A Community Without Grace?

This post may be long and likely doesn’t pertain to the vast majority of people who may stumble upon it–then again, maybe it pertains to all of us? 

For some, you’ll be enraged and go running for the pitchfork. Rather than sending a select few looking for sharp objects, my hope is that a calm would be brought over a challenging situation where there are clearly two sides who haven’t done a lot of communicating, at least not with each other. 

It’s not often I’m disappointed in a portion of the photography/storyteller community.

I can say with certainty, in the past sixteen years of business, sometimes speaking at conventions and leading workshops around the world, I’ve never been so disappointed. 
I’ll explain. 
A couple of years ago, I sat and had coffee with an entrepreneur. I recall the passion in her voice, the “why didn’t I think of that, but I’m glad she did,” feeling I had  as I sipped that cappuccino and listened to her share her bright light that involved celebrating a new trend in weddings and elopements, a new and emerging community that revolved around adventure. She wanted to support it, nurture it and put it on display for the world to see. As many entrepreneurs do, Cali was ready to foot the bill, taking (all) the risk that others would buy in and support the movement. 

Wedventure Magazine was born. An outlet for creatives, storytellers, small (and large) business owners alike, Wedventure serves as an outlet unlike any other, showcasing mountain top elopements and intimate weddings in the woods-and all the unique in between. From the beginning, It was made clear that community and inspiring others was important to Cali’s mission for the magazine. 

She had no guarantee that all of this would work, but it did.

The magazine has grown in distribution and more and more people want their uniquely styled weddings and images printed on the pages, which give a tactile presentation much more satisfying than an Instagram post, and gives those featured a legitimacy to prospective clients. 

(For our business, Wedventure Magazine has been a catalyst to show clients what can be done and gives us yet another way to showcase more of what we want to shoot.) 

Cali’s ideas continued to grow and within those ideas, bringing the wedding community closer to each other was near the top of the list. To do so, Wedventure Magazine would host a week long event in Bend, Oregon that would draw planners, florists, bakers, videographers, calligraphers and photographers from all over the nation. They would learn from instructors, some well known, some not. The focus would be on business and technology education, styled shoots and, most important, the element of community.

“Community over competition” was the theme and heart behind the workshop. Dinner would be held each night to promote networking and relationship. Styled shoots would be set in unique locations that would help build portfolios for photographers and give them content to submit to Wedventure for possible publication. It was an enormous undertaking with many moving cogs-it would be miraculous to pull off, however, enormous is what entrepreneurs do-they see the reward through the risk. 

Unfortunately, Wedventure Workshop Week fell short for many attendees. 

Some of the concerns? 

  • The food sucked. 
  • Why would an adventure magazine set up shoots on a golf course?
  • The teaching structure sucked and we didn’t get what we wanted. 
  • Why were some shoots scheduled at 2pm? Where’s the sunset?
  • We couldn’t share our images on socials, whaaaat?
  • Wedventure should have started smaller and had no business starting off this big.

My disappointment doesn’t lie in the logistical difficulties the workshop had, anyone who’s been in business (of any kind) long enough can understand that’s a part of business, production, etc. 

My disappointment lies with some of the instructors and attendees of the workshop who handled themselves in an immature and entitled way. As I mentioned, I’ve not seen it in 16 years and After debriefing the week with a couple of other instructors, I wasn’t the only one who had noticed.

One workshop instructor was responsible for creating a social media firestorm after publishing her “not a hit piece” blogpost that got picked up by Petapixel-who to my knowledge, didn’t care to contact Wedventure for their side of the story (solid reportage, right?).

The author of the “not a hit piece,” was so pleased with her article going viral she even commented, “look Ma, I’m on Petapixel!” 

It’s unfortunate that it’s become so fashionable to belittle and tear down another life, completely unaware of the potential devastation that could occur to another individual and their family-all while basking in the light of likes, story shares and applause. 

I have to (in good faith) give the benefit of the doubt to the author that she didn’t know hitting “publish” (on a platform that also serves to build her up) would lead to death threats toward the one she’s speaking of within the article. If this isn’t the case, then something is terribly wrong. 

And there-in lies my greatest disappointed with this entire Workshop. The mob-mentality of a social-media, entitled culture. Most of us know it to be true and those who deny it are a part of the problem. To be fair and honest, I’ve certainly had that mentality in the past. Warranted or not, the way in which someone brings concerns to light can be as bad as the accusations they bring forward. People assume the worst, all the while forgetting that real people are on the other end of their dissatisfaction. This has served as a (devastatingly) fantastic teaching tool for my teenage son. 

“Son, if you feel wronged in a transaction, especially one in which you have some kind of personal history with the other person, pick up the phone (like an adult) and speak through your frustrations. Don’t do this in a text or email because you can’t listen for their tone (and they can’t hear yours.) If you can’t speak on the phone with someone in this manner, you’re not yet ready to be an adult, let alone run your OWN business. While talking, as important as it is to list your concerns, LISTEN to what the other person responds with. Was there a miscommunication? Did YOU personally not have good understanding of the transaction? Are they genuinely concerned for you? Are they willing to make it right or, if after talking to them, do you both decide it wasn’t great for either party? Do YOU owe something to them?

As I inch closer to the two decade mark for our business, I can say with confidence that for more than a few years I was NOT ready to be in business for myself and I had little comprehension for what I just wrote. There’s one teacher that has taught me the most about dealing with others- grace. Grace that was shown to me by friends, mentors, and clients-grace that I’ve since extended to others. It’s that grace that I see lacking in our social media minded culture that’s “me” centric, “now” fueled, and tomorrow forgotten. 

After talking with Cali and a couple of other instructors, I’d like to address just a few concerns from the workshop. Anyone who has additional issues are encouraged to, as I suggest above, pick up the phone and reach out to Wedventure. 

  • The food sucked. 

At roughly $33 per head (some nights were more), it shouldn’t of. Wedventure wasn’t 100% satisfied with what was delivered and wishes it had turned out differently. Let’s also remember that lunch was not included in the price of the workshop, but was added at no additional charge to the attendees because Wedventure realized, logistically, it would be hard for people to find food at remote locations. That was an additional cost to them. One person complained on social media they had to “eat FOUR fu%@^*@# sliders to get full.” I’ve traveled to most of East Africa and won’t elaborate on what a ridiculously entitled statement this is. You paid for, and received, food. Eat a fifth slider and be thankful. 

  • Why would an adventure magazine set up shoots on a golf course?

Wedventure has stated in the past that the golf courses in Central Oregon are an exception to the “just another golf course” idea because of the uniqueness in which they are created to include the natural surroundings inherent to the area. Be it the caves at Pronghorn, which everyone loved shooting in, or the proximity to the river trail at White Aspen. There was nothing in the promotional material that said there would be “adventure shooting.” This is not false advertising, this is false expectation. Offer styled shoots miles out in the woods? People would complain there’s no bathroom.

  • The teaching structure sucked and we didn’t get what we paid for. 

This workshop had a unique approach to teaching. I loved the idea when I heard it and stand by it today. Groups would rotate to different instructors throughout one day. Listening to an instructor, the groups would then decide who they wanted to learn from the next day. Unfortunately, a small group of instructors earlier in the week didn’t like the structure. They informed attendees not to follow their emailed instructions sent by Wedventure, gave them new ones (usurping Cali’s original intent) and created a platform they felt more comfortable with. The reality is, many (not all) of the instructors didn’t have enough material to cover the full allotted time or didn’t feel comfortable teaching in that manner they were hired to teach

When (last minute) you change the fundamental structure of a planned event, you change the outcome. Period. 

  • Why were some shoots scheduled at 2pm? Where’s the sunset?

Many attendees were, naturally, looking to create images that would help their portfolio. Unfortunately, as an instructor, I found that a good portion of attendees found portfolio images more important than learning about fundamental photography skills. I was not the only instructor who noticed this. Not all weddings take place at sunset. Not all weddings take place in a beautiful location. “Well, that’s not my type of client.” I only shoot natural light.” Then you’ll be limited as to what you can offer and, as a result, your  business will be limited. Sunset is an amazing, irreplaceable time of day to make pictures-but I have a family. I don’t want to spend every night of the week away from my family (at sunset) because I’m scared of flashes or don’t know how to diffuse light. You might book the wedding that has a mid-day ceremony at 10,000 feet on a mountain top, but when they get back to the dimly-lit brewery for the afterparty you’re contracted to shoot, how do you handle that? This was an instructional workshop. Some things were scheduled at 2pm so instructors could teach you how to deal with light. Let’s also consider the logistics of a huge group of photographers all shooting the same thing at sunset, an event that gives roughly 30-40 minutes (pre/post) of great light. It would be carnage. If those who attended have the right to speak out about what they were frustrated with, then I may have the right to mention what both broke my heart and confused me. I was not the only instructor to see a general (not everyone to be sure) lack of desire to work, to learn, to absorb as much information as possible. It more felt like we were to serve it on a platter, but had to make sure the platter wasn’t too far of a reach. I had never before encountered entitled learning.  

  • We couldn’t share our images on socials, whaaaat?

The next issue of Wedventure magazine is dedicated to showcasing photographer’s work during the workshop. Anyone with experience shooting for publications knows you aren’t allowed to share images before the article posts, without consent from the magazine and talent. As quickly as our society moves on, if you show everything on social media, the excitement and anticipation wear off and no one wants to purchase the publication. And forgive me for having to say this, but if you’re in business and you don’t understand the need for profit and you condemn other businesses for wanting to make a profit-you’re not going to be in business very long. Wedventure, knowing people would be excited to share, asked that one image PER SHOOT (a person taking a two day core-class would have 4-6 different shoots) per attendee be shared until the magazine came out-which, originally, was not a long time to wait. One image x roughly 90 photographers (in addition to planners, videographers, calligraphers, bakers, dress hops, HMUA, etc) x social media sharing potential is MUCH more gracious than any publication I’ve seen.

  • Wedventure should have started smaller and had no business starting off this big

Someone made this argument that, let’s be honest, is easy to make while hiding behind the confines of two thumbs and a screen.  

Can we chat with their first ten clients?

I’d like to point out that Wedventure had one large event (Wedventure Live) under its belt before producing the workshop. 

Let’s also examine the unique style in which this workshop was put together. Wedventure, Cali, entrusted the vision to be followed through by people she both had a) known for a long time, trusted and paid to see it through AND b) perhaps didn’t have a personal relationship with, paid them and had to trust their professionalism for follow through. The major conundrum for Wedventure, and perhaps the downfall of the entire workshop, was that to draw enough people to make it financially feasible, Cali had to rely on people with large social followings. Unfortunately, large followings aren’t direct representation of professionalism. A lesson for all of us. One instructor, who was paid well, spent a good deal of her time talking poorly about the workshop to attendees and instructors. This person, who had previously had good communication with Wedventure, could have rallied behind Cali and the staff to work toward fixing logistical issues, etc, but chose to spend her time negatively impacting attendee morale-all while being paid. Sure made it look good for her workshops, right?

  • They just want to fill their magazine with our images!

Smack my Mother lovin’ head. Yes, Wedventure wanted to use beautiful images from attendees for print in the magazine. Wedventure has featured many photographer’s work in past issues without taking a penny, aiding those photographers in getting their work out and adding credibility to their business. A beautiful magazine is like a rising tide to boats, it lifts everyone (JFK, Unknown). Tear the magazine down and who’s going to feature your work? Hoping to get featured on Dirty Boots & Messy Hair? I hope that works well for you. Tell a client “I was once featured on “fill in the blank” IG account!” Or, show them a five page spread in a magazine that’s featured and sold in nearly 800 stores across the PNW. Exactly. 

Wedventure receives a large number of submissions for each magazine, sometimes over 200. The magazine didn’t need images from the workshop to fill the pages, it was a bonus for those who attended to get their work featured. 

Those who were dissatisfied with this workshop deserve to have their voices heard. As a Father, I’m apt to listen to the calm and collected child before I engage his fitting Brother. As a business owner, it’s much the same. An argument made with facts and control is hard to refute and brings a solid discussion. Rage, anger and entitlement spreads like a virus and serves only one side.

On the other side, there’s a real person, with a family, whom many can attest to having good character who’s received death threats and whose livelihood is being threatened. A livelihood that showcases your images. 

Cali poured a massive amount of money into this workshop-do you think she did it with intent to fail or take advantage of others?

Who’s right and who is wrong? The older I get the more I see that a good portion of the time the middle is the meeting ground. More often than not, I see people choose to keep the ground they stand on, shout to the other side and when the response comes, shout back, “I can’t hear you!”

I have to ask the question, is a poor experience at a workshop worth ruining the livelihood of an individual? I must also ask, if you believe so, have you ever had a dissatisfied client? 

If you haven’t, you will

I truly hope that dissatisfied client isn’t as active on social media as you are. 

Please-for the sake of community have grace on one another. 

Remember your mistakes, your failures-your successes and how you felt at every stage. 

Before commenting on social media, reposting, going live or jumping on the phone, put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side and remember they are human. If you’re not seeking the truth in the matter, the complete story-you’re not interested in community, you’re interested in you. You’re interested in the bandwagon, the very worst part of being trendy. 

I’m in an interesting place in my career. I studied those who came before me and I see those who will come after me. If there is one thing I see as a constant within both generations it’s this: there is no community without grace.

Feel I’m wrong? Reach out. Conversation = education-grace knows I have much to learn.