Stark contrast with 20 years ago, when there were only a handful local wedding photographers available in each area. Back then, medium format film cameras and lighting equipment required to shoot a wedding could cost a small fortune. Not to mention that it took years to learn and practice the craft before one can call itself a wedding photographer.
Talk to wedding photographer veterans and many will remember spending long hours in the darkroom as apprentices, assisting established wedding photographers for years before picking up the camera and photographing a wedding on their own.
Nowadays, professional cameras and lenses are more affordable than ever. There are more wedding photography online tutorials, videos on YouTube and books than one can watch and absorb in a lifetime (for the fact gigs in us: 11,000 years based on the latest estimates). Opening a website and marketing a wedding photography business can take from few weeks to few months.
In other words, more affordable photography equipment and more information being available online, made possible for many photographers to enter the wedding photography business.
Wedding photography is also a field that can generate a steady stream of clients (during the wedding season) year over year. And the business is not as cyclical as an advertisement or commercial photography which tend to tank when the economy is not doing very well, and companies spend less on creating ads to market their products. People get married all the time and are less likely to cancel their weddings even when the economy turns sour.
But just because it is easier to get into it and start practicing, it doesn’t mean it easy to sustain and master it. It is indeed, a demanding and complex photography field, which is the reason so many new wedding photographers last only a few years before giving up. Of course, new entrants take their place, only to shut down their practices in few short years and to be replaced by the next batch of newly minted wedding photographers.
So, what is causing this high failure rate and high turnover among wedding photographers? Is it because is not as easy as it appears to be? Or is it that with so much competition around and rates going down, many decide the money they get paid is not worth the energy and time they invest? Or is it that over time it could become a bit of “Been There, Seen That, Done That”?
As a wedding photographer, working with San Francisco Bay Area clients and fellow local wedding photographers for few years already, I had the opportunity to build and sustain a wedding photography business. All points below (the most important but not everything) are what I think it takes to be a wedding photographer.
I hope many inspired to be wedding photographers would consider these when deciding to join the ranks of the wedding photographers. These are by no means all that one should consider, but I think are the one that are most demanding and can cause one to fail if not well prepared and able to handle. I grouped them into three main categories:
So let’s go over the list and see why each one is important to understand and prepare for.
1. Knowing How To Market Yourself:
The most important skill that wedding photographers should learn in my mind (besides knowing how to photograph which is mandatory and not open for any discussions). Vision and talent are great to have, but if one doesn’t know how to market it (aka convince others to hire its talent), there is no business. With no business, there is no income and no way to sustain the practice.
As a wedding photographer, marketing means:
- meeting lots of people (brides, grooms, vendors, photographers, etc) and getting them excited about your vision and talent
- attending bridal fairs to meet your clients and sell your services
- making and maintaining an appealing website to showcase your work
- advancing your website ranking by SEO
- meeting potential clients all the time
- keeping up with social media
- maintaining your blog
- answering your email
Your marketing efforts would never stop. Unless, you decide to retire and stop looking for new clients.
2. Knowing How To Sell Your Services and Products:
If the marketing was skill #1 to learn and master, as a wedding photographer, the actual selling of what you market, is as skill #2, you need to be absolutely good at it. Ok. I lied. You don’t have to be good at it. You have to be absolutely amazing at it.
The sale is what gets you paid and would allow you to not only sustain but also to grow your business. Not to mention would open the doors to different type of clients and different types of venues. And I am not only talking about collecting payments and keeping track of them.
There is much more as:
- keeping track of leads
- following up with clients and guiding them through the booking process
- writing contracts
- collecting and keeping track of deposits and payments
- bookkeeping of sales records
- invoicing and receipting
So much for taking pictures, ah? We will come to the photography part below. Promise.
3. Learning and Practicing Multiple Photography Areas:
No other photography field blends so many different photography areas as the wedding photography. It requires one to learn and master areas as:
- landscape photography (all this amazing environmental shots with the bride and groom in it)
- macro photography (think of ring, shoes, dress, flowers, decorations, invitations, etc details)
- portraiture (bride and groom portraits)
- action photography (all the dance floor action in low light)
All of these have their place during a wedding, and a successful wedding photographer would need to have the experience and know how to apply them all.
4. Learning To Pose and Direct People:
Most brides and grooms don’t feel very comfortable in front of a camera. After all, modeling and posing requires practice. So as a wedding photographer, you would have to learn and get very good at posing and directing others to create visually interesting photos. It is another soft skill, and you need to master it if you want to set yourself apart from the competition.
Do you have what it takes to communicate to others how to position their bodies, heads and bring the best expressions out of them? Do you enjoy it or absolutely hate it? Having an answer would help you down the path to becoming a great wedding photographer.
5. Learning and Mastering Different Lighting Conditions:
Weddings are very challenging when it comes to lighting conditions. From the low light ceremony locations (churches, temples, etc), to the transition to bright light events after the ceremony, to outdoor or indoor receptions, to the dark or no lights at all (except for all colors of the rainbow DJ lights), wedding photographers have it all. All the challenging and requiring knowledge how to capture, lighting conditions.
Not to mention that moving from one lighting condition to another happens very rapidly. Wedding photographers must know the light by heart and be able to react instantly.
6. Working Long Hours:
Most weddings can last about 6-12 hours. On top of that, wedding photographers are commuting to and from the wedding venues for another 1-3 hours which means they are pulling 7 – 15 hours working days. It requires lots of energy and stamina to go through a normal wedding day.
Make sure you are mentally and physically ready for it. This will not be like a walk in the park for a one-hour photo session with posed clients.
7. Post-Processing For Thrice the Shooting Time:
If working long hours to capture thousands of wedding images doesn’t wear you off, prepare yourself for what comes after that. Wedding photographers have to download all the wedding images first. Then comes the culling, cataloging, tagging, editing, backup and delivering to the clients. On average it takes 3 hours of post-processing for every hour of shooting.
Unless you can charge high enough service fee and outsource the post-processing work, you will be up to long hours on your computer before having a final set of images to deliver to the bride and groom. Keep in mind that during the busy wedding season you will be shooting almost every weekend (some weeks on Saturday and Sunday), so you will most likely have a backlog of weddings to post-process. Red Bull and coffee usually help you to stay awake.
6. Missing All Summer Weekends For Years:
Most weddings take place during the summer months (for some states as California – almost the entire year) and on the weekends: Saturday and Sunday, which means you will not be free for your friends, family or simply to go somewhere during these weekends.
Be ready to miss many birthdays, graduation events, summer parties and trips to the beach on hot summer days. Decide if this is worth the sacrifice. You will earn money for sure, but all these money, even all the money in the World will not bring back the time you have missed. Make sure you are ready for this and can commit to it.
7. Maintaining Your Gear:
As a wedding photographer, you will need to deal with lots of technologies, which means you need to be tech savvy to make the best use of it. What you need to do besides taking pictures is:
- upgrading your computer’s hardware and software
- installing software programs and patches
- maintaining your camera: cleaning, configuring, learning the manuals
- keeping up you lenses, flashes and all related gadgets
If technology is not your thing, you would need to pay someone to do that for you. It is another time allocation you need to factor in your workflow and business plan.
8. Shooting is Just 1/5 of What You Would Do:
Many new wedding photographers think is all about taking pictures of beautiful brides on amazing venues. However, this is not what a wedding photographer primarily do. Some estimates put the shooting time to just 1/5th (or 20%) of the time wedding photographers spent.
Activities like post-processing, marketing, clients management, selling, education, etc. take the majority of the time. If you like the taking pictures part but dislike the rest, you might be due for a big disappointment.
9. Working Under Pressure:
Many weddings fall behind their planned schedules which mean certain functions and events will get compressed into less time. Wedding photographers are under constant stress to take the images their clients want, even when the time is just 1/4 of what was allocated.
And if this is not enough, traveling between the locations, posing large groups and dealing with vendors on the site, is going to be part of your working day as a wedding photographer.
And before I forget to mention it: Losing your temper is not an option.
10. Keeping Up With Your Craft:
Wedding photography is a competitive and fast changing field. Photographers constantly introduce new themes and techniques to stand out among the increasing competition, which means one has to spend the time to stay current.
Attending conferences, watching video tutorials, reading magazines and books, networking with fellow wedding photographers and constantly practicing and improving are just a few of the activities that you will need to do besides photographing weddings. Falling behind and becoming obsolete, is not an option. It’s a constant “rate race” to stay ahead of the competition and book clients that many others are also trying to book.
11. Making Your Clients Happy (aka Be a People’s Person):
A big part of having a successful wedding photography business is to know how to get liked by potential brides and grooms. Sure, your portfolio can turn heads around but unless you “click” with the clients and they like you as a person, the chances are there will not be many bookings at the end. The couples look for someone they can get along on their wedding day, someone who seems trustworthy and they like dealing with.
You need to be able to:
- handle impossible to meet demands
- educate your clients on your services and packages in plan language they can understand
- answer all their questions
- be available and approachable
- find a compromises to potential conflicts
- build relationships with vendors and fellow photographers
These are just a few of the soft skills; one needs to have to be a successful wedding photographer. If you are introvert and despise working with people, you might be better trying to make it as a wildlife or landscape photographer instead.
Wedding photography is an exciting photography field. It offers the unique opportunity to witness and experience love stories and capture amazing life moments. But it is a demanding and could become overwhelming if not approached carefully. It is important that photographers understand what they are getting into and are prepared both mentally and physically to manage the workload and stress.
Many have succeeded, and many have failed. The difference between them is that one group was better prepared, loved what they were doing and persisted along the way. Others were not prepared, didn’t realize what does it take to make it as a wedding photographer and gave up at the end.
It is up to you to decide which group you would be. The bottom line is that you need to love what you do and need to enjoy it, to be successful in a long term.
I hope you found this article useful. If so, feel free to share with anyone who is planning to get into the wedding photography or would be interested. The wedding photographer’s community would be stronger and more successful if everyone helps the others to become better photographers.
About the Author:
Trifon Anguelov Photography is a premiere wedding and events photography business based in Mountain View, CA 94040 and serving clients in San Francisco Bay Area, CA. You can read more about the author and review his portfolio on his website. For a complete list of services and to book your wedding, visit his Wedding Packages page.