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Learn the Basics of Wedding Photography

Weddings are magical. A professional wedding photographer is part of laughter and the joy; from the bride walking down the aisle and the wedding party’s celebration, to a mother’s tears and dancing at the reception. But while documenting nuptials can be a fulfilling career choice – and can lead to more than one free glass of champagne – it’s crucial to take a serious approach to learning your craft. The happy couple is unlikely to forgive you for botched or subpar photos. So, to be successful in this field, you’ll need to make sure your skills are top notch. 

As with most types of photography, you will need a varied array of skills to be successful. This includes a working familiarity with your camera and lens or lenses. You should be able to switch seamlessly between camera modes, understand white balance, create a shallow depth of field (giving you the “blurred background” effect), determining the right DSLR exposure, the rule of thirds, ensuring horizons are horizontal, everyone and everything is in focus, and more. 

Traditional university classes, continuing education courses at a community college, photography books and online tutorials are all viable approaches to learning photography. However, there is no substitution to an education when you only have one shot, and it must be right.  Classes in college typically cover equipment, technique, processes, and design and composition. An artistic eye and creative ability are also essential as you will be responsible for framing a good photo. Strong communication and people skills, and the capacity to meet deadlines are also skills a wedding photographer should have, as you will talk with clients prior to the event, during the event and after everyone has gone home.  Even freelance photographers with no or little formal training must have skills and knowledge beyond the ability to take a great photo. 

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Master Multiple Photography Styles

Becoming a good wedding photographer requires mastering a variety of different photography styles. For instance, unlike still photography in which people and objects are ready and poised, many of a wedding photographer’s subjects will be in motion. On the other hand, unlike a genre such as sports photography – where most of the objects are in motion – you still need to have a command of portrait and group photography. To move fluidly between staged shots of family members and wedding parties, to candid snaps of dancing and bouquet tosses requires skilled familiarity with the camera. 

Wedding pictures also require many different focal lengths and camera angles, ensuring both people and objects shine through your pictures. This is crucial when you’re documenting someone’s special day. For instance, during the cake cutting, a wedding photographer will highlight both the happy couple and the delectable dessert. Similarly, for wedding party shots, a photographer will focus on both the bridesmaids and groomsmen, along with the decorated gazebo in the background.  A professional will know the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, and how aperture affects depth of field; when to use a flash, or how light affects a bride’s face. 

You’ll also need great organizational skills. To take fabulous wedding shots, you need to understand the timing of the program, organize the wedding party and family members into a series of shots that limits the amount of switch-ups you do and keeps things moving. The organizational challenge involved in wedding photography – along with an inability to take beautiful photos – is what usually trips up new photographers just entering the field. 

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Building Your Business

Learning to Market Yourself & Attract New Business Is Essential

Now that you've got an understanding of the basics and are skilled with a camera, lens, and tripods, light meters, etc., and the organizational challenges of large events, it's time to build a stellar portfolio that shows off your professionalism as well as your work. One of the best ways to do this is to work alongside a well-known professional, who may give you access to other solo opportunities. This isn’t to say that your friends’ weddings aren't great for gaining experience, or that you can’t start there. However, weddings involving well-known people or particularly, beautiful surroundings, can showcase your skills well, and are a perfect next move if you’re having trouble building a roster of clients. 

Plus, if you impress industry professionals who have as much work as they can handle, they may begin to pass some of those clients on to you. This is a fantastic way to begin a business. It’s especially helpful if you also photograph in similar situations, such as anniversaries, bridal or baby showers, corporate events, or other galas involving lots of people, because these clients may begin to call you for their other celebrations as well. 

Marketing yourself as a wedding photographer is crucial, so a website and a portfolio are must- haves. You also need business cards to pass out at weddings and other events to direct people to your site so that they can see your work and qualifications. You will also need sales skills, contracts detailing the bridal parties’ expectations and payment arrangements, good records for tax and accounting purposes, and a reliable means of transportation for yourself, your gear and any assistants you might hire. 

If you aspire to become a wedding photographer, the great news is this; many people have entered this field before you, and as long as you have an artistic and creative eye, proficiency with a camera and camera gear, and a strong willingness to learn and grow, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be successful in this career as well.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts slower than average growth for photographers through 2024. However, this isn’t necessarily true for wedding photographers, as there will always be weddings and photos to capture the moments.  A wedding photographer also won’t get rich quick when just starting out. It takes years of experience, on-going education, and a growing reputation to succeed, as many jobs come via referrals.

Get to Know Our Experts

Misty Potteiger

  • Title:
    Misty Dawn Photography
  • Company:
    Self-Employed
  • Where:
    Douglasville, GA
  • Experience:
    5 years in the industry
  • 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.

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    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

  • Title:
    Professional Photographer
  • Company:
    Jason Joseph Photography
  • Where:
    Columbus, OH
  • Experience:
    11 years in the industry
  • 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.

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    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

  • Title:
    Wedding Photography & Cinema
  • Company:
    Self-Employed
  • Where:
    Houston, TX
  • Experience:
    5 years in the industry
  • 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.

    Wedding Photography Infographic