Blair Phillips – The 8 Keys to Loving Weddings Forever
Most every photographer has shot a wedding at some point. And many photographers who have shot weddings say they’ll never shoot another as long as they live. But that’s likely due to a lack of research, planning and preparation. A wedding business can be very enjoyable, and it can also financially rewarding for you and your family. I have been photographing weddings for 11 years, and am so grateful for all the skills I’ve gained. Weddings can bring you to tears as you get caught up in various moments, but also bring you to tears with all the things that can go wrong.
To be successful at weddings, you first have to know your market. Research wedding photographers in your area and look at the price points all the way from low end to high end. Consider how much your time and labor are worth.
One of the biggest reasons photographers get burned out from weddings is their pricing. There is nothing worse than looking at all the emotion and labor you put into a wedding only to find that you made very little profit. Your pricing has to be high enough that when you leave the house on a Saturday, you are excited to know you are making really good money. The amount of stress and liability on your shoulders should come with a financial reward. If you feel guilty presenting couples with a high price tag, think about all the money you have invested in your equipment. I also had no problem adjusting my prices when I started thinking about the family time I miss on Saturdays.
Weddings are so much more enjoyable when you shoot for six hours and then go home. They are generally an all-day affair that goes well into the night. When I started out, I did not have specified time constraints. Brides would expect me to be there all day and night. It did not take me long to realize I was getting burned out really quickly. I sat down and started looking through some of my completed wedding albums. I studied what pictures generally made it into the album. I quickly realized that I could photograph everything I needed in six hours. All the late-night reception images of the drunken guests were not really needed. So we implemented a six-hour time frame into our wedding collections.
My wedding coverage begins 2.5 hours before the ceremony. That allows ample time to photograph everything I need leading up to the wedding. That also allows plenty of time to photograph the reception. This is only successful with lots of prior education and communication with the couple and their families. The wedding planner and reception DJ have to know that you are on a schedule and have to leave at a certain point. So they know that the evening festivities will need to take place before your time ends.
Because everyone has a camera and thinks they know how to shoot, it takes a lot of equipment to make your work stand out these days. If you are using lighting, you must make everything very portable and easy to set up. Most scenarios will not allow you tons of time to set up and break down. Everything I need is on wheels and extremely portable. This makes things easily reproducible. Most of my wedding receptions require lighting that I bring. To keep my stress level down, I bring four studio lights with umbrellas. I place them in opposite corners of the room, with all of them pointing toward the center. They are raised up high enough that they do not create an eyesore. The output is generally different on all four to prevent flat lighting.
If you struggle with reception lighting, take a day off and go practice. Once you have a good grasp on what works for you, write notes of all your settings so you can reproduce it the next time.
Sometimes too much of a good thing can turn into a negative. Even though weddings can be very enjoyable and highly lucrative, give yourself a break to recharge. Having an occasional weekend for rest and recreation is key to ensuring you remain fresh and do not burn out.
There was one year that I photographed 50 weddings. The money was nice, but I began to dislike weddings. I took those emotions as a wakeup call to slow down. The way I combated that was by raising my prices. This allowed me to do fewer weddings but keep a similar profit. Your work will begin to suffer if you shoot every single weekend.
Your planning should include looking at the weather forecast, especially if you’ll be working outside. If you’re shooting a midsummer wedding on a 90-degree day, you should not rely on an occasional stop by a water fountain. Pack lots of water, snacks and sandwiches. Respect the needs of your body in stressful environments. Dehydration, fatigue and headaches shouldn’t be on the invite list. You are the star of the show, and the show must go on without interruption. Weddings are stressful enough, so take the time to take care of yourself.
There are certain people you should communicate with prior to a wedding who are often overlooked. These are the wedding planner and the directors of the wedding and reception sites. Call them and introduce yourself. Take a few moments to familiarize them with your style of working. Ask if there are any rules for photographers at their venue. This shows respect, and it will put you on the top of the referral list. It can also eliminate surprises once you are there working. The wedding planner is probably the most important person to have on your side. Planners should know what kind of time you need to successfully do your job.
Your couple, their families and wedding attendants need to be properly educated prior to the wedding as well. They hired you because they love your work. They need to be educated on all that it takes to create what you do. Let them know that in order to create the caliber of work they will be happy with, you require complete participation and cooperation. Walk them through a timeline. Express how important it is for all parties to be punctual. Successful photography should not fall solely on your shoulders. Keep this conversation friendly, lighthearted. Don’t come across as bossy or controlling.
There is no greater feeling than watching a bride’s eyes well up with tears of joy when she opens her wedding album for the first time. There is also no worse feeling than an angry and upset mother of the bride. Following these fundamentals will help keep your creativity sharp and ensure your longevity.
If you do a superb job and deliver what you promise, word of mouth may be all you need to maintain and grow your business. The trick is to never let the potential stress of a wedding overtake you, and remember that they hired you because they really like you.