Advice for Being a Successful Wedding Photographer
I have been in the business of photography for over 10 years, and in that time, I’ve photographed quite a few weddings. Some weddings I photographed working for other photographers as an assistant and second shooter. Most of the weddings I’ve done, however, have been with my own studio. Over the years I have noticed how the business has changed. Photography used to involve learning the technology and craft, getting an assistant job, and working your way up from there like a ladder. Now, it is more of a pyramid as the barrier to entry is much easier.
The bottom of the pyramid is where most photographers start. It is also where the majority of photographers are. They are often new to the business, charging less in order to become established photographers. The experienced photographers who earn a bit more are higher up. There are less of them, because they are the ones who stick it out, develop their skills, and can justify charging a bit more.
Then, of course, you have the top. These are the really high paid ones, the ones that do celebrity weddings and weddings for those who have a lot to spend. These are the ones who know the business inside and out and are at the top of their game. These are often the photographers many of us aspire to become. This is not me. I think I am in the middle somewhere, and the reason is, I don’t focus 100% of my time on wedding photography. Primarily I focus on studio photography, with a smaller portion of my business relying on weddings. Still, I have learned a few things over the years that might help you out as you work your way up.
First and foremost, having a camera does not make you a wedding photographer. This is the majority of what makes up the base of the aforementioned pyramid, though – people who bought a camera, looked at a few pictures online or watched some YouTube videos, and think they can photograph a wedding. They then offer to do some for free or for a really low price. This is where most wedding photographers start, which is fine, but you don’t want to stay at this level. So, before you start, take a few classes and workshops. Classes and workshops provide hands-on experience that you can’t get by watching online videos. You should know how to use your camera without thinking about it. No automatic settings, all manual. You should also know how to use flash without making it look like you are using flash. Many wedding venues tend to be a bit dark, especially churches, so knowing how to light your pictures using remote strobes (to prevent the “deer in headlights” look) is important. Often (not always) when you see people promote themselves as “natural light” photographers, it is because they don’t know how to be strobe photographers.
After learning everything about your camera, figure out working with clients to get the best out of them. Weddings are often stressful for the bride and groom, so it is up to you, the professional to remain calm and relaxed in all situations. The best way to do this is by getting a job assisting an established photographer. By working with a professional you will get to experience first-hand how they interact with their clients to get the best photographs possible. If you can, try to get experience working with multiple people. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and doing this will provide you with the opportunity to learn what works for you and what doesn’t to ultimately develop your own style. One of the best opportunities I had was working for a wedding photography studio that employed multiple photographers. I started out as a second shooter at the studio which would then pair me with different lead photographers.
Most importantly, practice as much as possible. When assisting other photographers, they will often have you holding lights, moving gear and other things that allow them to focus on dealing with the clients, but they will also provide you with the opportunity to capture some images. When they are working with clients taking pictures from one angle, move over to the side and take a few from another angle. Take some candids of guests, and after the wedding, ask the photographer to sit down and critique your work. Take all feedback with an open mind.
Utilize friends and families. Years ago, I did a wedding for a couple friends of mine as I was starting out. This allowed me the chance to practice on people I know and not be as stressed about it. You can also use sites like craigslist or adverts to offer to do a few weddings. Just make sure that you make the client aware that you are a beginner in the field. Don’t try to pass yourself off as an expert and advanced photographer. This will ensure that when you provide them with the final images and they don’t look like the cover of a magazine, they won’t be shocked. Be sure at no matter what stage you are in your career to set proper expectations with your clients.
Over the past 10 years, the average amount a wedding photographer makes per wedding hasn’t climbed with inflation. In some markets, it has decreased. This is because there are so many people who want to be wedding photographers because they have the tools and think it is an easy source of income. But as someone who does all kinds of portrait, event, and wedding photography I can speak from experience and say: weddings are extremely stressful and difficult if you want to be a top wedding photographer. Don’t decide to be a photographer just because you have a camera and want to make a little money on the side. Decide to be a photographer because you love to work with people to capture lovely images that they will cherish. It is the passion for quality that sets those at the top of the pyramid apart from those at the bottom.