One thing I’ve realized over the past few years as a professional wedding photographer is there are not many people, guides, or information out there on how you should approach a career as a pro wedding photographer.
I consciously made the effort to assist as many photographers as I could to ensure I could learn the trade and industry before I took the leap to becoming self-employed. Even after all that experience I still take time to step back and think ‘wow, I wish I’d known that before I started my own business’; so, for those of you who are interested and willing to take some information onboard, here’s just a few of those thoughts.
1. Be Clear about who you are and your style
There comes a time during your career were your portfolio will define who you are, your style and what to expect from your services. This situation is a great place to be; your work will attract the type of clients/couples you want to be working with, knowing that they made contact with you and booked because they LOVE your style.
It’s always good to be open and honest about you and your work, showing transparency in your pricing structure and what exactly the clients will receive will ensure there’s no awkward questions or situations.
Everyone’s portfolio won’t suit every client, couples usually have a style or idea of the photographer they want and with such a creative and competitive market, you may not secure every enquiry.
I’ve also learnt that redirecting clients away from your services can also be key to running a successful photography business. Sometimes, you won’t be able to meet the client’s requirements or it may be obvious your style just doesn’t fit the ‘look’ they’re wanting to create. You may be thinking it’s bad business to turn away work, but being honest and true to your style and skill set will make you more successful in the long run.
Just to give you an example, I recently had an enquiry to capture just a ceremony of a wedding, because the couple had a friend capturing the rest of the day. I kindly informed them that it’s just not my style to capture small periods of the day and my approach is to capture the full story of their wedding day.
Don’t be afraid to turn down work and always try your best to point them in the direction of another photographer who may be willing to take on the work.
2. You’re so much more than just a ‘photographer’
Those who know me well, or have been at a wedding recently that I’ve captured, will know I always have another bag that I keep handy that’s full of useful emergency items that maybe just save the day.
The more weddings you shoot, the quicker you will realize the common disasters that can occur on wedding days, and if you can help smooth out any problems it’s going to look good on you and give you a bit more time for those awesome portraits.
I’m more than happy to go above and beyond just being the ‘wedding photographer,’ whether that’s running to the car for umbrellas for guests, grabbing a takeaway breakfast for the bridesmaids on my way to the bridal preparations, helping the groomsmen attach their buttonholes, or something else—it’s all in a days work.
3. Travel, Travel, Travel
I feel mega privileged that my job as a wedding photographer allows me to travel to awesome destinations and see amazing new wedding venues. I love it that much that I openly promote myself as a destination wedding photographer, I will capture weddings literally anywhere!
Of course, you will have to evaluate how you will charge expenses such as travel and accommodation or you may just prefer to shoot weddings in your local area, but I highly recommended you try exploring travel in your work.
4. You will do less and less photography
Everyone’s road into photography usually starts at the same point, whether you go into further education or you’re just a hobbyist. You usually buy yourself a DSLR and go out and shoot as much as you can and shoot the things that make you tick.
Without sounding too much like my Dad, make sure you really cherish that time, having the opportunity to create awesome photographs with absolutely no brief or pressures is something that, overtime, will become less and less.
Don’t get me wrong, I still truly love my job and creating awesome portraits, I’m just limited with time these days. Running your own photography business means you will be working on your own admin, accounts, invoicing, social media, marketing, emailing, and networking. Even though I still find a ton of enjoyment in my business, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not all about picture making.
5. Treat your clients as friends
I can’t even count how many of the awesome Brides & Grooms I have captured over the years who are still in contact with me.
I always try and build up a friendship with each and every couple I work with before their big day, it not only makes my job easier on the day, but those guys feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Meeting new people and making new friends brings a smile to anyone and everyone, so if you can implement that into your business I highly recommend you do.
6. You can never have a sick day, NEVER
Most of you will have named your wedding photography business with your name, therefore it’s you and your skills the clients are paying for, not an office of people. *Knock on wood* I have never had to cancel a wedding due to illness, and unless I was critically ill or unable to walk, I would battle through everything to capture that wedding.
I recently fell ill with food poisoning, but I had to man up and work though it. Of course, I always have a back up on standby just in case I was too ill to make a wedding day. Make sure you plan your own back up procedures and highlight the possibility of illness in your terms and conditions/contracts.
7. Remember the end goal
My whole outlook on my job as a wedding photographer is to creating amazing photographs that the bride & groom along with their family & friends will cherish and revisit for their whole lifetime. I’ve always been a quality over quantity kind of guy, but when it comes to weddings I place more emphasis on creating a collection of imagery that tells the story rather than placing all my time and effort on capturing that one perfect portrait.
There’s a huge responsibility on your shoulders, and that’s why wedding photography should never be entered into lightly; remember, you’re tasked with creating memories that will last generations. Think about it, I can almost guarantee you have a wedding picture from your grandparents somewhere in the house now…
8. Working for yourself has its down days
Whilst working for yourself and from your own office or home maybe be viewed by the outside world with a touch of jealousy, it’s not all perfect.
There’s no doubt your business is going to need investment, a huge amount of time and effort, and usually requires you to juggle a few part-time jobs whilst you find your feet (typically the hardest part of setting up your business in the wedding photography industry). Even after that time has passed and you have established yourself in the industry, there are still hurdles you will have to overcome.
Time management and your own lifestyle goals play a key role in running your own business, and if you don’t implement those ideas into your work you will find work/life balance a real struggle.
There are plenty of days, especially in wedding season, where I won’t find the time to have a day off. 7 day weeks along with 12 hour days are common for me, but I’m very aware of the lifestyle I want to live. Sure, you will have some serious highs and lows, just make sure you prepare yourself and make time for the things in your life, outside of work, that make you smile.
9. Work with other wedding vendors
We’re all super lucky to be working in an industry full of love, color, and very happy people. Weddings involve so many other businesses and individuals—from the cake maker to dress designer from wedding vehicles to videographers. It’s good business to befriend many of these guys, they’re not only good contacts to have for the future but you can all make each other’s jobs a whole lot easier and potentially help each other out.
So don’t get all protective if the wedding venue asks you for a snap from the big day or the cake maker would love a shot of the cake—kindly oblige and see what you can get in return.
Even other wedding photographers are great people to network with; 99% of them are genuine cool people and you can find people to talk geeky camera stuff to. Most of us are happy to meet up and recommend each other. Sure, there are a few bad eggs out there, but they’re usually easy to spot and stay away from.
10. There’s no overnight success potion
I see too many photographers jumping in at the deep end, trying to run a successful wedding photography business and failing. The reality is it takes years and years to build up your business and audience; there is no shortcut to skip ahead.
Even if your work is awesome, it won’t promote itself or get itself noticed—it takes time, patience and whole shed-load of work to start making your mark on the industry.
About the author: Luke Holroyd is a UK-based wedding photographer who travels all over the world capturing people’s special day. To see more of his work, visit his website or give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.