When you’re a photographer or newspaper photojournalist, it’s inevitable that a friend or family member will eventually ask you to shoot his or her wedding. Once you shoot one wedding, the word starts to spread, and you’ll never get to enjoy another family wedding again.
I’m just kidding, but not about the process. In my case, it was the requests of friends and family that eventually led me to transition into full-time wedding and private portrait work. I learned quickly that weddings were an entirely new realm that requires study and practice to perfect. Shooting a wedding can be terrifying, inducing nightmares of missing an important moment or of gear suddenly malfunctioning. My biggest learning curve was discovering how to be a director, rather than an observant ‘fly on the wall.’
Now, with many years of experience under my belt, I absolutely love what I do and can happily approach weddings with confidence. Here are some key steps to prepare you to confidently book and shoot your first wedding:
To justify the investment in gear (and its upkeep) that photographing weddings requires, you’ll need a budget and a business plan. You may choose to start by renting lenses or lights until you are ready to invest. I began my career with what I consider to be the bare minimum (of course, feel free to substitute other manufacturers):
- Two Canon 5D Mark II camera bodies (it is absolutely essential to have a backup camera body in case your main body malfunctions in any way. Wedding photography does not leave room for excuses).
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens (to shoot wide).
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (to shoot tight or capture moments in the distance).
- Two Canon 580EXII Speedlights (again, you need a backup flash).
- Extra camera battery charger and extra AA batteries for your flash.
- CF cards (I suggest having more storage than you think you need, just to be on the safe side).
Once you’ve honed your skills and feel confident in your ability to make quick decisions, try asking a professional whose work you admire if you can shadow them or second shoot for a wedding. You will gain invaluable insight on how to photograph weddings and manage unexpected situations through watching a professional in action.
3. Real Experience
Shooting a friend or family member’s wedding is a great place to start. I don’t suggest doing this solo unless you have a considerable amount of experience already. Although your friend or family member may be on a limited budget and trust you with the job, it’s often not until after their wedding that people fully realize how much they truly care about photos. They will either love you for your work or be very sad. You don’t want to live with the latter on your conscience!
A wedding is not something that can be recreated, so go into the situation knowing the hefty responsibility that is placed on your shoulders. If you are not 100 percent confident in your ability, you might want to be upfront and honest about that with the couple. That way, the choice is theirs, and you can rest easy and have fun shooting and gaining experience.
If you have worked as a second shooter, maybe the professional who hired you will allow you to use those images in your own portfolio to help build your own body of work. Always ask first, as some photographers will not want you to use those images.
If they don’t allow it, use favorite images you have gathered from the friend and family weddings you’ve been shooting. It’s a good idea to have a professional photographer review your portfolio, as you may be more attached to certain images for sentimental reasons rather than their high quality. A second eye will help produce a strong portfolio.
5. Get Online
Once you feel you have a solid body of work, you need to have an online presence. Start with a website and a blog. You’ll put in a lot of time and legwork early on to show your best examples in a portfolio, but the blog will be where you can easily add new material every week for the most up-to-date examples. Most clients will want to see examples from an entire wedding in order to have faith that you are a consistently good photographer.
6. Pricing + Contract
Create a price list that you feel comfortable with. Ask photographers in your area for a ballpark rate for wedding photography, and go from there. Start on the lower end of the spectrum, and as you gain more experience, you will gradually raise your prices. Some people are going to think they can bargain with you, and you may decide to be flexible with your rates in the beginning.
However, as your business grows and you become busier, you will find that the professional thing to do is to stick to your rates to be fair to all of your clients.
You will also want to include a contract when you collect deposits from your clients. This will protect you and them. You may find it helpful to have a lawyer draft up an official form.
Spread the word and manifest your destiny! Let people know that you are available through social media, friends and family, and by continuously sharing that this is what you want to do.
It’s incredible how far word-of-mouth travels. Your blog will help the word travel faster.
Dress for the occasion. I recommend dressing casually elegant when you meet a potential client. Remember that this is their wedding — they are excited and it’s a special occasion. Treat it that way. Sometimes I meet clients through email, phone, Skype, or in person. Whichever way it is, be professional and positive!
Don’t be pushy. You shouldn’t have to sell yourself if your work speaks for itself!
I feel incredibly fortunate in my career and I hope that what I’ve learned along the way will help you do what you love!
About the Guest Contributor
Hunter McRae‘s career has taken her from newspaper journalism to portraiture and wedding photography. Based in Charleston, S.C., her work is frequently published in national wedding publications, including her contributions as a blogger for BorrowLenses.com.
CREDITS: All photographs shared by Hunter McRae are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist