Unlike other professions, a wedding photography career doesn’t have an established path. Instead of degrees or apprenticeships, wedding photographers discover the career in their own unique way, with their own unique story.
Without a solid career guide, however, you may quickly find yourself headed down a difficult path, burning out and wondering where it all went wrong.
In this article, we’ll lean on our experience of over ten years in the industry to help new photographers map out an efficient route toward becoming a wedding photographer, all within one year.
Timeline (Months 1-3): Testing the Waters and Getting Started
Use the first three months to find a way to break into the industry while also building your skills. While it’s possible to start out on your own as a lead photographer, there are several benefits to working for other photographers.
1. Start with Assisting
Assisting for engagement sessions and weddings is the best way to start your wedding photography career. This gives you an opportunity to gain hands-on experience, get a glimpse at how established professionals work, and ensure that you actually enjoy the whole process before investing in all of the necessary gear, education, memberships, and business expenses.
Write up a polite yet personalized email and send it out to as many photographers in your area as it takes to get out there and gain experience. Also, join local photography groups and attend networking events to meet potential photographers to take you under their wings.
For more information, check out the following workshops and articles:
- (Premium) Etiquette When Assisting, Second, Or Lead
- (Free) Quitting Your Day Job, Pt. 6: The Art Of Being an Assistant
2. Get Your Basic Gear
After you’ve assisted on a few weddings, start building your own portfolio. To get started, purchase a basic set of gear. Whenever possible, consider buying used or previous generations of a camera. Also, consider 3rd-party lenses like Sigma and Tamron to save a little money. Limit your upgrades until your skill and income improves.
Here are a couple of articles discussing the gear you might need to get started:
- (Free) Official 2018 Wedding Photography Gear Bag By SLR Lounge
- (Premium Members) Our Second And Lead Photographer Guide
3. Practice with Friends And Do Test Shoots
In our business course, we call these “purposeful test shoots.” These provide opportunities to practice in low-pressure situations. In addition, if you choose the right target market and network, these could become your first clients and brand ambassadors somewhere down the road.
For Premium Members, we teach this strategy in this video.
4. Start a Website And Social Media
After you have a set of portfolio-worthy images, determine a business and domain name and decide on your website builder, aka content management system. We recommend WordPress or Squarespace, but here is more in-depth information about your options. The WordPress route will require a little more work because you’ll have to find your own hosting and choose/install your own theme. To get started, review this list of the best web hosting.
We recommend starting all of your social media accounts at this time as well to make sure you claim your name on all of the major networks. Start accounts on the following:
- Facebook Business
Timeline (Months 3-8): Second Shooting And Learning
You’ll notice most of the progress towards becoming a professional wedding photographer occurs between 3-8 months as you work your way up and establish several key components of your own business.
5. Become a Second Shooter
With a portfolio to house your work and some experience under your belt, continue the next step in your career and start making some actual money as a second shooter. Reach out to the same photographers you first assisted as well as new ones using the same approach of email, social media and in-person networking to land your first second-shooting gig.
Before your first second-shooting gig, make sure you understand fully what your expectations and roles are for the wedding day. Most lead photographers want their second shooters to prioritize the following: groom prep, groomsmen photos, wedding decor photos, and photojournalistic moments throughout the day. To learn all about Photographing the Groom, see our workshop. Below are a few images that you might be expected to create as a second shooter.
6. Set up your business
Before taking on any lead shooting gigs, make sure you set up a legitimate business in accordance with your local laws. Not doing so can get in the way of you landing a wedding. For example, many wedding venues in the U.S. require photographers to have general liability insurance to work at their venue. You can also jeopardize your personal assets without the proper insurance and business structure.
You can learn more about protecting yourself with contracts and insurance, as well as laying the groundwork for several other aspects of your business in our Photography Business 101 Course.
7. Refine with Education
After you’ve mastered second shooting, take a step back to assess your skills as a lead shooter. Do you have the necessary mastery of posing, lighting, creativity, time management, and other skills to successfully execute your own wedding? If not, or if you feel you need improvement in one or more of these areas, continue your online education our wedding workshops.
8. Refine Your Portfolio
One of the most common mistakes photographers make is leaving old, outdated, or lower quality images in their portfolio. Practice with more friends and do more test shoots to increase the quality of your portfolio. By now, you should be leaps and bounds beyond the skill level you had when you did your first round of test shoots, and your portfolio needs to reflect that.
Remember the concept of “less is more” and only show your best. Average to below-average images, relative to your best images, only detract from the perception of your services.
9. Set Up Your Pricing and Packages
Pricing is always a hot topic in photography communities, and putting together pricing packages is something many photographers struggle with. Research and study different pricing topics, including the following:
- Luxury vs Consumer Purchases
- Cost Based Pricing
- Competitor Pricing Research
- The Paradox of Choice
- Price Anchors
You can find more in-depth information on these pricing and product design topics in our Photography Business 201 workshop.
10. Work on your website marketing
Now that you have experience, education and a polished portfolio, it’s time to get booked. Study and implement these 11 ways to market your photography business:
- Photography Client Referrals
- Vendor/Network Referrals
- SEO and Content Marketing for Photographers
- Social Media for Photographers
- Video Marketing
- Directories and Online Listings
- Awards, Features and Publicity
- Email Marketing
- Giveaway and Charity Marketing
- In Person Networking Events and Tradeshows
- Paid Ads – Social Media, Adwords and More
Timeline (Months 8-12): Booking and Shooting Your First Gig
It’s time to fully step into the driver’s seat and follow through from making first contact with clients to delivering their images (and possibly selling album add-ons or wall art).
11. Book and Shoot your first set of weddings
As the leads roll in from your web marketing efforts, work on your sales and booking process. This is where your soft skills like communication and understanding take center stage. The better you are at understanding your clients and their vision for their wedding day, the sooner you’ll be able to build their trust and start booking weddings.
Initially, be careful not to take on more than you can handle so that you can always deliver a 5-star experience. Every client should feel as though they’re your only client. As your experience grows and you work out any kinks in your process, you’ll be able to scale your business and take on additional bookings.
Timeline (Months 12+): Refining and Marketing
After you’ve successfully photographed a number of weddings, you should review your process to identify and address areas that need improvement. Then, when you’re ready, you can increase your marketing efforts to bring in more leads.
12. Exceed expectations & use those to market
In addition to exceeding your client’s expectations with customer service, strive to create images that are both meaningful to the clients and visually impactful for marketing purposes. You can then use the same images that wowed your previous clients to improve your portfolio and attract new leads.
Wedding photography can be a lucrative and rewarding career, but it takes a lot more than just passion and a nice camera. We hope this article sheds some light on the process and gives you a rough idea of how to achieve success in a highly competitive field. Here’s a brief summary of the steps:
- Start with Assisting
- Get Your Basic Gear
- Practice with Friends and Do Test Shoots
- Start a Website and Social Media
- Become a Second Shooter
- Set Up Your Business
- Refine with Education
- Refine Your Portfolio
- Set Up Your Pricing And Packages
- Work on Website Marketing
- Book And Shoot Your First Set Of Weddings
- Exceed Expectations and Use Those Images to Market
For those who’ve been grinding away at growing your wedding photography business, what other tips do you have for new or aspiring wedding photographers? Please share your tips in the comments below.