I'm trying to break into the wedding business. I already have great equipment, etc but how do you build your portfolio? Especially if you live in a new state with very few contacts?
Becoming a professional wedding photographer means running a small business, and that requires sales and marketing. Being successful means selling your services to a lot of potential clients. It has very little to do with making great photographs.
If you are not a people person, if you can't sell, your business will fail even if you have the talents of the next Ansel Adams.
There are tons of books and even some websites that cover the topics. Scott Bourne is always talking about his (Going Pro) on his podcasts.
The usual advice is to find a local professional wedding photographer and shoot second camera for a bunch of weddings. This will, if you have the talent, give you shots to fill your portfolio. Be sure to tell the pro that this is your plan, and make sure that the bride agrees that you can use her wedding's photos in your portfolio.
The Serious Answer
I'm going to answer this question under the assumption that you already know your way around a camera, and that you're not trying to learn the skills, but rather are just trying to build up a portfolio and get your name out there. (If this is not the case, find a local photographer and try to become that person's backup shooter. You'll gain much-needed experience and skills by doing so.)
In my opinion, the best approach is to go to area churches and find out if anyone is about to get married who can't afford a photographer. You'll probably find that every area church has at least one or two in any given month.
Tell the church that you'd like to volunteer to shoot pictures at a couple of those weddings at no charge, and that you'll give them digital copies plus a few free prints in exchange for permission to use the photos as part of your portfolio.
Ask them to call you first to confirm availability before making the offer to the couple (both to avoid hurt feelings and to let you limit the ratio of freebies to paying customers).
This approach does two things:
It gets you portfolio photos that you can show off to prospective clients (and on your website).
It makes the local churches aware of you. They know who the good photographers are — the ones who aren't constantly moving around and distracting from the solemnity of the event. Be one of those, and when people ask the church if they have recommendations, there's a good chance your name will come up. (ProTip: If you aren't working with anyone else, remote triggers and remote panheads are your friend.)
After the wedding give digital copies of all of the photos to the bride and groom, and offer to print a limited number of them if they email you and tell you which ones to print. And of course, tell them that they can buy additional prints if they want to, but make it clear that they aren't obligated to do so, and can print them elsewhere if they prefer.
In that communication, encourage the bride and groom to post their wedding pictures on Facebook, and when they do, ask them to add a caption that says "Shot by YourName Photography in YourCity, YourState" and add a link to your website.
If they're comfortable doing so, ask them to set those photos to be public. That way, there will be a lot of real web pages pointing to your website, which at least in theory should improve your search ranking when people search for photographers in your city, regardless of what search engine they use.
Do this at as many area churches as you can. And any time you don't have a paid gig, don't be afraid to take a freebie gig (perhaps with digital-only delivery), even after you have a solid portfolio. Besides being a really nice thing to do, it also can generate ongoing word-of-mouth advertising, because people (particularly young people) who are getting married tend to know other people who will eventually get married. Plus, again, it's a really nice thing to do.
Also, get your name out there among the people who are likely to be involved in planning weddings, from flower shops to wedding planners. Give them your business card (with your website address on it), and for the wedding planners, see if they would be willing to hand out a single-page leaflet that showcases some of your work. (Do this after you have a solid portfolio and a number of clients who are happy with your work.)
Finally, if you haven't already, consider adding videography to your skill set. It's a much harder job (particularly if you don't have a crew), but a decent number of people want to hire a single shop to do both photos and video, so if your shop can't, you'll have fewer opportunities. Seek out young photographers at your nearest college and see if any of them would consider being your extra camera person(s).
The Evil Answer
The first step to becoming a wedding photographer is to look like a photographer. This means buying a whole new wardrobe. First, go to your nearest thrift store and buy a grey T-shirt. It needs to be somewhat old looking, but not too old. Use a little bit of shoe polish to create the appearance of permanently wet underarms. This adds to the effect.
On top of that, add a tan vest with lots of pockets. Do not — I repeat, do NOT — try to color coordinate this with the grey shirt. The more glaring the difference, the more obvious it will be that you're wearing the vest over a shirt. Get yourself a pair of decent jeans, but not too new looking. Wear comfortable shoes. Always wear comfortable shoes.
Now that you look like a wedding photographer, you need to become a wedding photographer. The best way to do that is to take photos at weddings (though there are alternatives — more on this later).
Before you can take photos at a wedding, you need a camera. Any camera will do, from a Polaroid up through a Hasselblad, but the most important thing is that it be as big as possible. In the minds of most people, big = pro. If your camera is small, consider building a large camera out of painted cardboard and putting your real camera inside it. That way, when people look at you, they think, "pro".
You can get window glass at Home Depot or Lowe's for the "lens". Either position your real camera so that it can see through the "lens", or mount the real camera above the lens in some way so that it looks like a crude rangefinder. Either way, be sure that the view of your actual camera is not obstructed by the fake one. There's nothing more embarrassing than delivering a bunch of pictures in which everything is black except for a small circle in the center. Believe me, I know.
Now that you have a camera, you'll need to look in the newspaper and find out when local weddings are scheduled. Then, contact the local churches to confirm the times and location. Be there well ahead of the scheduled time. If there is another photographer at the wedding, all the better. Be sure to shadow the photographer and take similar shots. Bonus points if you occasionally appear in the principal photographer's photos. We call that being an "Uncle Bob" — the highest compliment a photographer can give another photographer.
Once the event is over, be sure to slip the bride or groom a business card so they can order photos. With such a big camera, they're sure to be impressed.
But what if you want to become a wedding photographer without going to any actual weddings? Well, this is somewhat harder, but it is possible. The first thing to do[*] is to drive to your nearest Home Depot. You'll usually find a number of day laborers there who will do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Hire five of them to be your crew. Instruct them where and when to pick up the gear, where the church is, and spend an hour or two teaching them the basics of how to use a camera.
Be aware that when you do this, you may not always get your camera back. That's okay. It's part of the cost of doing business as a contract wedding photographer. Be sure to have appropriate riders on your insurance to cover the losses. After a while, you'll get a good idea of which workers can be trusted not to rip you off. Always use those folks when possible.
Congratulations. You now know everything there is to know about how to become a Professional Wedding Photographer™!
[*]The author of this post cannot be held responsible for any equipment stolen or other losses arising out of taking any of the advice in this "Evil Answer" seriously.