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|| News Item: Posted 2009-07-27

So, you want to be a wedding photographer?
What you need to know to get your business off the ground

By Craig Mitchelldyer

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
When I first started shooting pictures professionally in 1998, I knew what I wanted to do. I was a sports photographer. There was nothing better than the adrenaline rush of processing film from a Friday night football game on a tight deadline and seeing your photo in the paper the next day.

In 2000 I was hired at a small newspaper and was living the dream. No wife, no kids, no mortgage, no bills, just a sweet job where everyday was something different. Breaking news, sports, features, I never wanted to do anything else. I remember thinking that I would NEVER shoot a wedding, or a high school senior, it was beneath me. I was a photojournalist.

Fast forward a few years, a wife, a baby, a mortgage and the odd hours and lousy pay of the newspaper industry begin to take a toll. A couple of friends had asked me to shoot their weddings and I reluctantly agreed. I shot them the way I thought weddings were supposed to be shot. Lots of boring staged photos. I wanted to kill myself and swore I would never do it again.

Then in 2004 I had been working on a story for the paper about a high school kid that was paralyzed in a snowboard accident. It was my first real big time consuming story. I spent a lot of time with the subject as he rehabbed and eventually went to his senior prom.

A couple months later, I shot a wedding and had a thought: "I should just shoot this like a newspaper story." All of a sudden, shooting a wedding was fun. I could be creative, I could tell the story, and I could make pictures that people liked. I could blow them up as big as I wanted, no worries about an editor cropping it bad or registration being off. It was the wedding that pointed my career in a new direction.

I had also been doing a good amount of freelance on the side and decided to take the plunge to full time freelance photographer that fall. Best decision I ever made. Times have changed yet again and now more and more people are being forced into freelance photography and not by choice.

We all see our friends being laid off everyday. Most have always had a staff job and that is a very scary thing. He good thing is, no matter the economy people will always get married. Last month in Orange County, California alone there where 1400 marriage licenses issued. That is 1,400 people that will soon be tying the knot in that one county. That is 350 events a week. There is more than enough work to go around, as long as you go and get it.

The great thing about shooting a wedding is that everyone is glad you are there. Everyone loves your pictures. People appreciate your work. A wedding is filled with emotion, action, quiet moments, its everything your would ever shoot all wrapped into one. And the pay is not too shabby either.

Here is my advice to help you book more weddings.

Step 1:
Get a website. It does not need to be a fancy expensive flash based site, but it does need to have lots of work samples and be SEO friendly. PhotoShelter makes it very, very easy to get something off the ground very quickly. I recommend checking them out and reading everything on the site about what buyers want and SEO, etc. great information. Get a domain name, nobody will take you seriously if your website is a MySpace page or your Flickr account.

Step 2:
Get an office. Remember you are a professional. You are a business. You need to act like one. Professionals do not meet people at Starbucks and have an email address that is It doesn't have to be a big place, can be a small little meeting room, you could share it with other professionals to save on costs since you will only be using it for meetings.

I just opened up an office in the OC (aka Orange County, CA) and found a great deal by sharing a small space with a wedding coordinator. My photos on the wall, her d├ęcor, we have a shared calendar and it works out great. Remember your competition has cool studios that impress clients, you need one too.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Step 3:
Have sample books. Sure, you have your best work in your portfolio, on your website, but any doctor with a 5D can point it and shoot it and every once in a while get a great shot. You need to prove you shoot consistently and be able to show a potential client a few complete weddings so they can get an idea for your style. These client meetings are so important.

You only have one chance to make then think you are the best in the world. Not the entire world, just their little world. Be yourself, let them get to know the real you. Ask them about their event; let them know you care about them, etc. Help them fall in love with your work. Sample albums are a great way to do this.

Step 4:
Define your style. It is tempting at first to just give people whatever they want and be willing to change your style to match what they want. Don't be tempted to do this. Your style is what will set you apart.

Step 5:
Make yourself unique. What can you do and offer that others cannot? As sports photographers/real photojournalists (I say real because every wedding photographer claims to be a photojournalist these days), we have a great advantage over our competition in that we have seen it all and are prepared for every possible situation.

Things move fast at a wedding, a lot of them are in horrible light, and our experience is invaluable. A wedding moves slow compared to professional football players, etc. Sell that. For me personally, I have really gotten into shooting video. Everyone else in my market thinks it's a waste of time and that is fine by me because it allows me to offer something others do not and sets me apart.

Step 6:
Charge Appropriately. It can be tempting to do something cheap just to get the work. But you're only hurting yourself. Make sure you charge enough. Otherwise you will only bring in more cheap work. If you need stuff for your portfolio, offer to second shoot for another photographer friend to build your book.

Step 7:
Network, Network, Network. No one will know about you if they do not know you. Get out and meet with as many new photographers, florists, coordinators, DJ's and other wedding vendors as you can. Go to networking meetings. Join wedding related associations, such as the Association of Bridal Consultants and the Wedding Photojournalists Association, Digital Wedding Forum, Local Chamber of Commerce, etc. I help co-found a blog co-op of Portland area photographers, we all post to the site and refer business back and forth and to the site itself and it works great,, good for our individual SEO as well. There are only 52 Saturday's a year. Most photographers book up fast. Other photographers referring each other is the best way to get new business. Make sure you refer people as well.

Photo by
Step 8:
Gear. OK, so now you are all set. You have done everything you need to book some weddings, you have your first gig, but what to bring? What will you need? Ask this question to 10 photographers and you will get 10 answers, so I will only speak for myself, but here is what you will need. A wide lens (like a 24-70 zoom), a wider lens (16-35 or fisheye), a telephoto lens (70-200, 300), if you can a fast lens like a 50 f/1.4 or an 85 f/1.2, a couple of speedlights, some Pocket Wizards. Light stands and 2-3 camera bodies. Sounds like a lot. But you never know what will happen and it is always good to be prepared and have backups in case the worst happens.

You want to travel light as you will be on your feet a lot, moving around a lot, but you also want to be prepared. Sometimes you will have great light, most of the time you will not. You want to be able to shoot a great image no matter the circumstances. My gear bag for a wedding includes:
2 Canon 5D Mark II
1 Canon 1D Mark IIn
4 Canon Speedlights (2 580EX's 2 550EX)
6 Pocket Wizard MultiMAXes
16-35mm 2.8
15mm fisheye
24mm 1.4
85mm 1.2
50mm 1.8
70-200mm 2.8
300mm 2.8
1.4 extender
2 Digital Camera Battery external batteries for the speedlights
Honl Snoots and Gobos
Gray Cards for custom white balance
3 light stands
Misc. cords for remotes and stuff to make it all work.

All of this stuff, except the lightstands and 300, fits into my Think Tank roller. So I can be pretty mobile with it. With this setup I can travel easily and shoot any possible situation.

I like to light the dance floor at the reception, but I often shoot at high ISO's (Don't be afraid of 3200 and beyond) with low flash output and drag the shutter to not take away from the ambient environment they worked so hard to create. Over than that, I just shoot like I shoot everything else. Football, baseball, breaking news, wedding, I pretty much take the same approach: Watch what is going on, anticipate where the peak moment will be and shoot a sharp well lit picture with a good background.

Step 9:
Workflow/Product. So, now you've shot the event and you have 2000 RAW files to process. My workflow is to ingest all the cards using Photo Mechanic onto my RAID server. I add keywords, captions, website info and my info sing the IPTC pad as they ingest. Then I import the files into Aperture and begin to edit. I do everything as far as color corrections, adjustments, processing, etc in Aperture. Once the files are processed into hi-res jpeg's I upload low-res versions using Photo Mechanic to PhotoShelter and create a link and login on my website for the bride and groom. Family members can also purchase images from the site.

There are a million different products and labs you can use. If you are serious about wedding photography a trip to the annual WPPI convention and trade show in Vegas is worth the trip. You can find everything you will ever need and whole bunch of crap you will not. I use White House Custom Color for proof books and prints and use Asukabook and Laguna Albums for my albums. Other popular companies are Finao, Leather Craftsman, Zookbinders. I have no experience with any of those companies, but they are out there. I also give a DVD of hi-res jpeg's to every one of my wedding clients.

Remember, your customer is always right, even when they are wrong. Whenever you do something for your business, don't think as a photographer think as a customer. How would the customer feel, what would you like as a consumer, etc.

I hope that helps. If you have any other questions about wedding photography, contact me anytime.

(Craig Mitchelldyer is a freelance photographer with offices is Portland, OR and Orange County, CA. You can see more of his work at

Related Links:
Craig's member page

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