If you’re considering how to get into wedding photography, you might feel confident in your craft, but less strong on the business aspects. Or maybe you’ve been photographing weddings for awhile, but are unsure how to grow as a wedding photographer.
This post will cover the most important factors to consider in creating your wedding photography business plan. We’ll look at budgeting, time management, and how to market your wedding photography business.
To connect you with some expert advice, Wrapbook spoke with Georgie Carlos of With Love By Georgie on how to start a wedding photography business.
As a destination wedding photographer, Georgie has shot over one hundred weddings all over the globe, from Bali to St. Lucia, and all around the United States. She’s also had her work featured on platforms like Netflix and Essence magazine.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos in this article are courtesy of Georgie Carlos.
Eight years ago, Georgie was working on the corporate side of the entertainment industry when she started feeling dissatisfied with the work. She picked up her camera “as therapy” and to bring the creativity she was missing back into her life.
Family photos she shot for a friend ended up on social media, which led to her first wedding gig. Eventually she was booking enough work as a wedding photographer to make it her full-time job.
Depending on your situation, you’re probably learning how to get into wedding photography while working another job.
One way to transition your wedding photography business into full-time work is to give yourself an initial trial period.
Georgie first tried working in photography full-time for a summer, between corporate contracts. She had been running her photography business part-time, but at the encouragement of a friend, decided:
"Let me take a chance on myself. I needed to make X amount of money [during the trial period] to know that I can do this for a living."
By the end of the summer, she had enough work and income to know she didn’t have to go back to her day job. Eventually, "I was able to make more than what I was making as a full-time corporate employee.”
Try giving yourself similar parameters when you’re ready to transition to full-time.
A crucial aspect of how to start a wedding photography business, particularly in the first few months, is building a stellar portfolio. As a wedding photographer, your portfolio is your resume. It’s the key to how to market your wedding photography business.
For some photographers, this can feel like a chicken-and-egg situation. You need a strong portfolio to book gigs, but how are you supposed to book those gigs without a portfolio?
Working as a second shooter for weddings is a great solution. In addition to photos for your portfolio, you’ll gain valuable experience. Just be clear with the photographer you’re working with on how you plan to use the photos.
You can also offer to shoot for free to build your portfolio, but be selective. Georgie recommends only doing this when it’s a truly fair exchange.
For example, if you know someone who wants to build up their modeling portfolio and will pose as a bride for your styled shoot, that’s a mutually beneficial situation. On the other hand, if someone asks you to shoot their toddler’s birthday party for free, and that’s not the type of photography you’re interested in? You’d want to charge for that work.
Finances are a crucial component of your wedding photography business plan. You’ll need to budget for equipment and other start-up costs, but also consider long-term expenses. Setting wise prices and knowing when to raise them are also important steps in this planning.
Here’s how to get into wedding photography budgeting.
Expect equipment to make up a huge percentage of initial costs when you start a wedding photography business. Georgie estimates she paid about $25,000 total for her starting equipment. However, it took a few years for her to outright own all of that equipment.
A combination of renting, payment plans, and borrowing can help you get started if buying everything at the outset isn’t feasible.
Start with a camera. Georgie advises that a full frame (versus crop sensor) camera is non-negotiable. Full frame cameras tend to be more expensive, but will give your photos the distinctive professional look a crop sensor can’t. A Canon EOS 6D is Georgie’s recommendation for a relatively budget-friendly professional starter camera.
Other starting equipment to factor in when you start a wedding photography business:
Of course, there are other, less obvious costs to consider, including:
You may not need all of these right away. But as you create your wedding photography business plan, factor in costs that will arise as you take on more clients.
Reflecting on her first two years in business, the one thing Georgie would have done differently is to hire more help earlier on. As she puts it:
“If you’re successful, you grow really fast, and sometimes you’re not ready for that growth. I wasn’t expecting how fast I grew, so I don’t think I got to enjoy the growth and take it in.”
Think about what only you can do in your business (for Georgie, that’s shooting and editing). Then be ready to outsource the rest when the time comes.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of W9s and payroll, Wrapbook can help you keep things simple and organized when it’s time to hire people to help with your business.
One of the first obstacles photographers run into when figuring out how to start a wedding photography business? Not knowing how much to charge.
Georgie recommends researching the rates of other wedding photographers in your area. You will also want to factor in your experience. Essentially, Georgie says it all comes down to, “Can you stand by your price? I’ve shot over a hundred weddings, so I know I can stand by my price now.”
If you’ve been a wedding photographer for some time, be sure you’re raising your rates to match your experience level. For example, Georgie started out charging $800 a wedding to gain experience and build her portfolio. After a couple of weddings, she raised her price to $1,100, then $1,200.
After a few years, both clients and fellow photographers told her she was charging too little. She realized she was overdue for another price change, and now her starting price is $6,000 per wedding.
How much do wedding photographers make? While it will vary depending on your location and specialty, around $40,000 (before expenses and taxes) annually is a realistic estimate for a beginner.
A wedding photographer with Georgie’s experience of about eight years can expect to make between about $140,000-150,000 a year (again, before expenses and taxes).
You can’t talk about how to start a wedding photography business without talking about how to market your wedding photography business. Fortunately, there are multiple free and low-cost options when it comes to how to market your wedding photography business.
Georgie recommends taking advantage of social media as early as possible in your wedding photography business plan. You don’t necessarily need to spend money on ads. Regular posting of high-quality content can have a huge payoff.
Instagram is the best place to advertise wedding photography. Georgie estimates about 40% of her clients come from Instagram. If you’re looking for a second platform, TikTok is another solid social media space for photographers.
If you lack social media savvy, don’t let that stop you from utilizing it for your business.
“Once you start doing [social media], it starts to become a little less awkward and more natural... you have to figure out a way to make it fun for you.”
Rather than trying to keep up with social media trends that don’t feel comfortable, post about the parts of your business you authentically love.
And listen to your audience when they respond to your content. For example, Georgie’s followers are interested in her editing process, so she let that influence her social media marketing strategy.
While social media may be the best place to advertise wedding photography, it doesn't replace your website. The relatively small costs associated with having one are worth the benefits.
First, you need a place to host your portfolio. While your social media feed may feature work from your portfolio, it won’t be curated in the same way.
A website also boosts your credibility. There are some potential clients who will simply feel more comfortable getting in touch through your website than through social media.
Outside of Instagram, Georgie’s top sources of clients are word of mouth and referrals from wedding planners. These are channels that will open up as you build experience delivering high-quality work.
When you’re first starting to get into wedding photography, though, consider listing on a third-party wedding vendor website (like The Knot) as a way to get your foot in the door. There is usually a fee associated with these, so make sure you’re booking enough work through the service to justify the cost.
When you’re first figuring out how to start a wedding photography business, time management can be a challenge.
That’s why your wedding photography business plan should include basic scheduling of all your major tasks. You can make adjustments as you learn your personal pace along the way.
To get you started, Georgie broke down the tasks that make up her typical week.
You’ll also want to consider how many weddings you can realistically take on in a year. Georgie typically shoots 20-25 weddings annually. She additionally shoots engagement sessions and some family sessions.
Consider seasonal fluctuations, too. For example, summer might mean more frequent weddings. Autumn could bring more family shoots as clients prepare their holiday cards.
We’ve covered the basics of how to get into wedding photography by planning your finances, marketing and time. As you continue your research, you may want to check out this post on preparing for the perfect photo shoot.
Many thanks to Georgie for sharing her insights on how to start a wedding photography business! To learn more about With Love By Georgie, check out her website here.
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