Wedding photography is a common starting point for aspiring professional photographers. Weddings can be a lot of fun and can be a steady source of photography income. Weddings can also be highly stressful. If you want to become a successful wedding photographer you need to be prepared before you agree to photograph your first wedding.
Weddings are a once-in-a-lifetime event for the bride and groom. There are no do-overs. If you are not prepared and you miss important photographs, you could expose yourself to costly liabilities. To avoid that there are a few things you need before your first wedding if you want to become a successful wedding photographer.
You must have quality reliable camera equipment. If your camera equipment isn’t up for the job, don’t do it. In addition to having working camera equipment, you need backup equipment. At the very least, you need an extra camera and lens. As a new wedding photographer, you may not be able to buy a backup system yet. That’s no excuse. You can rent one.
Your primary camera equipment must include extra batteries for both camera and flash (a built-in flash is NOT adequate for photographing a wedding—and YES, you need a flash); extra memory cards, a wide-angle lens, a medium telephoto lens—or a wide- to medium-telephoto zoom. My rule of thumb for batteries and memory cards is always to bring at least twice as many as I think I will need. Both are cheap. There’s no reason not to stock up. Bring a sturdy tripod. If you’re shooting a ceremony indoors, you’re going to need it.
Not only do you need equipment in good working order, you need to know intimately how to use every piece of equipment in your gear bag.
Don’t tell me you’re ok with only one camera because it’s new or you take good care of it. An equipment failure can happen at any time. Your bride will not care why you didn’t get the photos she was counting on. All she will care about is that you ruined her wedding memories. Don’t end your career before it begins. Show up to the wedding with the right equipment.
If you’re a professional photographer, you need insurance. If you’re a new photographer you need it even more. You need property insurance that specifically covers your camera gear in the event of damage or loss. Having your equipment stolen without insurance or the funds to replace will put you out of business in a big hurry. Your homeowners’ insurance will not cover your professional camera gear. Let me repeat that in case you didn’t understand: YOUR HOMEOWNERS’ INSURANCE WILL NOT COVER YOUR CAMERA GEAR. You need a business insurance policy for your business equipment.
In addition to equipment insurance, you need general liability insurance and professional liability insurance. General liability insurance will protect you in the event that someone trips over you, your camera bag, your tripod or whatever and claims an injury. Purchase professional liability insurance, also known as Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance. E&O insurance protects you in case you make a mistake, or a client claims you made a mistake. This is what covers you for missed photos, getting lost on the way to a wedding and showing up late, or a corrupted memory card.
There may be additional insurance coverages recommended for your business. I am not an insurance broker and I do not play one online. I strongly recommend you find a business insurance broker to learn about the insurance wedding photographers need to protect themselves and their businesses. You may also want to check with national photography organizations like the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) or Wedding &Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) as they often offer insurance packages specifically for photographers.
Do not agree to photograph someone’s wedding for pay without a contract. A contract protects both you and your client (the bride and groom). Your contract doesn’t need to be fancy, but you must spell out what you will deliver in exchange for the money they are paying you. At the very least it should include the names and contact information of your bride and groom (I always required at least one of them to sign the contract); the date, time and place of the wedding and reception; the time you will begin providing services; the amount of time (if your services are time-based) you will spend with your clients; and what they will receive as the final product. It must also include the amount they are paying for your services, as well as payment terms.
I recommend you not promise specific shots and poses (you cannot guarantee what other people will do; you cannot guarantee the weather; you cannot guarantee something the venue prohibits). You should also include any other services you provide, as well as outlining exclusions.
Please note: I am not an attorney. I do not provide legal advice. I provide business opinions based on my experience and the experiences of other professional photographers. This is in NO way to be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Have your attorney review all contracts prior to using them.
When you meet with clients to sign the contract, ask questions and learn about their wedding, about the flow of the day and about what is most important to them. Taking time to know their wants and needs will help you do a better job. Which leads us to the next point.
Weddings are a unique experience. There is no other event you can photograph that will prepare you for photographing weddings. It’s important to understand not only the flow of the day, along with all the wedding traditions, but to understand most weddings are emotionally charged. Every wedding is also different. There is a reason there are so many jokes about Bridezillas and Momzillas. The pressure to put on the perfect wedding is high. If you don’t work well under stress, rethink photographing weddings. There are many other ways to become a successful photographer without photographing weddings.
A wedding photographer needs to be Johnny-on-the-spot. Always alert, always ready to photograph whatever happens. You need (pleasantly) assertive people skills to quickly get people to cooperate and get the photographs the bride expects.
If at all possible, start your career assisting a photographer who is willing to teach you. Otherwise, attend as many weddings as possible and watch the photographers to learn what your job will entail.
What would you do if you became seriously ill on the day of a wedding? What if you were in an accident and couldn’t get there? Who would photograph the wedding? Build relationships with other photographers in your area, and learn who you can trust and count on to be your backup in an emergency. The odds of something happening are unlikely (in nearly 30 years, I never missed a wedding), but you need to be prepared.
If you haven’t figured it out yet the key to become a successful wedding photographer is preparation. You are being trusted to document one of the most important days in the life of a family. There won’t be a second chance to capture this day and provide them with memories to treasure forever. As one bride told me, “When I cry over my wedding photographs, I want to cry tears of joy, not sorrow.”
Follow these first steps and start off your career as a professional wedding photographer on the right foot. These are only the beginning. Continue to learn, continue to grow and always provide your best service and you can become a successful wedding photographer.