The brilliant journalist George Monbiot unsuprisingly gets lots of emails from budding journalists seeking careers advice, and because he can’t reply to all of them he has written some great advice on his website (which is well worth reading even if you’re a photographer).
I get 2-3 emails a week from newbie photographers looking for advice about how to become a professional wedding photographer or how to ‘get into the wedding market’ and George’s thoughtful gesture inspired me to do the same for budding wedding photographers.
Of course, do take what I say with a big pinch of salt. I can’t ultimately advise anyone on the way to progress their career. But for what it’s worth, here are some thoughts I have formulated:
Don’t try to emulate other wedding photographers. In fact, the less you look at other wedding photographers’ work, the better. Why? Because if your work looks just like everyone else’s, why would a couple choose you over and above them? Instead, find your own visual style and ‘grammar’. Easier said then done I know, but that’s nonetheless the challenge.
I did an MA in photojournalism, which switched me on to documentary photography, and my aesthetic is still more inspired by great photojournalists like Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka, Brenda Ann Kenneally and Eugene Richards. You most definitely do not need an MA, or even a GCSE to be a good or successful wedding photographer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! You don't need to be at all academic. But I do believe you need to be an inquisitive and - I hate the word but I’m going to say it anyway - cultured person. What I mean by that is you need to be someone who is interested in the visual arts generally, not just photography. So whether you watch arthouse films with great cinematography (it’s for you to decide what that means, but as long as it doesn’t include Miss Congeniality 2, it’s OK) or go to the National Gallery to see some of the finest oil paintings you’ll find anywhere in the world, or geek out on typography, or Polish movie poster art, give your eyeballs a lot more to look at then what is often anodyne Calvin Klein aftershave ad inspired ersatz ‘art' wedding photography.
Build a great website. And that doesn’t just mean creating a pretty website with lots of great photos. You also have to learn about good SEO. And if you don't know what SEO means, you absolutely 100% need to learn what it is. This is probably the only thing on this page that I consider a MUST. Learn about SEO, do good SEO.
So how to get off the starting block? If you haven’t got a wedding portfolio, why would anyone pay you to photograph their wedding? Good question. Just a suggestion - advertise on Gumtree or social media that you want to photograph people’s weddings for free to build a portfolio.
If you go down that route, agree in writing what couples can and can't expect from you. Manage their expectations. Don't give them the impression that you can do what a seasoned £2,500 pro photographer can do (unless you’re so good that you absolutely know you can).
After that, keep your prices low to start with. You've got to believe that you're good and therefore charge accordingly but don't expect anyone to give you a grand to photograph their wedding if you've only got two weddings under your belt. Increase your prices over time, commensurate with your developing experience and growing portfolio.
You don't have to spend time as an assistant to a professional wedding photographer. I never did. But I'm not advising against it either. It could be really beneficial (just don't let anyone exploit you!)
Be business minded. That means have good admin systems, be organised, communicate clearly and transparently with (potential) clients - always, always, always. Talent alone won't get you very far.
Best of luck out there!