How to Be a Successful Wedding Photographer | PART ONE

Starting your own business, regardless of the type of business, is terrifying.  If anyone says any different, they are either lying or have nothing to lose if it crashes and burns.  So that feeling you get alongside the excitement when you think of quitting your day job to commit to your passion is completely normal. 

The last seven (coming up on eight) years have been tough.  I’m not going to lie – I was ready to quit fifty times prior to this year.  I’m writing this because I wish another wedding photographer would have helped us out a little.  Even just a bit of information on how to do things would have been great, but there’s not a ton of that out there.  It’s all just essentially the same information, which is very passive.  So I wanted to write this for inspiring professional photographers in the most truthful way.  This article will deal mainly with wedding photography, as that is the photography that pays us 99% of what we make.  However, these things can be easily applied to many types of photography.  I don’t really know where to start, so I’ll just dive in. None of these topics are really that much more important than the other, as they all make up the same beast in the end.

Our Story

In 2010, I lost my job of seven years.  It was due to a layoff and the horrible recession that we all had to deal with.  I was pretty much unemployed for four years after that, living off of part time jobs.  And by part time, I really mean part time.  Anywhere from seven to thirty hours a week on minimum wage with no benefits to speak of.  I was in horrible debt and was freaking out.  It was rough.  Needless to say, the holidays and birthdays of those years sucked because we really couldn’t afford to do much of anything.  I decided, since those were my days where I spent all my spare time coding for fun, that I would build a website for Kyle’s photography.  He had recently gotten back into concert photography and I figured it would be good to have a place to display it all.  I considered it a crappy present, but he loved it. As he continued shooting and buying better equipment, we needed to pay it off, so we thought to do a wedding and see if we liked it.  A family member was getting married and their photographer was new to photography and happy to have us join in.  We loved and it and started booking weddings after that.  But it’s not that easy, so here’s how things worked out for us, broken down a bit more.

The Hands On Stuff

There’s two things I don’t like to get involved in with photography. 

  • The Canon vs Nikon debate
  • The whole “equipment doesn’t make the photographer” argument

Okay, the first one is just stupid.  It’s a matter of preference.  I know people who get super heated about this and it’s not worth it.  Both brands are great.  We shoot with Nikon mainly, but also own a Canon and a Sony.  They all have aspects we enjoy.  Kyle started on a Nikon, so he has liked to stick with them. 

Secondly, equipment does not make the photographer.  However, it makes the photography better and if you think that’s a lie, do yourself a favor and go rent the following:

  • The flagship camera of whatever brand you use
  • A prime lens
  • A high powered flash

I’m most likely missing out on some certain things, but I’m telling you right now, if you are shooting with a Nikon D7500 and go rent and play with a D850 or D5 for a weekend, you’ll know the reason why  this is the case.  If you need this told to you in another way, think of making food.  If you are making a meal, it's going to taste better if you use good ingredients, rather than ingredients you get because you can cut costs.  If you are trying to do photography as a job, you need professional gear.  It not only makes your work look far more superior, it cuts down on your editing time.  You know what that means?  More personal time, more time to shoot, and more money for you.  I’m in charge of editing all our weddings and the better gear has helped me edit so much faster because I don’t have to color correct to death, just to name one thing. The white balance of the D850, D4s, and D5 have made my life complete. 

Shooting Equipment

We work with the following:

Bodies

  • Nikon D850
  • Nikon D4s
  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon D750
  • Nikon B700
  • Sony A6000

Lenses 

  • Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8
  • Nikkor 700-200mm 2.8
  • Nikkor 40mm 2.8
  • Nikkor 50mm 1.8
  • Nikkor 16mm 2.8
  • Sigma 18-35 1.8
  • Tokina 16-28 2.8
  • Sigma 150mm-400 3.5-6.5
  • Tamran 150mm-600 3.5-6.5

Flashes

  • GoDox AD360 II Flash (we have two of these)
  • Nissin DI700a (backup)

Editing Equipment

My editing life consists of the following:

  • Apple Mac w/27 inch screen and 5K Retina display
  • Lightroom CC
  • Photoshop CC
  • Photo Mechanic

I’ll just go through it and you can figure out what you need to know.  I come home from a wedding and dump all our cards onto my external hard drives.  Everything gets backed up three times.  I then cull all the photos using Photo Mechanic.  I just started using Photo Mechanic after years of doing this and it has cut down on my culling time by DAYS.  That is not a joke.  DAYS.  I then import my culled images into Lightroom and sort all the photos.  Most of my photos are edited in Lightroom, but I do more specific things in Photoshop.  Specific things include fixing skin, painting in certain colors, and more.  All of this takes anywhere from fifty to eighty hours per wedding.  In case you’re wondering what the big variable is in those hours, it’s all lighting.  Thank you cloudy days.

Miscellaneous Equipment

The following are just other things we carry around with us at nearly all times.  They are mainly for wedding photography, but several things can be utilized at any times:

  • Two camera bags
  • Flash bag
  • Backup gear bag – houses backup body, lens, and flash.  We have two mains, but have this in case they all break down.  Don’t say it won’t happen – it happened to us in Vegas.  Ugh.
  • Battery packs
  • Wedding folder – this houses all the info for the wedding we are currently shooting.  Such info includes contracts, checklists, timelines, inspiration photos, etc.
  • Umbrellas – we have a clear one, black one, and are trying to find a white one
  • “Bride” dress hanger
  • Protein bars and fruit
  • Water bottles

Click HERE for Part Two regarding advertising, publishing, and more!.