Dear future wedding photographer,
So you want to be a wedding photographer? Amazing. It is arguably the best job in the world. We have access into people’s lives and their intimate moments; we are surrounded by love every time we go out to shoot. We are capturing memories for people and documenting their most important moments, which will then be passed along from one generation to another. We get to create and grow and network with thousands of others who have the exact same interests. We can travel to places that other jobs would never take us.
This really is the greatest job ever, but starting out can seem daunting — I get it. I was there, seven years ago, and I totally feel your pain. I get your confusion and that feeling of having a super long road ahead of you. There are so many things I wish I had known when I first started out. There were such limited resources for photographers and not many people were offering guidance. So allow me to offer some opinions that I wish I had known.
A quick disclaimer: A lot of these topics are highly debated, of course, as we all have our own opinions on the matter. That being said, none of this should be taken as gospel or fact as it is merely a list of information I wish I had known or been aware of when I first started out, as well as tips I have learned along the way. Also, I am the least technical person in photography history, so don’t expect to hear anything here about F stops or Megapixels!
Equipment – I remember being pulled in so many directions when it came to what purchases to make in my first year. There were so many competing opinions on the topic and I ended up purchasing way more than I ever needed and wasting so much money. In hind sight, I was able to learn from my mistake purchases and realize what I actually needed, but hopefully, this advice can save you time and money.
- The Body – Until you actually understand what limitations you are facing, don’t jump on every new body that comes out just because it’s new. Understand your equipment, purchase something that isn’t entry level but also not a 6000$ camera until you actually realize WHY you need a $6000 camera. Actually scratch that, you will never NEED a $6000 camera. Grab a full frame inexpensive camera like a Nikon D610 or a Canon 6D and a few lenses.
- Keep your kit simple – When it comes to the rest of your equipment, try to keep it relatively minimal. When I first started I thought I needed every single lens under the sun. I now only shoot with three lenses every time. Having a simplified kit takes the guess work out for me. Rather than wasting time thinking “hmmm what lens should I use for this moment?” I already know. Every time. As I only have three options. (I currently shoot with a 35, 50 and 85)
- Skip the kit lens – That 18-55 isn’t going to do much for you. Grab a 35 f2 (Nikon) and a 50 1.4(Nikon). Those two lenses used will cost under 900$
My summary and honest opinion about equipment is this: If you’re literally just starting out and want to take a couple years to learn how to shoot as a hobby, go for a Rebel or an entry level cropped sensor camera. However, the moment you decide to start charging for your services and end up in dark churches, do yourself a favor and make the investment mentioned above.
Know your equipment – I know people dwell on learning your camera and reading the manual, but it’s true. There will be a moment when you are at the front of the aisle, the bride walking down toward you and her groom, and you get an error message on your camera. You and your paying client are going to wish you had read your manual. Do it once, learn where everything is and what every error message means and make sure you have a backup camera close by 😉 The more you know your camera inside out the more you can focus on your interaction with your clients. If your clients are confident in you, they’ll give you what you need to create images full of emotion.
Extras – Extra memory cards, extra batteries, Extra Body, Extra lens. Enough said.
Make it legit – Being Canadian, I am not fully aware of legal business matters in other countries, but regardless of where you live, look into ways to make your business legal and legitimate, and then do it! Insurance and licenses are incredibly important.
Know where to spend your money – Spend your money on things that will actually help your business, not just gimmicks. I remember seeing so many products that promised to elevate my business “to the next level,” when in reality, all they were doing was elevating my bank account further into the red. Purchase Creative Cloud so you can have Lightroom and Photoshop, grab a set of presets you like the look of, invest in your website, and spend money on educating yourself at workshops and conferences. Beyond that, the only way to better your photos is to practice.
Invest in your website – Make your website as important as your smile. When you go to meet a client, do you check to make sure you don’t have food in your teeth? You should be taking the same care with your website. Think of your website as your virtual smile. If it’s messy, or you haven’t updated or cleaned it out in a while, people will notice and dwell only on that.
Don’t follow every trend – If you only follow what you see other wedding photographers doing on Facebook, you will only ever be a cheap knockoff of them. Look beyond the trends, look at what inspired the trends and come up with your own!
Find a balance early on – Balance your family time and your work time right from the beginning so you get into the habits of turning your computer off at a certain time and maintaining a healthy relationship. I fell into the obsessive trap of editing until 2am almost every night and it was incredibly damaging to my relationship. Figure it out early on because once you get into the habit of all night editing, it is super difficult to break.
Shoot for yourself – Create art that you love, create art that you hate. Discover what you love about photography through practice.
Learn to love social media – It is your new best friend. It’s free advertising and, if you manage to figure out some of the (always changing) algorithms, you will be set! Take some time to research, or take a workshop, and really understand how to effectively use social media.
Networking – Become friends with everyone! Most photographers are equally as eager to connect with you, too! Through networking, you can set up referral groups and gain a lot of new clients (and friends!). It’s also a benefit to find people who are also working every Saturday night!
Understand money – Understand how much money you need to charge to make a profit and beyond that, understand that in your first year or two, you likely will not make as much as you think. Over half of what you charge will never actually be your money, it will be quickly absorbed by taxes and expenses. Be very aware of this and save accordingly!
Second shoot – Second shoot to learn the ins and outs of a wedding. Watching how an experienced photographer interacts, positions themselves, and what they do to create their work is more valuable than any book, course or article on photography.
Backups – Double backup everything and have an organized system. Keep a hard drive in a separate location from your main one. Too much important work can be lost to poorly managed storage. Pass this knowledge on to your clients as well.
Don’t be afraid of failing – This should literally be my slogan for life, as I am a massive advocate for trying everything, even if you might fail. Ask for what you want in life and in your business, and don’t be discouraged if you hear a no. Seek constructive criticism from others in the industry and don’t take it personally. Become accountable and grow from this knowledge.
Be patient – I remember the moment I started my business and registered www.jennifermoher.com. I didn’t even own a camera yet and hadn’t taken a single photo. All I wanted was to fill my website with beautiful photos (that I thought I was capable of shooting at the time). I remember feeling like the process of building a portfolio and growing as an artist took FOREVER. You are not going to have epic photos on your first day. Or possibly even your first year. Looking back, I wish I had enjoyed the ride a bit more, rather than feeling discouraged by my initial lack of achievements.
Keep your ego in check – I often equate the journey of becoming a wedding photographer to that of growing from a child to adult. The new photographer is similar to a young child who needs guidance and support. The photographer learns some skills, can edit their photos, and quickly feels they know exactly what they’re doing (even though they don’t), much like a teenager. It isn’t until the photographer matures and realizes that they don’t have all the answers and there is still room for growth and improvement that they have matured into adulthood. I remember after my first year thinking I knew everything; I had an opinion on every situation and if someone told me I was doing something wrong I disagreed without question. I was immature and had a lot to learn, but didn’t realize it at the time. Stay humble and keep growing. You will never know everything there is to know about photography, and I think that’s part of what makes this industry so wonderful. There is always room for improvement and growth.
What do you wish you had known when you were just starting out?
Meet Your Contributor
I adore people and connections. I studied Psychology at Trent University Peterborough, Ontario in hopes of being able to discover more about human relationships. My plans changed as I stumbled across photography which I now use as a tool to document relationships and the beauty that exists between couples and those closest to them.
A few things you should know about me: I have two insanely awesome little girls, the most incredible husband in the world who is also a wedding photographer AND I have a tendency to become best friends with every bride I shoot! My current addictions include coffee, social media, video games from the 90’s and my family!