Capturing the special moments between a couple and their friends and family as a wedding photographer is no easy job. When you look at the stunning photographs on a wedding online portfolio website, you can’t help but immerse yourself in the emotions and joy through the images. However, wedding photography, like other niches of photography, takes skills. Every wedding photographer knows what the couple comes to appreciate after the fact: the polished selects you may see in a wedding album are just the tip of the iceberg. They are the result of meticulous planning, editing, and capture of a staggering number of photographs.
Wedding photography may be a highly competitive, high-stakes specialty, but that is also what makes it highly rewarding. This article will answer some of the top questions about becoming a wedding photographer and building your online portfolio.
Table of Contents
Wedding photography is a specialized type of photography that involves capturing activities related to weddings. You may be hired to capture events before the wedding ceremony, the ceremony itself, the first kiss, and the celebrations to follow. In addition to images of people, photographs of inanimate objects also play a role, such as table settings and the rings themselves. In addition to capturing these shots, doing it with flair and style is what sets apart a stellar photographer from the rest.
A lot of planning goes into decisions large and small when it comes to weddings, so when it comes to capturing their big day, the couple is counting on their photographer to act as a photojournalist in documenting the events of the wedding day.
In addition to tying images of the bride and groom tying the knot, people may also hire you to capture engagement photos as they look to immortalize the beginning of their love story.
On paper, the wedding photographer’s responsibilities involve accurately capturing photos from the big day. The exact subject matter can cover anything from photos of friends and family, the wedding party, the flower girl walking down the aisle, the bride's first look at the wedding gown, or the meaningful glances at each other exchanged between the bride and groom as they are holding hands.
However, every wedding photographer will tell you that being a wedding photographer involves wearing many hats. The wedding photographer has an anecdote or two about unexpected parts of the wedding they have gotten involved in.
For example, the bride and groom may look to the photographer for their artistic expertise and seek second opinion decisions like the decor and flower arrangements or even event planning. Or you may even get tasked with the important task of Ring Keeper and be asked to keep this important wedding artifact safe and sound until the wedding ceremony.
As these responsibilities show, being in this position means people trust you to capture their memories and display them in the best light possible.
If you’ve ever been involved in planning a wedding, you know that there are many different kinds of weddings. The location, the season, and the venue all affect how the day will look. The rustic charm of a wedding set inside a barn has a very different aesthetic from one located at a reception hall.
Similarly, when it comes to capturing the events of the day, there is a different photography style the bride has to choose from. The most popular ones are:
Traditional - Traditional wedding photography is akin to the types of shots you may see in your family’s wedding albums. These compositions are typically posed, shot at eye level, and include group photos, family shots, photos of the wedding party, and photos of the bride or groom with a family member. The primary focus of traditional photography is capturing facial expressions and posture. The images tend to be more formal and have set posing and lighting settings that couples come to expect from this style.
Modern - This approach involves posing, modern photography leverages stylistic effects like dramatic lighting, backdrops, different angles, and creative poses to make its statement. If the bride and groom are interested in this style, they are looking for a glamorous, almost editorial aesthetic, taking cues from editorial fashion shoots. These photographs tend to be dark, moody, and involve heavy post-editing to play up the black color value in the images.
Photojournalistic - Wedding photojournalism, also known as Documentary-style, this way of capturing the events of the day is known for its natural shots and candid moments. It is vastly different from posed photography styles in that it is the job of the photographer to seek out photo-worthy moments throughout the day instead of composing them. This approach is a great way to capture the emotional and atmospheric aspects of the day but involves some planning to ensure enough meaningful content is captured to tell the story of the day accurately and in a compelling manner. For this wedding journalism, having a shot list is a must.
There is a lot of range when it comes to different types of wedding photography. As a result, selecting the right aesthetic for their wedding photos may be something the couple may seek your guidance on. While some couples may want more the photographer to be in charge of creative decisions, others may want more of a peek behind the curtain and a hand in making more detailed creative decisions.
To avoid unpleasant surprises, it’s good to discuss with the couple how involved they want to be in the creative vision for the day and in decisions on the day of the shoot.
While previously mentioned photography styles aim to capture the events of the day, fine art wedding photography is more focused on getting a single perfect shot of the couple. The name of this style really says it all: fine art photography seeks to produce types of shots that can serve as stand-alone art.
The types of techniques used to achieve these dramatic shots are meticulously applied and flawlessly executed to produce a timeless piece of art that captures the couple’s union. The photographer may take a creative angle by climbing a ladder or even brave the ride to capture the tide at just the right moment with the couple in profile over a shot of the sunset. For this style, clients are looking for a coveted once-in-a-lifetime shot that encapsulates the intensity of feelings they have for one another.
Selecting the right lens for the couples’ big day depends on a variety of factors, from wedding size to setting (indoor, outdoor, or both). While longer shoots may call for a bigger range of lenses to choose from. On the other hand, a half-day of work composed of primarily portrait shots may not require a full set of lenses.
Photographers have three types of lenses to choose from:
Prime Lenses - Prime lenses have a fixed focal lens and are the most frequently used due to their lightweight and speed of use. Its fixed focal lens allows for sharp image rendering.
Zoom Lenses - These lenses allow for different focal lengths to be utilized, which helps you be part of the action without needing to be right in the middle of it. In addition, zoom lenses give you access to perspectives and vantage points you may otherwise not see, which comes in handy for intimate moments like the bride or groom getting ready.
Macro Lenses - A macro lens is capable of shooting very detailed shots. If you ever thought the wedding was about people, imagine telling the bride you didn’t capture a close-up photo of the ring as the newlyweds hold hands on their special day. When trying to capture something as detailed as the lace on the wedding dress or the dewy droplets on the wedding bouquet, a macro lens is essential.
To tackle the shot list for the day, being armed with a prime lens to best capture the day is considered an industry standard, but being able to adapt to what the day calls for can go a long way. For longer shoot days with less predictable elements, having multiple lenses onhand can help. Having access to multiple lenses can help deliver a wider range of shots, which can lead to being able to charge more per shoot. That’s why many professional wedding photographers bring prime, zoom, and macro lenses to the big day.
If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that you can rent additional lenses at a camera store instead of having to invest in buying one upfront.
When it comes to specific lens products, Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Sigma have some strong contenders. Each brand offers a variety of great lenses for wedding photography.
In addition to having one or more lenses, one of the secrets wedding photography tips is bringing multiple memory cards is essential to your success. You never want to be caught short-handed and miss capturing the perfect image of the bride and groom, or the first look as the bride and her father walk down the aisle. In addition, high-resolution photos tend to be large in size and if captured in raw format, take up a lot of room on a memory card. Raw image format files are best suited for heavy post-editing.
There are many different ways to become a wedding photographer. Although not considered mandatory, a degree or diploma in photography can be a great resource to gain technical experience. In the absence of higher education, a digital presence such as a wedding portfolio or wedding blog can be used as tools for photographers to exhibit or display their talents to prospective customers.
As mentioned previously, a career in wedding photography can be obtained in multiple ways. A person going into wedding photography could attain an education in photography to gain the crucial skills and knowledge they will need to be successful. Meanwhile, those people with more experience in the industry may look to build their wedding body of work and gain more traction that way.
Whether it’s through a bachelor’s degree, a diploma, or individual photography courses and workshops, structured education in photography can be offered in different ways from many different institutions. As with any approach, there are pros and cons:
Provides comprehensive training about different aspects of running a photography business and dealing with clients
Allows for professional guidance and feedback while also connecting you to professional networks and job resources.
Couples looking for an eye for style in wedding photographers, which is a soft skill that cannot be taught as part of a curriculum
Due to the fact that there are other viable ways to break into the industry, this route can be considered overly expensive and time-consuming.
As with most fields of photography, you don’t need formal training to attract clients. If you have a strong portfolio that includes events and portraiture photography, you may have enough leverage to secure some starter clients and build a name for yourself that way.
Skills from other specialized types of photography are highly transferable when it comes to weddings
Couples with smaller budgets may be willing to take a risk with less experienced photographers, allowing you to build up your credibility
Lack of a proven track record in wedding photography may make it difficult to sell clients in capturing their important day, limiting your number of clients
As many jobs happen by referrals in the wedding industry, you may need to put in extra effort to build brand rapport with other related businesses, such as wedding planners
No matter what path you choose to take, it’s important to remember that the right one is the path that is the best fit for you. In addition, you can try to make a transition into wedding photography without formal schooling first, and seek additional courses if you find you hit hurdles delivering the type of product customers are looking for, or if you find most clients in your area desire some formal schooling for peace of mind before committing. And who can blame them? After all, they are likely approaching their wedding day as a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
A portfolio is a branded online collection of work that showcases your skills and experience in a specific area of photography. An online portfolio is crucial to a wedding photographer because it helps to establish your brand identity and draws potential customers to your business. This is important because weddings at their core are a celebration, and the bride wants to know that their wedding photographer is qualified to beautifully capture their day.
A wedding photography portfolio does not drastically differ much from the portfolio used by those in other areas of photography. One thing photographers should aim to include are wedding photos that exemplify the style and technique. The work should focus primarily on portraiture meets event/people photography, as this is what clients are looking to hire you to capture. Considering including wedding photos that showcase a variety of settings, mix of indoor and outdoor, time of day photography, a mix of posed and candid photography.
The job of your portfolio is to grab the attention of potential customers looking to document their special day. A good portfolio should:
Be organized and easy to navigate. Chances are, you're not the only photographer being considered for the job. As a result, having a portfolio that’s easy to navigate and organized allows couples to evaluate whether you have experience creating the type of aesthetic they’re going for is table stakes.
Be socially integrated. These days, couples are increasingly finding inspiration for their wedding days on social media platforms. This is why having a professional presence on visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest is important, as those who discover you on a social platform and arrive at your portfolio through that route. In addition, some couples like to do a background check on the photographer by reading client comments on the photos posted on their social accounts for evidence of customer satisfaction.
Be professionally branded. Couples are after a specific look and feel when it comes to wedding day photography, so it’s important that your professional brand reflects the creative space you want to play in.
Extend an invitation to start a conversation. Now that your clients have fallen in love with your style, you can sell them on the details by including a CTA (Call to Action) that encourages them to reach out and learn more about your offerings. Including an easy point of contact like a Contact Me page on your portfolio is important for your portfolio to make it easy for the prospective couple to reach out. Finding a photographer is just one item on the wedding to-do list, so the easier you can make the process for them, the better.
While every photography portfolio features unique content, every portfolio that considers these four aspects has a good chance of being persuasive. As a result, those who are looking to hire a photographer with your style won’t be dissuaded by technical or content gaps. By approaching creating your portfolio with intent, you are setting yourself up for success.
This simple question is more difficult to answer than it looks. While you can use sites like Payscale to view average annual salaries for wedding photographers in your area, the income of a wedding photographer is harder to calculate than other professions. Similarly, it’s hard to tell a couple how much to pay a wedding photographer. This is because there is no “flat fee” for a wedding because every job comes with a unique set of circumstances and variables. A wedding photographer can make an average of $45,000 USD per year.
To help you get an accurate picture of what our own income would look like, take some time to crunch the numbers as you consider the following factors for your photography business:
Average number of weddings you book per calendar year
Average number of non-wedding photography sessions you book per calendar year
Hard costs (studio, equipment, editing software, insurance, marketing)
Variable costs (travel, permits, lighting, secondary shooters)
The number you end up with should give you a better idea of how much money you can expect to bring in year over year.
Another great way to help understand how much to charge for your services is to conduct a competitive audit of the rates of other photographers who have a similar style or to ask the newlyweds in your friends’ social circles about their recent experiences.
It’s important to remember that a wedding photographer with less than a year of experience under their belt would charge a different rate than a seasoned one. Because this industry relies heavily on client referrals, some junior photographers may consider providing services at reduced rates or free of charge in order to add volume to their portfolio as they build their credibility in their first year.
One challenge of this profession is that wedding seasons tend to peak in the summer months, leaving income lulls for wedding photographers in the Spring and Fall. For example, sixty-seven percent of weddings in Canada occur between the months of June and September. That means that wedding photographers can expect to work overtime in the warm months while also finding an additional photography revenue stream in the off-season.
As a wedding photographer, you get to take part in one of the most grandiose and emotion-packed days of peoples’ lives—and get paid for it. If you’re someone with a passion for photography that is looking for a career where they’re never bored, wedding photography may be the right choice for you. You may even get to visit some exciting places for destination weddings held abroad.