Mario’s Note: Due to your great interest among many BdF readers I republish this article. Summer is just around the corner, and with it come weddings and wedding reports. If you had always wanted to become a wedding photographer, this may be your moment. In this article I tell you all the keys that will help you reach that goal.
«How can I take my first steps as a professional wedding photographer? What equipment and materials do I need? How do i get hired? What lenses do I have to wear? » Occasionally I get questions like this from blog readers who dream of becoming wedding photographers, and who are looking for some guidance. I would like nothing more than to give you the infallible formula to succeed as a wedding photographer, but I do not do wedding photography. I never devoted myself to this type of photography and I don’t see myself as the best person to advise on this matter.
However, at the insistence of many who have written to me (to whom I may not have been able to respond, I apologize), it occurred to me to write about the steps I would take if one day I considered working as a wedding photographer. I know that many wedding photography professionals read us, who are invited to share their ideas as well, further down in the comments section.
In this article I explain in great detail and with concrete examples the steps that I would recommend to anyone who would like to establish himself as a professional wedding photographer, including the mistakes in which most neophytes usually fall and what I would do to solve them. What you are going to read next is the guide that I would follow in order to get my first work as a wedding photographer, and from which you will surely be able to get many ideas.
To the question of “what would I do if one day I was going to dedicate myself to wedding photography?” , Here is my answer …
I WOULD THINK TWICE. NO THREE. JUST TWO.
I want you to think how many wedding photographers do you think there are? Many? Some? Well, and now I also want you to think about the number of couples getting married, or at least making a union celebration and requiring a photographer.
In principle, everything seems to indicate that the wedding photographers market is slightly saturated. More and more people are launching with a reflex camera to cover weddings, and instead, I have the feeling (I don’t handle specific statistics) that the number of marriage unions is not especially growing. In other words, more and more photographers have to fight to divide the wedding cake, and I am not referring to the meringue cake precisely, but to the number of customers.
Does this mean that I would abandon the idea completely? In any way. I just say that, as in any other serious aspect of our life, in this case you also have to think twice before getting into this story. And notice as I say in the title of this section “twice, not three”. I say it because I wouldn’t give it too many turns, nor do I want you to do it. Throwing your life thinking something does not make it work, that “we’ll see,” “little by little,” or “someday” is usually not a guarantee of success. If you are interested in entering the world of wedding photography, that “one day” is today, right now. This article will provide you with everything you need to get off to a good start, so don’t put it off anymore.
Having made the decision, let’s continue with the rest of the elements that we would have to consider if we wanted to live on wedding photography.
A CAMERA (OR TWO).
Naturally, we would need an SLR camera. Here I have a personal opinion that perhaps not many share: the camera does not need to be especially expensive or professional. Yes, portraying a wedding is a completely professional job, but carrying a professional SLR camera is not an essential condition. If you can afford one, go for it, but if not, any medium-advanced user reflex camera should be worth it. However, I would invest some money in an extra camera. This is very important because at a wedding you cannot afford to present yourself in front of the bride and groom and with a smile announce that due to technical problems beyond your control (come on, your camera has broken), you will not be able to cover the rest of the event. More than anything because your life would be in danger
Carrying a second camera will allow you to have a kind of “spare wheel” if at any given time your main camera fails you. On the other hand, a second camera may be useful if you would like to alternate between two lenses. You would have one mounted in the first chamber and another in the second. Permanently. So you could alternate between one camera and another without having to stop, turn off the camera, unscrew one objective, while a guest holds the other objective. Just imagine the situation please: everyone celebrating at the height of the wedding, and the photographer there curled up in a corner fighting with the goal that does not end up screwing correctly
If you can not afford two cameras do not worry, you can start with one and later when you have collected a few reports you get with another. Meanwhile, what you can do is work with a camera that allows you to record photos on two memory cards at the same time. What, is that possible? Yes sir! Some cameras like the Nikon D7100 have 2 memory card slots and allow you to automatically record photos on two cards at once. The advantage of this is that if during or after the wedding you realize that a card has failed and that you can no longer recover its contents, you remain calm knowing that the second card still retains a copy with all the photos.
LENSES AND ACCESSORIES
As I always say, half of the beauty of a photograph lies in the objective with which it was made. We have already talked about the choice of long goals and laid here in the blog, (you can take a look at the objectives section here , or check my article with the best objectives that I recommend ). Usually you will need, almost obligatorily, what I call the king of the objectives , along with some telephoto lens, ideal for portraying spontaneous scenes of the bride and groom, family and guests during the wedding while you go unnoticed. Finally, you can also use a wide angle to take group photos or simply to contextualize the wedding within the environment in a broad way.
I have also seen some wedding photo taken with a fisheye. You will not photograph the whole wedding with the fisheye, but the occasional snapshot is fun.
In addition to the objectives I just mentioned you need some accessories. Inevitably a good flash , the best you can afford please ( some recommendations here ) and if you can also a flash diffuser . It will allow you to obtain portraits of the bride and groom very bright but with a touch of softness that is very good for the occasion. From there, the rest of the accessories for my taste are optional or, at least, not essential at all: tripod, reflector, etc. You can start with what I just mentioned, the rest you will acquire on the fly without haste.
You will be meeting with clients, before and after the wedding. You should have a tablet or iPad to show examples that will allow you to agree on details. It is important that you make a wedding report not how you like it, but how they would like it. In your pre-wedding meetings you will have to show them examples, whether taken by you or by other photographers, they can even be simple photos of the Internet. The important thing is that you see examples and comment on them. Your role in these meetings is to find out the type of photography that would fascinate them, which would leave them completely satisfied.
The computer with which you would process the photos before delivering them to your customers is added to the iPad or tablet. If you are on a tight budget you can get a laptop of these light ones that are now, and use it both to edit your photos and to meet with the couple to comment on examples.
Well, we already have a camera, lenses and other accessories, what else do we need? A Dropbox account
I say Dropbox because it is very popular, but any similar service can be worth it. Dropbox, for those who do not know it, is an online service that will allow you to:
- Store photos in your Dropbox account, outside your computer. This is essential because as a professional photographer you will have to keep a complete archive with all, absolutely all the photographs you take for your clients, even those that the client discards and at first tell you that he does not want to. If one day the client needs them you can always have them on hand. The good thing about being able to store them outside your computer is that you have the security of never losing them. They will always be in your account. Even if you change your computer over the years, even if you lose it, even if it is stolen.
- Another utility of Dropbox is to be able to organize all your work in folders, they can be by date, or by client name, or as you see, and thus go sharing the folder of each wedding with the corresponding client. It is very practical.
If you don’t like Dropbox, you can use Google Drive, Apple iCloud, or other similar services.
Oh, Dropbox and most of the similar services are usually free “to start”, but since you are going to end up storing thousands of photos, surely in very large original resolution, sooner or later you will need to move to a payment plan. It is usually little, like 3 or 9 euros a month, that if things are going well for you and you need so much space, you can afford them without a problem. Hopefully it will.
WEBSITE (FORGET ABOUT BUSINESS CARDS)
Business cards are from the past. Creating them is an economic expense but then they are not very practical. Think about it, how many business cards do you have with you right now? Fifty, a score … maybe none?
On the other hand, isn’t it true that you take your cell phone with you everywhere? Internet has become the new and most effective business card. Besides, you are not a hairdresser, you are a photographer. You need to attract, exhibit a sample of your work. Your “business card” should be more than just a simple telephone and a simple email address. Your “business card” should be something that people saw and said “Oh, God, what happened!”. An online website or gallery is the best way to present your work in front of a client who has surely heard of many photographers. An online gallery is a tool that allows you to stand out from the rest of photographers on their own merits, showing your contact information, your prices, your competitive advantages, and exposing some examples of your work. With such a web page you also allow the client to contact you, even to hire you.
I will not extend much in this part since in the blog there is an article in which I explain step by step, and with video tutorial, how to set up your own professional photo gallery .
Before you start you will have to ask yourself what price strategy you want to apply. Probe the prices that are handled by your area, country, city, and based on that go thinking about the range you want to apply. To do this, consider the following aspects:
It may seem that people like cheap, however, seriously think about whether you are interested in competing for price or if your differentiating advantage will be different. If you want to compete for price, you may have a hard time. The market as I said before is full of photographers, all fighting for the same piece of cake, and many of them willing to lower the price as much as necessary. This fierce competition sometimes destroys the profession, leading to situations in which the photographer looks bad, the photographic result is poor, and the client dissatisfied. You can decide to work with a slightly higher price than the average and still have customers, later we will talk about your possible “competitive advantages” that will make customers want to hire you knowing that there are other photographers who charge much less.
Do not forget that, at the beginning, and not having many jobs or a reputation, it may be difficult to charge aggressively high prices. Keep that in mind. The beginnings can have a low pay, nothing happens. You are starting, and by having your first or second report, you should be willing to sacrifice part of the benefit for your first customers. Also think that those first clients will trust you with something very valuable for them, their wedding, perhaps without knowing you. It is a risk they run. Treat them well, and recover them little
Your price structure has to take into account all, absolutely all the expenses that you are going to have: equipment, cameras, objectives, memory cards, the Dropbox account that we mentioned before, transport costs if there were any and, as you go professionalizing and charging for jobs, there is the famous issue of making bills and paying taxes. Keep all that in mind when outlining your pricing structure.
Among the hundreds of wedding photographers in your city or area, why would the bride and groom have to hire you? As a wedding photographer, what is special about you? I know, I know: you make beautiful wedding photos. But that is what all the other photographers think and say. So, beautiful wedding photos you will have to do in all ways, but you will have to find a competitive advantage that distinguishes you, something that the client appreciates in you or in your work and that few photographers offer.
A very common competitive advantage is to offer very low prices. Hey, it’s fine. There is nothing wrong with differentiating you for an especially low price. Although it seems at first that you are not going to gain much margin, in the long run by simply making very cheap reports you should end up with endless customer queues and in the long term you end up winning. The problem of offering a very low price is that it will not distinguish you much. There are many photographers who do the same. Too many
Look for another competitive advantage. You may find it difficult, but surely you just come up with ideas. Here are some:
- Do not sell photos, offer an experience: Beautiful photos you will have to do anyway, however, it is what all wedding photographers try to “sell”. Make your competitive advantage another. More than some beautiful photos, it offers the bride and groom an unforgettable experience. Think about every detail of your work and take care of it to the millimeter. Make everything special: the deal with customers, the way you receive them in your studio or wherever you stay with them, the patience you show for their requests, the photos you give them, CDs or memory cards. Everything, take care of everything. Do not leave anything to chance. For example, uncles, in general, we are less detail, but think that the couple of clients that the bride will hire you will have an important involvement. When you think of pleasing To the bride and groom, think of the bride as a possible “decision maker” in regards to the whole wedding theme, including the fact of hiring you or another. So make sure that whatever you present them both like them and especially her: colors, ornaments, fonts, etc. If you are going to set up an online photo gallery on a website as we said at the beginning, take care of the detail in the sense that you do not choose a black color for your website, nor a font more typical of a Heavy Metal band. On the theme of wedding, light colors like white or pink work very well, although although they do not attract me in the least, I have to accept what my potential clients are doing and therefore I have to offer that “Experience” that they find attractive and enjoyable.
- The photo gallery is just an example. Follow this advice in everything you do in your work. More than in some photos, always think about the complete experience.
- Surprise with a different picture: You will have enough memory cards to keep you short of space, so take advantage of it and shoot something out of the ordinary, a bit “crazy.” Surprise the couple with some photos that normally no photographer would take. Group photos taken with the fisheye for example give impressive results.
- Show photos immediately to the guests: If you have the means and the place lends itself to it, you can place a screen in a visible place and occasionally upload some photographs in which both the bride and groom and the rest of the guests leave. You will cause a pleasant surprise among all and believe me, by the way you will get some attention as a photographer. I have seen people use a television screen of these that have a memory card slot or to place a USB stick. On the TV itself you have the function of displaying the photos in animated gallery mode or with rotation. If you can’t afford a TV, a simple laptop would be worth the same.
These are only 3 examples, but the idea is to try to distinguish yourself from the rest of the photographers and that little by little you get to know them in the market with an imprint and a personal style.
To succeed as a wedding photographer you do not need to get a master’s degree in marketing, but it does help to keep in mind at all times what is your strategy to make yourself known. In your preparation efforts I would like you to spend some time sitting with a blank notebook or folio in front and write, in the form of dots, how you intend to make yourself known.
Here we talk about “strategy” because it is not just about advertising, but about doing it with a certain “strategy” in mind, with an end, an objective, a reasoning. To give you an example, in your list of marketing actions maybe you go and put something like “advertise in a local newspaper.” This can be successful, or not. Not only is it about advertising in a local newspaper, but knowing with yourself why that is going to be a good idea, what you gain by advertising in a local newspaper, the answer may be that the people who will see your advertising will be specifically the people of your city that you are interested in attracting as clients, because clients from other cities may not interest you yet. Things like the way you plan to pay that ad in that newspaper, which can be paying,
The positive thing about defining a marketing strategy is that you will know at all times that your advertising efforts are not in vain. He is not like the one who decides to print 100,000 leaflets and mailbox them without being sure how that can serve him. Remember that it is not about advertising, but about effective advertising .
On the other hand, marketing or advertising does not always have to be paid. There are thousands of ways to get to know you completely for free or at a fairly affordable price.
Here I leave you as an example 6 elements that could form that list that I want you to write, your marketing strategy as a wedding photographer:
- Web page with sample photo gallery ( here, step by step ).
- Presence in common social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram.
- Presence in social networks focused on the female audience, future brides, etc. The clearest example is Pinterest.
- Presence in forums related to weddings, female audiences, etc.
- Develop relationships and exchange contacts / favors with other professionals related to the world of weddings: wedding planners (honey organizers), honey moon planners (honeymoon travel organizers), entertainment / music companies for weddings, etc.
- Offer incentives to clients: This is that you offer each new pair of clients some incentive for them to send you future clients in exchange for something. There are a thousand ways of conceiving it, but it occurs to me for example to propose to each wedding couple a free mini-report a year after their wedding (or after the time it is) once they have sent 2 or 3 clients recommended by them. Something like that.
YOUR FIRST REPORT
You already know that the path is made when walking. What can cost you the most is the first step, it takes a lot of effort, especially at the psychological and mental level. Once you have taken that first step, the second and the next thousand steps are taken almost by inertia. So if you had always dreamed of living from wedding photography, I want you to make that “first report” your main goal. Forget about what will happen in 10 years, forget about the tenth report, focus on that first report.
The first report will trigger a series of effects on your career as a photographer:
- It will allow you to live, in a practical way, the experience of working as a wedding photographer.
- It will fill you with confidence in yourself. Do it well or do it regularly, you will have done it anyway.
- It will allow you to learn. Quiet that as a wedding photographer you will screw up, many and many times. You can be sure of that. It is impossible to plan everything to the point of never being wrong. What happens is that it is those mistakes and these blunders that will provide you with the field learning you need. Only then will you learn. The sooner you start, the sooner you will live the experience, the sooner you will fall into the mistakes of the “novice professional photographer”, the sooner you will learn from them and the sooner you will become a better photographer.
- It will allow you to start looking for the second report, and this the third, and so on. The first report starts all the gear and everything starts to roll.
So think about how you can get that first wedding. When you have done it, go for the second report, and so on until you have an important wedding catalog over time.
I know that it is not so easy to get that first report when you are starting, when you are nobody, people do not know you, you do not have a reputation and it is hard to find people who want to risk the most important day of their life just for you to practice. Here I bring you a series of ideas that can open the way to that first report:
- Make your first report for free. I said before that I am not very fan of competing for price, and that we will not do, but when you are starting, money is not your goal, but to gain experience and fill a catalog of customers and examples to show. So, if you offer that first report for free (and you take it as an investment in your experience), surely it will be easier for you to find a wedding couple willing to hire you.
- Offer yourself as a contributor to other established photographers. Surely more than one wedding photographer could use a collaborator who helps by taking photos from other angles, and is worth as a “backup” if bad luck causes the main photographer to lose photos for some reason.
- If the wedding day is valuable enough for couples to trust, the days before and after the wedding should be easier to get. I explain. Do you know that many wedding photographers, in addition to the wedding itself, also offer pre-wedding and post-wedding reports? It consists of portraying the bride and groom a few days before the wedding, in couple poses, but without the dress or the wedding party. Then, the wedding photos come, and finally, a few days or weeks later, the post-wedding. There you have a golden opportunity to work with a couple who, even if they have already hired a professional photographer for their wedding day, want to let you take their pre-wedding or post-wedding session.
The wedding photographer profession is not simple. Knowing how to take good pictures is only the first requirement, then comes a long list of skills that you have to know how to work if you want to stand out in a particularly competitive world. Wedding photography is full of intruders, people willing to do botch jobs as we say here. If you want to prosper as a professional wedding photographer, be sure to prepare and take care of all the elements we have commented. If this is your dream, please pursue it. Do not wait to start. You have already taken the first step at the time you started reading this article Use it as a reference, cross out each item as you get it clear, and for that first wedding!