Starting a Wedding Photography Business: Things to Keep in Mind
All you need to know if you’re considering starting your own wedding photography business
Over the past couple of years, the wedding photography industry in India has been booming – there are more wedding photographers today than ever. Some still moonlight as wedding photographers while holding on to their day jobs whereas many others have full-fledged businesses. If you’re one of the former – whether you’re a second shooter or a freelancer – this article is for you. We are sure you’ve thought about going full time and starting your own business more than once. But while it may be tempting to go pro, starting your own business is not something that can be taken lightly. There are tons of things to consider before you take the plunge and, lucky for you, we’ve put them all in a handy-dandy list. So here are some of the things that you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about starting your wedding photography business.
#1 Do it for the right reasons
Having spoken to a lot of young and emerging wedding photographers, we’ve gathered that the reasons to want to become a wedding photographer are many – ranging from the perceptions of glamour to easy money, hobnobbing with celebrities to travelling to exotic locations are just a few of them. Whatever your reasons are, be confident that there’s enough substance in them – a successful wedding photography business requires all that a regular business does and more. It’s extremely extremely hard work to manage everything from client acquisition to team management, marketing to finances. So you have to be absolutely sure you’re doing it because of your love for photography and, more specifically, for wedding photography as a craft.
Before venturing straight into it, it would be a good idea to gain experience first. Spend some time freelancing as a second shooter with a company or a well-known independent photographer. It’s essential to be confident that you enjoy wedding photography enough to make a business of it and also to understand what it takes to be a full-time photographer. Use this time to decide what kind of weddings you like shooting the most and the kind of images you desire to make.
#2 Have a business plan
Then you need to get down to brass tacks – a business plan to list out how you plan to attract clients to your work; how you plan to market your brand and yourself. Do you have a strong enough portfolio to show clients once they come to you? What about the expenses of high-quality equipment, skilled team members and office space?
A professional photographer should have a studio/office space they can invite clients to. A meeting at Starbucks doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Most importantly, you should have the tools of your trade. Cameras, memory cards, editing software and monitors, hard drives etc, you need to have all of these.
Now whether you plan to buy some and hire others, buy all, or hire everything, that’s your call. But you need to know the answers to these. And before you quit your job, do you have the capital to sustain yourself and your business in the first few months? Until the assignments and the money from those assignments pour in, you’re on your own.
#3 You WILL need help
No matter what kind of a business plan you make for yourself, remember that you will need people to help execute the cycle – from client acquisition to delivery. Deciding to have freelance or full-time photographers as a part of your team is only one of the staffing decisions you’ll have to make. You’ll need to think about team members to handle sales and marketing, photo editing, album-designing, accounting and so on. Trust us, it isn’t possible to function at full power all the time – you won’t be able to do all the above consistently and well all by yourself and still maintain your creative sanity. So plan to outsource and/or hire and delegate parts of the job to increase your efficiency and output.
#4 It’s time to pull up your socks
If you really want to do this, you can’t think of photography as a hobby or something that you do part-time. It’s important to enjoy what you do for a living but it needs to be more than fun and games. And if you’re seriously serious (ha!), then you need to do all the things it takes to be seen as a credible, formal and professional business – brand name, business registration, taxes and all the other legalese becomes an important part of your business identity.
Plan for all kinds of contingencies. Who will be your back-up in case your second shooter cancels? Is your data backed up to three storage devices? What will you do if you pass the deadline for a delivery? What happens if your camera/memory card/battery malfunctions in the middle of a wedding?
The reason we’re asking you to ask these questions is that you are considering transitioning from a freelance status to that of a business owner – as a commercial wedding photographer, you will be answerable to your clients. They will monetarily commission you for an assignment and will have every right to have expectations and question you, or hold you to your promised deliverables.
#5 You need to sell
As an artist or a photography enthusiast, you have all the freedom to take photos however you want because you are doing it on your own time and money. But if you want to make a living off taking wedding photographs, you need to do work that will sell. Whether you follow the current trends or set your own, the point is that the saleability of your work is of prime importance. You will need to find the right clientele for yourself, understand what they expect from their wedding photos and commit yourself to delivering what they want to ensure that you have delighted customers who will be happy to refer you to their friends and family.
Now don’t misunderstand us – we’re not saying that you need to tamp down on your creativity and free thinking just to do work that sells. In an ideal world, you should be able to strike a healthy balance. Shoot a good mix of photographs that make, both, you and your client happy and proud.
#6 Don’t fall into the social media trap
We know it’s important to maintain a strong social media presence today – after all, it is one of the strongest marketing tools that we have at our disposal. But while you do that, don’t lose sight of your goals and aspirations. It is no doubt extremely flattering to get thousands of likes on your pictures. It’s a huge ego boost, we admit it too! But don’t get complacent with social media fame or bogged down by criticism from peers online. Highs and lows in that respect are very common and should not dictate the kind of work that you do.
Remember what got you into this field – we’re very sure it isn’t simply Facebook likes because in that case, you’re definitely getting into the wrong business! Keep striving to be better and constantly challenge yourself. If you feel your creative juices ebbing, take inspiration from other works of art, not limited to photography. Don’t fall into the trap of trending or popular images, but rather work towards technically and aesthetically strong images. It’s important to keep raising the bar for yourself to be able to stay ahead of the pack.
#7 You steer your own car now
With great power comes great responsibility. You thought not getting bossed around would be the dream? Now, you have to be your own boss too. There are plenty of pros and cons of being your own boss. On the one hand, it means that you have a whole lot of freedom and can control every aspect of your business (read do whatever the hell you want), but you also have to be the one to get things done. The rewards and pitfalls will, both, be of your own making! It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, but we’re very sure you’re going to make it!
From experience, we want you to know that there will be times when all the tasks will seem overwhelming and you will want to give up. There will also be days when you curse the day you decided to become a professional wedding photographer. As hard as you try to plan and have contingencies, somewhere, somehow and sometimes, things will go wrong. But it is exactly in these times that you have to stay strong and persevere.
Rather than discourage you, we want to familiarise you with all the things you should know. The things that some of us wish were told to us when we decided to go pro and take the plunge.
If you remember only one thing from this post, remember this: There is no right and wrong way to start out your own wedding photography business. You just need to find the right way for you. And we are here to help you, as a community and as a support system.
Are you planning to make the big jump? We’d love to answer any questions you might have. And if you’re someone who has already gone through the growing pains, do tell us about your experience! We’d love to hear from you.
Cover Image Credit: Ravi Mistry