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Wedding Photography is unique among all other photography mediums. As a professional photographer you have free reign over an incredible event full of emotion, action and beauty. Being able to use your skills to capture these moments forever, and have them be cherished by your clients is an honor wedding photographers take very seriously. It isn’t for the faint of heart. The pressure is as high as the clients expectations, but it can be a very rewarding occupation. For these reasons, wedding photography is quite a competitive field.
With camera equipment simultaneously rising in capabilities and dropping in prices, it means more and more photographers have been able to make the leap from enthusiast to professional. For those already established in the industry, they might resent the added competition and the downward pressure on prices, but for those photographers who have what it takes, now more than ever are opportunities to start the transition into becoming a true professional photographer. In this article I identify 5 things you can do now to prepare yourself to make the leap.
Start comparing your pictures with those of established photographers. Professionals want their work to be seen and are constantly sharing their favorite images. Take advantage of this wonderful free source of knowledge. Scour both web and print sources and learn from the best. In analog style, I recommend starting a physical scrapbook of images you like. Get a few of the jumbo wedding magazines and start ripping it apart. Look for poses and techniques that you’d like to learn to duplicate. If you are more computer oriented, I find having a folder of great pictures I’ve stumbled on a valuable reference. Don’t worry if the pictures seem beyond your level. This will be a process and you’ll advance to higher levels in due time.
Things I look for in photographs:
Invest in high quality glass. Many photographers put excessive weight in the camera body, when the truth is, as a professional photographer you have to expect your camera body to be obsolete in as little as 3 years. Not a pleasant reality. The flip side of the coin is that a good lens will hold its value almost indefinitely. Some lenses have even been known to increase in value. Start slow but buy the good stuff. Your safest bet is to stick with the major manufactures and avoid zoom lenses with constantly varying apertures. Choose lenses that allow you to lock down the aperture to at least a wide f/2.8. Don’t pass out at the total price of your complete kit, instead, build it piece by piece.
Building a wedding portfolio can be a challenge. Many fine art photographers with incredible skill find it difficult to make the switch into wedding photography simply because their portfolio lacks wedding images. To move past this hurdle you may have to volunteer yourself as a wedding photographer for friends and family. Start getting word out of your ambitions and opportunities will come. If your invited to a wedding, don’t leave your camera at home. Another option is to attend a wedding photography workshop where live models are brought in (often in wedding gowns) for you to practice your techniques on. These are fine to use in your portfolio in the beginning but should be transitioned out as you build a quality gallery of your own unique shots. It’s important that early on you set up some sort of portfolio organization system, ideally with a star ratings. As your pictures improve so should your galleries. Since a photographer should always be improving, this means his public portfolio should never stay static. Save yourself searching through long forgotten events for good images and start organizing your favorites early on.
As you build a good portfolio, you need to make it accessible and get your services online. To do this, there is a mind boggling array of options, from completely free to fully custom designed sites. You can find pre-made website templates for photographers that require little changing for about $50 at Template Monster. For more expensive complete turnkey web solutions look to companies like BluDomain or BigFolio. DPS readers can easily add to this list. For a great album generator for showcasing your work I recommend starting with JAlbum. It’s open source, has some incredible skins and best of all it’s free. Other popular online galleries include Zenfolio, Pbase or even Apple’s iWeb.
Generating a flow of clients is going to be a slow process. Use the time you have now to get a solid foundation for the busy days down the road. Create a solid package price list and breakdown. Search out vendors you’ll be dealing with for prints, albums and other products. Design some promotional materials you can provide to clients. Research bridal shows in your local markets and most important of all… keep shooting.
Update: Charles has added a second article to this series which is all about Choosing a Lens for Wedding Photography.