Five Requirements For Getting Started In Wedding Photography

Wedding photographer
Wedding photography is a tough business - by Lee J Haywood

Wedding photography is often the first paying job for many interested in a career in photography and the bread and butter for most professional photographers. It’s also the one facet of photography that you’re most likely to fall into by happenstance.

Many times a career in photography has started with a friend or relative getting married but are too poor to afford a photographer. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a professional photographer, that’s probably where your journey will begin as well: As the unpaid photographer for someone you know getting married on a tight budget. That will be in spite of many good reasons not to take that job.

If you’re still determined to pursue this career option, here are my tips for getting started in the business.

Expect Fierce Competition

While you may be able to luck your way into a decent portfolio, luck will not keep you in the business. Wedding photography is a brutally competitive field, more so now than in times past. As full-time employment becomes harder to find, more people are looking for ways to start their own business and, for anyone with a decent camera and good eye for taking pictures, one of those ideas will inevitably be wedding photography.

Complaining about people new to the business is a part-time occupation for professional photographers, but what I’m hearing lately from my associates in the business is a level up from the normal background griping. Many are having a tough time making ends meet right now, bookings are down across the board. Competition is one of the the greatest challenges you’ll face getting started in the business.

Learn About Running a Business

On top of being able to sell yourself and compete, you have to understand cash flow, advertising, billing, collections, taxes, insurance, licensing, liability, and incorporation; the basics of running any business.

Take general business classes at night and see if your state or county has any programs to help new businesses get started. This will be a lot easier to do if you still have your day job.

Learning about contracting is absolutely crucial. That can be the difference between making it and getting sued for everything you’re worth. You don’t have to become a legal expert, but you have to know and implement the basics.

You can also think about investing in some books specific to wedding photography, like this one by Dane Sanders.

Get Insurance

Organizations like Professional Photographers of America (PPA) can help with training and connections but the most valuable aspect to joining is the insurance coverage. Memberships now come with $15,000 in equipment coverage and E&O insurance. They also offer group discount rates on liability insurance.

Good insurance can save you when things go wrong. When you’re holding the broken components of your Nikon D300 with a wedding to shoot that weekend, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Study The Industry Tirelessly

My friends in the wedding photography business are fantastic photographers. Not just good, scary good. On top of that you still have to stay on top of the trends and expectations in your own business.

Many of those trends that more brides want require a substantial investment in equipment or partner companies to supply that gear. That means rental equipment, contracts, and extra time and effort moving gear around. Does your liability and theft insurance cover rented equipment? Better know the answer to that before you pick it up.

You can’t just learn about the industry, you have to live and breathe it and that includes the technical aspects of the business, the expectations of your customers, and any value added service you can provide to give yourself a leg up on the competition.

Avoid Debt Like a Plague

Being in photography requires a continuous balancing act between cash flow, eating, and investing in equipment. The biggest mistake I see people new to the business make is going into debt to get started. All it takes is one mistake, one bad month where you miss that payment, and you’re out of business.

In wedding photography, cash flow is going to be a big deal. You’ll be slammed for four months out of the year, sometimes double-booked on some weekends, covering morning and afternoon ceremonies. It’s critical to get in the habit of putting away a cash stash to last through the fall and winter when there will be fewer bookings. Learn this skill or die your first year.

Some photographers slip into the habit of borrowing money during the slow season and pay it back over the spring and summer. Don’t do that. One bad year, one accident where you can’t work, and your business and financial future are dead.