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We spoke to a handful of wedding photographers across North America to find out what they recommend for helping a wedding photography business stay on track and compete effectively in the marketplace. All of them gave us great input and here are some of the most commonly mentioned tips.
Working and playing nice with others is the key to getting more work as a wedding photographer. This not only begins with your clients, it extends to others in the wedding-production business. Caterers, florists, venue managers, musicians, and more are involved in the wedding production. Photographers need to realize that they are just one component of the support staff that complements the wedding experience. Flagstaff, Arizona’s Jamelle Kelley shares this: “Be a team player. There are many talented vendors who participate on a wedding day. Other vendors can be your best source of referrals for future gigs.” Adding to this sentiment, Lori Waltenbury, from Ontario, Canada, recommends that photographers abandon their ego. “It will get you nowhere. Work together with other vendors and you will quickly realize the power of word of mouth,” she says.
Nicki Hufford, based in Warren, Ohio, encourages photographers to see other sides of the wedding business by engaging in the wedding planner role. Portsmouth, New Hampshire photographer Eric McCallister, states, “Network, network, network! Get to know other wedding vendors and venue managers. These folks can be your greatest ally on the wedding day, as well as a source of referrals. And definitely network with other photographers. They can also be a great source for referral leads, but they can offer so much more, including creative stimulus, business advice, and a back-up plan for the dreaded ‘hit by a bus’ scenario. I've filled in for other photographers who were unable to shoot a wedding due to unforeseen circumstances, and while it's not happened to me, I have every confidence that these folks—and others—would do the same for me.”
Not only a great tip for wedding shooters, but a good life lesson, comes from New-York-City-based Andre Reichmann: “Learning people’s names. Calling people by their names automatically builds a personal relationship. As a wedding photographer, this is vital because you need to make your subject look natural and feel as comfortable as possible. Cracking a few friendly jokes goes a long way, too.”
My father, a retired insurance broker, used to say, “You can never have too much insurance.” That is sound advice for all photographers, but especially for the working wedding photographer. San Diego photographer Sarah Williams says, “Insure your gear. It’s only like $800 a year and will save you in case anything happens. Never, ever leave it in your car.”
Not only should you have insurance for your photography gear, but many wedding pros endorse having liability insurance as well, as you never know what might happen while working a wedding. “Depending on how your business is structured, you could be personally liable for any injury or perceived malpractice caused by your actions or lack thereof. A light stand falls and hits Grandmom. You missed that one most important shot that you never knew about and now you're being sued. Be sure that you are covered!” says Eric McCallister.
If you spend enough time on photography blog/news sites, you have undoubtedly read horror stories about post-nuptial lawsuits aimed at wedding photographers. In general, weddings bring out the best in people, but sometimes the opposite happens. Again, from Eric McCallister, “Have a tight, attorney-approved contract. Nobody ever wants to have to invoke a clause in their contract, or face a situation where they hope it covers their butt, but if you photograph weddings long enough, you will. And don't ever change your contract without your attorney's input. You don't want to accidentally give away your personal and business protections by changing your contract when asked by a potential client in order to book the date.”
When you enter a freelance business, especially one involving services, one immediate challenge is answering the question, “How much do I charge?” Photographers entering the business will not have a portfolio built up and need to price competitively while trying to gain market share. New York City pro Tom Baldassare gives us this tip: “Charge enough to cover your costs and put money back in your pocket. DON’T UNDERSELL!”
Waltenbury adds, “Don’t strive to be the cheapest—you’ll devalue your brand and it’ll be hard to progress past that reputation when you’re ready to make photography a full-time career.”
Many wedding pros will tell you that they see others fail when they forget that the business of wedding photography is more than the art of wedding photography; it is a business. Ryan Brenizer, shooting in New York City, says, “As soon as you start taking money, you are a business, so learn to run one or hire people who know how. In particular, get a good small business accountant and/or bookkeeper as soon as possible.”