It’s been an interesting week. After writing a piece about how to compete with the “reasonably priced” wedding photographers I received a lot of support and encouragement but, like any time you put an opinion out there on the internet, you get a certain amount of backlash too. I’m a big fan of reflection so I wanted to use that time to really listen to the feedback I received and to challenge myself to make my next piece better. To express myself better. To ensure more clarity and to make it very clear that there are indeed so many opinion out there and none of them are right or wrong. They are just that – opinions, they are perceptions and they are interpretations. One of the questions I got asked a lot was “Well, how do you become a wedding photographer then? If you’re not supposed to work for super cheap, how do you get in the market?”
And you know what? That’s an AWESOME question. It’s definitely a topic worth elaborating on so today I’m going to share my opinion on how to become a wedding photographer.
First and foremost, the words “cheap” or “affordable” mean different things to everyone. A $1,500 photographer in a small rural town may be considered “expensive” while a $2,500 dollar photographer in a big city may still seem “cheap”. Remember that perceived value is something that your clients will judge you on but it doesn’t mean that you have to give away everything and the kitchen sink for a small amount of money. Value does not necessarily equate to things; there can also be value in the experience your clients have with you and some people can easily forget that. But more on that later…
In order to become a wedding photographer you need to have an initial investment into your business. Whether it’s just a few thousand or more than that, you do need to invest in a few basics. A camera, lens (or lenses) and a flash are necessary and of course memory cards, extra hardrives and a computer that can handle the post processing. The other thing you need is a website. You can start out on something free like Wix but since website is basically your storefront, you want to make your website look as kick ass as possible and often this means buying a premium theme and designing a beautiful website.
Learning how to sell yourself is important. It’s one of the key factors into whether you’re going to secure clients or not and a great website is part of selling yourself.
Your work needs to be great, but your skills as a business person also need to be great. Hell – some may argue that a new photographers work can be mediocre but if they’ve got mad selling skills they may end up growing exponentially over their first year. There are two areas to focus on once you have your initial gear and website: the quality of your work and your business skills.
Quality of Work
I, personally, don’t think that you need to be a primary shooter at a wedding right away. I think there is nothing wrong with second shooting like it’s going out of style. Second shooting is such an amazing opportunity to work with a variety of other photographers, to practice your skills and to grow as an artist. Aside from second shooting, shoot with your friends! Reflect on your work and self-assess your current skills and give yourself challenges to work on and then ask friends to model for you so you can practice. Practice, practice, practice! You can build up quite an amazing portfolio through practice shooting and second shooting so that you can start offering your services as a primary and have a more thorough skill set and more experience. The better your quality of work the more value your clients will be receiving.
There aren’t a lot of photographers who have a background in business yet a lot of us run businesses. We get advice from our friends and maybe watch a webinar here and there, but from what I’ve seen in my industry, a lot of photographers don’t focus on continuing education for business – they focus on continuing education for their photographic skills. I believe that knowing how to run an effective business is incredibly important.
Aside from learning sales skills, you also need to know your numbers. The amount you should charge for your services will definitely be on the “lower” side when you begin since no one comes out of the gate charging $3,500, but even if your prices are low, you still need to make sure that you have your expenses covered and your time compensated for. I’ve seen so many people post their prices in different Facebook photography groups asking “does this look right”? What a lot of people seem to do is look at package contents of other photographers in the area and create their packages based on what seems popular (which is understandable) but then they put a price on it that they feel is right.
This is where things can get a bit dangerous.
Some people under value their worth to the point that the number they choose for their package price, once expenses are removed, results in them working for only a handful of dollars per hour. This makes me so incredibly sad because I’ve seen just how many new photographers struggle to make a living without having to get a part time job elsewhere.
You’re allowed to give a value to what you feel your worth is – but you also need to ensure that your expenses are covered in addition to what you feel your value is. You can increase your value over time – for sure! – but you need to build the basics of a sustainable business.
Part of running a business also means establishing a plan for growth. Sure you’re at the “beginner” stage now, but what are you going to do to get out of that stage? What’s your plan? How are you going to achieve that? What needs to be done in order for you to compete with the more popular photographers in your area? Do you need to invest in more equipment? A professional branding? Workshops? Mentoring? Do you need to keep practicing? You’ve gotten into the industry… but how are you going to grow in the industry?
I’ve seen some people enter the industry only 1 or 2 years ago and bust their butts and become quite popular, quite skilled and excellent at they do very quickly. These people were non-stop working machines. These people challenged themselves to do better every time. These people are talented but they are also wicked business people.
Where to Find Business
This is a tough one because the answer to this question varies based on where you are. Some cities and towns and parts of the world still find some success from wedding shows. Other people find success investing in some Facebook ads. Some have a lot of friends getting married and get word of mouth business and others use google AdWords. Some new photographers establish strong relationships with the people who they are second shooting for and are happily given referrals by them. I personally think developing relationships and getting these types of referrals is the best way to go if you’re hoping to get referrals but other people get referrals from referral groups. Will you always get referrals either from groups or from other people directly? No. Some people share into referral groups, others don’t. Some people offer referrals to clients if they know they are beyond the clients budget (and you’d be a great fit) but others don’t. C’est la vie. That is totally their choice and you can’t rely on it but honestly, you don’t need them! The only thing you can truly rely on is yourself and your enthusiasm and initiative. Base your growth plan on what you know you can do for yourself and watch yourself soar.
I also think it’s important to have a community. Others who you can look up to and share ideas with. People who build you up and who you return the favour. I do also think it’s important that your community also challenge you; albeit with tact and grace. Your community should help push you to be the best you that you can be. An example of this would be if you submit a photo into a group and ask for feedback; a community should be confident to provide truthful feedback to you and not just say “Great work!” since that doesn’t help you grow (other than your ego). Don’t be afraid by someone who challenges you to be the best you and you can be. They may actually end up being some of the most influential people in your professional journey.
So how do you become a wedding photographer?
It’s not easy, but if you’re not afraid of some hard work you can get there by focusing on continually improving your quality and learning oh-so-important business skills.
A few of the most fantastic workshops that have a kick ass business component include:
As always, make sure to fully read workshop descriptions to make sure that what you want to be covered is actually part of the course and keep in mind that a lot of business and marketing can also be related to your geographical area. Ie: Something that works in California may not work in northern Alberta so if you have the opportunity to find a local mentor, that may be a fantastic option too!