Starting a wedding photography business can feel like a daunting proposition. People often opt for the least expensive photographer or one that meets their unique aesthetic. This makes it challenging to stand out in a competitive field. Everyone with camera equipment seems to be a wedding photographer these days.
However, if you’re willing to work hard, define your niche, and be better than the rest, you could become a successful wedding photographer.
This guide explains the steps you need to take to open a wedding photography business.
The wedding photography business: The basics
Most professional wedding photographers begin their careers as freelancers. They get paid to shoot photos at weddings on a one-off basis. Over time, they make a living doing wedding photography by starting a business.
People making this move have solid photography skills but are shaky about business.
Get educated. Start by learning about local wedding photographers, including the clients they target, their packages, and the prices they charge.
Most wedding photographers have websites that include the following:
- Samples of their work
- Wedding photography packages and services offered
- Prices for each wedding photography package
- And more.
As you review these websites, look out for a service gap you could fill. A new photographer can’t compete with experienced ones offering similar services unless they seriously undercut prices. Once you find a niche to fill, come up with your unique selling proposition (USP). (If you’ve worked as a freelancer, you probably have some ideas about why people hire you.) Figure out how to set yourself apart from the wedding photographers in your area. Your USP should include your:
- Photography style
- Wedding photography packages
- And anything that makes you unique.
Becoming a wedding photographer: Getting started
Use these tips to gain experience as a wedding photographer and build your portfolio.
Get hired as a second shooter
Second shooting involves supporting the primary photographer and trying to capture more casual, less posed images. The work doesn’t pay much, but it can pay off significantly.
Working as a second shooter will help you learn about the wedding photography business. You’ll also take shots you can use to build a professional portfolio. It will get you exposure (brides know other brides-to-be who need photography services) and on-the-job training.
When you serve as a second shooter, make sure you ask permission to use the photos in your portfolio and on your business website.
Take engagement photos
Engagement sessions give you a chance to improve your posing and lighting skills. Plus, everyone who needs engagement photos will also need wedding ones. It can be a powerful sales opportunity, especially if you make the bride and groom look their best.
Take wedding photos for family members and friends
Ask people you know to hire you, maybe as a secondary or backup photographer. Ask them to provide you with honest feedback. Share the photos with others and ask their opinions, as well.
Once you start getting consistently positive feedback, it could be a sign it’s time to open your wedding photography business.
Become a part-time wedding photographer
If you’re not ready to risk quitting your day job to work as a full-time photographer, start out as a part-time one. It can help you:
- Build your confidence
- Expand your portfolio
- Improve your skills
- Find your style
- Gain exposure
- Increase demand for your services.
Once you feel confident you can earn enough to transition to full-time professional wedding photography, go for it.
Write a wedding photography business plan
A business plan allows you to document all your ideas for your wedding photography business. It could include an executive summary that briefly explains your business and what makes it unique, a business budget, cash flow projections for a few years, plans for acquiring potential clients (communications and marketing strategy), and more.
A plan will bring order to your new business and help you know whether it’s on track to achieving your goals. You can format it to meet your specific business needs. Business plan templates are available online. Plus, if you need financing for your new business, lenders may require you to submit a current business plan.
Opening a wedding photography business: The costs
The cost of starting a business can vary significantly depending on size, if you open a studio or shoot off-site, the services you offer, the scope of the operation, and whether you purchase an existing studio.
Here are some expenses to consider:
- Property costs. This cost will depend on whether you operate your business out of space in your home, rent a location, or work exclusively offsite.
- Registering your business, securing licenses, and getting permits. These costs can vary depending on local requirements.
- Equipment. You probably already own cameras and some equipment. Will you need more or better things when you launch your business? Perhaps you’ll need to buy new computers or photo editing software.
- Accounting services. Smaller companies may be able to get by with bookkeeping software. Larger ones should probably hire a professional.
- Invoicing services. Similar to accounting, larger companies may want to outsource invoicing. Smaller ones can probably do it in-house using software.
- Business insurance. Work with an experienced business insurance agent to get all the coverage you need. Damage to property or an injury could cost you your business if you don’t have enough coverage.
- Legal fees. Unhappy clients often sue wedding photographers. Always have a lawyer on call to help draft contracts and support you if you’re sued.
- Taxes. Consult with a business tax expert to determine the amount you’ll pay in taxes each year in your area.
- Marketing. You’ll likely have start-up marketing costs for designing a logo, building a website, printing business cards, and other things.
Figure out whether you have enough cash saved up to open and run your business. If not, you’ll need to get financing from a traditional financial institution like a bank or credit union or alternative or online lender. Look into your loan options, including short-term loans, long-term loans, business property loans, equipment loans, and a business line of credit.
Register your photography business and purchase insurance
Registering your wedding photography business helps you manage certain legal liabilities. For instance, registering as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation could protect you from personal liability if your business is sued. If you operate as a sole proprietor, you could be held personally liable if you’re sued for work-related reasons. The proper business structure could also help you save money on your taxes.
Common business structure types for wedding photo businesses include:
- Sole proprietorship
- Limited Liability Company (LLC)
Consult with an experienced business attorney and tax advisor to ensure you select the right business structure for you.
As part of this step, register to pay taxes by getting an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Make it a priority to get adequate liability insurance protection for your business. Shop around for insurance carriers that offer small business coverage. It will help you find the best combination of cost and coverage for your business. You may also want to look into insurance from the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) if you are a member.
Set up a business accounting system
Bookkeeping can seem challenging at first. With a bit of time and practice, it’s not as hard as it may seem. There are three ways to approach accounting.
Handle it using Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets
Search for a bookkeeping template to keep track of sales and expenditures that works for your business. This may be the more cost-effective option for a wedding photography business startup.
Use business accounting software or an app
There are many accounting software options to choose from, including the popular QuickBooks. Each comes with its own features and capabilities. Take time to find the best choice for your business. It can be challenging to change bookkeeping software solutions if you outgrow yours or discover it’s the wrong one.
Hire an accountant
If you’re willing and able to pay for a professional to handle your business’s accounting, hire a certified public accountant (CPA). Interview a few to ensure you find someone who is experienced and that you feel comfortable talking about finances with.
No matter which accounting method you select, make it a point to store all receipts and invoices in chronological order by vendor. It makes them easy to find. This process is more straightforward if you make online purchases. Your receipts will be stored digitally, making them less likely to be misplaced.
Also, open a business bank account. It will help you separate your personal and business finances for tax purposes.
Purchase photography equipment
You likely have decent photography equipment. However, now that you’re committing to shooting weddings, you may need more and better cameras, lenses, lighting, backgrounds, and more. You might also want to get a video camera to provide an additional level of service.
Some other items you may need include:
- A flash diffuser
- SD cards
- A bag to transport your photography gear
- Camera bag
- A camera cover for when it rains
- A computer with a hard drive powerful enough to edit photos
- A high-definition computer screen
- Photo (and video) editing software like Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom
- Appropriate clothes and shoes for photo shoots
- A computer storage system.
Your photographs are only as good as your talent and equipment. Purchase the best you can. If you need to save money, consider buying used equipment from a reputable dealer. Also, purchase backup pieces of essential gear so malfunctioning or damaged equipment never stops a wedding shoot. Wedding pictures don’t wait for anyone.
Build your wedding photography business brand
Your brand helps explain what makes your business different and unique. You only get one chance to get it right and make a great first impression on prospective clients.
Identify your unique style
Two photographers can shoot the same wedding, and their images will look completely different. Identify what makes your photography different and unique. Find ways to express it in words and visuals so people can understand it immediately. Whether on social media, on your website, or at a wedding fair, prospective clients will only give you a couple of seconds at most to decide if you couple possibly be the right photographer for them.
Think about it:
- Do your photos look like those from a fashion shoot?
- Maybe you prefer capturing fun, candid moments.
- Perhaps your photos glow with unique lighting.
Write down three words that best define your style, such as:
These words are at the core of your brand.
Come up with a business name
Many photographers name their businesses after themselves. A self-named company could make sense if people know you and your style and respect your work. However, that is likely not the case for a startup photography business.
Instead, you should come up with a name that reflects your brand. If you’re not sure it will resonate with prospective brides and grooms, test it out with a few before you finalize it. Also, check that a domain name is available that’s appropriate for your company name.
Create a memorable logo
Your logo should be simple and represent your brand. It should be effective on a social media post, website, or sign. If you’re not a professional graphic designer, hire one to design your logo. You only get a single chance to make a positive first impression on a bride and groom. Test your logo with prospective wedding clients to see if it appeals to them.
Get your first wedding photo business clients
The ideal way for a business owner to bring in clients is through recommendations and word-of-mouth. Beginners typically don’t have these things. That’s why it’s likely you’ll need to do some photography marketing.
Marketing isn’t as challenging as it may seem. Here are some proven and cost-effective marketing ideas for new wedding photography businesses.
Social media is an obvious choice for photographers, especially a visual platform like Instagram. Share examples of your photography and philosophy of taking wedding photos.
Partner with other wedding vendors
Partnerships with other wedding-related businesses can benefit both companies. One wedding business refers clients to the other, while the other does it in return. For instance, a caterer recommends a photographer, and the photographer recommends the caterer. The same could work for bridal boutiques, florists, and wedding planners.
Brides trust other brides. Referrals are a powerful new business development tool. Ask customers to refer you to their friends who are getting married. Many may be happy with your work but not think of recommending you to others unless you remind them to. While you’re at it, set up a Google Business Profile (GBP). It will make your business more visible on the search engine. It will also allow you to collect ratings and reviews from pleased wedding photography customers that could help you bring in new clients through the search engine.
Collect email addresses and send out regular updates about your business. Maintaining a regular email presence will help prospective photography customers remember you. One of the best sources of new wedding photography customers is the people in your pipeline and those you’ve worked with in the past. You must stay top-of-mind, so they hire and recommend you when someone needs wedding photography services.
Set up a Google Ads account and get active on it. It’s relatively simple to create ads on the platform. Follow the step-by-step process it guides you through to develop ads. Your wedding photography business must be at the top of the Google results when brides in your area search for someone to take pictures at their weddings. Spending a relatively small amount of money on Google Ads will help ensure that you do.
As your business grows and you become a more successful business owner, you might want to hire someone to handle marketing for you under a comprehensive marketing plan.
Build a business website
A website is at the core of all your marketing efforts and is key to bringing in new clients. For a wedding photographer, your online presence is where prospective clients:
- Discover you
- Learn about your business
- Check out your work
- Contact you
- Book appointments
- And much more.
Your number one priority for bringing in new photography clients should be to develop a high-quality website. You’re selling a visual product and a service, so your site must look attractive and function properly.
Building a site is relatively simple. Start by using one of the photographer templates on a platform like WordPress or Squarespace. Then add your wedding images, logo, and messages to personalize it to your business. Ensure that your contact details are visible so interested prospects can easily reach you. Test your site with some prospective brides and grooms. Get feedback on their impressions of it and its usability.
If you feel unsure about creating your website, hiring a developer could be a wise investment in the future of your business. A professional could also help search engine optimize (SEO) your site. Your website is where prospective clients will decide whether to move forward with you or not. It’s like the proposal that comes before the wedding day. You only get one chance to get it right.
Take steps to protect yourself and your business
Weddings are emotional experiences. Brides and grooms have high expectations for their day. Those expectations extend to the photos that document it.
If your pictures don’t meet expectations, or if you fail to provide the services expected from you, or even if the wedding couple unjustifiably thinks you did, you could be sued.
The threat of lawsuits is why you need to work with an experienced small business lawyer to develop an iron-clad wedding photography contract each client must agree to and sign. The contract should clearly state exactly what you will deliver to each customer.
Here are some key things your lawyer should include in your contracts:
- Exactly what the client will get as a part of their wedding photography package
- The cost of the package
- The location, date, and time of the wedding
- Number of hours you are booked for and fee for extra hours
- The payment method and deposit amount
- Your cancellation policy
- Insurance coverage
- Artist release
- Model release
- Price for any additional work or deliverables
Ensure you and your client understand what is included and what is not included in the contract. This will help prevent disagreements that could be costly to you and your wedding photography business.
Regularly update your business plan
As your business grows and becomes more successful, you must update your business plan. It will force you to document the future you envision for your wedding photography business. It will help you develop a blueprint for achieving what’s next and keep you on track toward achieving your goals. Companies that don’t reimagine themselves often become stagnant and falter.
Starting a wedding photography business: The bottom line
Opening a wedding photography business can seem overwhelming. But, if you follow the steps in this guide, you will likely achieve success in the career you imagine. Just take things one step at a time as you open your business. Be patient and stay focused. Don’t let little setbacks get you down. If you’re good at your work, people will recognize it and pitch in to help you succeed.