1. Know Your Gear.
I hate to even include this on this list, because it’s clearly a given. However, it bears repeating, and repeating (and repeating). If you plan to represent yourself as a professional, you need to have a professional level understanding of your gear. This may sound contradictory if you’ve read my post, Photographing Your Best Friend’s Wedding, so allow me to clarify. There is a significant difference between representing yourself as a professional VS setting clearly defined expectations and allowing a friend or family member to hire you with eyes WIDE open to your level of inexperience. If you’re going to market yourself as a professional, you’ve got to know your gear up, down and side to side.
That said— I BELIEVE IN YOU!!! Wholeheartedly! If you don’t know your gear YET, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn! If professional wedding (or portrait, or journalism, or travel, or commercial) photography is your goal, I say “Go for it!” I don’t care who you are, or where you come from, your goal can become your reality if you are willing to WORK for it!
2. Wedding Photography is Collaborative.
Remember, wedding photography is a collaborative effort between the photographer, the bride and groom, the planner, the parents, the guests, other vendors and more! You’ve got to understand this foundational information if you’re going to be successful. I’ll elaborate throughout the points below, but take this wisdom and let it sink into your core. It is essential to your success.
3. Know Who You Work For.
You’ve got to know who you work for. Do you work for the bride? Do you work for her mother? Do you work for a planner? You’ve got to clearly understand (and articulate your understanding) to all the parties involved in the event. Generally speaking, at the end of the day, even if the referral came from a planner, you work for the bride, and SHE is the one you’re aiming to please. Meet her every need, with your whole soul, she deserves it. It’s her big day. . . Additionally, she’s the one signing your check. It pays to make her happy (pun unintended, but welcomed nonetheless).
Kellin and Sean’s beautiful wedding: Kona, Hi.
4. Remember: Wedding Photography is Relationship Based.
Wedding photography is relationship based—referral based. You’ve simply got to over deliver, at every single event. This goes for delivery of self (more on that to come), images, correspondence, and final products. You hold the holy grail for these people: IMAGES! You are documenting their memories for a lifetime, and in terms of vendors, you are helping build their professional portfolio.
Share, give, collaborate, always.
NOTE: Above I mentioned knowing who you work for. Don’t mistake me to mean that you shouldn’t respect, revere and do your very best to accommodate a planner. They take on the lion’s share of the work involved in the wedding day. They’ve been working for months and months (sometimes a year or LONGER) putting all these beautiful details together. Offer them the respect they deserve. They are wonderful people (and have the potential to be wonderful resources to you as your progress as a photographer).
5. Take Care of Yourself (yes, you heard me right).
As I mentioned above, and have continued to illustrate throughout this post, wedding photography is a collaborative effort. You’ve got to show up at your BEST—mentally, emotionally, physically and creatively. Make sure you’ve prepared the most important piece of gear you own: YOU!
Show up as the best version of yourself, ready to work HARD, focus fiercely and listen carefully to ensure you anticipate the needs of your client completely.
6. Be Prepared for the Time Commitment.
Wedding photography requires an astronomical amount of work. Yes, I know your mind flows directly to editing, and yes, that can be extremely time consuming, but I’m not referring only to post production. I’m referencing the booking process, the email correspondence, facilitating questions, managing expectations, shooting, editing, providing images and other products. You’re committing to being completely accessible to your client for MONTHS leading up to the event and months after the big day. Make sure you don’t over commit and thus find yourself less available to your clients. Remember, this industry is relationship based. The better care you take of your current clients, the more likely they are to refer you to their friends. I equate more than 80% of my business to past client referrals. That’s pretty darn significant. Wouldn’t you say?
7. You’ve Got to Work to Refine Your Style.
Part of setting clearly defined expectations for your clients and collaborating effectively, is for you to have a clearly defined style—a clearly defined artistic voice. Heaven knows that this is an organic process and that you will constantly refine and re-refine yourself artistically, however your clients need to have clear expectations as to what they will receive from you. If you want to achieve consistent bookings from enthusiastic clients, who are willing to pay you fairly, you’ve got to present yourself to them consistently and effectively.
If you don’t do the work necessary to refine your style, this industry will soon become filled with a million “minis.” Minis are watered down versions of other photographers. This industry does not need a zillion photographers simply regurgitating each other’s work. This industry needs YOUR creative voice, YOUR unique vision. Refining your style lends itself to better clients—clients who you really resonate with, because they have hired YOU because you’re YOU! They love your unique style and want to work with you. You become a scarce commodity, rather than just another photographer, and while this isn’t the motivating end in mind, the truth of the matter is that it does make you worth more money. Yay!
8. It’s Not Always as Glamorous as it Seems.
I vividly remember being on a flight to shoot my first celebrity wedding. I was 8 months pregnant, sitting in the back row of the plane, my seat didn’t recline, and I was nestled in between 2 fairly large gentlemen flyers. Not quite what I’d build that moment up to be! Ha!
Be prepared to WORK. Hard. It’s not all glamor and glitz. You’ve got to give your absolute ALL, to every single client, at every single wedding you shoot, ALWAYS. Don’t get jaded. Don’t lose your creative edge. Fight to stay in your best creative space (by caring for yourself as mentioned above). Each client deserves the VERY BEST you have to give—without exception!
9. Don’t Be Discouraged By Rejection.
You’re not going to book every single client who sends you an inquiry. Get used to hearing “no.” It’s not an indication of your talent or lack there of. Not every client is “your client.” Remember, you’re not looking for every single client the world over, you want to find the RIGHT clients for you. The clients that you can really connect with and thus COLLABORATE with effectively toward your very best work. Remembering this, that you’re not looking for every client, just the right ones—helps you keep your head on your shoulders when you are inevitably turned down from time to time.
NOTE: If you ARE booking every client that comes your way, that’s a clear indication that it’s time to raise your prices! You should really only be booking approximately 50% of the inquiries that come your way.
10. Enjoy Every Minute of It!
You’re living a dream! Photographing weddings is such a joyful experience! Yes it’s tough, yes it’s WORK, but it’s completely and totally fulfilling as well. It’s absolutely worth any and all the sacrifices it requires in order to be an integral part of such a significant time in someone’s life. Every day, my clients remind me how to love . . . completely. Who could ask for anything more?!
Me, jowling in a wedding photo booth. Enjoying every minute of it! I love my job!
PS: want more wedding photography tips? Check out our tutorial – Wedding Photography: 21 Tips for Amateur Wedding Photographers.
11. Start with Assisting
Assisting for engagement sessions and weddings is the best way to start your wedding photography career. This gives you an opportunity to gain hands-on experience, get a glimpse at how established professionals work, and ensure that you actually enjoy the whole process before investing in all of the necessary gear, education, memberships, and business expenses.
Write up a polite yet personalized email and send it out to as many photographers in your area as it takes to get out there and gain experience. Also, join local photography groups and attend networking events to meet potential photographers to take you under their wings.
For more information, check out the following workshops and articles:
- (Premium) Etiquette When Assisting, Second, Or Lead
- (Free) Quitting Your Day Job, Pt. 6: The Art Of Being an Assistant
12. Get Your Basic Gear
After you’ve assisted on a few weddings, start building your own portfolio. To get started, purchase a basic set of gear. Whenever possible, consider buying used or previous generations of a camera. Also, consider 3rd-party lenses like Sigma and Tamron to save a little money. Limit your upgrades until your skill and income improves.
Here are a couple of articles discussing the gear you might need to get started:
- (Free) Official 2018 Wedding Photography Gear Bag By SLR Lounge
- (Premium Members) Our Second And Lead Photographer Guide
13. Practice with Friends And Do Test Shoots
In our business course, we call these “purposeful test shoots.” These provide opportunities to practice in low-pressure situations. In addition, if you choose the right target market and network, these could become your first clients and brand ambassadors somewhere down the road.
For Premium Members, we teach this strategy in this video.
14. Start a Website And Social Media
After you have a set of portfolio-worthy images, determine a business and domain name and decide on your website builder, aka content management system. We recommend WordPress or Squarespace, but here is more in-depth information about your options. The WordPress route will require a little more work because you’ll have to find your own hosting and choose/install your own theme. To get started, review this list of the best web hosting.
We recommend starting all of your social media accounts at this time as well to make sure you claim your name on all of the major networks. Start accounts on the following:
- Facebook Business
Timeline (Months 3-8): Second Shooting And Learning
You’ll notice most of the progress towards becoming a professional wedding photographer occurs between 3-8 months as you work your way up and establish several key components of your own business.
15. Become a Second Shooter
With a portfolio to house your work and some experience under your belt, continue the next step in your career and start making some actual money as a second shooter. Reach out to the same photographers you first assisted as well as new ones using the same approach of email, social media and in-person networking to land your first second-shooting gig.
Before your first second-shooting gig, make sure you understand fully what your expectations and roles are for the wedding day. Most lead photographers want their second shooters to prioritize the following: groom prep, groomsmen photos, wedding decor photos, and photojournalistic moments throughout the day. To learn all about Photographing the Groom, see our workshop. Below are a few images that you might be expected to create as a second shooter.
16. Set up your business
Before taking on any lead shooting gigs, make sure you set up a legitimate business in accordance with your local laws. Not doing so can get in the way of you landing a wedding. For example, many wedding venues in the U.S. require photographers to have general liability insurance to work at their venue. You can also jeopardize your personal assets without the proper insurance and business structure.
You can learn more about protecting yourself with contracts and insurance, as well as laying the groundwork for several other aspects of your business in our Photography Business 101 Course.
17. Refine with Education
After you’ve mastered second shooting, take a step back to assess your skills as a lead shooter. Do you have the necessary mastery of posing, lighting, creativity, time management, and other skills to successfully execute your own wedding? If not, or if you feel you need improvement in one or more of these areas, continue your online education our wedding workshops.
18. Refine Your Portfolio
One of the most common mistakes photographers make is leaving old, outdated, or lower quality images in their portfolio. Practice with more friends and do more test shoots to increase the quality of your portfolio. By now, you should be leaps and bounds beyond the skill level you had when you did your first round of test shoots, and your portfolio needs to reflect that.
Remember the concept of “less is more” and only show your best. Average to below-average images, relative to your best images, only detract from the perception of your services.
19. Set Up Your Pricing and Packages
Pricing is always a hot topic in photography communities, and putting together pricing packages is something many photographers struggle with. Research and study different pricing topics, including the following:
- Luxury vs Consumer Purchases
- Cost Based Pricing
- Competitor Pricing Research
- The Paradox of Choice
- Price Anchors
You can find more in-depth information on these pricing and product design topics in our Photography Business 201 workshop.
20. Work on your website marketing
Now that you have experience, education and a polished portfolio, it’s time to get booked. Study and implement these 11 ways to market your photography business:
- Photography Client Referrals
- Vendor/Network Referrals
- SEO and Content Marketing for Photographers
- Social Media for Photographers
- Video Marketing
- Directories and Online Listings
- Awards, Features and Publicity
- Email Marketing
- Giveaway and Charity Marketing
- In Person Networking Events and Tradeshows
- Paid Ads – Social Media, Adwords and More
Timeline (Months 8-12): Booking and Shooting Your First Gig
It’s time to fully step into the driver’s seat and follow through from making first contact with clients to delivering their images (and possibly selling album add-ons or wall art).
21. Book and Shoot your first set of weddings
As the leads roll in from your web marketing efforts, work on your sales and booking process. This is where your soft skills like communication and understanding take center stage. The better you are at understanding your clients and their vision for their wedding day, the sooner you’ll be able to build their trust and start booking weddings.
Initially, be careful not to take on more than you can handle so that you can always deliver a 5-star experience. Every client should feel as though they’re your only client. As your experience grows and you work out any kinks in your process, you’ll be able to scale your business and take on additional bookings.
Timeline (Months 12+): Refining and Marketing
After you’ve successfully photographed a number of weddings, you should review your process to identify and address areas that need improvement. Then, when you’re ready, you can increase your marketing efforts to bring in more leads.
22. Exceed expectations & use those to market
In addition to exceeding your client’s expectations with customer service, strive to create images that are both meaningful to the clients and visually impactful for marketing purposes. You can then use the same images that wowed your previous clients to improve your portfolio and attract new leads.
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