Sunday, June 1, 2008

Proper Attire Whilst Making Pictures

Many a time I have been working an assignment that had me properly attired wearing jeans and a polo shirt. Usually, it was at a very informal outdoor event, where even wearing Khaki's and a button down would make me look out of place. Then, I get a call for an unexpected assignment in an office building. Proper attire? Nothing less than Khaki's and a button down, preferrably a suit, and were I without a tie, I would be out of place. Carrying a set of appropriate clothes to change into is just as second nature as carrying equipment - stowed in my car - that would allow me to take other assignments should the call come in for it. For newspaper photographers, these multiple-assignments-per-day issues arise, and most are prepared to handle the variety that is their everyday life.

Messages like "dress the part", "dress for success", "dress for the job you want, not the job you have", and so forth all carry the same message - your attire matters, and says a lot about you.

What does wearing jeans and an untucked shirt say about you when you're shooting a wedding at a top notch hotel?

(Continued after the Jump)

It says you're either inconsiderate, or just plain stupid.

Yesterday, I was making a delivery to a client at the same hotel where I had done an assignment for them the night before. I'd seen the rehearsal taking place, and so, when I arrived to make my delivery, I saw the photographer doing all of the posed images, so, curious that I am about who it was (I thought, perhaps a friend I knew, but it was not) and how they were working, I observed. However, as I continued to observe, I discerned that he was wearing jeans. Then I realized he didn't even have his shirt tucked in.

Yet, he was in a five star hotel here in DC, and everyone else was dressed to the nines. The bride and groom were all in their glory. This image was made with my iPhone (I hadn't planned to be making images, just a delivery) as family members in the wedding party were being photographed.

As I was leaving, I passed the bride, and asked who her photographer was, and she told me. So, I did a little research, and he doesn't have a website that I could find, and there is little else on the web about him (but I did locate some videos of him showing off his new apartment). He seemed nice enough, and had pro-level gear, but he just didn't didn't have the right attire.

If you're thinking of finding some excuse to defend this wardrobe malfunction, understand that I don't care that he was doing these images before the ceremony, and that maybe he would tuck his shirt in once the ceremony was about to begin. It remained that he was engaged in work and interacting with the entire bridal party and parents while looking disheveled. Bad form. Bad bad bad.

Oh, and it does get worse. The shirt was unbuttoned a button or two too many in the front, and his footwear choice was white athletic shoes. Somebody needs to read Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion!

Previously I wrote about other attire issues - specifically the wearing of flip flops (Leave The Flip Flops For The Politicians, 5/23/07) and discussed just how bad that is. So too, jeans on assignments like this. You are a professional, act - and dress, that way!

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...

Some buzz words and phrases in wedding photography these day are,'photojournalism', 'informal', 'we hate formal posed photos' etc. Attire for photographers has relaxed a lot but not as far as that bonehead went. Black shoes, slacks, and button down shirt works for almost any event like your example. I always felt as a photographer to dress down one small step from the wedding party. Jeans, never, unless it was a theme wedding.

Michael Sebastian said...

John, I imagine you're gonna get hammered over this one, which shows the amount of un-professionalism existing in this industry, where people complain daily about no work, bad pay, poor terms, rights grabs, etc. Wonder if the complainers see the connection....

You are so right on this one, man. Dressing like a schlump at a formal wedding is a selfish act--it is an attempt to make things about the photographer, not about the client.

I'd love to see how his images turned out. Seems strange that such an obviously high-dollar wedding would engage a photographer with no evident fixed address.

Stupid Photographer said...

Guess I know what all you smartly dressed gentlemen pine for, if you're not already in it...

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

John, please, the man is An Artiste. He IS dressed up -- that's his formal black shirt and his formal black jeans, you see. He just came from a fashion shoot for a major European magazine, and after the wedding he'll be headed to a hot club to shoot supermodels.

You need to remember that photography isn't a JOB it's a LIFESTYLE.

Anonymous said...

SP @ 5:17

Already have one, thank you - might get married in it but definitely too formal to photograph most weddings.

I think the way you dress says more about the respect for your subject, wearing a suit to photograph bike week would be just as inappropriate.

Lux Umbra said...

I was always told to wear dress pants (maybe khakis in the summer) and a button down during the day if you're in a corporate setting. After 5 pm and especially in a hotel, the proper attire is minimum sport coat and tie. If you get to an event and you feel that you're overdressed. It takes two seconds to take off a tie, sportcoat or both if the situation warrants.
I've had clients tell me that one of the things that they like about me is not necessarily my photography, but my demeanor. They know that if I'm hired to shoot an event/assignment I'll be there 10 minutes early and dressed to blend in.

But hey, the more sloppy the competition is, the more work that will come my way.

Anonymous said...

The only thing he's missing is his ponytail.

Oh; he's bald.

Then maybe he's probably not charging enough to afford the Rogane.

Anonymous said...

That is funny - what about the pretentious guys who wear cowboy boots with tuxedo shirts and the oh-so perfectly cut "hip" hair? Or the national ad shooter who everyone knows who shows up on huge campaigns with nasty ripped jeans and a tee-shirt.

Because he can.

Dress what you feel is right but be respectful.

I guess the key is not bring attention to yourself - like being bald with a big old beard or muttonchops of every so trendy swiss or french frames on your oh so bloated "eating on NY expense account meals and feeding at the trough of the suppliers."

Anonymous said...

"I'd love to see how his images turned out"

I find it funny that just because he isn't dressed up to a certain "standard" that his images may not also be up to the same. Perhaps the bride & groom are a very relaxed, casual couple and hired the photographer for not only his skill, but for his personality and his own character traits.

What if he was wearing dress clothes but had tattoos showing under is rolled up long sleeves? Is that acceptable?

Don't get me wrong, I do agree that jeans and a t-shirt aren't always the best attire, but I'd rather have an amazing photographer in shorts shoot my wedding over a mediocre one in a tuxedo.


There's quite a few big name photographers that do show up in very casual clothes. This is 2008 where looks aren't as prominent as they used to be. Sad but true.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a photographer needs to dress respectably enough not to look out of place, and yes that guy in the photo looks out of place, but I think the emphasis on suit and tie is unwarranted. Recently, I noticed several employees I know in large, multi-national organization had taken advantage of a workplace benefit that provides discounted prices on suits at a respected national clothing retailer. Until that day a few weeks ago, I had never really understood the full implications of that old "film noir" line, "all over him like a cheap suit." They all looked proud as punch, but I actually felt embarrassed for them. All in all, I would prefer to see someone look good, act natural and blend in, in casual attire, rather than call attention to themselves for sticking out like a sore thumb in a suit and tie. The worst of it is, the people who look bad in suits really think they look like James Bond.

Anonymous said...

Bond -

Brosnan and first Craig movie - Brioni

New Craig movies - Tom Ford International

Anonymous said...

its all about branding, while I understand and respect your opinion John, I would never want to hire a photographer to shoot anything - that would show up to something (other than the ceremony) in an outfit that you've described as appropriate.

perhaps its a generational thing but I don't trust people in suits

suits say a lot of things about a person, but creativity and artistic talent are not one of them.

my guess is that if you asked steve jobs why he chooses to wear jeans and a black shirt everywhere he would tell you the same thing.

matt mendelsohn said...


You are exactly right here, John. No one should be shooting a wedding in a fine hotel in a pair of jeans. No one. Not for any reason. And, I might add, it is not a generational thing. Good taste is good taste is good taste.

As for the above comment about suits not "saying" creativity and artistic talent, I would challenge this individual to pop out from behind his or her anonymous cloak and put the theory to the test. Let's compare wedding pictures, mine all shot in a suit and tie and yours all shot in Steve Jobs wannabe attire.

Good post,

Matt Mendelsohn

Anonymous said...

Maybe something to not wearing a suit. Wedding photogs often find themselves on their backs, knees, laying down, etc. Having a suit on could hamper your wanting to do that.

G M said...

If you want to hear wedding photographer horror stories, ask a church organist or music director--they'll talk your ears off.

It goes beyond dressing inappropriately to things like stopping the procession to set up a shot, setting up a camera and tripod in the line of sight between the organist and the altar, wandering around the sanctuary popping off flash shots during the vows-- in general, treating what is (for some people at least) a solemn religious ceremony as if it were a Paris Hilton photo-op.

(My SO is a church organist, and has seen a lot of bad behaviour.)

So, while I'm ranting, some suggestions:
Dress appropriately.
Stay out of the way of the ceremony.
Well before the service, introduce yourself to the wedding coordinator(sacristan, sexton), presider (priest, minister, rabbi, imam, etc) and the organist (music director), and ask about the ground rules, places you shouldn't go, things you shouldn't do.
If you are asked to do something or not do something (e.g., no flash)--do as they ask!

In short, behave like the professional you claim to be, and you'll win friends and get recommendations. Behave like a boor and act as if you are the star of the show--well, I don't think that my parish is the only one that has blacklisted photographers.

Anonymous said...

Good post, and I agree with your premise that photogs, (yea, all people), should dress appropriately. However, it is true that as a photog, you may have to kneel down, or lay down, so dress appropriately for that. It's possible to dress appropriately without looking like a complete slob.

I am constantly amazed by how people show up for a church service. It's not a soccer match, it's not a rock concert, it's a worship service. In most cases, weddings are part of a church service, and people should dress appropriately.

Anonymous said...

I'm completely amazed by how many people care so much about something so superficial as style of dress.

Anonymous said...

As in any business, it's about knowing your clients, what they want, while maintaining a quorum of professionalism.

Here on the West Coast (Vancouver) there are definitely weddings where the bride and groom will be surprised if you showed up in a suit, and might be put off by it. That said, if you're going to err, err on the side of caution and overdress. As someone above already said, you can easily dress down, dressing up on the spur of the moment is difficult.

The question also isn't only what the client wants, but how you want to be remembered.

Haunting Images said...

Yes, this aggrivates me to no end! I hate attending a wedding, and seeing the photographer in cargo shorts, flip flops and a ratty looking shirt. I just want to slap the crap out of him! One reason we have a hard time demanding the rates we deserve is due to idiots like you! If we all presented a professional image, it would take us so much farther as a profession. I make sure that I am, at the very least, dressed to the same level as my clients....and sometimes better. It makes a statement to potential clients that might be watching the shoot, and a statement to the client....that you didn't just roll out of bed to come record their event.

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