When I started doing wedding photography, one thing I really wanted to do was to be able to give back and help other newbie photographers with their business. I found that although Google and Youtube were incredible resources, it was really difficult to learn about some of the more intimate aspects of the business, and that it was even harder to be prepared for any mistakes made along the way because a lot of people aren't willing to admit what they may have done wrong. In my first year as a wedding photographer I will have shot 34 weddings, which by the industry standards is pretty kerazy times, but I am definitely always learning and evolving and still consider myself to be new. Whilst I believe that it will take me years to settle in properly, I also feel I've already learnt so much and that my business has changed vastly since I first picked up a digital camera, so I'd like to share a few things I've personally learnt so far about starting as a newbie in wedding photography...
1. Don't let what others are doing dictate your business.
It's fine to look at people to occasionally assess what the market looks like but always ask yourself, "Are these people in the same market as me? Are they in the same position as me?". If you just look at what the 10 year old international superstar photographer is doing and charging, you'll just get unrealistic and unnecessary ideas about what you should be doing. Also if you look at your friends too much, you'll always find someone is pricing higher or pricing lower than you'd expect, so you'll never work out what you should be charging by asking others what they're charging. You'll find it much less of a headache to cover your costs and then work out an hourly/daily rate you feel comfortable working for that reflects your experience and quality of photographic output. Just remember what might work for others may not work for you, you have to assess your own area, target market etc. and tailor everything accordingly. This means that even this advice may not actually work for you, you should remember that I'm simply sharing what I learnt from my own experiences!
2. Photograph in a way that feels natural to you.
One of the reasons I try not to look at other wedding photographers' work is because I know that even without intending to, I'll in some way be influenced by their photos. If at my own wedding booking I come across a dress and a tree, the first things that will spring to mind are the last salient memories I have of something I saw scrolling through a photography group with a dress and tree. Although it seems like a good idea to take inspiration from others, it also means you're more likely to rest on "go to" shots when in the high stress scenario of shooting on the day. In the long term this can inhibit your creativity and slow you down from producing something really unique. Nowadays wedding photography is so crazily competitive, that if you want to stand out you need to ideally be doing something a little bit different.
So basically, the easiest way to be different is to be you. Be you in your branding and be you in your photography. Essentially, shoot how you see the world in your mind. This is not only important for improving your work, but also because it will feel a lot easier during the day. Much less thought and energy goes into an instinctive action, than you having to think "hmmm how would X do this" and trying to recall other photos and then framing your shot in a similar way. If you just let yourself look for scenes you feel are interesting and compose it how you think it might work, although there's bound to be some bloopers, that's the fastest way to start sculpting your own style (which sadly you'll probably refine over years!).
3. Don't be afraid to charge what you're worth
One of the most frustrating things I did was to undercharge when I first started out, partly because of a lack of confidence, but also because I had no idea what the market average was. I'm not married, so I had no clue about any of the wedding industry norms before I joined it. Personally, I definitely made the mistake of accepting bookings too far into the future for a lower price, so later on in the year I was shooting for really rollercoaster fees where one week would be a current rate and one an old rate.
For the record, in the UK the average people pay for a full time professional wedding photographer is 1.5k. The minimum amount you want to be charging for wedding photography, if you want it to be your sole income is around £1000+ (shooting approx. 25+ weddings a year). This isn't an exact science but it seems to be general consensus that this is the figure you'd need to charge clients to be covering your overheads (e.g equipment, insurance, running a website, USBs/discs, tax etc.) whilst making an earning that you can live off. I think newbies tend to price themselves based on what they think they're worth or what they hope people are willing to pay, but at the end of the day you're running a business and cash flow dictates that you want to be in + not -.
4. Shoot the stuff you want to shoot
It's commonly said but I don't think it can be said enough. When starting out, it's super tempting to just take every single job that comes your way, even if you have lots of alarm bells going off that it isn't right for you and your business direction. However desperate you are to progress as a wedding photographer, taking weddings that don't fit your business or you don't feel comfortable will just slow your business in the long term. For a start, the potential stress isn't worth it. You'll enjoy weddings that you feel connected to and excited to shoot a lot more than those that you're worrying about or feel out of place at. If you're shooting for someone who wants to hire you because you're cheap but expects you to shoot in a completely different style, how will you truly be exercising your own skills/photography?
Also, you need to show on your portfolio/website the kind of weddings you want to be shooting, to show your ideal future clients "hey look, I've photographed something similar to your wedding in a style you want", they'll be much more likely to book you than if they see photos on your site they don't identify with or don't fit their wedding ideas. The tricky thing is, at the beginning, how do you know what kinds of weddings you want to shoot? I myself took quite a few months before I got more in touch with the kinds of clients I wanted to shoot for, but even now I'm slowly working my way there. What I really wish I had done was taken the time at the start to understand what I wanted to be doing as this would've certainly accelerated my portfolio growth. How did I understand what I wanted to be doing? Well that's for another post that I'll be writing in the future about how to work on your branding so watch this space!
5. Get visible! People can't book you if they can't see you!
This is the single biggest question I see asked by other newbie photographers. "I don't get any enquiries", "where do you get bookings from?" "garrrghh!". Then I tend to ask "what kind of advertising are you doing?" And most of the time I get answers like "well I have a facebook page and I sometimes share that with my friends or on twitter..."
Aha, well you've just answered your own question there, the reason why you aren't getting enquiries is because you aren't putting yourself out there, and the married-to-be's can't actually see you, and if they can't see you they can't book you! Most couples will peruse around the net and stop looking for their wedding photographer once they've either a) got tired or b) found one they liked, so you really want to be fitting in with either a) or b). Sometimes people get a bit stuck about how to get visible, but it's actually so so simple. The only thing you need to ask yourself is the magic question:
"Where would my kind of client be looking for their wedding photographer?"
P.S (That's probably my biggest business tip, reverse-think EVERYTHING!)
So anyway, those are the 5 tips I've learnt so far since becoming a wedding photographer that I really wish someone has told me yonks ago! I hope they help you get one step further in your wedding photography business, if you have any questions or tips of your own to share feel free to put them in the comments box below!