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Why I’m No Longer Booking Big Weddings (And More Exciting News!)

March 18, 2020

For a long time, I have felt uncertain about my place in the world and especially in the wedding and photography industries.

Ashley Durham intimate elopement wedding photographer

Last year, during one of the most heartbreaking and stressful times in my life, I had an eye-opening experience that literally made me question whether I even wanted to be a professional photographer anymore. It came at a time in my life where I was already in limbo and questioning things.

In my nearly ten years in business, it was the first real “am I really cut out for this?” stab in the gut and honestly, while that wound has mostly healed over, lately it has been festering.

Why I’m No Longer Booking Big Weddings

The recent national emergency has brought out the best and worst in some people. And to be quite frank, it’s really made me examine how I want to proceed in terms of business, my contracts and how I live the rest of my life. Not to be all dramatic, but it’s true!

I took nearly an entire year off from actively booking weddings or marketing them, because I was so wrapped up in recovering from my one really bad wedding client experience, my brother in law’s cancer fight, moving cross-country and all of the emotional fall out of 2019.

But the truth is: we rely on the business income. Big time. I went from bringing home six figures to recording a business loss for the first time ever when we filed our taxes this year. We fell into this new, lower tax bracket faster than the Hollywood Tower of Terror without the brakes on. Suddenly, we found ourselves wondering if we had totally screwed ourselves over by taking time off. Small businesses like ours unfortunately just can’t take time off like that, even if and when it is so desperately needed.

So not even 4 months ago, I began actively marketing and booking weddings again. And I will be honest with you – it’s been going okay; not great, but okay. Taking all that time off and temporarily moving cross-country to Georgia really hurt my momentum. And then my own cancer diagnosis was just another slap in the face because it again put so much uncertainty up into the air. When would I have treatment? How long will it take to recover? What is my prognosis? How is this going to effect my family? What does this mean for my couples? And my business?

So. Much. Fear.

And yet, the nuclear explosion that has become my life the last month has given me some clarity.

In the last four weeks, I’ve had a biopsy, a cancer diagnosis, life-changing surgery, complications from that surgery (or at least from the anesthesia), we got slammed with the coronavirus pandemic virus, threats of shelter-in-place decrees from the government, and I’m literally hemorrhaging the little money I have made this year due to cancelations of big weddings and sessions getting canceled (not postponed) left and right.

To add insult to all this injury, we’re trapped at home for God knows how long and I’m forced to become a homeschooling mom, while recovering from surgery. I’m getting semi-irritated emails from my all of my kids’ teachers asking me to help them with my kids’ common core math problems and make sure they’re reading and doing assignments and watching the YouTube videos. I’ll be honest with y’all – the schools here in Georgia are 100% NOT equipped for online-based teaching. Bless them, they’re trying, but all I want to do is hide under the covers of my bed and not check my family email until April. We should all be given a 2 week coronavirus break from school while everyone gets their shit together.

… sorry for going off tangent there, haha. Anywaaay!

All the meanwhile I’m sitting here, praying and crying, and thinking: there’s got to be more than life, motherhood and entrepreneurship than this.

Then it came to me. This instant thought in my head, from a voice not my own. Like a huge thundering clap from the heavens above; so loud, it shook me to my core and I’ve honestly been franticly scrambling to come to terms with the truth.

14er wedding elopement photos

The truth is: my heart isn’t in big weddings, and it hasn’t been for a really long time.

I just cannot find myself relating to someone spending $12,000 on flowers alone or stressing out about who is sitting next to who on the seating chart. Or watching couples literally not even sit down to eat the food they spent thousands of dollars on, because they felt obligated to get up and say hi to all the people who came in for their wedding that they’ve not seen in years. People who, for all intents and purposes, were likely invited out of guilt or parental obligation instead of true desire to have them be part of their wedding. Or worse, watching brides and grooms break out in literal hives because their anxiety is so bad about saying their vows in front of other people.

I’ve seen it all, you guys; I’ve seen and experienced things as a wedding photographer over the last decade that I’ll never tell a soul about because it’s the deep, ugly side of the big wedding industry. It’s not all epic veil shots, spins around the dance floor or a little slice of cake. Trust me.

It’s absolutely terrible to see my couples so miserable and stressed (and hungry!) on their wedding days, especially because I do my best to actually become friends with my couples. It takes a toll on my mental health, and Randy’s when he sees it going down, too. We can’t NOT care, it’s just not in our DNA to separate personal from business when it comes to our wedding clients.

I just can’t do it, you guys. I can’t. Not anymore.

It all just seems like I should be spending my time focusing my energy elsewhere.

It’s no wonder I’ve been all over the damn place with my marketing, and with my interests. It’s no wonder I’m sitting here wondering “what the hell do I post on Instagram?” and why I’m so hesitant to chase after leads. My heart just isn’t in it. Sure, I make darn good money photographing these big weddings but at the end of my life – will that matter to me? Absolutely not.

And it has me thinking: what brings me joy? At the end of my life, what will I think back on with a full heart? I remember sitting in the hospital bed just last week, sobbing to Randy that I haven’t done enough in the world yet. That I’ve not the impact I know I’m capable of, and that I’ve not lived my best life – not even close to it.

I want my world to become more intimate and laser-focused on health, family, and nature.

Of course, y’all know our ultimate goal is to move back home to Colorado to start our farm and hopefully one day be allowed to use it as a wedding venue (although after digging into the legalities of it in Colorado with licensing and zoning and all that governmental bullshit, we might not be able to do the latter. Yes, I’m upset about it but no, that’s not going to stop us from starting our farm).

But what about in the interim?

I love my couples. Deeply. I love being part of the process. I love helping them, and guiding them, and offering support. The best clients we’ve ever had have been the ones who have truly embraced the process with us. I have zero desire to be a wedding planner, but there’s something so life-affirming when a bride (or groom) trusts me to help guide them from engagement to marriage.

I can think back on some of my all-time favorite weddings and there’s always been a recurring theme: the couple just wanted to get married.

rocky mountain national park wedding photos

The two of them just wanted to spend the day together.

They just wanted to be themselves, and not put on a circus act to please anyone else (although, we did once have a literal circus wedding and it was definitely one of my favorites of all time).

They wanted it to be personal and intimate.

It wasn’t about one-upping their friends’ weddings. And it wasn’t about spending the equivalent of a 20% down-payment for a nice home on a single-day party. Definitely wasn’t about spending thousands of dollars on a couture dress (that chaffed them so bad that they had bleeding skin under their arms by the time the reception was over; TRUE STORY). It sure wasn’t about bragging rights.

It was just about the two of them, and maybe their dog(s).

So … just over 1400 words later: here’s the crux of it.

I’m not booking any more big weddings and I’m going to truly put my focus on what brings joy to MY heart: intimate weddings and elopements. 

I want weddings with pizza for dinner.

Brides and grooms with hiking boots.

Wedding days with trail maps instead of seating charts.

Ceremonies in backyards and mountaintops instead of inside venues.

Vows with views.

Weddings with adventure.

Obviously, while I’m no longer booking big weddings, I’m going to finish out my booked contracts for the bigger weddings coming up in 2020 and 2021, which I’m happy to say are few and between. It’s like God knew this plan for me all along and saved me the heartache, guiding me away from chasing leads that wouldn’t serve my heart’s best interest.

I’ll be working on my new wedding guide, which I’ll share about once it’s all finished.

And yes, I’ll still be offering family sessions but the focus is going to be more on the experience and location. More on that soon, too!

But … that’s not all!

I am going to be separating my photography business from my personal journey. The truth is, I have been a house divided for a long time; my longtime friend and branding/website designer Rachael Earl reached out to me this week and literally said, “Ash, what in the hell is going on? You’re all over the place!” and it’s true. It’s totally true – I’ve got this entrepreneurial side of me with photography but I also have this overwhelming NEED to share about my health and wellness journey, as well as my partnerships with various companies like Monat and Crunchi.

While the two are somewhat interrelated, I’ve done a shitty job of merging them under one house. My message is getting lost and I’ve got no one to blame but myself; I’ve tried to be someone I’m not, sharing it all in one place. The marketing and messaging for each part of my life is just so different.  Rachael totally called me out on it (for which I’m so grateful for, that she cared enough to bring it to my attention because I know if she sees it, everyone sees it).

So, I’ll be working on separating my personal blogs about life, our farm, my health and wellness and all of that from my photography business and that will come with two totally separate websites. More on that to come in the near future, but, hold your butts kids – it’s happening! 

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