Want to Be a Professional Wedding Photographer? Here Are 10 Things You Should Know.

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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.

1.  Know Your Gear. 

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!

2. Wedding Photography is Collaborative.

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.

3.  Know Who You Work For.

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.

4.  Remember: Wedding Photography is Relationship Based.

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).

5.  Take Care of Yourself (yes, you heard me right).

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.

6.  Be Prepared for the Time Commitment.

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?

7.  You’ve Got to Work to Refine Your Style.

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!

8.  It’s Not Always as Glamorous as it Seems.

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!

My friend Gina and I, after a 10 hour wedding in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Exhaustion.

9.  Don’t Be Discouraged By Rejection.

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.

10. Enjoy Every Minute of It!

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!

Happy shooting!

PS: want more wedding photography tips? Check out our tutorial – Wedding Photography: 21 Tips for Amateur Wedding Photographers.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Natalie Norton

is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at www.natalienortonblog.com. You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Michael Freeman

    Thank you so much for this article!

Some Older Comments

  • Eddie February 17, 2013 05:33 am

    Great advice on this site got my first wedding in june to see if I like to do this type of work please visit my web site feed back would be great to see if im any good lol

  • Larry J Foster, CPP January 4, 2013 05:54 am

    I have photographed over 800 weddings over the last 24 years and won numerous awards. I agree that there is a lot of psychology involved in all types of people photography. The couple's opinion of your photography is largely formulated before you have left the reception.

    I would add to this list "Understand lighting and posing". You want your client to look the best. That means you need to understand how to pose them light them to hide flaws and reduce weight. Anyone can run around and snap pictures like the paparazzi following Brittany Spears. They don't need a professional for that. If you want to make your work stand out from the crowd, you need to make them look marvelous.

  • Jess January 2, 2013 02:01 pm

    If you are a professional photograoher, just starting out, how would you manage travelling to weddings and all the equipment? Do you travel alot? What are the costs? Do they level out with your salary?

  • Robbie M. November 2, 2012 12:18 am

    Fun article Natalie,

    You made a very important point about knowing who you work for. I have been a guest at several weddings by choice, where I asked please don't hire me, I want to enjoy this.

    My point is the photographer did not know who they worked for. The mother of the bride was trying to set up shots, while the planner said" I want these shots", the brides friends saying "I want our picture over here".

    I could not take it anymore and had to step in and say " Everyone, it is amazing the amount of love and enthusiasm here tonight, but we all want great shots right"? J..... and K...... have paid the photographer a lot of money to get a number of specific shots that they would like. Once they are finished, I am sure we will all get a chance to get ours too. Wadda ya think?" People basically said ya that makes sense and relaxed.

    The frenzied photographer pulled me aside and said "Thank you so much, how did you do that"?

    I said simple, did any of those other people sign the check? Suddenly the light went on. Gave him my card and got a great compliment. "OMG that's you"? Do you teach? Now one of my best staffers :)

    I gave him my card and he said, "That's you?"

  • Dan October 26, 2012 12:38 pm

    Is there a "mid-market" for weddings? That is, a market for "semi-professional" wedding photography at significantly lower rates. I have no wedding photography experience and would need more and backup equipment, etc., but could provide nice results for a fraction of the cost of most wedding photographers. I would think that in today's market, that there would be a need for folks that want something better than Uncle Johnny's pics, but who can't afford to pay full boat.

  • Mark C. March 18, 2012 07:14 am

    I have to say that I am an amateur. Period. But I was asked to do a wedding with no expectations of pro pictures. At the time I had a pretty good point and shoot. Big mistake! You may assume that gear does not matter but it really does. That first wedding I missed some key shots because my camera could not keep up. A good dslr that can continuously shoot is a must for shots like bouquet and garter tosses. So four cameras later I think I could do a pretty good job at a wedding but if someone is thinking about wedding photography you absolwutely must have pro equipment! Oh, by the way, those pictures I took at that first wedding...TERRIBLE! Worst pictures I ever took! But the bride and groom were gracious. I still look at them once in awhile to keep me grounded.

  • B Newson March 13, 2012 07:30 am

    It's true..you must learn to direct with consideration ...both for your work and for the guests. It's not for a timid personality because you must approach and urge politely for certain things to happen without interrupting the flow of the occasion. Know who you are working for...very important...at the end of the day. Some party might approach with a request and it might be the person responsible for your pay. There are ways to make the important parties happy and provide for the needs and wants of the important parties involved in having you as the wedding photographer. Be aware...is key. Who is your direct report? After that you can moderate things and keep that person happy!

  • Sharon Mallinson March 12, 2012 08:14 pm

    Great tips - especially about being a nice person but with enough presence and authority to organise groups - do that efficiently everyone will remember. Don't do it efficiently and keep people hanging around ... Everyone will remember!!

  • Robbie McLean March 12, 2012 12:35 am

    Natalie, great advice.

    As a seasoned veteran in the field, you nailed some very important points.

    The wedding photography division of my business started as a fluke, covering a friends wedding. I immediately fell in love with the whole process. The "Game" as I call it. Constant negotiations, positioning yourself as a consultant. and offering to go that extra mile. As a fashion and commercial photographer, I was used to rigorous demands, but they are nothing compared to those of a bride and her mom who have been planning this day since she was 5 years old. You better get it right!

    One point that you are spot on about is the collaborative effort. After the agreement has been approved, I send out a pre-wedding checklist to the couple which covers everything from the florist to the event manager, to the color of the limo. I let the client know that part of our service is coordinate with all the vendors, so that the event flows smoothly and effortlessly. Most clients are thrilled that we are so thorough and hands on about their special day. It is all about making the couple feel as relaxed as possible, in knowing that the details are covered.

    I hate surprises, especially on the day of the big event. Be prepared. Do your home work. Visit the church, venue etc.... Know the lighting, have a fowl weather contingency plan. Show you are a pro and not just another yahoo claiming to be a "professional event photographer".

    95% of our business is repeat, referral and word of mouth. That is the best advertising possible, and if folks follow the steps you have outlined, that will be their reality as well. Cheers!

  • Lea Gallardo March 10, 2012 11:51 pm

    Further to point 5, I've completed 13 marathons and numerous triathlons and endurance bike rides. I compare wedding photography to the above events. While shooting a wedding, you are ON every minute of the time you are there. You must be ready to catch that special shot because it only happens once. There is no resting, staring off into space or sitting down to eat.

    If you have contracted for a 5 hour wedding, then you must be physically fit enough to be in continuous motion for 5 hours.

  • Michael March 10, 2012 07:58 pm

    I've shot a few over the years and although it's invariably stressful, the satisfaction of a job well done makes me say "ok" to the next wedding request (which by the way is tomorrow!). Be thoroughly prepared with spare batteries, a spare camera body if you can organise it, flashes, reflectors, filters, a small step ladder, a blanket etc... in case the site is damp. I shot a wedding one year entirely under a gazebo because it poured and the bride didn't smile once! I persisted, joked and changed angles (to cater for her) and it paid off in the end. Would I do it as a sole income?....errrr.....no :)

  • Julie Harper March 10, 2012 04:10 pm

    Great information thank you. Its so good to have a site like this. I have done 5 weddings now and each one totally different more on the personalities of the people involved, which i think is a part of what you are capturing in the moment. I spent from 7am through to end of the reception. So covering everything from the bride and groom and attendants getting ready, groom waiting, bride and car, bride entering and so on. Each of the weddings I have done all were very happy with my photos and service. So yes it is very very exhausting, but totally worth it, such a joy capturing that special day for two people in love.

  • juan March 10, 2012 10:27 am

    Hi. The second paragraph of bullet 7 is what happens here in my country. There are zillion photographers working for nothing at weedings and other events and delivering poor results. Most of them are used to that kind of deal and do not try to excel themselves; they are so into the my-gear-deliver trend that they fail to see what they could do to transform the industry and make decent livings by developing a style and improving their output and so consequently start collecting more from clients willing to pay for a good experience. I wish most of them read posts like this and blogs like this to really come to terms with photography as a industry worth of respect. I've been trying to get into the wedding photography business here, but pays are so low, and wedding work so hard, that I think it is not worth the hassle. Besides, I think there is a much bigger trouble: the average Joe and Jane here does not really care about photographic art, they just want their photos taken at their weddings or whatever (this is mainstream), so developing a view that values photography would be quite hard, more so when cameras are all over and the general thinking is "everyone can take a [decent] picture". I know some people have started to set more promising wedding photography businesses to change that view, and I'm thinking of joining, though I still have a long way to go to master the art.

  • Paul March 10, 2012 02:22 am

    Good advice, I tell my potential new clients it's important they 'like' their photographer. About 50% of being successful comes down to being a people person :)

  • Graham Nixon March 10, 2012 02:17 am

    Good article. My top advice to anyone starting out would be to find your own style. Then, when you start getting bookings you know your clients love what you do and booked you for it. A win win!

  • Ashley Sullivan March 9, 2012 12:25 pm

    Great article. I am just getting into wedding photography. I have six booked for this year and am hoping for two more. I have assisted in one wedding before and I completely agree with you that it is HARD, HARD work. I don't think I have ever been that tired in my entire life, but what a wonderful experience. Being able to give someone a gift as special as memories makes us wedding photographers lucky, lucky people.

  • Daniel Upton March 9, 2012 10:25 am

    I recently shot my first wedding for a friend (as main photographer) and had such a great time. I've been shooting on the street for a few years now, so the feeling of taking candid photos of people who are totally open to being photographed (not to mention the fun, emotion and atmosphere that comes with a wedding), confirmed for me that it's something I want to do again and again.

    I even enjoyed developing a workflow for post-production and switch from Bridge + Photoshop to Lightroom + Photoshop...much more efficient!

    I'd love to hear what you think of my first attempt at wedding photography

    Send me a link of your work too :)

    Cheers,
    Dan.

  • Jason Lloyd March 9, 2012 09:00 am

    "Always over deliver" (or underpromise, over deliver as we refer to it) - nowt truer than that!! This is a tough gig, and very hard to make a good living from, but very rewarding. :)

  • Laura {Babb Photo} March 9, 2012 03:49 am

    What an excellent and very inspiring post. I totally agree with everything. Being a wedding photographer is exhausting and much harder work than I ever realised it would be but it's so very, very brilliant and I couldn't love it any more than I do. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sebastian March 9, 2012 12:44 am

    Now this is a real motivational advice.
    Thank you for it!

  • spence March 8, 2012 11:47 am

    Hi Natalie.

    Thank you fro writing this, although it's not all new it does cover the main points very well and serves to remind me just how complex a job wedding photography is and keeping the focus on who you are woking for is a great reminder to keep it in perspective; that your aim is to give the bride the best possible experience you can and over deliver in every area.
    It's made me realise that whilst shooting the wedding is the part i really enjoy and get the most out of, i struggle with the selling part as I find it hard to stick to prices and steer people into spending more money with out feeling a bit pushy and cheapening am artistic experience, maybe I get an assistant to do that for me, i get better at it or I just keep it as a hoby or just offer a 'Pay what you think it's worth' policy which could also serve as a USP.
    I really admire great wedding photographers as I have only done a few small scale weddings and I can now appreciate just how much hard work they are but hugely satisfying for my development as a photographer; I like the part about finding your voice, I am still in the process of doing that and i think that can be a stumbling block as I think, as Jasmine Star has proved, if you get your branding right then you can really start to build a lucrative business.

    For now, I will keep shooting and striving to improve and find my voice/brand and then go for it!

    Thanks

    Spence

  • Mark Skellorn March 8, 2012 11:03 am

    I have just taken on my first wedding for a very good friend. Luckily she has every confidence in me but this post makes me believe why she has that confidence. Thanks.

  • JohnP March 8, 2012 10:46 am

    I could add that no matter how good a photographer you may be it is very important for weddings that you also have an outgoing personality, as gnslngr45 points out and which I'm sure Natalie has. You need to be able to direct people (lots of people) and to be able to get the best out of them. It's like herding cats trying to organise large group photos. A big voice also helps which I don't have and which is the main reason I wouldnt put myself out as a professional, just doing weddings for family and friends.

  • ccting March 8, 2012 10:38 am

    WOW, very interesting article...very useful piece of info. Skill is not everything, you need to have great communication and collaboration skills. Requirement elicitation is a must i agree... Not easy being a wedding photographer... (i am not a photographer..)

  • Marcus Davis March 8, 2012 10:22 am

    Thank you for this article. I am going to be shooting my first wedding in July. I'm excited and nervous, but I am shooting as much as I possibly can with my camera to ensure I will be able to handle anything that comes up during the ceremony.

    My goal is to become a professional wedding photogapher. The thought of working day in and day out with my camera is my motivating factor.

    Any other tips you have would be greatly appreciated!

  • Wayfaring Wanderer March 8, 2012 10:16 am

    Grear tips! I'll be shooting my first wedding in June so I find it extremely helpful right now. Thank you for sharing! :-)

  • Scottc March 8, 2012 10:15 am

    If I I ever were ever to attempt to make a living from photography I would never try wedding photography. Screw that job up and you're out of business!

    Great article, it makes me enjoy my recreational shooting even more.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157626848397708/

  • Cramer Imaging March 8, 2012 08:09 am

    Just shot my first wedding in January. Ended up with some lovely images. It was about a 3-4 hour deal including the ceremony and the reception. Learned a few extra tips.

    First, not everyone in the wedding party may be happy with the wedding (second marriage and groom's daughter was a bridesmaid in my shoot). My dad got remarried and my sister did something nasty to me a couple days before. We were both bridesmaids. A good wedding photographer will be silly or have an assistant be silly in order to get the necessary and natural smiles in the formal portraits.

    Next, most pros are already aware of this, but have someone willing to do crowd control. It is not helpful when setting up a formal portrait and having a million amateur photographers decide to take advantage of your posing. It is a shower of flashes (light grenades) that rivals a paparazzi celebrity shoot for the tabloids. Try and have a reserve time for you as the photographer without the background lights which will ruin a perfectly good shot. Before or after the reception works well. So does having the bulk of the pictures taken another day such as not having the wedding and reception on the same day.

    It will be a LOT smoother if ALL the important people in the wedding know who you are and what you are doing. This includes the officiator and any security staff. This is a vital part of that communication that should be taking place before the wedding day. Save yourself the embarrassment.

    This article is correct in saying that shooting a wedding is not glamorous. It is constant work running around to get different angles and capture all the important moments. A good photographer doesn't get to sit down much and barely has an opportunity to eat in as short a session as I just had. Don't come hungry and expect to have some cake. While there may be enough cake, there probably won't be enough time.

    The final HUGE tip I have to add is to get model releases and signed wedding contracts. This will allow you to build your portfolio and post images to a website, among other options. People are very touchy these days about having others use their picture without their permission. Make sure you obtain that permission in writing ESPECIALLY for children. Flower girls, ring boys, young bridesmaids and groomsmen make for amazing advertizing opportunities but parents are VERY touchy about letting you use their child's photo without permission. Get your model releases.

  • k March 8, 2012 08:06 am

    Great article, have done some wedding photography before, very rewarding when people react positively to your images but can be quite stressful to get everyone together for group shots!

  • RS March 8, 2012 05:58 am

    This article came at the perfect time. My girlfriend and I are preparing to do a weeding around June and these are the tips that i definitely needed.

    Thank you Natalie!

  • Cheryl Stanley March 8, 2012 05:53 am

    is there any online sites that teach people how to use their gear? just starting out myself. ;)

  • jim March 8, 2012 05:51 am

    Not something I ever want to do. No way no how. Ha. Way to much work.

  • Andrew March 8, 2012 05:13 am

    Wow! Yes! Being a great wedding photographer is NOTHING to do with equipment or glamour but absolutely to do with being with people, being an incurable romantic and sheer physical and mental hard work! Empathy and personality are the key along with complete technical mastery!

    It's always something fantastic to aspire to and an amazing journey! x

  • OsmosisStudios March 8, 2012 04:46 am

    The image for 2: Clients = family.

    DONT WORK WITH FAMILY OR FRIENDS.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 8, 2012 04:37 am

    Weddings are tough....a hair and makeup artist is key

    Here we experimented a bit at a photoshoot

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/ariel-mcas-miranar-model-shoot/

  • gnslngr45 March 8, 2012 04:28 am

    Wedding photography fascinates me. I will never go into it though. No matter how good you are technically, you must have the right personality. To be discreet, but also commanding when the need calls. Be regal and quick on your heels. And overall, to be able to withstand the pressure that there are no second chances and everyone expect you to get all the special moments.
    I've seen way too many "wedding photographers" who should never offer their services because they are too risky an option for such an important date. I've turned down one potential wedding and expect more in the future.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Sherry Ward March 8, 2012 03:43 am

    I think this is absolutely perfect and hit all the key points of what beginners really need to know! LOVE IT!!

  • laviera March 8, 2012 03:42 am

    re: Know your gear

    Love the encouragement at the end of that! When I first started, this was, like many, my downfall. But people were still requesting my work so I got stuck shotting weddings and not knowing what the hell to do with the camera!!! AAAAAHHHH

    Now that I know what to do, I can see how easy it is to get stuck saying YES to shooting weddings when you havent got a clue what to do with the camera. HOwever, I can also say I enjoy the experience so much more because I have a clue.

    So get a clue! Learn your gear, if for no other reason than having a better experience.

  • raghavendra March 8, 2012 02:27 am

    well i liked the tip that it is 'not glamor as it seems'

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/03/signs-of-summer.html

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