This is part two of The Photo Life Blog Series, True Life: I’m Married to My Business Partner. This series explores how husband and wife photography teams find success when their business and personal lives collide.
Dave and I have been working together for five years now. Initially, it was hard and some days it still is, but I don’t think we would have it any other way. Erin Youngren wrote an excellent post last week about how they function best by using what she termed “closed systems” in which each person has their own tasks independent of the other person. We do this to an extent (and after their article we are exploring what additional systems we can “close”), however we have found that having what we’ll term “dependent” systems have been hugely beneficial to our business.
As Jeff and Erin point out, “dependent” systems are often frustrating, and slow. However, we believe having only closed systems would negate some of the best benefits our partnership provides. Like many partners, Dave and I have different strengths and weaknesses. We’ve sought to create systems that employ each of us at our strong points, despite the friction this might create.
For example, Dave is a perfectionist, while I prefer not to let perfection stand in the way of progress. If Dave were writing this by himself, the article might be very good, but it would be ready sometime next year. Instead, I wrote a first draft which he then worked on, and again I revised. This collaboration allowed me to “get it done,” while allowing Dave to improve it. The result is an article that is delivered on time (which makes me and the customer happy) and up to Dave’s standards (which makes him happy – and hopefully the customer too).
There are other areas or systems we always collaborate on. We write almost all of the blog posts together and also select the images together. We usually have lively discussions about what should and should not be posted on our blog. Over the years this has really helped us define our image together. As with this article, I usually get the blog post written to my satisfaction and Dave tweaks it to “perfection.” When it comes to image selection we switch roles a bit. Dave makes an initial selection of 30 or so of the best images and then together we narrow it down to the 10 or so that we feel best represent our client and the work we do.
While Dave handles image production, I handle most of our interaction with clients (again because of our respective strengths and weaknesses). However, even in those mostly closed systems we’ll collaborate at times. When we get an email requiring a complex answer to a difficult or new question, we’ve found that working on a response together has greatly improved our communication with clients. I’m usually very good at writing an initial response and Dave is good at making it sound just a little more subtle. We have avoided hasty, emotional responses by dealing with these issues in this way.
While this may sound somewhat idyllic, the truth is somewhat grittier. These areas of “collaboration” are often comprised of heated discussions, diverging viewpoints, and frustration because it’s either not done quickly enough or well enough (depending on who you ask). In the midst of that we’ve found it vital to constantly remind ourselves of the underlying reason for both our business and personal relationship: the belief that together we are better people, live a better life, and serve our clients better than we would apart. We have to remind ourselves that the very things we find frustrating in our partner are often just the very thing (or the flip side) of what makes the partnership a stronger and more successful entity.
Each couple is different and therefore each partnership is going to function differently. We have detailed how a combination of dependent and closed systems works for us, however, the most important piece of advice we can give on working together is to figure out how you will thrive both as a couple and individually. Our goal both in our business partnership and in our marriage is to create a space for each other so that we can each be the best that we can be.
People like to say that iron sharpens iron, but they forget that that very process involves friction, intense heat, and the occasional sparks. Focusing on the successful outcome is key to working past the temporary discomforts and achieving that sharper iron.
Written by Nancy Beale of David Wittig Photography
Chicago-based wedding photographers David Wittig and Nancy Beale, have been working side-by-side, capturing weddings and transforming them into art for the last ten years. Their own relationship, a myriad of friendship, partnership and marriage, aides their images, providing two perspectives of a singular moment—what can often be the most important moment of your life. Dave and Nancy have shot weddings from Maine to California, from India to France, and are always excited to add another stamp to their all-ready full passports. Their work, which examines a documentary feel and editorial style, is heavily influenced by their fine art backgrounds and training.