Am I Good Enough to be a Wedding Photographer?

It’s a hard question to answer if you are good enough to be a wedding photographer and this post will be more about marketing, understanding economics and expectation than about photography. TLDR: If you get paid and your client accepts your results happily, you're it.

In my opinion wedding photography is some of the hardest disciplines in photography and also one of the toughest markets around. Also it's not about what the rest of the internet says about your photography.

Why is Wedding Photography Hard?

The really, really important thing before you pitch a couple that's going to get married is to remember:

If you fuck up, they lose photographic memories that they expected to have access to in high res for the rest of their lives.

Technically it doesn't even have to be that you fuck up, it could also just be that a bear flips your car and mangles your gear or that the waiter pours 10 glasses of champagne over your camera. I think you should prepare for a lot of things going wrong before you say yes.

As a reference, the wedding we shot last summer we attended with two primary and a secondary camera, additional battery packs, second lenses that would get close to great results and also we went as two photographers, so if one of us broke a leg, they could be put in an ambulance and the other could keep shooting.

Expect the apocalypse

Hey, actually that would even be a cool wedding theme!

So in summary, weddings are hard because it's one of the things people get very emotional about and on many of the shots you just don't get a second chance. You will not be able to:

  • re-invite all the guests to re-shoot
  • just walk to the church and stage a ceremony
  • capture a lot of emotional firsts as husband and wife (or husband and husband or wife and wife)

You have the incredible chance to produce something with your photography that people will cherish, but you also don't have a lot of margin to say: oops. That doesn't mean mistakes will not happen at all, but they shouldn't significantly influence your production quality.

How do I know I'm ready?

If you're in doubt or you're just suffering from impostor syndrome, just attend a wedding as a photographers assistant. Hundreds of people get married in a city near you. Don't be too proud to carry battery packs and lamps for an experienced photographer. Don't be too proud to do it cheaply, because you'll learn what it's like from that photographers point of view.

So in summary:

Try it out, if possible not as the primary photographer

I remember the first wedding I went to, we did video and we were incredibly cheap, because we did someone a favour. I was there for video and party pictures (not the couple shoot), the other guy for video only. He's working on professional film productions today and I'm shooting weddings on my weekends.

What Can I do to Make Sure I'm the Right Photographer for a Couple?

To figure out if you're the right match to shoot somebodies wedding, meet with them, have coffee or a dinner with them.

Uhm, I don't know, talk to them?

First of all you have to get used to the idea that people don't necessarily know a lot about photography, accept the fact that they don't need to and also that they might not want to. That's why they hire you.

If they give you example pictures of what they would like to look like on their wedding pictures, they will not know what light was when that picture was taken or what kind of background that location requires. You'll need to point that out, pick a location with them and say:

I need the following to be able to deliver what you're asking of me.

If you fail to make them understand what is required from their side, you're just digging your own grave and you will be blamed for it.

Expectations vs Reality

The most important thing you have to discuss with the couple that's getting married is the expectations. If they show you example shots you know you're unable to reproduce consistently, don't do it.

The best way to set expectations is to show your portfolio, optimally with couple photos that you've taken, that way they'll get a good picture of what you can get out of people with your camera.

Showing each other pictures beats all other talk by miles.

Visual examples are always gold. If you can't show what you imagine you'll be going on pictures that you have taken, pick up your camera, grab a random couple and take them.

Summary: How to become a wedding photographer?

You're a wedding photographer as soon as somebody pays you for it. You're a good wedding photographer for them as soon as the couple likes the pictures and think they're worth what they paid you. This is the part where the economics part comes into it.

It doesn't matter how much you're payed or how many photos you take or even how the photos look, as long as your client knows before hand what you are going to do for them.

If you go to a third world country, the general population would never think you're worth your hourly rate, NO MATTER how awesome they look. Price is a matter of perspective.

When you're pricing yourself, I use as a rule of thumb how much money somebody must pay me to be away from my friends or girlfriend or just an activity I'd do, if they weren't paying me to do what they want. It doesn't mean I don't like them or that I don't like doing what they pay me to do, but I wouldn't be doing it without the pay. As you grow bigger and more well known, that rate will probably climb.

When somebody is hiring you they look at your photographs and what you would charge them. Does it fit in their budget, would they be happy with the pictures you probably would take? That's as far as the story goes for them. They don't know about the 10.000 hours you've practised photography or the video tutorials you watch at night, they look at product and price. They will also consider your character and if you're going to fit in, get along with their guests and have somebody come in that their guests will be comfortable around.

If you give somebody and honest impression of what they are going to receive for a price and the event is a wedding, voilá! You're a wedding photographer.

Oh yeah and then the hard part, actually go to that wedding and be a polite, professional and good photographer.

That's my two cents and I've had this post written for a while. We do still make mistakes, some shots turn out worse than we expected, but we've been hired and recommended the majority of times. The weddings we had the honor of shooting were beautiful with great guests and I wouldn't hesitate to do any of them again.

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Written by: Jonathan M. Hethey tagged with blog, wedding