How to Become a Wedding Photographer

Couples in the US spend an average of $30,000 on their special day – the wedding. This is a whole industry of specialized designs, venues, event planning, catering and all around memory-making. That’s where the wedding photographers come in. They are there to accompany couples on the day of their wedding but often also before the special day, during staged shoots, engagements and portraiture sessions.

There are two main types of wedding photographers, ones who take premeditated photos that include portraits and staged activities, and those who work more as photojournalists and create a photo story of the engagement and wedding days. Many also combine these two techniques. Whichever style a wedding photographer chooses to pursue, the job is not easy. It involves a lot of long days, many weekends and evenings, as well as time investment into the business side of photography. This includes marketing, communications, client search, digital presence, finance and accounting, among other things, especially since a large portion of wedding photographers are freelancers.

So what are the benefits of this career? For those who love photography, this could be a great choice, since you will have the opportunity to be part of the special moments in people’s lives. Not only might you photograph their engagement and wedding, but also their children, family portraits and events.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Misty Potteiger

Misty Dawn Photography

Quick Look Bio

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Understanding My Career Path

  • After getting my DSLR and shooting in automatic mode, I realized that I had a lot to learn, so I spent the next couple years reading books, taking classes, watching online tutorials and practicing to get my camera to capture what I envisioned the image to look like in manual mode before I even took the photo. I also spent countless hours learning the ins-and-outs of my camera settings, lighting techniques and composition to improve my photos.
  • After a lot of practice with my own child and other kids, my name started getting out. I decided to go into business as Misty Dawn Photography. Before I knew it, I was working a full-time job and shooting in the evenings and weekends. Something had to give, so I made the leap and went into business full-time. Since I made that choice, I have not looked back once and have been blessed with an ever growing business with repeat clients all the way from engagement to wedding and eventually the birth of their children.
  • After I had a steady flow of regular clients, I got my first wedding. Not only was I super excited, I was super scared. I offered to shoot this wedding completely free of charge since it was my very first one. It was absolutely amazing to be able to capture the moments of that day to be able to tell the story of their wedding for years to come. Little did I know, this is known as a photojournalistic approach to wedding photography. From that point on, this has been my specialty. I want my couples to be able to relive their wedding when they look at their photos.

Recommended Organizations

Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
There is a lot to be said about both routes. To me, only so much can be “taught”. You can teach someone how to operate a camera; teach them about lighting and composition, but there is so much more that is unteachable. Everyone wants a unique shot, and that is something you simply cannot learn in a classroom. To be a successful photographer, and especially a wedding photographer, you have to have good time management, leadership and be able to come up with different creative ideas on the fly with, more times than not, less than ideal locations and/or lighting.

It’s more than a full-time job
My number one tip would be to understand how much time and work goes into this profession. Not only are you constantly learning new techniques and staying ahead of the creative curve, you will be spending countless hours shooting, editing, bookkeeping, corresponding to current/future clients and marketing/advertising to achieve and maintain a profitable business. Make sure this is something you love and are happy to commit your life to because this in no way is a 40 hour a week job.

Talent over tech
The camera does not make the photographer; the photographer makes the camera. Just because you buy an expensive camera does not mean that your images will turn out the way you hope. Practice, practice and more practice is the key to success. A good photographer can shoot with any camera and have amazing results.

Learn from the best
Take any and every opportunity you have to shadow fellow photographers. You will be amazed what you can learn just by watching how someone else interacts with their clients and the way they do things.

Start by working for free
The best way to get your foot in the door is to offer your services for free while you are learning. You are gaining something in return because you are practicing and learning. Offer to second (or third) shoot for well-established wedding photographers or to even shadow them. If they know who you are and have an opportunity to see the quality of your work, it will speak for itself.

Jason Joseph

Jason Joseph Photography

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
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  • Jason Joseph
  • Columbus, OH
  • 11
  • Self-employed
  • JJPhoto

Understanding My Career Path

  • Since my education was in graphic design, for me, photography began as a hobby. I quickly transitioned from film to digital and experienced much trial and error as I learned my equipment and its capabilities.
  • Once I had established a set of basic camera skills, I set out to shoot as many different types of subjects as I could.
  • Finding an interest in shooting sports and action, I immersed myself in the sports photography world. I met people, online and in my own community, who I could learn from. I found and photographed any and all types of sporting events, until I was granted the opportunity to photograph a wedding.
  • Wedding photography wasn’t an immediate love, so I was sure to expand my menu to offer family portraits, children’s portraits and commercial photography.
  • As I photographed more weddings, I soon found enjoyment in capturing lifelong moments and turned more focus to photographing weddings. By this time, I had established a specific style that my clients responded to.

Recommended Organizations

  • WPPI (Wedding & Portrait Photographers International)
  • PPA (Professional Photographers of America)
  • Find a local photography organization or group that allows you to network and meet other photographers in your area.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
A formal education can be a truly powerful tool for anyone who is looking to become a wedding photographer. There are many respectable photography programs to choose from, however, a photography program may not be the most important route to becoming a successful wedding photographer. In the end, almost every wedding photographer is a business owner, and knowing how to run your business is key when it comes to making smart choices that affect your success.

Be diverse
Shoot as many different styles and types of photography as you can. Even if it isn’t “your style”, there is much to learn from various types of shooting. The more diversity you can add to your photography toolkit, the more prepared you will be for any situation that may arise.

Get feedback
Seek out those who can provide you with quality and sincere feedback. The best feedback is constructive feedback. Sometimes it’s not easy to hear, but if you apply the information that you receive you can improve very quickly.

Be prepared for competition
Look at what other wedding photographers are doing and then do something different. Make yourself unique and find your niche. For everything unique that you do, you minimize your competition and increase your chance of booking the wedding.

Work as an assistant first
The best wedding photography experience you can get is shooting actual weddings. Without having any wedding experience, I highly recommend working as either an assistant or as a 2nd shooter for an experienced wedding photographer. An assistant helps with various tasks such as setting up lighting, helping position and pose people or copying media for the photographer. If you are 2nd shooting, then you are helping by taking supplementary photos of the ceremony, the portraits and the reception. Both of these roles will offer great experience while reducing the pressure of delivering everything that a bride and groom will expect. Additionally, it will allow you to gain this experience without having to work for free.

Aisha Khan

Wedding Photography & Cinema

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
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  • Years in the Industry:
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Understanding My Career Path

  • I always loved photography and had taken two classes during college solely for personal reasons.
  • Once I made the decision that I would be a professional photographer I quit school and got a professional camera.
  • Although I would never suggest anyone quit school, I found it the best decision for myself. I knew that as an artist the most important factor on my resume would be my photos.
  • I gathered up all the personal work I had created before and made a portfolio out of it. The photos weren’t great but showed people my creative eye at the very least.
  • I offered to be a 3rd shooter/assistant for free and used those photos (with the permission of the photographer) to get into a nationwide wedding photography company. I shot over 30 weddings in one year and learned as much as I could from every single one.
  • After that, my business grew through the use of Facebook and networking.
  • Facebook came before I had even launched a website. It was easy to put together and share. I now only post one photo and have expanded to Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram but I still try to tag as many people/company involved in the photo.
  • I also quickly realized my network was very small and not exactly what I wanted it to be. So as much as I dreaded the idea of networking events, I went ahead and joined them.
  • Whenever possible, I made connections with businesses related to my industry. Wedding vendors are always in need of images.
  • Styled shoots have also been an important factor in my career, as they’ve allowed me to show clients and those in my industry exactly how much I’m capable of doing without the limitations of a client’s style and demand.

Recommended Organizations

  • WPPI
  • PPA
  • Clink (this is a closed Facebook group for Houston wedding vendors to connect, find one in your area and if you can’t find one, create one!).

Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
As I said before, I can’t recommend anyone quit school, but it was the best for me. However, I can’t stress enough that you still need to seek education even if it isn’t at a college. Especially for our industry, photography is always changing. Products, equipment, technology, and styles are always going to change, and to provide the best service/product you need to be able to keep up. Many photographers also lack business knowledge, and being a photographer is mostly doing business. There’s business meetings, emails, networking, phone calls, accounting, marketing, contracts, etc.

Begin as an assistant
Offer to assist or shoot for free for photographers you follow/admire. Many may turn you down, but don’t let that discourage you. Keep asking, as there’s someone who will say yes and you’ll learn a lot from them. Also, if you don’t have a portfolio, do a styled shoot. Many vendors, especially ones starting out like you, need photos for marketing and are willing to donate their services to trade for photos.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Wedding Photographer?


As any other type of photography, there is no real requirement for you to get a college degree in order to get into the industry. You can just self-teach through online courses and tutorials, as well as extensive practice. What really matters is your portfolio and ability to engage new clients. This will come with effort and practice, but also with honing your business skills, part of which should be being professional, always on time and committed to your craft.

This does not, however, mean that you should not get a college education. While it is not a requirement, it could be a great tool to learn both photography and business aspects of the job. It is also great for networking and meeting people. You may want to study a fine arts degree in photography, but you can also pursue business and marketing as an alternate route. Another option is to study whatever else you might enjoy doing, since as a photographer, being well-rounded and understanding the world will be essential to your photography skills.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHER?

  • University of New Mexico
    Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, UNM allows students to pursue a BFA in Photography. The school makes a strong focus on an inter-disciplinary approach, whether it is in terms of learning complementary technical skills or gaining a better understanding of the social sciences. Residents pay an estimated tuition of $2,503 per semester, while non-residents pay $9,732.
  • School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    SAIC is a well-renown school of arts and offers BFA and MFA level studies in Photography. BFA students learn basic and advanced techniques in their first 3 years of study, and move on to independent projects in the last year. Undergraduate tuition is an average of $43,140 per year.
  • California College of the Arts
    The CCA has campuses in Oakland and San Francisco, and allows students to pursue a BFA in Photography. The curriculum is highly focused on hands-on learning, while also allowing for a combination with a minor from a different discipline. Estimated tuition cost at CCA is $43,248 per year.
  • Arizona State University
    The Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU is located in Tempe, Arizona and offers a bachelor level degree in Photography. It is one of the top 10 photography programs in the US. Students have access to exhibiting their work and are able to pursue alternative photographic methods within the program. Undergraduate tuition for residents is $9,484 per year, while non-residents pay $23,830.
  • Maryland Institute College of Art
    Established almost 100 years ago, the MICA photography program is offered with two possible concentrations. One is Photography in Studio, and the other is combined with Humanistic Studies, to provide a more inter-disciplinary approach. Students here pay $20,425 per semester.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

This is always the toughest part with any industry, and creative fields are often a little bit more challenging. You need to build a name for yourself, get referrals and be the go-to person for wedding photography in your area. How do you do this?

You can start by assisting other, more established photographers, or if you have friends and family who are getting married, then do the work for them for free or a minimal fee. This will both help you build a portfolio and get referrals for people they might know who would like to hire a wedding photographer.

At the same time, don’t forget to build your business presence. There are many free tools out there for you to use. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and free blogging platforms are awesome options to display your portfolio digitally. Learn a little bit about search engine optimization and direct online searches in your area to your website. Make sure you feature your best work and are ready to respond to any inquiries in a professional and timely manner.