Should You Pursue a Career in Wedding Photography?
It happened again. It happens a lot.
At a recent wedding I got talking to one of the guests. He was really keen on me. He wanted to talk shop.
I genuinely like this – I can geek out with the best of them when it comes to talking about photography and me! We talked for quite a long time and later, perhaps after a bit of a drinkypoos we talked again.
I’ll admit, it’s a conversation I know, and I tend to fly on auto pilot when it happens, but it still fascinates me – the direction it comes from – always variations on a theme.
The talk is about ‘becoming’ a wedding photographer – Whether or not to pursue a career in wedding photography.
When I shoot a wedding, I look good.
I don’t mean I dress well, (although that’s maybe a given – I do like to make an effort). I mean that I’m confident, cool, relaxed, in control. All positive traits. Freedom, to the untrained eye. Liberation.
And on the guest’s day off from the office, 4 glasses of fizz into the afternoon, I can understand why that looks attractive.
I am a seducer.
“I like the look of what you do! It looks fun – Dare I say, Easy – I want to do it! Should I pursue a career in wedding photography?”
My answer’s always the same:
and No. (Sorry)
1/ What have you got to say?
If you’re going to photograph two people you haven’t met before now, you’re going to need to know why.
Not how you are going to feel or how your art is going to improve.
I know my reasons, and I continue to work on them. To me these philosophies at the core of what I do are the most important and critical aspect of what it means to be a photographer at all, and being a wedding photographer
You need to know your reasons for wanting to photograph people in this way, and the thing is, you have to have your own reasons, and you have to be honest.
Let me help you.
2/ Wedding photography is easy money.
When you see me at a wedding, that is in many ways the best part of my job. I relish it. I know why I’m there, remember, and I am totally in my element.
It’s why when people see me at work it’s easy for them to assume it’s easy, and to some people that equates to getting paid for not much hard work.
But that comes with experience. I’m not winging it, and I’m not guessing what’s coming, and I’m not secretly panicking inside. I just know what I’m doing.
I know that, for me at least, this aspect of what I do is the easiest, most fluid part of my job as a wedding photographer, and I also know that it’s the smallest chunk of work in relation to what I have to do to run a business. It’s the tip of the iceberg and the least challenging part of what I have to do. I have to produce the pictures, and I have to know technically what I’m doing. Before that I have to actually get the booking, and I have to know how marketing works and live in a constant promotional state of flux. I have to continue getting new bookings, and plan a hefty schedule and know how I am going to be able to pay my mortgage and feed my family. I don’t just have to know how to run my business – I have to know how other people live and work so that my product can relate to their lifestyle. I have to be open to empathy and positivity, even when the chips are down.
Photographing weddings might appear to be glamorous, or appear to come with a rock and roll lifestyle, but it really isn’t, and it really doesn’t.
If you’re thinking that all you’ve got to do is buy a camera and turn up and take some nice enough pictures, then go for it.
3/ If it was that hard nobody would want to do it – yet I see photographers everywhere.
Yes. Everyone is a photographer today.
It’s easier than ever before to be able to take technically awesome photographs, but it’s harder than it’s ever been to make a living out of photography.
It’s getting harder to stand out.
The problem is that when people enter the industry the only way (they think) they can stand out among the crowd is by “being cheaper” than their competition.
I’m lucky in a way because I have never priced my photography according to what other photographers in my area charge. I’ve never sold myself as cheaper than anybody else.
Once you put your prices down, that’s what you’re worth. You will eventually go out of business. It might take a year, but I’ve seen it happen time and time again.
When the next photographer comes along and undercuts you, your next move can only be to put your prices down, and now it’s just a race to the bottom.
Of course, some couples will want the lowest price they can find, but the only end to this is that the idea of wedding photography is completely devalued. The good photographer can’t afford to compete, so the couple get a mediocre product at best, and then their photographer goes out of business. The good photographer who should have been booked in the first place can’t fix that, so it’s actually the clients that end up losing.
I know this sounds like whining, but really it’s not. I’m fine.
I found my price point a long time ago, I make a good living and my clients are extremely happy with their wedding photographs.
At some point I made a decision to not join in that race to the bottom, and my photography is better for it and my business is sustainable and continues to grow.
I’ve lost bookings to people who appear to cost half of our Chapter Package, only to find that that photographer has since gone out of business.
4/ So come on. How much DOES it cost?
Setting up in the wedding photography industry is about as expensive as setting up any similarly sized one-person freelance business. Setting up as a carpenter isn’t done and dusted when you’ve bought yourself some tools. Setting up as a plumber, apart from having the learned experience, is going to need more than a set of spanners no matter how expensive they were.
You need a certain amount of equipment and you need insurance, and you need to pay your taxes etc.
There are simple costs that you might need to take into consideration. Marketing, Premises, Cameras, Computers, accountancy, and so on and so on.
There are hidden costs, that will take you by surprise.
The trick is with photography is to keep it simple.
Early on I would buy the next digital camera as soon as it was released. Heck, I’d buy two.
New lens? Why not? £1700? Sure.
New computer? I just need it!
How many hard drives?
Shiny new toys.
People get around this by calling them tools. Tools that they must have to be able to call themselves (to whom?) a ‘Professional’.
I know a wedding photographer who will only shoot on a certain brand of camera because she thinks that her clients or their guests will only think of her as a professional if she uses this equipment. The amount of times that people come to me at wedding and actually care what camera I’m using is about one. Maybe once per year.
Sure. They might care if I was only using an iPhone perhaps, but by and large – not interested.
If the photographs were crap, the bride and groom might have something to say, but they’re still not going to care about which brand of camera I’ve used.
(The pictures are never crap BTW!)
The mistake I see most new (and old) photographers make is that they just keep buying new cameras, and the money goes into the thousands. At some point they’ve got to pay for that stuff. Or just charge it back to the client…
The real cost of becoming a wedding photographer is time.
Most weeks, when I’m busy, I can work 6 days a week, with sometimes 4 of those days taken up with shoots. leaving me two days to catch up with running the office and managing the online parts of the business. I love working like this, but it can have a huge impact on your family life, and your relationships if you’re not careful. I’m lucky in that Carrie and I work together – it’s a full time job for two people – but we try to take as much time off as we can. We don’t get paid for holidays, and we don’t get paid for being sick.
We’ve found what works, and for us it’s worth it.
5/ So, I can make a lot of money as a wedding photographer, right?
If you want to be a Wedding Photographer for the money, then yes, you can do well, but it’s not going to make you rich quick if that’s your primary motivation, and depressingly you won’t be able to figure out why. It’s no different than any other career progression – nobody starts at the top. It’s easy to assume that all you have to do is take some nice pictures and people will book you, and hand over huge amounts of money for a day’s work, but people don’t part with their money so easily, and even if that kind of client did exist, you’re probably competing with another at least 500 photographers who might or might not be better than you, cheaper than you, more reassuringly expensive than you, or just plain nicer to talk to that you, all targeting that same couple to get their attention. Just check out any of the new or old wedding supplier directories to see how many photographers are pitching to the ‘Ten Thousand Unique Brides every month’ for the same booking.
Think about it. What’s the point in paying £10/£20/£30 a month to list your new wedding business on any one of these directories? Do you think a bride (or groom – yes the boys do get involved in the wedding planning) is going to spend hours of her/his time scrolling through ten thousand thumbnails of the same nondescript bride and groom photo, looking for your name or web link? They might scroll through looking for the lowest price I suppose, but we’ve talked about that – it’s not where you want to compete.
Advertising your business is going to get pretty depressing pretty quickly, and it’s going to cost you a lot of money. What’s that? You’ll just use social media to get to people? Facebook advertising isn’t free and you can reach thousands of people who just aren’t interested all day long. By the time your ad has popped up your audience has moved on. Social media literally can’t keep up with the way people are using it. Your ad, pretty as it is, just looks like another trap next to the thousands of ads people swipe past every hour of every day.
Learn how to use social media, and stop spending money on useless directories and ineffective advertising. Don’t spend everything you earn on more cameras and more computers and more business cards, and more website hosting that you don’t need. You’re going to need to spend some money on all that stuff, but remember that buying a new camera isn’t the thing that is going to get you more bookings, and it isn’t even the one thing that is going to improve your photography. Do you need a new iPhone this year? Do you need another laptop?
It’s taken me more than 10 years to build up my business and a lot of expense, and it took a while before I understood the ebb and flow of finances.
If you want to be a Wedding Photographer for the money, then yes, you can do well, but if that’s the reason that you want to give up your job you’re in for a shock.
6/ You Still want to Pursue a Career in Wedding Photography?
That’s great! The industry needs you.
The industry needs great photographers with massive amounts of passion and an equal dose of professional integrity. It takes a lot of hard work, and a lot of commitment but if done for the right reasons (and you’ll know if it’s the right reasons) then wedding photography can be the most rewarding job.
Make the right choices, be honest, find some humility, and you’ll find humanity in some way.
I’ve been a photographer all of my life, and I found a way to make it work. I found my voice and I know what I want to say and why I want to be there. I know that I’m doing more than turning up with a camera. I’ll always say I’ve been lucky, but it’s taken a lot of work, and I’ve had to ask myself some hard questions along the way.
It’s tempting to think that there is a quick route to success, or that maybe you just have to be like every other wedding photographer out there. It’s tempting to think that it’s all about money, especially when you’re finding it tough to get bookings, and everyone else seems to be rocking along. It’s easy to justify spending everything you earn on new tech and equipment that you don’t really need.
Find new ways to make some money, without compromising your product.
Want to know how much to price your services? I can’t tell you that, because I’m not you. Only you know what value you can put on what you do. Don’t under-value yourself. It’s hard, but if someone says they have found someone to photograph their wedding for less than you, tell them to book the cheapest photographer that they can find, and that you’re not him or you can’t be her.
If you think you’re too expensive, then you are. If you know you’re too cheap then you’re in trouble.
Learn how to value yourself. Read and have an opinion on articles like this one : http://www.yourperfectweddingphotographer.co.uk/article/why-is-wedding-photography-so-expensive/ There are zillions of these articles on the internet.
Spend less time on the things that don’t contribute to your success (I’m looking at you, twitter).
Stay with your core philosophies and don’t waver. Never think for a second that swimming against the stream isn’t the right thing to do.
You’re heading in the right direction.
You’ve got this.
Get in touch and let me know what you think, or jump in a make enquire about me shooting your wedding.
You know what? The best way to get hold of me is by calling. It’s 078738 413 599.