“Five grand just for pictures?! My sister has a camera and she’ll do it for free!” I’ve heard some variation of this more than a few times throughout my wedding photography career. And I get it. I feel the same way about occupations I don’t understand. Like dentistry, for example. But here’s the thing: there’s a lot more that goes into running a wedding photography business than just snapping a few pictures on Saturday afternoon.
We here at J. La Plante Photo are all about transparency and understand the importance of educating our couples so that they can make informed decisions when planning their weddings. So what is it exactly you’re paying for when you hire a professional wedding photographer?
Read on to learn more…
There’s a widely touted theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to perfect a skill. Photography is no exception. So you spend four years at a university, learning everything you can about lighting, composition, dark room and digital workflow, and everything else photo-related. It’s an immersion program, so you not only have classroom hours, you also pull double-duty working in the industry, which teaches you how to function as a professional.
Contrary to popular belief held by 22-year-olds, there’s nobody standing in the auditorium on graduation day handing out jobs on a silver platter. You’re starting from square one. Nobody will hire you because you don’t have a real portfolio and you can’t build a real portfolio until someone will hire you. And you can’t get a different job because you don’t have any other marketable skills.
So what do you do? You start shooting weddings for friends and family for little to no money. You volunteer your time to “second shoot” for other professional wedding photographers in your area. You do anything and everything you can to create a body of work that’s worthy of gainful employment.
You’re drowning in student loans, so your camera sucks and you have virtually no lighting gear. So now you have to make some cash and upgrade your camera. A few months later, you make a little more cash and get a nice lens. A little more cash, a bunch of memory cards. More cash, a strobe light. More cash, another lens. And so on into infinity and beyond. Many wedding photographers carry $20,000 – $30,000 in equipment during a wedding shoot and believe me, it’s a long, long road to outfit yourself with that caliber setup.
Throughout this process, you’re spending every waking moment researching equipment to determine what’s best for you and reading instruction manuals to learn your new gear inside and out.
And don’t forget about insurance! Now that you have all this shiny new equipment, you need to purchase business property coverage, lest some wily wedding guest with sticky fingers slips away with your camera bag and, in turn, your livelihood.
Oh, and you also need a computer and decent photo editing software. Go ahead and throw in 10-or-so terabytes of external hard drive storage and/or a subscription to “the cloud” so that you won’t lose your life’s work (not to mention, all of your clients’ most cherished memories) in the event of a computer crash.
Almost forgot: your one pair of dress pants is wearing thin and jeans won’t cut it if you’re going to shoot weddings, so tack on a new wardrobe as well.
Okay. Now you’re ready to start your new business, right? Wait a minute. A business!?
There’s a lot of complicated sh*t you need to do before you can start charging real money. But you didn’t go to business school because your 18 year-old brain didn’t have the foresight to see this coming.
Not to worry. Meet your new best friend, Google. You’ll be spending thousands of hours with this friend in years to come. For starters, it’s going to teach you a lot about what goes into starting a small business.
Here are the SparkNotes:
You settle on a business name and register it with the state, set up a bank account for your new business, figure out how you’re going to take payment (people don’t have cash or checks these days), and procure state/county and city sales tax licenses (if you don’t want to find yourself in hot water with the IRS, that is), which is easier said than done because you’re going to be shooting weddings all over the damn place.
You also work out a system for bookkeeping (which potentially means purchasing more computer software), create a business email account and phone line (or at least change your voicemail greeting to something other than, “Sup? You know what to do.”), and set up an office with some sort of filing system, even if it’s just in the dusty corner of your parents’ basement. You know, right between the old Christmas decorations and the washing machine.
Next, you write up a contract.
But wait! You didn’t go to to law school either.
So you call up your new best friend, Google. I mean text. People don’t make phone calls anymore. Nonetheless, you spend countless hours reading legal jargon which, for a normal person, is about as comprehensible as Cyrillic.
Finally, you outfit yourself with a basic level of liability coverage so that if someone sues you, you won’t be washing dishes at Olive Garden for the rest of your life.
Okay, so now you’re ready to start shooting weddings professionally, right?
You don’t have any customers! Why is this, you ask? Because they don’t know you exist, that’s why.
Well, how the hell do I let them know I’m here?
Back to Google. Hours, days, weeks, months and years of research. It’s an ongoing battle because what works and what doesn’t work in the marketing world is constantly changing. Your fledgling business is a cruel mistress.
You start with your brand image, which at its most basic level, means you make a cool logo and print some business cards on which to display and distribute said logo.
Then you go ahead and figure out how to build a website (Google, Google, Google) or pay someone to do it for you.
So now you have this awesome new site displaying all of your best college work. Surely, the brides- and grooms-to-be in your area will begin beating down your door with stacks of cold hard cash. Right?
Wrong! The internet is a big place and nobody can find your website. Back to Google. Time to learn about search engine optimization (SEO). But that takes months to start working, right? Why, yes. Yes, it does. And it may well never start working.
So in the meantime, you start building your social media presence (this means Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). You also begin networking with other wedding professionals and trying your damnedest to charm their socks off so that they’ll risk their professional reputations to recommend a newbie with little to no real world photo experience. This is easier said than done because there are approximately 4,000 other aspiring photographers in a 50-mile radius doing the exact same thing.
So you use the money you don’t have to take out ad space and/or pay for a listing on a wedding website like The Knot or WeddingWire and/or reserve a booth at a bridal expo. But before you can exhibit at the show, you need to make prints to hang in your booth, which, by the way, you need to build, and also make a nice print portfolio containing your very best work.
And then, one day, you get a bite.
It’s a wedding next August. Are you available? Uh, yeah, you’re available. In fact, you’ve got literally nothing else going on.
You email back and forth a dozen times (this goes on for weeks because, let’s face it, not everyone is as
desperate prompt, as you) answering questions and trying to set up a face-to-face meeting. Finally, you’re able to nail down a day and time and you meet your prospective clients at a local coffee shop. You’ve done your due diligence and your natural talent shines through in your portfolio, so after much deliberation, the jury returns a favorable verdict: they want to hire you for their wedding!
Whew! Smooth sailing from here on out, right?
Sure, if you’d categorize the premise of the movie White Squall as “smooth sailing.”
Looking for unique and interesting wedding photography for your own wedding (or know someone who is)?
Tired of wading through a million photographers whose images all look the same?
Book your wedding date now!