Search the web: Hundreds of videos show you how to get more bookings and optimize your marketing efforts. But how do we get our very first reservation? I asked a few professional photographers to tell me their stories.
Before we jump into the feature, I want to share my reason for this question. In July I met a young photographer at an event in England, a man from Yorkshire called Steve. We chatted and he shared his desire to become a professional wedding photographer. Now my first thought was to allow him to come to a few weddings with me, so he could build his portfolio and get a feel for what weddings are like. He’s now acted as my shadow for a few weddings, and just days ago he asked me the million dollar question: How do I get my first wedding job?
My first marriages
Judging by my face, anyone would think he just asked what is the meaning of life. It’s been a long time since I took my first booking, and I don’t know if the same series of events might repeat for him. I lived my life in commercial photography, photographing everything I could. Hotel interiors? Yeah. Headshots? All day. Restaurant menus? Count on me. Weddings, however, weren’t for me. Weddings were for people who couldn’t come. It’s a feeling that I would totally regret later.
I was friends with a wedding photographer who often asked me if I wanted to photograph a wedding with him. The answer was always a firm “no”.
Then I gave in.
I went with him to a wedding to see what it was all about. Our styles were very different. I am a candid wedding photographer, and his stuff was much more structured and traditional. Anyway, I had a great day. I decided that weddings were for me, and I went to a few others with him.
For personal reasons, he decided to hang up his cameras and quit. This left some customers without a photographer, so he passed me some of the cheaper ones. This is the short version of the story. I suddenly had a newspaper with paying customers and a blank canvas on which to build the business I run today.
How Other Photographers Landed Their First Paid Marriage
This question got me thinking. Every wedding photographer working today has a different story of how they landed their first gig. I sat down to listen to a few, hoping to give Steve the best advice I could.
What I discovered was not just good advice. It was also a lesson in humility for me. There are photographers I look up to as role models or mentors, and I loved hearing about their early days in this field.
Kevin is a photographer who epitomizes documentary wedding photography in the UK. Now a good friend, his teachings have greatly influenced my career over the years. Her first paid marriage shows how helpful a mother-in-law can sometimes be, even if we don’t like to admit it. He showed a friend of his mother-in-law photographs of some pigeons (which he had taken). She asked if he would be taking pictures at her daughter’s wedding. He pretty much made a triple-digit sum.
Paul worked as a well-respected fashion photographer, but noticed a decline in his work due to magazine closures and changes in his clientele and staff. He told me to change paths, and it was either marriages or children. Marriages won!
He added a badge to his wife’s website, which made wedding invitations, advertising his photograph. He told me he finally got an application for a London hotel he had been to for fashion jobs. He knew it well! Excellent result. Paul’s wife, Carol, had worked at a bridal magazine as an art director. They collectively knew that a reporting style was paramount in how they would shoot. They photographed the wedding together and have worked that way for every wedding since 2008.
It shows me that even established photographers need a starting point for weddings. Paul was a very experienced fashion photographer and his wife worked in the industry. Yet that first job was landed without wedding photos and earned Paul a fraction of what he charges today.
Kieran and i started this wedding photography journey around the same time and shared many experiences but i had no idea how he landed his first paid wedding. Turns out Facebook was his friend. He was part of a local wedding group and a bride had been let down by her photographer. He had previously filmed a wedding (for free) and put his name forward.
He got the job, and the rest is history!
taylor jackson is a wedding photographer and educator (I would even say influencer) based in Canada. His first marriage was when he was a busy music photographer, filming around 100-200 gigs a year in MySpace’s heyday (2004-ish).
He says: “A couple I met in the photo pit at a Dashboard Confessional concert were getting married. They wanted a wedding photographer who would take pictures more like a promotional image of a band or a live concert. direct rather than a traditional wedding photographer. I had been trying to get into wedding photography for about a year at that time with no success. They didn’t know. The request was completely random and fit perfectly with this what I wanted to do with my career at that time.
Taylor adds that her story is about being in the world with a camera, in places where your ideal couples hang out. You’ll connect through common interests if you document what interests them.
Good luck and the people we know often play a big role in finding our first marriages. This is not the case with Married, a wedding photographer from Wales. She was smart and lucky enough to jump on the SEO train to success in her early days. She tells me: “In 2009, I paid a professional designer to create my website. Back then, if you had a decent H1 tag, you went to the top of Google. I got 16 in the first year. They all found me via Google”.
Another simple case of being in the right place at the right time. french tells me that she put photos taken at a family wedding on her personal Facebook page. A friend saw them and asked Frances to photograph her wedding. She adds, “I didn’t even know I was going to be a wedding photographer then. The universe knew what I wanted before me.”
Gabin told me this story a long time ago, showing how sometimes things that absolutely shouldn’t work can! He took pictures with a consumer camera and a kit lens. Wedding photos, you ask? No, pictures of his dogs at the beach. He then took these photographs to a local wedding fair and was successful in getting wedding bookings. I think Gavin’s personality has something to do with it. He’s a bubbly character, and if clients want a fun guy at their wedding, Gavin has the job, even with pictures of dogs!
Some shorter stories
I have received many stories from fantastic photographers of how they started their first paid marriage. However, I can’t say everything! Maybe one day I will write a second part of this article.
UK Wedding Photographer Andy Gaine responded to a Gumtree ad for a cheap photographer and got the job.
Guy Necklace attended a neighbor’s wedding as a guest with his camera. The bride preferred her photos to hired professionals and showed them her workplace. His colleague then hired Guy to photograph his wedding.
Rahul Khona had a family friend who needed a photographer. After six months of second filming, he met them with a sample album and landed the job.
Chris Gilles created a one-page website entirely based on being a cheap wedding photographer in his area. The website literally explained that he had good equipment but no experience. That was 13 years ago, and he says “little has changed”. I will disagree nicely!
Dave Scholes told me, “I used to work at a family portrait studio, and some old school friends came over for a shoot and liked the pictures. Later they asked me if I would photograph their wedding. I ‘ve spent the money on a flash and a lens cap to replace the sock I’ve been using!”
Chelsea Cannar worked as a stationery designer for weddings and had done a few second shots. She invited an existing client to check out some of her photography work, and they became her first paying photography client.
What can we learn from these photographers?
And we come to takeout. Humble beginnings are the most significant pattern I have noted. Almost all of these photographers accepted minimal money to start building a career. Many were, at the time, in alternative employment or had never made money taking pictures. All of them, however, have pushed themselves since that first marriage and continued to blossom into full-time professional wedding photographers.
Almost everyone reading this will have their own opinions on how we should make money from taking photos, opinions on the routes we should take, and opinions on how much we should charge.
But I would like to point out, as these stories show, that there is no right way to get your first booking. Many stories give the impression that the photographer was simply lucky, but on closer inspection I can see that he was so lucky. They placed themselves where it was needed to meet the right people. They told people what they wanted to achieve and potential customers came to believe in them.
And so, after listening to these examples, I can come back to Steve with a more confident answer. If you’re trying to book your first paying wedding, people need to know your goals. You must make yourself visible to people likely to book you. It can be online in a Facebook group planning a wedding on a budget or telling everyone at the gym what your aspirations are. People will talk, they will know other people. Eventually, a client will believe in you and give you a line to hold on to. Good luck!