Tips For a Wedding Photographer New to the Business


As a frequent forum browser, I have noticed that certain questions come up over and over with wedding photographers who are just starting out. I originally wrote this article for the benefit of a forum in which I am a participant, but was encouraged to disseminate it to a wider audience. I have done my absolute best to be even-handed and offer alternative views, and not all here necessarily represent my own opinion. Please feel free to let me know if you have any additions or modifications to suggest! So here goes Miami engagement photographer:

Table of Contents:
1. So my friend/relative is getting married, and they’ve asked me to shoot the wedding. Should I do it? What should I charge?
2. What sort of gear do I need? Is my gear good enough?
3. I’m ready to start a really-real grown-up photography business in the US. What do I need to do?
4. Now that I’m a real business, how much should I charge?
5. Do I offer a CD of printable images with my packages?
6. Should I shoot RAW or JPG?
7. Should I shoot primes or zooms?
8. How do I become a second shooter?
9. In what mode should I shoot?
10. Do I have to get permission to use someone’s music for my website?

Question 1: So my friend/relative is getting married, and they’ve asked me to shoot the wedding. Should I do it? What should I charge?

Answer 1: Shooting a wedding is a big responsibility. This isn’t the same as going out to shoot a portrait session, where if you mess up you can get a redo or simply offer a refund. These are some of the most important pictures most people will ever have taken, and you owe it to yourself and your potential client to be honest about your abilities. Weddings typically feature difficult and changing conditions, and require a high level of sustained quality throughout a long day. If you make a mistake, you may profoundly damage your relationship with these people.

A lot of responses to this question on this forum amount to “you are better off telling them to hire a real pro.”

Many here will argue that if you do shoot the wedding, taking money for your photography in this situation increases both the potential for misunderstanding and also your legal liability if something goes wrong. There is a big difference between someone who is a guest with a camera and a paid contractor. These individuals would argue that you are best off not taking any money.

Some will suggest that if you are confident enough to shoot the wedding, then you should be confident enough to charge an honest fee. The average American couple spends just under $2k for their wedding photography, although this varies a good bit by region. Many high-end wedding shooters charge significantly more than this and prices into five figures are not uncommon.

Some here will offer that they refuse to shoot weddings for friends and relatives regardless of their experience level, due to the potential for misunderstanding.

Some will suggest that you try to find a local experienced professional to tag along with to get some experience before you go out on your own. Be prepared that some photographers will view this as creating their own competition and not be enthused about helping out. Additionally, be aware that many of the more experienced photographers get multiple “second shooter” offers every week.

If you decide that you are still going to shoot, just about everyone here would counsel you to actively seek out conditions similar to those you will experience on the wedding day (IE go scout the church) and PRACTICE under those conditions. If you’ve never been forced to shoot f/1.4 ISO 3200 1/50th before without a flash, then the wedding day is not a good first time to learn.

If you are absolutely set on shooting, good luck and good light to you!

Question 2: What sort of gear do I need? Is my gear good enough?

Answer 2: We had a saying in the military: “two is one, one is none.” This means that if a given piece of gear is important enough that you would have a hard time shooting the wedding without it, then it needs to have backup. This means for starters that you need:
-Two Camera Bodies
-Two Flashes
-Enough redundancy in lenses that if you drop your 24-70 you’re not stuck on fisheye the rest of the day

There are many other items that you may need, but the above items represent the most expensive and important. If your camera shutter fails, if you drop a lens or flash, there’s no “sorry honey, I’ve gotta run to Bestbuy and buy a new piece of gear… could you hold off on that whole ‘walking down the aisle bit?'” Argue all you want that you’re a budget-oriented shooter with financial limitations: it probably won’t help you one bit in litigation.

Further, the general consensus is that you will need f/2.8 or faster lenses to do a good job in difficult lighting conditions. These fast lenses will allow you to use less (or no) flash in low light and ALSO improve the autofocus of your camera bodies in low light. Many will argue that at least one fast prime (IE 50mm f/1.8) is an inexpensive but crucial addition to your kit, especially if you are shooting a flash-restricted ceremony. If you have no idea what I’m talking about with regards to these f-stops, then you may be best off reconsidering your plan to shoot this wedding.

While many admirable photographers maintain that it would be possible to shoot a wedding on only a 35mm or 50mm prime lens, the vast majority of professionals at least have available (even if they are not using them) a combination of lenses that covers wide angle, standard, short and medium telephoto. This equates to about 24-200mm in full-frame land: adjust depending on the size of your sensor. A kit that covers that range will stand you in good stead for almost any wedding situation, although you may not need any given lens at any given event.

As far as your bodies themselves, what you have is almost certainly good enough to do an adequate job in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. I doubt many of the high-end pros on this forum would CHOOSE to shoot a wedding this weekend on Digital Rebels or D40x’s, but its totally doable if you know what you’re doing. That said, there are many image quality, usability, and reliability advantages of top-shelf gear.

You also need to start considering your data security plan for the images you create! A computer virus won’t be much of an excuse when explaining to a tearful bride about why you lost all of her images. Off-site backup offers additional protections against fire and theft.

Question 3: I’m ready to start a really-real grown-up photography business in the US. What do I need to do?

Answer 3: Business laws, codes, and regulations vary from state-to-state. However, in general you will need to get a business license and tax ID number. You may chose to incorporate in some way, or remain a sole proprietorship. Be aware that if you are hoping for the limitations of liability that are the primary benefits of incorporating, you must be prepared to fully segregate your business life and assets from the personal. The moment you start using business money for personal items, a savvy lawyer will find it and pierce that corporate veil to get at your assets if you are in litigation. For many small businesses, the level of segregation necessary may be difficult or impossible: speak to an attorney fluent in your local laws and regulations to determine whether incorporating is right for you.

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