With several years of steady work under our belt, we’ve put together 7 important steps for starting a wedding photography business. These are the absolute fundamentals you need to have in place in order to start attracting clients to book with you.
Know Your “Why”?
You need to be able to answer one simple question – why do you want to be a wedding photographer?
There are a ton of reasons why being a wedding photographer seems like it could be a great career move.
On a personal level, there are a lot of opportunities to make money if you run your business well, and the lifestyle it can offer (like the freedom to create your own schedule) can be a really amazing thing. Photography is also a fast paced but very fun job if you’re naturally creative and (unsurprisingly) already into photography as a hobby.
You can also find inspiration in offering value to other people’s lives through photography. Creating photo galleries for couples and their family/friends to look back on for years to come is really beautiful.
Knowing why you want to start a wedding photography business will help keep you stay grounded when things get tough (and they will).
Register as a Legal Business Entity
One of the mistakes photographers make is not setting themselves up as a legal business entity.
Sure, very early on when you’re just second shooting for others and getting your feet wet with free and super cheap gigs, this may not matter all that much. But, if you want to take your business seriously, running it like a proper business is the only way.
There are a few different business structures:
- Sole Proprietorship – the default business structure, doesn’t offer much in the way of protection. The business owner is liable and their personal assets are at risk. All profit and losses are reported on personal income tax returns.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC) – preferred business structure for small businesses. We are registered as an LLC. Enables personal protection and shifts liabilities to the business itself. In the USA, LLC’s profit/loss is factored into the owners (or multiple owners) tax returns. This means your income as an LLC will be taxed like an individual – minus any business deductions.
- Corporation – Electing a corporation status is typically reserved for businesses bringing in a steady and significant income. The most substantial difference is earnings through a corporation are taxed at a federal income tax flat rate of 21%. This makes corporations appealing to business owners who make over a certain threshold (usually more than 6 figures).
Please note: while we are reasonably knowledgable on setting up a photography business due to our hands on experience, it is recommended to do additional research and if necessary consult a professional (such as a lawyer or CPA) for more assistance.
What are the benefits of registering your business?
- You can legally separate your personal finances from your business finances
- You get tax deductions when making business purchases (camera equipment, editing software, travel, etc.)
- You’re business is more credible – potential clients are more likely to trust you, and they expect you are in it for the long haul
Get the Right Gear
If you want to be a successful wedding photographer, you need to have equipment to support your style and goals.
This doesn’t mean you need to show up to your first photo shoot or wedding with 10’s of thousands of dollars worth of equipment.
When we started out, we shot our earliest weddings on Canon Rebel cameras – these are camera kits used by beginners. While there are certainly many great reasons to have more expensive and professional quality gear, it’s not as essential at the start as other photographers might make you think.
As we increased our pricing and continued to book weddings, we gradually updated our equipment.
We will be covering more about gear in future content, but want to leave you with an analogy to think about…
Would you start a restaurant without an oven, plates + utensils, and seating? The short answer is…no…
Professional photography has a fairly low barrier to entry, but it does require some level of investment – just like most other industries where people start businesses.
Get your branding right
One of the most important parts of starting a wedding photography business is having a clear and recognizable brand.
The goal of branding should be to answer the following questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you want to be seen as?
- Who is your target audience?
- What “vibe” do you want to give off?
Your brand takes shape in a lot of different ways. Some examples:
- Your website design
- Your logo
- How you present yourself on social media
- Showcasing a curated selection of images
- Having key talking points on things that are important to you
Can you think of other ways your brand plays a role in becoming a wedding photographer?
Price for success
Many photographers who are just starting out ask: “how much should I charge for my services?”
It’s an understandable question, but it completely misses the point of pricing from a business perspective.
First – there are a ton of different pricing models and strategies.
For example, for our core wedding service we use a package model (3 packages with the most attractive being the middle option). Other photographers use In Person Sales (IPS), which tends to come with a smaller upfront fee, but an expectation that clients will purchase high priced albums and prints after the event.
More important than your pricing strategy is making sure you are priced to be successful.
Knowing your cost of doing business (CODB) is key to successful pricing.
Your CODB takes into account a few things:
- Your personal life expenses (mortgage, car payments, student loans, etc.)
- Your business expenses (gear, software, travel and other professional services)
- Your tax liability (how much you will need to pay in taxes on any money you make)
These are all topics we will be covering in more detail at a later date, but a good starting point is to be real with yourself and write down every bill you have, and add up the total. That’s how much money you need to make (after taxes and business expenses) just to support your current lifestyle. For some of you, this may be lower than you expected – for others, it might be a huge shocker!
If there is one thing we learned about pricing over the years that we think you should know right now, it’s this:
Your pricing will evolve over time as your goals change and your relationship to money changes. You will start off low priced, but can build up a solid portfolio and reputation that allows you to to make good money from your services because you are “in demand”.
Our experience has been exactly like that. We started off shooting weddings literally for free, then $500 dollars, and have increased our prices to the point that we now regularly book weddings between $3,000 – $5,000.
Market to get clients
Marketing is about getting your business in front of potential clients so you can convert them into paying clients.
Sometimes, the best marketing strategies aren’t the most popular ones, and companies that often have great success with marketing are able to think outside of the box to reach their audience.
However, as we’ve been around the wedding industry for quite a while, there have been a few things that have been consistent for us in bringing in new clients.
- Social media. Effectively using Instagram has been huge for us as the platform is designed to showcase pictures, build a following, and enables people to get in touch with you easily.
- Networking. If you’re more introverted like us, networking is the scariest part about getting into the wedding industry (and one of the most essential). Building relationships with others in the industry is a big key to securing more qualified leads who will want to book with you based on the trust they place in other people (like a venue or wedding planner). Plus – it’s nice to have friends with similar mindsets!
- SEO. Optimizing your website for search engines is really important, but often done poorly (or not at all) by most other wedding photographers. It’s one of those things that takes time to do well, but it can pay off substantially over time.
Provide a great service
Client’s who hire wedding photographers are after 2 key things:
1). Pictures that reflect their wedding with style
2). An experience that is comfortable and enjoyable to get those amazing photos
As experienced wedding photographers, we find creating the images to be fairly easy – almost second nature for us at this point. We believe that really any photographer with enough experience can capture great shots consistently.
Where you have a real opportunity to shine is in your customer service. It’s the experience you offer your clients when they work with you. It’s in learning to be proactive to make working with you easy, and easier than your competition.
Providing a great service will help you build your reputation as excited clients will leave reviews for you online, and more importantly, will tell their family & friends about you. This word of mouth helps you to grow your business more with time.
Now that we’ve shared our key steps to take when starting your own wedding photography business, we have to ask – are you ready to take the leap?
There is a lot that goes into being a wedding photographer. The lifestyle is hugely rewarding, and at times very exhausting too. But, at the end of the day, we love it and wouldn’t exchange it for anything.
If wedding photography sounds like a career that would work for you, we highly suggest taking the risk and getting started. It might just change your life!