Featuring Rebecca Yale
Written By Sabrina Sabbagh
“I’m a photographer who shoots weddings?” Rebecca Yale answered my question with a laugh and a rising intonation in her voice that I wasn’t used to hearing. Her answer, which presented more like a question, made me think she wasn’t sure what to say when I asked her what type of photographer she is. The uncertainty in her voice had me abandoning my planned questions to find out why a 20-year photography veteran with a degree in photography and aesthetic philosophy from NYU would answer in such a peculiar way.
Usually, the answer to what I thought was a pretty simple question included luxury weddings, portraits, film, destination weddings and the occasional ethnic specialists who shoot exclusively Indian or Asian weddings. Not yet understanding her motivation for defining herself as a photographer who shoots “weddings”, I asked Rebecca to explain.
“I’m a bit of an art school brat,” she admitted, going on to paint an intricate and fascinating picture of her upbringing and career that would eventually clarify her response perfectly.
Rebecca Yale has had a passion for photography since she was a child. At the age of 10, her parents gave her her first camera before a family trip to Europe. She said she filled an entire suitcase with film.
By the age of 12, Rebecca said she knew she wanted to be a photographer. Her parents, on the other hand, weren’t so welcoming to the idea. They were afraid she wouldn’t make any money in the business. But against their best wishes, she would eventually go on to NYU to study her craft.
“I thought I wanted to be a fashion photographer. But I worked in fashion for a few years and realized I didn’t enjoy that world.”
After her brief stint in fashion photography, Rebecca says she did a total 180 and started working in documentary photography, but soon realized that wasn’t right for her either. Struggling to make enough money as a photojournalist, Rebecca started shooting portraits and quickly learned there was money to be made there. “I remember calling my mom, who is a lawyer and a total girl-boss lady, breaking glass ceilings for people. And I remember calling her and saying, ‘Mom, I’m really sorry, but I have to be a professional photographer.’” Not long into her portrait work, Rebecca stumbled into weddings, but she wasn’t quite ready to add ‘Wedding Photographer’ to her resume.
Social Stigmas in Wedding Photography
“In my art-school-brat head, weddings were really stiff with no artistry.” Rebecca says she felt that way until she went to one as an adult. “I realized how incredible they actually are and that there are these beautiful little stories that all happen on one day.” Once she gave weddings a chance and saw that they could be a space for her to be an artist and also be herself, Rebecca says she dove in and never looked back. That is, until she was back home visiting with family friends and people from high school.
“It would come up that I shot weddings, and there would be this pause and almost disappointment.” Rebecca was smiling as she recounted the details of those uncomfortable visits, but I could tell we were finally getting to the crux of why the interview started the way it did. “After the long pause in the conversation, someone would jump in to defend me and say I was a big deal and in magazines, which was even more embarrassing.”
The stigma surrounding wedding photography ran deep in Rebecca’s world. Her fellow art school alumni were making her feel like she was wasting her education on something they saw as basic, but she wasn’t too worried about them. She was more concerned with how her clients would view her if they found out about her secret side business as a wedding photographer. She even created a separate website and company name for non-wedding photography work to avoid accidental cross over. “Rebecca Yale Photography was my travel and documentary brand because, as I was applying for grants, I couldn’t show people that I was shooting newborns or weddings because it was so looked down upon. It would have been shamed.”
Overcoming Her Obstacles
As stressful as it was, Rebecca didn’t let anyone discourage her. She stayed on her path and sure enough, she achieved the kind of success conducive to going all-in on weddings and portraits. So in 2013, she combined her brands, shifting the non-wedding related work into a passion project. “I still shoot a lot of documentary and wildlife work with NGOs and that’s a huge part of my identity as a photographer.” But still, years later, the award-winning, fine art photographer always feels a tinge of discomfort when someone reacts unfavorably to her chosen profession. “There are still people I meet who will say, ‘Oh, weddings? … Pretty.’ Or some other dismissive comment.” Rebecca made sure to add that within the microcosm of wedding photography, there is no judgment or shame and she is proud of what she has accomplished.
With this new foundation and insight into Rebecca’s journey to becoming a top performer in her field, her unconventional answer to my first question made a lot more sense. “I don’t just shoot weddings,” she explained. “So I like to say that I’m not a wedding photographer. I’m a photographer, who shoots mostly weddings.” That time, Rebecca’s voice didn’t falter. She knows exactly who she is. What I perceived as uncertainty in her first answer was likely the result of being conditioned to temper her expectations for a supportive response. Rebecca spent the first part of her career feeling like she had to defend herself and her choice to pursue something basically everyone in her life looked down on. That being said, she couldn’t be more grateful to be an NYU graduate.
“I feel really lucky that I was able to go to art school and get this opportunity that not everyone has been able to have.” Education is still a passion of Rebecca’s and she’s been making it her mission to bring some of her art school education into the wedding photography world with classes focusing on critique-based learning. “There is very little critique in today’s workshops, so I wanted to make sure my classes offer a tight feedback loop of you trying something, it’s critiqued, you learn it, and you redo it right away.” Rebecca believes that having a tight feedback loop is how you learn and retain a new skill.
Rebecca Yale | Self-Made Professional Photographer
Although she’s diversifying her business with teaching, Rebecca says she will never stop taking photos and creating art. “My studies focused on how photographs don’t just mold the way we see the world, but how they can actually change the world.”
Be sure to check out Rebecca’s Website and Instagram for more insight into the life of this amazing professional photographer. And definitely take a look at her E-Guide on how to elevate your shooting style and brand to help you get your photo work published!