Photography is such an amazing thing! It’s become so accessible to everyone, and there are so many different opportunities. I’ve shot a variety of things, but my favorite thing to photograph is weddings. It seems like it’s one of the more popular areas. Almost every week I’m hearing of a new wedding photographer. A week ago I was photographing a wedding, and a random guy with a camera said he was thinking about getting into weddings as well. It seemed like something he had just randomly decided. That seems to be how it goes for most people.
I understand why so many people are wanting to get into the wedding world. One, the money is good (or at least that’s what people think). A wedding photographer can make anywhere from $1000 to $10,000 for a single wedding. Two, weddings are fun! There’s decorations, people dressing up, drinking, dancing, and all types of other craziness.
I think being a wedding photographer is awesome, and I have no problem whatsoever with a bunch of people wanting to be wedding photographers. The problem is that too many people are jumping into weddings and not knowing what they are doing! I have heard so many horror stories over the past few years about wedding photographers that weren't prepared, and it makes me sad. These poor couples are left with bad or no wedding photos because someone decided to just be a wedding photographer. I want that to stop, so I'm sharing how to become a wedding photographer…the safe way.
Wedding Photography Education
Before you just declare yourself a wedding photographer and jump right in, it is very important to have a solid amount of knowledge. Weddings are very complex and are extremely different from one to the next. What works at one wedding might not work at another.
In the past learning a new skill was difficult. You had to read books or find someone to train you. Today, training is available everywhere and often for free. You have websites like this one, Improve Photography, that are here to help you. Check out this great article about being a wedding photographer. If you’re more of a visual person, there are thousands of videos on YouTube that can teach you the different skills needed to be a wedding photographer. Other people like the whole hands on experience. I know there are wedding photographers out there that do one on one training, and there are also workshops you can attend.
Take advantage of all of these educational opportunities, and really get a good solid foundation. I would suggest learning about posing, off camera flash, different equipment needed, what to expect throughout the day, and business tactics. Those are just a few, but that’s a good place to get started.
Wedding Photography Experience
Once you have a strong education and understanding, move on to gaining experience. Practice does make perfect, but more importantly, people aren’t going to hire you if you haven’t photographed any weddings.
Practice All the Time
Digital cameras are great because you can shoot as much as you want, and it really doesn’t cost anything. Back in the film day, you had to pay for every shot. Get out there and practice as much as you can. Practice indoors, outdoors, with people, with objects, with natural light, with flash, or anything else you can think of. The more you expose yourself to, the more you learn and the better you will get. One other thing, and I've made this mistake, don't try something new at a wedding! Practice it at home first, figure it out, and then you can use it at a wedding.
One of the best ways to really get started is with second shooting. This is where you go with the lead photographer and are the backup. You might just be there to get different angles or you might be assigned to do photograph certain things. I usually have my second photographer get detail shots at the reception and sometimes cover the groom getting ready.
With second shooting, you can get a lot of experience quickly. By working with someone that’s already established, you will have plenty of weddings. You won’t have to find them on your own. The best thing is you get to watch the lead photographer work, learn from them, and practice yourself without having to be in charge.
Each photograph does things differently, so you’ll have to discuss that with them. One major thing to discuss is the photos. Will you be allowed to use any of your shots in your portfolio or do they all belong to the lead photographer? Some might also put a non-compete clause in their contract. This would mean that if you stopped working with them you’d be limited on where you could work. Either way, you will be building skills and gaining experience. For most people, a year or two of second shooting should be enough.
Wedding Photography Equipment
When I bought my first digital camera, it cost over $1000. Now, people can buy a decent DSLR for around $500. Unfortunately, a lot of people think that’s all they need to be a wedding photographer. Please don’t do this! This scares me to death. You need much more to do a decent job.
In general, the minimum you will need is two camera bodies, a wide and long lens, a flash, multiple memory cards, and multiple batteries. Stuff breaks and gets lost, so it’s very important to have backups for everything. Each wedding is going to be different, so having different lenses and a flash is a must. Batteries are going to die, and if you don't have more, you're done.
Now, all of that equipment is going to cost anywhere between $2000-$10,000 depending on the quality of the equipment. I’d say for most expect to spend $4000. That’s a lot of money, so there are some things you can do. One strategy is to rent your equipment. You can either rent everything or own a few pieces and rent a few. Some people like doing this, but I’d much rather own all of my equipment. I don’t want to waste money renting and when I own it, I can use it whenever I want. This can also be what you do while you slowly build up your equipment. Shoot a wedding, buy a new piece of equipment. Shoot a wedding, buy something else. Eventually you’ll own everything you need. For a few other people, you can just buy it all at once. Be careful, though, and don’t put yourself in too much debt.
Please remember, this is just for the minimum equipment. I am still constantly looking at equipment and upgrading and getting new things. To really be a great wedding photographer, there are several other things you’ll need over the years: more lenses, more flashes, light stands, and plenty of other accessories.
Getting Your First Wedding
Now that you know what you’re doing and you have some experience, it’s safe to start finding your own weddings. The real issue is how do you get those first few weddings? Most couples are going to ask you how many weddings you’ve shot on your own before hiring you. It can be tough getting those first few because you’ve never shot any on your own. That’s why I suggest you start off by doing the first few for free.
Free weddings are a great way to start off. First, people like things for free, so they are more likely to say yes. If you start off asking for money, you’re less likely to get hired without the solo shooting experience. Two, there’s not as much pressure with a free wedding. Once you start asking for money, you have to perform. On your first few solo weddings, you will make some mistakes. It’s much better to have that happen when you’re doing it for free.
There are a few things to consider with offering free weddings. Don’t just give them to anyone. Find someone that’s going to help you. Are they attractive? Will their wedding look good or will it look cheap? Do they have connections to could help you in the future? I know some of that sounds judgmental, but remember, you’re doing this for free and to help build your business. Once you’ve done three or four of these and you feel more confident and have a solid portfolio, stop! Now you can move on to making money!
As I mentioned earlier, there are tons and tons of wedding photographers, so getting found and booked can be a major struggle. Here are some of my go to tips for getting leads once you are ready to start charging.
I’ve been participating in bridal shows for over 8 years, and I still plan on doing them. It’s a great place to show off your work and meet a ton of brides. This is a great way for a new photographer to jump in. Basically, you sign up, pay the fee, and then you get to meet a bunch of brides. If you do things right, you might go from those 4 free weddings to 15 weddings in your first year.
I’ve had some great bridal shows, and I’ve had some major flops. I’ve learned a few things over the years that can help. You need to research the shows in your area. Not all shows are equal. The time of year, the location, and the people running it can make a huge difference. There are a lot of proposals around Christmas, so January/February shows work well. For the location, you want it to be in a bigger city, but you also want the physical space of the show to be nice. No one wants to be crowded. Once you have decided on a show, you need to think about your booth. You want to look as professional as possible. That means dressing up, having prints/products, pricing sheets, and knowing how to talk to people.
Bridal shows do cost money, and a good chunk of the people will be “budget brides,” but when you’re first starting off, it’s great. After a few years and you raise your prices, you might not book as many, but it’s still a good place to get one or two weddings per show.
Website and SEO
Often people will ask me if I have a website, and I find this extremely surprising. Of course I have a website, and you need one as well. Yes, you could just have a Facebook page, but that really doesn’t compare to a website. A website has so many more features that you can control, matches your brand and look, doesn’t require someone to be on Facebook, and can be found through Google searches.
This brings me to my next point: you need to work on your search engine optimization (SEO). About half of my weddings come from Google searches, including several that spent over $3000. The great thing is that I didn’t have to pay for any of this. Yes, it does require some knowledge and work, but it is very worth it. Feel free to check out some of my tips for SEO.
SEO does take some time to work, so if you have the funds, you could use Google and Facebook ads at first. Be careful, though, you can spend a lot of money with ads quickly. Do some research on the best practices before you just start using ads.
In photography and in other jobs, I have found that it’s often more about who you know than how good you are. When someone is engaged, friends and family will often suggest photographers to them, but brides tend to listen to and take the advice of the professional vendors over their family. Think about it, who knows the wedding world better, your sister that worked with one photographer or a vendor that sees photographers every week? That’s why it is very important to build solid relationships with the other wedding vendors. They can send a stream of leads your way or destroy your reputation.
Some types of vendors are going to help you out more than others, so you should focus on them. I know that sounds horrible, but I’ve never gotten a referral from a florist. It’s not their fault, it’s just the way weddings work. By the time a bride talks to a florist, she will have already hired her photographer. Venues and wedding planners, though, have sent me a lot of leads because they are one of the first things a bride books. If you build a solid relationship with those two types, you’re good.
There a few ways to build a good relationship with venues and planners. One, be good at your job. Be easy to work with, produce good work, be kind, all of that. If people like working with you, they will refer you. Two, help them out as much as possible. That means sending referrals to them as well, sending them photos from the weddings, and helping them out when they need it.
If you haven’t shot a bunch of weddings or been to a bunch of locations, it’s hard to have a relationship with these people. One thing you can do to start a relationship is to have a styled shoot. This is when you put together a staged shoot with the help of a bunch of vendors. The photos are then used for promotion. When you do these styled shoots, you can meet new vendors, and they will like you because you reached out to them and are trying to help everyone.
Being a wedding photographer is an ongoing process. Things are always changing and there are always new things to learn and do. I’ve been doing it for 8 years, and I’m still growing and changing. If you're wanting to be a wedding photographer, please do it the safe way and follow these tips on how to become a wedding photographer, and you’ll be off to a good start. Just please remember that weddings are extremely important days and it is your responsibility to capture it and make it wonderful for your couple. As long as that’s your goal, you’ll do great! Feel free to comment with any questions or if you need help with anything.