More Lessons From My First Four Years As A Wedding Photographer

Vancouver wa engagement session at round lake camas wa
Last week, I did an update to a previous post that I made four years ago right after my first year as a wedding photographer. As I was writing that article, a list of new lessons popped up in my head. I thought about other advice I could pass along to someone else falling in love with wedding photography.

After a few crazy, busy seasons in wedding photography, I have learned the basics of how to keep a steady business going, bring in new clients, and keep the amazing clients that I have had the pleasure in working with over the years. It’s a long process, and I am in no way even close to knowing even a fraction of what there is out there, but hopefully, some of the lessons I have learned will help you grow your passion as well.

Community Over Competition

This thought is the one that has helped me the most. I have never really been competitive business wise. I have helped other people interested in photography, worked with other wedding photographers to help them achieve their vision, and I meet regularly with a few different groups of creatives in the area to help each other’s businesses grow.

Having someone to throw ideas around with, talk about what works and what doesn’t for them, and learning how to grow alongside other amazing people has boosted my abilities, and self-esteem, when running a business.

If you don’t have a person or group like that around you, BE that person (see next topic below). You don’t have to be in the same specialty either, having contacts with other wedding professionals is so helpful in building your spot in the industry. You get to see a different perspective on weddings and adjust how you work to make sure everyone working the wedding or event is obtaining their business needs as well.

From someone who didn’t have something like that starting up, I hope that I am that someone to somebody else.

Pacific City Engagement
This image was shot by my friend Charity Feb. She joined me for a weekend down in Pacific City to capture Joey and Bria’s engagement session and hang out. Charity is one of the fantastic associate photographers I work with. Being able to talk about our businesses and how we can always keep improving has been a tremendous resource to have.
Be that person for someone else

One of the things I didn’t have when I started out, was a mentor or a successful wedding photographer to ask questions and new bounce ideas off of.

Luckily, throughout the years I have been able to meet other professionals in my field and build a fantastic community of support. I’ve also been able to mentor a few other photographers and give advice to what worked (and what didn’t).

Every photographer is different, and we all have different experiences. Having someone to talk to about how to address situations and clients has been a game changer for me. I have an engineering background and tend to think along the technical lines, so I end up helping others with the technical specs and lighting issues. I receive creative advice, marketing hints, and image critiques from my colleagues that let me gain the skills I need on that side of the business.

With all the knowledge that we gain, I hope to share what I’ve learned and helped out others in my community where I can. I want to be a person that others trust and can be open with about how to help each other.

When I started in photography, I joined a local camera club to learn more. One of the members, Bill Burk, had been shooting for a long time and was a master of lighting. A year after I began shooting weddings, he reached out if I needed a second shooter. Learning lighting techniques from him has been excellent. He even gets to light paint at some of the weddings we work!
Slow and steady – don’t burn out

Being excited about your passion is easy, going full speed into building your name, and spending every minute of your free time putting yourself out there. I get it; you want to be at the top, known in your field, and have your work everywhere.  I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, I’m stating that jumping straight in and making other things less of a priority isn’t healthy.

When I first decided to get into wedding photography, I was STOKED. I was pouring hours into research and shooting. While my skills were improving, my relationships were hurting. I was working full time at my day job, shooting on the weekends, and editing on the weekday nights at my desktop computer in my office at home. I was becoming exhausted, shutting myself off from friends and family,  and it was also ruining my creative thought process. There is a lot to think about when capturing and editing weddings. When you don’t let your mind relax, it’s harder to come up with new and fresh ideas for images.

It took some tweaking, but I’ve been getting closer and closer to balancing things.

Now, I may shoot all weekend, but I switched to a laptop to edit in the family room while hanging out with the family, and I cut my day job down to having Fridays off. Adjusting my schedule gives me more time to hang with friends and family, and get other errands done without wearing myself down. I don’t shoot as many weddings as I did (at least for myself), as my skills rose, I raised my pricing packages as well. The price adjustment also lowered the number of clients I had (but brought me, my ideal clients, see more of that below), which also gave me more time to edit their gorgeous images, build stable relationships with them, and knock down my anxiety.

I try to plan at least one or two weekends off during a busy summer, and we always take a weeklong family vacation to a National Park every year.

Building your business shouldn’t be a race.

If you want to keep it sustainable and something that you genuinely enjoy, find a pace that works for you and your needs. Just like the old tale of the rabbit and the hare, I believe that slow and steady wins the race. You and your loved ones will be happier and healthier!

Gran Tetons
Every year my family and I sneak off to a National Park as our way to recharge and reset. This year we watched the Milky Way float across the sky in the Grand Tetons.
Purchase gear as you go

Early on, I made the decision that I would only buy and upgrade gear with the money that I made with photography. My husband bought me my first camera, so this addiction is his fault, you can read about it in my bio.

Once you decide to accept payments, make sure to file for your business license and get all the necessary things in line as you will need to register with the IRS and, in most cases, your state/city as well.

I started with portraits and was steadily building an income to purchase my website, business cards, and first flash unit. Those purchases gave me my first steps.

After my first wedding, I was learning what else I would need to continue to improve my type of photography. My first purchases were multiple flash units, stands, triggers, modifiers, SD Cards, laptop, and a second camera body. Those were the purchases my second year of weddings, all paid for by the income that I had brought in.

Each year my lists of purchases changes with the growth of the business and my need to capture images in my style. Not every photographer will have the same gear as I do, I lend out my equipment to my photographer friends as they see the want to experiment with their style and skills. Your needs and desires will differ, but lay them all out before you purchase and be smart about how you grow.

Going into debt to always have the newest gear or buying that the fad accessory will do you and your business way more harm than good.

Pace yourself, be smart, and purchase as you go.

Vancouver Wedding Photographer
A 105mm macro lens I picked up at the beginning of my wedding season this year. I wanted to be able to capture sharper detail images.
Find your style and your people

This one took me a while to understand. In the beginning, I was booking anyone that would hire me. I wanted the portfolio, the clients, and of course the money to upgrade everything.

I’ve never had a “bad” client, in fact, I have loved everyone that I have worked with. However, I found that working with clients with a similar personality to me has made capturing their character so much easier. I always tell potential clients that when they are looking for a photographer, search for someone that they feel like they can hang out with all day because that is basically what we’ll be doing. If you are uncomfortable around your photographer, you can tell in your images. Finding the right clients will show in your work.

Something else that will set you apart from all the other photographers in your area? Your style.

I have been referred to as fine art as I use light to bring artistic interest to the image. I will also change my editing slightly from shoot to shoot to match the mood. Whatever you classify yourself as just make sure you are happy and proud of the images you produce. The minute you start disliking what you’re doing, switch it up and try something new. Challenging yourself is always an excellent way to learn more about your craft and pick up new skills.

Multnomah Falls Wedding Photography
Interiors can be a tricky place to shoot. Most of the wedding venues have high ceilings, dark walls, and not a lot of natural light. Learning how to use off-camera flash and incorporating it into my shots has made me feel more comfortable shooting anywhere.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be editing this post in another four years with all the things I’ve learned since now.

One of my favorite things about life is that you never stop learning, every experience teaches you something new.

What has been the biggest thing that you have learned in your craft?


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