In one my previous blogs I answered the question ‘How do I know if I’m ready to shoot my first wedding?’. If you’ve done all the hard work and preparation to start booking clients, then this post is for you. Taking the step from a hobby or idea of a dream job to being a professional wedding photographer can seem daunting. But I’m here to tell you: you can do this! I had all the same fears when starting out: would I be good enough? Would anyone want to pay me? But I’m here to tell you: if I can, so can you.
So if this is you and you’re ready to be brave: read through some of my must-do suggestions to shift up a gear in your wedding photography bookings.
Start following experienced wedding photographers in your area on Instagram and connecting through commenting on posts, responding to stories, and engaging with their content. Once you have an idea of the type of work you would like to shoot: research the photographers with the work most similar to the type of work you want to produce. Find out which of these photographers also offers coaching, as you want to connect and work with a photographer with the heart of a teacher. They will then potentially either be offering advice on their social media that is relevant to you, and potentially be a foot in the door to gain assistant experience. Send them an email and tell them you’re a photographer looking to work for free in exchange for an opportunity to see them work. Tell them you’re available to be an assistant on wedding days, help with their social media, or assist them in their office. You need to prove yourself to them, so be open to helping them even if it’s not for assisting right away.
Since you’ve never shot a wedding before, there are many aspects you need to take notice of. You need to learn the flow of the day: must-have shots, how to deal with clients and vendors, posing suggestions, lens choice etc., so the best way to start is by assisting one of the wedding photographers you’ve been admiring. This is a non-shooting position where the assistant has the opportunity to shadow the photographer by carrying gear, helping with light stands, lenses, fluffing the bride’s dress, holding the bouquet, helping during family formals, etc. This experience is priceless as you’re getting to see exactly how a wedding works from a photography standpoint. You can search the internet for example wedding workflows all day long, but having real hands-on experience is far more beneficial for you to learn and possibly even adapt to your own business style. Take notes after every assisting experience and once you’ve done this multiple times, review the notes you took and actually study them. This will help you deliver a good client experience once you actually book your first wedding.
You’ll be able to pick up tips and tricks for posing while you assist other photographers, but get hands-on experience by actually shooting – especially engagement sessions or couple sessions where you’ll develop your posing skills for future brides and grooms. Engagement sessions are great, as they have a lot less stress than the wedding day and you can take more time to try different styles and poses. Offer to do free shoots for couples you know and challenge yourself by working with different body sizes in different lighting situations.
Once you have experience as an assistant and understand the requirements of a wedding day, the lead wedding photographer may allow you to shoot during specific parts of the day, and if you’ve carefully selected a photographer who loves to teach, they’ll give you feedback on your images, which can be the most valuable part of the experience. Make sure you are open to their feedback, especially if they’re more seasoned photographers with plenty of experience. Ask if you are able to use those images in your portfolio, so you can start building your wedding photography portfolio. Take advantage of this time to soak up all the information and knowledge from someone you should regard as a mentor.
A huge part of your work as a wedding photographer will be curating a gallery and editing the photos in a consistent style. Practice these as much as possible and if your mentors offer you an opportunity to train you to cull or edit for them, take them up on it! This will help you learn what to include (or not include) in a wedding gallery and give you ideas on how to establish your own editing style, or even troubleshoot more challenging images.
Once you have enough experience shooting and you have a proper wedding photography portfolio and necessary gear, apply for second photographer jobs in your area. Second shoot as much as possible with various photographers so you can continue to learn and hone in on your skills. This will also allow you to meet a variety of photographers and make invaluable connections.
If you get an opportunity to associate shoot for another studio, do it!! Associate shooting is a great way to gain experience shooting weddings as a lead photographer without having to book your own weddings. In this case, the studio that has hired you will take care of all the marketing and back-end work involved with booking and shooting a wedding and you’ll likely only be responsible for shooting. You’ll be able to practice what you’ve learned with regards to workflows, shooting, gear, the whole nine yards. And hopefully you’ll associate shoot for a photographer who will give you feedback on your work so that you can continue to improve your skills.
You can gain additional experience shooting by attending (or hosting) styled shoots. There are lots of benefits to attending styled shoots (read some of them here), but one of the most important ones is that these types of shoots provide opportunities to photograph beautiful models in stunning locations, helping you to create portfolio-worthy images that will attract potential clients.
Next you’ll want to build your portfolio. Make sure you have permission to use images from your jobs as an assistant, second, and associate photographer and choose the best of the best from past weddings and shoots. You’ll want to edit them all in an established and consistent style, so take your time with them. Choose a variety of images from all parts of the day that clearly show your photography style.
Now that you have a variety of images to showcase in your portfolio, create a website. A website is the number one way you can showcase your work, attract potential clients, and get more work as a second or associate photographer. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a website. In fact, there are beautiful templates out there that can be easily customized in a single sitting. Don’t be afraid to start with something simple; you’ve likely not yet truly defined your ideal client so it may not be in your best interest to spend too much money on something that you’ll end up changing in a year’s time.
No, blogging is not dead. I wrote an article about that here. Start a blog to showcase your shoots, share educational content, and connect with potential clients. Learn how to best optimize your blog posts by learning about Search Engine Optimization and increase the likelihood of a potential client discovering your work.
Make sure you’re not missing out on opportunities to promote yourself and your hard work. You want your social media to be showcasing your wedding work. Put it out there that you’re currently booking weddings so that potential clients who like your work are more likely to inquire. Instagram can be a great resource to attract potential clients so start there!
Join photography Facebook groups in your area to stay up to date on current opportunities. This is where you’ll be able to hear of opportunities to assist, second shoot, associate shoot, and you may even hear of a low-budget photography inquiry that someone wants to refer out. A wedding with a lower budget is often how photographers get to shoot their first wedding.
Continue to connect with wedding photographers in your area as much as possible. Let the ones you know personally that you’re currently looking to book your first wedding, and if they receive a wedding inquiry they don’t want but that you might be a good fit for, you’d love the opportunity. If they’ve seen your work and trust that you’ll deliver a good experience, they will refer you. Inevitably, if your work is good, they will refer more and more wedding clients to you. Trust me: a supportive network of more established photographers with calendars that are already full will lead to future recommendations. I can’t tell you the number of weddings I have referred out to my previous assistants and second photographers! The connections you make with other photographers are invaluable.
Make sure you’re not only networking with seasoned photographers, but with newer photographers, too. It’s great to have a community of colleagues who are going through the same challenges and experiences as you are, and these less experienced photographers will be able to offer you support. They may also be attracting the types of clients you are and when they’re unavailable to take on a new client, they may refer them to you.
You may find out that a friend of a close friend or family member has a small budget for wedding photography and is willing to take a chance on someone with less experience. This would be a great opportunity for you, especially if it’s an elopement or intimate wedding with less pressure than a large wedding.
Start following wedding industry vendors on social media and begin to network with them, too. You should also follow wedding venues that align with your ideal client and start engaging with couples that post to their hashtag. The more vendors and potential clients you connect with, the more likely they are to click on your profile to check out your work and potentially give you a follow.
Don’t wait until you’ve actually got a client ready to book to start looking at wedding photography contracts. Get a contract now so that it’s ready to go when that client willing to take a chance on you comes along.
Okay, so this might sound like the boring section, but it’s also one of the most important. Obviously, making sure you’re prepared with the proper gear and have back-up plans for equipment failure/loss etc. You don’t have to have the most expensive camera or lenses, but they must be good quality to justify you being hired as a professional. You will also want to make sure that you have the correct insurance, including equipment, public liability and professional indemnity. There are insurance brokers who will be able to offer you additional support. Don’t skip this section!
There’s no better way to grow as a photographer than to have a mentor who cares about your growth. If you’d like to work with me to get you started on becoming a wedding photographer, check out my coaching sessions here.
Follow these tips and if your work is good, you will eventually get your first wedding booking. Depending on the level of your work, your professionalism, and how well you connect with the client, your first wedding may or may not be your ideal wedding client, but the most important thing is that you get to book your first wedding and get your career started! One wedding will lead to another and before you know it, your calendar will be full! Here’s to getting started!
Hello there! I'm Alex! I teach hobbyist photographers how to take better photos and professional photographers how to build a thriving business. Here I share tips and resources to help you grow. Thank you so much for visiting my blog!