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How to start a wedding photography business or learn wedding photography

How to Start a Wedding Photography Business

Many photographers feels confused on how to start a wedding photography business. Getting started into wedding photography is easy. And failure is even more easier.

The reason a lot of photographer fails to generate revenue is a lack of well-defined direction and the absence of coaching and photography mentor. Most wedding photographers think they know the skills required to be a photographer. And that skill is photography. To run a photography business, photography contributes only 30%.

In today’s article, I will guide you using step by step instructions on how to get into the wedding photography business successfully. The post will cover:

Additional resources to stand out in your business

[Problem]: This guide is going to be a long one and most of the readers won’t be able to make it till last. They are not passionate and obsessed enough to learn the required skills. They will keep looking for a “perfect quick recipe” without luck.

If 10% percent of the reader, read this through. This guide will serve its purpose. And honestly, this guide is for those 10% photographers who are willing to commit and learn.

[Solution]: Once you start following this guide you will not only have clients but happy clients who will be referring you in their family and friends. In short more business.

Why Wedding Photography Business Fails?

Every business needs to have a plan and wedding photography is no different. Some of the photographers may have already started their wedding photography business and others may be planning to do so.

There is an important question you need to ask yourself and the answer will vary from individual to individual.

“Why you are into wedding photography?”

This is the most important question of the entire article. You need to pausethink, and write it down on an actual piece of paper. Writing down slows the process of thinking. It makes things clearer and puts it into your subconscious mind. So write it down.

Whatever you come up with is your “goal” in this business and further steps in this guide will define your course of action based on this goal. The goal is to earn great money every year! no harm, no shame. Or the goal may be is to create great imagery or create unique memorable moments. It may be a mix of both. The percentage of both may vary from person to person.

Be clear about your goal.

The business fails when we don’t have a clear goal or we trying to project our goals differently to the universe but deep inside we want something different or in different proportions.

Wedding photography is a side gig or weekend extra revenue generator for many photographers who are into some other professions. If they want to prolong this revenue stream, they need to have a goal backup by a strategy. 

Without a goal, this revenue stream will start drying in a few seasons and eventually there won’t be any weekend jobs for you.

more on this later.

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Choosing the Right Gear and Tools

A camera is just a tool. It is the photographer who creates timeless images. The photographer community takes this philosophical view in a literal sense.

It is true but an artist needs the right tools so that he is at its best for paid assignments.

There are questions like should I buy the new Nikon D780 or shift to mirrorless?

With the new advancements, mirrorless is the future. That’s the shortest possible answer to this widely asked question.

Which mirrorless camera for wedding photography? or which is the best camera for wedding photography? These itself calls for another separate article.

Let us dive into the camera, lenses, and accessories required in wedding photography without going into a specific brand or model details.

  1. Opt for a full-frame camera and it should be lightweight as much as possible. If budget is a constraint, I would suggest looking for used gear.
  2. Pick up three mandatory focal lengths for lenses. A wide lens (16/20mm) or focal length for shooting venue. 24/35mm for storytelling shots and mid-telephoto lens or portrait lens like 85mm for portraits and to shoot candid shots without going to close to the subject.
  3. Optional lenses like 50mm or macro lens are quite useful in shooting jewelry and getting ready details.
  4. Accessories like on-camera flash and triggers for off-camera lighting work.
  5. A tripod and lighting stand.
  6. Reliable camera bag. Don’t trust your gear with cheap camera bags.
  7. Buy editing software eg: Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Other notable considerations are Luminar and Capture One

This is a good beginner kit for wedding photography. Depending on your budget and shooting style. You can opt for prime (fixed) lenses or multipurpose zoom lenses like 24-70mm. 

If you are not ready to buy software, consider outsourcing post-processing work for a better and consistent style.

Please make a note these are initial investments in your wedding photography business and over the year your shooting style will evolve. So you will be adding/replacing gear in your kit.

Building Portfolio

Building a portfolio for wedding photography is easy for anyone. But building a portfolio that attracts clients requires a plan.

First, let us look into the various options

  1. Shoot for friends and family.
  2. Second shooting.
  3. Collaborate with wedding venues and event companies.
  4. Search social media and forums for freelance jobs.
  5. Paid leads from wedding planning websites.

Hack #1 (Second shooting): Second shooting is a perfect opportunity to learn intricacies of the wedding photography business. The portfolio is an addon. Shooting a real wedding with an established wedding photographer will help you learn that no other option can provide.

When you join as a second shooter, be clear and ask if you can use pictures for the portfolio. Many photographers don’t allow because of the contracts they sign with couples.

Never steal or post without permission. Your reputation is more important.

Hack #2 (Wedding venues): Be proactive and collaborate with as many wedding venues as possible. Sell your services (free or paid) and offer them good well-edited professional pictures for their social media handles. 

You will be surprised that most of them will be willing to collaborate.

Hack #3 (Social media/Forums): Well this was the hack (twitter) I used for my first wedding shoot but that is a sweet story for some other time 🙂

Many couples cannot afford established wedding photographers so they go to social media (Instagram/Twitter/Facebook) and forums (eg: Reddit) to find recommendations for freelancers. You have to search for all these channels using relevant keywords and offer your services.

Here is an example

“wedding photographer” + “city name”

Try using this in twitter, sort it by the “latest” and you will see conversations (tweets) involving wedding photographers and the city they are looking for.

Search wedding photography client on social media like twitter
Searching clients on Twitter: Trying changing keywords in the search box (be creative).

Use this tip wherever you can. Don’t hold yourself.

Bonus Tip: Make sure your profile or handle is professional. A random account with unprofessional feed offering services will go unanswered. Be smart and learn to sell your services.

Hack #4 (Paid leads): Wedding portals offer paid leads. It can be a good option to build a portfolio as most of the clients are looking for affordable wedding photographers. The opportunity to shoot a few weddings will help you build a strong portfolio. This cannot be a long term option because you may not want to be in the price bracket these leads are looking for.

Promoting your wedding photography

Any good photography loses its power if it does not reaches its audience. Nobody knew about Vivian Maier, a nanny, or her brilliant photography until it was discovered after her death. 

Well, the point I am trying to make is that you need to have a solid plan on how to promote your work. And most of the photographers lack this skill or believe that good work is going to speak for itself.

We need to understand that good photography is a pre-requisite for a solid wedding photography company. 

There is so much noise around that one has to consistently need to design hacks to promote your brand. Yes, you need to treat your name or photography service as a brand.

Before I share a strategy to promote your wedding photography business, you need to be ready with the tools to expand your wedding photography brand.

Below is the list of mandatory tools.

1. Website

Don’t shy away from having a website. In my workshops, I have consistently seen a hesitation among photographers on having a website or posting regularly on their website.

Treat website as virtual real estate. And maintain your real estate.

Secure the most obvious domain name as soon as possible ( eg: www.navdeepsoni.com in my case).

The most flexible option is a WordPress based website. If buying a hosting plan and WordPress template is a bit overwhelming. You can choose a Squarespace website.

Here is a video on which service suits your needs.

Make sure you write “quality” articles regularly. Google does not care for sub-par content. I have written an article on basic SEO tips for wedding photographers. Follow these tips on every post you write.

Takeaway: A website is a must and be consistent in posting articles regularly keeping SEO in mind as discussed above. 

2. Social Media Hacks

Pick up one or two social media channels. For photographers, the best channel is Instagram. If you can grow your following or fanbase on one channel, it can do wonders in promoting your brand.

Some key hacks that are ignored by photographers.

  • Post regularly at least 3-4 times a week preferably daily.
  • Use around 10-12 hashtags.
  • Hashtag strategy: Make a set of four groups of hashtags (10-12 hashtags in each group). Use these groups in rotation.
  • Only upload quality pictures that resonate with your photography style, brand, and goal (Check the first section).
  • Make an interesting profile/bio that catches the attention and creates curiosity. Hint: it is not as easy as it sounds. Write 2-3 profile content on paper and take feedback from friends and family.
  • Plan your weekly/monthly content.
  • Use schedular like creator studio or buffer to post weekly content to save time and energy.
  • Take online courses/coaching if necessary to learn the craft of social media handling.

Always follow the golden rule of posting that reflects your uniqueness. Give them a reason to follow you. Post the content that reflects your brand ideology and goals. It is not about your current emotions or political rants.

Takeaway: Pick one or two social media channels and execute the above plan religiously for at least a year. There are no shortcuts.

3. Strategy for Wedding Planning Website

Wedding planning website has become a trap and many wedding photographers have lost money as they have no strategy. 

Buying leads blindly is not advisable. Most of the time it works only in favor of these websites. As they earn money, not you. But it can work for a few wedding photographers if you play smart. Let me explain how

Get listed on these platforms. Pick the top 3-5 such websites. They all have free plans.

Check the kind of leads you are getting. Negotiate with clients to understand the kind of budget these leads fall into. Most of the time wedding photographers who are starting their business benefit from these platforms. It helps them to build a portfolio and work with real clients.

Once you begin to raise prices, you won’t get much leverage from these websites. There are too many clients as well as wedding photographers. ROI (return of investment) is way better on other channels than these websites. Do negotiate the costing of packages. They do offer discounts most of the time. Save money.

There are other modes of promoting your brands like digital marketing, networking with photographer community and other industry events, referrals, etc. These are separate standalone topics of discussion. 

But as a wedding photographer who is starting out. The above three strategies are must and building blocks for any other mode of promotions.

Takeaway: Go for it if you are starting out and looking to build a portfolio.

Designing your workflow

What is a workflow?

A workflow is a sequence of tasks to achieve the desired result more efficiently.Design a workflow that adds to customer experience. Always remember if there are no customers/clients there is no business.

Divide your wedding workflow into three phases.

  1. Booking phase
  2. Booked Phase
  3. Delivery Phase

Booking Phase: This is the phase when you get client inquiries. The goal is to design a simple process that aids in converting the potential client into an actual client.

When you get an inquiry, you have crossed a major hurdle. You have been able to generate interest in your services and hence the client is reaching you out. You cannot afford to present yourself as a callous artist or “I am busy” photographer. 

Trust me a lot of photographers fall into this category. On the other hand, you don’t want to be a desperate wedding photographer ready to shoot at any cost. That’s not the kind of branding you want.

So what do you need to do?

Most of the inquiries will be in the form of emails, phone calls, and DMs on social media. Try to take the conversation to email. Email is easy to track the conversation. Always be proactive in responding to emails. 

Try to answer email within 24hours. Try to resolve the queries of the clients. 

Be positive and always respond with a smile even on emails or phone calls. It may sound absurd but you will see a change in tone of your email and conversation when you respond with a smile.

Client Followup tip?

Whenever you send an email with a quote, add a reminder/snooze for it. 

If you are using Gmail or GSuite, it has an inbuilt snooze. Alternatively, use any free third-party tools like Todoist which integrate with Gmail for reminders and todo tasks.

The reminders are for follow up to your email/quote sent. Setup the date of a reminder after a week or so is a good idea. In cases like when the wedding date is next year or next season, followup can be from 2-3 weeks from the date of the email sent.

A gentle followup is like a gentle reminder that reflects you are interested in the job. A client wants to hire a photographer who is interested in the job instead of one who is always busy. Client experience matters.

Booked Phase: This is the phase where the excitement begins. You have a client now!

The expectations you have set in the booking phase should continue. The client should feel you are as interested as you were in the booking phase. The enthusiasm should not dip.

It is the time to do the pre-requisites before the shoot. 

  1. Sign a wedding photography contract with the couple. 
  2. Make sure the booking amount is transferred (50% is the industry norm).
  3. Book your flights/hotels and send an ecopy to the client if it is borne by the client.

Delivery Phase: Finally your shoot is over and you are back. It is a phase for the client when they are looking up to you for their pictures. The client wants you to meet their expectation but you have to surpass them. Make sure you have clicked some amazing images and you edit them professionally with timely delivery.

Client experience

As you might have realized from the above section that workflow saves photographers time and add to the client experience.

The client experience is of extreme importance right from the first moment they contacted the photographer to delivery (and beyond). It includes going through your website, social media channels, phone calls, email, or during the shoot.

Here are some do’s and don’t you need to take care.

  1. Never delay your deliveries.
  2. All post-processing work should be of the highest standard.
  3. In case there is a delay, keep the clients in the loop. No last-minute surprises.
  4. Use quality packaging customized with your branding for delivery.
  5. Add a thank-you note.

Always remember your past clients are an important source for referrals.

Branding

Branding is what you should be known for and what sets you apart. This matter of extreme concern to professionals who want to grow season after season. They are not here for some quick money.

When you should start considering branding?

Right from day one. The first wedding assignment. 

How to design a brand for yourself?

It starts by defining the goal we discussed in the beginning. Everything should align with your goals. 

Here are few things to begin with

  • An attractive yet meaningful logo. It should stand out from your competition. Logos stays in the subconscious mind.
  • Color scheme, fonts, website design. WordPress has many templates as well as Squarespace. Choose thoughtfully.
  • Mission statement or a one-liner on the front page. It should stay and play with the client’s psyche. 
  • Use the same logo and styling in your packaging.
  • Signature color correction style.

Design Growth Hacks

What is growth hacking?

Growth hacking is tweaking existing infrastructure in your favor creatively in contrast to regular growth techniques.

Growth hacks are required at every stage of the business. You cannot go complacent once the ball gets rolling. It is a recipe for disaster. Growth hacks are custom designed. This is one of the trigger topics in my one-one mentoring online sessions. But I would like to share some hacks that will be useful for most of the photographers.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Never rely on one source of clients or even revenue.
  • Always invest in your own learning that helps your business directly or indirectly.
  • Invest in your health
  • Read books of various genres.
  • Upgrade your craft (wedding photography) so that you stand out from the crowd.
  • Keep an eye on upcoming social channels and start building early.
  • Look for ideas on growing your visibility (online and offline).
  • Keep reinventing yourself (hint: when season after season you are producing the same kind of pictures).
  • Value business and personal relationships.
  • Experiment a lot.

Well, this has been a long post but with quite a few valuable nuggets. As I said earlier, most people won’t be able to read the entire stuff that’s where your advantage is. And this information will remain in a lot of heads and will never be implemented. So that leaves only a few with an advantage 🙂 I hope you are among those few.

“If I can be of any help! let me know!.. reach me out.. comment below”

Navdeep Soni

I do one-one online mentoring sessions. You can reach me out for that. The details are here.

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