If you were lurking by a warm Georgia lake just south of Atlanta on May 17th around 11:00pm, you would’ve seen a tall, lanky DJ and a tall, gangly photographer scrambling around the fringes of a party tent behind an elegant lakeside home, frantically directing colored spot lights toward the center of a checkered dance floor. And, if you know anything about photography at all, you would have thought, “now THAT’S a horrible idea.”

Because it totally is. The bane of a wedding photographer’s reception experience is those glaring, colored lights that overpower our flashes and turn beautiful men and women into Teletubbies with their purple and green and red beams.

But on this particular night, I’d expended my booked hours and packed up all my gear, only to have a breathless groomsmen catch me at the door to plead with me to return to the tent and photograph the impromptu father-daughter dance that was about to start.

And there was no time. No time to set up flashes, no time to locate the secreted-away remote control that would turn on the overhead chandeliers. I grabbed my camera, a single lens, and a fresh card, and rushed back down to the tent where the DJ promptly began pointing those dreadful spots at the dance floor where my bride and her father would soon be dancing. I needed light; and that would have to do.

Less than a minute later, I made this picture:


Without a doubt, I know that there are better photographs of fathers and daughters dancing.

I’m positive that another, more technically-skilled photographer
 would have created something mind-blowing, using nothing more than a pinhole camera and a Zippo lighter.


But I used what I had, and I love the outcome. Even better? So do my clients.

Another photographer recently asked how one finds inspiration, particularly when the odds are against you: you aren’t connecting with the client, the venue is a disaster, the guests are all drunk, the DJ is an asshole, and the coordinator has made you her own personal punching bag. There are a million ways a wedding can be anything BUT fun. (Like the time a guest’s stiletto heel nearly punched right through the top of my foot. Oh, joy.)

So, what if this: what if The Inspiration is in the shitty light, the melting cake, the sweaty groom? What if it blossoms from the exchange between the setting sun and the shimmer of a silk tie? What if it grows from the merging of wild expressions and competent equipment? What if it lives in the collaboration between a photographer and a DJ desperately aiming colored spotlights over a dance floor?

In photography school, when it was time for the end-of-year, make-or-break portfolio reviews before a panel of stern judges, there was a possible controversial ruling that the student body eagerly awaited as each portfolio was scored: “Portfolio contested.” This meant that two or more judges’ scores were separated by more than ten points. And while it seems undesirable that one judge would have given a portfolio high marks while another scored it very low, the truth was that we all wanted a contested portfolio, because a contested portfolio was one which had made an entire panel of judges FEEL something. If one judge loved your work, and another hated it, surely you had made something that mattered.

These days, in my real-world experiences with people and parties, I find myself leaning into the space between wonderful and dreadful. I’m learning to value the difficult, to appreciate the contest. I’m experimenting with the teeter-tottering motion that balances us between tragedy and joy.

On that night by the lake, I could have grabbed my trusty flash and shoved it into my camera’s hotshoe. I could’ve bounced light off the neat white ceiling of the tent. And I would have had a sweet, consistent series of photographs, evenly lit and well-in focus, shot at f/4 with low ISO and unobtrusive bokeh. But truthfully? It never even occurred to me to do that until it was all over. Until these were the photos I’d practically pulled out of a hat, the way a novice magician extracts a panting rabbit.


I love these photos. And I’m certain there are plenty of people who will hate them, who will know better, who would have done more.

But while they argue about the could’ve, would’ve, should’ves, I’m relishing the nervous energy of, “Portfolio contested.” I’m sucking in the air between hot and cold. I’m embracing the collaboration of light and shadow, smiles and tears, between my intention and the magic before me.

Inspiration does not come to us. We unearth it at our most exhausted, at our least graceful, when we give up and finally align with the mess and the boredom and the work. 

And then… then we make something that moves us.

Anne Simone

Anne is a lifelong photographer and accidental writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She prefers whiskey over wine, cheese over chocolate, and flat shoes over heels — because you never know when you might need to run for your life.

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  1. Craig

    This was a great post!

  2. Trevor

    Enjoyed it. And, like you, I recently was at a venue that was less than ideal. I was fighting with the strobes all night to get some reasonable lighting as there was more than two stops of difference throughout the space. It was not pleasant. Oddly enough, the pic that everyone just loved was the one I shot with natural light and off the cuff. I saw an interesting guest, raised the Xpro and bam. No muss, no fuss.

    Sometimes we have to capture the feeling of the event and not be so technically driven to create the light.

    Another solid article.

    • Anne Almasy

      I totally fight that battle, Trevor! On the one hand, I want to shoot everything with a low ISO and an abundance of light. On the other hand… I just want to be in the moment and be ready to make a picture, regardless of the technical imperfections. 🙂

  3. Iain

    What an utter joy to read. Thank you Anne.

  4. Justin R.

    As I pack my gear for a wedding tomorrow; I knew your post would be worth stepping out of my mental wall of avoiding looking at what others are doing. It’s filling me with the exact vibe I’m trying to build up for my weddings: Trust myself, do things the way I to do them and have no regrets. Thanks.

  5. Stephen A-L

    Thanks for the wonderful post; your writing style resonates with me. And the pictures…two thumbs up. Cheers!

  6. Jim C

    Outstanding, thanks.

  7. dmward

    When I was a young photographer, my father’s definition of professional was quickly proven:
    Professional means getting the job done successfully and overcoming whatever problems and circumstances may interfere. The client doesn’t pay a professional to fail.

    I like the pictures. I like your attitude. I like your writing style.

    Thanks for contributing your insights.

  8. Simon

    Great posts as the last one….

    And those picture speaks to me MUCH more than a evenly lit shot with bright colors…

    These will look like small “nothings” in a frame on a desk: b&w and not extravagant. But when you get close, you understand the value of it and the emotion of the subjects.

    Amazing capture!

  9. Ben W

    These photos are everything they should be. My two cents, which is worth less than half of that… You make pretty pictures and pretty word packets; both have depth beyond their beauty. Your clients are quite lucky. I enjoy your work and can’t wait to read more.

    Curious, though, what you mean when you talk about a more technically competent photographer. F-stops and shutter speeds are all just means to an end, and maybe it’s a lack of vision on my part (wouldn’t be the first time), but I can’t imagine nailing the emotion and drama any better than you have here. What else is there?

    Awesome stuff.

    • Anne Almasy

      Ben, I guess I always feel like I’m a hack. Like, I don’t REALLY know what I’m doing; I’m just faking it fairly convincingly. And OH MY GOD SOMEONE’S GOING TO FIGURE IT OUT! Truthfully, my brain isn’t particularly technical, so I assume there’s always a better way to shoot, light, focus… But I do what I know how to do and try to lean into my strengths. I tend to believe that a technically imperfect photo with a strong story is preferable to a technically perfect photo with no story.

      I appreciate your feedback!

      • David Taranza

        People want to remember the moments and emotion. And your photos captured that perfectly. Donť worry about the technicals, your clients don’t give a damn what ISO you set or what f-stop you shot with. If you’d bothered to set up a flash, you’d probably have missed the moment. Photo with a story and emotion is what counts and you did a great job.

        P.S. I think it was Ansel Adams, who said “There’s nothing worse than a perfectly sharp picture of a fuzzy concept.”

      • KC

        Nice piece and I relate to this comment a lot. I find myself thinking about this with photography and music and lots of pursuits. Often I resonate with how it ‘feels’ a lot more than the technical side. It’s like the Sex Pistols vs. Rush. No question in my mind.

  10. Kaisa

    I just love the way you write, Anne!

    I guess it’s true there’s no right way and especially in arts and creative work there are so many different opinions. I’m not a wedding photographer, but I did shoot my friend’s wedding just for practice and fun. While they had a professional photographer who did a stellar job then some of the favourite photos of the bride were shot by me. Just because I saw something differently, not ‘cos of my technical skills.

  11. Khechog

    Those photos made me cry!

  12. Luke

    Enjoyed this. I agree that after a while in photography you need to learn to cherish the frustrations, the mistakes, the near-misses and the sheer bloody glorious toil. Not that these images appear to be any of the above – they’re great – but there’s an immediacy and truth in them that shows they’ve been worked for. There’s that quote about creativity coming out of limitations and photography, particularly wedding photography, has limitations aplenty. You know that for a good part of your day you will have no say about subject, location, lighting… you’ll be solving problems and compromising much of the time. But I think it’s wholehearted participation in the circus that yields the good images. I make sure I remind myself that the opportunities are just as abundant as the limitations. There’s another great quote on the back of the latest Dan Winters book: “I now find peace in the realization that millions of potential masterpieces happen each moment the world over and go unphotographed.” How’s that for Zen-like wisdom? Thinking about all that promise makes me want to grab my dumb little light-capturing box and go out and make the best images I can with whatever I find. Every once in a while, I even nail it.

    • Anne Almasy

      I love this, Luke. I love “sheer bloody glorious toil” and your Zen wisdom. Thank you for inspiring me! 🙂

      • Luke

        Wow, thanks! And likewise, thanks for the inspiration.

  13. Sam

    Well written and nice images.

  14. Mark Loader

    Pour your heart out, girl! Loved it. Amen. Especially the not figuring it out part. That really resonated with me. I haven’t got it all figured out either and I recently came to the conclusion that I dont want to. Why? Because guys who think that have stopped searching. Stopped questioning. Stopped the curiosity. Me? I want to immerse myself and get lost in the mystery and wonder of it all. To experiment and fail, fail & fail again. Then the moment of victory when I nail it (as you did here) and savour the moment. Most photographers would NOT have taken these pics. Their loss. Love from Downunder 😉

  15. Alan

    Beautiful post, beautiful captures. Sure, there are a number of “imperfections” in those photos. The thing is that it didn’t even occur to me until you mentioned it. Instead, I saw a couple of wonderful moments frozen as singular frames. That’s the magic of photography, and it’s all too easy to lose sight of that in the pursuit of technical perfection.

  16. Patrick

    Thanks for a well written and truthful piece Anne, and for the beautiful pictures – I’d be proud to have these in my portfolio. Another factor to consider is that the shared emotional intensity of the father and daughter might well have been interrupted by a flash going off repeatedly; it might not of course, but why chance it, why risk it…
    I look forward to your next post.

  17. Heikki

    You know, doing weddings I’ve noticed that the circumstances for the images are always horrible. Either it’s the midday sun creeping through huge leaves and the couple is of course getting married right there, or it’s a romantic barn lit by a sinlge light bulb with 8 meter ceiling. Or it’s raining, just horribly. And it won’t stop and the couple is angry beacause they wanted their portrait in the woods, and god*********mit they will get it even if it means that the dress is ruined, and so is my camera after that. Or my faverite, completely candle lit event space. Where were you Sony A7S at that time? 🙁

    It’s all up to the photographer to figure out. Only time I’ve gotten bad images, has been when I haven’t connected with the couple. I’ve experienced all of the above too, they havent’ been an issue.

    Nice image.

  18. Prof. Sven Barnow

    beautiful! Thank you for this! I just write a book “Psychology of Photography” and will write about the balance between cognition and emotion within photography and here it is Emotion pure, that makes these photos so beautiful…

    Sven (from Germany)

  19. rick collins

    Anne, you are in a murky area that I have one foot in, always. I like and sometimes love the uber-lit Chrisman Californication wedding portrait in all its glory and I’m positive those clients love themselves and the very expensive results. But I don’t want to shoot like that very often, I don’t have assistants and I personally love the happy accidents I create by bumbling about. I know what I’m doing after 20+ years, I just don’t know what I’m going to get in the end. My question though: are clients happy with less than perfect and what is the difference between knowing you could do the magnificent while choosing the artistic, and an inexperienced photographer just passing off the shoddy work as art?

    • Anne Almasy

      Rick, I think many clients are clearly happy with shoddy work. If they weren’t, we’d all be millionaires. 😉

      I suppose I can’t really judge someone else’s intention. I made plenty of “art” early on that I’m embarrassed to show anyone now. I also made images that still hold up. I think there is value in the effort. And when effort meets result, there is something valuable.

  20. Simon Brown

    Anne, those photographs are utterly spot on. “Properly lit”(whether with onelight or many..) and “properly focused” they would lose most, if not all of their substantial emotional impact; and this is a genuinely emotional event. Quite beautiful, they sum up a father’s love for his daughter; so much so that I’m sat here crying my eyes out thinking of my own daughter. I guess that’s one of the reasons I don’t photograph weddings.

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