How to Start a Wedding Photography Business in Today's Saturated Market
Wedding photography can be a very lucrative niche for some photographers. New photographers sometimes jump right into the business as wedding photographers, thinking it will be easy, part-time work. Most find out soon however, that there is more to the job than just the photographing the eight hour event. Wedding photography has sub-niches; traditional, photo-journalistic and hybrid.If you are interested in a career in wedding photography, begin by deciding which sub-niche you are interested in, so you can start to brand and market your services.
Finding your Niche in the Wedding
Styles of Wedding Photography
The three most recognized wedding styles are:
3) Hybrid (a combination of 1 & 2)
Traditional wedding photography consists of well-thought out posing on the wedding day. The photographer has full control of the lighting and posing, so the subject is always aware of them. The main poses consist of the bride and groom, bride and groom with parents, wedding party, bride and mom, bride and dad, etc – you get the picture. A traditional photographer will appear more intrusive than that as a candid photographer. You will need to move them away from their friends and family and line them up for the poses. (that is why I recommend portraits prior to the ceremony). Typically the posing can take up to one hour,so you must have an organized list. Work with the parents and family first, so they may leave for the reception. Most guests expect that the bride and groom will show up last, but don’t keep the parents waiting. This is their big day too!! (and most likely they are paying for it). The photography at the reception is typically more candid than the church, however the traditional shots of cutting the cake, bouquet and garter toss and dancing, should not be omitted. I always photograph the cake, the wedding invitation and a set of filled champagne glasses. If this is your style, you must have exceptional portraiture skills, ranging from posing to lighting.
Photo-journalistic wedding photography became famous in the mid 90’s, and is still a very desirable wedding style.Instead of staging poses, the photographer photographs the events as they happen. There is less intrusion from the photographer, and poses appear more natural. You can expect to shoot a lot more images in order to capture the storybook imagery of the day. Some elements of this style include black & whites and tilted images, Icons from the day i.e. back of wedding dress, bride’s shoes, flowers, rings etc. provide beautiful background images for the album. If you are interested in this type of photography, look at the work of Bambi Cantrell. She started the trend in California back in the 90’s and she is still going strong. Attend a bridal show and see what other photographers are doing and pay attention to which booths are the most crowded. Also flip thru the most popular bridal magazines for the latest trends. Brides who request this style of photography like what they see in magazines. Photo-journalistic photography has evolved and can be a very exciting wedding niche.
Hybrid wedding photography is a combination of traditional and photo-journalistic. I tend to fit into this category. I tailor my shooting based on the bride and groom’s requests. I find that most brides still want to be photographed with their parents, the maid of honor and other special guests. I follow my instincts and use posed photography as well as shooting to capture the passion and romance of the day.
Being a wedding photographer entails more than the 4-8 hours you will spend on the weekend. It takes countless hours of marketing, sales and continuing education. Post- production work can take many hours during the week to edit, retouch and create an album design. It can be a very rewarding career working with couples on the happiest day of their lives.
Here are some basic requirements if you want to start your own wedding photography business:
* BACK-UP camera, flash, batteries and flash cards.
* Errors and omissions insurance in case your equipment fails.
* Contracts for with each and every wedding – even if they are your friends or relatives.
Wedding Price Ranges
Low-end weddings would include wedding coverage in the range of $500 – $1500. Although this may sound attractive for a day’s work, you should think carefully about whether you truly want to fall into this category. Many photographers start out with the low-end weddings because they think that is all they are worth. Would a new dentist or lawyer have this mentality? Would you want to hire the lowest priced professional if you were looking for a wedding photographer? Value perception comes into play here, because if the price is too low, potential clients might think “you’ll get what you pay for.”
Nonetheless, if you want to start out with a low-end wedding and a budget- conscious bride and groom you will still have to provide exceptional customer service (the cardinal rule of running any business). You should not compromise this just because you are charging less than other photographers.
Your work should be good quality photography with correct exposures, posing and lighting. Quick decisions have to be made so it is important that you have a system that you are used to.
Some ways to cut corners in this price range are:
1) Eliminate the services of an assistant
2) Provide a CD of images only without delivery of any photographs or albums.
3) Hourly coverage ranging from two, three or four hours maximum
Keep in mind that low-end photography is a very saturated market and you will face tons of competition (especially with Uncle Bob) If you decide to go into this market, be prepared to have an USP (unique selling proposition). Many photography businesses hire part-time photographers on the weekends so they can cover a lot of weddings. Market yourself as the dedicated photographer who will not pass off documenting someone’s treasured event – their wedding – to someone else. Have a tag line and logo and market yourself via your website and bridal shows.
Middle-range weddings start at $1500 to $3000. You can offer a more creative range of products and services at this level and I believe you will be more respected as a professional at this range. Weddings in this range will most likely include a large wedding party and a longer coverage than a low-end wedding. At the upper range, you can offer a menu of services to include:
1) An engagement session and a portrait
2) Pre-wedding coverage (the bride preparing for the event at her home)
3) A basic wedding album
4) Wedding packages or a la carte portraits
5) An photography assistant
6) Retouched images
You can offer several packages between $1500 and $3000 and have the opportunity to sell up with a la carte services.You can still offer a CD with reproduction rights as an add-on, or include it with the most expensive package.
Clients in this range are looking for a photographer with artistic expertise in photography, including enhancements. They may also looking for a combination of traditional color poses and contemporary black and white images. They know what they like, because they have probably seen pictures from other photographers in a magazine. This clientele is typically more sophisticated and perceive their wedding photography, not as a commodity like the wedding cake, but as a treasured memories captured by a talented photographer. They are more likely to purchase a wedding package from a photographer with a trusted and well-known reputation. If you are interested in pursuing a career in the mid range of wedding photography it is advisable to gain lots of testimonials to build your reputation. Sales letters and websites can incorporate the raves that you receive from brides and grooms. Always explain the benefits of your services, not the features, to a prospective couple. Put yourself in their shoes; be likeable, show enthusiasm and always, always display a high level of professionalism.
It is not unusual these days for wedding photography to top $8,000. If you only photograph one wedding per weekend at that fee, you could gross over $400,000 in one year. On the contrary, doing a low-end wedding at $1000 per weekend,you would only gross about $50,000. What would you rather do? I am not saying you should start out with a fee that high, but you could offer a “whopper” package and offer a range of wedding packages starting at $3000 and going up to $12,000???
Destination weddings fall into this category. If you like to travel (maybe the Bahamas) partner with a other services to promote your off-site wedding photography.
In this high-end price level, you will will probably be dealing with the affluent. Daddy usually has a lot of money and is paying over $50,000 for the big day. Price is not an object, however the client still needs to be aware of the value they will be receiving from you, the photographer.
High-end wedding photography should include your top-tier services. Time limits should not be a consideration; it’s over when it’s over. Coverage should be for the entire day, so wear comfortable shoes. Start at the bride’s house or in the bridal room and capture images of the bride applying her make-up, having her hair done, and finally having her mom and the bridesmaids help her dress. You can also capture the groom, best man and groomsmen preparing for the ceremony. This is a great time to capture the emotions of the bride and groom on their special day.
If at all possible, try to photograph the bride and groom prior to the ceremony. However, many brides and grooms do not want to see each other before the ceremony, so respect their wishes. Use gentle persuasion to convince them to go for the pre-ceremony photography. If you can convince them, it will be a big time saver and more relaxing for everyone involved.
Working with an assistant will make your job easier. Assistants are a must in this category. Make sure you have an experienced and trusted second shooter, who can work independently.
Your menu of services should include everything that is included in the middle price tier, and then some. Dazzle the bride and groom with your specialty items; albums, guest books and slide shows. The products available for wedding photography are better than ever. Your uniqueness will be a major factor in this market so present the WOW to your clients.
Marketing to the affluent is a key element in this price range and takes some education. There are lots of books written on this subject. I would recommend that you choose a mentor who is successful and learn from them, this way you do not have to reinvent the wheel. The PPA and WPPI are two worthwhile organizations to join, and they have seminars and a convention throughout the year. Learn from the best in the industry; photographers love to share their knowledge.
In summary, whatever market niche you decide to serve, remember that people like to feel special. Always remember their names and their parents’ names. (even if you have to bring a cheat-cheat to the wedding). Your service is as important as your product. No one wants to deal with someone grumpy or moody. If you are sick or having a bad day, mask it as best as you can. Over-deliver by giving the couple a little something extra that they did not expect or ask for. I always give a wedding gift, usually a frame, and offer to fill it with a complimentary photograph from their special day.
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