Just starting out?

I often get asked about advice and pointers from photographers just starting out in the wedding business. And honestly to give someone advice  – I could probably fill up a book because I’ve been there and lived it.  Not that I am so full of amazing knowledge, but I remember what advice I received, what I ignored, what I learned along the way, and what I wish I didn’t ignore!  I certainly didn’t get all the answers just handed to me.  There are still things I am figuring out as we speak!

My background – I started my business in 2003, started shooting weddings on my own in 2004, and have been taking pictures as a hobby in general, for a very long time. I have been shooting with a manual SLR since the mid-90’s and learned photography from my dad when I was just a kid!

I have a few pointers for those just starting out, hopefully it will help.  It’s probably the first of many because this barely scratches the surface.

Click below to keep reading!

– Join a forum. A good one, where people are reputable and talented and will truly help you. One forum that has helped me SO much over the past 6 years is Digital Wedding Chat. This forum costs $75 a year to join, and is worth about five times that, it’s full of valuable information.  (This is where I met great photographers like Debra and Gino)  You need to learn everything you can about photography.  Lighting, exposure, posing, composition – eat up everything you can.  Clever marketing and sales techniques will only get you so far… you need to know what you’re doing with your camera! 

– Charge what you’re worth. Don’t think that booking MORE equals more money or is something to brag about.  You want quality weddings, quality clients, and profitable weddings. Doing 20 weddings a year is manageable. But something like 60 weddings a year??  That is a nightmare. That means working every.single.weekend. of the year. That means missing out on family events, friends’ weddings, football games, barbeques and summer fun. And those who value their work see that a photo straight out of the camera is not a “finished image” and will spend the time on post-processing. You can expect about two weeks’ worth of work with each wedding. So, 60 weddings a year, with 2 weeks’ work for each wedding, ah! there’s only 52 weeks in a year.. so… you see what I’m sayin’? Forget about days off. Unless you want to work 80+ hours per week to meet deadlines and keep your clients happy, and have absolutely no personal life whatsoever, you need to charge more, work fewer weekends, and be the happy and relaxed photographer you want to be.  Undercutting your competition may bring you more bookings for the moment, but in the long run, it will not be profitable and after all, even if this is “not about money” for you, you don’t want to be a non-profit business.  What to charge is probably one of the hardest things to figure out.  Here is an article to consider about pricing  http://mcpactions.com/blog/2009/10/12/how-should-i-price-my-photography-words-of-advice-from-jodie-otte/

– Attend seminars, but be careful – would you want to pay someone to teach you if they just picked up a camera for the first time 2-3 years ago?  Would you want this to be someone who is just great at networking and marketing but so-so at photography?  On the other hand – would you want someone who has 20 years experience but doesn’t shoot weddings anymore, just does seminars, to teach you about how to book more weddings?  You have to be selective so that you spend your education time and $ wisely.  Again more things to think about. 

– Remember that you are a business owner, and respect that.  You are not here to give people favors, work for free, or just have fun.  Yes this is a FUN job, my goodness it’s so much fun, but it’s still a job, and you need to take it seriously. Get organized NOW.  Get an accountant.  Get a lawyer to review your contract.   Protect your work.  If you need help, hire someone.  Don’t try to do it all alone. 

– If you have a full time job, don’t quit just yet.  Wait until you have a good following – get your work up on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, keep up with your blog, network with other photographers and if you’re getting client referrals and booking steadily, you’ve got a following.  You’ll be amazed how much work and time just this stuff takes, btw!  Just marketing yourself is a full time job in itself.

– Network! Get to know other photographers and other wedding vendors in your area, they are a part of your referral base and an invaluable part of your inspiration and education.   

And last but not least… here’s the reality check.  Here is what they don’t tell you.  Here is what no one will admit. 

– DO NOT expect it all to “happen” overnight.  Wedding photography is really only glamorous on the internet.  It is a fun job, but it is HARD work.  It’s a lot of work.  When I started out, I thought I would have tons of free time and lots of money.  Neither of these things have happened yet and I’ve been doing this 6 years!  The photographer that I trained with told me that she doesn’t make any more money as a photographer then she did as a teacher.  I didn’t believe her.  Haha.  Yeah.  One of those things I wished I didn’t ignore lol! 

So yeah, it takes time.  You have to earn your dues.  You will have weddings that you can’t wait to leave.  You will have brides that you don’t get along with.  There will be other wedding vendors that will treat you like crap.  You will have other “photographers” at weddings criticize what you’re doing right to your face.   People will jump right in front of you to take a picture with their disposable camera during the bride and groom’s first kiss.   You will get rejected by couples you meet with, over, and over, and over, and over again.  You will meet with clients, have a great time, feel like you really connected, and never hear from them again.  Don’t take it personally.   If you can’t accept rejection or criticism, seriously look into another line of work.

You will be a zombie the day after a wedding where you worked 14 hours carrying around heavy equipment and your legs will feel like jello at the end of the night.  Your feet will hurt.  While your friends are enjoying a sunny Saturday at the beach, you will be leaving your house at 9 a.m. and getting home well past midnight, and possibly not get anything to eat and no time to get a drink water.  Your creativity will be stifled by time constraints and weather and you will be exhausted by the end of the night, but more often than not, you will be driving home with a big smile on your face and reliving all the great moments of the day.  You will have the weddings that you don’t want to leave, the weddings that you wish you could do again and again, and the brides that remain friends years after the big day.

You will very quickly realize how much it costs to be a photographer and to run a business and you will be shocked that people ask you to lower your price for them, while you still have to pay the same amount for rent, car payments, insurance, food, etc.  You will be disillusioned and jaded and bitter from time to time. 

Make no mistake – this is is a very rewarding job, but it is a TOUGH job.   It takes A LOT out of you.  It is NOT glamorous.  But WOW  it is so much fun and so amazing and so totally completely worth it and I wouldn’t ever want to do anything else.  I feel so grateful and fortunate to be able to do this, and have had so many amazing clients!  I appreciate being able to do what I love year after year. 

Take your time, develop your skills, study business and marketing, and keep a positive attitude through the ups and downs.  You’ll be just fine.

And don’t worry, I don’t take myself TOOO seriously 🙂


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