How to Become a Wedding Photographer

By TACP Staff on August 06, 2019

Wedding photographers are professionals who specialize in memorializing some of the most important moments of their clients’ lives—their wedding day. Succeeding in this field requires a photographer to have extensive knowledge of both indoor and outdoor photography, as well as an ability to improvise under a variety of changing conditions. Wedding photographers must be able to effectively work with the bridal party, event planners, relatives and venue managers.

1. Learn the Basics of Wedding Photography

Weddings are magical. A professional wedding photographer is part of laughter and the joy; from the bride walking down the aisle and the wedding party’s celebration, to a mother’s tears and dancing at the reception. But while documenting nuptials can be a fulfilling career choice – and can lead to more than one free glass of champagne – it’s crucial to take a serious approach to learning your craft. The happy couple is unlikely to forgive you for botched or subpar photos. So, to be successful in this field, you’ll need to make sure your skills are top notch.

As with most types of photography, you will need a varied array of skills to be successful. This includes a working familiarity with your camera and lens or lenses. You should be able to switch seamlessly between camera modes, understand white balance, create a shallow depth of field (giving you the “blurred background” effect), determining the right DSLR exposure, the rule of thirds, ensuring horizons are horizontal, everyone and everything is in focus, and more.

Traditional university classes, continuing education courses at a community college, photography books and online tutorials are all viable approaches to learning photography. However, there is no substitution to an education when you only have one shot, and it must be right.  Photography schools typically cover equipment, technique, processes, and design and composition. An artistic eye and creative ability are also essential as you will be responsible for framing a good photo. Strong communication and people skills, and the capacity to meet deadlines are also skills a wedding photographer should have, as you will talk with clients prior to the event, during the event and after everyone has gone home.  Even freelance photographers with no or little formal training must have skills and knowledge beyond the ability to take a great photo.

2. Master Multiple Photography Styles

Becoming a good wedding photographer requires mastering a variety of different photography styles. For instance, unlike still photography in which people and objects are ready and poised, many of a wedding photographer’s subjects will be in motion. On the other hand, unlike a genre such as sports photography – where most of the objects are in motion – you still need to have a command of portrait and group photography. To move fluidly between staged shots of family members and wedding parties, to candid snaps of dancing and bouquet tosses requires skilled familiarity with the camera.

Wedding pictures also require many different focal lengths and camera angles, ensuring both people and objects shine through your pictures. This is crucial when you’re documenting someone’s special day. For instance, during the cake cutting, a wedding photographer will highlight both the happy couple and the delectable dessert. Similarly, for wedding party shots, a photographer will focus on both the bridesmaids and groomsmen, along with the decorated gazebo in the background.  A professional will know the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, and how aperture affects depth of field; when to use a flash, or how light affects a bride’s face.

You’ll also need great organizational skills. To take fabulous wedding shots, you need to understand the timing of the program, organize the wedding party and family members into a series of shots that limits the amount of switch-ups you do and keeps things moving. The organizational challenge involved in wedding photography – along with an inability to take beautiful photos – is what usually trips up new photographers just entering the field.

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3. Building Your Business

Learning to Market Yourself & Attract New Business Is Essential

Now that you’ve got an understanding of the basics and are skilled with a camera, lens, and tripods, light meters, etc., and the organizational challenges of large events, it’s time to build a stellar portfolio that shows off your professionalism as well as your work. One of the best ways to do this is to work alongside a well-known professional, who may give you access to other solo opportunities. This isn’t to say that your friends’ weddings aren’t great for gaining experience, or that you can’t start there. However, weddings involving well-known people or particularly, beautiful surroundings, can showcase your skills well, and are a perfect next move if you’re having trouble building a roster of clients.

Plus, if you impress industry professionals who have as much work as they can handle, they may begin to pass some of those clients on to you. This is a fantastic way to begin a business. It’s especially helpful if you also photograph in similar situations, such as anniversaries, bridal or baby showers, corporate events, or other galas involving lots of people, because these clients may begin to call you for their other celebrations as well.

Marketing yourself as a wedding photographer is crucial, so a website and a portfolio are must- haves. You also need business cards to pass out at weddings and other events to direct people to your site so that they can see your work and qualifications. You will also need sales skills, contracts detailing the bridal parties’ expectations and payment arrangements, good records for tax and accounting purposes, and a reliable means of transportation for yourself, your gear and any assistants you might hire.

If you aspire to become a wedding photographer, the great news is this; many people have entered this field before you, and as long as you have an artistic and creative eye, proficiency with a camera and camera gear, and a strong willingness to learn and grow, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be successful in this career as well.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts slower than average growth for photographers through 2024. However, this isn’t necessarily true for wedding photographers, as there will always be weddings and photos to capture the moments.  A wedding photographer also won’t get rich quick when just starting out. It takes years of experience, on-going education, and a growing reputation to succeed, as many jobs come via referrals.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Wedding Photographers

Additional Guides

If you are considering a career in photography, you have a vast array of specialties and professional options to choose from. Check out these related How to Become guides for step-by-step instructions about how to get started in a career or grow your skills.