6 Reasons Why Every Photographer Should Shoot Weddings
Weddings are a great place to develop your chops and make good money along the way. Naysayers be darned.
In one of my first trips to the camera store, I remember overhearing a photographer say he would shoot “anything but The Two W’s: Wars and Weddings.” I disregarded the comment, because at that point in my career, I was dying to just book a wedding!
Since then, I’ve heard a number of condescending comments about wedding photography. Some of it is just pretension, but some of it makes sense. Now, as a full-time commercial photographer, I’m going to lay out in this article why shooting weddings was the best training I could have received as a young photographer.
1. Weddings Teach You Customer Service
With my current commercial clients, I am always asking questions and exchanging reference material to investigate their goals and desires. The more I know, the better I can deliver, and the happier the clients are. But my first paying client experiences were with brides and grooms, so collaborating with them on a Pinterest board, or Instagram accounts they followed, were my first forays in visual research for clients.
With weddings, I first built rapport with couples in the planning stage of the relationship. We would often buy our clients a bottle of champagne for the first client meeting - they were getting married after all! We wanted to create a fun experience for them, and let them know we wanted to serve them beyond just the transaction. This posture is just as important in our current business relationships.
On “The Big Day,” the wedding photographer is given a lot of power. You get to spend more time with the couple than anyone else that day. There is a lot you can do to serve your client, from carrying the bride’s train, to helping orchestrate the perfect first look, to being ready on a moment’s notice to capture a candid moment. Be responsive and enthusiastic when they need you, and they’ll always think of you fondly. This will transition well to your commercial clients too.
Once the photos are edited and delivered, find ways to celebrate the couple. This can be in the form of a heartfelt letter accompanying the photo delivery, or a fun social media post of your favorite shots from the night.
People like working with people that like them. Find ways to compliment and even promote your clients, and they’ll always come back again.
2. Weddings Teach You How To Be A Director
You get the same range of personalities in commercial work as in weddings. Some folks know exactly what they want and how they want it to look; other folks want you to take the lead, and craft an experience for them, start to finish. As a photographer you must learn how to direct people to the degree they want to be directed.
Pro Tip: Most people want to be directed!
This was one of the biggest hurdles I had to get over as a young photographer. I was naturally a little self-conscious about walking into a room of strangers and telling them what to do. With time, I discovered that 99% of the time, people want you to take a strong lead, and give direction. Most people do not spend much time in front of a camera, so the more you do the thinking for them, the better the experience for both people.
Remember, as the photographer in any situation, you are the person in the room with the most expertise about taking photos. Assert that expertise! Once you get over being the one giving directions, that’s when it gets fun. Now you can craft the photoshoot exactly the way you want it.
The nice thing about weddings as a training ground is that you get to practice several types of photography all in one setting.
FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY: Working with the couple, or just the bride solo, is a great training ground for doing fashion photography. Get experimental and try weird poses to see what happens. Get close ups and really draw out facial expressions.
PRODUCT/BRAND PHOTOGRAPHY: Wedding photography puts huge emphasis on details, and with good reason. Brides and wedding planners spend months on those details! As a photographer, it’s your job to sense what took a lot of work and what would the bride appreciate having documented. The same will be true once you start working with brands. Always capture details of the dress, veil, ring, hair style, flowers, table setting etc.
DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY: During the ceremony and reception, you become the fly on the wall capturing candid moments as they happen. This is where you get to hone your people-watching intuition. When two people are talking and smiling, find that angle to capture real interaction shots. Predict when a loving embrace is about to happen. Embed yourself in the middle of the dance floor to catch Aunt Susie letting it all hang out. Weddings teach you how to think on your feet as a photographer. You are running around capturing candid moments, but also sticking to a schedule to make sure you’re there for the big moments: the kiss, the reception entrance, the exit, etc.
DIRECTING BIG SETS - A commercial photographer might be in charge of directing 10, 20, 30 people (crew + talent) on a production set. Although family photos were my least favorite part of wedding photography, it was also a great opportunity to hone my skills directing a large group of people. I did it with a mixture of speaking assertively and joking around to keep the environment lighthearted. I take the same approach now on commercial sets.
3. Weddings Teach You How To Be A Producer
Weddings taught me that planning and organization matter! Having a schedule and sticking to it is essential if you’re going to get through all those family combination photos.
A plan keeps you on track. It also makes everyone else’s job easier (wedding planner, officiant, family members, etc.) There are several events within the wedding where you are the leader, and everybody appreciates a leader who knows what she is doing. Shooting weddings also gave me some early lessons in coordination with other players. I hired an assistant for the first time for a wedding gig, and instructed him on where I needed support. I would always befriend the videographer and wedding planner early on, so that we could work together and not against each other. On a commercial set, this translates to delegating for my production assistants and creating good relationships with Creative Directors or client representatives on set.
“Hi, I’m Andrew. Kick me in the butt if I get in your way!”
On the post-production side, with the thousands of photos I shot per wedding, I quickly had to develop a process for selection, editing, and delivery, so that I wouldn’t fall behind. Running a successful business largely depends on developing systems, and clients love a vendor who can stick to deadlines.
4. Age Benefit
In your twenties and thirties, it will seem like your friends are getting married left and right. There’s no better time to be in the wedding business. Sure, for any business, it’s always good to expand your clientele beyond the people you know, but weddings are a very personal affair. If you’re a friend, or a friend of a friend, it makes it much easier to land the gig. There is also a lot of information sharing between brides and mothers of brides. If you do a good job on one wedding, chances are you’ll land one or a few more weddings just from word of mouth. For a young photographer, weddings can quickly turn into a full-time job as your network grows rapidly.
5. Monetary Benefit
This probably goes without saying, but weddings pay well! Once I had a few weddings under my belt, I was charging $2k-$3k per wedding. However, for the elite & experienced wedding photographer, you can easily make upwards of $10k per wedding. It just depends on how serious you want to get about the wedding industry and what services you provide for your clients. Bottom line: there is a lot of money to be made.
We will address transitioning from weddings to commercial work below, but something that is so enticing about shooting weddings is that there is very little overhead and high profit margins. I know a few wedding photographers who are on their way to an early retirement following the F.I.R.E. method. In my case, shooting weddings helped me invest in a lot of photo and video equipment that then enabled me to transition out of weddings and into running a commercial production company.
6. Networking Opportunities
As mentioned earlier, weddings can be great opportunities for word-of-mouth marketing. A bride and groom’s entire social network essentially show up to their wedding. Keep this in mind during all of your interactions at the event. Be polite and professional, even when Uncle John shouts, “Hey Photographer! Come grab a photo!” For all you know, Uncle John owns a business in town that needs product photos next week.
I used to always carry business cards on me at weddings. Sometimes people were indeed looking for a commercial photographer for their business. Other times, they just wanted you to send them the picture of their family you just took. Honor those requests, because at the end of the day, it just gets more eyeballs on your work.
There are HUGE benefits to shooting weddings. It’s a great place to gain valuable experience and get paid well along the way. Oftentimes, one of the biggest questions I get is, how do I make enough money to do photography full-time. The easiest answer is WEDDINGS. But there are some downsides:
1. It’s easy to get pigeonholed. One of my best pieces of advice to any young photographer is, “Fill your portfolio with the type of work you want to be doing.” If your portfolio is nothing but wedding photography, it's going to be hard to land any other type of photo gig. People want to know you are experienced in the specific type of photography they are hiring you for. If there are too many wedding dresses on your website, the client might keep looking for someone who specializes in commercial work.
2. You sacrifice your weekends. It’s not a big deal at first, but once you start getting really booked up, you begin to miss having your weekends. Oftentimes, if you’re traveling out of town or just out of the city, you’re sacrificing more than just your Saturday. You might have a long late night drive after a wedding. And after shooting for 8-12 hours on one day, your Sunday is pretty much just a resting day.
3. After a while, the template can get boring. Early weddings are accompanied by a nice level of adrenaline. You have to make sure you knock out the whole shot list, and you are ready to capture all the big moments. But after a handful of weddings, the process can become a little too familiar, even redundant. Even though you adapt and make small changes for each unique couple, for the most part, you are shooting the same shot list every weekend. For me, after about a dozen weddings, the challenge and excitement began to wear off and I started looking into other avenues of photo income.
HOW TO PIVOT
To each their own, but ultimately, I decided that the wedding business was not going to be my long term pursuit. So how do you pivot out of something you have put so much effort and that also pays well!? Here are two things that worked well for me
Keep your wedding work and commercial work separate. It’s a good idea to have two independent websites and two different business names (if not using your own name). Build your wedding portfolio on one site, but actively be building your commercial portfolio on the other. That way, you can point the appropriate prospective clients to the right one, and eventually shut down the wedding brand when you’re ready to go commercial.
Fill your commercial portfolio. Again, you have to fill your portfolio with the type of work you want to do - even if you have to do that work for free! I’ve written a separate blog entitled, “Should A Photographer Ever Work For Free?” If you don’t have time to read that one, the answer is YES! Sometimes you should work for free or super cheap, because that’s how you build a portfolio and take risks before people are willing to pay you for it.
Save some money and expect a pay cut. Weddings pay well. Save some money for when you are ready to make a transition. And it’s not as hard as you might think. If you’re earning $2-3k/week on weddings, that could eventually be replaced by 4-6 sessions as a portrait photographer, product photographer, etc. As you build your portfolio and clientele, you will inevitably surpass your wedding income...and get your weekends back!
I know this can be a hot button topic in some circles. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Wherever your path takes you, great customer service, creativity and hustle will always be rewarded. Peruse the rest of the blog for more articles about getting started and hitting the mark every time.
Andrew Bennett is an award-winning, published, commercial photographer based in Austin, Texas. He has worked with Absolut Vodka, T-Mobile, Brinks, Adobe and 100's of other brands seeking colorful, story-driven content. He and his wife, Dorothy Bennett, are the directors of Bennett Creative, an Austin video, animation, & photography agency.
Follow along @andrewbennettphoto