In an ideal world, wedding planning would be completely stress-free. Although that's what we strive for, it isn’t always the case, particularly when you have the added concern of finding vendors who are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Your wedding day should be an escape from the rest of the world, and you shouldn’t be reminded that the world doesn’t always care about you,” says Kailyn Kitchen, founder of Queerly Beloved, a digital marketplace for LGBTQ+ vendors.
When it comes to your photographer, it’s important to find someone who can both understand and capture your love story in its entirety. Below are some key tips from professionals in the wedding industry and LGBTQ+ community on how to find a photographer who’s qualified to capture your wedding photos.
If you’re just beginning your search, it’s important to know your options, and one of the best places to start is digital wedding guides and directories.
“There are some directories that are starting to focus on queer-owned businesses and LGBTQ+ friendly businesses in their listings. Either they dedicate the whole site to listing vendors who are LGBTQ+ friendly, or they have badges that people can add to their sites,” says Kate Merrill of Kate Merrill Photography. “They can be a great place to start, and many focus on the local area as well.”
We all could get lost in images on Instagram and boards on Pinterest amid wedding planning, but it’s important to know that they can be useful tools, too.
“Hashtags are your friend,” Kitchen says. “Utilize social media as much as possible, and search whatever hashtags represent you as a couple.”
As you begin your search, however, it’s important to remember that a photographer’s social media following is just one tiny piece of the puzzle.
“Just like everyone else out there, we often get blinded by someone's social media following numbers,” says Seattle-based Photographer Henry Tieu. “Just because someone has a lot of followers, that doesn't mean they know how to work in every single setting or especially with LGBTQ couples.”
Whether you’ve been sorting through Zola’s wedding vendor directory or primarily using Instagram, Tieu says that it’s important to get to know who they are both as a wedding photographer and as a person.
“When you search for wedding photographers, don't just look at one source,” he says. “There's nothing more important than finding one you can connect with since he or she will be spending the whole day with you.”
He says that it’s important to dig deeper than the initial, most glamorous shots you see, also known as “hero images.”
“Look at the details, angles, emotions, and little moments that they capture,” he says. “Just because someone is on page one of something, that doesn't mean they are automatically the best at what they do.”
Though many vendors may promote themselves as being inclusive, both Kitchen and Tieu say that it’s important to look through their websites and portfolios before you start asking questions. Do they have a visual representation of couples in the LBTQ+ community? Is the language on their websites inclusive and gender-neutral?
“I would avoid any vendors that don't have representation in their portfolios, reviews, or other example work,” Merrill says. “There are plenty that does, so why send that awkward email asking if they are going to be comfortable working with you?”
When it comes to photography, finding someone who has worked with other queer couples is extremely important, Merrill says. There are differences in posing and interacting with friends and family that an experienced photographer will know about and be aware of, she says, especially when it comes to pronoun usage.
“Someone familiar with the LGBTQ+ community will have a diversity of experience that will avoid putting any of your loved ones in an uncomfortable position on your wedding day,” she says.
Kitchen says this includes being wary of vendors who say they haven’t worked with LGBTQ+ couples, but have always wanted to.
“You’re not seeing us as a natural couple, you’re seeing us as an opportunity,” she says.
Kitchen says that one of the less obvious ways to find vendors in the community is to ask for recommendations from other vendors who may not be available or align with your style.
“They will have the most local recommendations, and often the best recommendations,” she says.
“We all have a coming out story, a past ripe with feelings of ‘otherness’ that [has] changed the way we interact with each other and the rest of the world,” says Merrill. “There is always a feeling of safety being in a place where queerness is celebrated and familiar. Having someone who understands that is huge.”
In addition to the collective understanding, Kitchen says that it’s also a great way to give back to the LGBTQ+ community. “My favorite reason is just that your money stays in your community and you know where your money is going,” she says.
First and foremost, it’s important to go through the contract with a fine-tooth comb before you commit to anything, Kitchen says. The contract is where you can look for a specific language, such as “Bride and Groom,” that might be sending the wrong message.
If they are someone who has experience working with LGBTQ+ couples, she says, then they should not only have gender-neutral language in his or her contract but should also be asking for your pronouns and including his or her own in the email signature. "You want to hire someone that you know understands gender identity and is not going to misgender you at your wedding," she says. “There needs to be more awareness around that."
If you have any specific concerns, Kitchen says, you should feel comfortable enough to share them with your photographer. This could be anything from dealing with body dysmorphia to avoiding traditional masculine and feminine dichotomies.
“You want as much transparency as possible. Your photographer should not be putting you in boxes,” she says.
So, whether you’re just beginning your wedding photography quest or starting to get contracts in order, it’s important to make sure that you pick someone who’s going to have your back on your big day. There are plenty of vendors out there who go beyond inclusivity and are excited to celebrate your love story with you.