The mystery of wedding photography.

I’m perplexed by wedding photography.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of months reading wedding websites and forums. (I have a solid excuse for this, because I’ve been planning my wedding.) I am struck by how much people seem to care about wedding photography.

We decided not to have a photographer because we just didn’t care about having professional photos. So why spend the time and money? I felt like it would add an extra element of stress to the wedding day, in addition to being pretty pricey.

But I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to feel that it is one of the most important aspects of their weddings. They dedicate a large portion of the budget to photography, even when that budget is pretty limited, and even when the wedding is just a visit to the courthouse.

I’m perplexed because photography seems to be viewed as much more indispensable for weddings than for other important life events: a bar mitzvah, the birth of a child, a college graduation. I’ve thought about it a lot now, because of course this made me wonder if I was making a mistake by foregoing wedding photography.

The first explanation that comes to mind is that this day is just different. It is so important that it must be fully documented and preserved.

But that doesn’t resonate with me. For one, I’m not that keen on taking pictures most of the time. When I’m someplace interesting or doing something fun I prefer not to worry about documenting it on film (if other people send me their pictures, great, but if not, I’m okay). I kept losing cameras and finally I just decided to not replace mine. It takes me out of the experience to think about taking pictures, and I don’t feel that I’m lacking in photographic documentation of my life. I have more pictures than I can ever enjoy. I think my wedding day will be the same. I’ll remember it just fine through the photos that family and friends will give us, or when we are in the same neighborhood as our venue, or when we hear a song from the day.

I also wondered if I was having a different experience than other people because the wedding doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me. Am I less in love? I don’t think so. I’m really excited about getting married, and about my partnership with my fiance. I have tons of moments with him when I feel full of joy, light, and contentment. Those moments are what matter to me.

And maybe my wedding will be full of those moments. I’m open to the possibility that it will, but I don’t know. Big social occasions are hit or miss for me. Sometimes I love them and sometimes I just want to sneak out early and be home alone. I won’t have that option at my wedding! I’m also a little nervous about being the center of attention and feeling responsible for everyone having fun. So while I think the wedding will probably be great, I know it’s also possible that it will be be stressful and tiring. I’m okay with that. I know myself, and I feel like I’m set with the things that are important to me. I’m having the wedding mostly, and happily, for other people, including my fiance.

I’ve also thought about it in a different way. Most of the wedding photography I’ve seen is really lovely, and people do look beautiful in it. Perhaps people want the chance to be the stat of their own photoshoot or movie for the day, looking glamorous and beautiful and interesting.

Connected with this, I wonder if there is an age gap at play. At almost 34, I’m older than the average bride. In the U.S., that’s 26, though I suspect (or hope?) it would be older if you looked only at college-educated brides or those with a graduate degree.

I feel like there is a definite gap between people my age and those even a few years younger in terms of the technology and media we grew up with.

My parents had Prodigy internet service when I was in high school, but I didn’t encounter the internet as it exists today until I had my first job in 1998, after graduating from college. That’s also when I started using email regularly. I signed up for Myspace around 2005, when I was 28 and in law school, and Facebook when I was 31.

I think that people who are even a few years younger than me—and definitely 26-year-olds—grew up much more influenced by the internet and the individual media and social sharing that come with it. It’s now de rigeur to document and share everything in one’s life via the internet. My teen-aged relatives continually alarm me with the way they live their lives in public, with every teenage emotion and melodramatic impulse displayed for public consumption online. I also notice the effect in myself. When we are doing something interesting or take a good picture I immediately think about putting it on Facebook. And when we come home from a particularly good trip we always post pictures on Facebook. It’s become part of the experience.

So I wonder, is this what is going on with wedding and engagement photography? Is the experience not complete until it is documented, recorded, and shared with the right amount of style?


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