i’ll just shoot some weddings

I wish it were that easy.

Obviously, the newspaper and magazine world is in flux.  Photographers are ducking for cover and holding onto staff positions when they can and others frantically preparing exit plans when they finally pull the eject lever.  Some have that lever pulled for them and are left floating through the air with a “What now?” look on their face.

“I’ll just shoot some weddings.”  Sounds easy enough, right?

Nope.

Look, I’m the first to admit that leaving my newspaper job was a tough decision, but it is something I never, ever question anymore.  That’s a refreshing feeling even when the toughest times hit.  Weddings have certainly aided my ability to survive and succeed, but I never chose them.  They kind of chose me.  I would get asked from time to time from relatives and friends to shoot their wedding, even those if you had asked me that question ten years back, I would have laughed.  I’m a photojournalist, ok?  Not so much anymore.  I’m a whateveryouneedalist.

Then there’s that stigma.  That stigma for editorial shooters that shoot weddings on the side.  We all hide it.  I don’t anymore.  In fact, I flaunt it.  This post is exhibit A.  I’m not posting it on my wedding blog, but on a blog I’m using to market to editors, art buyers, commercial/ad clients, or whomever comes along.  I could care less if an editor sees it now, but everything I’ve been fed is to keep my wedding work distinctly separate from my photojournalism even though you can see my vision through both.  I’ve had editors giggle when I have turned down a shoot for a wedding before to a point where I felt bad for making 20x what I would have made on their shoot.  That’s just wrong and laughable.  I think by taking my career into my own hands and going freelance it gave me strength and the need to where I don’t feel bad for asking for higher day rates, in fact it’s just the opposite.  It’s about versatility and being able to survive in this ridiculous field we all find ourselves in.  For more great reading, go check out Deb Pang Davis‘s blog about this very thing.  Here.

That being said, I keep my brands apart, but link heavily between my two sites.  My Eleven Weddings Photography site (available for your wedding worldwide!) links back to my photojournalism work and vice versa.  I’ve adapted a plan that caters to each market, but is honest to both my editorial and weddings clients as to who I am.  In fact, I think it’s an amazing marketing position at least from the wedding photography side.  Brides love to know they have an actual photojournalist shooting their wedding.  They rattle off my clients better than I can when they introduce me around.  “This is Chip, he shoots for the X Blank Rhymes with Mimes.” Grooms love to hear about shooting Super Bowls and such.  It’s a win-win.

Going the other way is a bit tougher.  There are editors and people who want to hire you that may not dig it for one reason or the other.  It’s not so much as they don’t like you, they just see it as a lesser art.  Whatever that means.  I don’t agree with that sentiment.  In fact, I strive every time I shoot a wedding to make it better than the last to just show what can be done by photojournalists in the wedding field.  It’s essentially storytelling/documentary photography cramped into one long twelve hour day.  I think the right editors understand that and appreciate it.  In fact, I’ve booked weddings through being honest with newspaper/magazine editors and happily putting what I do out there.

We all wanted at one point to travel and being the free spirit, wandering photojournalist.  That never materialized.  I find it funny that I get to travel more for weddings than I did as a newspaper photojournalist.  This year has a nice little world tour on tap and I can’t wait to be making images – whether it is at the wedding or staying a little longer and making pictures for myself and my editorial/travel clients.  There’s a great post by Justin Mott over on his awesome blog. He is honest about where we are at and what we do, but nestled in the rants is great advice you just can’t get anywhere else.  “My Niche is Versitility” post (here) is a great read on the subject of the mix of balancing weddings/editorial.

Back to you.  So, you are considering shooting weddings and see it as an easy out.  It’s not.  There are a few things to consider.

  • You are peeing where they sleep. You know those reader-submitted photos you always hated and contributed to your paper thinking they can axe your job?  Or do you know that local shooter who always undercuts you and shoots on the cheap, making you lose a client?  Well, I’m not saying you are now that person, but you could easily become him/her by coming into a market that isn’t yours and trying to just scoop up their potential weddings.  Enemies will be made either way, but you need to make enemies the good way by charging for what you’re worth, what is fair in the market you are at, and booking weddings based on talent rather than price.
  • Be yourself. There is essentially an instruction booklet out there of how to get into shooting weddings, and it can be really boring to read.  Just be yourself, shoot how you shoot for an editorial shoot and set yourself apart.  The pictures are obviously job number one, but understand that you will be spending more time with the bride than the groom does on the wedding day.  You have to be good people, dress accordingly, act accordingly, but be yourself.  Relax, schmooze, accept a drink when they want you to.  Dance if you have to.
  • Invest in gear that makes the job easier, not harder. You don’t need 10fps to shoot a wedding.  You need big files that don’t need a bunch of toning to proof.  You need comfortable, reliable gear you know backwards and forwards.  Running from outside a church at ISO 200 into the inside at ISO 3200 is jarring at best and you need to be able to do so seamlessly.
  • Workflow is key to making money/saving time. Lightroom or Aperture is now your best friend.  Trust me.  Photoshelter.  ShootQ. Rinse and repeat.
  • Establish a style – don’t mimic it. There’s a huge pool of images out there and you’ll notice trends and want to copy them.  The over-toned, Kodachrome, 70’s throwback toning on photos shot at f/1.4 is huge now.  Don’t get sucked in.  Just do what you do and set yourself apart from the masses.
  • Seek outside help. One thing I’ve learned is that other photographers are really open to helping you or really despise helping you.  Befriend and appreciate the ones that help and offer advice.  Don’t be afraid to pimp their sites and promote their work.  In the end, referrals from other photographers can be one of your main source of new leads.  I owe so much to wonderful people like Ben Chrisman and Michael Connor in building this little side business/turned actual business.  Don’t email them telling I sent you.  Just find peers that you know and plead for mercy.
  • Speaking of leads, how? Well, there is not one-trick pony.  It’s a lot of everything.  Networking, advertising, shows, Facebook, blogs, contests, etc. all can help, but the proverbial Word-of-Mouth is king.  There are ways to poke the flames, but that’s for you to figure out.  Be an upright person, attract upright clients, and everything will be alright.
  • Start saving money. You get paid now and 6-9 months from now.  It is now time to figure out what to do in between.
  • Build your portfolio. First, you need a portfolio.  I know that just doesn’t fall in your lap if you’ve shot one wedding and want to do more.  Find friends, family, assist, second shoot.  Do all it takes beyond getting in over your head and booking a huge wedding you arrive at and instantly are overwhelmed by.  Ease yourself into it.  Every wedding you shoot becomes that much more fun, and fun equals good photography.  Stress equals crappy photography.
  • Understand and respect the importance of what you do. This might be the most important.  I don’t think most new wedding photographers really understand this enough.  It’s not a one-hit, quick editorial gig you can reshoot.  This is the most important day in a bride’s (and perhaps the groom’s) life.  She’s been planning it for 20+ years.  She’ll be paying for a lot of it herself.  Every decision is sweated over for months on end.  When she (or he) finally pick you to be the photographer, realize that you have the task of making her day look perfect – even if it wasn’t.  No one is going to eat the cake in 30 years.  They will have your photos.  They need to be strong.  They need to be what they want.  Don’t give up your vision, but understand that people in the frames are not just compositional elements.  They are moms, grandmothers, friends, and people that may be your future clients and pay your bills.  You mess it up, you don’t want to know what happens.
  • Have fun.  After all, they’re just little rectangles, right?

16 thoughts

  1. Thank you for the shout out. Nice surprise while reading your post in a parking lot waiting to have lunch with another photojournalist/wedding photographer Paul Morse. You should have given me a heads-up so I could tell our network servers to expect to get crushed! 😉

    Glad to see you are doing so well and happy if I even had the tiniest of parts in it.

  2. Thanks for the mention Chip 🙂

    And, good on ya for being you. Confidence is HOT! Cross promotion is super smart and really, as a solopreneur working with people who are attracted to you and love your work is cupcake (make mine red velvet).

    There’s a great book called the E-myth Revisited and it talks alot about systems (a.k.a. workflow) and how a smooth system as much as any other part of your business is your brand. One of my dearest friends (an editorial and fine art photographer) has a system down where she can fulfill stock requests in minutes rather than hours. (Hello, Photoshelter and D-65). Shoot Q. I wish there was a version for designers!

    Leads: Check out The Referral Engine. Awesome book.

    And this is a great review of Chris Guillebeau’s book, The Art of Non Conformity. The part about “achieving security” really struck a chord with me.

  3. I love your wedding images. Last year when I got married I SO wished I could have afforded to fly you out to Senegal to shoot it…and that was before you went freelance and purely based on the fact that I adore your editorial style so much…..great post!

  4. Dude, so well said! I am working on re-inventing myself as a photog in some ways this year. I hear this and that, read this and that, but it always seems when I have a decision to make or am wondering which way to turn you come up with a great post like it was meant for me. I have been freelance for almost 9 years now. Shooting weddings saved me from losing it all but I need to make it better. Ok, I need to shut up now. Thanks man! BTW, Good to see props to Ben. He just plain Kicks Ass as a wedding photog.

  5. Hi Chip, I was a newspaper photojournalist for 12 years and I’m now a full-time wedding photographer and I love it. Your column hit a lot of my thoughts right on the head. Like you said, there’s always been a stigma about wedding photography by photojournalists, but I think that’s starting to fade (I always said I’d never shoot weddings!) A lot of the photojournalist I’m friends with now shoot weddings on the side. Great post!

  6. Thanks so much for writing this post. I’m a photojournalist and, in certain circumstances, it’s always been strange for me feeling like I needed to be ‘hush hush’ about my small wedding and portrait business that I have apart from my newspaper job… especially when you like doing it! Thanks again for the post I enjoyed reading it.

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  9. Nice post. As a long-time photojournalist who now shoots weddings, It used to that a photographer (or editor) would think it would be cool to capture an ethnic wedding or a foreign wedding as part of a story, but when it came to shooting Bob & Amy’s wedding down the street, it was beneath a photojournalist’s stature. I think those days are over, and your attitude is one of the reason’s why.

  10. It was refreshing reading your blog post, I was a photojournalist for about 10 years, slowly I became a press/commercial photographer, this developed in to what I would call a commercial/advertising photographer, then about 5 years ago after shooting a few weddings I made a huge decision. Newspapers and magazines were changing the way they commissioned, less commission more spec work, they also wanted to have more but pay the same or less. Choosing to shoot a wedding on a saturday instead of a news job or quick pr job on paper is a no brainer but coming from a photojournalism background I had the same concerns and worries as you. I kept my websites separate and had two ‘brands’. They are still separate although as you found, the wedding clients are interested in the commercial side as it reinforces their confidence that you can be diverse, creative and spontaneous. Occasionally the weddings come up in conversation with some of my commercial clients and magazine contacts and the responses I get are not always positive, so it stays a bit of a one way road at the moment. I am very happy shooting weddings and I am very proud of what I have created over the last few years with that side of my business.
    Thanks again for sharing your experiences.

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