Getting Started in Wedding Photography
Wedding photography can be one of the more stressful career options for photographers. Brides expect amazing images to be taken ‘live’ with no staging, minimal prep and zero chance for a re-shoot (unless you REALLY mess up)! Anyone that has been around a bride during the wedding knows the pressure that they can be under, and that pressure can be turned onto a caterer, photographer or ‘civilian’ in an instant. Wedding photography can be very rewarding – both on a personal level and a financial one. Wedding photographers typically charge between $2,000 and $15,000 for a wedding, with most remaining on the lower end. There are exceptions on both sides of the average. As prices on equipment drop and employment options become scarce, more and more hobbyists are choosing to enter the arena. Many newbies don’t have overhead to worry about, and can charge as low as $200 for a ‘Shoot-and-Burn’ wedding.
To become a wedding photographer, you must have reliable equipment and know it front-to-back. The fast-paced nature of weddings means that you have to be able to handle any issues that arise as quickly as possible. A bad memory card can lead to heartache and litigation, not to mention a reputation that will follow you around your community for some time to come. A ‘professional’ dSLR (Nikon D3s, Canon 1dMark3, etc) is not a requirement, but can help insure that you are able to consistently get the best images possible with the lowest risk of equipment failure. A dSLR with a higher megapixel count is recommended, as the bride may want some of the photographs blown up beyond the standard 8x10'”. Any dSLR with 10+ Megapixels will be sufficient, and the newest crop of 16mp (Nikon d7000, d5100 ) and 18mp (Canon 60d, Canon T3i) ‘prosumer’ dSLRS will be more than enough.
The best lenses for wedding photography are typically the ‘pro’ level zooms. For nikon, this includes the ‘Holy Trinity’ collection of the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, and 70-200 f/2.8. These lenses are tack-sharp, and perform reliably and efficiently in any situation or condition they are thrown into. Some photographers prefer Prime lenses (lenses that have a fixed focal point), as they are considered to be sharper and are typically ‘faster’ than their zoom counterparts. Using a prime lens during events and weddings can be tough, as the photographer does not always have the opportunity to move around as much as in a portrait or studio setting. A zoom lens gives the photographer some leeway, and provides an opportunity to control composition throughout the range of the zoom while staying out of the way of the bridal procession.
If you can’t afford the $5k+ you would have to spend on the ‘Trinity’, or don’t want to worry about lugging around heavy lenses all day, there are plenty of other options available. DX (Crop Sensor) and ‘off-brand’ lenses are lighter and less expensive than FX (full frame) lenses, and can produce images that are just as amazing. The Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 has often been touted as being an excellent wedding lens, while the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 is a cheaper alternative to the ‘Beast’ (Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRII). If you are wanting to go ‘Prime’, make sure that you have a dSLR with a built-in AF motor. Not all prime lenses have built-in motors, and of the few that do most are incredibly expensive. The 35mm f/1.8 AF-S, 85mm f/1.8 and 105mm f/2.8 Macro are an excellent start for a DX kit, and replacing the 35mm f/1.8 AF-S with a 50mm f/1.8 or even 50mm f/1.4 makes this setup FX-compliant. If you are really scraping the barrel, check out used lens listings on Craigslist. Occasionally you can find great deals on gear, allowing you to save money to further expand your business.
The Business of Wedding Photography
Marketing can be everything in wedding photography. Your first few clients can be some of the hardest to get, as most brides rely on referrals when searching for a wedding photographer. Many photographers getting started with weddings will begin working as a second shooter or assistant to a wedding photographer in their area. This doesn’t always work out, as photographers can be very protective of their business and territories, and will shy away from teaching a potential competitor their trade. Offering your services to friends and family members will often be one of the best ways to get started, but make sure that they know that you are a beginner in this arena. Poor performance or problems arising will cause unwanted tension that can hang over your heads for years to come.
Another option is to talk to your minister, and find out if there are any couples getting married that just don’t have the funds to hire a photographer. Offer them your services, free of charge, in exchange for providing you with releases and referrals later on down the road. This way, you are not ‘poaching’ from the professionals, and will be providing a couple with memories for years to come.
Make sure to act and dress professionally at all times during the wedding photography process. If you don’t have a studio or office, offer to meet the couple at their home or at the venue. A muted polo or button-down shirt and slacks are the uniform of choice for most professional wedding photographers, as it allows you to remain mobile yet not look overly out of place during the wedding or reception.
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