You read that right: shouldn't. Wedding photography is a field that many photographers work within at least once or twice in their budding careers. Is it for you, though? Do you have what it takes? Even some of the most seasoned professional wedding photographers have thrown in the towel and moved on to other forms of work. Why is this, you inquire? I asked several of my colleagues – wedding photographers and other professional shutterbugs alike – their thoughts on why they think shooting weddings for a living sucks. These are the top five responses I received.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love being a wedding photographer, and that’s really the point of this article. You really have to love weddings in order to be successful at it and get any personal satisfaction out of your work. And isn’t that the point of being a professional photographer and taking pictures for a living – to be able to love what you do?
This list assumes a few things about you as a photographer: most importantly, that you are proficient at taking properly exposed in-focus, well composed photographs. That’s the most basic starting criteria. However, a quick search on Craigslist for budget wedding photographers will reveal how many people skip this step entirely because they bought a $500 camera and read somewhere that all they needed to be able to do was “spray and pray” to make it in the wedding industry.
So if you’re at least more than a novice photography enthusiast looking to make the jump into being paid to photograph a wedding, here are the top five reasons you might want to still reconsider that idea.
5. You have to have personality plus.
If your general outlook on the world is that everyone is stupid and that you want to punch most people in the neck meat to keep them from blabbering on about their ugly child or what have you, you might not make it in a job that requires you to smile a lot and keep the energy fun and exciting for your clients for ten hours or more.
I’m very lucky to have the best clients around, but a lot of my colleagues who answered me mentioned terrible brides or mothers of the bride as being a real headache in how they’ve worked. So what does that mean for you? You have to be the kind of person who can turn that frown upside down for people and that means you should be great at customer service and issue resolution. You are running a business in the end, so your real skills are often tested without a camera in hand.
Another point brought up is the difficulty in balancing what you want to create as an artist with what your clients might ask you to do (i.e. selective color, weird cropping, and cliché Pinterest reenactments). You have to be great at educating your clients on what your style is, what you want to create for them as a photographer, and what you don’t do. That said, you also need to sometimes be able to swallow your pride and just get the photos your clients and their families want. That’s the compromise: pleasing people and pleasing yourself.
The last point is about being sociable and outgoing – or at least faking it. You’re who the bride and groom and their families and friends look to for guidance. If you want happy looking people, you need to project happiness and that means compliments, positivity, confidence, and saying yes to everything! You need to be the person who everyone says, “Wow! That photographer was awesome.” Even if you’re not feeling well. Even if you’re going through a break up. Whatever. If you can’t bring the outgoing personality (or if you can’t put on the front) that a wedding needs, you’re going to find yourself with less and less clients, and becoming bitter and resentful at each wedding you’re at until you can’t take it anymore. I don’t mean you have to be the center of attention. Quite the opposite, actually. You need to be as good or even better with people as you are with your camera and that's what often draws the line for some folks.
4. You have to be ultra-responsible under pressure.
A lot of photographers mentioned the pressure that comes with a wedding day – it’s a one-time event and you need to capture everything as it happens and not miss the big moments. Wow! That’s a lot of responsibility. So unless you’re willing to do your research, arrive early, create a timeline, and prepare, prepare, prepare, you’re not going to do well winging it. There’s a lot of care that comes with putting a wedding together and you need to be able to capture all of that, and find creative ways to do it. It’s near impossible to be everywhere and see everything, but if you set the bar any less, you’ll miss those one-time moments: the kisses, the laughs, the crying, the emotions, and the dancing. That’s the pressure you’re constantly under.
Did you take photos of everyone? Hopefully you have a shot list of the family your bride and groom want photos with. You can’t rely on them with so much going through their heads. They’re relying on you that day, so make sure you photograph everything and everyone. Remember that Pinterest folder she emailed you? Did you find a few shots in there you can put your own creative spin on? Are you an off-camera lighting kind of photographer? Well you better have all your gear working and batteries charged so you deliver the style of photos your clients hired you for. Have you backed up all of their images in several locations? All it takes is one stop from the wedding reception on your way to your studio for your car to get broken into and everything stolen. What will you do then? You can take your time in a studio and reshoot headshots, but not with a wedding.
The wedding photographer often has to wear many hats which drives many photographer away. You’re never just the photographer. You’re often the wedding coordinator and planner when it comes to the schedule of the day and working with the other wedding vendors involved. So that means extra phone calls, planning, meetings, and preparation outside of what you’ll be doing with your camera and soft box. Most brides and grooms want to make as few decisions as possible on their wedding day, so that often leaves you in charge. If you haven’t already planned ahead for rain, you’ll be who everyone looks to save the day when you can’t take photos at the park. You don’t just need a plan b, you need a plan k.
3. You will work many long hours.
So many people think that wedding photographers show up to a wedding and document the party and live the lives that songs are sung about. In truth, the average wedding photographer spends about ten hours at the wedding, plus four to five hours of preparation (if the wedding locations are familiar, longer if they’re not), a couple hours driving, and anywhere from two to ten hours of editing, uploading, and delivering the final images. That’s roughly 18 – 27 hours per wedding if not longer. That’s for one job. This doesn’t even account for the time you spend with emails, phone calls, meetings, website and social media updates, education, and everything else a photography business requires throughout the rest of the week. I just recently started putting aside one day a week where I don’t do anything work related because 60 – 80 hour work weeks are quite the norm.
The wedding day itself is one of constant movement with very few opportunities to sit a moment, eat, or use the restroom, so being in shape, hydrated, and able to snack on the go is crucial. So are having comfortable clothes and shoes. Even still, I’m exhausted after a wedding. My back aches, my feet are busted, and I’m usually soaked in sweat in the hotter months. If you’re more of a slow-paced, stay cool and comfortable kind of person… weddings are definitely not for you. You’re going to bust your butt at most weddings. Be prepared for that.
2. You give up your summer weekends.
I book weddings one to two years ahead of time. Do you realize what that means? I miss most of my own families’ and friends’ weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and the like. Weekends are gone. Are you willing to give up all of that along with the fairs and concerts that run from May through October (the busy season around me)? Will your loved ones grow tired of being without you? It’s a huge tradeoff to celebrate with everyone else and have to make up time with your own family. Sure you’ll have a weekend day here and there to do things, but what if someone wants to book it last minute? Do you take the job because you’re a business, or do you miss out on the income so you can have a date night with your husband? This is where the concept of charging more and working less comes into play. If you limit the amount of weddings you take, you’ll have to increase the amount of money you receive for each wedding to balance things out. The business side of maintaining a healthy family, friend, and love life is very difficult to manage.
This of course is the same deal when planning vacations or trying to add any spontaneity to your schedule. Usually these types of luxuries will have to wait until the off-season.
1. You need to deal with the feast or famine complex.
Number one here is the largest concern with shooting weddings full time. Wedding season around the Chicagoland area is busiest from May through October. Unless you’re hustling like no other, and discounting the off-season to fill those winter months with weddings too, you’ll generally be working and getting income for approximately six months a year as a wedding photographer. So what do you do?
You have to anticipate the slow months and make the income from six months spread out all year long. That means budgeting and saving and planning ahead. It sounds a lot simpler on paper than in reality though. Even the established successful photographers have to plan ahead for the rest of the year. The temptation to spend money when it comes in and not think ahead can get the best of anyone. So knowing that and making an effort to budget your income throughout the year, you can also take other jobs.
What’s this? Other jobs? Yes. Of course. You have an opportunity to do something completely different in the off-season months, which for me is great. I get to focus on personal projects, work with bands, take portraits, and book commercial work. You could go bartend somewhere too, but instead of doing that when I started out, I shot nightclub photos. The sky’s the limit, but I guess you could do astrophotography and ruin that fun saying too. The point is that you probably want to supplement your income with other work unless your business is thriving to the point where you can travel and enjoy the down time. I’d like to get closer to that someday, but it certainly won’t be a realistic goal for those of you who are just starting out right now.
These are the top reasons so many photographer friends of mine have either quit the wedding industry or don’t want to anywhere go near it. It looks like a sexy job, but it’s a hard grind.
There are thankfully many, many, reasons why I love wedding photography and that’s why I remain in the industry and love what I do. I’ll go over the top five reasons why you should be a wedding photographer next time!
Did I miss any? Do you disagree? Have anything to contribute? Please add to the conversation below in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think!