Hannah Gunnell – Redefining the Ideal Wedding Photography Client

INTRODUCING HANNAH GUNNELL

Hannah Gunnell is a wedding photographer, videographer, and educator helping creative entrepreneurs price and market themselves with conviction, create amazing client experiences, and navigate difficult business decisions with confidence.

Hannah is the lead photographer at Ramblefree Photo Co. based in New England.

Hi, I am Aida, host of  My Wedding Season -The Podcast!
If you prefer listening, this blog post is also available in audio format on my podcast: Episode 40

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INTERVIEW MAIN TAKEAWAYS

(I, Aida, have at times paraphrased and other times directly quoted what Hannah and I have said in the episode to make it easier to understand – this is not a direct transcription.)

Hannah reached out to me to come on the podcast to talk about “redefining ideal client and how important it is to shift our perspective on this matter to avoid burnout.” She also said that she would love to talk about “how the idea of a magical ideal client can create a culture of exclusion in the industry and cause wedding photographers to give their clients poor experiences.”

Hannah is very passionate about this topic because she has gone through a transition of how she thinks of ideal clients. She feels like that by changing her mindset around ideal clients, she was able to transform her business for the better. She also feels that most of us photographers have been taught to think of ideal clients in the wrong way in the wedding industry.

Sometime in 2022, Hannah had posted a question on her Instagram Stories asking people to share what they regret from their wedding day. She was shocked by the number of responses where people said that they wished that they hired a photographer that really cared about them and their wedding day. These responses made Hannah feel really bad to hear because clients should not be made to feel this way.

It ignited a conversation about why this is a problem in the wedding industry and what photographers should be doing to avoid their clients from feeling that way. Hannah says that we not only need to shift our mindset when it comes to ideal clients, but need to make changes in our business practices to avoid burn out during the wedding season – because this can be contributing to why clients may feel that way.

One of Hannah’s Instagram Stories posts read:

“Why as an industry and as artists do we feel like people and wedding days are not worth our time and attention unless they fit into a certain aestethic? Why do we feel like things need to be pretty and perfect to be worth documenting? Why do we feel the need to sterilize and manufacture moments and make things into something the Instagram algorithim will like better? When did the truth become not good enough?

– Hannah Gunnell

Do wedding photos always have to be pretty?

Hannah wonders where it came from – if something is not pretty, curated or styled, we feel like we cannot take a photograph of it? Hannah says that as an industry, we are tempted to treat a wedding day like it is a photoshoot.

On the Hannah’s website, she writes “Weddings aren’t about the photos.” She clarifies that, yes we want to have the photos, but it shouldn’t BE about the photos. It is not a photoshoot – it is an event where people are having interactions with the community of people that they have chosen to surround themselves with. We should be free to take a photo of somebody having a really nice moment with their friend or their mom, even if there is a mess behind them.

Hannah shares that she took the pressure off of herself – to deliver photos as long as it is a meaningful moment, but not deemed pretty, styled or technically perfect. Hannah puts herself in the mindset of what she feels her clients find to be important on their wedding day as well as the legacy that they and their family are leaving behind. Since doing this, she has noticed a positive reponse from her clients – and has become much happier and less burned out in her business.

Where did the need to focus on pretty come from?

Aida: I want to track it back to the boom of Instagram where there are a lot of feature accounts, wedding blogs that were super curating what they are showcasing. They were looking for the prettiest photos and a lot of photographers were submitting their work and trying to get featured. During that time a lot of photographers where able to grow their “following” by being featured on such publications – because pretty sells and gains attention!

And on the other side of the coin, a lot of people getting married started thinking “that’s what my wedding photos should look like”. So there are certain types of clients who have the expectations from their photographer. And then during the pandemic, things sort of shifted where people took time to reflect and reevalaute their values.

Hannah: I agree! believe that styled shoots can create unrealistic expectations for clients and unrealistic expectations and pressure on photographers. It made some photographers think that they should be booking weddings that resemble an elaborate styled shoot. That doesn’t mean that couples shouldn’t want beautifully styled weddings. The problem that I see is when photographers book a wedding that is not beautifully styled and they show up at the wedding and feel like it isn’t worth documenting.

Photo by Hannah Gunnell

Hannah goes on to explain the shift she had between how she viewed ideal clients in the past compared to now. Around 2016 / 2017, Hannah admits to falling into the trap of wanting the be one of the cool photographers on Instagram. She wanted to book weddings with massive details, and that would be fulfilling to her. Hannah reflects back to 2019 when she booked about 25 weddings at beautiful venues with gorgeous decorations – but she was the most burnt out and feeling very empty in her work. That made her step back and ask herself this question: Why is it that although she is supposedly living the dream, with clients that are having such cool weddings does it feel so hard?

Part of it was the work load, but she also thinks that she realised that she really does not like styling things and heavily posing and directing people. Hannah just likes to be a fly-on-the-wall and documenting all the facets of a wedding, whether they are pretty, or sometimes there is anxiety, or sometimes things are really funny (e.g. people rip their pants on the dance floor). She wanted to give herself the freedom to document a wedding day in its wholeness without trying to make it into something other than what it is.

Hannah points out the difference between a photographer liking to photograph pretty things and valuing people based on how much pretty things they have at their wedding. Hannah had an expeirence in 2019 where the bride came up to her and apologised for not being as cool as her other couples. This was a wake-up call for Hannah because she thought that something about the way that she was messaging and presenting herself online made this bride feel like she wasn’t cool enough to be her client or that she did not value her wedding. Hannah truly thought “we should not as an industry be making people feel this way”.

That is when she shifted to advertising herself (including her business partner, Jess) to a more documentary-focused approach. They reworked their entire messaging. Hannah realised that she always had taken those types of photos, but she just was not featuring them. She used to feature photos that she thought that other people would like and what Instagram would like – but then, more people were wanting her to do that kind of work for them. But this is not where her heart was.

Aida points out that she has heard of instances where photographers taken on a wedding from a different culture, e.g. an Indian wedding, where things are done differently. And since the photographers are not culturally aware, they do not do the wedding justice. In this case, it is not fair to the couples.

Hannah’s current approach to photographing weddings

Hannah makes sure that she is excited about every single wedding she takes on and makes sure that she gives it her all. She thinks that we need to look at how we structure our business and making sure that we are charging enough money so that we are not over-extending ourselves with the number of weddings that we book. This helps us avoid getting into a position where we need to take on work that we are not excited about.

Hannah: It is also important to establish what we love to do in wedding photography. The way that we have been taught to think about ideal clients has gotten us astray. The focus on ideal clients has been these questionnaires asking where our ideal client shops and what activities they like to do. This information is valuable in marketing for finding our ideal clients.

Aida: I actually like to say right-fit client instead of ideal client.

Hannah: I agree! Because saying ideal client puts a lot on them and nothing on us. Focusing on this aspect of ideal clients, e.g. about their tastes etc… you end up creating a shallow surface-level idea of who you want to work with. When the focus is on finding our right-fit clients, it starts with us. We need to figure out the type of work that we want to do, that lights us up. At its core, it won’t be about the type of decoration that you want to photograph. This process requires a lot of inner work and self-reflection.

Photo by Hannah Gunnell

Are photographers storytellers?

The copy on Hannah’s website is super clear in the messaging. Hannah says that she is not a storyteller, but a witness. The word storyteller never really resonated with Hannah because she feels like it is not her story to tell, it is her clients story – she is just there to observe and document their story in a way that seems truthful to what it is, and sensitive to what it is, but also hopefully beautiful and visually interesting.

Aida: As photographers, we can actually never fully tell the whole truth because whatever we show is what we choose to show, what we have happened to have seen and what we have included within the frame and what we have chosen to exclude from the frame. Essentially it is impossible to say that we have fully documented a wedding day because it is predicated on our perspective and our curation of it. Two photographers can never deliver the same work! And in this case, when clients are choosing their photographer, their choosing to have their day documents through this person’s eyes. And exactly that can allow photographers stand out in a saturated market like wedding photography. That goes to say, the more you are you and the more you can bring out your uniqueness, the better chances you have of getting booked for your work.

How can you become more self-aware as a wedding photographer?

Hannah: It starts with saying you want to put more of yourself and what you are passionate about into your work. At weddings, you will start noticing which parts of the day you love – you will start making connections and a bigger picture will start to unfold. You can also go to therapy, if you have access to it. In addition, journaling is also very helpful – particularly after weddings – then when you go back and read it through, you will start to notice similarities. Hiring a business coach has also been a game-changer!

What happens when inexperienced photographers only showcase content days / styled shoots in their portfolio?

Aida: There are instances where a wedding photographer ends up delivering a gallery to the client that does not live up to what they showed in their portfolio. What do you think?

Hannah: Yes, this is a problem in the industry right now and it is bad both for clients and for photographers. The reality is, anything can happen at a wedding. It can also be disappointing for the photographer who expects weddings to be like content days. It can run really late, weather can go bad, the lighting can be bad. I don’t think anybody should be advertising themselves as a wedding photographer at least before they have assisted and second-shot for an established wedding photographer. Because you need to get that experience of how to navigate these difficult situations. Photographers also need to learn how to set expectations with their clients. We need to be transparent with our clients – it is important not to present a Content Day or styled shoot as an actual wedding day.

Advice for new wedding photographers

Hannah: It is important to recognise that content days and styled shoots are not like real weddings – and don’t just spend all your money on them. Start documenting your life in not ideal light conditions – you need to learn how to take photos in such conditions. Focus more on looking at everyday normal situations and saying “what is interesting about what is happening in front of me?” – and taking a photo of that.

Be aware of the work that you are presenting versus what the client is asking for. For example, if you only have natural light photographs in your portfolio, and your client is getting married in a warehouse, explain to them what that could look like. Be sure to send potential clients full galleries and show them what your work looks like in its entirety. Send them galleries of weddings that took place in a similar circumstance.

Aida: Half the game of weddings is dealing with people. And also as wedding photographers, we are in a position that we need to keep things moving along during the day. How can photographers learn how to deal with people?

Hannah: Knowing how to manage people is one of the most important things – you want to have happy clients. Clients will always remember how you made them feel, regardless of how great the gallery you deliver is. Sessions with multiple people, like family sessions and event gatherings, are a great way to learn this skill.

Photo by Hannah Gunnell

How can having a certain type of ideal client create a culture of exclusion in the industry?

Hannah: It is important to look at how social media apps exclude and include certain types of people/couples. You shouldn’t define your success based on how your photos perform on social media. Whether or not the wedding you are photographing is going to be a part of your portfolio on Instagram should have no bearing on the level of service that you are giving your client. When clients book you, it is an honor and it is important not to let them and yourself down – you should approach it with your full attention.

Aida: Yes, the moment we book a wedding, we need to serve our clients to the best of our abilities.

Hannah: If we just focus on external validation (e.g. clout on Instagram) to feel like we have created work that is valuable, we are going to end up excluding clients and creating an empty perception of how we view ourselves and what we do. If we are looking at our work and saying “yes, I love that” and “I did my best for that client”, this image is beautiful – it doesn’t matter to me what the general public thinks – we are going to be happier, our clients are going to be happier and we are going to be more fulfilled in our work.

How can having a certain type of ideal client create a culture of exclusion in the industry?

Aida: There needs to be a way in which we build-in rest in our wedding season, because we may start strong, but get exhausted by the time August and September roll around. For each wedding that we photograph, we should be excited to be there and have the energy to do our job well. How are you able to sustain that level of energy, ability and creativity throughout the wedding season?

Hannah: Know your limit on the number of weddings you can shoot. Set expectations and realistic boundaries with your clients. Owning a business doesn’t mean that you always need to be working. E.g. setting working hours. Be intentional about building a business that is supportive of the lifestyle that you need to have to remain creative and excited about the work that you are booking.

I am so grateful to Hannah for taking the time share so much valuable information with us.

If you want to learn more from Hannah, you can book in a coaching session with her! She has been kind enough to offer a 20% discount for anyone who mentions that you found her through My Wedding Season – The Podcast (I do not earn a kick-back): www.hannahgunnellgilmore.com

Episode & show notes: EP 40. Hannah Gunnell – Redefining the Ideal Wedding Photography Client

Connect with Hannah:

Wedding Photography: Ramblefree Photo Co.
Instagram: @ramblefreehannah

Aida’s Instagram: @aidaglowik

HERE IS MORE OF HANNAH GUNNELL’S INCREDIBLE WORK


MY WEDDING SEASON – THE PODCAST

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AIDA GLOWIK

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I specialise in European intimate weddings & elopements.
I provide overwhelmed wedding photographers with the inspiration, tools and resources needed to build a thriving brand and business.


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