A landscape photographer photographed my wedding. It was a sweet gift from a kind friend of the family, and I appreciate having great photos that document my big day. But, I don’t swoon over those images.
This taught me that there’s more to wedding photography than technical skill. I knew that if I wanted to build a wedding photography business with take-your-breath-away images, it would mean careful planning, practice and an eye for capturing love.
I’m going to share how I got started and what I’ve learned over the years. Because, when you’re a wedding photographer, you get just one chance to get it right. But that pressure doesn’t have to turn you off from wedding photography. It can propel you forward to creating a wedding photography business where your clients feel taken care of and you feel confident in delivering swoon-worthy images every time.
1. Learn the business by being a second photographer.
When I decided to begin photographing weddings, I joined a couple Facebook groups for local photographers and posted to see if anyone was interested in having a free second photographer in exchange for the experience of learning all things wedding photography. One photographer took me up on my offer. I joined her for a couple of weddings that season and learned a lot about the wedding photography business.
Still, I wasn’t convinced I was ready to make the leap and offer wedding photography services. So, I reached out to another photographer with the hope of gaining more experience. This photographer happened to be one of Martha Stewart Weddings’s Top Wedding Photographers and she graciously allowed me to tag along at a styled shoot. From there she let me be her second shooter at a couple of weddings, which expanded my exposure to wedding photography.
While second shooting, I learned how imperative it is to ensure client satisfaction. I watched the lead photographers deal with delicate situations with ease and grace while producing beautiful photos. After two years of second shooting and gaining knowledge, I started offering wedding services through my business.
I booked my first wedding through a referral from one of my lead photographers. It was an elopement with less than 20 people and was the perfect first wedding. I also booked two more weddings that first season. I was offering my services at half price, since my clients were taking a risk on someone with little experience as a lead wedding photographer. These weddings allowed me to build a portfolio. Then, through more word-of-mouth recommendations, I booked ten weddings the next season.
When I started shooting weddings, I made sure to include in my contract and that no photograph could ever be promised on a wedding day.
2. Work with clients that are a good fit.
Approaching wedding photography as a second shooter helped me gain experience and gave me time to think about what I wanted to offer clients and how I wanted to run my wedding photography business. One important thing I learned is that the interview process with prospective couples is extremely important.
Now, I always require an interview with potential couples — both partners, not just one — as it is imperative to work with clients that are a good fit. This is the most important day of a couple’s lives. It is of the utmost importance that they feel a connection and chemistry with their photographer, and vice versa. If you aren’t jiving with your couple, it will impact your images.
The interview process also ensures that your couple’s expectations and requirements are in line with what you’ll deliver. Clarifying everything up front can save you from unexpected or unfavorable situations down the road.
I never book a wedding during an interview. I always sleep on it and only work with couples whose expectations and values align with my own. As a result, I have had the best clients and have yet to experience the dreaded “bridezilla.”
3. Price your services high enough to avoid burnout.
A valuable lesson I’ve learned over the years is that shooting a large number of weddings in a short time will lead to burnout very quickly. It’s important to price your wedding photography services high enough to avoid this problem.
The wedding season in Vermont is short — lasting June through October — so often photographers will try to book as many weddings as possible during that time. Some even book two weddings in one weekend! This is a lot of work and can quickly create a ton of stress and affect the quality of your work.
To avoid burnout, but also ensure a sustainable business model, I book a limited number of weddings each year at a higher price point. It took me a couple of years to arrive at this price point. And, while I’m still not the highest priced wedding photographer around, I feel that I have found the sweet spot in pricing for my area. I have a sustainable business model that attracts the clientele I want to work with, while at the same time ensuring that I don’t take on too many clients and lose the passion that led me to wedding photography in the first place.
Plus, by selecting a limited number of couples to work with each season, I can ensure that I am able to give each couple the attention they deserve. I am with them every step of the way, from providing a sample shot list for family portraits to photography timeline suggestions and a site visit to choose a photography location. By the time their wedding day arrives, my couples are confident they chose the right wedding photographer.
Due to the high risk of portable devices corrupting, I’ve moved to delivering images via Pixieset (an online gallery service). Plus, with Pixieset I can create a customized photo app for each client! I use Miller’s Professional Imaging — my trusted lab — for creating albums. Their albums are heirloom quality and will stand the test of time.
4. Build your reputation by being great to vendors.
I want to be a joy to work with for both clients and vendors. My goal is to make my clients’ day, and part of this is making sure vendors enjoy working with me.
Plus, this is free marketing! Vendors are more likely to refer their wedding clients to you if they want to work with you again. Couples ask vendors about other vendors all the time as they are planning their wedding. We all want to curate a team that works well together, so if you are great to your vendors, they will reciprocate.
I always send vendors photos of their work after the wedding (unless my clients object). They can use these images to promote their businesses in exchange for a photo credit.
5. Gain referrals by establishing your brand.
Aside from providing a beautiful gallery of images, curating a complete and satisfying client experience will help you establish a brand that sets you apart from competitors.
From the moment a client contacts me until they receive their final photos, I am communicating with my clients. I utilize email templates to ensure that I’m providing consistent information to all clients. But, while I utilize templates to streamline my business, I also make sure that all communication is customized and tailored to each client.
It is all about making your client’s day memorable. I’m always ready with the necessities, such as tissues, a sewing kit, and mints packed in my camera bag. I even sewed a bride’s dress once! These little touches make your clients feel taken care of and confident in your services.
It’s also important to be flexible and sensitive to any family situations that may arise. This understanding can ease the stress on a couple and help you establish yourself as someone who is great to work with.
When you establish yourself as being a joy to work with, you’ll gain clients through referrals. Many of my clients find me through previous couples, reviews by clients, and vendors who have worked with me. When others are willing to endorse you and recommend your services, you know you’ve established your brand.
7 Tips to avoid wedding day pitfalls
1. Weddings can be nerve-racking. Gain experience as a second photographer to ensure that when you step up to the plate, you can deliver and handle any situation a wedding may throw your way.
2. Have a solid contract in place and don’t be afraid to tweak it as new situations arise.
3. Nail down a photography timeline, family portrait list and wedding day details several weeks in advance.
4. Create a checklist and pack your gear a day or two before the wedding so you aren’t rushed and don’t forget important gear.
5. Pack extra shoes and an extra outfit for each wedding. There’s nothing worse than ripping your dress or stepping in dog poo and having nothing to change into.
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate with your clients and other vendors ahead of time so everyone is on the same page and works in unison on the day of the wedding.
7. Be a joy to work with for both clients and vendors.
Amy’s wedding photography gear
Cameras: Canon EOS 5D Mark III (I have two.)
Lenses: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L I (ceremony, getting ready), Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II (first look, portraits), Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro (ring shots), Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art (portraits), Canon 35mm f/1.4L II (reception)
Strap: Hold Fast Money Maker (Not sure I could shoot a wedding without one of these!)
Lighting: Phottix Mitros+ TTL Flash (I have three.)
Bag: Think Tank Photo Airport rolling case (to keep everything above organized and easy to move)
All images by Amy Donohue