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Why I quit the "traditional" wedding industry

This is an overdue blog post. And it’s a long one, so stick with me. 

For anyone who’s followed me for longer than a year or two, you might have noticed my content has shifted away from weddings. While this shift felt almost accidental at first, I’ve finally had some time to reflect and realized it actually was more intentional than I initially thought. 

I started to really ask myself: Why? Why have I started turning down wedding inquiries? Why have I stopped marketing myself as a wedding photographer?

And I think the answer all comes down to this: I just wasn’t having as much fun anymore.

This no longer felt like a fun side hobby where I got to connect with cool people, capture their joy, and express myself creatively. It turned into a very service-oriented job full of unrealistic expectations, high stress, entitled customers, and bigotry. I honestly have felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole by conforming to this traditional wedding culture, and it's just not working for me anymore.

DISCLAIMER: This has been very difficult to articulate in a blog post, and I’m sure I’ll get some flak for this. Please do not interpret this post as something negative toward all of the amazing wedding vendors out there or couples who do have more traditional weddings. Hell, I was one of them and I still love attending them! I sincerely want people to do what is best for THEM, please! This is just my personal opinion and feelings based on my experiences over the last 6+ years as a wedding photographer. 

So, what’s the plan for the future of Madeleine Wilson Photography?

Don't worry, I still want to photograph weddings. I just want to be more selective about who I work with and what kinds of experiences and clients I say "yes" to.

While this post might seem pretty negative, I do hope to continue shooting weddings for clients who want memorable, meaningful weddings. I want to continue to be ultra-picky when it comes to selecting clients because I only want to work with people who are going to have a GOOD TIME at their own damn wedding! The people who say “fuck it” to traditions, the people who think cake smashes are creepy, the kind that laugh loudly without holding back, the ones who want authentic, real moments captured rather than overly-curated, soulless facades.

When I first dipped my toes into the wedding photography scene, I was over the moon. There's something truly magical about immortalizing the love between two people, freezing those moments of pure joy and celebration in time. It was like being a part of something sacred, witnessing and capturing the essence of love in its most beautiful form. And don’t get me wrong, it still is when the clients prioritize the same things as I do and share the same vision for their day.

I just can’t help help but notice a shift in the wedding industry—a shift towards an almost obsessive fixation on appearances. Suddenly, it felt like the focus had shifted from genuine emotion and connection to superficial details and Instagram-worthy perfection. As a wedding photographer, I found myself smack dab in the middle of it all, constantly bombarded with demands for picture-perfect snapshots and flawless aesthetics rather than authentic moments. 

There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting your wedding day to look stunning. But when that desire for perfection starts overshadowing the true essence of the day—the love, the laughter, the genuine moments—it's like we've lost sight of what weddings are truly about.

I miss the days when weddings were more about celebrating love and less about keeping up with the latest trends or trying to outdo the Joneses. It's not about the size of the venue or the price tag on the dress; it's about the two people standing at the altar, promising to love and cherish each other for the rest of their lives.

As a wedding photographer, I've made a conscious decision to step back from the hyper-focused world of picture-perfect weddings and instead focus on capturing the real, raw moments—the laughter, the tears, the unscripted joy that makes each wedding unique and special. Because at the end of the day, it's those moments that truly matter, and it's those moments that I want to preserve for my clients for years to come.

I’m also leaning into other types of photography and content creation. I want to work with brands I love and tourism boards and outdoor organizations to make the outdoors feel more inclusive and accessible to all. I want to continue growing this amazing community of cozy campers and chill hikers. I want to do stuff that fills my cup and also makes me feel like my talents are appreciated. 

I will still be photographing:

  • Weddings (select clients or referrals only) - specializing in smaller celebrations, queer couples, and adventure/offbeat weddings

  • Elopements (select clients or referrals only)

  • Boudoir (select clients or referrals only)

  • Travel, tourism, and commercial work

Problems I found with the traditional wedding industry

If you’re here for the tea, let's get into it. Why have I become disinterested in the traditional wedding industry? 

TL;DR: I feel like wedding culture as changed, and I’m tired of trying to fit into the traditional side of the industry.

The old-school tendencies of the wedding industry are icky

And yeah, I’m using the word “icky” - get over it. 

I can’t believe that in 2024, we are still faced with so many antiquated traditions and stereotypes within the wedding industry such as rigid gender binaries and old-school traditions. 

I was just watching a video from a trans content creator talking about how her wedding planning journey has already been a nightmare for her and her nonbinary partner because everything online is targeted toward heterosexual couples. From the language vendors use to the inspiration pictures we see online, it all lacks any kind of acknowledgement or representation of queer couples.

From the moment couples start their wedding planning journey, they’re inundated with a barrage of heteronormative expectations and traditions that prioritize and reinforce traditional gender roles. I’ll be the first to admit, when I wrote my first wedding contract in 2017, I only used the words “bride” and “groom.” I’ve obviously changed it since then but it just goes to show how heteronormative standards are the default in the wedding industry (and let’s be honest, everywhere). This not only perpetuates harmful stereotypes but also marginalizes and alienates individuals who do not conform to these narrow constructs of gender identity.

There are literally venues in Washington state, one of the more liberal states in our country, who have posted extremely anti-queer crap on their business Instagrams. I’m not kidding, it’s insane this is still happening. 

I don’t know why the wedding industry has been so slow to catch up to modern times. Maybe it’s because weddings have a deep-rooted history in religion which has historically been exclusionary to queer people. Maybe it’s because same-sex marriage only became legal in America in 2015 (less than a decade ago!). I really am not sure why, but it makes me want to rip my hair out.

I find it deeply disheartening to witness the struggles faced by my queer clients as they endeavor to navigate an industry that often fails to acknowledge or accommodate their unique needs and identities. While I am committed to providing a safe and inclusive space for all couples, the reality is that I am often powerless to dictate the behavior and attitudes of other vendors involved in the wedding planning process. This is why moving forward, I want to prioritize working with clients to help them find safe vendors.

Everyone is looking for a “deal”

Wedding costs continue to soar, and navigating the delicate balance between providing quality service and accommodating varying budgets has become very challenging. I understand it’s incredibly expensive to have a traditional wedding, trust me. But this has resulted in some really poor behavior and unrealistic expectations. Nobody is forcing you to have a traditional wedding, so when you elect to spend thousands of dollars, you’re opting into a luxury experience - which comes with a luxury price tag.

Let's address the crux of the matter: Typically, individuals who actively seek out discounts or "deals" on luxury services often fail to fully appreciate the value that these services entail. Period. And I want to reiterate, this isn't merely a matter of differing financial circumstances; it's about respect and recognition of the expertise, equipment, and commitment that goes into delivering a top-tier service. While I empathize with the reality that not everyone can afford a lavish wedding or the services of a high-end photographer, the fundamental issue arises when individuals approach me with requests to lower my rates, despite expressing admiration and appreciation for my work and also opting into this luxury experience. 

It's essential to acknowledge that as a professional photographer, I have very carefully priced my services based on several critical factors: my years of experience, the stellar level of service I provide, the caliber of my equipment, and the quality of the final product I consistently deliver. Each aspect contributes to the overall value proposition I offer to my clients. Therefore, when potential clients attempt to negotiate my prices downward, it not only undermines the worth of my expertise but also disregards the careful consideration I've put into establishing fair pricing structures. And let me just say, even with all of these careful calculations, my prices still fell on the “less expensive” side of the average range. 

This mindset that every service should be "affordable" fails to recognize the subjective nature of affordability. What constitutes affordability varies greatly from one individual to another and is contingent on numerous factors, including personal finances, priorities, and preferences. While I wholeheartedly support the notion of accessibility and inclusivity within the wedding industry, it's crucial to understand that accessibility doesn't equate to compromising the integrity of a service provider's pricing model. I can guarantee there’s a wedding vendor out there within every budget!

We also have to remember that wedding vendors predominantly operate as small businesses, often with minimal staff or as sole proprietors. We pour our hearts and souls into our craft, striving to deliver exceptional experiences for our clients while simultaneously managing the logistics of running a business. Haggling over prices with small business owners not only undermines their livelihoods but also diminishes the mutual respect and trust that form the foundation of successful client-vendor relationships. It’s honestly just gross.

While I empathize with the financial constraints many individuals face when planning their weddings, it's important to recognize the inherent value of the services provided by luxury service providers. Rather than seeking to negotiate prices downward, I encourage prospective clients to explore alternative options within their budgetary constraints. With a vast array of talented photographers available in the market, there's undoubtedly a suitable match for every budget and aesthetic preference. Ultimately, fostering a culture of respect, transparency, and appreciation for the expertise of wedding vendors is paramount to ensuring mutually beneficial partnerships and unforgettable wedding experiences.

What I’ve decided for my own business is that while I will be raising my prices to avoid booking clients who don’t value high-quality photography, I will be offering lower pricing for queer couples, BIPOC couples, and also offering payment plans. 

Social media fuels unrealistic expectations

We're bombarded on social media with carefully curated content, crafted to look perfect. Yet, what’s missing from these posts is any semblance of financial transparency. Behind the scenes, the exorbitant price tags attached to the lavish floral arrangements, ornate decorations, and crazy venues remain hidden, leaving the average person with a skewed understanding of the true cost. This not only distorts our perception of reality but also contributes to a pervasive culture of unattainable standards.

Take, for instance, the all-too-common scenario where a couple stumbles upon a breathtaking photo of a wedding ceremony with gorgeous flowers, only to be blindsided by the astronomical quote provided by her local florist. Whereas someone in the industry could look at that for one second and tell you it’s at least $10k. People just don’t realize how expensive these things are, especially when so many influencers are gifted crazy expensive services and items for their big days. A lot of it isn’t real and most of it isn’t attainable for the average person.

Rarely do we encounter content that authentically reflects the actual diverse spectrum of wedding experiences. As a result, expectations become skewed, overshadowed by these glamorous yet unattainable depictions on our social media feeds. I want to help showcase more realistic weddings rather than unobtainable, cookie-cutter weddings moving forward.

Shitty wedding guests ruin it for everyone else

Dealing with "shitty" family members at weddings? Oh boy, where do I even start? It's like a rite of passage for every wedding vendor. You've got those drunk uncles making inappropriate comments or demands, and let's not forget the post-wedding emails from Aunt Karen asking you to Photoshop her into a supermodel.

I had to include a clause in my contract saying I reserve the right to leave if I feel unsafe or downright creeped out by anyone at the wedding. Because let's face it, nothing is worth sacrificing your safety or sanity.

And don't even get me started on the photo editing requests. "Can you make me look skinnier?" "Can you fix my double chin?" emails I get MONTHS after the wedding concludes and I’ve delivered a final gallery. Sorry, but I didn’t sign a contract with my client’s mother-in-law, I signed one with the client.

But here's the thing, while clients can't control every move their family members make, they do have a responsibility to create a safe and respectful environment for everyone involved, including vendors. It's all about setting boundaries and making it clear that inappropriate behavior won't fly. 

Toxic vendor culture is real too

It's like the Wild West out there, with wedding vendors operating willy-nilly without any business knowledge or common sense. And you know what? It's not just frustrating; it's damaging. When these rogue operators run amok, it tarnishes the reputation of the rest of us who play by the rules.

Picture this: you're at a wedding, the atmosphere is electric, and then... cue the incompetent DJ who starts literally rapping along with the music in the middle of the dance floor. Or worse, the officiant who arrives late and then bumbles through the ceremony like they're reading from a script for the first time. And no, these are not hypothetical situations: I have seen both of these play out in real-time. While comical to look back on, these types of things not only ruin the couple's big day but also reflect poorly on the entire industry.

Now, let's talk about regulation, or rather, the lack thereof. It's baffling why the wedding industry remains so unregulated, leaving legal vendors and clients alike to navigate a murky sea of uncertainty. Without proper oversight, it's a free-for-all, and unfortunately, it's the clients who often end up paying the price.

And don't even get me started on review sites like The Knot and Wedding Wire. Sure, they may seem like trustworthy sources for vendor recommendations, but here's the kicker: they're pay-to-play! Vendors shell out cash to get listed and boost their profiles, skewing the playing field and making it harder for clients to find genuine, unbiased reviews.

So, what's the solution? Well, for starters, clients should take those review sites with a grain of salt and instead rely on platforms like Google or vendors' own social media channels for authentic feedback. As for the industry itself, it's high time we collectively push for more regulation and accountability to weed out the bad apples and ensure a higher standard of professionalism and integrity across the board. Because at the end of the day, every couple deserves to have their special day handled with care and expertise, not marred by the incompetence or dishonesty of a few bad actors. 

In conclusion

My journey away from the traditional wedding industry has been a deeply introspective one, many years in the making. While the decision to pivot away from weddings may have seemed spontaneous at first glance, upon reflection, it became evident that this shift was more intentional than I initially realized.

I want to be really clear: My decision to distance myself from the traditional wedding industry is not a condemnation of all wedding vendors or couples who opt for more traditional celebrations. It's simply a reflection of my own experiences and the challenges I've encountered along the way.

Moving forward, while weddings may no longer be my primary focus, I remain open to capturing special moments for clients who share my vision of authenticity and joy. Whether it's through weddings, brand collaborations, or outdoor adventures, my goal remains unchanged: to create meaningful connections and capture genuine moments.

My journey away from the traditional wedding industry represents not an end, but rather a new beginning—an opportunity to explore and embrace new avenues of creativity and fulfillment. And as I embark on this next chapter, I am excited to see where the path may lead and eager to continue sharing my passion with the world. And thank you to everyone who has followed along my journey, hired me in the past, trusted me with their photographs, and supported me along the way. I really cannot express my gratitude enough. 

If you read this post and it resonates with you, let’s chat.


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