How to get into wedding photography
Wedding photography can be a lucrative area to work in. Many photographers have told me that they’d want to do weddings but even the thought of being responsible for such an important day terrifies them.
Weddings are a once-in-a-lifetime event for the couple and their families, so if you fail to deliver great photos of that day, you are screwed. Yup, it’s as serious as that. You have to be on the ball throughout the day. If you miss an important moment, get your camera settings wrong, or are so nervous that you collapse on the floor in a pile of trembling jelly – you may not be meant for this. There is no second chance, so it’s no wonder it’s a scary prospect being a wedding photographer.
But there is no need to be scared. There is one way to get into wedding photography and be a survivor:
The easiest way to start working as a wedding photographer
- Work as a ‘second shooter’ for an experienced wedding photographer for a minimum of two full-day weddings.
- Do a lot of research into wedding photography so that you know what types of photos are expected.
- Offer your services for one or more weddings at a low “practice” fee.
- Trust yourself to deliver enough good photos from each wedding – i.e. stop being scared!
Let me elaborate on why these simple steps can transform your approach to wedding photography.
Find a photographer you like and offer to work as the second photographer. That way you get to watch them work and learn from it. You may be responsible for taking some of the build-up photos on your own (for example, preliminary photos like the groom or the bride getting ready) – these are the pictures that establish the telling of a story.
If that sounds too scary to you, offer to work as a third shooter first. That way you can practise your wedding photography and see how everything works, without the pressure of being responsible on your own for any part of the day.
There’s always someone who will say that you shouldn’t look at other photographers’ work and produce the same old shots that everyone else does. This is fine after you have the experience and your clients know not to expect any “traditional” or “obvious” shots, but to start with, I would definitely recommend getting to know what most couples expect to get from a professional wedding photographer.
I have heard stories from couples who ended up getting only “arty” photos from their day and were devastated that they didn’t have any photos that reflected the day as they remember it – only the “artist’s” view of it. It’s important to be aware of this and, indeed, to discuss this at the outset.
Whatever style of photography you do, make sure that your clients know what to expect before they sign your contract. That way you will avoid heartbreak and have happy clients.
Once you have worked a few times as the second shooter, you will realise that no matter how nervous you were at the time, you have produced consistently good quality photos on each occasion. Don’t worry if you aren’t happy with every single photo you took, no photographer ever is – no matter how experienced they are. As long as you have taken enough of good quality photos, all’s good.
Do second shooting as long as it takes to get to that stage.
When you are ready, the next stage is to offer to do one or more weddings for a discounted rate. Be honest to the couple about the fact that it’s going to be your first wedding on your own (or as the main photographer) and that’s why you are not charging much. Don’t forget to have them sign a contract.
By now you have worked as the second shooter, have covered one or two weddings as the main photographer, and you have seen that you deliver great photos of the big day no matter how nervous you were. You have enough experience to make a very important decision – do you want to keep feeling nervous or scared on the day at every wedding?
I have seen and worked with wedding photographers who are so nervous that their hands were shaking when they were shooting. Regardless of having taken on dozens of weddings, they still feared that they would fail somehow.
I decided after my first wedding on my own that I would never be nervous again. The only thing I can do is be my very best, that’s it. With this mindset I am relaxed enough to be confident and alert throughout the day and look forward to fantastic results. It makes the work very enjoyable.
It is normal to be a tiny bit nervous, but only so much that it empowers you so that you take control throughout the day. You don’t want to be so relaxed that you drop the ball at some point.
“But no-one has given me a chance to work with them!”
Now, I know you may have tried Step 1 already and found that no matter how many photographers you ask, no-one has given you a chance to work at a real wedding with them. If this is the case, the best advice I can give you is find a way to network with local photographers – go to meetups, make friends with them. You are far more likely to get a yes from someone who has met you in person and seen what you are like.
If there aren’t any meetups, do some research and find out which five photographers you’d most like to work with and get in contact with them. Call and offer to meet over a coffee or a drink, or even light lunch, so that you can speak face-to-face.
I have been asked many times by people who’d like to work with me as the second shooter but I have never said yes to someone I haven’t met. A wedding shoot is high pressure and that person has to be good to work with. You need to be able to communicate easily and click personality-wise.
A second shooter should be a fairly good photographer but they don’t necessarily need to be an amazing photographer – more important is that they are friendly, proactive and positive – a person who is nice to be around, someone who can take instructions from the main shooter and is respectful to the clients and their guests.
A word of warning:
If you decide to do a wedding photography workshop, don’t be fooled into thinking that you are a good photographer if you come back with stunning photos. At a real wedding there is no-one else to pose the couple for you, or to find the best light in the best location for them. The couple won’t have infinite amounts of patience while you try and direct them – you will have to hit the ground running. If your main style is reportage or documentary photography, you will need to learn to think quick and anticipate what is going to happen next in order to get the best shots.
So now you know – if you want to become a wedding photographer, the best way forward is to jump in with both feet and shoot a wedding with someone who is already experienced. You can only learn so much from books and videos, or even wedding photography workshops. Nothing teaches you better than doing it for real. Asking advice online, watching instructional videos and taking part at a workshop is all fine, but nothing compares with a real-world experience.