Do You Have What It Takes?
With the affordability of high megapixel digital cameras, many shutterbugs have made the leap from their pocket sized point-and-shoots to the larger, more professional looking DSLRs with interchangeable lenses. After happily snapping away for a while and producing good quality images of family, friends and pets, some shooters decide to move into professional photographer territory and get paid for their hobby. As with just about any creative job – such as writers, graphic designers, web designers and the like – the reality of the work involved is greatly overshadowed by the idea of “doing what you love.”
So you’ve got yourself a nice prosumer grade camera and you have a good grasp on using it. What’s more, you enjoy using it and have been told your images are really good. Seems only natural that you’d want to get paid to snap pictures, and what’s more fun than a wedding? It’s just one day out of the week, you get to share some lucky couple’s big day, and make a quick couple hundred bucks to boot. What’s not to like?
Hold on there, Ansel Adams. Learning how to become a wedding photographer takes more than just liking photography and taking good images. A lot more. Even though you only see the wedding photographer “working” on the big day, what you don’t see are the hours - sometimes days - of meetings, rehearsals and additional shooting sessions that take place before the big event. And after the wedding day are the hours spent going through the hundreds – sometimes thousands! - of images taken to select only the best for additional editing and processing. The only thing that’s “quick” about wedding photography is the shooting pace during the big day!
Is Wedding Photography Right for You?
Before learning how to become a wedding photographer, it’s a good idea to ascertain if wedding photography is the right niche for you. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I enjoy talking and interacting with people?
- Am I a good business person?
- Am I in good physical shape? (Wedding photography is a lot more strenuous and physical than you’d think!)
- Do I have a more-than-basic grasp on the principles of photography and know how to correct for any problems such as a dark room?
- Do I know my equipment inside and out, and have backups for everything should something malfunction on the big day?
- Can I work quickly and efficiently, solving problems on the fly?
- Am I passionate about photographing weddings?
If you’ve answered “NO” to any of these questions, wedding photography may not be the right path for you. If, however, you’ve answered “YES”, you may have what it takes to succeed.
Learning How to Become a Wedding Photographer
Just because you know how to work a camera doesn’t mean you’re ready to run out and shoot a wedding. Just like learning any other new profession, entering wedding photography requires passion, dedication and more than just a passing knowledge of how a camera works and what makes a good image. There are a few steps you should take before fully investing in pursuing a wedding photography career, starting with the very basics of photography.
Step 1 – Learn Your Craft
So you have the passion, the interest and the dedication to become a wedding photographer. Don’t start advertising just yet, as you need to familiarize yourself with the business and style of wedding photography first.
Study Photography and Your Equipment
First and foremost, you need to know about photography and familiarize yourself with your equipment before you can expect anyone to pay you a cent for your images. Learn about aperture, f-stops, ISO, shutter speed and white balance and how to set them on your camera. Do the same for your lenses. Study their use, their effects and their limitations and in what situations they work best. This knowledge is the foundation of ANY professional photographer’s business, and the more knowledgeable you are about these basics, the better off you’ll be.
Read About Wedding Photography
Seek out and devour everything you can about wedding photography. This includes books, blogs, workshops and seminars, and should cover the business end, such as wedding photography contracts and liability insurance, as well as the creative end with posing, composition and imaging.
Assist Another Professional
A great way to learn how to become a wedding photographer – or whether or not it’s right for you - is to actually shoot a wedding, but going solo with no experience can be daunting. Instead, find a professional wedding photographer in your area and ask to be a second shooter at his or her next booking. A mentor can speed up the learning process, as well as help you build your portfolio for when you decide to venture forth on your own.
Step 2 – Invest in Yourself
It takes a lot more than a camera, lens and a dream to become a wedding photographer. The fact is that professionals take no chance with the tools of their livelihood and have backups for every piece of equipment they use – some even have backups for their backups!
Although you don’t need the best and most expensive of anything, a good, well-rounded list of must-have professional wedding photography equipment is:
- 2 DSLR camera bodies
- 1 normal zoom lens f/2.8 or faster
- 1 wide zoom lens f/2.8 or faster
- 1 long zoom lens f/2.8 or faster
- 2 flashes
- Extra batteries, for cameras and flashes
- Extra memory cards
- Fast processing computer
- Photo processing software (ie, Adobe Photoshop)
- Backup and storage capabilities (for files)
- CD or DVD writing software
“Backup” is the professional photographer’s mantra. Have backup equipment, backup the images as soon as you download them on your computer, and make backup copies as you work on them. These are once-in-a-lifetime images and cannot just be re-done if your hard drive decides to go belly up and take all your images with it.
Step 3 – Set Your Prices
You’ve got your equipment and your game face on, now it’s time to start thinking about what you’ll charge. This is where a lot of new wedding photographers fall flat because they either price themselves too low or too high for their area. Remember that the whole idea behind pricing is to cover expenses and still make a profit. Compare the prices of other professional photographers in your area, and keep the following expenses in mind when figuring your prices:
- Traveling expenses (mileage on your car, cost of gas, insurance premiums, etc.)
- Liability insurance
- Cost of equipment replacement and upgrades
- Your expertise
- Your marketing and promotional expenses
- Your cost for albums, prints and other products
Most photographers new to the world of professional photography start with low prices, which don’t necessarily lend themselves to great profit. This is fine when you start out, as it allows you to build your photography portfolio while making some money. But always push yourself to improve and gradually increase your prices. Remember that new wedding photographers fresh out of the gate won’t be able to command the high price tags more established photographers can.
Step 4 – Get Ready to Launch
Once you have the foundation of professional wedding photography down, it’s time to finish up the details before you start actively advertising.
- Put up a website with all your very best images
- Create a “Contact Me” page with your phone number and email address
- Contact a graphic designer to develop a logo for your company branding
- Have business cards printed up for passing out to family, friends and anyone interested
Once you have all the details covered, it’s time to . . .
Step 5 – LAUNCH!
You’re ready to start advertising! Different marketing methods work better for some people than for others, so you’ll have to experiment and see which mediums work best for you and your area. Try direct mail postcards or sales letters, magazine or phonebook ads, and marketing emails. Some photographers find great success buying a booth in a local bridal or wedding show and speaking face-to-face with brides-to-be.
Wedding Photography is Not for Everyone
Just as not everyone who picks up a pencil can write a best-selling novel, not everyone who enjoys photography - or is even good at it! - is cut out to become a wedding photographer. It takes a special kind of person to want to surround him or herself with the stress, the excitement, and the unpredictable nature that is a wedding day. Wedding photography is also a much more physically demanding job than it would otherwise seem, as the lure of unique camera angles drives photographers to perform squats, lean-ins and similar body contortions in order to capture the image in their head. A wedding can be both a physically and emotionally draining day on the photographer!
In the world of professional wedding photography, it takes passion, dedication, photographic expertise and a lot of hard work to succeed. Here are a few basic dos and don’ts of the business:
- Go the extra mile and give your clients more than they expect
- Get to know your clients and make them comfortable
- Act professionally, even when things don’t go according to plan
- Act confidently and take charge when necessary
- Keep an eye on the backgrounds to avoid distractions
- “Wing it” - you need to know what the schedule is to plan accordingly
- Stand still – you must exude energy and keep moving to capture those images others miss
- Settle for “good enough” - always push yourself to improve
- Forget to market – professional photography is 80% business and 20% photography
- Abandon your images after they’re shot – use a processing program to bring out their best
- Undervalue yourself – continually assess your image quality and expertise and change your prices accordingly
It takes time to learn how to become a wedding photographer and build a successful wedding photography business, but the smiles and happy tears from your very satisfied clients makes the hard work worthwhile!