The wedding photography business is one of the biggest segments of photography. As a wedding photographer, you have the important job of capturing the moments and memories of what may be the most important day of the life of a couple: their wedding day! Whether the wedding is simple or posh; or held in a church or in a beach, there is a demand for wedding photographers to record, produce and preserve images of this special event.
Wedding photography is a lucrative business segment for photographers. Here are some steps to consider when starting a wedding photography business.
Skills Needed to Start a Wedding Photography Business
You do not need a college degree to start a wedding photography business. But you need excellent technical skills, particularly in portraiture. You need to have a solid understanding of photography with a good eye for composition and creativity. You need to know lighting, both for indoors and outdoor location shootings. You need to learn a broad range of poses and know what types of settings would work best. You also need to understand the wedding ceremony enough to capture the important moments.
You also need to have vision and the ability to translate what the couple wants the image to look like into fruition. Remember, many couples may not be totally clear on what they want, but you need to be able to take the little information that they give you and come up with the vision for the shoot. You need to be familiar with possible venues in the area to find the right setting that will create the mood and imagery for the photos your clients want.
Wedding photography, however, is not all about your photography skills. A big part of this business depends on your people skills. You need to be personable, and yes, even have charisma. Not only should you exude creativity and talent, but people need to like you and want to work with you. You need to know how to bring out the best in people.
There are a lot of skilled photographers out there, but the wedding photographer that the client will choose is one who they are comfortable working with. This is the photographer they know will be able to capture their most beautiful moments on film.
They need to be able to laugh and feel relaxed with you. They need to bond with you and make them feel that they can trust you to come up with the best images possible for their wedding.
You also need to be able to communicate well. You need to listen to what the clients want — the type of images they want the photos to convey, preferences for the shots and settings they want to use. Then you need to be able to present your professional opinions and convince the clients of what you think will work given the location, setting, time and other variables during the wedding. You need to be an expert in negotiations, especially if you are dealing with nervous brides who want their wedding to be “perfect,” which often translates to “do what I want you to do.” If you have to, you need to learn how to say “No” especially if you think that what the clients want will not work at all.
As a wedding photographer, you also need to have solid organizational skills. You need to be detail-oriented to ensure that you do not miss any possible opportunity for great shots. You also need to be adaptable, especially during the wedding day itself when a lot of things could go wrong from bad weather to family dramas. Be sure to have contingency plans such as during inclement weather when the outdoor wedding will have to be moved indoors.
Setup Your Wedding Photography Business
Decide on the best legal structure for your business. You can structure your business as a sole proprietor, an LLC or a corporation. Talk with a lawyer to get advice on the best legal structure for your business. If you are starting as a sole proprietorship, check your local county for the requirements. If you are incorporating your business, go to your Secretary of State’s website to get the forms and other application requirements that you need.
If you are starting a business with partners, it is important that everyone is clear about their responsibilities, and what they need to bring to the business. Make sure that you have a solid partnership agreement, which will define how the business is owned and operated. You also need to have a “buy-sell agreement” to address situations when one business partner leaves or dies.
Think of a business name. You can use your own name, like many photographers out there, or you can choose a name that will best represent your vision, style and what you stand for. If you will use a business name other than your legal name, you may be required to file a Fictitious Trade Name application with your county or city.
Most states do not require a license to become a photographer and operate a wedding photography business. However, check with your city or county the specific requirements for starting a business. Some states will have more stringent requirements than other states. In California, for example, every business is required to apply for a general business license — even for home-based businesses (some cities call it business license while other areas in the state call it California business tax certificate).
Read the article Most Common Questions Asked When Starting a Business to give you ideas on what you need to properly setup your business.
Decide on your Wedding Photography Equipment
You will find that some wedding photographers use photography equipment and kits worth tens of thousands in dollars. However, it is possible to succeed in this business without spending a fortune in your start-up gear. Start with prime lenses of 50mm f1.8 lens. If you have extra capital, splurge with a 1.4 or 1.2. An 85mm lens is also a suitable equipment for its ideal portrait focal length. Consider a wide angle lens for scenes in the church and the group shots.
To help you decide the equipment you need, consider the types of photos you want to do and the photos that you are expected to take. With wedding photography, you don’t have the luxury of time for a sit-down portraiture in terms of preparing your gear. With weddings, you blink and the great photo opportunity can be gone. You need to be quick with your gear (unless you have an assistant who can help you switch lenses or cameras quickly).
Journalistic types of wedding photography entail a reportage style where you take candid pictures of what’s happening in a wedding. You need to be fast in order to capture the moments you want — this means you don’t have the luxury of time to replace lenses lest the photo opportunity passes you by. This also means that your camera needs to have at least a mid-range zoom (even longer) so you can take photos without being too intrusive and up-close to the subject.
As you grow your business, you can invest in more equipment and purchase more expensive cameras, lenses, and other gear.
Be sure to have backup cameras and lenses in your bag. If your main equipment fails, having a backup will allow you to continue working and taking pictures. The last thing you’d want is to face an irate wedding party because you will not be able to take pictures due to your equipment malfunction. Also, make sure to bring spare batteries and pre-formatted and working memory cards. Charge your camera, flash and other gear the night before to make sure that they are all in good working condition.
Get Insurance for Your Wedding Photography Business
When you start a wedding photography business, it is a must to get insurance. You can get sued if the flower girl trips over your camera bag and bashes her head on the floor. Or you could have an accident on your way to the wedding and unable to take photos. Imagine what will happen when a guest drops your bag from the table and your lenses get broken. A lot of things could happen, and it is important to protect yourself and your business.
Consider getting the following types of insurance:
- Liability insurance = helps protect you when a client or a wedding attendee is injured in the course of your work (e.g. tripped on your tripod and fell hard); or there is damage or accident in the property you are shooting and you get sued.
- Malpractice insurance = sometimes things go wrong and you are unable to deliver your commitments and you get sued — e.g. equipment malfunction, destroyed film or files, or your car breaks down on your way to the wedding.
- Equipment insurance = this type of insurance will help protect your business from loss or damage to your equipment due to fire, theft or breakage
Some venues even require that you have liability insurance before you can shoot on their property. If you wish to become a member of the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) or other associations, they will also require some insurance (e.g. PPA requires malpractice insurance, or you can purchase their Indemnification Trust insurance).
Protect Your Business Legally
One critical must-have of your wedding photography business is the wedding photography agreement or contract. You must put everything in writing.
The contract will help clarify expectations between you and your client, specifies the process of how you do business, and most of all, protect you from potential liability.
There are many things that could go wrong when dealing with weddings, and clients will constantly push your boundaries. You need to clarify from the very start how you do things while taking into consideration their needs and circumstances. A contract shows your professionalism while helping you save a lot of grief.
Your contract also needs to specify provisions for the following:
- All fees involved, including deposit or booking fee (to protect yourself from date changes, consider charging a non-refundable “save the date” booking fee).
- Specify that creative control lies with you – and you decide on the photos that will be handed to the client. You will find clients insisting that all images be handed to them. The contract needs to state the agreed number of images based on the package purchased, and that you will select the photos that will be provided to them.
- State who will own the copyrights, especially with regards to resale of images and commercial use of the images by a third party
- In the event you need to sue for non-payment, clearly specify the items that you will include to recover: balance of the contract payment, attorney fees, and collection costs. In some contracts, you may find that you can only collect the balance of the contract fee, but not the attorney fees and collection costs.
- Model release, or clause on whether you can use the wedding images for the advertisement of your business. Some clients may be ok to use their images for your portfolio and marketing assets, while some may not wish for their wedding photos to be released and used to promote your business. Also, state that you will make the decision as to which photos will be made public or used in your portfolio, website or advertising (yes, some couples will insist that they make that decision for you).
- Allow you and your team get to chance to eat. You don’t have to eat at a table with the guests (at the back where the caterer is preparing the food is fine), but food should be provided for you.
- Provisions on how to deal with “unofficial” photographers such as guests and other family members.
- Clarify what you will — and will not refund. For example, state in the reimbursement clause that you will refund all deposits made, but will not accept liability for financial losses due to reception hall costs, limo rental, tux rental, and other things.
The contract will also specify any guarantees on your services and photographs, and what kind of guarantee comes with your hiring. It should also specify your payment policy and scope of the work.
Be sure to have your contract reviewed by an attorney in your state. You need to make sure that your clauses are legal, fair to both you and your clients and most of all, applicable in your state. You may find that using the word “deposit” makes it legally refundable in your state if the wedding is called off, but your state may allow “retainer” to be non-refundable.
Take time to discuss with your clients the provisions in your contract. A friendly discussion on what copyrights is and what they can do — and cannot do. Doing so can help make the process more smooth sailing for everyone.
Wedding photography is not just about your love and passion for creating and capturing beautiful imagery. It is a business. You need to find that balance of pursuing your passions and artistic fire, with the savviness and know-how of running a business.
Recommended Books on How to Start a Wedding Photography Business:
- Start a Successful Photography Business in 34 Days: Actionable steps to plan a portrait or wedding photography business, develop a brand, launch a website, write a marketing plan & more.
- Profitable Wedding Photography
- Photography Business Secrets: The Savvy Photographer’s Guide to Sales, Marketing, and More
- Wedding Photography: Building a Profitable Pricing Strategy (Professional Photography Series)
- The Successful Wedding Photographer