1. Have at least two cameras: For convenience, security and professionalism, buy and familiarize yourself with at least two cameras. You may want one with a soft-focus filter or zoom lens, or just an extra backup. Also take extra batteries. Err on the side of caution. You’ll have a very unhappy bride if your camera suddenly jams in the middle of the ceremony.
2. Test your skills and interest: A wedding photography business may sound like a fun way to make money on the weekends and be around a bunch of happy people. But without doing it, you may not know if you are really capable and interested in starting a wedding photography business. Try asking a friend or family member if you can shoot their wedding for free (assuming you aren’t already the maid of honor). Especially for your first couple of jobs, you may even encourage them to hire an established professional who lets you observe while practicing your own photography.
3. Make a budget: The most important aspect of starting any small business is creating a realistic budget, and making an effort to stick to it. You’ll likely save money and headaches by spending some time to make this budget upfront.
4. Keep track of expenses: Likewise, keep careful track of all your expenses and revenue for tax purposes. Taxes can be hefty on small businesses, but there are plenty of opportunity to write off expenses, including mileage and a portion of your mortgage for your home office. But be careful. You’re also raising your chances of an audit, when you’ll need to prove that you have a dedicated computer and room just for the home business.
5. Learn to shoot quickly and take candid photos: If you’re used to staging perfect family portraits, you’re ready for about one quarter of the wedding shoot. You’ll also need to shoot candid images during every part of the wedding ceremony and reception. And it’s plenty of rapid shooting with the goal of using a fraction of your images. It’s also important to perfect the art of being everywhere but not intruding on the event.
6. Start small: If you’re ready to move on from your cousin’s free shoot, you’re still not ready to charge big bucks and take out full page ads in wedding magazines. Save some marketing money by offering your services on local online forums or in community event halls or relevant shops with bulletin boards.
7. Remember who’s in charge: It’s not you. The wedding is all about the bride (not the whole wedding party, just the bride). If she wants you to lie down and take pictures of everyone’s shoes, hit the floor. She might be stressed or emotional and may ask you to get her a drink or something. She’s your boss for a night. Smile and head for the bar.
8. Be responsive: Weddings are stressful and there is a lot for the couple and family to organize and track. If you get a message or request from the clients, try to respond graciously and helpfully within 24 hours. Don’t leave them hanging.
9. Go the extra mile: Again, when you’re starting out, you can’t afford to command high rates or charge for every detail. Throw in a couple of free prints or an extra disc of second-tier images, or offer to shoot the rehearsal dinner at a discount. The extra time and expense will pay off in glowing recommendations.
10. Network and find a niche: One of the hardest (for me, anyway) but most important parts of running a small business is networking. You have the advantage of offering a service that almost everyone will use. The disadvantage is heavy competition. Like any field, you might want to consider finding a niche wedding photography business. And get creative with your marketing and advertising.
11. Dress up: You don’t want to don a khaki vest and look like you’re on a safari or paparazzi mission. You don’t need a tuxedo, but a sharp suit or dress will help you blend in with the crowd.
12. Have fun: You’re probably going to work most Saturday nights, so try to have fun with it. You don’t want to be Debbie Downer, and a good attitude will show in your photos. But don’t have too much fun. An open bar isn’t open to you.