Hi All, The purpose of this post is to let you know what my experience as a wedding photographer was like and what could be learned from it. I know there are several posts like this, here’s mine. I found photography in high school, took classes there and in college with a film SLR…did the dark room thing. I loved it. I realized that a better career path would probably start with a degree in business, which would still be helpful if I decided to pursue photography. I enjoyed taking pictures of boring everyday things in creative ways as well as more exciting things, like motorsports. I knew that shooting a wedding would blend those two in a way, high paced and creative. It would also be a massive challenge and force me to step up my game, fast. It would force me to learn a lot, think on my feet, and get familiar with an aspect of photography that many photographers are smart enough to avoid like the plague. Knowing that I lacked the skill and experience to shoot a wedding on my own, I decided to find a studio that wanted to use me as a second shooter. I finally found one-bonus, they paid me! I learned a lot and had a great time. I did better than I expected, though I knew that it wasn’t nearly as stressful as it would be had I been on my own. I only shot 2 weddings for them before I graduated with a degree in Finance, a couple weeks later my wife was laid off from a job in the housing industry (end of 2008). So, we packed up and moved from CA to CO where we knew a total of 2 adults. Living in a basement underneath a woman wearing hard shoes and two toddlers slamming toys around wasn’t exactly a good long term living arrangement. Though, as it was 2009, it wasn’t the greatest time to find a job. So, I thought, I would try to make my own. I started my own photography business in 2009. I only wanted to do weddings and I had only 2 under my belt as an assistant. Not much of a portfolio to work with, but I had little choice. I spent hundreds…or thousands of hours researching the competition, putting a contract together, setting pricing (based on a line graph of my local competition-skill vs price), building a website, practicing, consulting with an accountant, the SBA, a lawyer, fellow photographers and business owners. I read books, websites, blogs, and watched webinars. I tried to build connections with other photographers so that I could work with them, no luck. Most wouldn’t even respond to an offer for free help. I responded to craigslist ads too, heard back on almost none. My wife visited with dozens of local vendors, showing my album, handing out cards, and trying to get me on their preferred vendor list. I advertised on the Knot, craigslist, tried to do a Groupon too. This basically all failed to work because I had, essentially, zero experience and zero personal network in my area. I couldn’t shoot for friends, family, college buddies, or work associates…I had none. I got my first gig in 2011 through a Knot deal, sort of like a Groupon. It was an engagement shoot that went very well. Both the couple and myself were very impressed. I put it on my site, kept paying the Knot and hoping something would happen. I chatted with them regularly to review my site, marketing language, and do whatever we could to help me stay in business and give them my advertising money. They weren’t much help at first but eventually became a very wonderful resource. Again, I had only 2 weddings and 1 engagement shoot on my site, not a lot to work with. Despite my effort to disguise, but not lie about, this fact, my potential clients recognized that there were only 2 weddings and went elsewhere. Finally, I started getting bookings in 2012…lots. I went from zero to 10 in a year. I was thrilled, thought I’d be a great success if I could continue that rate of growth. I’ve shot 8 this year, no other bookings at the moment. Almost all of my bookings have been my minimum package. I recently decided to increase my rates in the hopes of becoming profitable; it was do or die time. The number of inquiries I got plummeted after raising my prices. In case you have just started thinking about getting into wedding photography, as much as it sucks to hear this, here’s what you need to know. 1-You will have an incredibly difficult time getting started if you don’t have a big network of (friends, family, co-workers, college buddies) marrying age people. Even if you do, it’s a good idea to shoot for another photographer to build a portfolio and network with vendors. 2-Pretty much no matter where you are, there is a ton of competition. There will always be someone who can do a better job for less money. Unless you are so talented and connected that you only cater to clientele to whom 3k or 10k makes no difference, you will be fighting with everyone else. Worse still, everyone else includes students. I’ve lost a few potential clients because $600 was too much money; they were going to trust their special day to someone with zero experience, cheap gear, and likely no backup gear or insurance to save a couple hundred dollars. 3-Starting a photography business is cheap, compared to other businesses, so long as it’s not a full on studio. That said, it’s still very hard to make that money back and make a profit. I invested some equipment that I already owned (about 2k worth) plus about 6k in cash for additional equipment and overhead. I’m cashing out with additional gear but only about 5k in cash. I got tax refunds for the losses on prior years, not sure how much of that will have to be given back for profit in 2013. So, after 18 weddings I am somewhere around zero. 4-Nobody, except wedding photographers seems to understand why $600 is too cheap. I started at $600 for 4 hours, many went elsewhere because of price-or at least that’s what they told me. $150/hr sounds great to most people getting it and terrible to those paying it. For some reason, nobody thinks about the time that you’re not billing for, or overhead. A 4 hour wedding would really take me about 25 or so, plus the non job specific time required to run a business. You have to charge enough to cover the time it takes to: answer emails, calls, take meetings, deposit checks, review contracts, review details of the wedding, research the venue, charge/prep/pack, drive, shoot, edit, backup and deliver the images, and post the highlights on your site, facebook, blog, or wherever and finally to solicit reviews. Then, after you divide what you charged over all of that time, you still have to have enough for your computer equipment, software, camera equipment, repairs, rentals, gas, insurance, taxes, etc. It makes me wonder if people charging 3k/wedding are even making money! I know they’re using more expensive gear and software than I am, probably spending more time editing too. I don’t know how anyone makes money doing this. You would have to have a ton of work and charge what you’re worth. 5-It’s got to be one of the best ways you can learn photography, assuming you don’t mind letting down a client every now and again. I was lucky, after shooting 20 weddings (including 2 as a second shooter), I have made every couple happy. If there was any feedback, it was positive. The first real wedding I shot as an owner and lead, I did so with strep throat (almost no voice and a bad cough) and incompetent second shooter. She made many stupid mistakes, like focusing on the wall several feet behind the group of people while doing group/family portraits-this left the people way soft focused. Somehow, even that couple was happy. There’s a ton of pressure. You must get pretty much everything right every time, be in the right place, at the right time, and with the right lens and settings. Most shots cannot be redone, and if it is possible, it just makes you look like you were incapable of getting it the first place-which is probably the truth. I already had some sleep and anxiety problems, this did not make things easier for me. If you freeze under pressure, sometimes aren’t sure what settings to use, hesitate, can’t politely control a crowd and command respect without being a jerk-you will not do well. 6-Doing this was very rewarding. It was nice to own a business, would have been better if it were more profitable. But still, I had control over it, it was completely mine. Most couples respected me and asked me to help them decide their schedule, where to shoot, how many hours, etc. It felt good to be viewed as an expert at something. Based on feedback from couples and my very harsh self judgment, I think I’ve done pretty well. I’ve become a better photographer, I’ve made some good connections, I’ve learned how to sell myself, increased my confidence and reduced my introverted tendencies (if only slightly). I’m not sure I would do it again. I gave up an incalculable amount of time in this pursuit. After 4 years of putting in a huge amount of effort, it’s time to call it. I am certain of my decision to quit. I look forward to having the time to have a life again, to do things I enjoy (even photography for fun, which I did very little of while doing weddings). I’ll also get back to my old hobbies, those which have been so open and honest about taking my hard earned money. I am still shocked by how hostile this business is to newcomers. I’m incredibly grateful to the couples who gave me a chance! For some reason, I will always hold a grudge for those who wasted my time with meetings, calls, emails, and even commitments to sign and put down a deposit only to vanish-how hard is it to say, ‘sorry, we’ve found someone else we like more.’ There’s lots of photographers out there, you’re not going to be for everyone and I never took that personally. When you work something like 60 hours a week, it hurts when someone won’t take the 30 seconds to send an email saying they’ve moved on. So, if you are a current or former wedding photographer, I’m curious how your experience compared with mine and what other advice you might offer to people considering entering this incredibly competitive environment. I know I’m a little crazy and I could have done things differently…like not start in the first place. Now that I’m past that, and I already point enough blame at myself, what can we do to help those who are crazy enough to think about doing this themselves? To potential newcomers, I’m open to your questions. Though my lack of success means my advise may be limited and not worth much. Personally, I think you can learn at least as much from failure as you can success. If I say…Run! Don’t do it! Many people would take that as a challenge. You think, who’s this guy, I’m smarter than him, I’m a better photographer, I can do it! You may be right and I wish you luck!