Starting a Career as a Wedding Photographer

It’s the bread-and-butter for most professional photographers, the one job that’s always in plentiful supply and for which clients (rarely) quibble over the price — which is usually pretty high. Wedding photography isn’t just an important way of making a living as a photographer, it’s also an important way of becoming a professional photographer.

Unfortunately, it’s not an easy profession to get into.

For many photographers in fact, the first wedding often comes about by accident when a friend wants a low-cost marriage and asks them to bring their Nikon. Word spreads, offers flow in and the photographer soon has a new niche. Jeff Campbell, for example, recalled his first gig this way:

About a year ago, I took pictures of a friend’s wedding just because (1) I had my point-and-shoot camera and (2) she didn’t pay for a photographer. I couldn’t let the wedding take place without pictures to document it. She and her husband liked the pictures I took so much it gave me the motivation to get some equipment together and start photographing weddings professionally.

Carrie Moore, who turned professional just two years ago, has a similar story. She took the most of an opportunity and word spread fast enough to land her nine wedding gigs in less than 24 months.

Want to be a Wedding Photographer? Match up your Friends
That might suggest that the best way to become a wedding photographer is to know lots of single people and persuade them to marry each other. Inevitably some will want to save money, giving you the opportunity you need. You could then follow up by marketing with a website and Flickr, handing out business cards and samples, and placing ads on bulletin boards.

But there is an alternative route.

Regina Jones, a photography student who has just finished a course on wedding photography, recalls her teacher telling her that a wedding photographer must have the right equipment: a good camera; a good camera flash; lots of memory cards; and a back-up photographer for at least the first job.

That sounds like an opportunity. If you’re looking to get your feet wet and don’t want to play Cupid for your low-budget friends, you could try getting in touch with other photographers and offering yourself as a stand-in. Initially, you might have to do it for free — or at least for very little — but you’d also get the chance build a portfolio and build up your confidence.

Earn $5,500 for an Evening’s Work
You’d need that confidence when it comes to giving a quote. Regina’s teacher advised her to offer three levels of service with the cheapest starting at $3,500 and the highest reaching $5,500:

[S]hooting the engagement pic and then wedding pics and then the reception and then Photoshopping the pictures takes too much time to shoot a wedding any cheaper

she says and she might be right. Wedding photography usually means focusing on a bride who might be closer to a pile of tears than her photogenic best. It means reaching the location long before anyone else to make sure you get the still lifes and the shots of people arriving. It means being unobtrusive while still getting the close-up of the kiss, the rings and the vows. It means making commitments a year in advance. And it means constantly learning so that you get better and better and can charge more and more.

As Carrie Moore advises:

The best thing you can do is be prepared. Read, learn, pack and repack, and practice.

Get it right though and you should find that you’re getting paid for that practice too.

Learn how to deal with an unco-operative bride here and discover a new way of taking wedding photos here.

And tell us about your first wedding job by adding a comment. How did you get into wedding photography?

Sample wedding photos of rings and vows by DHB Photography.

[tags] wedding photography, wedding photographer [/tags]

22 comments for this post.

  1. Said:

    If you have the talent and a good personality, nothing beats a profession as a wedding photographer, the money's great, entertainment great and the food is free!

  2. Brandon Said:

    I was asked to do the wedding photography by a friend and it scared me to death. I have always been a video guy (and even have the professional equipment), but they wanted photographs and they didn't want to hire a professional, and they had seen some of point and shoot triumphs.

    After really considering turning the offer down, I decided I would take the job only if they promised not to pay me (good business model, I know). That way, they would know what kind of experience they were "paying" for and I would be more at ease knowing that they knew how I felt about it.

    I borrowed a friends DSLR (original Rebel) with a kit lens, another friend's flash, and purchased a lightsphere.

    The wedding went great (thanks to my wonderful wife as the assistant) and the couple decided to pay me $800 as a thank you. Now that money is sitting in savings waiting for me to get back to the states (currently doing mission work) so I can buy my own DSLR.

    We'll see where it goes from there.

    (Sorry for the long can see some of my point and shoot triumphs on my flickr page.)

  3. Pardeep Singh Said:

    I shot my first wedding 4 years ago, where some friends paid for the film and processing. A friend of mine agreed to assist me. The results were OK, and I learned a lot. After that I met a photographer at my cousin's wedding and he saw me shooting some pictures with my SLR and later asked me if I'd like to assist him. Since then I still shoot weddings with/for him, and I've been shooting on my own for the last 3 years too. Great thing is that I'm still learning from each wedding.

  4. scott Said:

    i've been doing photography as a hobby for years and friends kept asking me to shoot their weddings. I kept saying no. What did I know? And who wants all that heavy responsibility? Then I had this friend at work who just wouldn't hear the word "no." So There I was on my first wedding job.

    By this point in my career I had a decent digital SLR, two fast lenses, extra batteries and an external flash. The results were pretty darned good for a first try.

    Then I got hooked up with a friend of a friend who was getting married. Even better results. I was really learning some stuff.

    Two weddings after that and I doubled my rate, got some business cards and put up a web site.

    I turned a hobby into a burgeoning and lucrative part-time job!

  5. Opie Said:

    I started my own wedding photography business 8 months ago by e-mailing local photographers and asking for an internship. Some friends of mine were getting married and hired me to shoot their July wedding. I didn't even own a camera! Now thats a lot of faith. I quickly purchased some equipment with some tax return money and then put up a website. I advertising on craigslist and my website that I'll be offering 3 free weddings. The response was big and I had those weddings booked within 1 week. Now I've registered my photography business "OpieFoto LLC" and I haven't even hit my 1 year mark.

  6. Dunbone Said:

    My fiancee and I were asked to do a friend's wedding in August 2007. We were kind of excited to do it but knew it would be a lot of work and they were willing to pay us $500 (that included our cost to print 200 prints and album materials). To make a long story short we have another wedding lined for a friend of a friend in March 2008... And apparently those that seen our work for the first job are spreading the word. I figure that for the next wedding we'll charge $650.

  7. Michael Monzon Said:

    Weddings are stressfull but nothing is more satisfying than when a client sends you a gift for the fine work you have done.

  8. Josh Hunt Said:

    I just got my first wedding. What ideas do you have for turning the first one into he second one-other than doing a good job?

  9. martinez1522 Said:

    Weddings are great but when you do all that work to impress you customer and they don't want to pay, that kinda makes you think it over.

  10. Paulo Sacramento Said:

    I've got into wedding photographing recently. It's been great! You guys can check out my work at

  11. jamie Said:

    The problem with wedding photography is if it isn't "perfect" for their "perfect" day, you will be slammed to everyone that will listen for the next 30 years! If you want to make a living as a photographer, you need to be hired by someone that WANTS you desparatly. Their is one industry that is in dire need of photographers and they pay great. If you would like free step by step instructions of what you need to do to tap into this and make a decent living, please check out my article...

  12. Wendy Said:

    My husband and I had such an amazing time shooting our first wedding, we decided to take it on full time. We jumped in and have never looked back! Just like in any job, passion and drive can take you far!

    Check out our destination wedding photography website:

  13. Brenda Said:

    I shot my first wedding when a graduate from my college emailed my photo teacher, asking if there were any students who might want to cover her upcoming nuptials. I promptly spent the summer "shadowing" some professionals in my area (had zero experience before), then did the gig for free. I loved it and can't wait to do it again. It's strange, but the first one seems to fall into your lap... it's attempting to book the second one that really requires some leg work.

  14. Richard Said:

    The first wedding I shot was a friend's wedding. This led to shooting many other weddings for friends and family. A few years ago, I turned pro with my wife as the second shooter. Its hard work and very time-consuming with the post-processing, album design etc., but we enjoy it. Get lots of practice before charging anyone for photographing their wedding. You only get one shot and you have to get it right.

    Here's our website in case you're interested in checking out our work.

  15. briana Said:

    i have a question! im doing a project on wedding photography and i was wondering if you could tell me everything i need to know and maybe some tips because its actually kind of hard to find reliable info on the subject and i have to make a 5 minute speech! so i need lots and lots of info! please help.

  16. Shannon Said:

    After deciding I wanted to become a wedding photography professional, I talked to my uncle (who has done some weddings) and he suggested shooting the first few for free. So after spending a few months doing research, practicing in low light, and interviewing anyone I could find who has shot a wedding before, I advertised on Craig's List and got my first booking in 3 weeks. I had almost exactly one week from when I accepted the job to when I shot the wedding. That forced me to make a few mistakes right there. Here's what I learned.

    Lesson #1: Make sure you have enough time to prepare properly before shooting the wedding. Go to the location to know where it is. Talk to the officiant beforehand. Attend the rehearsal. Take notes on lighting and necessary settings for the location. Make note of the kind of light you'll be shooting in, and what the white balance you'll need is.

    Lesson #2: Have and use a good contract even if you are working for free.

    Lesson #3: Make sure you have backup equipment for everything - camera, lenses, flashes - and don't forget to bring it! Rent it if you must.

    Lesson #4: Two sets of batteries isn't enough for the flash.

    Lesson #5: If you don't have double the "digital film" you think you'll need, you don't have enough.

    Lesson #6: Know where everyone is going, and get there before they do.

    Lesson #7: The +1 exposure compensation you used to shoot the ceremony without flash doesn't work when you walk outside afterward to shoot the formals.

    Lesson #8: Check your camera settings regularly. They mysteriously get changed sometimes.

    Lesson #9: You can't eat/talk/offload the camera and be shooting the wedding/reception too. Top priority is shooting, and nothing else. Unless the bride (read: the boss) decides otherwise.

    Lesson #10: If one shot is good, three is better and five is better still. Especially for group shots.

    Lesson #11: Mastering exposure compensation for your camera and your flash is critically important. Candles look a lot more clandle-y at around -1 1/3rd without a flash, and wedding dresses look a lot wedding dressier at about +2/3rds flash exposure compensation, if you use matrix metering and a good light spreader.

    Lesson #12: Don't be afraid to shoot at high ISOs if your lenses aren't fast enough.

    Lesson #13: Don't try to shoot everything with a flash.

    Lesson #14: Bring a second set of clothes, just in case someone's baby pukes on you, or worse. Food spills are another reason to have a change of clothes handy.

    Lesson #15: Shooting indoors doesn't mean you should ignore the "magic hour" at dusk.

    Lesson #16: Dress professionally, act professionally, be polite, courteous and respectful and display the confidence of your mastery of your subject, and people will be 50% of the way to thinking you're a seasoned pro. You'll also speak well of your worth as a professional, and other professional photographers too.

    Lesson #17: Not all batteries drain at the same rate. Rechargeables degrade over time.

    Lesson #18: Be honest with the couple about your level of experience. They'll probably be very helpful to you for getting the shots if you do.

    Lesson #19: Don't just have a shot list... discuss what is wanted, and memorize it before the wedding. You won't have time to be looking it over and checking off what's been shot and what hasn't when things are in motion.

    Lesson #20: The reception is a good time to give out business cards to anyone who comments on how good a job you are doing with the photography.

    Lesson #21: The bride is the boss. The bride is who you are working for. The bride is who you have to make priority #1, even if she is not who is paying for the wedding.

    I made some mistakes, had Murphy demonstrate his law, and had a great time. I agree about the pricing suggestions... editing hundreds or thousands of images takes a LOT of time. But... can't wait to do it again!

  17. Memphis Wedding Photographer Said:

    Great article!! I agree that having a second shooter on your first couple weddings is a great idea. That is how I started. It takes some of the pressure off until you get more comfortable.


  18. Gord Evans Said:

    We find that a Wedding Photographer has to be prepared to "herd some cats" every once in a while. Although the bride wants in have family shots included with their final product, very few times have all the family members been that excited. We have had to Photoshop a Brides Sister into the photos because they left before the formal photos. Once we had to delay the photos because the Best man left right after the wedding to run some errands-pick up some camping supplies for a trip that he was going on. To my shock, he was surprised that we needed him for the photos. Herding cats! We now inform the bride who is required a each stage of our shots and surprizingly it has work so far. We also started a upcharge for Photoshoping in family members, that has had some effect as well.


  19. Obi Said:

    Mine own story is a little bit different.

    I took photos with my 400D at a friends wedding as a guest, and put them up on facebook. Loads of comments were made, the groom requested some of my images for inclusion in his wedding album. The next wedding I shot after that was my first ever, and I was paid for it. After that there's been no looking back.

    Then again, I wasn't entirely a photography novice. I had experience shooting models, and also, a good collection of wedding photography books.


  20. NJ Wedding Photographer Said:

    We start off doing portraits during photographers meet-up event. Some people like our portrait work and refer us to some brides for wedding photography service. Recently finished building the website, so we'll see from there.
    nj wedding photographer

  21. Orange County Wedding Photographer Said:

    My studio has pricing similar to the article above - $3500 for starting price on weddings. We shoot about 30 weddings a year, and then do some family and baby portraits as well. The work is much more time consuming and difficult than many people think. As always, if you love your work it doesnt feel like working.

  22. wedding photographer honolulu Said:

    Thanks for the pictures! I think that it is a great idea for anyone who has a passion for taking pictures and knows what they are doing, that they are going to have a blast with your job. Just make sure you get your name out there. that is the biggest thing that you need to do.

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