How to Get Started as a Professional Portrait or Wedding Photographer
So you want to be a professional portrait or wedding photographer.
The questions is, where do you start? Am I right?
Based on our own experience and a little help from our industry friends, I’ve compiled this list to get you started on your journey. It’s not comprehensive by any means, but it will help you begin.
If I were starting out today, I would…
Practice, practice, practice.
I would argue that the business side of things is equally, if not more, important to your eventual success, but honing your craft and learning to create better images is still very valuable.
Practice taking photos as much as you can, with as many different subjects as you can. Look for people of different ages, different skin tones, different shapes, varying group sizes and especially — different personalities. It’s easy to photograph your photogenic friend who loves to take pictures, but a self-conscience introvert will stretch you and help you grow.
Subscribe to Vanity Fair; go through your favorite photographer’s galleries. Notice how they have people move, what they do with their hands, the way they have people pose together… Take notes.
Get Involved with a Local Photography Group
Look on meetup.com and local Facebook groups to find photographers in your area who are getting together. If you can’t find a group, start one! Contact other industry locals and invite them out for dinner. Community is key to growth and has led to so many breakthroughs in our career.
Look for Opportunities to Learn
Join forums and Facebook groups. Participate.
Attend conferences and workshops. Ask questions.
Approach photographers you admire about mentorships or private workshops. Even if they’re not currently offering anything, contact them and see if they would be willing to teach you.
There are also tons of online courses and programs available. Classes like the ones offered on Creative Live, and podcasts like The Photobiz Xposed are available at any time and have a wealth of knowledge to offer.
Learn all aspects of the trade, not just the photography side.
I can’t stress this enough. As you seek out learning opportunities, don’t just look at the things that will make you a better photographer. Look for great teachings on sales, marketing, administration, SEO, social media, etc. You might find these inside the photography industry, or from a different source entirely. Be open to the possibilities.
You can be a great photographer and still fail if you don’t pay attention to the business side of things.
Get Over Your Impostor Syndrome
Be honest about where you’re at, but confident too. Everyone has to start somewhere. Everyone was new at some point. Jump in. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
Get to know your Industry
For wedding photographers, look for where other industry pros (Planners, florists, Dj’s, etc.) are hanging out and go there. Invest in them. Show genuine interest. Look for ways to be helpful to them. If you’re wanting to get into portrait photography, look for businesses that also cater to your market, like independent clothing and toy stores.
Have Solid Contracts in Place
This is pretty self-explanatory. If you need help with this, join PPA (Professional Photographers of America). They have many contract templates available for free for their members. Their lawyers will also look over your contracts and give you advice as needed.
Have the Appropriate Gear and Backup Gear
This is so important. Don’t land yourself in a situation where you can’t deliver because you don’t have what you need, or your equipment broke. If you can’t afford to buy everything right off the bat, you can rent. I’ve never rented so I can’t recommend a specific place, but googling camera rentals pulls up plenty of options.
Recognize the difference between a Business Purchase and a Personal Purchase.
As you gather your gear/software/workshops/etc., make sure you recognize the difference between a business decision and a personal one.
Having a backup camera = business decision. You need this to run your business properly.
Buying the latest, greatest camera available instead of the previous model that’s half the price = potential personal decision.
Unless that latest, greatest camera will somehow make it possible for you to make more money than the previous model, choosing that one is a personal decision. Be smart with your purchases and put your money where it will really count to advance your business.
Put a solid organization/backup system in place for all files
For more info on how we organize and back up our files, check out How to Organize Your Wedding Photography Photos and Client Files.
Set goals and benchmarks for your business
Are you working for peanuts right now? That’s ok. Make a plan to step up your price point incrementally with every 1-5 jobs booked until you get to a price point that you’re happy with.
Put action steps for all your goals on the calendar and follow through. Even small steps are better than nothing.
Have a Professional Looking Website
If you want people to take you seriously, you need to have a nice, clean, up to date website.
You don’t have to have a ton of portfolio on there yet. That will come with time. Just have something in place to send others to when you meet.
There are many templates available inexpensively online. You don’t have to pay a ton to have something that looks great. But do make sure that whatever you choose is mobile-responsive and is easy for Google to index.
Your website is a valuable place for you to invest.
Resources (Again, not an exhaustive list, but a place to start.)
- WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) Photography Convention and Expo
- PDN PhotoPlus International Conference and Expo
- Imaging USA
Facebook Groups/Membership Sites
- Ice Society
- Professional Photographers Forum Facebook Group
- Rising Tide Society Facebook Group
- Fearless Photographers
- Facebook Wedding Photographers
- Shoot to Kill Facebook Group
- Digital Photography School
- Professional Photographers of America
- The Rising Tide Society Website — This site also has a list of local meet ups!
As always, we hope this content has been helpful to you. Please like or share if you feel like someone else you know can benefit from it. Best of luck on your journey to becoming a professional photographer!
P.S. If you’d like to sit down with Sean and me one-on-one to go over your specific questions and goals, we offer a variety of options for private mentoring. You can find those, here: http://www.mclellanstyle.com/private-mentoring.html
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