“Well I can’t do this job forever…” – Can you really be too old to be a wedding photographer?
We hear this all the time. Usually from people in their mid to late thirties. You’re starting to feel that bit older than your couples, and begin to wonder how long you can continue to take photos at weddings before you’re “the old guy”.
Sure, the average age of couples (according to recent “research”) is currently around 32, and the average age of wedding photographers (according to my very accurate finger in the air) is a little older than that. But does it matter? Can you really be “too old to be a wedding photographer”?
My personal opinion is no. And let me tell you some of my theories before also giving you the thoughts of a few other people at either end of the wedding-photographer-age-spectrum…
Getting older we can’t control. It’s an unfortunate fact of being incarnated as a human. So stop worrying about that unless it’s causing you physical inability to pick up a camera and/or be on your feet all day. But there are other less physical symptoms of getting older that we can try to keep at bay. And it’s these symptoms which will definitely reduce your ability to be the best wedding photographer you can be.
As people get older they generally become increasingly cynical, a little grumpier, a lot more judgemental and sometimes more insecure about their position in society in relation to young people – especially if you regularly exist in a society of 25-35 year olds like we do on a weekly basis. I’m talking in general here so don’t take that personally. Yet. But these are the things which will reduce your ability – massively – to be any good at this job.
At weddings, I believe it’s not vital to identify with the bride and groom on a personal level. Sure, it can help, but it’s not entirely necessary. I’ve shot weddings for all sorts of people in my career – people similar to me, people entirely unlike me, younger couples and older couples, people of different religions and cultures and even people who don’t speak the same language. But I totally empathise with what they’re going through emotionally and I approach each couple, each wedding with the same open mind to allow me to connect with them emotionally. And as long as I can do that (and while my hands, knees, back and eyes work properly) I’m pretty confident of my ability to be a good wedding photographer. Regardless of my age.
I’ve aged 8 years in my time as a wedding photographer. So I’m almost 30% older now than I was back then (I love a percentage stat, who doesn’t). But I’m definitely better at my job now, both in terms of making pictures and the emotional side of the job. And I think while I have control of the age-related-attitudes I mentioned, I will only continue to improve.
But that’s just my opinion, what do some other good friends of NineDots think?
Chris Giles (UK): “On the day I’m often used as emotional support and someone who knows and understands what is happening thanks to my experience. If I was the same age or younger I wouldn’t have that ‘presence’ and it also helps to be nearing the ages of the parents as you get the respect of them too. It’s all about perception. I worry not about being too old to shoot (I often joke that I’ll die on the job as I love it so), but that other people will think I am too old. The only reassuring thing is that I go to weddings and see grandad running around with bridge cameras and GoPros and feel that so long as my work holds up as well as my physical and mental side I should be able to continue for a long time. If anything I may scale back the hours I offer instead of partying until 10pm, just going for the core of the wedding instead as the recovery time is faster. It is all about how you look at things. I talk to people who are in their mid forties already thinking about their exit plan when the reality is they just aren’t changing to suit their age bracket.”
Alex Tenters (UK): “Obviously you mature with age, but I know you can always crack certain jokes with bridesmaids or whatever to get them to laugh etc. Also a lot of it stems down to your clients and who you book. I am quite lucky in that I tend to shoot really relaxed fun couples that don’t take themselves too seriously and are up for just being themselves. Obviously you have to judge their characters, I probably wouldn’t joke about certain things with a really posh uptight couple as I would your average joe! If that makes sense? Your personality is your way into making them feel comfortable in front of the camera. I honestly feel like personality is a good 40% of wedding photography.”
Melissa Ouwehand (NL): “I was 19 shooting my first wedding but I don’t worry now at all! I think there will be a point at a age you can’t get along running around and being as quick as I am today. I hope I will be doing this for 10 or 15 years. I think at 60 this it will be the limit for me!”
Paul Tansley (UK): “I’ve been shooting as a professional photographer (fashion) since 1994 (aged 30), and weddings since 2010. I don’t worry about the age thing, but do find it interesting. I’m often the same age as their parents. I do worry that if I state my age too much on my website for example, that younger couples may think I’m some old fat guy with grey hair whose been a wedding photographer since the dawn of time and isn’t modern, current, fashionable etc. I’m a great believer in life, that age shouldn’t matter – but intelligence, experience and talent should. Once you get over 50, you start to look at life a bit differently. When you’re young you never consider being old. It won’t ever happen. When you’re 50 and you start having meetings with pension advisors etc. and they ask you “when do you plan on retiring” it suddenly sinks in that if you were to retire at the previously considered age of 65, you’d only have 15 years left to shoot. I’m 54 this year. So does that mean I can only shoot weddings for another 11 years? I really don’t know. Photography is something you can do at any age really. Sure, it takes a bit of energy to keep going, but I’ve never been unfit, so should be fine on that count. Also, with age, you learn to pace yourself better – which also comes with experience. Neither Carol nor myself get as tired now as we did in the first 2-3 years shooting weddings where you were rushing around stressed out more than anything else. I hope to keep on shooting weddings as long as I can.”
Tom Weller (UK): “Yeah it does occur to me but i’m not really sure how much of an issue it really is. Also, I probably only meet 20% of my couples before the day and I can see this only reducing (i.e. meeting less before the day) as younger generations do more things online. I think it helps that I look quite young (apparently), I am fit and healthy. I can’t see myself doing more than 10 a year when I am in my mid 50s. I think couples probably do want to relate to their photographer but, if they see my work online rather then meet me, and my work is still “contemporary” and speaks to them then I guess there is no reason they wouldn’t book me. Another thing is missing summer weekends which gets a bit tiring but if I do less weddings I should be able to get a decent balance.”
John Steel (UK): “If I can keep fit and healthy and I know I’m doing a good job I will continue. I did jump out of an 8-foot window at last week’s wedding which wasn’t the wisest move and my knees have felt it but other than that age is just a number. If couples like what I do, and I feel I’m doing a good job then I will continue for as long as possible. Technology is moving so fast and everything changes but if I’m part of the Nine Dots community the young uns will keep me up to speed with all these developments.
I will stop when I feel I’m doing a pants job. If I can move, shoot so my couples are happy and I’m happy then I will continue.”
Arvid de Windt (NL): “Funny… a few months ago I was thinking about it. Some couples are more than 13 years younger but I think this is an advantage now as I’m more experienced in life to help them feeling comfortable with the ‘stress’ of a wedding day.
At this moment I really don’t thing my age is a disadvantage for my couples. So I really don’t worry about it. When I’m physically less active this will become a problem. As long as I feel inspired on every wedding and love it as much as I do now I’m not to old. I think when a photographer looks like the couples granddad or granny and can’t stand the physical proof on the wedding day you have to get out. If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”
Ash Davenport (UK): “I worry that I will be less relevant and relatable to my couples and lose touch with what they are interested in and expect from wedding photography. Also I expect the older I become and the more experienced I gain I will naturally want to charge more however as the age-group of engaged couples vs me grows the bookings will drop as cost will become an issue. I do worry that wedding photographers believe that wedding photography is a career and they are on a journey to become the worlds best. The harsh realty is they won’t and they aren’t saving for a good pension and putting savings away from each booking. Going into wedding photography full time without an exit plan is pretty dangerous. If wedding photographers plan to be shooting weddings in their 50’s (+) they have to listen to all the new bands, watch all the new tv shows invest in all the technology and be prepared to think what wedding photography will be in the future with iPhone camera, the ability to capture stills from video camera etc etc. Finally they need to have as much hunger and passion each day as if it was their first. I honest believe 40+ is a rough marker for being un-relatable to brides and grooms in their 20’s. Some photographers will smash through this but most will struggle at 45.”
I’m not going to tell you how old those guys all are but let’s just say that covers a cross-section of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s – and on the whole none of them are worried about getting too old to do this crazy job as long as they’re physically able.
What do you think?
Thanks for reading Too Old To Be A Wedding Photographer by Adam Johnson. NineDots is the ultimate wedding photography community. We offer regular wedding photography workshops, the infamous NineDots Gathering wedding photography anticonference every November in London, and ongoing content to help wedding photographers improve through NineDots Membership. Join the greatest wedding photography community in the world!