I recently had a friend and colleague at The Daily Californian e-mail me with a question. How, he wanted to know, did you break in to shooting weddings?! While I am not a full time professional wedding photographer I have certainly done my round of second shooting weddings and if you are where I was a few years ago and would like to start feeling your way around the wedding photography business, here are my thoughts for getting started :)
1. Write yourself a photography resumé. It should not look like a resumé that you would submit for any other job, although I recommend making it look like one. List your photography experience, any jobs you’ve done (volunteer or paid), any places your photos have been shown (I recommend submitting to Pictory!) or featured, a link to your personal photo blog if you have one, your tumblr, your Facebook, etc. ALSO LIST: your equipment (body + lenses), how many weddings you’ve shot, and what types of software you are comfortable using and to what degree (I would say, for example, Proficient in Photo Mechanic, Photoshop CS5, and WordPress). Basically, put together a single page on yourself and your photography that would give anybody who looked at it a very good idea of where you are as a photographer. Save a copy in PDF.
2. Learn to work your camera on a Manual setting. If you shoot film, more power to you. But if you’re shooting digital, you absolutely need to learn how to shoot on the Manual setting. I actually first started shooting Manual in the middle of a wedding. I had dabbled in it before and sort of knew my way around it (plus, I first learned photography shooting film which is, of course, all manual exposure), but I primarily shot on Av (Aperture Priority). In the middle of a wedding I found myself frustrated that faced with difficult lighting conditions, my camera was not exposing the images to my liking. I switched to Manual that moment and have never gone back. Certain images are just not possible in the automatic modes on your camera. Some people play around with exposure compensation, but I always figure that if you have to go to all the trouble to learn that, you might as well just do yourself a favor and learn to shoot manually. It opens doors, too! I’ve been asked during at least one interview if I shot on Manual. Plus, shooting manually will give you a little more photog street cred. Seriously. :)
3. Invest in equipment. Take this one with a grain of salt because to a certain extent, a photographer’s gear does not make the photographer (and, honestly, some of my favorite images have been shot on anything but professional grade gear). But to a certain extent, you can’t be a reliable shooter without it. Do your research and maintain a set of equipment that is in good working order. I wouldn’t hire anybody with less than at least a prosumer or professional camera. That being said, most professional photographers have back-up equipment and BOTH photographers who did let me use theirs before I had my 5DMarkII. I continue to use their lenses when I work for them. SO. Don’t break the bank, but if you want to be a professional photographer, you’ll have to invest at some point :)
4. Learn the industry. I vote for reading blogs. I’ll get to how this is controversial in a second, but I still recommend reading blogs. Industry standards are: Green Wedding Shoes, Jose Villa, Jonathan Canlas, Jasmine Star, 100 Layer Cake… The list goes on and on and on and on and I have 100% faith that once you start looking, you’ll find what you’re looking for. When I first started shooting weddings, I read these a LOT. And I learned more doing that that I did reading anything else. I learned about weddings, about design, about the industry, about how to shoot, what’s expected. Lots! Wedding photographers are often a lovely bunch who really share what they know. And that info has all served me VERY WELL. I seriously think that reading wedding blogs can help you to understand both the customer base and what they are expecting as well as what other photographers are looking for in a second shooter. A lot of photographers warn against looking at blogs too much as it can stifle your own vision and your own creativity. Be wary of this. Shoot lots and lots of personal work. And once you feel like you’ve got your feet under you, step away from the blogs. Until then? Use them as the valuable resource they are. :)
5. Reach out! The only way you’ll ever get a job with a photographer is if you introduce yourself. I once took public transportation over an hour all the way to Richmond, California (and had to hitch a ride back to the BART station!) once just to meet a photographer whose work I admired and to give her my photo resumé. I’ve been to countless get to know you parties to network and made some great photo friends (shout out to the lovely Miss Kim J Martin!). When I started looking for a summer job, I actually ended up e-mailing TWENTY SEVEN photographers in the Bay Area (and those who shoot in the Bay Area sometimes), looking for work as a second shooter. I included my resumé, a link to my blog, and a short, sweet, and to the point e-mail. A lot didn’t respond, less wrote back saying thanks but no thanks, two or three ended up being serious leads, and one ended up being the one I worked with for a summer and who I couldn’t adore more (love you, Mrs. Meg Perotti!)
Wow. Writing this really feels to me like I’ve come a long long way. Thank you SO MUCH to my mentor, friend, and all-round great girl Mrs. Shanti Duprez for believing in me at the beginning… without that woman I never would have started!
Of course, thank you also to the amazing Meg Perotti. I have learned so much and had so much fun shooting with you this year! I am so glad working with you has become a part of my life :) Thank you!
I hope this article helped you a little, or a lot. If you’re a beginning photographer, I know the industry can seem daunting. As they say, “Keep calm and shoot on!”