6 Things I wish I knew when i was an aspiring wedding photographer

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I’m the kind of person that is either frantically running dozens of spreadsheets with different outcome predictions before doing something, or I’m like “screw it, it’ll work out, let’s just do it!” - there’s no in between.


When I was graduating from Northeastern University with a degree in Communications, thinking about starting a wedding and family photography business, it was DEFINITELY the running spreadsheets that was showing up most.

Taking the leap and starting a new business felt so scary! Is it really even possible to make a living as a photographer? Is it just a few rockstars who manage to do it, or can most people do it with hard work and the right knowledge?

…and that was just the beginning of a thousand other questions I had in the beginning.

The good news? It is TOTALLY possible. It isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s something that’s doable for most people who are willing to work hard/smart and understand the value of continually learning from the people around them! And one of the best parts is, it’s the kind of business that can serve as a flexible side gig, a steady secondary source of income, a solid full-time job, or a thriving six-figure business!

After several years of running a successful six-figure wedding and family photography business, I’m pretty psyched to be able to pass on the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 6 years. 

Today, I’m listing 5 things I wish I knew during the first year or two of starting my wedding and family photography business - hopefully these save you some time, frustration, and keep you from making some of the mistakes I made!


#1 Assist and second shoot for as many different photographers as you can


This is one of my favorite pieces of advice for photographers who are interested in weddings. Working for other photographers obviously helps you gain experience and build your portfolio. But it also gives you a chance to watch how other photographers approach the day and handle different situations (super important during a on often high-stress, fast-paced job like wedding photography), practice new techniques or styles of shooting, and figure out what mix of gear you prefer on wedding days. It’ll help you develop your own wedding day style and approach. Plus, it’s a great way of picking up some extra income to help pay for the gear, education, and other essentials you’re investing in as you’re building your biz!

Bonus points? The main photog may end up chatting with business about you - great for picking up tips on being a business owner. They may even answer questions you have if you travel to/from the wedding together (just be sure to be respectful and not go overboard on this - you can always pay them for a mentoring session if you want in-depth answers or answers to lots of q’s!). And if you do a great job from them, they may even send you referrals down the road, which is super helpful when you’re in the first couple of years of business!


#2 Don’t base your pricing on your peers

This is one of the most common mistakes people make, and I was TOTALLY guilty of it too! I know it’s tempting to base your pricing on some other photogs you know, but here’s the problem with doing that: their pricing is based on their own personal costs, income needs/goals, support system, level of service, and so much more! Or it’s based on nothing at all, which would make it even more dangerous to go off of! 

Even if their business is thriving, basing your pricing off theirs could be deadly for your business since it isn’t taking all those differences in costs, needs, etc into account. Your pricing needs to based on your costs and goals at a minimum. That’s a topic for another day, so keep a lookout for a training on pricing in the next month or so!


#3 Be strategic about investing in your business

Knowing what to buy and when can be tricky and overwhelming. There are things you need to invest in to protect yourself, some that you need for basic functioning, some that you need to propel your business forward, and some that increase the quality of your service. I see new photographers get distracted by shiny things while ignoring fundamentals pretty often (and I was totally there too! Even now I catch myself doing it from time to time!), and it can seriously stunt your business, or even set you up for failure.

I put together an investment priority guide for new wedding and family photogs for take the confusion out of what to invest in when it comes to growing your business sustainably - download it here!


#4 Invest in your education, but be intentional about the way you do it]

Speaking of investing, it’s pretty common knowledge that education is one of the fastest and most effective ways to ensure that your business grows quickly and in a well-rounded way. BUT, there are lots of different education options out there, and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each, as well as what might be the best for what you’re aiming to learn.

Head on over to my blog post Education for Photographers: What's Available and What's Right for You to see a comprehensive breakdown!



#5 Your talent as a photographer isn't nearly as important as your business skills are


At least, not when it comes to running a successful business. There are clients for you out there no matter WHAT your photos look like. This can be hard to believe, but I've seen it myself! Photographers who take (in my opinion) terrible photos who run successful businesses with very happy clients, and incredibly talented photographers who have unhappy clients or businesses that crash and burn.

Your ability to set and meet/exceed expectations and your ability to run a business are much more important to you clients' happiness and business' success than the subjective quality of your photos.



#6 You’ll miss out on clients for not being expensive ENOUGH just as often as you will for being “too expensive”

... so charge what you need to! I PROMISE there are clients out there for you!

This one would have BLOWN my mind if you told me about it when I was just starting out! To people who aren’t photographers, the difference in quality, experience, and service between two photographers isn’t nearly as obvious as it seems to us. Price is often what clients use to unconsciously determine who is higher quality - the unconscious perception is “the higher the price, the better they must be”.

This works the other way around too - if your work looks good and you seem great, but your price is a lot lower than the other photographers they’ve been looking at, many people immediately wonder “hmm, what’s the catch?”. It immediately puts doubt in their minds, and when it comes to something like wedding photography, most couples want to feel really certain about whoever they choose.

In that same vein, someone with a $10,000 photography budget is almost never going to hire someone for $5,000, let alone $2,500.

When you first start out and run the numbers to see where your prices need to be, it can be scary and overwhelming to see numbers higher than what you’re charging now. Keeping the above in mind can really help with that fear!

I could go on and on, but I want to keep this quick - maybe I’ll do a part two in the future. For now, keep your head up, stay focused, and keep your passion alive- you can DO THIS! :) 


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Education for Photographers: A breakdown of what's available and what's right for you

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You already know that education is one of the best investments you can make in your business (and if you're feeling overwhelmed or confused about what to invest in first, I created a free PDF with a checklist of what to invest in and when!), but there are SO many education options out there - you don't want to waste time or money on one that isn't a good match for you!

So, I've put together a list of the available types of education out there + a short description of pros, cons, and things to consider for each! Hope this helps!

Freebies (blog posts like this one, podcasts, downloadable resources): Lots of great, basic info - good for getting your ideas flowing and to help you understand concepts and ideas. And they’re free!

Books: Inexpensive or free, but information may become out of date or not as relevant quickly, so they’re best used when it’s a topic about strategy rather than specific tactics.

Online Course (short, specific): Usually very approachable price wise (often $150-$650 range) and a great value for the money you’re spending. Often pretty actionable and results-focused, and since they’re short, they’re easy to consume, finish, and put into action. Focusing on a narrower topic means you’re less likely to get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. My personal favorite kind of impersonal coaching (aka learning from something recorded/written and meant for consumption by a large group of people rather than one on one or small groups - this includes live talks to large groups at workshops/conferences).

Online Course (long, comprehensive): Typically more in the $750-2,000 range, so a bit more expensive (rightfully so). Great value for the money IF you actually finish the course in a timely manner and don’t get easily overwhelmed. Keep in mind that it’s surprisingly rare for people to finish online courses (which is why I’m a fan of shorter, more specific courses lately!), so consider your personality, your schedule, and your goals/the results you expect to get out of it before purchasing one of these. If you do finish them, they can be amazing! Facebook groups that go with these courses and material that is released one week at a time over the course of 4-6 weeks tend to help fight the overwhelm and keep you focused, so look for courses that have those options.

Small/Intimate workshop: Price varies for these, but they tend to be in the $500-$2500 range. Slightly more personalized attention and often the opportunity to ask questions is nice - something that isn’t as available with bigger workshops. They can be great for networking and community building since you’ll likely get to know the people you’re with. Less overwhelming if you’re shy or introverted. Often more focused on one topic, which I’m a fan of. Before investing in one, make sure you do a cost/benefit analyses on the topic - is this topic one that is going to help you make more money in your business in a tangible way? Or is it something less tangible, like improving your shooting skills (without focus on any one skill in particular that you’re looking to learn)? If it’s the latter, your money is likely better used elsewhere.


Medium to Large Workshop (local): Often on the more affordable side of things for an in-person event. What’s nice about larger workshops is that there are often multiple topics and presentations from multiple people that you can learn from, so you can get a mix that works for your unique needs at this point in your business. It’s also less likely to have “celeb” type educators, and instead have local successful business owners - I think that can make things more approachable (and those people may be more approachable too after their presentation!). Lots of opportunities to network since there are lots of local photogs there! Can get overwhelming taking in that much info in a short period of time and being around so many new people, though, so know yourself, and choose a different type of education if that doesn’t sound like your jam!

Medium to Large Workshop (destination): Often the most expensive type of in-person mass-education out there. A lot of times these feature educators that have become somewhat like celebs in the photography world, so it can be a cool opportunity to learn from them and potentially meet them in person, and get to know other photographers who look up to the same people as you do, which can be pretty cool! Just do your homework before you buy a ticket - some “celeb” educators have GREAT reputations for education, and others… not so much. Also, if you’re starting out and aren’t making enough to go full-time yet, I’d tend to advise that you use your money on a different form of education - these tend to be more expensive because of the “cool” factor. There’s nothing wrong with paying for that, or going just because it’d be fun! But as your business is growing, you can get a lot more value for the money you’re spending, which is extra important while you’re still on the smaller side :) 


1:1 Mentor Sessions: Mentoring sessions are often more expensive, but the individualized attention having someone more experienced, knowledgable, and successful than you problem solving things about your business with you is POWERFUL!!! You’ll often leave mentor sessions having learned some really key pieces of information, with powerful insights, and a refreshed mindset and tons of motivation (super important!). These are often best when you really want to learn from someone specific about solving 1-3 problems/questions you currently have OR if you want to learn about taking your business to a new level and want advice on that (hiring a team, hiring an associate photographer, adding video to your team are just a few examples!). 

The downsides are just the expense and that it’s often a one-time session that’s mostly focused on helping you where you are NOW, rather than checking in with you throughout the year and acting as someone to support you, encourage you, and keep you accountable as things move forward.

Ongoing Business Coaching: This type of coaching pretty much solves the problems with 1:1 mentoring since it’s ongoing. This is a pretty surefire way to up level your business much faster than you could on your own. The tradeoff? It’s expensive. But you’ll make more money much more quickly (and with fewer mistakes that suck the life out of you!) along the way.

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Mastermind Groups (free): Free mastermind groups typically consist of a group of likeminded people in similar places in their businesses committed to getting together to trade ideas and help one another grow. If you can find a good free one, it can be really powerful! Unfortunately, free ones are often led by the group and there isn’t as much of a commitment (or one person at the next level teaching you all how to get there), so there are plenty of duds, too. No harm in joining one if you can find it! Just make sure to be assessing whether or not it’s actually helpful for you.

Mastermind Groups (paid): Paid mastermind groups are typically led by someone who is at the next “level” - someone who has achieved what you want to achieve. They usually cost in the 10s of thousands of dollars to join, can be joined by strict application process only, and most last for a year. They can be fully online, fully in person, or a mix!

These are incredibly powerful for a LOT of reasons. Investing a lot of money is a POWERFUL motivator - it’s a sign to yourself and to the world that you’re serious about moving to the next “level”. If you’re investing serious money like this, that’s clearly where your priorities lay, and you’re going to work hard to make sure it doesn’t go to waste. Being led by someone who has already gotten there majorly mitigates the risk of just guessing at how to level up and kind of flopping around in circles or hitting multiple dead ends or making big mistakes along the way. The year-long timeframe means that information can be released in less overwhelming intervals, and the group and the mastermind leader are there to help pick you up and keep you motivated when you hit snags or seasons of overwhelm. 

And possibly the most underrated part? Your fellow mastermind participants will change your life! Being surrounded by motivated people and seeing the back end of their process is HUGEEEEE. I seriously can’t get over how life-changing this can be. You start to understand that things are possible because you’re surrounded by people like you doing it, and you get to see exactly HOW they’re doing it. You get to receive tons of feedback from these other brilliant people, and the relationships you build will last a lifetime.

Masterminds generally are something people join when they’re a little further along in their business, since they’re expensive, but when you get to that point, they’re so worth it! Make sure you click with the vibe of the person leading it before joining - you want to make sure this is going to be a group you enjoy being around and feel comfortable being vulnerable with (it’s hard to grow if you’re always feeling like you need to appear better than you are!). I joined my first mastermind group this year (2018), and it’s forced me to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined!


Traditional Education (college): This is my least favorite option for photographers when it comes to business - traditional education tends to be by far the most expensive and time-consuming option of everything listed here, and the structure of traditional schooling means that it’s difficult for the curriculum to stay truly up-to-date and relevant. 

That’s not to say there isn’t anything to be learned or gained from this type of education, but if you’re pretty set on becoming a wedding or family photographer, I’d feel very comfortable betting that your business will go much further if you spent the money you’d need to spend on traditional schooling on any of the above options instead. 

What kind of education has been most helpful for you so far? For me it's been a combination of short online courses, 1:1 mentorships, and the Mastermind I'm in right now!



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