LGBT Weddings: Being a Relevant Photographer in a Modern Age with Justin Yoder
There is no ignoring it. We wedding photographers are living in a different era. Traditions are being broken left and right, and I love it. At least 70% of the couples who hire me are doing first looks. Couples are waiting until they are older to get married. The groom’s wedding party is no longer just for guys and the bride’s party is no longer just for ladies. Elopements are on the rise. One of the biggest changes we are seeing is a rise in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender weddings. This community has been ignorantly overlooked, discriminated against and misunderstood, but times are changing.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. It was a monumental time for the LGBT community and our allies. A May 2018 Gallup poll revealed that two-thirds of Americans support same-sex marriage, and each year, the number increases. As it does, more and more LGBT couples are not only tying the knot, but doing so with the support of their friends and family on their wedding day. Photographers would be remiss if we didn’t focus our efforts on learning about the LGBT community to build their trust and earn their business.
I am frequently asked if the LGBT market is big enough to make it worth pursuing. Absolutely. According to the 2010 U.S. census, there are more than 11 million adults who identify as LGBT. We just cleared the three-year mark of marriage equality. It was estimated that during the first three years, gay weddings would generate a total economic boost of $2.6 billion nationwide and support up to 13,000 jobs in the U.S.
Tapping into this market is a whole new obstacle. The LGBT community has been hurt, discriminated against, kicked out of churches and businesses, and made to feel like a lower class. They are unlikely to contact a photographer simply because they like our work. Even today, same-sex couples must take the extra step of seeking the approval of their wedding vendors. They need to feel secure that your business is a safe place. This doesn’t mean you have to know everything about LGBT couples or their history. It means only that they know you are someone who desires their business, free of judgment.
One way to achieve this is to include images of same-sex couples on your website and social media platforms. When a same-sex couple visits my website, Instagram or Facebook page, there is no doubt that I photograph same-sex couples and welcome them at my studio. If you want to encourage business from same-sex couples but don’t have any represented on your website or social media, there is no better starting point. If you have never photographed a same-sex couple, it’s time to get some images so you can gain their business and diversify your portfolio.
Offer a complimentary shoot to a same-sex couple. Be upfront and tell them your plan of building a portfolio to expand into that market, and that you want to post their images on your social media. Get the agreement in writing. Take this opportunity to learn from them. Be transparent. Explain that you want to learn more about the LGBT community, and ask if it’s ok to ask questions that you may be ignorant about. Chances are, they will be happy to help you, enthused by your willingness to educate yourself.
Bridal shows offer another opportunity to diversify your clientele. Add a photo or two of a same-sex couple in your booth. Even grooms are now going to these shows to plan their weddings. Having just one or two images in your booth tells them you are a safe place.
And if you truly want to market to same-sex couples, be sure your website reflects that goal, even in your copy. Address everyone, not just brides. Make sure your contracts reflect it as well. Instead of stating only bride-and-groom combinations, ensure your contracts can accommodate multiple combinations of partners, or provide a generic option.
I know some of you are thinking, “If I post images of same-sex couples, I may lose business from more conservative couples.” True. I know I have. But how do you know you won’t gain more business than you lose? I have booked straight couples simply because they were strong allies with the LGBT community who liked knowing my business supports them.
One fear many photographers have about working with same-sex couples is how to pose them. Some photographers say it’s totally different from posing straight couples. Some say there is no difference. I fall somewhere in the middle. The conventional understanding of gender roles does not always apply to same-sex couples. If you are unsure how to pose the couple, communicate openly and honestly, and make your posing decisions based on their dynamics like you would with any couple.
Another way to combat the trepidation of posing a same-sex couple (and feeling awkward about it) is to not pose them at all. I provide simple direction like asking them to sit on a bench, face one another and talk about their first date. Frequently, the couple will naturally pose for you with just this small direction. If you pose your couple and they just don’t look comfortable, try something different. It is ok to ask them if they are uncomfortable.
Location is a key factor in the comfort of same-sex couples. Discuss locations with the couple before the shoot. Many same-sex couples are nervous about public displays of affection. Once when I was photographing a lesbian couple in a Dallas park, an old man called them a derogatory term as he walked by. Fortunately, the couple didn’t hear him, but this is a reality. If they are not comfortable with public displays of affection, consult with the couple to find an alternate location where they are comfortable, such as their home or an LGBT-friendly area. The more you photograph same-sex couples, the more comfortable you will become.
One of the greatest things about photographing same-sex weddings is seeing the freedom these couples possess to do things their way. Not only do they rewrite traditions, they create something beautiful, individualized and dynamic in the process. Same-sex couples, especially grooms, often get ready in the same room. Take advantage of this opportunity to capture the sweet moments of them adding the final touches to their partner’s attire. One of my couples had their guests sit in a circle, and they got married literally surrounded by family and friends. They almost always have both men and women in each of their wedding parties. And the day can be highly emotional since many of my couples have been together for 20 or 30 years before finally gaining the right to legally marry.
If you have been wanting to start capturing same-sex couples, do it. You won’t regret it. These couples are a blast to work with, and are eager to answer questions and calm your uneasiness. And the added revenue is a no-brainer.