I have been a wedding photographer for 10 years (check out Shauna Danielle Photography to see my work) and am sometimes asked how to become a wedding photographer through Instagram messages. This is a very broad question, so I thought I would create a post to highlight all of the basics.
Do you need to go to school?
While many photographers go to school to learn photography, it is also entirely possible to become a successful wedding photographer without any formal training.
There are several options for obtaining formal education in photography. Some photographers go to university for a Bachelor of Fine Arts and major in photography, while others go to college and get diplomas in photography. If you are considering a formal education, talk to wedding photographers in your area about where they got their education.
YouTube is full of videos about photography and wedding photography. Some seasoned photographers transition out of shooting for clients in favour of making their income through online education. You can find educational videos about all aspects of photography on YouTube – photography basics, camera settings, learning to shoot in manual mode, shooting in different lighting conditions, flash photography, and more.
YouTube is also a helpful source of reviews and equipment demonstrations. When you are deciding on what gear you would like to purchase, do a quick search on YouTube to see what other photographers are saying about it.
Online courses are another way to learn photography. The benefits of online courses over formal education is that they are less expensive, they are often at your own pace, and you are able to select exactly what you would like to learn about at a given time.
You can also take online courses about the business side of running a photography business. This is particularly important if you are passionate about photography, but not so passionate about business. Online business courses can teach you about taxes, client management, building a brand, and marketing.
Trial and error
One of the most important ways to learn photography is through trial and error. Get in the habit of taking your camera with you when you leave the house and shoot whenever you can. Regular practice will teach you a lot about lighting, composition, and will help you develop your personal style.
What gear do you need?
Wedding photographers bring a lot of gear to be prepared for a wedding day. Acquiring all the gear you need will be expensive and will likely be a gradual process unless you are prepared for a large investment upfront.
You will need more than one camera to shoot weddings. Wedding photographers typically have two cameras in their camera bag. Some photographers shoot with a single body and have a second as a back-up should anything happen to their main body. Other photographers shoot with two cameras throughout the wedding day to minimize the amount of time they spend changing lenses. Be sure to choose camera bodies that have dual memory card slots for added protection in avoiding file corruption.
You will need a variety of lenses to successfully shoot weddings. Typically, photographers will invest in zoom lenses or prime lenses. If you would like the ability to zoom with your lenses, popular wedding lenses are the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. Prime lenses are lighter and perform better in lower light situations. Popular prime lenses are the 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm.
You may have aspirations to be a “natural light photographer”, but this is not practical when you are shooting weddings. You need to be prepared for any lighting situation as you will often find yourself in spaces with minimal ambient light.
At minimum, you need one speed light or video light to be prepared as a wedding photographer. Once you become more comfortable with flash photography, you will likely invest in additional light sources and light stands to achieve off camera flash. Other lighting accessories that can help on a wedding day are light modifiers like soft boxes, diffusors, snoots, grids, and reflectors.
Batteries and memory cards
Being a wedding photographer means lots of batteries and memory cards. You should have at least 3 camera batteries to ensure you will be covered an entire wedding day. You will also need batteries and back-up batteries for any light sources. The number of memory cards you need depends on the file size of your camera. Be sure to purchase memory cards with high write speeds as wedding days often involve shooting in rapid succession.
Computer and storage
Having a fast computer and multiple locations for file storage is critical for wedding photographers. You will need a computer with enough RAM to process thousands of large files. It is important that you have multiple locations for file storage in order to properly back-up your images. Most photographers utilize several external hard drives in their back-up strategy and will often store their hard drives in different locations for added protection against theft or natural disasters.
You will need software to edit your images. Most photographers utilize Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop in their editing. These programs are available with a monthly subscription fee. Some photographers utilize culling programs like PhotoMechanic and AfterShoot to reduce the amount of time they spend culling images. JPEGMini is another program utilized by many photographers as it compresses image file size to save storage space and allow for images to load faster in online portfolios.
How do you get experience?
How do you get experience when you don’t have any experience? There are several ways to get experience as an aspiring photographer.
Assisting wedding photographers
Some photographers opt to start their wedding photography careers by assisting other wedding photographers. Assisting does not typically involve any shooting, but is a great learning experience. As an assistant, you will help the photographer with carrying gear, setting up or holding lighting, and assisting with styling.
Working as an assistant is hugely valuable as it enables you to watch how the photographer navigates a wedding day, how they interact with their clients and other vendors, as well as their approach to shooting. Assisting is also a great way to build relationships in the wedding industry and may help you secure future second shooting work.
Second shooting is a great way to get hands on experience with weddings without the pressure of finding clients. Second shooters work alongside primary photographers to get a second angle at a wedding.
Make sure to communicate with the primary photographer prior to the wedding day about any expectations around dress code, pay rate, file exchange, preferred aperture range, and image usage. While some photographers allow their second shooters to use the images they shot in their portfolio, others have their seconds shoot directly on their memory cards and take all of the images at the end of the day.
Shooting for friends and family
Sometimes sharing with friends and family that you are wanting to get into wedding photography will help you with finding your first clients. This is often the case if someone does not have the budget to hire an established photographer for their wedding.
Do not use weddings you are attending as a guest to build your portfolio unless it has been cleared by the hired photographer. Many photographers have exclusivity clauses in their contracts and find it disruptive to have guests shooting alongside of them at weddings.
How much do you charge?
Figuring out how much to charge when you first start your wedding photography business is challenging for most photographers. There are a few things to consider when determining your initial pricing structure.
Shooting for free
Some photographers opt to shoot their first couple of weddings for free in exchange for a signed model release and the ability to use the images to build their wedding portfolio. Be aware of the amount of editing required after you are finished shooting a wedding, and limit the number of weddings you are willing to shoot for free if you choose this option.
Portfolio building rates
Another approach to pricing your first few weddings is a portfolio building rate. Portfolio building rates are still considerably lower than what established photographers are charging, but allow you to be compensated for your time. Some new photographers will determine what their wedding packages will cost once they are finished portfolio building and subtract a percentage from that to determine portfolio building rate. Others will charge an hourly rate lower than the hourly rate for an established photographer.
Don’t forget about taxes when determining your pricing. Most tax professionals recommend setting aside 30% of your self employment income for taxes. Keep this percentage in mind when determining your rates. If your goal is to take home $100/hour during the portfolio building stage in your business, you need to be charging at least $145/hour. If you want to make $1500 per wedding, you need to be charging at least $2250.
Cost of doing business
When determining your pricing, it is equally important to determine your cost of doing business. Running a photography business is expensive and it is important that you are factoring your expenses into your pricing. How much are you paying for your website monthly? How much does it cost to maintain your gear? How much are you paying for insurance?
Calculate your annual (or monthly) business expenses and divide it the total by the number of weddings you are shooting to determine how much each wedding is costing you in expenses.