Photographing weddings can be fun as well as personally and financially rewarding. The good feeling of capturing one of the most beautiful days in a couple’s life is priceless. But as any wedding photographer will tell you, it’s not easy! In this article we’ll discuss some ways to get started photographing weddings.
You may have already photographed a wedding for a family member or friend. Lots of wedding photographers start out this way. But even if you start small and aren’t quite ready to go into the business yet, there are a few things that are helpful to know. How can you best prepare for the wedding? What gear do you need to bring? Where do you get the practice you need? How do you build up your portfolio for the time when you DO want to go into the business and you need to attract clients?
Once you’ve agreed to shoot a wedding you might be feeling like a ball of nerves because wedding couples have spent months (or years) planning every last detail and now it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s captured perfectly. Yep, all seasoned wedding pros have been there. And you’re right to be nervous!
Weddings are a big deal and there aren’t any re-dos, so approaching them with the appropriate amount of preparation and respect is not only wise but will ensure that you have a long career filled with happy couples. With that in mind, here are my top 5 steps to getting started as a wedding photographer.
1. Learn to use your camera so well that it becomes second nature.
Wedding days are not the time to learn how to use your camera, work with light, or pose people. Before you ever shoot or second shoot a wedding you need to have a very solid grasp on how to shoot your camera in manual, how to work with both natural light and strobes, and how to naturally direct people. I’m personally a big fan of formal education like attending the Professional Intensive program at Rocky Mountain School of Photography or getting a B.A. in photography from a university. But you could also do an apprenticeship under a photographer you love or attend a series of workshops taught by established pros.
Of course, there’s also lots of helpful information online. For starters, if you need some help with knowing how different focal length lenses influence the look and feel of an image, here’s a good article by my colleague Jeff McLain on choosing the right lens.
And some helpful info on using your flash includes a great article written by Jeff on the basics. Also, in the spirit of you can never know too much about your flash, check out the livestream linked here that RMSP instructor Jesse Boone did on how you can improve your images by adding a flash into the equation.
Just know that whatever path you choose for your education, the more you know (and the more you practice), the greater success and confidence you will have.
2. Gear up for shooting weddings.
Photographing weddings demand professional gear. And if you don’t own it, you need to rent it or borrow it. Here’s the MINIMUM list of gear that I would recommend for a wedding day.
- Two full-frame camera bodies, such as:
- A dual holster camera system
- Two strobes with diffusers
- Fast telephone zoom, e.g., 70-200 f2.8, such as:
- Fast mid-range lens, e.g., 24-70 f2.8 or 50mm f1.4, such as:
- Wide angle lens, e.g., 16-35mm f2.8 or f4, such as:
- Multiple backups of camera/strobe batteries and SD cards
- Battery chargers
- Lens cleaning cloths
Bonus gear that is great to have but not totally necessary as a second shooter.
- Macro lens or macro lens adapter, such as:
- Styling mats for detail shots
- Light stands, flash trigger, and umbrellas or soft boxes for off-camera flash
3. Practice by photographing couples you know.
It’s time to start getting some practice and building your portfolio! One of the easiest ways to do this is to shoot couples you know who also fit your brand. Reach out to friends who have the look and feel you want and offer to shoot them for trade (their time and model release for your photos). If they’re engaged that’s even better because you may be able to wow them so much that they hire you for their wedding! And if they were recently married ask them if they’d be willing to model in their wedding attire. Either way, a wedding photographer needs lots of couples in their portfolio so start shooting as many as you can. But remember, only photograph on-brand couples. Your time is valuable and if you wouldn’t use them in your portfolio, it’s not a good use of your time. You’ll not only get practice working with actual couples, but the images will look great on your website and on social media — and you will start to attract the clients you want to work with.
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4. Invest in a styled shoot to build up your portfolio.
Put together a team for a styled wedding shoot (or two) that would appeal to your target client. At minimum you will need models, wardrobe, hair and makeup. You can add on florals, cake, stationary, rings, a venue and a tablescape as well, depending on how many vendors you can get on board and your budget. When reaching out to other vendors to partner with, target those who are just starting out like you are. They’re more likely to participate because you’re all in the same phase of building your portfolio. Once you have the images, market them like crazy on your website and social media and submit them for publication until you get something accepted.
5. Second shoot for other photographers and learn a ton!
You need to show potential clients that you know not only how to capture beautiful portraits of couples, but also that you know how to shoot the actual wedding day. And this is where second shooting comes in.
I would never recommend photographing a wedding as the primary photographer until you’ve second shot at least 5 to 10 weddings. Second shooting is invaluable. It allows you to get example shots of the harder to replicate wedding aspects like the ceremony, wedding party photos and the reception. It also helps you learn the flow of a wedding day, how to anticipate shots, how to work with brides and grooms, how to manage everyone else at the wedding, what lenses and lighting setups to use when, how to stay out of the way of a primary shooter, and how to shoot under the pressure of a quickly moving timeline without missing anything.
Second shooting allows you to gain wedding shooting experience without the pressure of being the primary photographer. And besides that, second shooting is fun! I’ve been shooting weddings for ten years and I still love second shooting. It’s a low key way to make some money while getting to be more creative with your wedding photos. Without the pressure of having to get all the shots as the primary, you get to focus more on creative compositions, candids, and detail shots. Right now you may be wondering, “that sounds great, but how in the world do I start second shooting when I’ve never second shot before?” Here are my tips.
- Start with wedding photographers you know. If you have a personal relationship with a wedding photographer they’re way more likely to allow you to second shoot with them. Reach out and send them a link to that portfolio you’ve been working on from step three (above) where they can see examples of your work photographing people. Your product and nature photography aren’t going to do you any good here. Let them know why you want to work with them and why you think you’d be an asset on the wedding day. Send them a gear list and describe your education and experience.Until you have a few weddings under your belt it’s pretty common to offer to second shoot for free in exchange for using the images in your portfolio. The photographer is taking a risk having an inexperienced second shooter there so don’t expect much in the way of compensation at first. Some may not even allow you to use the images either and you need to decide if you’re at a place where the experience alone is of value to you. As you gain more experience second shooting, you can start actually getting paid and hopefully shoot for people who allow you to use the images in your portfolio (often within certain parameters).
- If you’ve exhausted your list of personal connections, it’s time to start reaching out to photographers you don’t know. This can be a lot harder so be prepared for some no’s and don’t take it personally! Reach out with the same information above and if you’re still at the very beginning of second shooting, offer to shoot for free for at least one wedding to see if they like you and your work. If you do get a “no”, send a follow up e-mail thanking them for their time and asking if they’d be willing to let you take them for coffee or lunch for an informational interview. I find that many established pros believe in giving back to the younger generation of photographers and are happy to talk to you about the industry if you show initiative. This is a great way to start building connections in your community and learn from people working in your same market. Again, if you get a “no” don’t get discouraged! Just thank them for their time and move on to the next.
- Join photographer facebook groups and networking groups in your area. In my market there are several photographer facebook groups where people will post when they need a second shooter for a job. Keep an eye out for these listings or post a general listing letting people know you’re available to second shoot and looking for work! The more photographers you know, the more opportunities for second shooting work and eventually for referrals when a photographer can’t take a certain job. So get out of your introverted bubble and go to those lunches and learn to mix and mingle! Network the hell out of yourself and the work will follow.
That’s it! Get the training, get the gear, get the portfolio, and get the experience. Once you have all of this you can start confidently marketing yourself as a wedding photographer and start attracting paid clients that are all your own. And be patient! It can take a long time before your portfolio building and marketing efforts are really fruitful. But if you keep shooting quality work and showing up consistently for both your clients and in your marketing, you’ll start to attract your ideal client and begin shooting weddings you truly love.