A picture may be worth a thousand words, but language matters. I’m a journalist by training. While I don’t write professionally anymore, I do believe that the language I use as a business owner communicates how I approach my craft, what I value and how clients can expect to be treated. So what message does the wedding industry send via its the language it uses?
I’m relatively new to wedding and portrait photography. As I started learning more about the industry, I adopted some of its standard language: I’m a natural light photographer, I have a light and airy style, the goal is creamy skin tones.
Standard language is important. Clients need to understand what they can expect from me when choosing from hundreds of capable photographers. It’s important to me because I need to connect with other professionals who shoot similarly and can serve as second photographers or to whom I can refer when I can’t serve a client. Plus, hashtags … I’ve gotta show up in front of the right people on Insta!
When we’re new to something, we often imitate those we look up to and model after. As we become experts, we develop our own way of doing things. That’s where I am in my photography journey: developing my own way.
I had this wretched realization recently that the language I use to describe my work is not at all inclusive and in fact may be alienating potential clients.
Well, does “light and airy” appeal to someone with darker skin tones? Or does it kind of sound like I’m going to lighten their skin and make them look like someone they’re not?
Shooting in a light and airy style isn’t the problem. I’ve been hired by several interracial couples and shoot their skin tones accurately and well. Light and airy, when done right, describes soft backgrounds with subdued colors and minimal shadows.
But how we’re describing our work might not convey that. A did a Google image search for “light and airy photography” and scrolled all the way down to “show more results.” In all those images, I I found only three people of color. Clearly people with darker complexions are not clamoring to hire “light and airy” photographers. And yet it is the industry’s standard language for that particular style. A search for “light and airy photography” brings up 15.5 million results.
I’m definitely not saying photographers are using this language to intentionally exclude. Of course we aren’t. But it does inadvertently exclude. So why describe something as “light” when “bright and airy” works just as well?
Creamy skin tones? Guys, cream is white. Why should skin tones be creamy when they can just be smooth or maybe flawless?
This is an example I’m guilty of, but I’m sure there are other examples of how artistic-sounding terms exclude.
In terms of language, there’s a parallel in how huge swaths of the wedding industry describe couples: bride and groom, husband and wife. Yeah, bride and bride, groom and groom are out there, but, outside of pride month, largely confined to LGBTQ channels.
I’m guilty of using poorly chosen language here, too.
I was inviting my Instagram followers to meet the couples I work with via #Erinsbrides. Obviously that doesn’t exactly welcome two men. #Erinscouples works just as well, and is more inclusive not just of gay couples but of all the grooms with whom I work.
Again, I’m new to wedding and portrait photography. Sometimes new people bring a fresh perspective that helps improve things.
I’ll be more careful and inclusive with my language moving forward, and I’d love to see other wedding photographers and professionals do the same. The wedding industry is an enormous, $60 billion-a-year industry. What we do, and how we talk, matters.