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Wedding photography is joyful beyond description! In fact, it’s all the rage in the realm of digital photography, and you can turn a pretty penny as well! But professional wedding photography definitely isn’t for everyone. Here are 10 things you should know about being a professional wedding photographer, before you take the leap and quit your day job.
I hate to even include this on this list, because it’s clearly a given. However, it bears repeating, and repeating (and repeating). If you plan to represent yourself as a professional, you need to have a professional level understanding of your gear. This may sound contradictory if you’ve read my post, Photographing Your Best Friend’s Wedding, so allow me to clarify. There is a significant difference between representing yourself as a professional VS setting clearly defined expectations and allowing a friend or family member to hire you with eyes WIDE open to your level of inexperience. If you’re going to market yourself as a professional, you’ve got to know your gear up, down and side to side.
That said— I BELIEVE IN YOU!!! Wholeheartedly! If you don’t know your gear YET, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn! If professional wedding (or portrait, or journalism, or travel, or commercial) photography is your goal, I say “Go for it!” I don’t care who you are, or where you come from, your goal can become your reality if you are willing to WORK for it!
Remember, wedding photography is a collaborative effort between the photographer, the bride and groom, the planner, the parents, the guests, other vendors and more! You’ve got to understand this foundational information if you’re going to be successful. I’ll elaborate throughout the points below, but take this wisdom and let it sink into your core. It is essential to your success.
You’ve got to know who you work for. Do you work for the bride? Do you work for her mother? Do you work for a planner? You’ve got to clearly understand (and articulate your understanding) to all the parties involved in the event. Generally speaking, at the end of the day, even if the referral came from a planner, you work for the bride, and SHE is the one you’re aiming to please. Meet her every need, with your whole soul, she deserves it. It’s her big day. . . Additionally, she’s the one signing your check. It pays to make her happy (pun unintended, but welcomed nonetheless).
Kellin and Sean’s beautiful wedding: Kona, Hi.
Wedding photography is relationship based—referral based. You’ve simply got to over deliver, at every single event. This goes for delivery of self (more on that to come), images, correspondence, and final products. You hold the holy grail for these people: IMAGES! You are documenting their memories for a lifetime, and in terms of vendors, you are helping build their professional portfolio.
Share, give, collaborate, always.
NOTE: Above I mentioned knowing who you work for. Don’t mistake me to mean that you shouldn’t respect, revere and do your very best to accommodate a planner. They take on the lion’s share of the work involved in the wedding day. They’ve been working for months and months (sometimes a year or LONGER) putting all these beautiful details together. Offer them the respect they deserve. They are wonderful people (and have the potential to be wonderful resources to you as your progress as a photographer).
As I mentioned above, and have continued to illustrate throughout this post, wedding photography is a collaborative effort. You’ve got to show up at your BEST—mentally, emotionally, physically and creatively. Make sure you’ve prepared the most important piece of gear you own: YOU!
Show up as the best version of yourself, ready to work HARD, focus fiercely and listen carefully to ensure you anticipate the needs of your client completely.
Wedding photography requires an astronomical amount of work. Yes, I know your mind flows directly to editing, and yes, that can be extremely time consuming, but I’m not referring only to post production. I’m referencing the booking process, the email correspondence, facilitating questions, managing expectations, shooting, editing, providing images and other products. You’re committing to being completely accessible to your client for MONTHS leading up to the event and months after the big day. Make sure you don’t over commit and thus find yourself less available to your clients. Remember, this industry is relationship based. The better care you take of your current clients, the more likely they are to refer you to their friends. I equate more than 80% of my business to past client referrals. That’s pretty darn significant. Wouldn’t you say?
Part of setting clearly defined expectations for your clients and collaborating effectively, is for you to have a clearly defined style—a clearly defined artistic voice. Heaven knows that this is an organic process and that you will constantly refine and re-refine yourself artistically, however your clients need to have clear expectations as to what they will receive from you. If you want to achieve consistent bookings from enthusiastic clients, who are willing to pay you fairly, you’ve got to present yourself to them consistently and effectively.
If you don’t do the work necessary to refine your style, this industry will soon become filled with a million “minis.” Minis are watered down versions of other photographers. This industry does not need a zillion photographers simply regurgitating each other’s work. This industry needs YOUR creative voice, YOUR unique vision. Refining your style lends itself to better clients—clients who you really resonate with, because they have hired YOU because you’re YOU! They love your unique style and want to work with you. You become a scarce commodity, rather than just another photographer, and while this isn’t the motivating end in mind, the truth of the matter is that it does make you worth more money. Yay!
I vividly remember being on a flight to shoot my first celebrity wedding. I was 8 months pregnant, sitting in the back row of the plane, my seat didn’t recline, and I was nestled in between 2 fairly large gentlemen flyers. Not quite what I’d build that moment up to be! Ha!
Be prepared to WORK. Hard. It’s not all glamor and glitz. You’ve got to give your absolute ALL, to every single client, at every single wedding you shoot, ALWAYS. Don’t get jaded. Don’t lose your creative edge. Fight to stay in your best creative space (by caring for yourself as mentioned above). Each client deserves the VERY BEST you have to give—without exception!
You’re not going to book every single client who sends you an inquiry. Get used to hearing “no.” It’s not an indication of your talent or lack there of. Not every client is “your client.” Remember, you’re not looking for every single client the world over, you want to find the RIGHT clients for you. The clients that you can really connect with and thus COLLABORATE with effectively toward your very best work. Remembering this, that you’re not looking for every client, just the right ones—helps you keep your head on your shoulders when you are inevitably turned down from time to time.
NOTE: If you ARE booking every client that comes your way, that’s a clear indication that it’s time to raise your prices! You should really only be booking approximately 50% of the inquiries that come your way.
You’re living a dream! Photographing weddings is such a joyful experience! Yes it’s tough, yes it’s WORK, but it’s completely and totally fulfilling as well. It’s absolutely worth any and all the sacrifices it requires in order to be an integral part of such a significant time in someone’s life. Every day, my clients remind me how to love . . . completely. Who could ask for anything more?!
Me, jowling in a wedding photo booth. Enjoying every minute of it! I love my job!
PS: want more wedding photography tips? Check out our tutorial – Wedding Photography: 21 Tips for Amateur Wedding Photographers.