When someone says the two words “wedding photography” what do you think of? I would venture to guess that you think of beautiful photos of two people dressed in their finest and posing perfectly in a patch of golden light. Or maybe you think of two people embracing under a perfectly placed cascading weeping willow with their hair rimmed by the warm glow of the sun.

What about the story behind the photographs? The two hearts and souls within them? What makes them feel alive? What connects them? Why have they chosen each other out of all the millions of people in the world?

Engaging, honest wedding photography is so much more than the end product of the photos themselves.

Wedding photography begins with a relationship with your clients and engaging with their unique story.

Cultivating relationships with your clients grows into something way more meaningful than perfectly exposed, tack-sharp photos. Does quality imagery matter? Yes. Of course. But the more you put into the people you are photographing before you pick up that camera, the more honest and engaging your images will be.

One of the first things I learned in photojournalism school is that powerful storytelling begins with the building of trust. How do you gain someone’s trust? You build a relationship with them.

It is only through building trust that you can create honest imagery.

This is so important to grasp as a storyteller. You MUST be invested in those you are photographing, whose stories you are telling.

How do you cultivate a relationship before bringing your camera out?

Simply put, you connect by sharing your story with them and by letting your clients share theirs.

A great way to connect with clients before meeting them in person is to a create a personal questionnaire for them to fill out. This initial connection gives you an efficient way to learn about them individually and as a couple and also lets them know that you care about their stories right off the bat.

Writing is so life-giving and effective, which is why I love to begin with asking people to write out their stories.

In addition, the best way for clients to get to know about you even before they reach out is producing honest, relational content. This gives them a clear idea of who you are and your values. This is the crafting of you and your brand’s story.

How to effectively and consistently execute this deserves multiple blog posts on its own, but some quick ways to get started are:

Thoughtfully write an “about” or “my story” page which shares a personal story, rather than shares “what you offer.” Write a story that directly connects you to your audience. Take them on a journey. We all love being taken on a journey, use this as a platform for a good, engaging story.

Create case studies on your blog, which tell the story of your clients and their experience working with you. As you paint the picture of what it is like to work with you, your audience is able to put themselves within that narrative. Yes, share the photos, but go deeper and share their story. Share how you have invested in them.

Let the mission of your brand be about your clients. Not you. As Donald Miller from StoryBrand says, you are not the hero in the story of your brand, your audience is. This is huge. Your brand is about your audience. Not you. 

Wedding photography is more than just the act of taking photos. It is creating a space for two people in which they can be fully themselves and present with one another as you capture the spirits of who they are.

In order to create this open and honest space for your couples, you have to first be honest and open yourself and COMMUNICATE.

Share how much you value being fully present in life and inspire them by example. Show how much you care about them and their story. Express how invested you are in creating images that they will be able to look back on and feel the emotion and life in them.

Communicate to them why carving out time within their wedding day to take photos of just the two of them is more than just one other thing to add to the timeline. It is giving them space to just be and celebrate their union together. It is giving them the gift of breathing together and embracing one another in the midst of everything else and enjoying being fully themselves and fully together. 

Tell them how important it is to you to know about their family. About the people who mean the most to them and the little details of their wedding that they have built to create their unique story. You want to know these nuances because you are the storyteller. You have been given the gift and responsibility of documenting these significance's.

You want to know about the grandpa who has been waiting to dance at his first granddaughter’s wedding with her. About the flowers that were picked from the groom’s mother’s backyard. You want to know because you are invested in their story and want to tell it honestly and tell it well.

Begin with a relationship. Build trust. And communicate how much you care.

How do you become successful? You prove that you care more than anyone. 

As I said, all of this communication, this cultivating, this inspiration and recognition of the importance of being fully present and honest and engulfed in the beauty of now, comes WELL before the thought of creating a photo.

It all starts with relationship.

Building trust and cultivating relationships will make your wedding photography meaningful for years and years to come.

So go cultivate relationships and tell honest, beautiful stories!