Over the next two weeks I will be sharing everything I know about weddings. Each day you will learn about a different aspect of being a wedding photographer. You'll read about things I've done wrong, those things I've totally rocked and lessons learned along the way. So follow along everyday and see where this crazy little thing called love takes us!
Eight years ago I was asked to do wedding photos for a friend’s brother. I had an old film camera, a Canon Rebel to be exact. I was reluctant to switch to digital. I had no idea what to charge, so I told her $200.00. How did I come up with that number? It would cover gas to and from the wedding site, the rolls of film I would have to buy and developing the rolls of film. And maybe a little extra if I was lucky. I then headed down to a camera store and bought a book on wedding photography and read it cover to cover. The wedding was a week later. I had never felt so scared, so alone and so unprepared in my life.
3 years later I started my own photography business and knew I would never ever photograph a wedding. I learned from that first experience that I had no idea what to do and had no business taking photos on the most special day for people. Within a year into my business, I changed my mind. Why? Because I didn’t know what kind of photographer I wanted to be yet. That first year was spent doing anything and everything that came my way. I would do birthday parties, 1 year old photos, seniors, family photos, head shots…if you had a need for a gal with a camera, I was your gal. So when I was approached to do my first wedding, I had to say yes. Didn’t I? I had done everything else, so why not find out if this was something I would want to pursue.
As it turned out, I loved that first wedding. I don’t count the “real” first wedding because I had no clue what I was doing and didn’t make any money off of it. When I did my first real paying wedding, I fell in love with love. Everything about the wedding day gives me an adrenaline rush. I love watching the bride have her mascara put on and the back of her hair perfectly curled, I love seeing the look on the groom’s face as he sees his bride dressed in her wedding day gown for the first time, I love everyone celebrating love and I cry every time the bride and groom dance with their parents! After that first wedding, I knew I had to do more weddings. I also knew I didn’t want to be a wedding photographer.
As much as I love photographing weddings, I’ve had the chance to photograph enough families and seniors to know I love them as well. So my goal each year is to do only a handful of weddings. I try to book 5-6 weddings a year, focus on families in the fall and seniors year round. I believe one of the key components to running a successful business is to know what you love and do what you love. Don’t do weddings because you look at them as making a lot of money. You have to do them because you enjoy the work that goes into wedding photography and the joy it brings those that hire you.
When the time comes that you do start photographing weddings, the best thing you can do for yourself and your business is to know how to price yourself. Not only do you need to know how to do this, you need to know why. Why are you charging $2,000.00 for a 4 hour wedding? What are you going to give the bride and groom for that price, will it be worth it to them to hire you and will you still make a profit? These are questions you have to ask yourself. The first 2 weddings I did I charged $500.00 and it included a CD of high resolution images that the couple could print. No frills or anything pretty. Not even a print credit! But I figured I was photographing their day for 4-6 hours, would spend a couple days on editing, give them their CD and be done. Sounds fair, right? No. And I’ll tell you why. Weddings take hours to go through and cull (sort the good from the bad) the images and then edit them. By the time you are done, you will have made minimum wage for that wedding you booked if you charge $500.00!
If you aren’t ready to charge yet, here’s what you need to know before you shoot a wedding solo:
- The first best thing you can do for yourself is be a second shooter. If you are just starting out and you want to get an idea of what it’s like to be a wedding photographer, look up wedding photographers in your area and ask them if you can second shoot with them. I personally have a second shooter for all of my weddings. This allows 2 points of view for the same part of the day or allows the main shooter to focus on the bride while the second shooter does the groom. Some have wanted to shoot with me for free for experience and some I have paid. I generally download their images, they get edited by me and their name is not involved after the wedding day. I do allow my second shooters to edit and use their images in their portfolio. The pay and editing process depends on the photographer. I also bring an assistant with me to weddings. This is usually one of my older teenage children, but they are there to hold my bag and make sure I have plenty of water! Two jobs that are very important.
- Look for creative ways to build your wedding portfolio. If you have never shot a wedding but you want to get marketing pieces out there, ask a friend that recently got married if she would put that dress back on, do her make up and hair and you can take photos of her. Make it a girl’s day and something fun! From this one day, you can photograph her and get images that you can use on your facebook or website. That’s how you build your portfolio for a new genre.
- Know who your target bride is and how you are going to reach her. Let your friends know you are now shooting weddings. Ask them to spread the word. Do you have a hair or nail salon you go to regularly? Ask them if you can leave some of your business cards and marketing material with them.
When it comes to pricing, I could write pages on that one subject! Here are the best words I have for you when it comes to pricing:
- Know your market and your competition. I like to know what other photographers in my area are charging and what their work looks like. I don’t “compare” myself to them, but it helps to know your market and who other brides are looking at. If a bride calls you to set up a meeting, you offer her what Wendy’s Weddings can’t.
- Raise your prices as you gain experience. Jasmine Star was quoted on Creative Live as saying that after every 3 weddings to raise your prices. I totally agree with that. I have gone in and raised my prices either after every 3 or at the beginning of each new year. I typically raise each new package by about $250.00. The reason why? I’m a better photographer after 3 weddings than I was before. Each wedding makes you stronger. Trains your eye to look at details differently. So value what you’ve learned and make others do the same.
- Brides like collections. Keep it simple. I have 3 collections. Each one includes the digital files with a print release, an engagement session and an online gallery that they can share with friends and family. The smaller package (4 hours) only includes those items, the second package (6 hours) includes a print credit and canvas wrap and the third package (9 hours) includes a higher print credit and bigger canvas wrap. Albums are additional.
Amy Phipps is the photographer behind On the Phippside Photography, located in Stockton, California. Amy has been married for 21 years and has 4 children. When she’s not trying to decide between which of her 43 black shirts to wear, you can probably find her sipping on a Dr. Pepper and walking around any day of the year in flip flops.
Visit her website.