up shirt. I want to look nice but not stand out. If it is a tuxedo event then a tuxedo is appropriate. When the couple says its flip-flops, dockers, and Hawaiian shirts, then thats what it is, other wise you may draw too much attention when the day is not about you.

  9. David,
    Presentation is key. For everything. From advertising, to on site work to final product. I don't have a ton of experience shooting weddings (yet) but have taken your advice (not the first time I have heard it either, thank goodness) to heart. Being able to blend in is key. Not the best dressed, but certainly not the worst.
    There is a level of respect given to people who are dressed just a tiny bit better than most of the other folks in the room.
    There is also the occasion (like I had this summer) where flip flops, and a polo was almost overdressed. I think knowing what the dress code is, and what the "theme" of the party will be is key. Know your customer.

  10. couldn't agree more. I was perusing one very well known wedding photographer's portfolio. People pay 20k+ to have this particular photographer at their weddings. I was appalled when I saw a picture of the photographer at one of these weddings in casual wear. "Artiste" or not, have respect for your clients. I would be appalled if I spent 25 thousand dollars to come to my huge, formal wedding and they showed up in khakis.

  11. I am just curious as to the necessity for dressing like a "guest" when wedding photographers are not guests at all. We are working staff.

    We dress neatly and in all black, short sleeves in the summer, long sleeves in the winter (here in Florida). But we are in polo shirts and slacks with leather shoes (no flip-flops or sneakers) and feel we are not taking anything away from the event by being in 'working clothes'... we're working.

    We shoot a lot of different angles and setups that our clients want... and I am not going to be rolling around on the ground in a Tux... but whatever floats your boat.

    Also, because of rampant theft of equipment at some Florida venues, we wear our gear. I am carrying two cameras and lenses/cards/batteries in a Think Tank belt system with harness. Everything I need is on my person instead of packed away in a bag somewhere I can't get to in a second. And that would look pretty silly worn over a tuxedo. And yes, we shoot black tie events that way.

    Sweeping dress code statements are most often not suitable for everyone and everyone's style of working. "Artiste" or not.

  12. If one pretends to offer a professional presentation in their photography efforts this must reflect itself in a dress code.
    Shabby jeans and T-shirt might give the overall impression of " I don't give a **** ", lack of interest will be the prevailing thought.
    In a top class restaurant have you ever seen a waiter/waitress in torn jeans with stains and sandals?
    Would you trust a doctor without a white coat? A salesman in bermuda shorts? What makes Santa Clause?

    A real professional in any business will know that a proper dress code is essential if one wants the respect one claims to earn.....

  13. aka skippy

    If someone is charging $25K for a wedding, it means they've done it before and clients are happy. If that photographer did so by wearing Khaki's, who the heck is anyone to question that person?

    I can't believe any photographer would ever show up to an event in a tuxedo, it's an old school approach that is dying. I'd go as far as to say I'd fire a photographer that showed up in a tuxedo. What a fake gesture.

  14. I agree with you David. I am old school. What about wearing a photographer's vest with a tie, dress pants, dress shoes? Some times the jacket over this is hot. I can get along way from our supplies and I like all of the pockets for all of our CF cards, batteries, grey cloth, business cards, etc. The belt holds extra lens and you may be carrying more than one camera. I also carry a large battery pack under the vest. Similar to the Quantum but it takes 2x times the flashes. When I meet with potential customers I always were a jacket and dress pants like we see you do. We haven't shot black tie tuxedo yet, but if that was needed, we would not hesitate to rent one.