©David Abel

Fresh Script

Romantic. Timeless. Elegant. Scroll through David Abel’s website and you’ll read these words time and time again. His carefully selected portfolio of online images echoes these qualities as well. From elegant brides in Oscar de La Renta gowns to couples posed in romantic locales to timeless captures of emotional moments, the images are varied but consistent.

That consistency is by design. “We are using our website to brand ourselves,” says Abel, from the Richmond, Virginia, studio he shares with his wife, Kristy, who photographs weddings with him. “We are careful to curate the images we include on our website to attract the people who want the elegant, romantic, timeless photographs we love to make.

©David Abel

Abel reinforces the brand throughout his website. As the copy notes, “You’ll love your wedding photos now and forever—long after the trends of today begin to fade. Our style is rooted in the philosophy of timeless elegance.” He explains, “It might seem obvious, but we have learned that we need to show exactly what it is that we do. People don’t hire you for something that you can do but for what you actually do. And if you’re not demonstrating that on your site you won’t get hired for that.”

Abel has also learned that by limiting the images on his website to those he enjoys making—the ones that light him up, he says—he can target precisely his ideal clientele. “I’ve learned that a site should be polarizing,” he explains. “It should repel or attract. If it is not doing anything, then it is failing. If a viewer’s response is merely This is nice, that’s not effective.”


Abel’s eye as well as his fine-tuned online marketing have made him a much-in-demand wedding fine art photographer, as the 39-year-old describes himself. He travels widely and works more than 30 weddings a year as well as numerous other assignments. He admits that success didn’t come easily. Indeed, he explains, a few years ago he almost quit the business before reinventing himself.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2006, Abel worked as a website designer and part-time photographer. He discovered web design wasn’t his passion, but he loved image-making. He eventually took up wedding photography full time.

©David Abel
©David Abel

“I found that weddings are like a perfect symphony of different types of photography, from portraiture to fashion to architecture to documentary,” he explains. “And the one thing that weddings have that most genres don’t is heart. I see it all the time: a mother helping her daughter into her bridal gown, a father walking his daughter down the aisle or a groom pulling his bride in close on the dance floor.”

He built up his business and was soon photographing 30 to 35 weddings a year.

©David Abel

By 2017, with two children, he was focused on making money to support his growing family more than on making images that excited him. “I realize now I was doing what I thought clients would love instead of being more selfish and doing the work I wanted to produce. I wasn’t shooting the type of images that really lit me up. I was doing what I had always done, what I’d been trained to do, and what I thought people wanted. Some of that work was inauthentic or forced, which I didn’t enjoy, and that began to wear me down.”

Burnout loomed. “I knew I had to make changes,” says Abel. “I decided that I had to get selfish and double down on doing exactly what I wanted to do, to make the kind of images I wanted to. I decided that I would rather fail doing what I loved as opposed to succeeding at doing what I hated.”

©David Abel
©David Abel

The first step: switching cameras. He’d always used film for personal family photography and digital for weddings. “I had always preferred the warmth and elegance of film but never thought I could use it for weddings,” he says. In a bold gamble, he traded his Canon 5D Mark III digital camera for a Contax 645 medium-format film camera.

“I said the Contax is the camera that creates the work I love, and I am going to get really good with it,” he remembers. “Using film slows things down and is more expensive, but it makes you pay more attention to what you are shooting and makes you a better photographer. It is unique.” While he and his wife still use digital cameras in low-light situations, such as at a reception, almost all of the work he posts on his site is film.

©David Abel

He sought other film photographers he admired and asked for help. “Everyone was very generous with their advice,” he says. Eventually he amassed a large enough body of film photography to redesign his site with just those images. He also began producing luxury fashion editorial photography and added that work to his site.

“It all came together,” says Abel of the transition. “I began getting more and more clients who loved the film images I had posted and wanted the work that I was offering and I was most excited about.”

Another bonus of offering work that continues to excite Abel: “I am more energetic about my work, I am attracting the right kind of clients, and I am creating work I am very proud of. It is as if I am breathing new life into the business.”

He pauses, then smiles and adds, “It’s like that famous quote: ‘You know those things you always wanted to do? You should go do them!’” 

Robert Kiener is a writer in Vermont.