I will be the first to admit I don’t know everything about wedding photography.
In the seven years I’ve been photographing weddings, my attitude, methodology, and style have changed.
In the last few years, I have seen something very alarming in the wedding photography industry-
“rockstars” of our industry who, to make a quick buck on naive new photographers, like to tell them what they want to hear: how easy it is to have a business instead of giving them good, solid business advice.
An “industry leader” started a website for new photographers who are wanting to shoot weddings. His advice was so irresponsible and myopic that it started a debate in our photo community. Some people agreed it was horrible advice. Some people defended him. But everyone agreed on something: What advice could we give that was better?
And so I’ve been thinking. I’ve worked with several new photographers and this is not only the advice I give, but what I wish someone else had told me when I was starting out.
Here’s my 10 Ways to Become a (Better) Wedding Photographer:
- 1- Learn your gear. Read the manual front to back. Watch every YouTube video you can find on your lenses, camera bodies, and flashes. You cannot be a professional and not know how to use your camera in manual mode and how to use a flash. You could absolutely ruin someone’s wedding. Lighting at weddings is all over the place- from a dark church where you can’t use flash, to a noon ceremony outdoors, to a reception hall with black ceilings and walls where you can’t bounce your flash. You need to be confident that you know how to use your equipment to get the best images for your clients.
- 2- Get your ducks in a row. This is the boring stuff, but it’s very important- incorporate (LLC, etc), get insurance (for your equipment and your business), pay your taxes. Make a plan for what you would do if you ever got sick/injured and couldn’t photograph a wedding. Make a business plan. Make a solid contract. These aren’t fun things to talk about, but they need to be discussed.
One thing I find that happens to every new photographer (myself included) is that you get overwhelmed. The editing, the e-mails, the followup, the albums, the everything. Instead of tweaking a logo and making your blog the new trendiest thing, make a checklist for yourself of what you need to do before and after a wedding. Make a list of photos you want to make sure you capture at the wedding. Writing it out will help you streamline the process and see where you are focusing your energy the most. If you’re stuck on the editing, try and zero in on what part is causing you issues- is your color balance off? Are all your photos a stop or two underexposed? Figure it out and solve it- maybe you need to invest in a expo disk and use manual flash instead of ETTL to better control your light- whatever it is, once you figure it out, it will save you a huge amount of time in post-production, the place where most of us photogs get jammed up. Use that time to work on your marketing.
- 3- You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. In fact, you shouldn’t do what everyone else is doing! You don’t have to offer 10 different types of albums because that what so and so does. If there are two companies you love, just offer those. In fact, if you hate albums, you don’t have to offer any. What? You don’t have to offer albums?! No, you don’t. Example- my dear friend Jaime, the Blonde Photographer, doesn’t do albums. She also doesn’t have a website. Whaaaaat?! Nope, she doesn’t, and she’s completely booked up, quite published, just mentored a group of photo students on a trip to India, and does weddings all over the country and even does a few a year in Africa. True story.
What I’m saying is just because so and so says you need to tweet, use facebook, and blog every single day doesn’t mean you have to. See what works for you- see what your clients and your audience is receptive to. If you hate Twitter? Don’t use it. Not a huge fan of burning disks? Don’t- use YouSendIt or do flash drives. Loathe writing long blog posts about your weddings? Don’t- post a few stellar shots and be done with it. Do what works for you, not what anyone else says works for them.
- 4- Workshops and widgets: you don’t always get what you pay for. Sadly, our industry has a lot of snake oil salesman. Some are easy to spot. Some wear heels and cute dresses. Don’t let the “oooh, let’s be friends” persona get you- they are engaging you because they have something to sell. Books, workshops, magazines, bags, websites… it’s endless. Are some of these products helpful? Absolutely. Do you have to have all of them? Probably not. Be smart. Do your research. Talk to people who have the products, who have attended the workshops; do they really work? Are they truly useful? Do you actually learn something, or do you just make new friends? Your money is limited- make sure that the $2,500 (plus flight, hotel, and incidentals) you’re about to drop on the new “it” girl’s photography workshop is worth every damn penny.
- 5- Second shoot and practice. A lot. Before you go solo on your first wedding, second shoot with some other photographers. I suggest shooting with a couple different ones. Not only will you get a better feel for your equipment and your capabilities with it, but you’ll learn the flow of the day, how to anticipate moments, and how to deal with sticky situations. You’ll also see how each photographer “works” and decide what you like that they do and what you don’t like. Let the primary photographer show you what to expect, instead of learning it blind on your own. In between wedding gigs? Photograph your friends, their kids, your cousins. Everyone. Practice, practice, practice. Shoot everyday. Shoot in different conditions. Look up photo challenges online, ones that take you out of your comfort zone and do them. Anything to change your perspective and try something new.
- 6- There is no easy button. Much to the dismay of eager new photographers (and again, I was one of them, too) there is no easy button. I’ve heard some great analogies lately- you can’t learn the piano one day and give a concert the next, you can’t learn how to make pizza dough on a Monday and open your Italian restaurant on a Tuesday. It takes time. A long time. It takes years to find your voice/style, years to build a solid client base, and years to master advanced techniques. There is no website, no podcast, no workshop, no book that can give you this. These aforementioned items can give you “Ah-ha!” moments- putting things you’ve already learned with a new technique and idea and building on it. But if you’re starting from scratch the items means nothing and are a waste of time and money. You have to put in the time. Period.
- 7- It’s going to take awhile to actually make a profit. News flash: you’re not going to get “rich” shooting weddings. Getting all the gear you need will take a year or two. Then getting it insured, then paying for repairs. Don’t forget second shooters, paying a company to host your photos, making albums…. I could go on and on, but I’ll just link you to this great piece written by another photographer on why photography is so expensive. Please realize that anyone who tells you there is a “fast track” to wedding photography bliss is flat out lying. Just like anything else the whole “get rich quick” scheme does not apply to this industry. It’s slow and steady growth.
- 8- Get critiqued. Friends and family who tell you that you’re awesome, amazing and the best photographer they know are great. It’s nice to have such a supportive network behind you. Sweet Facebook comments are motivating. But get critiqued by people who know what they are talking about. When you’re starting out, (and beyond) you need to be told that your photos aren’t exposed right. That you blew out all the highlights in the wedding dress. That you did some weird post-processing that didn’t work. Critique can be eye opening and the best thing you ever do, if you are open to the experience and decide not to take anything too personally.
When I was first starting out, I had a photographer look at my portfolio. I went to that meeting pretty proud of my work. He ripped me to shreds. But how could he?! Everyone says I’m so good?! I wanted to cry and run away at the same time. Once I stepped back and decided I didn’t need to sell all my equipment on CraigsList that afternoon, I got quiet. And I listened. And took notes. I really did need better composition in my portraits. I really did need a stronger depth of field to make my photos more interesting. And I needed to convert my black and whites better. He was right. Dammit. That’s when my world opened. I kept those things in the back of my mind while shooting and I got better. I got critiqued again and learned more, and implemented those things. You’re not going to agree with everything you hear, but you need to hear it. Own it. Acknowledge it. Decide it’s something you need to work on or not, but listen and learn. Being told you’re awesome all the time might feel good, but you’re not growing as a photographer and you’re certainly not growing your business.
- 9- Set your limits. When people know you’re a new photographer, they may try to take advantage of you; have you cover the rehearsal for no cost, do extra hours of coverage you didn’t agree on, second shoot for a fee less than what you want. As a new photographer, you’re eager to learn, please and deliver. That’s great, but remember, if you start out as the cheap photographer who gives away the farm, it will take you a long time to not be the photographer who gives away the farm. Even worse is being known as the “free” photographer- the person who will photograph your event, family, baby for free. Be careful, and be selective. Word spreads fast and it can be tough to break. Starting out you’ll obviously be doing work for a lower price than someone established- BUT- consider doing an event/session/whatever at “portfolio building” prices. This makes it clear that your prices won’t always be like this- that once you get more experience under your belt, you’ll be increasing your fees.
- 10 – Over deliver every single time. On every single job, over deliver. You can decide what that means to you and your business- getting the photos to the client before deadline, adding a few extra prints to their package, sending a thank you with a special gift. Whatever it is, make it special, make is memorable, and make it something that shows your client that you appreciate them and want their business and their recommendation.
You’ll notice that “make friends” isn’t on here.
That’s because if you’re doing an amazing job for your clients, you’re second shooting, and you’re in a community with others who are learning about photography, friends will come.
It’s a delightful part of this industry. There are so many fantastic, talented people! You’ll be glad for them and they will be close to your heart.
This list isn’t pretty. I can’t dress it up. It is what it is. I wish someone had given this list to me seven years ago.
I hope that this list helps new photographers gain a sense of what’s really important in the industry and not just listen to what the “rockstars” say- who all have something to sell.
I’m not that far removed from being a newbie, it was just a few years ago. I want to help those who have a serious passion for photography and want to make it career.