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Getting Started as a Wedding Photographer

By Stephanie Williams on February 10, 2014


Begin At the Beginning

As an eager, enthusiastic and dedicated photography student, the world of wedding photography is an enticing career. You may feel like you're ready to tackle it with tenacity and dedication — gaining the flexible schedule that you've always dreamed of while meeting your financial goals. But like everything worthwhile, success often comes to those who begin at the beginning and work steadily and strategically towards their goal.

Contax 645, 80mm Zeiss lens, f/2 at 1/60 sec. Kodak Portra 800

Oftentimes our impulsive society teaches that the best way to learn is by making mistakes — by diving in and doing it or adopting the fake it till you make it mentality, but true success often shows us otherwise. In fields like wedding photography, where the potential for loss is great, the best way to learn how to be efficient, reliable and knowledgeable is by experiencing the industry under the guidance of prominent wedding photographers. Contax 645, 80mm Zeiss lens, f/2 at 1/125 sec. Kodak Portra 800 converted to black and white in post production

Responsible, professional wedding photographers understand the gravity of each wedding. Taking on a wedding as an amateur for a low rate is tempting, but without experiencing a bevy a weddings before handling your own, you are not only risking your reputation, but the emotional and financial investment that your clients have made in you. Canon EOS-1V, 50mm 1.2 lens, f/2 at 1/125 sec. Fujifilm Pro 400H

Learn From the Best

Approaching your future career with respect is paramount to developing a thriving business. Recent graduates and current students will be richly rewarded by developing relationships with talented, experienced photographers, and through them building a solid network in wedding industry. Even before you consider second shooting for a prominent wedding photographer — a plan that still requires an in-depth portfolio — an aspiring wedding photographer gains a deeper knowledge of their true path and the skills required for it by assisting or interning.

Canon 5D Mark III, 24-70mm 2.8 lens, f/4.5 at 640 sec. ISO 100

If you are just starting to work in wedding photography, dedicate some time to researching photographers in your area that embody the caliber and style of work that you are pursuing. Working for a photographer whose work you really like will inspire you and help you to eventually develop your own style. Assisting and interning are both great starting points to help you understand the natural flow of weddings. As fast paced events, weddings require that photographers are able to anticipate most things before they happen.

Canon EOS-1V, 50mm 1.2 lens, f/2 at 1/125 sec. Fujifilm Pro 400H

Many Hats

The successful wedding photographer knows when to be a photojournalist, product photographer, or portrait photographer. You must be able to perfectly capture a candid moment of sincere laughter, and in the next moment ensure that every decor element — flowers, tablescapes, rings, invitations and scene settings — have been documented beautifully. Understanding varied wedding traditions is essential to being prepared to shoot all the key moments between the processional and recessional of different cultural ceremonies.

Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm 1.2 lens, f/2.5 at 800 sec. ISO 400

A skilled photographer will also develop the interpersonal skills required to not only command a large bridal party or family group in a timely, understandable and polite manner, but also make the couple feel at ease in front of the camera. These skills take time and experience to hone. You must be able to herd groups of children, direct poses and understand the subtleties of family interactions — all with a smile on your face and an eye to the camera.

Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm 1.2 lens, f/4.5 at 250 sec. ISO 100

Fun and Games…and Business

Working for an experienced wedding photographer will give you the opportunity to try the career on for size before committing to years worth of weddings, post production and business investments. While many will find wedding photography to be exhilarating and rewarding work, others may find the pace and emotional pressure too stressful.

Canon 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm 2.8 lens, f/2.8 at 1250 sec. ISO 640

Training under a seasoned photographer will help you learn about the business side of the industry while avoiding common pitfalls. Running a legitimate photography business means having consistent post production workflows, reliable systems for back ups, an understanding of tax requirements, insurance and a plethora of backup gear. It also means being able to market yourself in an ever-evolving industry. A behind-the-scenes vantage point of the business will help you understand how to invest your time and money into these necessary and sobering elements of the job.

Canon 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm 2.8 lens, f/3.2 at 2500 sec. ISO 400

If working for another photographer isn't how you envision yourself moving into your career, consider taking workshops, mentor sessions, photography seminars and attending industry conventions as other means of gaining education on top of attending university. Nothing trumps real world experience for growing in your field. Wedding conventions like WPPI are great arenas for meeting and mingling with other industry professionals and hearing from photographers you admire.

Canon 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm 2.8 lens, f/2.8 at 1250 sec. ISO 400

Assisting and second shooting are both great ways to get your foot in the door and develop a positive reputation in this highly connected industry. It's the necessary step to take so that you can know if you really want the beautiful and rewarding burden of running your own business.

Bonus: The New York Institute of Photography is the world's largest online photography school. Enroll in one of our photography course for as little as $39.

About the Author

Stephanie Williams runs her own studio and blog, This Modern Romance. Her work has been featured on the cover of Pacific Weddings, Destination Weddings and Honeymoons, Destination I Do, California Wedding Day, and Australia's White magazine as well as in the pages of The Knot, Brides, Oui, Southern Weddings and numerous blogs and Internet publications such as Style Me Pretty, Green Wedding Shoes, and more. Stephanie was listed as one of the top 20 Destination Wedding Photographers in the world by Destination Weddings and Honeymoons. In 2011, Stephanie was honored as one of PDN's Rising Stars in Wedding Photography. Stephanie lives in Orange County, California with her husband Isaac and their 3 dogs.

Christen Vidanovic is a writer and photographer based in San Francisco. With a background in journalism, she specializes in weddings, fashion and editorial photography. Her work has been featured in various local and worldwide publications like SMART, FreeSurf, Pacific Edge, The Honolulu Weekly, Jetstar, in addition to the photo collections for many Honolulu fashion designers.