Booking your first wedding as a photographer can seem like such a hard thing to do. Wedding photography is not only a challenging genre, but a difficult market to break into. There will always be photographers offering their services for free and photographers with more experience than you. Don’t worry about that. If you are persistent, there are lots of ways to book your first wedding and then keep the clients rolling in.

I started shooting weddings because I knew I wanted to capture the magic of a couple’s most important day. I was willing to work for my clients, but booking your first wedding as a photographer isn’t easy. Still, it is possible if you know where to look for clients and how to build your portfolio. I’m going to share how I got started and some ways you can work toward booking your first wedding, too.

1. Build a wedding photography portfolio.

Shooting the wedding of a friend or family member can be a good way to build your portfolio. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with shooting your first wedding for free as long as you have the technical skill, equipment (including backup equipment!), and a developed style. Remember that even if you’re providing your photography services for free, you should know what you’re doing. It is such an important day for a couple, and you need to be able to deliver high-quality photos that you and your clients are proud to display.

The first wedding I ever shot was for a friend of a friend. I was looking to build my portfolio, so I was willing to offer my photography at no charge. I photographed the couple for one hour in the church and then took them for a session in the gardens. It was a fantastic day and an amazing experience that made me fall in love with shooting couples and weddings. Plus, I got great images for my portfolio, which helped me book my next weddings.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers

2. Network with other photographers to find opportunities.

I booked my second wedding (which was paid!) through my local Facebook group for wedding photographers and videographers. A videographer had been looking for a photographer for his clients at the very last minute (just two weeks before their wedding), so I put in my name and the couple booked me.

It’s important to note that I had done some portfolio building by shooting couples’ photos with my friends, so I had samples of my work that represented my photography style. You should definitely have a portfolio to show if you want to book your first wedding. Clients will want to see examples of your work and style before they pay you to capture one of the most important days of their lives.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers

3. Give away an engagement session to get your name out there.

Giveaways work really well! Yes, you will do one session for free, but it can give you exposure and attract other clients. I try to do an engagement shoot giveaway every six months — it not only creates a buzz, but also allows me to stretch my creativity. With free sessions, there is no pressure and I’m able to experiment and think outside the box. Some engagement shoot winners have even booked me for their wedding (with the top package, too!).

I also plan to do a generous wedding photography giveaway once a year by choosing a couple in need. This giveaway often brings a few more wedding bookings along the way. It’s a win-win for me — I’m helping others, giving back and also gaining bookings.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers

4. Do a styled shoot to build your portfolio and your network.

Styled shoots are a great way to build your portfolio and attract your ideal clients. Use models and set up your shoot the way you’d want to shoot your perfect client. If you’re going to capture boho style weddings in breathtaking locations, contact your favorite dress designer or boutique as well as a make-up artist and hair stylist. Bring in an event planner, stylist, venue coordinator and any other vendors that can work together to create an amazing photo shoot.

Networking is a big part of the wedding industry and you will gain friends and potential referrals by creating opportunities to work together. Don’t be afraid to hear the word “no.” Most vendors will be happy to provide their services in exchange for your gorgeous photos, but if someone doesn’t want to participate, just move on to the next vendor on your list.

When you’re done with your styled shoot, you’ll have created the beginning of your referral network. This is a great way to establish your name and your business quickly.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers
How to book your first wedding — for photographers
How to book your first wedding — for photographers

5. Use social media to strategically reach clients.

Social media is a big beast nowadays. If you don’t have good visibility on social media —Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. — there’s not much chance clients can find you.

You can do paid advertising and boost posts on social media for faster results. Or, run a few campaigns to see how it works for your business. The various social media channels and methods work differently for each business. I have tried all types of promotions and I now know what works for me. I also know what kind of photos attract more attention. You’ll find this out for yourself when you get started and test different photos and methods of promotion.

Pro Tip:

Use relevant hashtags, like #yourcityweddingphotographer, #yourareaweddings, #yourstateweddingphotography #youdestinationweddingsphotographers, #yourdesiredvenue and #yourfavouriteweddingdressbrand. Brainstorm hashtags that your clients would search and use them.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers

6. Blog often to help clients find you through SEO.

Blogging is a big part of your online presence. Blog as often as you can — at least once a week. I blog 2-3 times a week to help my SEO and to keep my content fresh for clients.

Feature your sessions, weddings, publications, awards, tips for couples, and any other info including your keywords to allow your couples to find you. Don’t forget to name all your images with your keywords! It will help with SEO.

You can use a scheduling system for your blogging (and for your social media) to make your life easier.

Pro Tip:

I would not recommend having other genres on your wedding website, unless you want to attract a unique audience, like couples with kids.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers

7. Be willing to pay for advertising to reach your target market.

Print advertising (in magazines, for example) seems to come to mind only after photographers have tried online reach. But advertising in print publications can be well worth it if you know your ideal client will be reading a specific magazine.

Online directories are a great way to get backlinks to your website (which is great for SEO) and give you more exposure. There are plenty of free directories, but paid directories can work well for your business if they are on the first page of Google for your target keywords.

Google AdWords is a great way to get on the first page of Google. I booked most of my first wedding clients by running an Adwords campaign during my first year in business.

On your website, make sure to target your location and main keywords. Have a great landing page with your best images, info about you and your style, and links to your portfolio, pricing and contact page. You can also include client testimonials to give future clients a feel for the type of services that you provide.

Make sure your website is easy to navigate with all the info that clients need to know before booking, including your location. Make it super easy for clients to contact you!

Pro Tip:

I highly recommend asking your clients for a review so that you can use it in future promotions and advertising.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers

8. Participate in wedding shows that attract your ideal clients.

Participating in wedding shows is a great way to find real wedding clients. It can also help you get a feel for the market, establish your brand and book your first wedding. Wedding shows can be a significant investment when you include payment for the site and all of your promotional materials, but they can be worth it if you do your research.

I have participated in a few wedding shows and have found that not all of them work for me. All shows have different target audiences. You need to find the wedding show that speaks to your brand and attracts your ideal clients. I once booked over ten clients from a small local wedding show, compared with only one booking from a big fancy fair.

You also need to be well prepared — have a table, prints showcasing your work, business cards, flyers, albums, a screen for slideshows, etc. You’ll need to have at least one album with a full wedding, at least one big print or canvas, and business cards to attract clients.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers

9. Gain exposure by submitting images for publication.

I am always making an effort to submit photos everywhere there might be an opportunity to be featured. This can really help you book your first wedding as it creates a buzz around your work. It won’t give you a direct booking, but will help you gain exposure and add value to your business by improving your reputation. Publications and awards also help your clients trust you and your ability to create excellent quality work.

How to book your first wedding — for photographers

My wedding photography gear

Cameras: Nikon D850, Nikon D750

Lenses: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, Sigma 135mm f/1.4 Art, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, Lensbaby Sweet 35

Lighting: Nikon SB-800 Speedlight, Nikon SB-700 Speedlight, Magmod Kit and Sphere

My best advice to help you book your first wedding is not to put all your effort into any one channel. Use all types of promotions and keep them going. Consistency is key. As soon as you take a break from your social media, blogging and promotional efforts, you will see a drop in your bookings. Keep working until you book your first wedding and beyond! Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy all those beautiful wedding days.

All photos by Olga Levien

Check out Olga’s breakout, Tales of the Moment: Your Secret Formula for Picture Perfect, in the Click Photo School. The live run is August 7-17.