You’re a great photographer. You see the world through a lens. You have a keen eye for detail, make people comfortable in their own skin, and can turn the seemingly ordinary into the visually extraordinary. You’ve decided to take those skills down the aisle.
Wedding photography is no ordinary job. Clients are nearly universally stressed, there is zero room for error, and everyone with a digital camera thinks they can do the job just as effectively as a professional. So how do you set yourself apart? How do you ensure that you’re the one called when it comes time to plan the big day? How do you make sure the couple spreads the word about your superior talent?
Building a brand
Everyone has a brand. From the kid on the corner selling lemonade to the world’s largest corporations. The trick is to make yours connect with the right people: the soon-to-be brides and grooms. With today’s technology there’s no reason for this to be difficult.
It has been written about to death: use social media tools strategically, not only to build your brand, but to market yourself and connect directly with potential clients. Online portfolio sites, blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and the ubiquitous Facebook are all competitive weapons in the arsenal of the wedding photographer. Keep in mind that these free or inexpensive tools are available to everyone, so be sure to add flair and differentiate your online presence. Play up whatever it is about your style that makes you unique and remember that, as a photographer, you have plenty of examples of your interesting work. Show it off!
Clients and contracts
Once you begin working with clients, be prepared to deal with their emotions and stress. They are about to go through one of the most stressful periods in their lives and you are being paid to document every part of it. Be as understanding, empathetic, and reassuring as possible while maintaining your integrity and professionalism. Above all else, protect yourself (and your clients) from the get-go with a contract. The agreement should cover things like: your rate; the amount of time you’re expected to shoot; cost of overtime; date, time, and location of the wedding; payment terms; transportation; insurance; and ownership/usage rights. Unlike most business transactions, these clients are buying memories rather than products, so it’s important to set expectations well in advance to avoid disappointment and disagreement.
Equipment: It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it
It goes without saying that to produce quality work you need quality equipment. Studies show that camera malfunction rates decrease as price increases, though that’s no reason to go overboard. Choose equipment that can handle your working conditions without becoming obtrusive. Base your decisions on experience, but be prepared for the unexpected. You may be faced with restrictions on your movement during the ceremony, be asked to avoid flash photography, or even fall into a fountain. All of these things will have an impact on the type of gear you pack: telephoto lenses, tripods, or an extra pair of pants. Do your homework ahead of time and know what equipment to have on-hand the day of the shoot.
Etiquette on the big day
So your clients are set, your equipment is ready to go, and the day is finally upon you. Shoot away, right? Maybe. Where, what and who you shoot is really up to the clients. Some may give you complete access, while others may prefer privacy at certain points during the day. Wedding plans usually follow a tight schedule; get your hands on it ahead of time to plan things out.
It is also important to blend in with the clients’ guests as much as possible to establish trust with those you will be shooting. Tips include wearing your camera as much as possible (so that people get used to you carrying it), mingling with guests so they become comfortable with your presence, and never forcing the issue with someone who simply doesn’t want their photo taken. When grandma says no, she means it.
Above all else, let the couple guide you. Remember that your role is to document and tell the story of the day to the best of your ability.
There is no room for error when it comes to shooting a wedding. Shots have to be perfect, the important people - whoever they are - need to be captured, and there are absolutely no do-overs. Sure, getting it right relies mainly on your skill, but even the best photographers in the world can lose shots when hard drives crash, computer cords fail, or compact flash cards are (gasp!) lost. So remember: redundancy is key when it comes to wedding photos. Back up your shots as soon as possible and keep files in multiple places.
That’s a wrap
Unless you manage to convince your clients otherwise, post-wedding activities for the photographer typically don’t include a honeymoon. They do include post-production work; the amount of which will depend on your style, the number of shots taken, and what results you wish to achieve for each photo.
This is also the time during which you want to maximize your word-of-mouth marketing. Consider offering a discount for those referred to you by your clients. Post watermarked images online so guests can easily share examples of your work. Make sure to target well-connected people in your networks with your message of unmatched wedding photography skill. Tactics abound for word of mouth marketing, but start with being honest about your abilities.
Documenting a wedding requires you to be the eye of the storm, remaining composed in the midst of the chaos and emotion around you. If you take the time to prepare appropriately, craft a contract, and ensure redundancy in your equipment, you’ll create a story for your clients which reads picture-perfect from beginning to end.