Everyday we come across people, whether they be hobbyists, assistants, professionals, clients, etc, who seem to have severe misconceptions about wedding photography as an industry and job. So, I wrote this article not to discourage anyone, but to make sure anyone getting into the wedding photography industry has the right expectations of their studio and business.
A lot of people are lured to the wedding photography industry due to false expectations. Some are lured by the idea that you can earn a great amount of income by working part time on the weekends. Some are lured by their shear enjoyment of photography, “I love taking pictures as a hobby, therefore I would love doing it for my job.” Even more are coaxed into the industry by praise from friends and family, “you take such great pictures, you should do this professionally.”
But Regardless of how or why you got into the industry, we welcome you, and want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what you are getting into:
1. Income Expectations – Starting a photography studio is no different than starting any other business. You need to be prepared to spend 50-60 hours a week building your business while not really earning much money for the first couple of years. Expecting to jump right into the industry and have clients knocking down your door is unrealistic. In fact, make sure your income/expenses are covered by savings or a spouse for at least your first 1-2 years, as during that time you will not be generating much income. Also, recognize that the Joe Buissinks, Dennis Reggies and Jerry Ghionisis of the world are the outliers and are the exception to the rule. Here is an idea of what you can expect to earn during your first 4 years.
Income Figures (Before expenses/equipment costs)
Year 1: $5,000 – $10,000
Year 2: $20,000 – $30,000
Year 3: $35,000 – $50,000
Year 4: $50,000+
Certified Compensation Professionals median expected salary for the average experienced photographer $53,906
2. Equipment & Cost Expectations – Many self proclaimed professionals are using sub-par equipment to create their product. While you may be able to get away with this for a while, you are doing yourself and your clients a major disservice. We agree wholeheartedly that it is the photographer not the camera that creates the images, but there are many images (particularly low light scenes) that cannot be created with sub-par equipment. You will need a minimum of around $8,000 – 10,000 to get a base set of professional equipment. Here is a basic equipment starter list:
Basic Professional Equipment List
Body: Canon 5D Mark II (Nikon D700) and Canon 40D/50D backup body (Nikon D300)
Lenses: Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM, Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L USM, Canon 50mm f/1.4 (or Nikon equivalents)
Flashes: 2 x Canon 580EX IIs (or Nikon equivalents)
Flash Cards: 2 x 16GB SanDisk Extreme III (or better); 2 x 8GB SanDisk Extreme III (or better)
Misc Equip: Pocket Wizards, reflectors, Flip-it Bounce Card, extra camera batteries, etc.
Other Misc Costs
Keep in mind that, although the margins are high in this industry, there will be other costs that you will have to factor in before you can estimate your bottom line.
Insurance: Depending on your coverage, you may have to spend $300 to $500 a year on General Liability Insurance and between $500-$700 a year for Equipment Insurance
Accounting fees: Accountants may charge anywhere from $1000-$5000 a year, depending on the complexity of your organization; and software like Microsoft Accounting and Quickbooks will cost anywhere from $250-$500, in addition to the time and effort it will take to learn and research basic accounting concepts
Other business fees: There are fees associated with getting a business license, forming an LLC or S Corp, establishing a DBA, and more. These time and money costs can be very overwhelming.
3. Time Expectations – Regardless of what people may tell you, being a wedding photographer is not a part time gig. While you may spend the weekends shooting, you need the rest of the week to advertise, answer client/new client emails, meet with new clients, assist existing clients, edit images, post produce images, backup images, write blog entries, train, manage finances, complete administrative business tasks like taxes, etc. While after several years you may be able to get your business down to a science, it is a full time job requiring at least 40-50 hours a week.
4. Development Expectations – If you are new to photography and starting a business, you need to give yourself time to grow your company, as well as time to develop as a professional photographer. We recommend that those who have not studied photography professionally spend 1-2 years shadowing an established professional photographer in order to gain experience. While you wont be making much money, give yourself time to grow as a photographer and to gain a portfolio. For those that are more experienced in photography, or have studied it in school, take at least 6 months and work with one or more established photographers to understand the business. This was our development timeline:
Lin and Jirsa Photography’s Development Timeline
Months 1 – 6: Shoot with various established professionals (often times for free)
Month 5: Begin compiling and finishing our portfolio
Months 6 – 7: Complete our online website, portfolio and blog
Months 8 – 12: Begin advertising and accepting our own jobs, while still shooting with other established photographers
5. Package Pricing Expectations – While new in the industry, you will be tempted and told by many people to make sure you are always charging what you are worth and not to accept low budget jobs ($500 – $1000). I agree and disagree with this statement. While it is important to charge what you are worth, when you are starting out in the industry its more important to get experience, get exposure and meet potential clients. Accept as many jobs as you can your first year simply to get experience. As you become more and more in demand, raise your package prices accordingly. You will develop much faster as a professional photographer if you can overcome the elitist mentality that plagues this industry.
6. Pressure Expectations – Don’t for one minute let people convince you that photography is an easy job. It goes without fail that the first thing most of our new assistants say after their first shoot is, “this is a lot harder than I thought.” Wedding photography requires you to be on your feet, hustling and bustling for 8 – 14 hours each shoot. You are expected by brides and grooms to get every important moment without fail, to capture the day with your artistic vision and to deliver a flawless professional product. A wedding photographer needs to be prepared and know their equipment through and through in order to deliver results in any lighting situation. Could you imagine a client forgiving you for shooting blurry or underexposed first dance shots because “it was too dark?”
In our opinion, to be truly great wedding photographers, you must be a master of every type of photography including:
a. Portrait & fashion photography – Shooting engagement sessions, couples shoots, bridals, etc.
b. Photojournalistic photography – Shooting timeless imagery in the moments they occur (a much harder task than it sounds)
c. Macro photography – Capturing beautiful close ups of ring, dress, bouquet and other detail shots
d. Architectural & event photography – Shooting breathtaking grand venue and establishment shots
7. Personality Expectations – Wedding photography isn’t for everyone. You must have an A-type (energetic, outgoing, take control) personality if you want to truly do well in this industry. Don’t give up though, because while difficult, this can be learned. One of our good friends and an amazing photographer worldwide once told me, “Sometimes I feel like I should be teaching charm school rather than showing photographers camera techniques.” While his statement was made as a joke, there is a lot of truth to it. Wedding photographers not only must be masters of photography and of their equipment, but they must also be masters of people and social interaction. As a wedding photographer, you are tasked with becoming friends with the bride and groom, making your clients feel comfortable in front of the camera, posing and assisting your clients, being gracious and entertaining to their friends and family while not being a distraction during their wedding day. This is a people industry and those that do well with people, will do well in the industry.
Hopefully this little article will give you better insight into what to expect as a professional wedding photographer. If you have any additional insight or experiences you would like to add, please post in the comments below, we would love to hear from you!