Someone asked me recently how I came to be a wedding photographer. I though I’d it into a blog post because it was a round-about, interesting way that I came to The Best Job in the World.
In my twenties I dabbled in every Arts degree I could get my hands on. First drama, then teaching, then politics before finally settling on law. I was always creative, always loved photography, but I believed I needed to have a “safe” job. My parents had raised me to always aim high and that I could be a leader. To make them proud, I was going to seek “a Profession”
I graduated with my law degree from UWA in 2002. The ceremony was about month before my wedding day. After a stressful process of interviews I was offered Articles. My family were thrilled, my husband to be was proud. I was going to be a lawyer and “help people.” I could see my life mapped ahead of me and I was supposed to feel motivated and driven. In truth I felt nothing but dread.
I fell pregnant with my son, which put a halt to my career temporarily. The time I spent over the next year was a time of reevaluation and dreaming. I suddenly didn’t want to be behind a desk away from my baby 60 hours a week. I had a cute little subject I could practice my photography skills on. And I had been exposed via my own wedding to a world of professionals who make a living doing something creative and wonderful at such a beautiful time in someone’s life. I started to dream …
I got a loan and bought the best camera gear I could at the time. It was the Canon 10D DSLR. I had a nifty fifty, the fabulous 50mm 1.8. I had a baby of my own, too young to protest about me practicing photographing him all hours of the day in every kind of light.
I started taking the camera everywhere and photographing everything I could. I tackled every kind of lighting situation. Birds, letterboxes, kids, random people in the city, my family. My poor husband who thought he had married a lawyer but suddenly found himself married to someone who wasn’t so sure what they wanted to do with their life and was living, eating, talking about photography, f-stops, albums, lenses all day long.
I attended a course by Dale Neill, a brilliant photo educator, who talked about the business of wedding photography. It wasn’t all fun and games, he stressed, you’re running a business and you need to be a professional.
I was growing confident in my technical skills but how could I know if someone would like my “eye,” my vision, my interpretation. Plus, on how earth do you put yourself out there to get experience?
There was a lot to learn. Yet I had this belief, deep inside me, that I was doing the right thing. I felt strongly that I needed to pursue this. It was a feeling that is hard to explain. I guess it just felt right. It was a calm and quiet feeling that even though my parents and husband might be alarmed by my sudden change of career, it would all work out all right in the end.
I registered a business name. I scraped together every cent I could and borrowed from my parents to buy amazing lenses. I wanted them fast, I knew I couldn’t compromise. I bought a domain. I knew a little about web design and built myself a (shocking) HTML site. Then I began the process of trying to find people willing for me to practice on their wedding day. (PLEASE NOTE: The worst thing you can say to your wedding photographer is “my friend wants some experience can they shoot over your shoulder on our wedding day?” In my case I did not intrude on other professionals as they carried out their job, I worked jobs where no professional was hired)
Importantly, I was 100% honest about my experience. I put the word out amongst friends that I was new, had very little clue how to shoot a wedding BUT I knew my camera inside out and I was prepared to give it all I had.
There were some funny stories along the way. On a family picnic I remember posing my very embarrassed husband with a friend of mine in a practice Engagement Shoot. Imagine how weird that would feel, cosying up with your friend’s husband in a romantic photo shoot so his wife could practice! But they did it to support me.
I shot weddings for free, for friends of friends who couldn’t afford to hire a professional. Some jobs were great, some were hard. I worked each of them for free on the proviso I could use the images in my portfolio. I was already aware that I did not want to undercut my future colleagues in the industry. I like to think I was as professional as possible while still trying to get as much experience as I could.
I found the Digital Wedding Forum online. It was an incredible resource of wedding photographers from around the world who shared priceless advice and information about the business. It truly helped me build on what I was learning 300%. If anyone is serious about being a professional wedding or portrait photographer I can’t recommend it enough.
Over time I was able to build a portfolio I was proud of. From there I was able to find suppliers (a great pro lab and an album company). I was ready for business.
My big break came when my Dad paid for a stand at a bridal fair. I went along with my albums and my pricing sheets and a big smile. Again, I was honest about being new. I booked 12 wedding from that weekend. I was underway and I was so excited. Every time someone emailed me I would call my husband at work. It was such a thrill.
One of the best things I did was start a blog back in 2003/4 before many Perth wedding photographers had one. This was the best thing I could do to draw attention to my new business at the time. I updated it with every single wedding I shot. Sometimes I would get home from a wedding and blog straight away so they could see their photos before they left their reception. I stopped doing that before long so I could get my life back. But at the time it was a wonderful way to generate fabulous goodwill and get me talked about.
I would update the blog with everything and anything. Photos of my kids, my garden, my cup of tea. It needed loads of new posts to try and generate interest and traffic.
After I had filled half a season I put my prices up. The worst thing you can do as a newbie in this industry is undercut your competition. There is value and art in what we do, you need to sell it as such. Put your prices up where they belong. It is an expensive business to be in. To call yourself a professional you need insurance, expensive pro camera gear, back up equipment. You will be working when everyone else is relaxing. You will never see a weekend off in summer again. People will expect you to answer your phone at 9am but be prepared to see them after work at 7pm. It is hard, hard work.
But it is brilliant, and I truly couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
Did this article help you? Let me know! is there anything else you want to know?