Christian J Stanley
Creating a successful wedding photography business can be more of a challenge than one would think. Just because you can take a picture doesn’t mean that starting your own wedding photography business will be smooth sailing. However there are certain building blocks one can take that will assist in creating yourself a successful start to your wedding photography business. First and most important building block is to build an efficient and thorough business/ creative plan. This is the foundation and should include your objectives, your mission, and your keys to success.
Your foundation objectives will cover what it takes to produce the same outstanding quality results time after time, and what it will take to become recognized as a top wedding photographer. You mission should describe what you want to achieve and how you are going to do that. Your keys to success should include how you will fulfill your client’s expectations and how you will accomplish this. How will you be competitive with your services offered? What kind of profits do you need to become successful competition?
Before you start you’re first step is to find your identity. Have you figured it out? Be true to yourself and know your strengths and weaknesses as a photographer. Are you ready to start this financially and technically? Do you know your style and identity, and do you do it well? You should know how to describe your photography and vision. Are you more of a photo journalistic photographer who relies on natural available light and candid moments? Do you preplan and pose portraits and incorporate technical lighting skills giving a classic look. Or, do you mix it up with both, showing a full range of capabilities that give you your own modern contemporary style?
If you know what you want your photography and identity to look like but haven’t achieved the look yet, maybe you need more work on your photography before you can establish your business.
Take a look at your photography and decide what level of talent you have and what potential you possess. Be critical of your work, but also have others critique your work for you. Learn how to use constructive criticism to improve your photography. If your identity isn’t where you want it, ask yourself, what needs to be improved? Do you know your equipment (camera, lighting, etc) well enough? Do you know how to read and meter your exposures? Do you have the right equipment, i.e.: hi resolution digital camera and Photoshop? You need a digital camera to stay up with your competition. It is also of great importance to be proficient in Photoshop and Lightroom and your digital workflow. It is up to you to overcome any weakness with proper education and practice before you take on photographing a wedding.
Photographing a wedding is a big responsibility. Someone has paid a large amount of money and trust in you to document this special and personal day. This is why it is so important to be confident enough to step into any wedding that comes your way and do a solid job photographing it. Having your skills fine-tuned are just part of what it takes to build that foundation of confidence. The other huge part to building confidence is experience.
We all start out somewhere. So once you have your photography skills and workflow down, it is now time to test yourself and your identity. The first step is to know your value. Do you think you’re up to shooting a wedding solo for $2000.00? Wait, you don’t have any wedding pictures for a portfolio. How are you going to sell yourself as a wedding photographer? Well either you get lucky with someone who trusts and likes your photography regardless that you have never photographed a wedding. Or you decide to build your portfolio through being a second or third shooter for a more established wedding photographer. This is a great way to get exposure and experience in the wedding photography scene. A great way to approach this route is to call all of the local wedding photographers in your area and ask if anyone is in need of a second or third shooter. Once you find some work ask questions and pay close attention to how they run their business and how they photograph weddings. Everyone has a system. How they shoot the wedding ceremony, portraits, reception, etc. Use this position to your advantage and build relationships within the wedding industry. The more you learn, the faster you will be on your way to becoming competition. Remember to save money for when you make your transition out on your own.
Once you have some weddings under your belt your confidence will lead you at the right time to separate and become that competition that you have been working for. When you do choose, it should be all or nothing. Either stay on as a second shooter or take the risk and become competition.
After you have taken the jump into the unknown and exciting world of being your own boss. Your confidence as a photographer has grown and you now possess an identity as a wedding photographer. You can now start your wedding photography business wherever and whenever.
Hopefully you have invested in your own digital camera, backup camera, lenses, computer, Photoshop, etc. Your investment needs to have insurance. You cannot afford to have it stolen or broken; otherwise all your hard work will be for nothing. Also you should have liability insurance to C.Y.A. You can get photographers insurance through PPA.
Before you place yourself as competition in the wedding photography market you should know your competition. They are your best models to help get started. Take notice of what they charge for packages and what they include with their services. Where and how do they advertise? What niche do they fill and where can you fit in as a new business.
To establish your business you need an address. You can choose a PO Box or another mailbox service such as Mail Boxes ETC. I prefer MBE because you can choose a mailbox with a real street address. Not to mention they have many other services. Next get a separate phone number for your business. To legitimately create your business you should either have a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a sole proprietorship. You can learn about this through an accountant or through websites like www.legalzoom.com.
With the rest of the money you saved you will have to determine how much is to be used for marketing and other expenses. Marketing is going to be the most essential thing for your business to get off the ground. Without marketing you don’t have a business. Your marketing essentials are: to have your identity, your portfolio, and your line of communication.
Through the image library that you have created, pick your best images to use for your portfolio, website and all promotional and marketing materials. Your portfolio can be made w/ inkjet prints that you put in an album of choice such as albums provided by Topflight, photoalbumshop.com, or you can choose to have one printed by Asuka albums, or other online print labs such as Snapfish or Shutterfly. Your image identity is now established, and will grow over time. However you now need your business identity. What will your promotional materials look like? What font will you use? What colors will be incorporated? Will you use a logo? It may be a good idea to find a graphic designer to help you out with this. Once you figure out your business identity and incorporate it with your promotional materials you should create and print them all at once to distribute them all year. Make sure you have the basics like your business cards, postcards, brochure, contract, 8x10’s and any other promotional materials you can think of. These materials can be ordered through gotprint.com and vistaprint.com.
After your promotional materials are finished and the portfolio is printed, you are ready to create your website. View other sites to get an idea of what style of site you want and how it will look. Search for someone else to create a website for you if you aren’t educated in web development but having a professional do this can get a bit pricy. Some great alternatives are to use Craig’s List or look into finding a student at a local college to do it. Make sure you work with your web developer in creating your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for the site. This is most important and is the best way to insure that you can create a web presence that is optimized for search engines. The template DIY websites don’t work well for SEO. SEO will concentrate on key wording, alt tags, one-way links, and proper site submissions.
You now have a business ready to start seeing some return. People are ready to see your business and it’s your job to reach out and find them. It is your job to know your market and tap it with your presence. I suggest that it is priority to get a creative ad on Craig’s List. Why not it’s free? Now that you have all of your promotional materials printed out, where are you going to distribute them? Research all local, state, or nationwide wedding industry businesses, and create a directory of them for your advertising. Create your promotional packets with cover letter, brochure, postcards, and a mini portfolio or something that shows your style in more depth. This is a lot of work and may take a while. Get help from friends, family or again posting an ad on Craig’s List for some temporary help. After you have mailed everything, follow up with phone calls to let them know who you are. This will help provide a personal connection to your materials and help start future relationships. Building relationships is very important and will help bring work your way through word of mouth. Another great way to build relationships and get your work out is to participate in any bridal shows that come to your area.
Knowing your business and what you offer to your clients and the industry is the most important thing. Just as it is important to know your self-identity as a person, so is it important to know your business identity. When the phone starts ringing people want to see confidence in you and your images. Just remember that images speak louder than words and that the cream always rises to the top.
Christian J Stanley
To see more of my wedding photography see my blog at Beautiful Wedding