Starting a business is tough; it’s definitely not for everyone. That being said… it’s also not impossible. Becoming a wedding photographer is a dream that many aspire to although unfortunately, not everyone makes it past year one and some don’t get off the ground at all. Learning wedding photography is a task on its own and it totally independent of learning how to run a successful business. In order to become a successful wedding photographer, you need to not only be a great photographer but also be a smart business person.
Reflecting on my journey into the world of wedding photography, I want to share with you some of the things I have learned over the years. Keep in mind that when I started this journey, my background was in radiation physics… not a business and not photography. I learned on my own and through various mentors, workshops, and an infinite amount of practicing. So for all those out there who are struggling with starting their own wedding photography business or who have already started but need a little extra “oomph” to keep going, here’s what I’ve learned over the years:
Don’t think linearly. Trying to get a business started means you need to attempt all your ideas at once. Get a few good ideas and implement them all at the same time. Some may fail but some may succeed. Build your portfolio by second shooting, volunteer your time with any photographer who will take you and let you learn, apply for studio jobs, advertise your first package promo, get your social media running and start getting fans. If you take the “I’ll do this…. try it for a while…. then I” ll do that….” approach, you’re going to waste a lot of time and that inner steam and desire you have will burn out.
Never assume your friends and family will get you, clients. As much as your family and friends love you, your business is not going to be the first thing on their minds. You can’t rely on your family and friends telling others about you and trying to sell your services for you. Sell yourself by yourself. No one will care as much about your business as you will; you’re the one who won’t be able to afford groceries if you don’t succeed.
There will be bad days. There will be days when you’re beyond exhausted or sore from a 14+ hour wedding. There will be days when you have blisters on your feet from wearing the wrong shoes and there will be days when you’re barely alive,clinging onto life one spoonful of Buckley’s at a time, as you photograph a wedding. There will be days and even weeks where you won’t receive a single inquiry. There will be days when you’re just so frustrated you question if it’s even worth it. There will be days when things just SUCK. That’s okay. It happens to everyone – even if they don’t talk about it. Don’t give up.
Networking with other wedding pros is great, but it won’t get you jobs. Not really. It’s really important to have good relationships with your peers but like your family and friends, they aren’t going to be walking billboards for your business. Other vendors will refer you if they like you and if they like your work, not because you’ve asked them to.
There is no such thing as a work/life balance for the first little while. Starting a business is a fulltime job – at minimum! The time you invest into your business is like an airplane on a runway. The faster the airplane goes, the more lift it creates and eventually it will take off. If you don’t have enough speed (or in this case, time) you’ll never take off. You’re going to eat, live and breathe your business 24/7 for the first year or two and this is normal.
Don’t reinvent the wheel; use the right wheel for the road you’re traveling on. Find out what your target market couples want and sell that. Don’t push albums if people don’t want to buy albums. Don’t push print credits if people don’t want print credits. Don’t over charge because you want to make x-many dollars a year, charge according to your experience and skill level. Don’t set yourself apart with your crazy, out of this world packages with fancy add-ons – set yourself apart based on your product and customer service.
Action trumps everything. Stop thinking and start doing. If you don’t do – you won’t success. Period.
Reflect with every step. With every session you shoot, look at your images and ask yourself “are these good enough?” and keep setting goals. This is what will help you get out of that “new photographer” zone and step towards, albeit slowly, the established professional route. If you think you’re doing everything right, you’ve reached your creative peek… that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Failure might happen, but regret is worse than failure. Failing is scary – even the mere thought of it is frightening. Failing can be a humbling experience but regret is a lasting emotion. If you never tried, you’ll regret that your whole life. Don’t be afraid to fail – there’s no such thing as failure as long as you learned something from the experience.
If you’re lucky enough to have a mentor, listen to them! Finding a mentor can be difficult – especially in the competitive world of wedding photography. Many pros don’t like sharing their “secrets” for a variety of reasons. If you are lucky enough to find a mentor, listen to them! They’re giving you priceless advice – often times learned by their own mistakes.
Never stop practicing. Find second shooting jobs, book clients as often as you can, and take your friends out for random photo adventures for the sake of practicing. Shoot, shoot, shoot! The more you shoot, the better you will get. Challenge yourself to shoot at least once a week or even twice a week! Take on the challenge, grow your portfolio and grow as an artist.
I could go on for hours and hour about each one of these points but at that point but I’ll leave it in your hands to reflect on the points I’ve made and assess how they fit in with your life, your business strategies, and your desire to succeed. Becoming a wedding photographer definitely isn’t an easy task and remaining a wedding photographer amongst all the competition is also a challenge. By keeping yourself motivated, focusing on your vision, reflecting at each step, and working your butt off, you just might get there quicker than you think!
All the best to you!