Q: Dear APW,
My spouse and I got married last August, and it was lovely. We had a really friendly photographer who we were especially excited to support, because her photography business was a hobby that she turned into a second job, which she especially needed because her husband had cancer. Everything went well the day of the wedding and a few weeks later we really liked the preview shots she posted on Facebook.
As Christmas was approaching, I asked when she thought we could get the pictures, as we hadn’t heard anything. She told me that this was probably going to be her last Christmas with her husband and she wasn’t going to have time to do them right then. I said we understood and she should enjoy Christmas, but also that whenever she was ready she should just send us the unedited files rather than taking the time to edit them because, we do want our wedding pictures. At this point, she confirmed that she did have the files and they weren’t lost. I felt bad asking for her time and attention right then, so I sent her a food delivery app gift card that I’ve heard people have appreciated when a family member is in the hospital.
I didn’t hear anything until March, when I saw on Facebook that her husband had died. I thought that she wouldn’t want to do anything extra for awhile, so I didn’t contact her again. In June, I decided it might be ok again, so I messaged her and said that I’m happy to be flexible, but I do want the pictures eventually, and asked if we could talk about when that might be. She didn’t respond.
Recently, I’ve seen new photo shoots go up on her page and I’m frustrated because we haven’t heard anything. I don’t want to be a terrible person, but we’ve been married almost a year and we have about ten pictures of our wedding. My parents had their wedding pictures stolen, and I’m worried that we also won’t have any pictures to remember it forty years from now. What can I do to get our pictures without crossing lines of basic decency for someone who’s grieving?
You’ve been more than reasonably patient and understanding. At this point, the frustration isn’t the long waiting period as she grieves, it is the complete lack of response.
I would bet that your photos are one of those things that has been looming, waiting, for so long that it’s now a bigger, scarier project in her mind than simply editing some wedding photos. (Especially considering the timing, oof. I’m guessing they only remind her of some of the saddest, scariest days.) When that happens to me, I tend to think I need to get it all done right away, really fast, which actually makes it harder to sit and do. It’s past due! It feels like it needs to be done now now now! And getting over that urgency, plus the negative feelings of it all, pushes me to procrastinate even more. (Which is normal! Or so I read.).
Plus, she probably assumes you’re pissed or expect the photos right away (I guarantee she hasn’t even started them yet). She might be convincing herself that she’ll get them done first, then get back to you, so you won’t be even more pissed when she finally reaches out. Who really wants to respond and say, “Yeeeeah about that, your year-old photos haven’t been touched”?
Help her out and set a deadline. This isn’t about making demands. It’s about letting her know that you don’t expect them today, and also helping her to get a plan for getting them done. Deadlines tend to do that.
Reach out again and be clear that you don’t expect the photos right now, you know it’s been a terrible year for her. But that you would like them by… and then set a reasonable date in the future. Do you want them in time to make them into some holiday presents? Tell her you need them by October. Don’t have any specific need in mind? Just set a date. Just to be sure, I asked some photographer friends of APW what they think is reasonable. Evangeline Lane says, “I think one month is way, way more than fair all things considering.” Jamie from Studio XIII agrees, “I think giving at least a 3–4 week deadline from the reach out to the photographer is more than fair, especially if this person has been waiting on their photos for over a year.”
Your photographer is going through possibly the worst time of her life, and I’m so glad you’ve been compassionate about that. You can continue to be compassionate, not by waiting around in silence wondering, but by working with her to set some realistic expectations for both of you.
I know this plan requires extra emotional labor from you (and weddings already require a lot of it). But the truth is, you’re already doing emotional labor here, without getting any wedding photos. Hopefully this plan at least results in your long over due images.
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