how to become a wedding PHOTOGRAPHER
It all started when...
It's almost 4 years since I took my first tentative steps into the world of wedding photography. When I began my business back in May 2013 I had absolutely zero intentions of photographing weddings. The plan was to concentrate on newborns, family shoots and the occasional events such as Christenings. The pressure of shooting weddings was something I would happily leave to other people. So imagine my surprise, just a few months later, when If found myself knocking on the door of my very first wedding clients Yvonne and Lee. I'd been recommended to them by a mutual friend. They were planning their wedding at very short notice, had a tiny budget and were happy to trust me to capture their day.
Every day I THANK THE UNIVERSE that I managed to do that without completely making a mess of their images.
Although I didn't realise at the time, I was woefully unprepared to be a wedding photographer. I had an amateur level camera, a kit lens and a cheap 50mm, one flash gun and absolutely no idea how to use it and literally no idea what a wedding day entailed for a wedding photographer. Let me emphasis this again - I was very, very lucky that everything went to plan, that it didn't rain, that my couple we're lovely and easy going. After that very first wedding I was hooked. I knew weddings were where I wanted to be and from that moment on I concentrated all my efforts into building my wedding photography business. Happily, 4 years down the line, I can look back on the 130+ weddings I have now photographed and I know I made the right choice saying yes to that first opportunity.
HOW DO I BECOME A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER?
On a weekly basis I get emails from aspiring wedding photographers asking how to break into the industry. Facebook groups are filled with the same question. Like running any business there's so many different ways of going about it. I'm a strong believer that there is enough work to go around so I'd never discourage anyone from trying to build a business in this industry. Sadly though, I also see couples who have had their wedding days ruined by inexperienced and underprepared photographers. We can have the best of both worlds - building a business we love without risking ruining someone's big day. Here are some of my tips to breaking into the wedding industry.
By far the most sensible route into wedding photography is to start off by shadowing and assisting a more experienced wedding photographer. No matter how talented you are as a photographer, a real life wedding day is something else! It's so important to know how a wedding day runs, what bits are important to capture, how to keep things running to time, how to handle guests, when to take the bride and groom off for pictures and so on. As you grow more and more experienced you'll develop your own style and way of doing things, but to begin with knowing the basics is key.
The pros of this approach are obvious - by shadowing an experienced wedding photographer you can learn a huge amount without putting yourself in the position of sole responsibility for someones wedding images. Even if you get the opportunity to carry someone's bags and you don't even pick up a camera, you can watch how they work, how they pose a couple, how they use lighting and learn so much. The cons of this approach is that many wedding photographers don't have the capacity to take along a newbie to a wedding day - they've got a responsibility to their paying clients to provide the best images possible and often that means they need to take a long an experienced second shooter. So getting a foot in the door can sometimes be very difficult.
If you'd like to offer your services as an assistant or second shooter here are some hints and tips:
- Don't send a mass email to loads of photographers. We can spot that a mile off and it doesn't really leave us with a warm and tingly feeling. Follow some local photographers whose style you like and when you approach them make sure your email is personal. Tell us what you can offer - not just what you want out of it.
- Don't be put off by knock backs or a lack of response. I receive 5 - 6 emails a month from photographers looking for second shooter for assisting opportunities. I do reply to every single one but I'm not in the position to offer opportunities very often. Many photographer receive so many emails, often ones which have been copy and pasted to dozens of people, that they don't have the time or inclination to reply.
- Join groups on Facebook that have been set up for second shooting or other wedding photography groups. Most areas have their own local groups. This is a great way to get to know some of the local photographers in your area and offer your services as an assistant.
- LISTEN. Photographers look for different things from their second shooters. If you get an opportunity to work with someone listen to what they want, remember you're there to support them, not just for your own portfolio. You're much more likely to be offered more work if you do.
Workshops and Styled Shoots
One of the main obstacles when you're looking to break into the wedding industry is your portfolio. Prospective couples generally want to see images you've already taken at a wedding day. But here's the vicious cycle - before you've shot a wedding you've got nothing to show! Lots of aspiring photographers choose to attend workshops to get some portfolio images. The pros of attending a workshop are many: you meet lots of fellow photographers which is one of the best things you can do. You can get some beautiful images for your portfolio without the pressure of a wedding day and you can learn new techniques from the person who is running the workshop. The cons: A workshop doesn't reflect the way a wedding runs. The time you'll have on a workshop is a luxury compared to what you'll get on a wedding day. So whilst you'll get some cracking images, it doesn't really teach you what weddings are like in the real world.
Some things to consider with workshops and styled shoots -
Chose carefully: What do you want to learn? Lighting, posing, business? Not all workshops are the same. Follow photographers whose style you admire to see if they offer workshops or styled shoots. Choose the workshops carefully to fill the gaps in your knowledge where possible. If you've booked a winter wedding and your lighting skills are lacking - choose a workshop that concentrates on flash. If you're worried about working with couples makes sure your workshop will include some actual guidance on posing rather than just leaving you to take your own shots.
Don't overdo the images: Workshops are not the same as a wedding day. So don't rely on the images to build your portfolio. Working with a model is NOT the same as working with a real couple. By all means, use workshops to improve your skills but don't try to pass them off as real weddings on your website.
Jump In Feet First
It might seem hugely irresponsible for me to advise this method, considering what I've said above about how completely unprepared I was and downright lucky that I didn't completely screw up someone's wedding photographs. But jumping in head first is definitely one way to break into a wedding industry. As long as it's done right.
Are you confident in your basic photography and lighting skills? Perhaps you've been photographing other genres for a little while and waiting for your break into wedding photography? Do you know how your camera works inside and out? Can you work in different lighting conditions? Perhaps then you're ready to start shooting weddings. Of course there's sooooo much more to a wedding day than but no matter route you take there will always be an aspect of learning on the job.
If you're planning to jump in feet first then there's some really important things to consider.
- Be completely honest with prospective clients: put yourself out there and let your friends and family know that you'd like to start shooting weddings. But when you get that first enquiry, be completely honest about your skills and experience. Price your services to reflect the fact that you're starting out and emphasis to your couple that this will be your first wedding. Then for good measure - mention it again. Managing expectations is absolutely VITAL. Your first few couples will be taking a leap of faith with you and that's ok as long as they know about it!
- Considering hiring an assistant or second shooter: Even if you have to pay for it out of your own pocket, having a second pair of hands on a wedding day can be invaluable. They can spot things you miss, carry bags, make suggestions and offer you some moral support.
- Get yourself organised: This might be your first wedding but there's no excuse to go in unprepared. Get a contract in place, make sure you've got a full timeline of the day, get contract numbers for everyone, check out your route to the venues, makes sure there's not likely to be traffic issues on the day, plan to arrive ridiculously early and visit the venue for a recce before hand so you can plan out where to take photographers and what to do in case of bad weather.
- Practice, practice, practice: Offer up your services for free to cover events such as parties and christenings - this will give you some great experience of working in churches or dark venues, without the pressure of it being a wedding day. Offer your couple a free engagement shoot so you can practice how to work with couples in front of the camera. Get to grips with your lighting and know how to use it should you need to.
Being a wedding photographer is a hugely rewarding job and one that I'm very thankful to do. If you're interested in starting your wedding photography business I really hope this blog post has helped. For more helpful articles please visit my page just for photographers or connect with me on my photographer's Facebook page. I offer workshops and mentoring for photographers and small business owners.