So you have a camera, you kind of know how to use it, and you DREAM of becoming a wedding photographer.
But where do you even start?
I've been there.
It can seem like a long and impossible road between where you are now and where you want to be, and the first steps feel like the most daunting. But everyone had to start somewhere. Even the best photographers in the world, at one time, hadn't even landed their first client.
I made a lot of mistakes on the road to where I am today, especially at the very beginning. I wasted time and money on choices I wish I hadn't made, and neglected to take some of the actions I needed to.
Here's my way of helping you avoid the mistakes I made, and guiding you towards some of the good choices I made.
1. Don't waste money on gear
I am the least "gear-y" photographer you'll meet. Yes, over the years I've accumulated lots of cameras and lenses, but I truly believe that the photographer takes the image, not the gear.
Spending $2500 on that 70-200 lens will not make you a better photographer overnight.
Don't go out on a big spending spree right away. You're better off honing your craft using what you have, and then discovering the gear you need to add as you go along. You don't really know what gear will be useful until you've been out there shooting.
And before you buy, always rent to see if it's what you want before taking the plunge.
2. Get a website
Guys, it's not hard and it doesn't take very long. And if you don't have one, you won't be taken seriously. Full stop.
There are a ton of build your own sites (Squarespace, Wix). In today's day and age, if you don't have a website you're not a professional. Simple as that.
"But I have a Flickr!" Um, yeah, that's not the same thing.
Don't have anything to put on it? Grab a friend, and shoot. Travel and shoot. Do anything and shoot. People simply want to see that you are taking it seriously, even if you don't have that award winning shot of a bride and groom on a mountain.
You will build and add to your portfolio slowly.
3. Do NOT work for free
Okay, well, you can sometimes work for free. But ask yourself if that work meets the following requirements.
- Will I get to practice a certain skill doing this?
- Will this add to my portfolio in a meaningful way?
- Will I meet someone who I could meaningfully connect with?
- Is it for a good cause?
If the job offered doesn't fit at least two of those requirements, turn it down. No one will value and respect you unless you value and respect yourself. Even inexperienced people deserve to be compensated for their work.
4. Be careful where you advertise
Paying someone to spread the work for you can seem like the easiest way to kick-start your business. But be very weary. You can waste a lot of dollars on publications, websites and catalogues that do absolutely nothing for you. I mean really nothing.
There's no substitute for word of mouth, but if you'd like to spend a bit of money advertising, follow these guidelines:
- Make sure it's local - No need to advertise to a bride in Montreal when you're located in Austin.
- Do your research - Does the website soliciting you say they have 15k Instagram followers? Make sure those followers are legit. And make sure the website gets the traffic they claim it gets.
- Make sure it's "on brand" - Are you a bohemian photog who loves to shoot and meadows and boutique hotels? Perhaps publications like WedLuxe aren't for you.
5. Don't worry if you can't define your "style"
This is something I heard a lot when I first started. I had to define my style to differentiate myself from other photographers, and I had to do it quick-fast.
Forget that, for now. When you're first starting you should feel free to experiment with lots of different shooting techniques, lighting choices, editing styles, etc. Your style will naturally evolve and come together.
6. Know your camera
You have a manual. Read it. Then read it again. It's the best way to know what you can and can't do with your most important tool.
Practice. You'll only know your camera's strengths and limitations once you've shot with it over and over again.
7. Be patient.
Building a business from scratch takes time. And there's no shortcut when it comes to building meaningful connections and developing a portfolio you can be proud of. Don't expect it all to happen overnight. And most importantly, don't give up.