Recently, I put up a post on Instagram calling for any questions you have about wedding photography, running a business, starting a business, real estate, airbnb, self-love, and more.
I got SO many great questions, but one of the ones I heard most often had to do with gaining the confidence to really get started as a wedding photographer. Here's a great question from @carolineeparr:
"I would love to get into wedding photography on the side, but I feel like my lack of self-confidence is holding me back. I shot my friend's wedding for free a couple of years ago, and while it didn't go perfectly, it was fun!
But I haven't done anything since, mostly because I'm afraid of working with people I don't know. In general, I'm not very assertive, and would feel awkward directing people and telling them how to pose, etc.
Plus, I can't imagine charging people for my photography when I'm so nervous and convinced that I'm going to mess up and ruin capturing their day! So I guess one thing I'd like to know is whether you struggled with awkwardness/self-doubt in the beginning and how you overcame it."
Ok, let’s dig in!
Girl, I’ve TOTALLY felt this way! And like I said above, I think everyone does. Doing something new is scary, especially when it’s as high-stakes, fast-paced, and important as photographing a wedding. I have lots of advice for you on this one!
Spend a wedding season assisting and/or second shooting for as many established wedding photographers as you can.
The one thing I recommend to anyone working toward becoming a wedding photographer is to do as much assisting and second shooting as you can before you start taking on your own weddings. I’d recommend spending at least one season assisting and/or second shooting for as many established photographers as you can before you start taking on your own weddings.
This has pretty much ENDLESS benefits!
Gaining wedding photography experience + getting more familiar with wedding days:
First of all, wedding days can be fast-paced and stressful, with lighting conditions changing dramatically on the reg, and there are lots of really special moments that it can be hard to catch if you aren’t anticipating them. When you work as an assistant or second shooter, it’s a much lower-stakes way to gain experience and really get to know how wedding days often go from a photography standpoint.
While all weddings definitely are different, once you’ve done a bunch of them, you’ll find yourself feeling much more comfortable and confident in your ability to handle anything a wedding day throws at you. You’ll also develop a sixth sense for anticipating emotional moments, which is pretty cool and very useful ;) And as you get more comfortable with wedding days, you’ll be able to help make the day less stressful and even more smooth for your couple and their family and friends - something that’s usually deeply appreciated.
Another reason why assisting and second shooting for other photographers is so beneficial? You’ll get to see how they handle little (or big!) problems that come up, see how they interact with their couples (and their fam, friends, other vendors, etc), how they approach the wedding day in general, and more.
Piecing together your own wedding-day approach:
As you work with different people, you’ll begin piecing together how you want to approach weddings as you learn what things you like and what things don’t really feel like a match for you. I bet this will be especially helpful for you when it comes to knowing how to pose and interact with couples! A lot of times just having guidelines for yourself to fall back on based on what you’ve seen work a bunch of times before is very comforting and can help you stay confident, even if you’re feeling a bit stressed.
Build your portfolio:
A more obvious benefit of second shooting is that you’ll be able to build your portfolio. Make sure you check with the main photographer about what their policy for image usage is before agreeing to work with them. Some may allow you to post your photos wherever, whenever (most won’t), some will allow you to post on your website and social media but without names or tagging, some may allow usage after a certain amount of time, and some may not allow you to use your photos at all. Each one of these is completely valid, it’s just good to know what you’re agreeing on ahead of time! That way you can make sure that you’re second shooting at least some weddings that you can use on your website as a portfolio.
Grow a network of peers who you can lean on for education and support:
Another huge bonus is that often times, you’ll have a little bit of time (on the way to/from the wedding, during dinner) to chat with the main photographer. Often times, conversation will end up being about photography and business related stuff, and most photogs will naturally give you advice or tips on your business, which is awesome! Of course, make sure to be respectful and not ask for TOO much information for free (consider hiring someone you look up to as a mentor if you want to dig deeper!). But often they’ll offer it on their own! I usually do :)
As if that’s not enough (told ya the benefits were endless!), growing a network of photographers that you’ve worked with and are friendly with is incredibly helpful when you need advice or support down the road, or for helping to educate you on industry standards. I can’t tell you how many times my local community of photographers has taught me something or supported me through something uncomfortable.
And possibly best of all? Most of us end up passing on referrals to people who have second shot with us in the past:
At first, they’ll probably send you some low-budget referrals when you’re starting out and your prices are still low. Then, as you gain experience and raise your prices to a professional level, they’ll likely pass on referrals to you when they’re booked for a date. Photographers tend to pass on referrals to people they know and like, and working with other photographers and doing a great job for them often leads to just that :) Make sure you pay it back/forward when you start having enough inquiries that you have to pass on some!
In general, gaining a lot of good experience in an assisting/second shooting role should really help boost your confidence on a wedding day when you begin shooting your own weddings again! It’s a great way to make money while gaining experience and confidence, all while making really awesome connections and learning a ton from other bad-ass photographers!
Becoming comfortable with posing couples
Although working with other photographers will really help you gain confidence in posing people, there are a few other things you can do to find your posing happy place!
Get to know your couples:
One of the things I really enjoy doing is getting to know my couples before their wedding day. It helps me capture the two of them and their wedding in a way that feels true to them. One of the ways I do this is by sending out a questionnaire with 10 personal questions for each partner to fill out. It’s such a great way for me to get to know them better, and best of all, it’s fun for them to do, too! My wedding photographer did this with us, and I still remember how deeply touching it was to read through Joe’s answers.
Of course, you can always do other things to get to know your couples better! Some photographers like to include complementary engagement sessions with each wedding when they’re starting out - that way you’ll get to meet and spend time with each couple in person ahead of time. You could also create a Facebook group for any of your couples to join, and share wedding planning tips, ask weekly fun questions, etc. Or you could just ask your couples to hang out and grab coffee!
Once you know your couples better, you’ll have more to talk about (which often helps you feel more comfortable), AND they’ll be more comfortable with you in general since they know you!
Determine your shooting style:
Are you a more traditional photographer? Or more photojournalistic? A mix of both? Are you aiming to make gorgeous pinterest-perfect photographs for your couples, or do you want photos that don’t feel especially posed and are full of emotion and movement? If you’re not sure, a good place to start is asking yourself what you’re trying to capture for your couples. Artful, classic photos that belong in a magazine? More relaxed photos that capture their personality? Trendy photos? Conceptual art style photos?
What I try to capture for my couples is their personalities, emotions, and relationship to one another, so that means I’m typically going for more relaxed photos that are unique to each couple and their dynamic.
Once you figure this out, there are lots of things you can do to get yourself feeling great about posing! You can make mood/vision boards, memorize a few key poses and then focus on capturing them from different angles, you can come up with little games or prompts for your couples that bring out their individuality or give them something to do, you can come up with a game-plan for what types of photos you want to get in every shoot, etc!
Start with walking:
One of my favorite tips is to start with walking. Most couples are feeling a little awkward at the beginning of their engagement session or couples portrait time on their wedding day, so giving them something to do where you’re not up in their face is a great way to ease them into things and start getting them more comfortable. It’ll ease you in, too! I almost always start off with walking. It’s nice because you can usually get a feel for their dynamic as they’re walking and chatting to each other.
Then, as they're walking, occasionally encourage them to do little things, like kiss! That's exactly what I did in this set of photos.
Embrace the awkwardness, give them lots of reassurance, then fake it til you make it!
Whenever it’s my first time photographing a couple, I always say something along the lines of “I know you’re totally going to feel awkward at first, but just try to embrace it! A lot of times that awkward feeling will result in laughing to one another which actually looks super cute on camera. And I promise you’ll warm up after a few minutes and you’ll fee like a pro at the end!”. It lets them know that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, that everyone feels that way at first, and that they’ll feel some relief soon.
Then, make sure to give them lots of (genuine) reassurance, joke around with them a bit to loosen things up. Even if you’re feeling awkward, try to fake confidence and keep your mood and tone up. You might be surprised to find that soon, you don’t have to fake it! And in the meantime, it’ll help your couple feel comfortable :)
Getting comfortable with charging couples to photograph their wedding
Part of getting comfortable with charging couples to photograph their wedding will come with experience. Once you have a bunch of weddings as a second shooter under your belt, you’ll feel more confident that you’ll be able to do a decent job on someone’s wedding, even if you aren’t super seasoned yet.
Be up front:
One of the best things you can do is set expectations by being up front and honest about your experience level in a positive way! I think when we’re not as experienced and still feel that feeling of “holy heck someone would pay ME to photograph their wedding? Are you sure???”, we often feel tempted to puff up a little to make ourselves seem a little better than we are. That comes from a place of fear - like your little internal voice telling you “no one is going to want to hire someone who hasn’t shot many of their own weddings yet!”. But that’s not true - plenty of people have smaller budgets and are looking for someone who is promising but doesn’t have a ton of experience yet!
Your experience level is nothing to be ashamed of. You’ve done a lot of work as a second photog/assistant to prepare to take on your first weddings on your own, you’re only going to get better with each wedding (so if they like your work now, imagine how much they’ll like it in a year when their wedding comes around!), and you’ve priced yourself according to your experience level, so if it’s a good fit for them, you’re an awesome catch! :)
Pricing itself is a whole other novel’s worth of blog posts, so I’ll save it for another day, but I hope this helps! You’ve got this girlfriend!
As always, feel free to email me or DM me on Instagram with topic suggestions or questions you’d love to have answered here on the blog! :)