Getting started: Photography
Wedding photography is a viable business with a variety of rewards
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - You might just be one of those people who has a gift for capturing special moments on film. Photography has been a hobby and your creative outlet for years. And, in a departure from the norm, people actually look forward to a slide show of your last vacation.|
You just might be a candidate to become a wedding photographer because it all starts with the pictures. Capturing images that express the unique, hopefully joyous emotions, of a couple on their special day is both the joy and the challenge of wedding photography.
That is just the beginning, however. There is more to being a good wedding photographer than just making pretty pictures that a couple will treasure for as long as the marriage lasts.
It's also important to be a calm, friendly presence during what can be a chaotic day for some couples. And though you consider yourself primarily a creative person, it is also important to know how to manage your business affairs so that you can make money.
Pretty pictures and a head for business
The difference between surviving and thriving as a wedding photographer may have nothing to do with an individual's ability to produce a perfect print. One of the most common reasons a photographer goes out of business, said Professional Photographers of America spokesman Stephen Morris, is they don't focus on the business end of their enterprise.
"There is a lot of back end work in photography that clients never see," said Morris. "There have been wonderful photographers who go out of business because they focus on the art and forget about the business."
Morris noted one of PPA's primary missions is to educate its members about the business end of photography by running courses on marketing and basic accounting. They also work in partnership with several photography schools that run business courses as well as courses in photographic techniques and technology.
Steve Bergman is one of those wedding photographers who has been taking advantage of the courses and he calls the experience invaluable for anyone trying to establish themselves. The schools are not permanent institutions, but like seminars, that meet for a designated period during the year to run the courses.
Bergman, a former fashion photographer based in Monterey, Calif., has seen his business grow 350 percent in the past five years. New photographers get a great education at photo school, said Bergman, as well as the chance to meet and learn from some of the best in the industry.
"You go there in sponge mode and you really learn a lot," he said.
Morris said that even at the high rates that wedding photographers charge, which are almost always in the thousands for a day's work, the margins are low. One of the first things, he said, photographers need to learn is to calculate the cost of sales.
Marketing, too, can be tricky. Word of mouth is still the strongest marketing tool, although some photographers benefit by establishing relationships with hotels, florists and events planners. Some, like Bergman, need a good Web site because of the location where they operate.
Bergman works California's Monterey Peninsula, which is a popular wedding destination for people from other parts of California and even from out of state. He invested thousands in his Web site and it has paid off, he said, because a full 70 percent of his business comes from people who found him via the Internet.
Once you know how to run a small business, the good news is this is a viable profession and one that carries spiritual as well as financial rewards.
Rewards come in a variety of ways
Chris Sollart has been a photographer in Seattle for 15 years. Like many career photographers, Sollart first pursued a life in electronics because he thought it was a more practical way to make a living. Photography, a hobby he began pursuing first at the age of 12, was a passion he pursued on the side.
Eventually, however, he decided to pursue photography full time and took a job on staff at a photography studio and realized that he could make a career with his camera. For 12 years, he took commercial as well as wedding photos. Just three years ago, he decided to focus on shooting wedding photographs exclusively.
The decision came about in part because he said working as a wedding photographer offered more in the way of "psychic rewards" than taking photos for ads and catalogues.
"It's a very emotional situation. It's great when you meet with clients and show them the work and they just love it," said Sollart.
There can also be substantial financial rewards. Sollart said most photographers just starting out will struggle, his income is over six figures. That, he speculated, is due in part to having already been in the business for more than 15 years.
According to the Atlanta-based PPA, the average wedding photographer earns less than $30,000 a year. That figure may be somewhat deceptive because a good number of wedding photographers are part-timers who take photos on the weekends to supplement their income. Other part-timers are people who are building their portfolios and trying to establish a reputation so they can make the transition into photography as a full time occupation.
And, as far as places to go to work are concerned, weddings aren't exactly at the bottom of the heap. Sollart and others agree that, although they never have much time to soak in the convivial atmosphere, it's nice to be around people who are celebrating and generally in a good mood.
That brings up the one major drawback to working as a wedding photographer: A wedding photographer on the job rarely has more than a second to relax. Between the ceremony and reception, wedding photographers can put in up to seven or more straight hours with barely a break.
They have to be alert and on for that period of time because, in the case of wedding work, they don't ever get a second chance to get the perfect shot.