If You’ve Ever Felt Awkward In Photos, You Want To Read This

Or if you just wanted to feel better about yourself today

Every once in a blue moon we get to work with a sponsor who has such a 💯 approach to wedding photography and such a way with words that it’s better if we shut up and let them do the talking. Today is one of those days. The photographer in question is Meera Graham Photography. Here’s the TL;DR: Meera is based in Missoula, Montana (and regularly serves the entire Pacific Northwest, from Idaho to Oregon to Seattle and the rest of Washington state), and given that the one APW-reading friend I know who lives in Montana chose to fly a wedding photographer in, I’m guessing Meera Graham’s queer POC perspective on weddings and wedding photography may be just a little bit in demand in those parts. Add to that to the fact that her images are some of the best I’ve ever seen, and well, you may be tempted to stop reading right now and send her an email. But first—even if you’re not planning a wedding—grab a hankie and read on for Meera Graham’s thoughts on why seeing ourselves in photos can make us feel inadequate (it’s not us—it’s them!) and how she’s doing her best to change that, one couple at a time. To say that it’s a deeply thoughtful approach to photography is an understatement. More like… it’s got me thinking hard about this whole photo-obsessed world we live in.

Two women embrace in front of a mountain

We live in a world where we’re constantly forced to “present ourselves”—because of social media, because of the ease of capturing moments (on any device, anytime). We look around us, and what we see is the constant curation of other people’s lives. So, in this era of social media, of constantly trying to measure up, I think that photography is a particularly powerful and dangerous thing. And I want to boldly suggest that 98 percent of photography these days is an exercise in making people feel inadequate. My goal is to disrupt the notion of how photography works and what power it can have in our lives.

No One “Makes” You Look Amazing—You Just Are

For most of us—present company included—the experience of being photographed is an outside-in process. That’s to say, someone takes an image of our outsides that reflects nothing about who we are other than what we look like. The result of this outside-in process is that—no matter what kind of photo it produces—it feeds our sense of inadequacy. Maybe our photos come out terribly: we feel awkward, we hate how we look, and we feel diminished. On the other hand, maybe we work with a photographer that skillfully poses and lights us, so that our photos come out looking dramatic and glamorous… and we think, “Wow, our photographer was amazing. They ‘made us’ look amazing.” I hear that all the time, and I cringe. Great. Now, forever, you’ll have photos on your wall, reminding you that, for a moment, someone else “made you” look beautiful.

That’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to show you how effing amazing you are, exactly as you are right now… as beautifully complex humans that are in the midst of a beautifully complex journey. You don’t need to be dropped into some shallow, templated version of what wedding or engagement photos are supposed to look like. You need to be seen and represented in all your fullness.

a man smiles as he buttons his collar a woman with mendhi rests her hand on the grooms hand, which lays on the bride's head. the bride rests her hand on the grooms head, smiling, wearing a bright pink sari.

Everything changed when I decided to make my photography work an inside-out process. It meant my job isn’t just to take pretty photos, which any skilled photographer should be able to do. No, my photos have to do more. They have to reflect something about the souls of the people I photograph. It also means I expect every single one of my images to feel like something. The photos from our couple’s session should feel like who you are together, what you believe, the multitude of dimensions within your partnership. Your wedding photos should feel like the energy of the day, your community, the emotions, the quiet moments, the in-between spaces. That includes the deep soul-level things, and the way you hoovered that plate of cheese fries and pie at the same time.

Being an inside-out photographer means I can only do my job when I actually get to know people really well and really deeply. For this reason, I limit my weddings to fewer than fifteen a year. I usually spend a total of at least twelve hours of time with my couples before we reach the wedding day. That includes a four- to five-hour couple’s session, lots of “planned” conversations before sessions so that the couple feels comfortable and confident with me, and, my personal favorites, the “just because” conversations, when we just chat to continue growing our friendship and relationship, with no end goal in mind. We laugh a lot and talk about everything—life, relationships, baggage, society, stress, love, worries, excitement, family dynamics, trauma, healing—all the things that make life an amazing ride and shape who we are.

If I’ve done my job right, 80 percent of my photos will end up feeling like affirmation: they show you things that you knew about yourself and your partnership (we feel so safe together, we laugh so easily, you bring out my gentle side, we’re so damn strong and ridiculous, etc.), but maybe you haven’t seen them captured in an image before. The other 20 percent of photos should be “revelation”: you see something new or with fresh perspective. So, the process of our session should be an exploration that you enjoy, and then the process of looking at the images should actually take you a step further. I love the way that my couples are forced to take credit for themselves when they look at the photos. They know that what they see is completely real, so it’s not, “Gosh, Meera made us look beautiful…” but rather, “Damn, what we have is so beautiful and real.”

a groom in a blue vest and colorful bow tie is at peace as he rests his forehead against a bride'sa man wearing a colorful flower wreath around his neck smiles, laughing with his bride

Everyone Deserves To Be Seen

The way I see it, I have an amazing opportunity as a photographer—which is to make people feel seen. Think about it. How often do you feel truly seen by someone else—seen exactly as you are, for all your bits and pieces, and loved and valued for them? And when that’s happened (I hope it has!), how powerful has it been for your life and your sense of self? So, I use my role as a photographer to help people dig deeply and joyfully into their own journeys and emerge from the process of working with me with a firmer belief in each other and the things that make them amazing. To get there, I have to genuinely build trust and intimacy with a couple, and also offer my own vulnerability and honesty. We’re all here together, doing this whole being human thing, you know? If I can make every person I work with feel a little less alone, a little more seen, a little more loved, and a little more in awe of their own magic, it’s all worth it.

a bride and an older woman reach out their arms to each other, smiling, to embrace

After I found APW a few years ago through alums from my alma mater (a women’s college, Wellesley College), I started listing myself as a vendor, and I’ve never looked back. You could say I’ve found my people here: humans that want to have a wedding filled with meaning, but who don’t subscribe to a lot of things that the wedding industry often tries to cultivate. Folks that are way more focused on their long-term partnership than they are in how “perfect” a single day is. They’re also progressive and often intersectional. In fact, what most people notice the moment that they enter my site is representation. You’ll see queer couples, straight couples, interracial couples, people of color, so many body types and ages and cultures. I tend to work with intersectional couples partly because I’m a QPOC myself, and largely because I’m here to see and express people’s truths fully and fearlessly, not just on a surface level. I use techniques and an approach that deviate from most of the industry, and the ways that I’ve done so tend to benefit people that don’t fit the white-cis-skinny-heteronormative assumptions that those norms were built upon. I find that my work also draws people that are convinced that they are “not photogenic” and are often relieved by my process and philosophies. And finally, I work with a lot of people who struggle with the notion of being the center of attention at their wedding, and who are looking for a way to reconcile those feelings with the fact that—at the end of the day—they are the reason people are coming together to celebrate!

My slogan is, “Let’s Dare to do this Sh*t Our Own Way.” I’m a Gemini, so I change my mind a lot… Amazingly, this slogan has stuck around. First off, it lets you know that I cuss like a sailor. Especially when I’m happy or excited. (Weird, I know. It’s that New Jersey upbringing, I think. Sometimes the F-bomb is the only word that can get a thought across.) So, if that’s too crass for you, I’m probably not your gal. It also sums up everything above: the way I do what I do, the way that I want my couples to unapologetically find joy in themselves and the things they value, without a single worry about what the world says or Pinterest says or society at large says. I’m here to help my people dare to do this shit their own way.

a bride laughs while dancing with her grooma couple smiles, resting foreheads together as they dance at a reception

Meera Graham Photography’s rates start at $3,250 for Missoula, Montana, and surrounding areas and at $4,250 for outside Montana (Seattle and Washington state, Oregon, and Idaho). If you’ve made it this far, it probably comes as no surprise that these are all-in inclusive pricing to keep things as simple as possible. Meera Graham’s priority is to spend tons of time with her couples and document their entire day without any constraints, because so many of the beautiful moments are unplanned and happen outside of “event” hours. Also, there are no “surprise” costs. Both packages include a 4-hour couple’s session, a million check-ins, all-day coverage for up to 11 continuous hours (with Meera and her assistant), travel expenses, unlimited shooting, edits of all the images, an online gallery, and a custom USB with all the final images to keep forever. Package options with albums and a second photographer for super large or multi-day weddings are also available, as are special packages for elopements, and a photography gift registry, which past clients have found super helpful. 

MEERA GRAHAM PHOTOGRAPHY IS BOOKING FOR 2018 and 2019. CLICK HERE TO GET IN TOUCH!

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